Chapter 14: Curveball

Rory's whole being shuddered as he slowly entered her, inch by precious inch, steadily filling her up until she was complete, unable to take more of him but still craving for more and more and more. She marveled at the sensation she felt down to her very core whenever he thrust into her, wondering if this very feeling would ever diminish. He started to move within her. Each of his gentle, steady strokes claiming her anew as his, just as her welcoming every one of his movements in her with unabashed passion claimed him as hers.

God, she hoped that the feeling would not diminish.

It finally didn't matter if it was a blazing firestorm like the one they stirred up the first time they made love when they reconciled after their separation; or a quick, hot fire like they had in the dressing room after Honor's wedding. Or an explosion of crazed need like two weeks ago when he came back from a whole week of traveling with his father. Or a slow, warm, steadily burning fire like they were having now. It was always amazing making love with her husband, to feel them conjoining and coming together in the most intimate possible way and from where she stood, she couldn't imagine not being affected deeply, satisfied on a level she never imagined was possible, not even in the first days when she was beginning to know Logan as a lover.

He picked up his pace, slowly driving her crazy with need, a searing arrow building up from deep within her, engulfing her entire body in a fiery craving for him.

Logan had always been an experienced lover, always had known how to drive her crazy with want but still leave her completely satisfied. The first time they had had sex, she had discovered a whole new world that was far brighter and greater and more colorful than the world Dean had shown her could ever be. Of course, with Logan's experience, his excellent skills hadn't really surprised her, ever.

The pressure built up as he at last started to slam frenziedly into her, her walls closing eagerly around his throbbing thickness, urging him on to let go, lose control and finally drive her into blissful relief.

Until the first time, they consciously made love. She had always thought that even if he never had said it, what they had achieved doing together had been love, not mere sex, especially after she had come clean and told him the depths of her feelings. Boy, had she been wrong. Not that it hadn't been more than sex but it had been nothing compared to what they were gifted with that wonderful, miraculous late afternoon when she let him in again, opening herself to him, her everything, her body, her heart, her soul. Despite the storm of overwhelming emotions and sensations, his tenderness and almost worshipping reverence as he claimed her body, heart and soul until she was completely his and his alone for now and forever surprised her deeply. If she hadn't already been way past being head over heels in love with him, this would have been the moment to fall for him. As it was, it made her fall even deeper, binding her to him with finality she felt immediately but instead of fearing it, she welcomed it with open arms and a joyful heart.

"Logan," she murmured, unable to bear the burning pressure any longer, drawing him deeper into her, searching for his lips to complete their conjoining.

They were one, each half of a whole and in that moment, when they claimed each other, accepted each other in complete honesty and pledged to one another by conjoining their bodies as much as their souls, they knew. This was their destiny, to belong to each other, to share their very being with each other. To be one.

She sensed him nearing the edge, knowing he couldn't possibly grow any harder or thicker, straining almost painfully at the barrier engulfing him. Close, so close. With primal determination, he pushed one last time deeply into her, catapulting them over the edge. Her name ripped from his lips in a rough, purely instinctive roar and she came apart in his arms as he lost himself in her.

Ironically, the old saying about not having as much sex anymore once you were married became true. They found out its true meaning. Yes, they weren't having as much sex since that first time they had made love which also happened to be the first time they actually consummated their marriage, however real that one was for them or not. It wasn't that they had less sex regularly, far from it. Rather, it turned out that one time got so fulfilling and satisfying but also exhausting that one time was simply enough, the aftermath rocking them until long after what they before would have achieved by a second romp in bed.

So it was a long, sweet time until either one had come down enough to move and even then it was only for Logan to carefully switch their position so she could rest comfortably on top of him, the air cooling down her sweaty back until he pulled the bed cover over them.

His fingers trailed lazily over her back. "I don't know how I was ever satisfied before I met you. How I ever thought that random sex was the answer, the peak of it all."

She smiled, not really surprised how similar his thoughts must have been to hers. It happened more and more lately. "The same way how I could foolishly believe that what I had with Dean was special. Or even what we had in the beginning was actual lovemaking."

He thoughtfully played with her hair. "It wasn't like this, true… but it always had been different with you, Ace. Never doubt that."

Her smile deepened and she simply kissed his chest, not needing to say anything more. He sighed so deeply that she actually felt herself being lifted up a bit. She raised her head, looking inquiringly at him.

"You sure you want me to go to Costa Rica? I don't have to, you know," he asked, almost looking pleadingly at her.

It was her turn to sigh. To be honest, no, she did not want him far from her. She did not want him to be farther than ten feet from her, let alone in another country; but, no matter how deeply bonded they had become, they still had their own lives, own interests. "Come on, it's your final LDB event, the big graduation party. You don't really want to miss it, you know that. Not to mention that the stooges would kill me for taking their spiritual leader and inspiration away from them for this 'most important moment in a man's life' I believe as Colin phrased it. Besides, it's been your idea, remember?"

"A joke! I never meant it seriously!" he protested vehemently, like every time since the guys had clued him into the plans they had finally made.

"And yet you can't wait to go through with it," she pointed out knowingly. He grumbled. "Lifelong fantasy of yours, ring any bells? You know you want to do it. Wouldn't miss it for the world."

Finally, he conceded. "Okay, yeah, I do want to make that jump. But you can't blame me to wish I don't have to leave you behind for it. Or that you come with us."

"No, I can't go with you," she smiled. "It's Lane's wedding and you know I can't miss that one. And I wish you could come with me, too. As it is, these dates have been set a long time ago and we will be only away from each other for how long? Four days? Just promise to be careful. Jumping out of a plane to dive in the sea is not like jumping off a seven-story scaffold with a safety cord securing you, slowing you down." The plan did worry her and she couldn't shake a nagging feeling that that was a dangerous stunt and a bad idea. If something happened to Logan... She swallowed, pressing herself against him. "I don't want to lose you."

"Hey, don't worry, Ace, okay? We've been very careful with the preparations, trained thoroughly for the jump. And we have the satellite phone with us, just in case," Logan reminded her, running soothing circles over her back. "Remember, the LDB is about life. We do this to honor the end of an era, not to die and put an early end to that life that awaits us now. You won't get rid of me so easily."

"Good," she emphasized with heartfelt feeling. "When do you have to leave?" She knew it by heart of course, but she needed him to say it.

"Eight in the morning. We still have a few hours."

"Then let's make the best of it," she suggested, pulling herself up so she hovered over his face. "After all, we have to make it last for four days," she whispered, just before she reclaimed his lips.

True, they didn't need as much time to completely be satisfied but that didn't mean though that they couldn't when the time called for it. And facing four long days of separation − with her standing by her best friend at the altar and him jumping out of a plane for a grand dive in a foreign country − sure called for a little extra activity.

"Jeez, Logan, cheer up already!" Colin told him, exasperated by the tenth or so sighing of his friend in just under a minute. "We're on the way to the biggest adventure of our life and all you do since we picked you up this morning is mope and sigh."

"Yeah, it's pitiful," Finn, who was beside him, grumbled, huddled in his seat, eyes firmly closed, head leaning against the shaded airplane window. "And all that whining is keeping me from blissful sleep."

"I do not whine," Logan clarified, glancing out the window. Nothing but blueness. Blue sky free of clouds and deep blue calm sea miles beneath them. A beautiful day and a promising start in what he always had thought was going to be the party of his life. Yet, all he could think of was how much all this blueness out there reminded him of the beautiful eyes of his Ace who was thousands of miles behind him and by now probably still working at the paper, finishing her article before heading to Stars Hollow for the bachelorette party. Well, at least, as she had organized the party as the maid-of-honor, he didn't have to worry about strippers like the last time when she had attended Honor's party. From what he had heard, she had been provided with quite an eye candy back then.

He didn't mind it. Not really. Oh, well, he simply preferred to rather not think about it. Overall, though, he was happy she had a good time, both at the party and then at the wedding. It had been shortly after the fire. Emily was well on the way to recovery, much to her family's relief, but still in the hospital at the time. The crisis was over by then though and it did both of them good to be able to focus on something as cheerful and so very different like a wedding, reminding them that it wasn't all drama and hospital and life and death situations. No matter how lucky they had been, with everyone surviving and no great loss either, it had been a hard and trying time. By now, though, it was the past. Well, recent past. Emily and Richard were taking an extended holiday at the French Riviera, having been ordered strict rest for at least four weeks, which suited them just fine as their house needed to be repaired and renovated after the fire anyway. Lorelai was supervising the renovation and she and Luke were in a better place with their relationship as well, the wedding back on track, though scheduled for next spring, giving Luke enough time to adjust to his new role of being a father.

All in all, the fire had done more good than bad. Although, he still could have done very well without the emotional and physical strain, especially for Rory. But everything had turned out well and God, was he relieved and grateful for that!

"Oh, yeah, you most certainly do," confirmed Colin, scowling. "You're so whipped, it is pathetic."

"A tragedy," Finn agreed as well, making a sad, tragic face.

Rolling his eyes, Logan shrugged. He couldn't deny that from their point of view, he indeed was whipped. From his point of view, though, an entirely different matter. "Let's wait until you are married and see how you will like to be away from your wife." He paused, rethinking his words, remembering who they were. "I mean, until you've found a girl to love as much as I love Rory. You wouldn't mock me then."

"Very much doubt that," Colin simply answered, unimpressed while Finn outright snorted. "Not going to happen. You already snatched the only cool girl to ever interest me enough and the other one is going to marry tomorrow."

Both Colin and Logan glanced at their friend at that before exchanging a look. He wasn't entirely sure but, lately, Logan suspected that Lane had gotten to Finn more than he let on. They had met up several times with Rory's best friend since the fire at the Gilmore estate, meeting for concerts, going to watch her band play, eating ice-cream together, even going to a party or two together. And, apparently, Finn and Lane had met some other times too, talking about music, introducing her to some friends of his family who just happened to be in the music business. This hadn't been the first time he had referred to the small Korean girl as a cool girl to keep. Sure, with the Australian, every woman was the love of his heart. Usually, it meant nothing. With Lane though, it just felt different, as if it may just be the truth. He mentioned her casually too often. Not to mention that the closer her wedding got, the worse his mood got.

"You know, I just don't get it. I mean, sure, Zack is okay, but he's not exactly the brightest block around, is he? Somehow, I just don't see what a smart girl like Lane sees in him," Colin mentioned, his eyes dead set on Finn.

"Don't ask me. Must be the guitarist and band singer appeal," Logan chimed in, also watching his friend closely. He wasn't sure what to think of it. On one hand, he could very well see Lane and Finn together. They did fit and she may just be as crazy but also down-to-Earth enough to bear spending her life with a character like Finn. Yeah, Lane would be good for Finn. On the other hand, she was engaged, going to marry tomorrow. And he didn't want his friend hurt. "According to Rory, he is really sweet with her and with that mother of hers, he knows better than to ever dare hurt her."

Finn showed no reaction, to either of their comments and after another moment and exchanging one more look, Colin and Logan shrugged simultaneously and let the topic drop. If and when Finn wanted to talk, he'd know where to find them.

"Speaking of marriage… how is yours?" Colin asked, his eyes gleaming mischievously.

Suddenly coming 'awake', Finn opened one eye as well. "Yeah, do tell… when's the vows renewal ceremony slash true wedding? Right after when your four months are up or do you guys intend to wait longer?"

Boy, he had walked straight into that one, hadn't he? Shifting uncomfortably on his seat, Logan avoided their eyes. "We haven't talked about it yet." They had been good at avoiding any talk about what they wanted to do after their forced four months of marriage. He wasn't sure what to think of that. Hell, he didn't know what the right thing to do was. Should he at least propose to Rory? Should they go through with the divorce, despite both of them knowing for sure that they had found the one in each other? Simply stay married, just to avoid the logistic nightmare and mountains of paperwork heading towards them if they divorced? Plan a wedding, have a real ceremony this time, with him proposing to her beforehand like it was supposed to be? But if they decided that way, when should they marry for good? For real? This summer, just because it was ridiculous to already be married and then wait a year or two to have a wedding ceremony just so it would feel real or to give each other a real ceremony?

"Jeez, you're such chickens!" Finn grunted. "As if it's any question what you two disgusting lovebirds will do."

"Is it?" he countered, immediately regretting it. Now they would never let this topic drop. Then again, this exact question had plagued Logan ever since he and Rory had finally gotten together again, for good this time, as much was clear since that first time they made love. Their bond had gotten so deep and solid, binding them together in such a complex way, interweaving every last part of their very being to each other it was unthinkable it could ever loosened up and be cut away again. So there was absolutely no doubt for Logan that he and Rory were spending their lives together, married. It had become a rock solid certainty in his life, one he would gladly stake his happiness on.

Nonetheless, their situation was complicated. They were married already and no matter how it had come to that, it had become real. For the most part. He felt there was something missing despite all the happiness they had been experiencing these past weeks and he was pretty certain it was the real exchange of vows that was missing that would make their married life together feel truly genuine.

Colin and Finn had both narrowed their eyes. "Yeah, it is," Colin emphasized. "Don't tell me you idiots actually consider going through with a divorce. Whatever for? You're going to marry in a couple of years anyway."

"Exactly," Logan picked up on that. "Under any normal situation, I wouldn't even consider getting married before the right time… no matter how sure I am about Rory being the one for me. I am just about to graduate from college and Dad is still insisting on me going to London afterwards and I have yet to find a solution to get out of that one." Not to mention that Rory didn't know about it yet. He had wanted to talk about it several times already, sure that together they'd find a way; but then, in order to do that, they'd need to discuss their plans for the future first, make decisions and as established, he hadn't had the guts to do that yet. But the guys didn't need to know that. "Rory has still a year ahead of her and I'm pretty sure I can talk for both of us that before we settle down and marry, we both need some time to find our own place in the world, get accustomed to adult life, and work life. We're too young to be married. We're not ready."

"Tomato, tomatoe," Finn sputtered, sitting up to lean forward. "Do you guys plan to break up?"

"Of course not, we only just got back together again. And I'm not so stupid to ever let her go again," Logan answered on the spot. "But..."

"No buts. You guys love each other. You both are sure you're it for each other, that you belong together. That you're soulmates. Which we all know you agree on. So what difference does it make if there is a paper binding you to that or not?" Finn shook his head. "Not to mention that this marriage has become pretty serious to you, mate. Don't deny it. You think we haven't noticed how you call her more and more your wife when talking to others about her? The possessive way you act, all the time being so damn protective of her as well? She is your little wifey already, no matter how this marriage came to be in the first place."

"It's not that easy," Logan answered quietly, not too surprised that Finn had just echoed a lot of his thoughts as of late. "Yes, maybe I feel married for real more and more. But how much is just convenience, how much is the natural evolvement of any serious relationship and how much is actually truly the being married part? And no, Finn, there is a difference between being just together to being married. It's… heavier. Scarier. Affects and binds you more deeply. And despite everything, it's the most rewarding and fulfilling thing you can ever hope for. Or so at least it should be." Ugh, the guys were never going to let him live down that he was so terribly mushy here. Usually, he reserved the waterworks speeches for Rory, but right now, he couldn't talk with her about his emotional dilemma. He had hoped it would help to talk with his best friends about it but so far, all it did was confuse him more. How could he feel everything he had just described, know that this was the difference but still be so unsure about what to do in a couple of weeks when the four months were over and they had to decide where they wanted to go from there?

"In that case, we can turn it around: the license you signed in good faith thinking that was a good joke and a judge who decided to make an example of you," Colin said, holding his hands out. "Who says this has to mean anything to you? You aren't ready for that yet? Okay. Go your way, live together, enjoy being an unmarried couple and when the time is right, you propose, she says yes and you guys marry for real - with me as your best men of course."

It sounded so simple. But in reality... "It's not so easy," he once again had to repeat, shaking his head. "I agree, it sounds like the most logical step but we can't simply ignore our married status like that. It's not been quite four months and I can't help but think of her as my wife." When Finn opened his mouth to no doubt push for his opinion once again, he held up a hand, silencing him with a look. "But at the same time it's not truly real either. That's the problem, no way can I think of it as totally right, it's always murky and I just don't know where to go."

To his relief, his friends were silent, mulling over his words. Finally, Colin sighed. "I think we can't give you an answer here. This is something you and Rory need to figure out."

"Yeah, you need to talk with her about this," Finn agreed, eyeing him with that penetrating gaze of his. "Any idea where she stands on the subject?"

All he could was helplessly heave his shoulders. "No fucking clue."

"I can't believe you're getting married tomorrow."

"I'll tell you a secret… neither do I," Lane giggled, causing Rory to smile. Her best friend definitely had already a drink or two too many. Then again, this was her bachelorette party so she figured it was Lane's well-deserved right to get drunk. The thought of pledging herself to one guy for the rest of her life in front of a whole town and a hundred relatives was scary, no matter how much she loved the guy who would be standing in front of the altar with her. In her shoes, she'd want to get drunk too. Then again, she was already married, wasn't she?

With a mental scowl, she pushed that thought away. This was Lane's night, tomorrow would be her day. She wasn't going to ruin that for her by letting her own jumbled marital status get to her. So far the party had been great and Lane had a lot of fun and she wanted to keep it that way. Besides, it hopefully kept her from thinking of Logan all the time, like it had happened to her at Honor's wedding. She had only been a guest then, her only duty to be there and smile for the camera which she had gladly done. The ceremony had been beautiful and everybody could see how happy Honor was. Nonetheless, it had its trying times as well. There were all the other guests, many of whom were relatives of Logan and they all had frowned at her or kept referring to her as Logan's wife. Which she was, of course. Technically. But the ceremony had shown her very starkly how it could have been, what it should have been. A real wedding, a true moment to mark the remarkable big change in someone's life, celebrating it, not some fake wedding where she carelessly and half drunkenly made her vows with Logan and only realizing months after that blurry night that it had been legally binding and she was married for real to her ex-boyfriend at that time to then being ordered and forced to stay married to him.

Grimly, she reminded herself that this was not about her though and instead forced herself to remember the evening so far. They had started with the Full Monty in the Black and White, moving on to a dinner of chocolate and sweets at Weston's to later hit a good Rock'n Roll club in Hartford which Finn had suggested to her. The place was great, the music even better. They had cut it earlier than normal to get back to Stars Hollow in light of the next day's busy schedule − getting the bride ready, two wedding ceremonies to get through with, the reception for the Kim relatives and, last but certainly not least, the party they had planned to send Lane and Zack off to their honeymoon.

God, there was so much to do tomorrow! She doubted she'd have any quiet moment until way into the day after the wedding. And Rory wouldn't want it any other way. She was very happy to be Lane's maid-of-honor and had loved to make sure her best friend would have a beautiful day she would always remember fondly. So it had been easy for her to accept the role of one of the designated drivers, not planning to get drunk either way with all she was going to have to do the next day and she didn't miss at all that she only had had one glass of wine the whole evening.

Rory had dropped all the girls off then walked Lane home from her place where she had sent a quite happily drunk Lorelai to bed already. Lane hadn't wanted to go in yet so here they were now, sitting inside the gazebo and giggling like the little girls they once were, as if the next day would not bring a major change into both their lives. A marriage that could change their life-long friendship. She knew it would. It had changed already when they had their first boyfriends with the priorities in their lives shifting. It had changed with them both going different ways after high school. It had changed when they met their soulmates, their whole lives' centers shifting majorly. A part of her was sad because the finality of what the next day would bring; but, she understood this completely. And a big part of her was happy for Lane. Besides, it wasn't as if they would stop being friends. She was confident that that would never happen, no matter how much their lives changed and even if they went different ways. And no matter how wonderful the man she loved was, a girl would always need her girlfriend.

"Hey Rory?" Startled out of her reminiscing, Rory looked at Lane who suddenly looked very serious and almost sober again. "Do you think I'm doing the right thing?"

"What?" she asked back, flabbergasted.

"Marrying Zack. We're so young still. I never thought I'd marry so young," Lane said and it sounded a lot like she was on the brink of one of her panic speeches.

"Hey, we can't always control everything. Love being one of the biggest things in that category," she tried to soothe her, stopping the breakdown. It was true enough. She hadn't planned to be married at twenty-one and while still being in college either. And here she was, married. But of course, her case was a little special. Different. Not to mention that she had no idea for how much longer she was still going to be married. After all, their four months were almost up and Logan hadn't breathed a word about it. Neither had she, for that matter. To be honest, she didn't know what to say or suggest anyway. With the way she felt for Logan, a divorce seemed ridiculous. Although to just stay married didn't feel right either. And marry right away again just because the other options didn't appeal felt wrong as well.

"Can't we? I'm not sure I'm ready, Rory. I mean, we hardly have enough money… both of us have poor-paying jobs… hoping for the great breakthrough with the band and here we are wanting to get married and start a family?" Lane though rambled on, becoming more agitated. "That's crazy!"

Frowning, Rory searched for something to say. Logically, she secretly had to agree. And truth be told, she had been slightly shocked back when Lane told her about her engagement. "But you love each other, right?" she finally pointed out, hoping it was the right thing to say to calm down Lane's wedding jitters. It was only jitters, wasn't it?

Much to Rory's horror, Lane's answer wasn't as confident as it was expected to be. "Yeah. I think."

Jeez! What the... "Lane?"

Lane bit her lower lip. "Of course, I love him. That's why I will marry him. Right? I mean, he's so great! True, he's not so… bright, but… Rory, he is so sweet when it's just the two of us. I'm happy when I am with him. And I can't wait to make love to him." She paused, turning big eyes on her. "Rory - do you think that's why we are going to get married? I can't have sex before I am married so we'll marry? That it's only lust? What if it's crappy? I'm Korean. I can't divorce! I'll be forever married to a guy I don't want touching me! I'll have to move out to another continent to be safely away from him, just like Mama did!"

"Wow, Lane, calm down!" Rory pleaded, taking her hands. She had absolutely no idea what to do and truly wished Logan or her mom were there to give her some ideas on what to say. This sounded way too serious to just be jitters, but what did she know? She may be married, but she never had the opportunity to get jittery about it. And there was absolutely no doubt in her heart and mind that Logan was the one and her equal. With all Lane's love for Zack he certainly wasn't Lane's equal. "Are you really so unsure about this? Since when? You seemed so happy about the engagement, never worried about the wedding so far."

"Exactly! Shouldn't I have worried right from the beginning? And the whole engagement… I've missed him so much after our break-up and then there he was - suddenly proposing and I couldn't think, my mind totally blank, and then I've been so happy that he wanted me back, marry even… that someone wanted to marry me. Me!" Lane said, agitatedly. "So I said yes, never questioned it..."

Rory's heart sank. "But?"

"But lately, I've been thinking. Am I really ready to get married? Is it really the right thing to do? Do I really want this or was I just caught up in a rollercoaster ride of a broken heart, elation that he wanted me back and lust?" Lane stared at her, all traces of tipsiness gone, looking utterly lost. "And..."

Oh, shit! There was more? This wasn't good. "And?" Rory probed gently.

"And lately I sometimes catch myself looking at Zack and wondering if he really is the one. Argh!" Lane exclaimed, burying her head in her hands for a moment before miserably looking back at Rory. "I am terrible! Truly awful! Here I am, not even twelve hours before my wedding, asking myself if I'm doing the right thing and worse, if I even love the guy I plan to marry as much as I should. What is wrong with me?"

Shit, shit, shit. Now what was she supposed to say? What if she said the wrong thing and Lane based her decision on that and it would be not what she really wanted, blaming her in the end, ruining their friendship forever? But didn't she owe her honesty, especially now? "Lane, I don't know what to say. I can't tell you if it's right to marry Zack or not, only you can know that. And it's only you who has to figure out if you love him enough to marry him tomorrow or not." She hesitated, hoping to not say the wrong thing here. "But it looks to me like you have some good questions and reasonable doubts and I do think that if you are so unsure, you should talk to Zack. Before the wedding. Perhaps talking to him will remind you why you had no problems with the idea of marrying him tomorrow - how much you love him. Perhaps he is as unsure and just never had the guts to talk to you about it either."

It occurred to her that this was excellent advice for herself as well. Maybe, she and Logan should figure out what to do about their situation together rather than by themselves and not be scared of what the other might think. Yes, they needed to talk. As soon as he was back, she was going to sit him down and lay out her thoughts to him, see where he stood. With that decision made, she suddenly felt a lot lighter and was instantly reminded that her best friend needed her to stay focused on her problems. Right. "Why are you wondering about Zack like this? Has something happened? Did he do something that made you doubt his love?"

Lane shook her head vehemently. "No! No, that's not it at all. If anything... I do love him, you know. And I have no doubts about his feelings, his sincerity. I just… I am not sure if it's enough for a lifetime. If it can hold out for five, ten, twenty years when sometimes he exasperates me already nowadays. If I want his children one day, grow old with him." She leaned back, banging her head against one of the poles. "Oh, hell. I am such a bad person. But to be absolutely honest, lately, I sometimes look at F... other guys and there is this twitch of interest in my heart and when I then look at Zack, there's nothing. No panic. No self-doubt. But no reassurance. No certainty, also. Is that how I should feel about the one I plan to marry?" Suddenly she sat up. "What about you? Do you ever wonder? Do other guys interest you? How did you know that Logan's the one?"

Taken aback, Rory mulled over her questions, once again unsure if it was wise to answer them at all. If she was honest, after everything she heard, she doubted it would reassure Lane in any way. Rather the other way around. She sighed. Now wasn't the time to start lying to Lane or keep things from her. "Do I find other guys attractive? Yeah, sure. I'm not blind after all. But none of them ever shatter or even touch what I feel for Logan. Do I wonder? Sometimes. But not in the way you described. Those doubts I experienced too, but that was back with Dean. You know how I felt about him, how much he meant to me. There was a time I thought he might be the one. But I wondered, like you do now, and then came Logan, showing me another side of life, showing me how much different it could be. He's my equal. He keeps me on my toes and can easily go at it with me, head to head intellectually. It's not that he's the reason Dean and I broke up for good but he sure had his part in it." Maybe more than she would ever be comfortable to admit. Truth was, the moment she had met Logan, she started to compare him to Dean and though this was totally unfair, it affected greatly how she felt about Dean. He just couldn't compete with Logan, in anything but his faithfulness maybe. Then again, he had had an affair with her, so how faithful was he really? "With Logan, though, I wondered from very early on if he may be the one, catching myself more than once thinking of him as my possible partner for life, the father of my children… picturing us holding hands on a swing, old and wrinkled but utterly happy." She shrugged. "I can't tell you when or how I knew. I guess it slowly crept up on me ever since I met him, gaining foothold with each stone on the road we passed until one day I knew I love him and knew that I want the forever and ever with him." She smiled. "And then there had been the fire and he was so wonderful. The way he took care of me, the way he supported me, protected me, did so many things without thinking just to make it a little bit easier for me… and ever since then I know. Oh, I thought it already before that but it was then that I knew for sure."

Lane was quiet, saying nothing, just staring at her hands.

Gingerly, Rory touched them. "But, Lane, this is me. What counted for me doesn't necessarily have to count for you. Please don't make any judgment based on my experiences. Only you can know and decide what is right for you."

Still Lane said nothing. Damn. "Laney?"

At last, Lane met her eyes, still unhappy, but she seemed calmer. "It's okay, Rory. I'm glad you told me. You know how inexperienced I am with guys. There was Henry who never even really was my boyfriend and then of course Dave, but he just forgot about me after a while. And there is already Zack. It's good to hear how you experienced it."

Really? Was it? "You know, Logan is only my third boyfriend as well. Maybe there is more to all that third is the charm saying," she offered, desperate to lighten the mood.

To her relief, Lane smiled at that, albeit a small one. "Maybe. Hey, I think we should call it a night now."

"Right!" Rory agreed wholeheartedly. "After all, we've got a big day ahead of us." Realizing that with all the doubts Lane had just voiced this may not be the case after all, she hesitated, hating to ask but feeling like she had to. "Lane… what are you going to do?"

"I don't know yet. I need to think, sleep over it. Maybe try to talk to Zack, like you suggested. But I promise you'll know if there is any change in plans even before anybody else including Mama," Lane answered quietly, looking at her house. Then she cracked a smile. "If only to point the police in the right direction after you've found my dismembered body. If there are any changes, Mama's going to kill me."

She couldn't help but laugh. "Oh, yeah, most definitely! Alone at the horror of bringing your grandmother to visit you for nothing."

"Not to mention the tons of food we prepared for the family she'll probably force feed to me," Lane added, her smile widening.

"I'll get Kirk to help you. He eats anything," Rory promised then hugged Lane tightly. "Don't worry too much. I'm sure you'll make the right decision, whatever it will be."

"Thank you," Lane whispered, returning the hug. "In case I haven't mentioned it lately… you're the best friend ever. The evening was great. And I am glad we talked."

In answer, Rory simply held her a little tighter before letting go. "You okay?"

Lane nodded. "Yeah. See you tomorrow?"

"You bet," Rory promised. No matter what, she'd be with Lane, either to send her off to married life or to console her for calling it off last minute and help her ward off the storm she'd have to face in that case.

With a last sincere smile Lane headed off to her childhood home. Rory waited until she was safely inside before she slowly walked back to hers through the lonely streets, deep in thought.

Boy, oh, boy, the next day promised to get even more interesting than she had expected.

"There. It rings again! Why doesn't that idiot get that we won't talk to him? One should think after all the times of being ignored, he'll have the decency to give up!" Colin raged, glaring at the annoyingly buzzing satellite phone.

"One could also wonder why someone was so stupid to give the Dark Lord the number in the first place," Finn growled as well, glaring at Logan.

He rolled his eyes. "How many times do I have to repeat it? I didn't! I have no idea where he got the phone number. Or why he keeps calling. Probably to remind me of some business trip I missed." Or to fight once again about London. Or, most likely, to berate and try to stop him from doing this stunt, taking ridiculous risks in the name of the LDB. Though once having been a member himself − and a wild one at that, from what he had heard − lately he had become dead set against it, wanting Logan to quit entirely from the LDB, let alone still participate in their stunts. He didn't really want to find out, hence he ignored the calls ever since he recognized his father's number.

Still, it was strange that ever since early morning, he had been calling time and time again. Slowly, Logan began to have a bad feeling about it. Disapproving of Logan's actions or not, Mitchum Huntzberger was not the kind of man to run after someone. On a spur, Logan quickly got up to retrieve the phone. They were already up in the air in their little chartered plane, the time for the jump quickly approaching and damn it, he wanted his peace for this moment.

"What are you doing? We'll jump in a few minutes!" Colin asked, bewildered.

"Ending this," Logan said firmly, grabbing the phone. Let Mitchum say what he wanted, set him straight or ignore him, whatever his reasons for calling and make sure he stopped calling all the time. When he caught sight of the number though, he paused, frowning, the bad feeling intensifying. "It's Rory's cell phone."

"Maybe she's calling to let us hear the ceremony?" Colin suggested, not sounding too convinced.

"Too early," Logan said shortly, quickly answering it. "Ace?"

"About time you picked up. Just when do you plan to grow up and cease to be so childish all the time? You're twenty-four and married for heaven's sake!" The voice of his father ranted into his ear. "But enough of that. You need to come back. Immediately."

"Dad, I..." Logan started through gritted teeth, and then stopped himself. It wasn't important right now. "Why are you calling from Rory's phone?" This couldn't be good, no way, and he almost dreaded the answer.

"I figured you may be more willing to answer her call than mine though I hoped you'd be more responsible than that," Mitchum answered in a clipped voice. "As to..."

"No," he impatiently interrupted him, trying not to get too agitated. "Why do you have it at all? I can't imagine Rory simply giving it to you." There was just no reason he could think of for her to willingly give her phone to him. Unless... "What is wrong, Dad?" His voice broke, fear clamping his throat shut for a moment, making it impossible to talk. "Is she hurt?"

The fact that his father didn't immediately answer confirmed his worst fears and his knees buckled. Sliding down to the floor, his fear and panic roused with every second his father was silent. "Dad?"

For once, Mitchum's business-like tone wasn't too convincing. It almost sounded gentle. "It was sent to us as evidence with a video message from Rory as proof of life, according to the FBI."

"FBI. Proof of life," Logan repeated, feeling cold, shuddering. His mind had gone blank but he knew very well what this meant. He refused to believe it though. Not his Ace. She was in Stars Hollow, at Lane's wedding. Nowhere else. Not...

"Yes. She was kidnapped late last night." His father shattered his denial though. "They want eleven million dollars: one in cash, ten wired. We have seventy-six hours. They want you to make the exchange."

Logan closed his eyes and fought hard to keep still. If he opened his mouth now, he would scream and he wasn't sure he was ever going to stop once he got started.


He swallowed, forced himself to shut down his emotions. He needed to function. Rory had seventy-six hours. During that time, she needed him to think straight, to be in control. To be calm and collected. Right. For a moment he covered the phone, looked up. Colin and Finn stared at him with wide eyes, both pale. They must have caught enough from his side of the conversation to figure out what happened. "Tell the pilot to change course. I need to get back to the States," he instructed, surprised how unruffled his voice sounded. He sure as hell didn't feel unruffled.

Without a word, Finn vanished towards the cockpit. Having nothing else to do, Colin sat down beside him, putting a reassuring hand onto his shoulder.

Logan didn't feel it. He felt nothing anymore. Instead, he willed himself to go through the necessary motions. He held the phone back to his ear, ignoring his father's irritated calls of his name. "I'm on my way back," he told him, his voice devoid of any emotion. He felt emotionally dead. "Now tell me everything."


(Author's Note: Well, I promised you another curveball, didn't I? And yes, I did it, yes, this definitely happened, yes, I'm totally going that way, and yes, I'm serious with this little cliffhanger here as well. evil laughter Some of you probably hate me right now, but really, I've wanted to do exactly this for a very long time now and I truly only started Curveball to get to this very moment. Or rather, the one coming in the next chapter to be exact, but it starts with this last scene here. Took me only four years to get here... eyeroll Okay, to be honest, my original plan had been to send her into prison where there was a revolt of the prisoners, but it just didn't fit. Part of the reason why there was such a long break was because I just found no way to work it in - until I came up with this idea and since then, it's been rolling again. This kidnapping fits perfectly and I am very happy about it. And I hope you enjoy it as well, even if you may not like to venture into this direction. I'm already on the next chapter, so I at least won't let you keep hanging for that long. Oh, yeah, as from this chapter on, I upgraded the rating - for obvious reasons coughing innocently - and just to be on the safe side. As always, thank you so much for the wonderful reviews - loving them! Enjoy… and I'll be back soon, I promise!)