Pairing: Luke/Lorelai (Rory/Logan subplot)
Rating: PG-13, possible R for later chapters.
A/N: Thanks to my beta and my better half, Yen.
Rory had been sitting in the empty courtroom for close to an hour before it began to fill up, watching blankly as unconcerned people filtered in and out of the room, paying Rory no heed. To them, she is just a random girl who committed a random crime and would randomly be sentenced, depending on the severity of the judge’s orders. To them, this is just another day, and, tonight, they will go home to their families and, over dinner, they will bemoan the random crimes that random people have committed. Life will go on for them, unchanged. But to Rory, it’s different. Today is both a means to an end and the beginning of something completely different. Last night, she had made the decision to really sink her teeth into new opportunities, to see change as a necessity. This trial, the prospect of the impending moment of truth, has only intensified her need to be someone new. To never be this person again.
She pays little mind to the people surrounding her, as the trial looms nearer. She feels her grandfather’s reassuring hand on her shoulder, sees Logan’s reassuring smile flash in her direction, but shields herself from the comfort these actions provide. Instead, she focuses on the man in the plaintiff’s chair as he nods to his lawyer. He doesn’t look like he’s “just some rich guy”, as Logan had said before. He looks nice; he didn’t deserve this. Her stomach churns when she sees him turn around and wave to his family – his wife and two small children – and she allows herself to feel guilt, relishes as it washes over her burning flesh in waves. Finally, she’s feeling something real and not just fragments of displaced emotion tinged with a juvenile longing. Perhaps, she muses, this is the first situation that seems real to her; the first thing that she understands. She did something wrong, she’s getting punished; that’s how it works, how it always works, how it always will work. That realization brings her more comfort than a thousand smiles ever could.
After the trial begins, she keeps her eyes focused on the front of the room. If her mother’s there, she refuses to let herself know it.
Lorelai’s late when she finally makes her way through the corridor. This morning, she had woken up early, dressed in record time, left Stars Hollow with a steaming cup of Luke’s coffee in hand, and had made it halfway to the courthouse in Hartford before the panic had caught up with her. It had taken her half an hour to even get out of the Jeep. Currently, a repeat performance seems to be in progress because, no matter how much she wills her hand to reach out and grasp the cold door handle, it seems much happier to remain glued to her side.
She sighs and falls into a chair beside the door. Leaning her head back against the wall, she can feel slight vibrations coming from the voices on the other side of the wall, although she’s unable to make out any of the words. She exhales again and momentarily shuts her eyes, trying, as she has been all morning, to convince herself that there is nothing to fear. This isn’t your trial, she reminds herself, but it might as well be. She feels like, today, not only are Rory’s actions being judged, but Lorelai’s twenty years of parenting are being arbitrated, as well. Although, in the past, she knew that she wasn’t a perfect mother, she thought she was a pretty good one. People still tell her this; the only thing that has changed is, now, she’s not so sure she believes them.
It truly is a shame to come so far just to chicken out, but with each passing moment, the courtroom door seems to drift farther and farther out of her reach. Maybe I shouldn’t even go, she realizes. After all, would Rory really want her to be there? She remembers the last conversation and doubts it; it had not exactly ended on the best of terms. Besides, Rory has her grandparents now, both of whom have been surprisingly more supportive than she. The thought makes her throat ache as tears prick at the corner of her eyes. She shuts her eyes again, tightly contorting her features as she keeps the unwanted tears at bay. The only purpose tears will serve in this situation is to ruin her make-up, and that’s the last thing she needs right now.
A cough coming from somewhere in front of her forces her eyes open, breaking her from her thoughts. She breathes heavily as she stares disbelievingly at the suit-and-tie-clad Luke standing in front of her. When did he get here? Why didn’t she hear his shoes echoing as he came down the corridor? She tries to seem composed, but as soon as she stands, she feels as if her knees are going to give out. She leans heavily against the bleak wall, but crosses her arms and glares at Luke to keep up the pretence, as well.
“What are you doing here?” she finally manages, shocked that she has even found her voice at all.
“I could ask you the same question. You’re not inside.”
“No.” He nods and prompts her with a sharp look. “I… tried. Got a little, well…”
“Scared?” She acts to protest, but he doesn’t allow it. “It’s okay; you can say it.”
She shakes her head slightly. “Worried.”
“Oh.” Lorelai frowns; he sounds almost disappointed by her admission. “Whatever happens is gonna happen whether you’re in there or not, you know. You might as well go in and keep yourself informed.”
“I’m not worried about that. It’s her. I mean…” Lorelai looks down at her shoes. “I don’t think she wants me there.”
“When has that stopped you before?” he asks pointedly.
Lorelai manages a half-smile in Luke’s direction before looking away again. “If I go in there, I’ll have to see Rory. And if I see Rory, it’ll just make everything that happened… real, I guess.”
She breathes deeply and licks her suddenly dry lips before finally looking up again. She sees the familiar confusion – a look he has mostly reserved for her – but this time, it’s different. His face is soft and worried, lacking the usual exasperation that accompanies it. His concern fills her until she can hardly breath and something deep inside of her breaks down – a wall she hasn’t even realized she has put up against her problems with Rory – and, before she has to register her actions, she’s nestled tightly in Luke’s strong embrace. She breathes him in as her mind catches up with her body, and she forces away all fears of being “that girl” – the one who needs her man to keep her grounded because, right now, she is that girl and she cannot for the life of her remember what is so bad about that.
“You’ll have to face reality sometime,” he mumbles into her hair. “It might as well be now…”
“I know and it will happen… eventually. Not now, not like this, not with everyone… watching. I’m not sure I could handle that. I guess I deserve this, though. I mean, you heard” – she sighs – “what I said to her.”
She can feel Luke nod against her and she knows he wants to pull away, to gaze into her eyes, but she only clasps her arms tighter around his midsection instead. She’s not ready for that particular truth, to have Luke stare into her eyes until he reads every last emotion behind them, even the ones that she’s too afraid to interpret herself. Besides, she loves the warmth his body provides, melded tightly against hers. She wants this feeling to last forever.
When she finally does pull away, she’s able to shove her emotions beneath the surface again, but she forces on his chest instead of his eyes, nonetheless. Luke grips her shoulders and gently nudges her toward the door, but she stops short and looks up at it, finding that she’s returned to her original position, unable to muster the strength to open it. Instead, she shrugs out of his grip and takes a few steps to the side.
He sighs. “You can, Lorelai.”
“I’m not supposed to be here. Let’s just go, okay? The ball was in my court and I sent it flying out of the field.” She pauses and frowns. “That analogy just fell flat on its face.”
“You were never one for sports,” Luke points out. “Look, she might be mad, but she’ll get over it. She wants you to be there.”
“I’m not so sure.”
Luke shakes his head, but decides on another tactic. “What about your mother? She’s expecting you.”
“Yeah, well… this wouldn’t be the first time I’ve let her down,” she says with a bitter laugh. Lorelai begins to walk down the corridor, fully expecting Luke to follow, but pauses and turns when she doesn’t hear his heavier footsteps join her own. “Luke?”
“You can leave, but I’m going,” he replies, crossing his arms over his chest.
“What?” She runs back to Luke and pulls his arm. He still doesn’t budge. “Luuuuke, no!” she demands breathlessly.
“Hey, I wanna be there for Rory. Besides,” he says in a low voice, “I know you’ll want details.”
She lets go of his arm with a resigned sigh. She really can’t argue with his logic without seeming unfair. He wants to be there for Rory and, unlike her, he has no reason to feel unwelcome. “Fine,” she mumbles.
“I’ll be in the back,” he tells her, “in case you want to come visit.” She rolls her eyes before he disappears to the other side.
Lorelai watches as the door clicks shut and once again wills her hand to grasp the doorknob. It doesn’t.
The trial is a blur of fancy words and dancing around truths. Rory skillfully filters out the excess information as her mind grapples with her heart, wanting both to forget this day ever happened and to remember the shame and pain of her mistakes forever. The longer she hears the plaintiff bring forth the accusations, stinging truths mingled with exaggerations of wild college students and disregard for authority, the easier it becomes to slip away from reality, to wait just below the surface until the words fade away.
But then it ended, and they got off with a community service sentence – a mere slap on the wrist, just as Logan had promised. Regret surfaces at the thought, but this time it is bubbling with a sort of loathing. This isn’t who she is, this should have never been her. She’s not sure that there’s a way to ensure that it will never be here again.
Her heart sinks when she finds herself surrounding by people. She can hardly hear their voices over the increasing beating of her heart in her ears and is just barely able to manage a nod when her grandfather whispers, “That could have been much worse,” into her ear. Her fingers feel stiff and detached as when her lawyer shakes her hand, a proud, smug smile present on his face as if he’s won some sort of battle. And he has, she figures, but it wasn’t a fair fight; he shouldn’t feel proud. He should feel disgusted, like she is.
Logan is now at her side and grasps her limp hand before entwining their fingers. She barely acknowledges this action, but manages to look over at Logan’s parents, instead. His father seems to be intent upon looking at anyone but Rory. She’s secretly appalled at the thought that he might feel sorry for her; pity the fact that she doesn’t have what it takes to survive in the world in which he thrives. And then, of course, there’s Logan’s mother, her disdainful eyes fixed sternly and unflinchingly upon them. There is no doubt in Rory’s mind that Mrs. Huntzberger blames her, but she probably would have blamed Rory even if she hadn’t been involved at all. The fact that it is Rory’s fault just makes everything worse – or is it her fault? Of course she had a say in the matter, she could have handled her sorrow in a different way, but the fact of the matter is that Logan helped her go through with it. She fixed Logan with a sideways glance; why didn’t he try to discourage her more?
No, she tells herself. Don’t blame anyone but yourself. Yet, this one moment of doubt leads to another, and she cannot help but remember the way Logan’s presence in her life has changed everything - a relationship with Dean, friendship with Marty, closeness with her mother, the goals in her life, her very outlook on herself… Oh, God. Did I really get drunk and cry over him on the bathroom floor while my mother held my hair up? The humiliation prickled at the back of her neck as a blush slowly graced her features. Logan and the whirlwind of life that accompanied him had blinded her for so long; she hadn’t even stopped to notice that perhaps he was not as good for her as she had originally thought. Maybe he didn’t bring about her downfall, but he definitely hadn’t cushioned her fall.
She looks into his eyes and sees warmth, but there’s a teasing twinkle behind it that suddenly overwhelms her. Finally, she can look at him as she had the first time she met – when he treated Marty lower than himself. She sees him for what he is – a boy. He’s just a boy.
“Ace?” he tries, “you there?”
“What do you think about grabbing a bite to eat now that this unpleasantness is behind us? I could really go for a good steak, couldn’t you?”
Rory stares blankly at him for a few moments before biting her lip and looking around the room in order to buy herself some time. She notices the way her grandfather seems to be beaming, sees her grandmother give her a comforting nod. Suddenly, the walls are closing in on her; she needs to get away. She turns back to Logan and shakes her head. “I’d really rather be alone.”
With that, Rory disentangles their fingers, pushes her way through the small crowd of people, and heads out the door. She stops walking when the door clicks shut behind her and she finds herself face-to-face with her mother. For a moment, neither moves; they just stare at each other, reading expressions, searching for a clue as to how the other is feeling. Rory is frozen by emotion – she wants more than anything else to throw her arms around her mother’s neck and bury her head in the comforting shoulder, to cry and cry until there’s nothing left inside of her. But she can’t. Lorelai finally takes a tentative step forward, snapping Rory out of her reverie. Instead, Rory takes two steps backward, shakes her head, and continues down the corridor without a second glance.
Emily watches her granddaughter as she hastily brushes past her and out the door. She watches the door as it closes, and wonders whether she should follow Rory or not. However, when she peels her eyes from the door, she notices Luke stand up and remembers that she has more time-sensitive matters to deal with. I’ll give Rory some time to think, she decides as she heads over to Luke and taps him on the shoulder just before he escapes. She watches as his body stiffens, and, after taking a deep breath, he slowly turns to face Emily. He fixes her with a severe look and gives a curt nod.
He discreetly rolls his eyes, a frustrated look crossing his features. “Emily,” he breathes.
“How are you?”
“And the diner?”
“It’s fine, too.”
“Ah, I see.” She pauses. “You seem to have a very fine life.”
“Look,” he tries, “I have to get back to –“
“What?” he asks, thrown off by her abruptness.
“She went to use the restroom.”
“Really? That’s funny; I’ve been looking back toward where you were sitting and I’ve never noticed Lorelai next to you. Perhaps she ate something that disagreed with her stomach, then?”
Luke sighs. “This is something you should discuss with Lorelai, not me.”
“Well, Lorelai’s not here, is she?”
“She’s outside,” he grumbles.
“Outside?" Emily chuckles lightly. “Did she not realize that the trial is in here?”
“She realized. This is just a tough time for her.”
“It’s a tough time for all of us. Her father and I came to support Rory. She said she would be here.”
“Well, some things came up. Now, if you’ll excuse me…” He attempted to head out the door, but Emily follows him. Luke pauses before opening the door.
“Now, Luke, I don’t understand what you’re saying here. Are you telling me she was too ashamed to deal with her own daughter that she sent you in?”
“No. I volunteered.”
Emily gave him a skeptical look. He really is stubborn; she just wants to get to her daughter and scold her for letting her own daughter down, for letting her own mother down. Emily had been expecting to see Lorelai again; she had been expecting another chance to coax Lorelai back into her life. “And why would you do that?” she asks coldly.
“I care about Rory,” he replies simply.
She is momentarily caught off-guard by the sincere honesty she hears in his voice. Luke takes advantage of this, slipping out the door. She merely watches him leave, frozen to her spot. She frowns and the thought crosses her mind that maybe, just maybe, he cares about her daughter and granddaughter more than she thought. Maybe Lorelai had been right when she’d told Richard that Rory was hurt by the way Emily had treated Luke.
But she isn’t ready to admit defeat this easily. He could just be another man, another name in her daughter’s commitment-phobic black book. Or he could be for real. Maybe she knew this all along; maybe that’s why she has feared his presence in Lorelai’s life, in Lorelai’s heart, for so long. He could be good for her. He could keep Lorelai away from Emily for good.