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Taking the Drop

Chapter Text

It’s not like Veronica thought, while fighting tooth-and-nail to win a job at the FBI, that a law enforcement career would be glamorous. She assumed ‘high-risk’ and ‘life-consuming’ went without saying… but jumped in with both feet because everyone assumed she’d fail. Throughout those years she waged battles with a stacked system, though, to earn her gun and badge—she never once imagined the work would be BORING.

She’s currently reading email nine-thousand-three of more than forty-six thousand, however, so she can catalog contents to make a searchable database; and the sheer tedium has her reconsidering her position. Because sure, she MIGHT find the smoking gun in this stash, and put an international fraudster behind bars. But since right now she’s transcribing vet bills for a Pomeranian’s impacted anal glands, she has her doubts.

Voices filter back to her small and grimy cubicle, her reward for graduating Cum Laude from Columbia Law; she perks up as she hears the words, “…see if an agent’s available.” Since she’s fresh out of the Academy, and most junior on staff, Agent in Charge of Random Bullshit is usually her.

Approaching footsteps bolster this theory, so Veronica pitches her gum, straightens her somewhat-wilted blazer. Turns expectantly towards the entrance, alert-and-professional expression in place, just as Logan Echolls lounges against the frame.

He looks GOOD, she thinks illogically, even as she wilts like her sport coat. Tanned and buff and fifty times healthier than he should, considering those six years of tabloid-chronicled hedonism since she dumped him. He’s in old jeans and flip-flops, his ‘Live Fast, Die Young’ t-shirt both worn and snug; faint sun-wrinkles at the corners of his eyes deepen when he notes her disappointment. Darla from reception waves and OH-MY-GOD’s behind him as he says, “Why am I not surprised you turned a felony kidnapping investigation into a job?”

“Why am I not surprised you’re still wasting your potential at the beach?” She gestures up-and-down at his ensemble. “And what on Earth are you doing in the San Diego field office, Logan? Are you planning to make another romantic drunken speech? Maybe you saw a joke flyer advertising kegs, and the metal detectors failed to deter you?”

“You wound me, Veronica,” he says, clearly not wounded, as she shoos away Darla. “You know full well I’m always the host. Like I’d deign to turn up at some random loser’s party.”

She snorts, and his grin faintly manifests. “Tragically, though, there’s a distinct lack of revelry and booze at this locale, so how about I cut to the chase? Can I interest you in a theory regarding bank robberies?”

Her eyes widen and she sits back, gesturing towards the uncomfortable guest chair. He unfolds from his lean and slouches into it, stretching out his long legs and making the cube feel minuscule.

“Now what would a boy like you know about felony theft?” She taps her lower lip while he crosses his arms, entertained. “I’m guessing very little, unless you learned on a film set—but I’ll admit you’ve disappointed me before.”

“I’m talking, specifically, about high-yield local jobs—the ones you guys have bungled like Keystone Cops for three years?” He bobs his brows, tone ever-so-slightly-patronizing. “The robbers wear Ninja Turtle masks, and collect massive hauls with a crew of four?”

“I may have heard a mention,” V says, with irony, because this case is the local Holy Grail. “As has every cable-news watcher in America.”

“Any lovers of partisan coverage realized yet the jobs only take place in the summer?”

She rolls her eyes. “Give us a little credit. We’re the FBI over here, not credulous guest stars on Scooby Doo.”

“And has it further occurred to you,” he leans forward intently, elbows on knees, “that these are the prime surfing months in So-Cal? For the rest of the year, surfers travel to the best waves…which costs more than people other than me can afford.”

He’s close enough now for her to smell his cologne, the sun-baked scent of his skin. Her voice, when she speaks, is husky. “Logan, what have you heard?”

Shrugging, he reclines against the wall, satisfied he’s piqued her curiosity. “Rumors,” he says, with a hand wave. “Nothing substantial. You know how it goes, when we reprobates toast marshmallows and gossip. High-denomination bills are turning up among locals, lately…and I’m the only guy who hasn’t spent his trust fund.”

“Rumors,” she repeats flatly, disappointment washing over her. Decides he looks and smells too lickable for pointless conversation to continue. “Well if that’s all you’ve got, no need to prolong the awkwardness. Thanks for stopping by–we’ll look into your allegations and touch base if necessary. Appreciate the good citizenship, blah-blah, God bless America.”

She finger-waves, and he stares for a moment, disbelief fading into cynicism. “Fine,” he says at last, pushing up out of the chair. “Your loss. I’ve had fun exchanging insults again, Veronica—it’s been a while since my last creative tongue-lashing. Good luck with the glamorous new career. Oh, and…excellent choice, reverting to shorter hair. There’ll be less to tear out when ignoring my clue gets you nowhere.”

He winks and strides away. She runs a palm self-consciously along one side of her sleek bob, and watches his back muscles shift as he goes.

XXXXX

Veronica submits a form detailing the interaction, per procedure, then tries to re-focus on the mind-numbing emails. The memory of Logan’s disappointed expression nags…but what did he expect, showing up out of the blue with no evidence? She WANTED to believe him; just like she wanted, once upon a time, to have faith he’d give up reckless self-endangerment. But leaping without looking is Logan’s thing–and the best way to protect him is to NOT inquire into crimes of his nearest and dearest.

She’s a professional, though, and the bigwigs want their database yesterday. So she dutifully enters emails till it’s eleven and she’s wiped. V then drags herself home to run on the treadmill, eat a frozen dinner, and feel both sad and glad she’s got no hungry dog waiting.

When her alarm goes off (too early) the next morning, she staggers into the kitchen to grab a bottled coffee; slumps half-awake at the breakfast table to chug. Mac’s gone for the day, probably practicing Tai Chi in the park, but the San Diego Union-Tribune’s on the table, neatly folded to show the front page. Veronica’s bleary gaze passes over it…then swings back, focuses. She grabs it in both hands, cursing.

The headline reads, ‘Wild in the Banks? Surf Wax Found at Multiple Robbery Sites, Source Claims’. The article beneath, written by some pompous windbag named Julian Grac, details the theory Logan laid out yesterday…along with several bits of evidence she’s sure were kept from the press.

“That asshole talked to the PAPER,” she mutters, crumpling newsprint in her fists. “When I kicked him to the curb, I should have kicked HARDER!”

Her rage sustains her all the way through her shower and commute. But when she gets inside the forbidding white-stone-blue-glass building, and finds a summons from Agent Morris waiting? Anger gives way to foreboding.

Morris still holds a teeny-tiny grudge about the whole getting-outsmarted-IN-RE-Duncan thing. And continues to view Veronica with unreasonable suspicion–which is troublesome because right now she’s V’s boss.

Her fearless leader’s planted on the desktop when Veronica enters, legs crossed casually, arms folded. The ‘lazy housecat, circling’ routine Morris uses to intimidate is getting old; so V goes full can-do chipper in response. “You asked to see me, ma’am?”

“Mars, am I right in assuming we work for the same department?” Morris arches one eyebrow, and Veronica has to bite her tongue to contain sarcasm. “It’s not something I hallucinated, due to lack of sleep from investigating bank heists?”

“Last time I checked, ma’am,” V replies breezily. “Unless there was a re-org this morning while I was stuck in traffic.”

“And when a potential witness for said case appears in said department…” Morris pauses, for dramatic effect, Veronica assumes. “Shouldn’t the interviewing agent, who’s incidentally my subordinate, notify me ASAP?”

“I passed the information up the chain as per FBI rules,” Veronica says. “And you must have received it, or I wouldn’t be standing here.”

“Yes, but if you had walked Mr…” Morris consults a sheet of paper on the desk by her hip, “Echolls upstairs personally, instead of sending him on his way and writing a bare-bones report, I would’ve received the information YESTERDAY. BEFORE he ran to the paper, and spilled critical intel to perps. I might’ve even convinced him silence is golden, since you didn’t find it worthwhile to try. Here’s a hint—fake sympathy and charm work wonders.”

Veronica finds this claim dubious, but all she says is, “Ma’am, he was passing along rumors. He didn’t give names or offer proof. And I doubt he’s a witness to anything but his own moral decline.”

“Be that as it may,” Morris says. “He HAS made the acquaintance of this pain-in-my-ass Julian Grac. Who somehow knows about the beeswax residue at six of nine robbery sites–the chemical composition of which matches a well-known surf product. Mr. Zog’s Sex Wax, to be precise. Bubblegum scent.”

Veronica contains an eye-roll. “A detail which was kept out of the press.”

“Right.” Morris levers herself up to standing. “My question is, HOW does Grac know? Did he learn this tidbit from Echolls? And if so, where’d Echolls hear?”

“Logan parties a lot.” Veronica shrugs, hoping she comes off unaffected. “And snoops. Probably he stumbled into the wrong crowd and overheard a conversation. It wouldn’t be the first time.”

“Yes, I was interested to learn you and Echolls share a history.” Morris consults the paper again; Veronica wonders whether it’s a car-wash receipt or actual research. “He was your boyfriend after Duncan Kane fled the country, correct? It’s great you didn’t disappear him, too, because we can use that relationship to get close to his sources.”

“Logan Echolls isn’t big on being used,” Veronica says, lightly. “You might not find him accommodating.”

Morris sighs. “Look, Mars, we’ve been praying for a break on this case for years. And, as I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn, none of our agents surf. He does, though—Echolls—I understand he’s pretty good. He also trusts you enough to hand you dirt on guys he knows. It might be…” she trails a finger along the edge of her desk, slants V a sly look, “…advantageous to your career to demonstrate team loyalty, Mars. Convince the guy to be our confidential informant. Get an introduction to some surfers, find out who’s flashing mystery cash. His social circle’s no doubt heard about your turbulent former romance. He could help us infiltrate the locals-only crowd, none of whom like talking to Feds.”

“But if I go undercover,” Veronica tries to conceal her mounting excitement, “who will log the last thirty-thousand Sanderson emails?”

“Let me put it this way, Mars.” Morris smirks. “If you DON’T go undercover? I got a server in today from Atlanta containing another hundred-k.”

“You know I’m a professional, ma’am.” Veronica folds her hands behind her back to conceal the involuntary fist. “Whatever my task may be, I’ll work hard to exceed expectations.”

“So you say.” Morris lays the paper, gently, down. “I’d rather you prove ‘my task’ means ‘anything the FBI asks’. Not ‘whatever I feel is right, even if it’s against the law’.”

Veronica nods, giving away nothing. Morris contemplates her in silence. “We’re working on an alternate post-Hearst background for you,” her boss continues, after a tense thirty seconds. “You’ll have it by the end of the day. I’ve also called in a favor from the owner of Neptune’s Net, a local surf hangout—congratulations, you’re waiting tables. You’ve got a month to produce actionable evidence, plus I want weekly reports, in person. And Mars…from now on, don’t leave ANYTHING out.”

“I would NEVER.” Veronica presses a palm to her heart. Morris narrows her eyes, then waves a dismissive hand.

XXXXX

Once back at her desk, V pulls up tools that make Prying Eyez look like a toy and researches Logan. Within two minutes she’s got a list of his petty crimes, including one drunk-and-disorderly sophomore year and two expunged charges…destruction of a police vehicle, and assault of Mercer Hayes. But since junior year at Hearst, Logan’s flown under the radar. He earned a political science degree, with honors, followed by a Masters in English from YALE; and then…he bought a house in San Diego by the water, and a dog from the SPCA. She copies down the innocuous address, cracks her knuckles and considers.

High-tech’s getting her nowhere, so Veronica decides to Google; finds a ‘What happened to Logan Echolls?’ article which reveals precisely nothing. Next she turns her attention to Julian Grac, which at least has the benefit of novelty. It yields links to crime stories in the Union-Tribune, and an article about ‘ten great authors you’ve never read’.

Frowning, she clicks through, only to realize it’s name confusion. But the phrase ‘a writer who prefers obscurity’ catches her attention, so she speed-reads the autobiography of one Julien Gracq; a turn-of-the-century novelist who rejected awards, refused to do book tours, and lived as a hermit. His masterpiece, ‘Chateau D’Argol’, was about a rich man whose best friend brings a poor girl into their social circle. After which the girl seduces, then ruins, them both.

At this point Veronica throws her pencil holder across the room. Because this is EXACTLY the kind of pseudonym Logan Echolls would adopt, and smirk about regularly, knowing few had the insight to penetrate his ruse.

She doesn’t need to use the search tools on Grac, at this point; but doing so reveals his paychecks languish in a shell account. Suspicions confirmed, she picks up the phone. Adopts the sugariest Southern accent she can muster, just because, and spins a tale to the Trib’s receptionist about the tip of a lifetime for ‘Monsieur Grac’. The voicemail box she’s transferred to boasts an inspirational quote (‘All news, as it is called, is gossip, and they who edit it are old women over tea’), recited in a drawl she recognizes. She hangs up, high on triumph, and decides a long-distance chewing-out won’t serve.

XXXXX

Veronica leans against a lamp post across the street to wait; within half an hour, Logan bounces out of the brown skyscraper housing the Union-Tribune. He loosens his tie as he walks, laughingly calling goodbyes to co-workers. He’s in designer flat-front slacks and a white oxford, hair mussed like he’s been running his hands through it–his impersonation of clean-cut and trustworthy is so cute she has to grit her teeth not to smile.

The street is packed with cabs, so it takes him a minute to notice her. When he does, he pulls a theatrical double-take before jaywalking, hands in pockets, smiling wryly.

“So,” she says, as soon as he clears the road, “Can I interest YOU in a theory about people who lie to FBI agents?”

“I didn’t lie, per se,” he counters, rocking back on his heels as his grin grows Grinch-like. “I just wore my weekend clothes and kept my mouth shut. The Veronica Mars Express Train to Paranoia-ville did the rest.”

“This is a serious federal investigation, Logan,” she chides, folding her arms. “Bringing evidence to the authorities isn’t a game for personal amusement.”

“What, exactly, are you mad about?” He lifts his brows. “That I gave you a hint instead of handing over story notes? That I failed to shout my job history from the rooftops? Or maybe you’re just pissed I’m not an alcoholic loser, since it makes you ditching me seem…selfish?”

“I could’ve had you subpoena’d and interrogated under oath,” she says, faux-thoughtfully. “But browbeating you in person seemed much more fun.”

He laughs. “THERE’s the Veronica who ran afoul of the Russian mob. So what convinced you my theory was worth pursuing, sugarplum? Not my charm, surely. Some fact in the article your colleagues missed, perhaps?”

“Like I’d discuss cases with a reporter,” she scoffs. “Why’d you go with ‘robberies only happen in summer’ when you had physical evidence in reserve?”

“Like I’d reveal my sources.” He grins. “Gosh, Veronica, seems like we’re at an impasse.”

“My supervisor wants to use your connections.” She goes sardonic in response to his glee. “I’d ask if you have experience undercover…”

“…But you know first-hand my skills are professional-grade?”

She narrows her eyes. He cocks his head, amusement warring with calculation. “If I help you, what do I get?” he asks.

“First crack at the story immediately following arrests,” she says. “With our full cooperation. And any information you gather solo you can use…unless, of course, it’s classified.”

He removes car keys from his pocket; stares, considering, into the distance as he flips them around one finger. Returns his gaze to hers and locks on, Logan-style. “I assume my role is to introduce you to suspicious surfers? Since I further assume you won’t let me handle this and report back?”

“You know what they say about assumptions,” she says, by way of answer. “Of course, you’re an ass already, so maybe you don’t care.”

“I should warn you, a lot of our high-school classmates have stuck around.” He holds his tie down with one palm as a breeze shifts it sideways. “This may suck for you, but you’ll have to pretend we’ve reconciled.”

She nods, and he extends the non-key-containing hand. “Give me your phone.”

V shouldn’t violate protocol; but Logan’s trustworthy, within limits, so she types in the code and does. He enters his number in the contacts and gives it back. “There’s a party tonight at Black’s Beach—should be locals-only, very exclusive. Text me an address, I’ll pick you up at eight. Oh, and dress like a surf bunny, even if doing so offends your sensibilities. Not all these people are stupid, you’ll need to blend.”

“Gee, I was hoping you’d refuse to cooperate,” she says wistfully, pocketing her cell. “Then do something worse than jaywalking, then flee, so I could knock you down and cuff you.”

“Maybe later, if you’re REALLY nice,” he says, leaning confidentially towards her ear. Then walks off, whistling, while she tries to purge the image from her brain.

XXXXX

Veronica’s sitting on the porch of her rented condo when Logan pulls up at 7:55—in a dusty black vintage Range Rover, not the shiny orange Porsche she envisioned. She considers, as she stands, whether she also makes too many assumptions. But his appreciative whistle while he opens her door is distracting.

“Guess it slipped my mind how much you love playing dress-up,” he murmurs. She doesn’t miss the quick once-over he gives her as he releases the brake. “You look great, Veronica, love the sarong. And friendship bracelets are a nice touch.”

“This is actually a tablecloth.” She strokes the fringed white linen, embroidered with red roses, she tied over one hip so she’d feel less naked in her green bikini. “I favor a no-nonsense black wardrobe these days, because Cup ‘o Soup stains don’t show.”

“Wise,” he says, and clears his throat. He’s in linen too, a short-sleeved, half-buttoned summer shirt over cargo shorts; she notes with amusement the shark’s tooth necklace has reappeared. “I figured we’d start at the top of the food chain and work our way down, since most surf crews around here are big on punching but short on brains. Brains being a prerequisite for smoothly-planned bank jobs.”

“Sounds fair,” she agrees, watching his arm muscles shift as he changes gears. “This party is where we’ll find apex predators?”

“Black’s has the most challenging waves in the area—ten, twelve footers courtesy of an offshore trench. It takes stamina to swim out and ride, so this spot attracts real athletes…the ranked surfers that compete on TV. And Zen masters, who just want to be one with the ocean.”

She makes a face, and he says, serious, “It’s not a joking matter to these people, Veronica. They don’t welcome posers in their midst. I vividly recall you disapproving of fistfights and vandalism, so be warned; the elite surfing community makes me, way back when, look like a piker. Crews are similar to those biker gangs you inexplicably love, although these are black sheep from MIDDLE-class homes–plus more ethnically diverse. This particular group is Mother Nature mystical in a way you’ll loathe and mock; so expect pot and hallucinogens, free love interspersed with showdowns. Stick close to me or you’ll be propositioned…and whipping out a taser would break your cover.”

“Understood.” She studies his face, surprised to see concern there. Gentles her tone in response. “I’ve gone undercover before, Logan. And agents are extensively trained in hand-to-hand combat. I can handle myself in a fight now.”

“Like you couldn’t before?” A smile plays across his lips; a street lamp illuminates his face as they pass beneath, then he’s cast again in shadow. He turns into a parking lot at the edge of a cliff and kills the engine. “I’m not worried about your moxie, Veronica. I just don’t want you to mouth off and find yourself surrounded. Out here, surfers make the rules.”

“I have full faith in your ability to fight dirty defending me,” she says softly. He laughs, gaze tracing her face, and she’s reminded of previous evenings with him in a parked car.

“Nice to see some things don’t change,” he murmurs, then climbs out to help her down. His hands linger on her waist as he lifts her from the seat, skin-to-skin.

They pass, in the moonlight, a brown sign that reads ‘stairway unstable due to rains’. He walks behind her down a narrow path with a rotting rail, hand on her shoulder like he’ll catch her if she falls. It’s nice, this unwavering focus, his concern for her well-being despite angry words. She used to take it for granted, the way she drew male eyes. But she’s grown up, post-Hearst; and she realizes now most men don’t pay attention as completely as Logan did.

At the base of the cliff, past a saucer-shaped observation tower, a bonfire sends smoke spiraling into the sky; loud music blasts, Dick Dale with the bass maxed. Seventy-ish people cluster near the crackling flames–on either side, a ribbon of sand stretches off into the dark. The water looks black, boasting military-formation-regular waves, and the rock wall at her back is smooth, forbidding.

The crowd’s uninhibited as advertised, drinking and making out, smoking and laughing. A few guys dance in a circle with much hilarity, like they’re having some Lord of the Flies moment or praying for rain. A knot of humanity encircles loose boulders at what’s clearly the party’s center.

It’s obvious Logan’s no stranger, despite his current respectability. He greets people with grins and backslaps, jerks of his chin, less unaffected than he seemed addressing work colleagues. Almost, he slides back into his high-school persona—the 09’er general who dictated popularity, who slashed tires and started shit when his judgments were questioned. But there’s a watchful tension to the set of his shoulders, and he glances left frequently to make sure she’s beside him. That, more than words, convinces her there’s danger.

They take an indirect path to the cluster by the boulders; Logan accepts a shot en route, which he tosses back, unhesitating. Cracking his neck, he meditatively surveys the throng, then coughs to get her attention as a gap opens.

“Guy holding court at the center,” he murmurs, indicating a ropily-buff Asian man with longish hair and ratty swim trunks. “That’s Bodie Chang, he was a year ahead of us at Neptune High. You remember?”

Veronica nods, watching Bodie gesture lazily from his semi-reclined position. Watching the crowd guffaw when he speaks, soak up his every word. “He’s come a long way since I interviewed him for the school paper. I remember Chang being shy.”

“He’s one of the top twenty-five surfers in the world, now.” Logan shoulders aside a drunk dude-bro to attain the inner sanctum. “In this place, he’s King.”

She opens her mouth to reply; but Dick Casablancas erupts from a log like the Ghost of Shitty Memories past, and drapes a wasted arm around her partner-in-crime. “Lo-GAN!” he shouts, like Logan’s not next to him. “Mr. Echolls in the house, now the party can START!”

“Enticing ladies again with the scents of puke and Jagermeister, I see.” Logan shoves Dick off, not without affection. “I thought you weren’t coming tonight, dude. Something about college cheerleaders and a hot tub?”

“They had emergency PRACTICE.” Dick accompanies a raspberry with a thumbs-down. “Seriously, how much do you need to rehearse waving pom-poms? It’s not like anybody looks at the props. Hey, who’s the wahine?” He squints, attempting focus. “Nice boobs, looks sort of familiar. Maybe I’ve seen her in a por…oh, holy SHIT! Dude, why the FUCK did you bring V…”

“Hey ECHOLLS!” a voice calls, mercifully drowning out Dick’s fit. Logan spreads a palm across V’s back to steer her–towards Bodie Chang, his summoner, and the makeshift royal throne. The King of Black’sBeach looks them both over impassively. “Thought you were too busy for our modest shindigs these days, man.”

Logan shrugs, nonchalant, but shakes the proffered hand. “You know how it goes,” he says, easily. ”All that money to spend, all those waves to ride. Plus too much temptation here to drink to excess. My body’s a fine-tuned machine.”

“I can respect that,” Bodie says, with a faint smile that reminds Veronica forcefully of Agent Morris. “Looks like maybe you’ve had other distractions lately, too. Who’s your date?”

“This,” Logan says, pairing a smile with a warning glance, “Is Veronica Mars.”

Then he snakes an arm unexpectedly around her waist. His hand finds the gap in her makeshift sarong, cups her hip; he pulls her flush against his side and adds, “My girlfriend.”

Chapter Text

Bodie Chang’s narrow face is expressionless—his gaze flat and black as it dispassionately measures Veronica. “I remember you,” he says at last, in an easy voice she can’t read. “From Neptune High, right? You did an article about me once for the school paper…you and Duncan Kane. Carried around a big old fancy camera…I liked the photos you took.”

“Thanks.” She shifts in Logan’s grip. His warm palm spans her whole hip—she used to have such a thing for his hands, which dwarfed every part of her but were always so gentle. She wants to ease away to better focus, but also kind of…doesn’t. “I own a fancier one now. I’m trying to break out of waitressing and into…nature photography.”

“Right on.” Bodie turns back to Logan, his long salt-snarled hair swishing around ropy shoulders. “Nature’s the only answer. The beginning and end of everything that matters.”

“That’s exactly what Veronica says!” Logan favors her with an indulgent smile which borders on smarmy. “She won’t stop talking about the sacredness of every rock, tree and flower. It’s a wonder someone as Zen as she is can function in modern society.”

She winds her arm around HIS waist solely in order to pinch him, and his grin grows smugger. “I’m fascinated by the golden ratio,” she says, with edge. “That’s my focus, the way it determines organic shapes.”

“Like a wave,” Bodie agrees. “That perfect curl, a womb made of ocean when you’re gliding inside. This one’s all right, Echolls. I can see why you’ve been so busy, but it’s good you’re back.”

“Yeah, but for how LONG?” Casey Gant calls from where he’s stretched full-length in the sand, head propped on a log. He’s smoking a pipe of what smells like hash, wearing the shit-stirring grin that preceded high-school mockery. “Weren’t you all het up to do something CONSTRUCTIVE, Logan…before you vanished, I mean? Bitching about how endless summers cramped your style?”

His back, beneath V’s hand, tenses, but the shrug he offers LOOKS effortless. “What can I say? I had plans to win back a girl. Not only did THAT not work, I learned a valuable lesson about jobs in the process. If you don’t love your work…if you don’t do it for YOURSELF…it feels just as empty as not trying at all.”

“Spoken like a guy who gets it.” Bodie pins Casey with a glare that makes him sulkily subside, then pitches his voice to be better heard by the crew. “Here’s what I remember about Echolls: he walked his talk. And he knew what was important about living free. Not the partying, man…the waves.”

“AND the partying,” Dick mutters, when Bodie turns away, bestowal of royal favor complete. “Because if you’re not kicking out jams while you break rules, what’s even the point?”

“Dick.” Logan pats his back as he steers Veronica away. “You’re a still point on a spinning world. Much like death and taxes, you never change.”

“Why would I?” Dick catches a football thrown across the beach and spins it in his hand. “I’ve got brews, babes and money to burn. Deep thoughts are for people with nothing better to do.”

He runs off with a whoop to tackle the quarterback, and Veronica says, “Wow, the combination of testosterone, woo-woo philosophy and déjà vu on this beach is making my head spin.”

“Probably it’s a contact high,” Logan says, with a faint grin. “Then again, you DO find my company intoxicating.”

“You wish,” she mutters, and he laughs.

“Maybe I just feel some déjà vu myself.” He gives her hip a pat and disengages, with an eyebrow quirk of rueful-yet-charming apology. She tugs fabric down to warm the suddenly-cold spot.

“It’s like they’ve been frozen in amber since high school.” Veronica does a slow spin, taking in her surroundings. Casey’s squirting lighter fluid on the fire, hooting as he jumps clear of the flare. Dick’s sprinting past two Pan High jocks to make a touchdown, and Enbom’s on a blanket with Angie Dahl, peeling saran wrap off a square…yep, brick of weed. He does a piss-poor job before giving up, and tossing it all on the flames. Sticky-sweet smoke curls skyward, spreads, and he turns to kiss his date, pulling her down in the sand. “The only difference is, they have a new king.”

“Trying to lead these morons anywhere is a shit job.” Logan leans against the rickety base of the tower and folds his arms, hint of moodiness in the firelight that echoes her memories. ”Bodie’s welcome to them—I might even send him a fruit basket.” He smirks, vintage cynicism, and with a return of briskness adds, “So. Hatched a plan of attack, yet, or are we making up this caper as we go?”

“Be mice until we need to be tigers?” She shrugs, watching Bodie stand and wander towards the cliff—watching Casey abandon random antagonism to follow. “We’re on a reconnaissance mission…a meet-and-greet, if you will. Keep your eyes peeled for suspicious details that merit digging, and continue playing surf douche till it’s time to bail.”

“And what exactly is your role?” He follows her gaze towards Chang and Gant, faintly frowning. “Because this isn’t a Tupperware party, and it looks to me like one-upsmanship is brewing.”

“Hey ECHOLLS!” Bodie calls across the sand, and he lifts his palms in illustration; he’s the guy they’ll try to one-up.

“Want to bet we’ll be climbing the rope ladder and jumping?” he mutters, flashing her a look—one that’s meant to ask permission, but feels like a dare. And since dares from Logan Echolls are basically irresistible? Her gaze locks with his, and her chin jerks in a nod.

He smiles, something sparking behind his eyes; matches his pace to hers as they weave through the crowd. And maybe it’s gouts of narcotic smoke casting a haze over the proceedings, or the hint of danger ahead--but she can feel herself relaxing into the adventure, wherever it leads. Action, not repression. Adrenaline, not paper trails. Real work, real risk, real reward. Life or death.

“You enjoy a good free fall?” Bodie asks as they approach, and Logan’s grin, for once, isn’t practiced.

“On occasion.” He examines the ladder, testing it with a tug. Not for himself, Veronica realizes, but because he assumes she’ll climb. “As I recall, this particular jump’s a kick. Gotta push out hard from the cliff side, though, or you’ll go splat in the shallows and that’s all she wrote.”

Noted, Veronica thinks as Dick approaches, trailing football buddies and chugging beer. “Anybody want to fill out a last will and testament?” Bodie asks, curling his hands around a stretch of rope and decisively beginning to climb. “Maybe call loved ones to say goodbye?”

“My parents are dead,” Logan says, below him, which elicits a distant laugh. “And if my sister inherited my trust fund she’d throw a parade. The only one left who matters is Veronica, and I don’t honestly think she minds.”

V frowns at this before remembering they’re acting, then takes off her sarong and sandals and tosses them onto a rock. Dusts her hands together to brush away clinging sand. Plants a foot on the old fraying rope, tests it with her weight, then starts up like it’s the Quantico obstacle course and she’s determined to place first.

Logan cackles behind her, she feels the sound like a thrill, and then it’s nothing but swaying rope against the rock face in the windy night--slowly crawling upwards towards the scrub-covered plateau.

When she reaches the edge Bodie gives her a hand past; she stands shivering amidst the salt-grass and weeds, looking out at the moon reflecting distorted in the waves. Feeling alive, present like she hasn’t in who knows how long, and it’s AMAZING.

“Nice up here, right?” Bodie eyes her astutely, all night-bleached angles and shadows. “Quiet, empty. Nothing but earth and sky and that big, long drop. Just this moment.”

She nods, syncing her breathing to the rhythm of the waves, as Logan swings up over the cliff’s lip, graceful as ever, barely needing to exert himself. She’s always envied the ease he has with his body, the way he deploys every tiny movement for maximum effect. Because hers so often betrays her—smaller, weaker, than she needs it to be, more angry and passionate than she can easily handle.

He saunters towards her, grinning; Dick follows as always, heaving himself onto the grass with a groan. Casey comes up next, sprawls beside Dick, and Bodie says, “Before I jump, I want you to all remember this: every day you live fully? Is a good day to die.”

With a grin and a salute, he takes off running—springs out hard in an arc of spread limbs, wearing a beatific smile. Veronica watches him disappear from view, Icarus with singed wings, and reaches the edge in time to watch him cleave the arc of a wave and sink beneath.

Logan whistles, soft and low. Dick shouts, “NICE ONE, BRO!” and pulls a beer from his pocket. Salutes the ocean where Bodie landed as he pops it open, chugs—and then casting it aside, whoops, and flings himself, flailing, off after.

Turning to her, Logan gazes down, and the intent look in his eye is one with which she’s familiar—it’s sexual, it’s focused, in a way that negates his lazy posturing. He holds out a hand, palm up, long fingers spread. She looks at it, then up at his face, and the corner of his mouth quirks. Her palm presses to his, their fingers twine, and he says, “On three.”

“One,” she agrees with a deep inhale. “Two.”

“Three,” he says, firm, decisive, and they begin to run.

The grass is both sharp and slippery beneath her soles, she digs in her toes and pushes because she needs speed, she needs height. Her chin drops as she reaches the lip, but before she can kick up and out she’s yanked in his wake and soaring. Flying.

They plummet thorough the cool, windy dark, farther seaward than she could have leapt alone; and she has a moment to realize he did this because he knew she couldn’t make it, he lent her his power in service of her case…and it makes the flight BETTER. Their bodies work together to accomplish the improbable; each second breaks into a thousand discrete fragments as her stomach drops and she feels EVERYTHING. His sweat slippery palm gripping hers, the way his dense weight propels her along a graceful arc, like they’re dancing a ballet through empty air. Then the foam rises up to meet them, the cold, briny spume, they sink underneath as she struggles not to inhale. Hit bottom, he propels them up with a shove, then barks a laugh as they break the surface.

The freedom of the moment is so acute she feels high. He pulls her arms around his neck so she’s hanging around him like a cape, swims hard to catch a wave he can bodysurf to the beach. They crawl out and lie in the sand, and she closes her eyes tight to contain joy.

“Veronica,” he says softly, but somehow she hears him over the roar of the water, the shouts and cheers of people all around them. Opening her eyes, she sees him silhouetted on one elbow, gazing down at her. And the look on his face…

He knows. There’s an understanding in his eyes, an acceptance, which makes her certain he feels the thrill. Gets the lure and bait of risk, the way it can snag and trap, and doesn’t intend to judge.

She wishes, for just a moment, the whole girlfriend thing wasn’t a ruse. Because the urge to kiss him is as overpowering as the urge to jump again.

“I’m shaking,” she says, and he says, “Adrenaline letdown. These guys, so you know, they…feed on it.”

She nods as Casey wades past them out of the water, cackling at their probably-romantic pose. Grabs a bottle of whiskey from some Jams-clad doofus’s hand and pours a stream of booze down his throat. “I think that jump was only the appetizer.”

“Oh, they’re just getting started,” he agrees, like he knows. Glances at Enbom and Ashley, who are 100% mid-coitus on the blanket in full view, then away. “You made the kind of first impression that’ll ensure your welcome next time, so…how about I take you home before everyone’s testosterone peaks?”

Veronica nods; he climbs to his feet and pulls her up after. He’s shivering too, she notices, clothes soaked through, and she can see every curve of muscle delineated by the clinging shirt. Of which there are a lot, it seems, he’s twice as cut as he was way back when. And the boy was, she reflects as her breath catches, never what they’d call a slouch.

“Yes,” she says, and her voice sounds hoarse even to her. “Home sounds good.”

He smiles in a way that makes her realize she’s gaping before striding off to gather her things; drapes the tablecloth around her shoulders to warm her, and shakes his head at the picture she makes as he leads her up rickety stairs. “Looks like a cream puff, never turns down a dare,” he murmurs, voice pitched one note above the whistle of wind. “Guess neither of us has gained as much wisdom with age as we thought.”

“We left after one jump,” she says, pressing a palm to the cliff wall as she climbs. And I didn’t kiss your brains out, she thinks but doesn’t add.

“No boards tonight,” he says, as they reach the lot, beeping his car open and pulling her door wide. “And no Sex Wax in sight. But while there’s plenty of chutzpah in that crew, they’re not so big on brains, plus Case and Enbom both own Lear jets. I think we should widen the net.”

“You do, huh?” She smirks, curling her feet beneath her and turning up the car’s heater. Rubs absently at goosebumps, watching him watch from the corner of her eye. “Good thing you’re the agent in charge, then, and not some too-big-for-his-britches journalist hunting Pulitzers.”

“See you say that like it’s a bad thing.” He puts the car in reverse and slants her a smirk as he backs up, “but I think we both know the whole britches situation was the trait of mine you liked best.”

This comment makes her want to both blush and flinch, which is par for the course with Logan Echolls--she manages to do neither. Just takes a slow, deep breath and says, “Once upon a time you were King of the 09’ers, and I still believed in fairy tales. We were more complicated than sex, which I think you know, and besides…as I recall, my excessive career focus chapped your ass. Seems to me going our separate ways worked out for both of us.”

“Was I just likened to a Disney prince?” He hits the blinker, turns using the heel of one hand in that annoyingly competent way he has. “Why do I feel flattered? Maybe I assumed Duncan Kane owned that category in your mental index.”

“If you knew how heavy the cloud of Duncan’s choices hangs over me, daily,” she says, dry, “you’d no doubt reassess.”

“Well, troubled romantic history aside,” he smiles, very faintly, at some memory he doesn’t share, “we DID make effective partners in crime…solving. So it’s only rational that this endeavor continue. Especially since I got the feeling, when I visited your office yesterday, that you enjoy your typical level of status and support there.”

She fake-laughs to disguise this statement’s obnoxious aptness. “Let me get marching orders in the morning, then I’ll be in touch. One of the most enjoyable things about this job is that my plans are made FOR me.”

“Sounds like an ideal career for Veronica Mars,” he says, sardonic, as he pulls up in front of her place. “Good thing you’ve got me around to liven the situation up.”

“Just don’t liven it to dangerous levels.” She sets a hand on the handle, but hesitates to yank. “As is your tendency.”

“Oh, because I’m the loose cannon in this partnership.” He rolls his eyes. “Sorry, snookums, I was full-on Danny Glover this evening, and you were maniacally waving the gun. Or flinging your itsy-bitsy self from cliffs, whatever. If anyone goes off-map it won’t be gainfully-employed, income-tax-paying me.”

“You say that now.” She smiles, and he gets that gleam in his eye she loves, the one that means he thinks she’s adorable. “I’m reserving judgment, myself, until the first fistfight breaks out.”

One by one, he cracks the knuckles of the hand resting atop the wheel. She laughs, and carries the warm feeling with her up the stairs and inside.

XXXXX

There must have been some chemical residue on the brick of pot she inhaled, because Veronica wakes the next morning with a throbbing brain. A glass of water and a couple Tylenol help marginally; a hot shower and the biggest coffee Starbucks sells help more. But she still needs sunglasses to cope with Morris at the office, which doesn’t convey professionalism as well as she’d like.

She’s barely booted up her desktop when she’s summoned to report, and if her steps drag a little as she schleps across the building, well…who can blame her?

“Yes, mistress?” is how she wants to address her department superior, but, “You rang, ma’am?” is the substitute she manages. Takes a too-hot sip of overly-sweet latte and hopes to God Morris keeps her voice calm and low.

“Any leads?” Morris recline-sits on the edge of her desk, arms folded. Her suit’s black today, with a pristine white blouse, and those annoyingly-perfect knife-pleats in the trousers. “Echolls proving advantageous or disruptive?”

“We ingratiated ourselves with what he claims is the alpha pack,” Veronica says, which prompts her boss to lift a brow. “Half of them were morons I know from high school, they don’t have the brains or financial need to even steal from mommy’s purse. Logan who IS being obnoxious but not unhelpful, will no doubt hit the beaches today, though; so he can surveil other groups while I sit in my cube and fill out paperwork. Yay!” She makes a pom-pom-waving motion, splashing scalding coffee on her wrist, and Morris’s second brow rises to meet the first.

“The analysts managed to ID a personal item in a frame of the latest heist video.” She reaches behind her, extracts two photos from a Manila folder (so neatly they’re no doubt the only items stashed there). Hands the first across to Veronica, who’s forced to remove her glasses to inspect it.

“A bracelet?” she frowns at the close-up of a man’s wrist, squints to make out detail; Morris pushes off the desk with a sigh.

“A TWINE bracelet,” she elaborates, extending the second picture, which proves to be a handmade flyer. “Pukka shells interspersed with blue beads, which I’m reliably informed is a sought-after design. Sold only by a homeless ‘artisan’ who favors Cape Crescent, which should somewhat narrow your search.”

“Well, hello tacky.” Veronica makes a face, reminded of that atrocity Logan wore religiously for half of high school. “Thank God for criminals with bad taste or we’d never get anywhere, right?”

“Mars, were you drinking on the job?” Morris asks, and too late, V shoves her glasses back over her reddened eyes. Drinks more coffee, because if she doesn’t stay a step ahead she’ll end up riding a desk forever.

“More like I breathed the local air.” Veronica toasts Morris with her tragically-almost-empty cup. “Let’s just say, if we need to lock these guys up fast and don’t have sufficient evidence? They purchase their narcotics by the pound.”

“Pictures of criminal activity would have been nice. You know, since theoretically we’re building a case here. But I get that it’s hard to hide a telephoto lens in the bikini you no doubt wore.” Morris reaches into her pocket and removes a small box, waves to indicate it’s for V. This proves to contain a choker, black leather with three square green beads. “Wear this when you’re undercover from now on—it’s waterproof, supposedly. Press on the left and right at once to take a photo, there’s space for thirty on the chip. I want 302’s of every encounter last night, on my desk before you leave today. And don’t forget, your first shift at your new job starts at three.”

Inwardly, Veronica groans. Outwardly, she says, “Ma’am, yes ma’am,” and salutes with the box before pushing out the door. Slumps back to her tiny cubicle and sprawls face-first on the desk. The molded Formica feels cool on her forehead and smells, ever so faintly, of granola.

It takes her five minutes to work up the energy to attempt bureaucracy. After which, it takes four hours to write about the prior evening in a non-self-incriminating way.

Then she has to head home, shower, and tart herself up surf-bunny style, so she can perform minimum wage labor for kicks.

Whoever convinced her the FBI was glamorous was a LIAR.

XXXXX

Neptune’s Net proves to be a dive off the PCH, butting up to Malibu Beach. There’s nothing fancy about it; just a rectangular grey building on a rectangular square of concrete, a white-cursive name-sign precariously balanced on the roof. Inside the décor runs to surfboards and fishnet—fried seafood is ordered from a chalkboard at a counter, eaten at picnic tables overlooking the surf.

Veronica leaves her battered Honda in the lot’s corner, at the end of a row of motorcycles; bellies up to the bar, where a variety of non-Malibu-esque blue-collar types wait wearily for beer. The only visible employee, a goatee-having beanpole in a Weezer t-shirt and Jamaican-flag beanie, glances at her with faint curiosity but keeps pulling pints. It’s six minutes by her watch before he summons the verve to amble over.

“So, like, I’m supposed to start today?” She gives the lilt of her Amber voice a note of indifferent laziness--not ‘stoner’ exactly, but definitely not employee-of-the-week. “I talked on the phone to some guy named Mr. Jacobs, he said he used to be an ASTRONAUT, and…” she lets her voice trail off, glances around. “Is that you?”

“Naw, man, he’s a big dude. Big and OLD.” The dead ringer for Trent Lane shrugs. “Just come on back and put on an apron or whatever. And a hairnet. You gotta have a hairnet, or a hat.”

Veronica sighs, because scintillating conversation like this will make shifts third-circle-of-hell territory, but pulls a red bandanna from her fringed bag with a flourish. Trent gives a thumbs-up and jerks his head towards the swinging door; she hopes to God someone robs this place, or drives a motorcycle through the front window, before she dies of boredom.

Neither of the above happens as the next hour drags on—she rings up fish baskets using the laminated price key, and aggressively chews Bubblicious to cut the greasy/briny scent. Eventually the dinner rush slows as the sun sinks; and, Trent being disinclined to chat, she settles in the corner booth with a Surf Life magazine. Her cell, camouflaged in a psychedelic-Hello-Kitty case, begins to chirp on the table beside her with text notifications. Since no one she knows texts more than once in a blue moon, she picks it up with a frown.

King Julien the sender notification reads; she groans, recalling she left her bag unguarded on the beach last night before haring off up a cliff. Logan clearly seized the moment to slide into her contacts list, and now he’s making a pest of himself, just like old times.

Did a little beach bumming today, the first message reads. Heard some interesting rumors. Meet me for drinks? I’m told you Feds like to booze it up after hours.

Not out investigating without your partner in anti-crime, are you? Asks the second. I keep calling your office and getting voicemail, it’s giving me a complex.

And see if I share my leads with you again says the third, especially the juicy ones. Your loss, Mars. We coulda had it all.

She rolls her eyes, because drama much? Types, some of us have jobs, and also second cover-story jobs, which require us to do more than wait for uninvited texts.

Oooh, are you UNDERCOVER? Comes the immediate response. Please tell me it’s perilous and you need backup. I’ve been talking to morons all day, and I long to leap from something.

There’s a real and present danger of grease burns, she replies. Or getting hit on by a geriatric in leather, but that’s about the sum. I’m slinging seafood at Neptune’s Net and rediscovering the joys of desk jobs.

“You know, if you’re looking for something to do during the lull, you could head into the back and put dishes in the sterilizer,” Trent says, as pointedly as someone perma-baked can, materializing out of nowhere to toss a damp rag on her table. “They’re stacking up.”

She hurriedly locks the screen as he leans forward to scrub. Begins to stand, then spots the bracelet on his skinny wrist and sits back down. It’s close enough in style to the one in Morris’s flyer to put her on alert, although the beads in this are brown, the twine bleached grey by time and exposure. “Sure thing!” she chirps, producing a pep-squad grin around her gum. “Just finishing up my break, texting my boyfriend, et cetera. He’s a surfer, you know, and he’s SUPER excited about me working here! How about you? Do you surf, too?”

Trent shoots her a look both bloodshot and jaundiced instead of answering; pulls a handful of sugar packets from his apron and sets them before her. “Fill the caddy while you text him goodbye. And just FYI we’ve got customers lining up. Again.”

Veronica rolls her eyes as he shuffles off, because as IF she needs work-ethic lessons from the platonic ideal of slackerdom. Begins to tidy packets as a voice behind her says, “Really making headway at befriending the rest of the staff, huh?”

She jerks and turns, and there’s Logan, dressed in godawful lime-green Jams and a too-tight orange tee that reads Rocket Dog. He’s doing an edge-of-the-booth lean, balanced on one shoulder with arms folded, and his flip-flop-shod feet are sandy. “Jesus, where did you come from?” she demands. “I thought you were beach bumming, or gossiping, or both.”

“I was on my way home down the PCH when you deigned to answer my texts, plural.” He takes a seat opposite and removes the packets from her grip. Methodically, begins to sort into color-coded piles. “And I’m STARVING, so why WOULDN’T I visit my Pretend Special Someone, thus scoring free food? Only to find her chatting up some dude who looks like Trent Lane, and FACEPLANTING. What do you think that does to my ego?”

“Oh please, your ego is the most bulletproof in the history of human consciousness.” She takes the sweet-and-lows away and shoves them into the ceramic caddy. “And I’m just trying to pinpoint the guy’s crew and beach, but he’s not what you’d call communicative. Plus, he wants me to do dishes with grease burns on my hand, which, sorry, not happening.”

“Diva,” Logan says without heat, handing her the stevia. “Why do you care about that guy, anyway? He looks like a nineties Calvin Klein ad, he’s clearly not a surf-scene power player. Or the right body type to be a perp.”

Briefly, V considers telling him about the bracelet, since it’s one of two leads she’s got. But that would give the impression information-sharing goes both ways, which it emphatically does not. And also, Morris would kick her ass if bracelet references, no matter how veiled, turned up in the paper. “Just a hunch,” she says, airily, tapping together Sugars in the Raw. “He’s centrally employed and also evasive. Besides, it’s my JOB to pursue all possibilities, no matter how abstruse.”

“Uh-huh.” Skepticism oozes from each syllable. “Sure, whatever, be withholding Veronica; it’s not like I ferret out secrets for a LIVING. Why don’t you head back to the register before he bursts a blood vessel, and I’ll ‘flirt’ from the bar while demonstrating lead-gathering people skills? All it’ll cost you is a burger and fries.”

“If I get splattered by hot oil again I’m coming for you,” she mutters, but pastes on a fake grin to coyly oblige; makes a show of bussing his warm, bristly cheek before ringing up a fisherman’s shrimp basket. Logan grins at the rapid mood shift but obligingly angles his jaw; manages to look uncharacteristically approachable while still seeming to give no shits.

“Hey Trent!” she calls when the last customer shuffles away. Her coworker wanders out from the back, frowning.

“It’s Todd,” he says, wiping his hands on a rag. Logan shoots her a sardonic look she ignores.

“Sorry…blonde!” she points at her hair with a giggle, which prompts Todd to raise you-need-something? brows. “I just wanted to introduce my boyfriend. He’s into all this beachy-ocean stuff just like you, isn’t that CRAZY?”

Logan huffs a suppressed laugh at her lack of subtlety, but Todd just narrows his eyes, his posture stiffening. “I know you,” he says, a note of wary antagonism creeping into his voice, though he also sounds slightly…admiring? “Echolls, right? You were the big deal at Black’s before Chang came back to town.”

“Used to hold my own.” Logan shoves some fries into his mouth and speaks around them. “About five years back. I still surf, but I’m not really…affiliated with that crowd anymore.”

“Smart move if you’re letting your girl work here.” Todd seems, marginally, to relax—probably some dumb boy rivalry was just averted. “Manager’s old-school Cape Crescent, this is OUR hangout.”

He gestures with his head at the back room, currently dark and silent, but Logan just says, “Wow, things HAVE changed. Used to be 100% Malibu crew up in here, and you know those guys are all starfuckers.”

They both snort at this incomprehensible joke, which irritates the crap out of Veronica, and Logan adds, “Guess your guys’ll be showing up later, then, to plan strategy?”

“Strategy for what?” V asks, with edge, coming to attention. Logan sits back on his stool and smirks.

“I’ve heard all KINDS of interesting rumors today, honeybunny. Very hush-hush, a…Sharks and Jets and more Jets rumble-type situation brewing. At Dog Beach, right Todd? Sunrise?”

“Dog Beach assholes talking shit,” Todd confirms, with an eye roll. “And Chang, you know he…”

He trails off, in what looks to Veronica like a fit of nerves and Logan fills in, “Thinks he IS the shit?” Waits till Todd relaxes enough to barely nod, then continues, “Is he even competing? Because nobody here can touch him; but he seems awfully Zen to be proving shit on regular Joes at the most dangerous break in town.”

Todd shrugs, busying himself straightening a pile of menus. “There’s seeming Zen, and then there’s BEING Zen,” is all he says. “Bring you girl and watch, if you want. See for yourself how your old crew copes these days, when their shit stinks more than they think.”

“I just might.” Logan bobs his brows at Veronica before smugly biting into his burger; Todd retreats to the kitchen. “So what do you think, pumpkin? Wanna watch a three-way surf duel at dawn, scope out all the best crews in town?”

Courtesy of me, he leaves unsaid, but V glares anyway because the nonverbal gloating is unbearable. “I hate you,” she murmurs, tugging the fry basket towards her and eating one. She’s not sure she means it, entirely—he’s presented a golden opportunity to scope out likely-guilty Cape Crescent locals. But it wouldn’t do to let HIM know he’s got value.

“You NEED me,” he corrects, easing the basket gently back and winking. “Luckily for you? I accept both abject apologies and milkshakes in thanks.”

Chapter Text

The doorbell rings at five AM, half an hour before Veronica’s alarm. It bleats, pauses, bleats again, startling her from some vaguely-erotic, Logan-involving dream she’s glad she can’t recall. She lies there for a moment, heart pounding, while silence stretches taut, and then the bell rings again. She stumbles out of bed, collects a robe from her almost-never-used reading chair, and staggers, uncoordinated, to the door.

Logan’s leaning against the frame when she swings it open in the way only Logan can, dressed in threadbare cargo shorts, a baby-blue Mentos tee and flip flops, one elbow balanced above his head. He’s got a cardboard drink carrier in his free hand, which contains two steaming coffees and a pastry-scented bag; the smile that spreads as he surveys her sleepiness is somehow indecent.

“Up and at ‘em, sunshine!” He injects a purposefully-obnoxious perky note. “The waves won’t wait just because you’re not a morning person.”

“Then I hate them.” She grabs one of the coffees and removes the lid so she can chug. “But just for today, maybe not you, because GOD I needed this.”

She turns and leaves the door open, saluting him with the cup, lets him follow her into the miniscule one-bedroom she calls home. It’s not messy, because V can’t abide disorder, but there’s a faint layer of dust in need of attention, should she ever get a whole day off.

He glances around, bemused, at the utilitarian, undecorated space; a futon couch, a desk, a bed and a kitchenette are the only things it contains, all of them various shades of beige. “Love what you’ve done with the place.”

“SUCH a comedian.” She gestures at the couch. “Have a seat. I need a quick shower before makeup, be ready in fifteen.”

“Aren’t you afraid I’ll snoop?” He sprawls backwards onto the couch without spilling a drop—show-off-- and sets the carrier on the floor by his feet. Collects his own coffee and sips, butter-wouldn’t-melt. “Ferret out your deepest, darkest secrets, while you’re too locked in the bathroom to stop me?”

“What secrets?” She shrugs, turns to implement her plan. Pauses at the door to glance over her shoulder; a drama move, she’s aware, but somehow Logan and his theatrics inspire her to respond in kind. “In order to have THOSE, I’d need a life first.”

He laughs, and she retreats into the shower, keeping her ears peeled while she scrubs for suspicious noises, despite her blasé words. Spends a good eight minutes on no-makeup-makeup of the nature-girl variety, because looking effortlessly gorgeous takes work.

She ordered assorted boho-chic items online, and paid the exorbitant shipping fees to have it all delivered within twenty-four hours; she’s now got an extensive beach-bunny wardrobe to choose from. V selects a royal-purple bikini under a sheer, pink, embroidered cover-up—accentuates with the camera-choker, plus copious shell-containing jewelry. After piling her hair atop her head, she anoints herself with a good douse of amber perfume; decides she couldn’t look more like a trust-fund beach-bum’s hanger-on if designed by a target group.

When she emerges on a cloud of steam, Logan chokes on his drink. “Wow,” he says, setting down the sheet of paper he’s perusing and searching out a tissue. “I’m not sure whether to laugh or ogle. Did you and Ashley Banks spend Girl Day at the mall?”

“I am a trained federal agent. I know how to blend.” She crosses to grab the page off the couch; it’s a note from Mac, which reads Winnebago Warrioring until September. Thanks for letting me crash! “Where’d you find this?”

“On the fridge.” He stretches his legs out and crosses them at the ankle, not displaying a trace of guilt. “A location which, based on the contents, you rarely visit. This is Cindy Mckenzie from Hearst, I presume?”

“She’s been couch-surfing for the last month since her lease ran out, waiting for her girlfriend to get back from Albuquerque with a gently-used motor home. They’re planning to travel around the country for six months, checking out rural tourist traps like The World’s Largest Ball of Twine.” V sets the page on the couch arm and kicks her feet into hot-pink Tevas--the kind with the ankle strap, in case she needs to pursue and subdue. Collects her beach bag, and checks the locked, interior pocket to make sure her sidearm is loaded and the safety engaged. Turns back and favors him with her brightest smile. “Now, enough with the third degree. Let’s go catch some bitchin’ waves! Locals only, surf or die!”

“If that’s your idea of blending, maybe don’t talk so much.” He winks as she tries to suppress a scowl, and rising, hands her the paper bag before leading the way to his car.

Veronica locks up and follows, smiling as she sits, because he’s turned on the heat for her. The sack proves to contain a bearclaw, singular, and she glances sideways. “You’re not eating?”

“I had an omelet after my run.” He dons a very expensive pair of sunglasses. “Some of us can’t chow down the way you do and maintain our girlish figures, sad to say.”

She snorts and digs in, and he grins before taking off along the PCH at a typically-Logan rapid clip. The sun creeps up towards the horizon, tinting all of So-Cal pink and gold. V kills the heat and cracks the window—it’s cool, not cold, and the air smells ocean-sweet—and the silence is more comfortable than it ought to be, considering.

Dog Beach looks the same as it did when she lived at the Sunset Cliffs with dad—she feels a pang, remembering Backup, and the endless tennis balls she threw for him here. A sigh escapes her, and Logan murmurs, “Memories, ageless and evergreen?”

“It all just seems…so long ago,” she says, not sure why she shares. “High school. And faded around the edges, even though at the time, every moment felt like some grand tragedy unfolding.”

“Even trauma eventually fades.” He doesn’t look at her, but his voice softens. “Or at least the non-PTSD kind does, over the space of ten years. One of those truths you don’t believe until it happens—just after, it seems like you’ll never forget. But I haven’t been able to picture Lilly clearly for a while, now. And I used to stare at her as hard as I could, try to memorize her face, once upon a time.”

Veronica closes her eyes, and can’t bring up more than a vague image, either…just bounce and verve, curves and sunshine, the essence of Lils. This failure makes her sad in a way she can’t name. “So what are we walking into, on this beach, exactly?” she asks, to shake off the mood. “I’d like to be prepared.”

“Feats of derring-do.” He shrugs, shutting off the engine, hooking his sunglasses in the collar of his shirt. “These surf challenges are basically pissing contests. Three teams send out representatives to do the riskiest tricks possible, try to make each other wipe out…sophomoric bullshit, basically. Bodie Chang never plays dirty—he doesn’t have to, he’ll wipe the floor with whoever the other crews pick. There’s usually a crowd hanging out on the beach during, day-drinking and yelling, probably fighting amongst themselves over the results. The typical too-much-free-time, not-enough-sobriety posturing. You saw enough of it in junior high, you know the drill.”

“I can’t believe these guys are pushing thirty and still acting like teenagers.” She shakes her head, drains the coffee. “Don’t they realize they’re past the sell-by date at which ‘cool’ transforms into ‘loser’?”

“They’re only losers by the corporate definition.” He shoots her an inscrutable look. “In the live-fast-die-young iconoclast worldview, they’re singing their swan songs with style.”

Veronica takes a moment to digest—because LOGAN used to follow this code. And only escaped due to his desire to ‘impress a girl’, a transparent reference to her. If he hadn’t, he might be involved in similar nonsense for real, still. He might already be dead. And the fact that he’s not, that he’s gainfully employed and helping her solve this case, exactly the way a true partner would…behaving like he cares about truth and justice, and doing what’s right, the way he always seemed like he could if he just tried…

Well. It’s a lot to ponder after one cup of coffee, when the sun’s not even up.

They climb out of the car and crunch across the still-cool sand, to the stretch of beach where the testosterone’s clustered…a mass of salt-streaked, sweaty bros pounding Colt 45’s and working up brio. Hoots and shouts greet Logan when he’s close enough to be identified, and Dick comes bounding towards them like the world’s most hung-over Labrador. “Dude, what are you even DOING here? If I’d known you were back in the game for more than a tourist visit, I would have CALLED!”

“I’m NOT back, man.” Logan pats him on the shoulder—good dog, calm down. “Not BACK-BACK, anyway, Bodie’s your guy for rules and instructions. Some dude Ronnie works with just invited us to watch, and I felt…I don’t know, nostalgic. I had FUN the other night. I miss all this, kinda-- being an adult blows.”

“Wouldn’t know, never tried.” Dick makes a face at Veronica, who probably hasn’t hidden her revulsion well, hands Logan a giant beer, and bounds off to start shit elsewhere, as is his wont.

Logan begins to glad-hand, fingers tightly twined with hers, and V smiles automatically when prompted while scanning the crowd. A lot of douchebags from high school are present, big surprise, making her happy she and Logan have a real-life, verifiable history as a couple (and one too dramatic to forget). The crowd contains the usual rich-and-bored suspects, the ones who made tenth grade such a misery, clearly in this life for thrills alone.

Three clusters of men mingle only at the edges, amoeba-like; Bodie stands at the center of his crew, noticing Logan’s arrival but not approaching, once again holding court. Once upon a time, Logan took a military approach to leadership—here’s the rules, I’m the boss, here’s the plan, let’s make it happen—but Bodie seems almost to get off on being hypnotically charming. Like he’s a preacher on a soapbox, manipulating them all…towards what end, she doesn’t know. Maybe he just wants to ride the wave of their wealth, enjoy a lifestyle to which he wouldn’t otherwise have access? Maybe their adulation gives him a sense of power?

Clearly Logan realizes the guy’s proprietary, he keeps shooting down questions about his status at Black’s. But back when he just wanted to self-destruct, he was the one these men admired, at least until he walked away. Will Bodie’s approval of Logan hold, if he starts wondering, like Dick, whether his desire to absent himself has changed? No false god wants a real one luring acolytes away.

Morris didn’t think this through, V realizes, or maybe just didn’t care that using Logan as cover this way puts him in danger. He’s smiling and joking, relaxed and affable, but his tense shoulders belie the stress he feels.

“I hope you’re documenting this,” he murmurs, when the guy he’s talking to turns away. “Because pretty much every suspect in town is currently in attendance.”

Veronica nods, reaching up to her throat to work the camera necklace as he tugs her through the crowd (which gets progressively less friendly, as they move away from the Black’s Beach crew, towards the only area on the beach where girls can be seen). The rowdy crowd’s getting rowdier, guys yelling and throwing bottles, and she can admit it’s mildly intimidating; if she didn’t have a rep for pushing herself where she doesn’t belong, she might be tempted to draw back. She dons her best poker face, though, and snaps the required candids. A job’s a job, after all; and really, these guys are amateurs compared to Logan’s dad.

They settle into an empty spot near Ashley, Logan appropriating V’s beach towel and spreading it for her so she can sit. Todd ambles over from his group to flop beside them. “Yo, you made it.” He yawns as he settles back on his elbows. “Picked a good day to popcorn-watch. Looks like shit’ll get lit.”

He gestures towards a bruiser with a bright red Mohawk, plus a tattoo of a chupacabra covering his back—he positions himself stage center, arms spread overhead like he’s praying to the rising sun. “You assholes know the rules!” he shouts. “No barneys, no frubes, no bennys and no clucks. Otherwise, friends and foes, there ARE no rules!”

This is greeted by bellows and chest bumps, plus assorted raucous posturing; the crowd separates firmly into isolated groups, and there’s a sense, abruptly that things have gotten real. Red Mohawk cackles, eating the discord up, and then, dramatically adds, “We want ruthless motherfuckers hitting those waves, and nothing but! So with that in mind, gentlemen….choose your CHAMPIONS!”

Faintly, as he watches, Logan shakes his head, lips pressed flat in his habitual expression of annoyance. All he says to Todd, though, as the sound dies down is, “Bad morning for a contest. Check out all those log rollers.”

Todd shrugs. “It’ll be schadenfreude, man, if those Dog Beach assholes pick some useless rube who drowns.”

V frowns, and elbows Logan to get his attention. “What’s a log roller?” she asks, in over-bright Amber tones. “Sounds dirty.”

“There’s that vivid imagination I love.” Logan grins at her. “It’s one of the bad waves, pumpkin--there are four kinds. Mushy ones that take forever to break. Plungers—those crash hard—but they’re more common offshore, when you’re towing in. Collapsing ones never totally finish, and the bottom face can get vertical. And surging waves, otherwise known as log rollers, ‘cause they throw big debris up on the beach. They look like nothing, they almost don’t even foam, but the backwash is strong enough to kill you. They’re almost all I see out there today--you can tell by the lack of whitewater. Whoever volunteers for this disaster-in-the-making is likely unhinged.”

Todd nods corroboration, and lackadaisically adds, “Logs aren’t the only things that get rolled.”

There’s a general commotion by the water, and Veronica can just make out the words, “….gonna pick Troy Vandegraff…”. A phrase which brings her to immediate attention, and makes Logan choke on his beer.

“Seriously?” he mutters, wiping his chin with one wrist, while Trent drifts sideways to confer with friends about this turn of events. “That guy’s only trick is making other surfers wipe out. Guess we’re choosing based on aptitude for fuckery.”

“If there’s terrible stuff going down, Troy’s sure to be in the middle of it.” Veronica folds her arms, jaw clenching. “Guess the rest of this investigation’s officially a formality. And BOY will I enjoy sending him up the river.”

“Wait, he’s your scapegoat now? Should I feel jealous?” She glares, and Logan smirks. “Just because the guy tried to scam you junior year doesn’t mean he’s a bank robber, Veronica. There’s this little thing called evidence you have to take into consideration.”

“Pshaw,” she says. “It’s like you never watched Bad Lieutenant, or any crooked cop movie, ever.”

“Veronica Mars, loose cannon.” His smile broadens, becomes genuine. “I guess I should have…”

A cheer goes up, distracting them both, and some bruiser is tossed in the air by the Dog Beach crew, laughing as his beer spills everywhere. “Harley Rodgers,” Logan decides, squinting. “Prefers fistfights over every other surfing-adjacent activity. This is gonna get ugly, even if the waves behave.”

Bodie steps forward from the Black’s Beach group, dark hair streaming like kelp behind him as the wind picks up; his sway is such that the crowd goes silent. He folds his hands over his heart, like he’s taking direction from the ocean, and then, in a clear, carrying voice, calls, “We choose Logan Echolls.”

Gasps of consternation erupt in the crowd all around them, and Logan groans, his head falling back. Todd erupts to his feet and points, with more energy than Veronica’s yet seen him do anything. “You said you weren’t WITH them anymore!” he accuses. “I risked my cred, inviting you. You’re sitting on NEUTRAL GROUND!”

“I’m NOT with them.” Logan keeps his voice low, placating. “I swear. This is Bodie’s way of neutralizing a threat.”

They exchange a look; Todd calms, but remains unconvinced. Logan shouts, in Bodie’s direction, “Dude, I just came to watch. I don’t even have a suit or board with me.”

“No problem.” Bodie spreads his hands, encompassing his group within the gesture. Their circle splits open as if by telekenesis. “We can provide.”

Logan’s eyes shut, briefly. All the tension slides off him, and when they open again, he just looks…defeated. He glances sideways at V in silent apology, and gets to his feet. “Fine, I was bored just sitting here, anyway.”

“What is HAPPENING?” Veronica hisses as he makes a hands-off, I’m-leaving gesture at the people around them, and pulls her to her feet. “You don’t have to jump just because he says how high.”

“If I tell him no,” Logan murmurs, towing her down the beach towards Bodie at a rapid clip, “everyone here will turn on us, Veronica. If I agree, only two-thirds will. It’s a bad choice, but it’s the only one we’ve got—so buckle up, buttercup, and maybe keep that gun handy.”

“This is asinine,” she tells him, digging in her heels. “You did nothing but sit in the metaphorical bleachers.”

“I used to have his JOB.” Logan turns on her, exasperated. “I thought he felt in-control enough not to see me as competition, but I guess I was wrong. Clearly, he doesn’t want me aligning with another crew, so he just publicly claimed me. Declared I’m back, but also under his thumb, number two, subject to his whims. And if I get hurt in that fucked-up surf to the point I can NEVER incite a challenge, so much the better.” He spins her, hand to her elbow, urging her back into motion. “Devious, really, didn’t know he had it in him—guy seems like such a hippie.”

Cheers erupt from Logan’s old crew as they near, and he adds, in an urgent undertone, “You can’t move among the general group, now. Your best bet is to stay close to Casey. He’s a dick, but he’s the only one of the bunch who’s halfway trustworthy with women. Mostly because he has no interest in other human beings.”

“The fact that you were once friends with these people is deeply alarming,” she mutters, but follows him into the belly of the beast. The group closes ranks behind them, trapping them at the center, and Veronica clutches her beach bag tightly, remembering Logan’s advice.

Bodie silently hands him a wetsuit; with a shrug, Logan strips to don it. It’s strangely erotic, the way he’s just…unembarrassed when nude. She finds she has to look away from all the bare muscle, the graceful and matter-of-fact way he moves. Her pulse throbs in her throat, double-time.

“Just be one with everything, man,” Bodie says as he zips, beckoning for Dick to bring a board. “The sky, the sea. Once Black’s Beach, always Black’s Beach, right? So do us proud.”

Accepting what he’s given, Logan nods, visibly focusing. “I’ll do what I always do,” he says. “Get back on, every time someone knocks me down.”

He turns towards Veronica, and maybe he sees something of the fear she’s trying to conceal, because his expression softens. “I’ll be fine,” he says, and smiles. “Kiss for luck?”

She nods; she’s under cover so she HAS to agree, and also she’s maybe kinda wanted to for days. He laughs, softly, big palm curving around the back of her head, and leans down to gently press his lips to hers. It’s butterfly-gentle, but every point of contact sizzles. She grips his face between her hands, thumbs in the crooks of his jaw, opens her lips to his. His head tilts; the disaster-in-the-making around them fades to sensation and white noise as she reacquaints herself with his devastatingly-tender yet all-consuming technique, which stokes her to screaming lust in seconds, every time.

Hooting and whistles break through the haze, and she stumbles back a step, ending the contact. Presses fingertips to her mouth as he stares at her like she’s the only thing that matters on the planet, breathing fast. “Kick Troy’s ass,” she says, because this may be just a job, but still. Troy Vandegraff is the worst, and she wants Logan to WIN.

He grins, winks, essays a theatrical spin before running towards the water. The lightness of his steps makes Veronica realize he’s EXCITED, and not just in the same way she currently is. Logan might be conflicted, seeing as he walked away instead of letting this lifestyle swallow him. But he clearly loves this world, unhealthy though it may be. And that’s a problem she’s not sure how to parse.

No time is wasted on good-sportsmanship lectures or grandstanding. The contestants simply run for the water and paddle out, weaving expertly around each other like a pod of dolphins as they head for bigger offshore waves. Veronica pulls out a pair of binoculars to better watch, and Dick moves up to stand beside her, like the loyal lieutenant he once was.

“Man, I hope he’s been practicing.” He speaks towards the water, but the words are directed at Veronica. “’Cause this chop is BLEAK.”

“It’s Logan.” Casey pops a can beside him, takes a swig. “He acts like he doesn’t give a shit, yet invariably, he wins.”

“He’ll do well.” Bodie pulls back his hair as he steps forward to watch, knotting it with an elastic. “But better we send someone out-of-practice to compete, make the fight fairer. There’ll be more harmony if we don’t seem arrogant in our superiority, while asserting it just the same.”

Dick glances sideways, slightly frowning at this statement, but he doesn’t speak. Just brushes his hair back anxiously and squints against the glare to see.

There are a bunch of bracelets stacked on his wrist, V notices, braided-friendship and puka-shell, as well as some string-bead combo that’s red; she glances around, and realizes it’s a fashion theme. A quick check with the binoculars confirms other crews sport similar collections. It’ll be hard to find a match for her clue, without walking up to everyone on the beach and grabbing forearms, but she takes as many pictures as she can, because that’s the task before her.

“They’re lining up,” Casey observes, drawing her attention back to the water, where the three surfers are tiny floating specks. “It’s a party wave, bet they’re all gonna try.”

Dick nods, spares a glance up at the cloud passing over the sun. “Logan’s got priority, he popped up all nice and…wait, what the fuck? Rodgers is trying to snake the wave! NOT COOL, ASSHOLE! That’s like a CRIME!”

A cacophony of yelling ensues, and Veronica tracks with field glasses across the long, rolling wave to Logan. He’s beautifully balanced, but Harley’s veering rapidly towards him, on what looks like a deliberate collision course. Wipeout seems inevitable, but Logan cuts quickly sideways just before the crash and briefly catches air. Harley unbalances, goes under: Logan lands, with flair, just as the wave breaks, and crouches to zoom through the barrel along the wall before popping out sideways

“EL ROLLO!” Dick shouts, and sticks two fingers in his mouth to whistle. “And meanwhile Harley’s getting RAG-DOLLED. I don’t even see him anymore, dude, I bet he hit BOTTOM.”

Troy descends the wave, essaying a few splashy turns that kick up spray and fail to inspire the crowd, just as Logan pops up in the scant whitewater. Ignoring the performance, he looks around for Harley, and V catches her breath as she spots the empty board floating; watches Logan notice it, too. He paddles over, as Troy zooms out of the wave going the other direction, then dives. Comes up, a long moment later, hauling a listless, coughing Harley, and wrangles him onto his board.

“Someone needs to go help him,” Veronica murmurs, just as Logan beckons towards the Dog’s Beach crew with his whole arm; a couple of them dive in to collect Harley, and Logan paddles away to catch the next wave. “Good.”

She’s jostled, slightly, from the right, and looks over to find Bodie standing next to her, wind-whipped and solemn, squinting out towards sea. He doesn’t look pleased, and she feels a jolt of satisfaction that despite his manipulations, he isn’t getting what he wants. “It’s gonna rain soon,” he says, not looking at anyone, but the whole group falls silent to listen. “And the waves are stacking. Echolls will have to end this, or Mother Nature might step in.”

V turns back to the water; he’s right, each successive wave looks bigger than the last, and the clouds do appear to be massing. Logan’s paddling for a second ride, though, despite the warning signs, and the grim set of his shoulders when he pops up shows just how motivated he feels.

“He’s really charging.” Dick folds his arms, as Logan does a showy little flip of the board beneath his feet, then starts carving back and forth along the wave, moving progressively faster. Goes over the lip and into the still, green center, and it’s picture-perfect—like one of those surfing movies he obsessively watched in junior high, although much less beautifully-lit.

Troy, meanwhile, catches the wave just above him, and for a moment, it seems they’ll execute their turns in perfect symmetry. Then, abruptly, Troy loses control. Wobbles, as the board sinks beneath his feet, then free-falls straight down the face of the wave…directly into Logan.

Shouts and gasps go up throughout the crowd as they’re sucked into the circle of the surf by that backwash Logan mentioned, spun around and spat out. They hit the surface with an audible crack and disappear beneath the foam.

“Stupid fucking Vandegraff,” Casey says, from somewhere behind V, and she turns to watch him shaking his head. “Never had any luck scamming other people’s girlfriends--and can’t even go down for the count like a good little loser without taking someone else along.”

Why does it sound like you knew he’d go down? She thinks, but turns back to the water because priorities. Manages to catch sight of Logan bobbing up, before he’s sucked under again by the wave cycle. Barely manages to stop herself from a futile attempt to rescue him. Overhead, thunder cracks, and the first faint spatters of rain begin to fall.

Troy surfaces, sputtering, gripping his board against his chest like a teddy bear. Begins frantically to paddle towards shore without sparing a glance for Logan, which V has to admit is in character. Beside her, Dick murmurs, “I hope Logan’s board’s not caught on something,” and her stomach ties itself in a knot.

A two-man contingent detaches from the Cape Crescent crew; they approach Bodie, hunched against the rain, and engage him in conversation. V’s sidling closer to listen in, binoculars still glued to the spot where Logan vanished, when Dick shouts, “There he is!” and a wave of relief swamps her.

He points, and yeah, there’s Logan, swimming determinedly towards the beach with no board in sight. The water’s churning, now, rain spattering down harder as the storm gains force, and it must take a massive effort to propel himself in—but somehow, he manages. Crawls free of the surf and then collapses onto his back, arms spread and face pointed towards the sky.

Dick takes off at a run and she follows on his heels. Barely manages to stop before crashing into him as he kneels beside Logan. “Dude, what the hell? Are you all right?”

Logan’s eyes are shut, but he manages a faint nod. “Troy broke your board when he wiped out on top of me,” he says, voice gravelly. “Sorry about that, I’ll replace it.”

“Like I care about a fucking piece of wood, “Dick says. “I can buy twenty new ones any time I want.”

“With what money?” Logan sits up, wiping his face; improbably, a smile blooms as he opens his eyes and sees Veronica. “Because as I recall, you blew through your trust fund in college, doing your best impression of Animal House 24/7.”

“Says the guy who just packed every stupid heroic he could think of into a five-minute span.” Veronica brushes back his hair, examining a bruise on his temple. “Does it ever occur to you to maybe NOT go too far?”

“Pot, kettle.” His grin widens at her expression, even as he winces away from her probing touch. “This is just reef tax, muffin, I’ll live. Besides, Vandegraff looks worse.”

“Not as bad as he’ll look when I’m done with him.” V gets up, dusting her knees. “He HURT you.”

She leaves Logan to Dick’s questionably-tender mercies, to take out the last twenty minutes of angst on a guiltier target; shakes wet hair out of her face as she marches towards Troy. He seems as oblivious to the rain as she is, examining his surfboard like it’s more important than the person he almost drowned, but he glances up at her approach with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. He’s got a cut down one forearm, and his left eye’s swelling shut.

“Oh look, it’s Veronica Mars, turning up once again to speak before thinking. Novel concept—instead of tearing into me, maybe you want to ask your boyfriend why his buddies dicked with my board. Too afraid I’d win if I had a fair shot?”

“Logan didn’t touch your board,” she snaps, and he holds up one end as proof. Points at a neat round hole the size of a quarter.

“It’s got a chunk drilled out of it, and then filled with something the same color that melts. This was deliberate sabotage, Mars--I could have died. I don’t need your accusations today. Or really, any day.”

Troy turns back to the board, yanking a towel out of his beach bag to rub away sand, and she spots a round, pink, shrink-wrapped puck of wax inside with a trademark green label. She peers closer—yep, bubblegum—and snaps a quick photo, thinking I KNEW IT.

The sound of yelling from the Logan direction makes her spin, words like SABOTAGE and CHEAT rising above the mayhem. Troy leaps up and sprints past her, followed by a bunch of his cronies; she kicks into a run, following, only to be hauled off her feet and dragged into the lee of a watchtower by Luke Haldemann.

“Nuh-uh,” he says, barely managing to hold on to her as she struggles. “Logan and Dick are in the soup right now. Bodie told me to keep you away, so you don’t get hurt.”

 Or so I can’t help, she thinks cynically, debating whether aikidoing Luke to get loose would blow her cover. Logan and Troy are nose-to-nose, now, in the rain-swept distance, and Todd’s reedy voice rises above the wind to shriek, “You’ve turned into some weird-ass destructive cult!”

Todd, she thinks, you don’t know how right you are.

Even from this far away, she can see the moment Logan spouts some zinger and smirks-- it’s naturally, and immediately, followed by Troy’s wild punch. He ducks away from the swing, delivers a crusher to the ribcage in return, and then, in every direction, fists start flying.

Despite the battering he just took, Logan seems more than capable of holding his own, but he’s hopelessly outnumbered; and swarms of people are braving the storm in a rush to join the riot. Dick, who’s back-to-back with Logan, goes down with a punch to the face. Luke lets her go, sighing, just as she’s getting ready to kick him in the nuts.

“Stay.” He points at her face and runs to join the melee. She decides expediency is the best part of valor, and pulls out her cell instead of her gun.

It’s too wet and noisy to call 911, so she just trusts in the efficiency of her boss and texts Morris. Deliver cop cars to Dog Beach in the next five minutes, she types, or the journalist you conscripted might get himself killed.

The message turns to ‘read’ almost immediately, just as Bodie finally deigns to wade into the fistfight, roundhouse-kicking bodies with the precise technique that indicates skill. He wades over to Logan, who’s still surviving via his freight-train fists, and suddenly the defense seems evenly matched. Logan grins, kicking some guy in the knee hard enough to make him fall over howling, and then, down the road, sirens blare.

The fighters scatter like cockroaches, and she abandons her hiding spot to run for Logan, who’s wiping blood from a forehead scratch out of his eye with one wrist, while he searches the frantic throng. He relaxes when his eyes light on her, and she grabs him by the front of the wetsuit, touches his bruised face.

“You called in a raid?” he shouts, over the roar of rain and water, and laughs when she nods. Then Bodie squeals up in a jeep filled with Black’s Beach cronies, and flings the door wide.

“Get in!” he shouts, so they do, just as three cop cars shriek to a halt in the public lot.

They barrel down the sand, Veronica wedged between Logan and Dick (who’s bleeding all over the shirt stuffed under his nose). Red-and-blue lights strobe them as thunder cracks, and she can’t hear what the police are yelling over a bullhorn past her fellow passengers’ catcalling.

Logan, far from being chastened, is hooting and talking smack like the rest of them, his arm firmly pinning her to his side, his face exultant. He shouldn’t be so attractive to her this way, battered from playing hero and high on the thrill; but she’s never been able to help her fascination with the wildness inside him. He has no fear, and no hesitation, about doing what he thinks is right; and that confidence is the sexiest thing she’s probably ever seen.

“Way to outperform, Echolls,” Bodie tells him, quiet but wearing a faint smile, as if he actually, reluctantly, approves. “The Dog Beach crew just asked for a TRUCE before it all went to hell, because Harley tried to take you out, and you still rescued him. But I’ve got to ask…what were you thinking, showing up here today without telling anyone? Why were you even with that Cape Crescent guy? Either you’ve forgotten how dumb mixing with the enemy is, or you’re willing to die on a whim.”

“Would either option be news?” Logan smirks, but relents. “The dude works with Veronica at Neptune’s Net, I only met him once. He let slip about the contest, and I felt…nostalgic, I don’t know. I wanted to watch you kick their asses, for old time’s sake. Like I said, I’ve been bored.”

“Well you’re not bored now, are you?” Bodie grins, Dick whoops through his bloody shirt, and Casey produces a bottle of Jack which they pass around like they just won Olympic gold.

Logan pauses to enjoy a belt, before saying, “Not in the least.” He hands the bottle to Luke when Veronica shakes her head. “But I AM worried about V now, to tell you the truth. It’s not safe for you to work at that place anymore, sugar pants, now that I’m no longer neutral. Cape Crescent could grab you to get to me, in revenge for whatever Troy imagines I did.”

“Restaurants are public property,” V says, but from the driver’s seat, Bodie shakes his head.

“People stage raids,” he says. “It’s the Wild West sometimes, within the community. But don’t worry, Logan’s one of us again—bound by blood for the cause. So we’ll protect his girl. Whenever you work, Veronica, some of us will hang out to make sure nothing happens. And if Cape Crescent morons want to fight…” he shrugs. “Let ‘em try.”

“Let ‘em TRY!” Dick shouts, pulling his t-shirt away to inspect it, then tossing it out the window. “Because LOGAN IS BACK, YOU ASSHOLES! Shit, this day fucking rocks, it’s great to see you around again, compadre. Wait’ll you see how much fun we’ve been having.”

“It may even stay fun until Logan gets bored playing second fiddle,” Casey mutters, although V’s pretty sure Bodie doesn’t hear. “Which is when we’ll all have to duck, like the song says.”

“Speaking of songs…” Luke turns on the cassette player, and the Dropkick Murphys blare out at high volume, causing a bodega owner sweeping her porch to turn and stare. He cackles, and cranks it a bit more.

They cruise through the rainy Neptune streets, drops splatting loudly against the jeep’s canvas roof, throwing cans at passers-by and generally searching for trouble. When Bodie turns nonchalantly into modest neighborhood, a baseball bat is produced from the floorboards; drive-by rounds of mailbox baseball ensue, the guys taking turns striking them from their stands amidst increasingly-fervent toasts and cheers. Logan’s arm tightens around Veronica, but he’s wedged in the rear-middle like she is, so manages to avoid committing felonies. Really, they’re in the safest spot possible (considering the car’s being piloted by drinkers, and sometimes mailbox owners have guns).

“I thought these guys were Zen,” she murmurs to Logan, as Casey demolishes a cow-shaped specimen with a grunt, then high-fives Luke and hands him the bat.

He shrugs. “Well, there’s Zen and then there’s Zen, like your friend who got me in trouble today said.” But he wraps his other arm around her, and kisses the top of her head.

Eventually, it’s judged enough time has passed, and they return to Dog Beach to collect their cars. The stretch of sand is deserted now, rain still steadily falling, a lone beach towel drifting, sodden, across the cement the only indication that this morning, chaos reigned.

Bodie shakes with Logan as Dick bails out, and starts patting his pockets for keys. “Good to have you back, man,” he says, sounding eerily sincere. “When’s Veronica’s next shift?”

“Tomorrow at two,” she says, and he nods, dark eyes giving away nothing. Casey reaches across to yank the door shut, and then the jeep squeals off into the gloom.

“You don’t think Chang means that, right?” V hands Logan the keys she stashed in her bag. He unlocks the door with the fob and she climbs, shivering, inside. “You don’t trust him?”

“Considering he did his best to get me killed today?” Logan cocks an ironic eyebrow, starting the engine. “Not so much. He made sure I got a good beating, too—you saw how slow he was to join the fight.”

“I think he CAUSED it,” V says, flatly. “I’m pretty sure Casey sabotaged Troy’s board, and it was probably on his orders.”

Logan sighs. “Wouldn’t be surprised. Reason number one-thousand-and-one I left this life behind—all the damn backstabbing. At least reporters double-cross you with words, and sometimes behind-the-fold story placement.”

“You’re a flame for moths, when it comes to jealousy.” She reaches up to trace a scrape along his cheekbone with her thumb, as he pulls to a halt in front of her condo. “Want to come inside for a few? You can take a shower, wash off all the sand, and then I’ll patch you up.”

He gazes down at her in the storm-dark car, a flash of lightning behind him further concealing, rather than illuminating, his features. She’s pretty sure he knows she’s offering more than a shower, and weighing how bad of an idea agreeing is; but nothing good comes from challenging Logan, then backing down, so she stands her ground.

Eventually he nods, once, jerky. She smiles, spins for the door, sprints for the shelter of the porch through the storm and lets herself inside. He follows at a slower pace, never one to mind the rain.

They stand together, too close, in the tiny foyer, her rushing breathlessly through shoe removal and bag hanging, him looming in that silent, expectant way he has, wholly focused on her flutterings. She looks up at him, and immediately wishes she hadn’t, because his steady gaze sinking right into her is impossible to withstand. “There are towels in the bathroom cupboard,” she says, somewhere between a whisper and a gasp; it takes him a moment to nod, ease past her, stride into  the bath and shut the door. She waits for the telltale click of the lock, and doesn’t hear it. Which really, tells her all she needs to know.

The idea of joining him is fraught, though—even at nineteen, Logan Echolls was a lot to handle, and he’s even handsomer and more sure of himself now. So she takes refuge in the mundane, disassembling the necklace and plugging the USB into her laptop. Focusing on the photos downloading, rather than the sound of the shower running, the steam seeping from beneath the door.

There are a lot of pictures, more than she remembers taking--they’ll be useful, once catalogued, for building a list of local surf-punk combatants. She pages through the gallery slowly, organizing them into files; grows so immersed she shrieks and jumps, when he says from right behind her, “What are you up to now?”

She turns, a pithy retort dying on her lips as she realizes he’s standing there in nothing but a towel, hair mussed and damp, warmth rising from his steam-moist, freckled skin. Her train of thought derails, and the words that come out, “Waiting for you,” sound huskier and more provocative than intended.

He smiles, slow and somehow indecent, and she stands to take his giant hand in hers. Leads him back into the bathroom to play doctor, enclosing both of them in the hot, cramped, slippery space.

Going on tiptoe, she reaches for the first-aid kit in the medicine cabinet—he lifts it down for her, then bends his face obligingly close when she turns, so she can spread Neosporin across his cheekbone. “Want to know a secret?” he asks, breathing in deep as if he’s smelling her, and if that’s not the kind of thing designed to scramble a girl’s senses, she doesn’t know what is.

She nods, applying an alcohol wipe to clean crusted blood from his temple, resting a hand between the ridges of his pectorals purely for balance, and he continues, “I’ve always secretly loved it when you play mother hen.”

“That’s a pretty open secret.” She carefully positions a butterfly bandage, presses it into his skin. “Don’t think you need stitches, anywhere, but I hope none of these cuts scar.”

“Ruining this face would be a tragedy,” he agrees, so serenely it makes her smile. She traces along the cheekbone scratch, debating whether it needs a bandage, and he tilts his head to kiss her.

His mouth is hot, urgent, like the application of medicine has been some slow and torturous form of foreplay; his palms settle on her sides as she twines both arms around his neck, then slide down and around to cup her ass. His tongue strokes hers as he lifts and spins, and then she’s balanced on the edge of the tiny vanity as he strips off the soaking-wet cover-up. Resumes kissing her senseless as he unties her bikini top, and traces the undercurve of her breast.

“I’m covered with sand,” she murmurs as he bends to nip her neck, shivering with sensation and his hot, assertive nearness, plus the overwhelming urge she feels to fuck him right here.

“Ouch. Well, we can’t have that.” He reaches past her to turn on the shower, shoving the curtain aside. Returns to slip her top down her arms, then hook his fingers through the straps at her hips, watching the process with complete absorption. It makes her nipples knot, it makes her squirm with urgency, and she shifts to help him strip her before climbing into his arms.

Balancing a hand on the wall, he maneuvers them both into the spray with typical grace; deposits her on the lip of the tub and kneels before her, squeezing soap into his palm. Deliberately, he rubs his hands together, and then picks up her foot and begins to wash.

It’s torture, he touches her everywhere except the places she most wants him to, stroking back and forth along her inner thighs, tugging at her soapy nipples until she gasps with every pull. He bends to lick water from her jaw, from her cleavage, from her navel, sucks, lingering for a long moment, at her clit before standing to retrieve the showerhead and rinse her clean.

“You’re evil,” she says, or really, pants, as he focuses the spray on her arms, her hands. He laughs, kisses her nose, and switches off the water with a snap.

“On your feet,” he tells her, looking like the devil made flesh, enwreathed in steam. So she complies, and he kneels again, licking up into her while she grips the soap dish and tries not to fall; works two fingers into her sex and groans when she does, as if eating her out might actually make him come. V gives herself over to it, falling back against the tiles, her moans turning to whines as he adds a third finger and fucks her with them like he means it. Her entire body convulses, coming undone.

He pulls her into his lap, tucked against his chest, one hand stroking back her wet hair as she shivers with aftershocks. Waggles one of the condoms she keeps in the medicine cabinet when she opens her eyes—probably he snooped when he was in here by himself, but she’s too turned on to care. “God, yes,” she says, so he rips it deftly open, slides it on one-handed and helps her shift astride him.

Logan’s big, she forgot how big, he feels impossible and delicious inside her as she sinks slowly down. He pants at the sensation, wide chest moving, eyes squeezing slightly shut as if it feels too good to bear. “Slow?” she asks, canting her hips forward, squeezing the muscles of his shoulders for leverage as she slides incrementally up. “Or fast?”

He shoves up into her in response, gripping her hip, deep, exquisite digs, topping from below. Tangles his fingers in her hair and pulls her mouth to his, kissing her gently as he fucks her hard; and God, she’s going to come for an hour if he doesn’t…if he won’t…

The sensation spreads from her sex in waves, up her abdomen, into every crevice of her, so hot, so good, it’s like she wants to make his cock a part of her. He presses her back against the tiles for leverage and drives into her as if he’s drowning. When he comes he makes a soft, lost noise and shoves as close to her as he can get.

She strokes him; gently, down his arms, his spine, up into his hair, she’ll never forget how much he needs this after, how much he’s willing to give to get it. Kisses his cheek, which makes him grip her tighter, and say, “Jesus, Veronica.” His voice is hoarse.

“I was afraid you’d be hurt,” she says softly, because these post-coital silences are the only time she’s ever been able to speak the truth. “Because of me, today, because Morris made me drag you into this, when you’re not even a trained agent. I was afraid, but here you are, only a little battered, and I just wanted…”

“…to show your appreciation?” she can feel his smirk against her skin. “You’re SO welcome, sunshine, and also, anytime. Five minutes from now, even--but maybe we could dry off and get in bed first?”

“I think that could be arranged.” She reaches up for the towel she left on the bar this morning, pulls it down with a snap. Begins to carefully dry him, which leads to kissing; which leads to him carrying her over to the bed, and relearning everything he ever knew about the tricks that turn her out.

He’s an inspired and capable student. By the time his curiosity’s satisfied, she’s too exhausted to stay awake.

When she drifts back to consciousness, who knows how much later, Logan’s no longer beside her. The rain outside has stopped, although the light through the sheers is still dreary and grey; she blinks against it as she stretches and focuses, her whole body pleasantly limp.

Sitting up, she spots him in the breakfast nook, eating the last apple from her crisper and studying something intently. She frowns as she realizes it’s her laptop, folded back into a tablet which he navigates with one large, blunt fingertip.

“Hey!” She scrambles out of bed, yanking a t-shirt out of the drawer and pulling it on. “That’s private and also government-issued! Hands out of the cookie jar, pal.”

“I beg to differ.” He shifts the laptop childishly out of reach when she grabs for it. “This evidence is mutual property—if it’s your investigation, and my investigation, that makes it OUR investigation, to paraphrase Jeff Spicoli.”

“You seduced me until I fell asleep so you could raid my computer?” She turns on the lamp so she can better see what he was looking at—the pictures from the beach—and folds her arms. “How Cruel Intentions of you.”

He smirks. “I seduced you? Miss come-inside-handsome-and-look-at-my-etchings? If that’s what you want to tell yourself, Veronica, be my guest. Meanwhile, I’ll just sit over here wondering why you had every suspect in town lined up, yet took six thousand pictures of jewelry.”

“I’m an avid follower of fashion?” She crosses to the fridge, selects a soda. Holds another up in question, and tosses it to him when he nods. “I’m thinking of setting up a shop on Etsy?”

“To make bracelets for surfers?” He shakes his head, leaning back in the chair and popping the tab to punctuate. “I hope you’re willing to be paid in trade, and by trade I mean copious amounts of weed.”

She relents, leaning against the counter. “Todd was wearing a specific kind, which I’m trying to trace. Because one of the bank robbers wore something very similar.”

“Like this?” He holds up the laptop, points, and squinches up his nose like a puppy when she nods. “So’s anyone with money to burn who hangs out on the Cape Crescent boardwalk, Veronica. There’s a stall there that sells them. All proceeds go to the Clean Ocean fund, they’re a popular friends-of-nature purchase.”

“Which is yet another connection between the crimes and Troy’s beach.” She toasts him and drinks. “And here’s one more—I spotted bubblegum Sex Wax in his gym bag, right before the fight started. Plus, we know they hang out at Neptune’s Net, and the owner’s concerned enough to let the FBI investigate, whereas sounds like the manager’s on their team. Could be they’re hiding evidence of the robberies right on the premises.”

“Hmmm, maybe.” He frowns very faintly as he gazes off into the distance. Which is worrisome, since he looked approximately this crafty, plotting to Cardinal Richelieu Duncan into the Student Council President spot. “Of course, this evidence COULD all be circumstantial, and you’re barking up the wrong tree.”

He returns to his faintly-concerned, faraway musing, so she snaps, irritated, to bring him to attention. “Hey! Quit Julien Gracq-uing for a second and focus. I’m getting a warrant for tomorrow and raiding the place. Can you keep your buddies away during my shift, so as not to complicate the issue?”

His dark gaze returns squarely to hers, uncompromising despite the number of times they just turned each other to jelly. “That’s not our deal,” he says. “Our deal is, I get the exclusive story; and to do that, I need to be present, watching. Plus, if I lure them away from their self-imposed protection racket, don’t you think they’ll get suspicious? They’re not morons, despite your stereotyped opinions. And right now they’re also our primary source of information.”

“Fine,” she snaps, “but stay at the outdoor tables ONLY, and far away from the back room. And as soon as the raid happens, you get them clear before circling back, understood?”

“Ma’am, yes ma’am.” He salutes with exaggerated verve, but he’s smirking at her again, in that way he has which is both provoking and affectionate. “Have I mentioned how cute I find it when you start angrily bossing me around?”

“I mean what I say, Echolls.” She points as he gets up, then falls back a step as he begins prowling slowly towards her. “Don’t dick me around on this, or I’ll bring the power of the federal government to bear against you.”

“Now would I do such a thing?” He cocks his head, considering. “Or more to the point, would I ever dick you in a way you didn’t enjoy?”

“Tenth grade springs to mind,” she murmurs, but he’s close and getting closer. And when he picks her up and kisses her soundly? She forgets to worry about what he might do, at some distant point like tomorrow, when their goals stop perfectly aligning.

Chapter Text

Veronica wakes slowly the next morning. Stretches, luxuriously, every bit of her body languid, and rolls sideways to throw a leg over Logan…only to realize he’s not there.

She blinks, bleary, and sits up, reaching for the t-shirt hanging from her headboard and yanking it over her head. The bathroom door’s open wide enough she can see no one’s inside; but there’s a Starbucks cup steaming on the table in the still apartment, so he hasn’t been gone long.

Crossing to the table, she hefts the beverage—full, cinnamon-scented—and takes a cautious sip, lifting the page tucked beneath it to the light. Smiles as she realizes it’s a list of photo numbers, with the names and crew affiliations of subjects beside them, written in Logan’s signature florid, loopy cursive. At the bottom, in red pen, he’s scrawled spending quality time at the office. Meet you for our big investigatory date at noon.

She traces the L at the bottom with one fingertip, debating the ethics of sleeping with the enemy-- reporters and law enforcement rarely mix. Decides she enjoys sleeping with the enemy too much to quit. Although it might be smart, as far as Morris is concerned, to keep this interpersonal development on the down-low.

After a quick shower, she dons her most severe suit, then heads into the office to over-prepare for her raid request. Spends the morning mainlining caffeine as she compiles and prints a slideshow; this explains the surf crew dynamics, the checkered past of Troy Vandegraff, and the reasons her intuition’s garnered convictions since 2005.

Morris has morning meetings, according to her assistant, so it’s not until almost ten that Veronica’s summoned. She wipes sweaty palms on her slacks, silently repeating her dad’s favorite maxim—you can’t hit a homer if you don’t swing—and carries her case for action upstairs.

“So what was all the drama about yesterday?” Morris asks, as soon as she steps inside. Her boss has on a show-offy cream-colored suit, her fair hair knotted back, and she’s tapping a pencil on the blotter with a speed that suggests she actually cares. “Beach raids? Murder? I hope the reporter lived long enough to write his breathless exclusive.”

“He won a surf competition.” Veronica sets her presentation, neatly collated and foldered, on the desk. Morris lifts a manila corner and peeks at the title. “Which, under normal circumstances, would make him the Big Kahuna of Neptune, based on the politics of the tribe. But in this case it was a setup, complete with sabotage of his competitors; and you know how surfers like to solve disagreements with their fists.”

“Enterprising.” Morris begins a leisurely leaf through the presentation, eyebrows raised. “I assume, based on all this paper, your morning, excitingly spent, bore fruit?”

“The owner of Neptune’s Net sure was amenable to giving me a fake job, huh?” V gestures at the page Morris is perusing. “I’m guessing he’s not thrilled the Cape Crescent gang’s set up shop there-- under the auspices of the manager, a former crew member. At least one CC surfer, Trent Parsons, was employed by him, and the leader of the pack is a charmer named Troy Vandegraff. He’s the proud owner of a colorful juvenile record, which involves theft, large-scale drug distribution, and time served.”

Morris snorts, and Veronica continues, encouraged. “There’s a private back room where the gang congregates, an ideal location for criminal enterprises. I’m thinking maybe these dumbasses started small by dealing drugs, couldn’t pull the profit margin they wanted, and escalated to bank robbery for the fast cash and thrills. I’d like to call in a raid, search the restaurant for hard evidence.”

“Based on what proof?” Morris asks. “Everything you just mentioned is conjecture. And I’m guessing many upstanding citizens in the surf scene have criminal records. Including, by the way, your pseudo-partner.”

“Yes, but Logan’s mistakes were penny-ante…he beat the rap on the big stuff. Plus, without his help, I couldn’t have identified all the members of local squads. Almost every guy I photographed, FYI, is wearing some variation of the bracelet we found on the scene, and that includes good old Vandegraff. In addition, I spotted bubblegum Sex Wax in Troy’s duffel bag. And I can verify he’s the kind of compulsive-lying thrill-seeker who fits the profile—I took him down for an elaborate drug theft, senior year.”

“Took him down how?” Morris scans the page illustrating Troy’s record. “I don’t see a conviction in 2006, or 2007 for that matter. Was this yet another of your extra-judicial Judge Dredd schemes? Veronica Mars is the law?”

V flushes, because this meeting is not going as well as she hoped. “Certain innocent people would have been implicated, if I had…”

“Why does this name sound familiar? Troy Vandegraff?” Morris taps the pencil’s eraser against her lower lip, faux-thoughtful, though V’s positive she’s figured it out. Snaps, theatrically, after holding the pose for a second. “That’s right, Duncan Kane’s friend. You dated him, too, as I recall, before D’Amato, then Echolls, then Kane again. And found evidence that cleared him from a rape indictment.”

V nods, stiffly, since confirmation seems required, and Morris continues. “You sure did lend aid and comfort to a lot of criminals in high school—a felony kidnapper, this gem, a disgraced cop who let critical murder trial evidence disappear, or possibly even stole it himself. And as far as I can see, the only boy you ever turned in was the one who WASN’T guilty…the guy you asked me to rescue yesterday. Not a great track record of judgment, there, Mars. So why should I play along?”

“Ma’am, I was never indicted for anything personally, and I passed the FBI’s very stringent admissions process. Any crimes committed by persons in my orbit had nothing to do with me, whether or not I chose to date them. I can vouch for the fact that Troy is an amoral sack of crap; and despite the line he fed me about reforming, senior year, he got up to bigger-and-better crimes post-graduation. Besides, I’m not asking you to arrest anyone. I just want to raid one of their meetings, seize whatever incriminating materials we find, and bring the participants in for questioning. They may not be guilty of the robberies, ultimately, but I’d bet my bottom dollar they’re guilty of SOMETHING.”

“Can you access that room?” Morris asks, and Veronica’s not sure, but she nods. “Fine, sneak in there, take some pictures, turn up hard evidence I can use, and I’ll get the warrant ready. But I’m warning you now, Mars—if you screw this up, it may be the first and last undercover assignment of your possibly-ill-fated career.”

“Yes ma’am.” V struggles to contain the rush of elation. Leaves Morris desultorily reading her presentation, so she can hurry home to change into beach-bunny gear.

XXXXX

Neptune’s Net is quiet when Veronica arrives at 11:00—unfortunately for profits, but luckily for her, since she’s about to commit skullduggery. Her coworker, a girl named Kate, is lounging behind the cash register, painting her nails orange, in violation of who knows how many health codes. She’s got long brown hair in a French braid, plus a nose ring, and she’s wearing half the contents of the Free People outlet.

“Hey, how’s it going!” V calls brightly; she wants to establish the dim-but-cheerful routine fast. “Oh my God, I can’t believe we have to come in this EARLY! I am sooooo hung over, and all I smell is GREASE!”

Kate wrinkles her nose and shrugs, eschewing comment in favor of coating her thumbnail. Veronica contains an eye roll and starts banging around in the back room, faking determinedly-productive. After five minutes, during which the silence out front stretches unbroken, V gathers a couple empty boxes as an excuse, and sneaks out the back door.

Around the weedy side of the building is the private entrance to the members-only room; locked last week, locked this week, Veronica’s not surprised and has her picks ready. She takes care of the troublesome breaking-and-entering part before activating her cell’s video camera. “Oh, look, the door’s open. That makes checking out the inside a piece of cake!”

The room where Cape Crescent’s stunted adolescents plot schemes is, predictably, messy. Food wrappers and empty beer cans are strewn across the table, pizza boxes stacked in a corner as if archived for posterity. V wrinkles her nose at the smell of rotting food; picks her way through chairs and debris, scrupulously filming.

There are no incriminating documents—of course not, these guys aren’t readers—and nothing obviously crime-y, like scales or industrial-sized money-counting machines. But there IS an ashtray on the table with roaches snuffed in it…plus a wad of greenish plastic wrap, abandoned beside the far wall, which is dusted with a white-powder residue.

“Bingo,” she murmurs, zooming in close. “The Scarface special. If this isn’t evidence of intent to distribute, I don’t know what is.”

Satisfied, V tags and sends the clip over encrypted messaging, figuring proof of kilos, plus the blueprints provided by the owner, will be sufficient for her team to prepare. Tucking her cell away in the pocket of her cutoffs, V gathers up the boxes, and emerges into the alley to find herself face-to-face with Kate.

“Oh my gosh, whoa, collision alert!” Veronica pulls up short, holding the cardboard in front of her like a shield. “Do you know where we keep our fryer grease? I thought this was the storeroom, but there are, like, zero stores.”

“This area is private.” Kate twists the lock on the door, shuts it firmly. “You need to keep out. All food-related supplies are on the rack in the kitchen, but I refilled the fryers before you got here. So just…chill, okay?”

“Will do!” Veronica chirps, tossing the boxes in the recycling bin as they circle the building. Watches Kate go back to nail-painting, now with one eye trained on her co-worker. Not surprising; the events of yesterday aligned V firmly with the Black’s Beach crew. But good to know Kate’s savvier than she seems.

After scoping the back of the restaurant, and hiding any utensils that might be used as weapons, V jams a stopper under the rear door, cutting off the avenue of escape. Notes the continued presence of the shotgun behind the counter, and sets her hippie bag, easily accessible, on a pile of cocktail-sauce cans near it.

In her pocket, her cell beeps. She pulls it out to read, visit cleared with owner and judge. Alert us when suspects are in place. She sends a thumbs-up in response, then wanders into the main room to endure that least-enjoyable aspect of law enforcement…the wait.

It’s almost forty minutes before surfers start trickling in, most familiar from yesterday’s debacle. V lurks behind the jukebox as Troy greets Kate; he accepts free baskets of fried crap before disappearing, amidst loud-and-unsophisticated repartee, into the back. She texts all present and accounted for, then emerges to find Kara scrolling listicles on her phone. And Logan walking, solo, through the restaurant’s front door.

He’s dressed appropriately, in cargo shorts and a Quicksilver tee; but he’s suspiciously well-groomed, and his mien is distracted. She rushes over to muss him up. “Hey, baby!” she coos, twining fingers in his hair, as he looks down at her, focuses…smiles at her Care Bears mini-tee. “What are you doing here alone? I thought you were hanging with the guys!”

Logan shrugs, taking a seat. “Luke texted half an hour ago, said something came up. Told me to hold down the fort, they’d be by in a while. I have no clue what the problem is--the shit waves we endured this morning are long gone. Maybe they’re busy playing chicken on the freeway.”

“Then get your attention-grabbing self somewhere inconspicuous, because…” V begins, but Kate marches over before she can finish, clearly perturbed by Logan’s presence.

“This guy needs to leave.” She points, making no bones about her hostility. “He’s Black’s Beach, and he sabotaged Troy’s board. He’ll get his ass kicked sideways if anybody from the crew sees.”

“Ah, the memories this scene brings to mind.” Logan grins, which moves Kate exactly none. “I’ll take off in a second, don’t worry. I just need a quick word with my girl.”

Kate looks from one of them to the other; rolls her eyes and rips off her apron, tossing it on the counter. “I’m taking my break,” she announces, storming towards the back room. Apparently the ‘privacy’ rule only applies to Veronica.

“As I was saying…” V tells him in an undertone, tugging his hand until he stands. Steers him outdoors, to one of the tables on the porch, and sits across from him. “The raid’s about to go down. And your part of the bargain involves staying out here until it’s done.”

He nods, distracted, and she frowns. “What, no argument? Are you sure you’re Logan Echolls, and not some overly-agreeable clone?”

“I’ve been following leads all morning.” He shakes his head. “Trying to make our evidence fit the big picture. And I’m not so sure about this putative raid.”

“Well it’s too late now.” Veronica nods as Murphy, one of her coworkers in the lower echelons of the FBI, emerges from his car in the lot. He’s dressed in jeans and a baseball cap, plus an army-green jacket despite the heat, to disguise the fact that he’s packing. He nods back, holding up a hand to signify five minutes. Bellies up inside the restaurant as if to order, looking ill-at-ease; not surprising, since he’s a vegan who never lets a trans-fat pass his lips. “The troops have arrived.”

“Go do your job.” Logan leans across the table to kiss her forehead, lips warm, soft, and comforting. “I promise to watch from a safe distance, and not get in your way.”

She smiles, stroking hair back from his forehead; it still surprises her sometimes, how sweet Logan can be behind the sardonic façade. “Buy you a milkshake when it’s over,” she says, and he grins as she heads inside.

Busying herself behind the counter, V watches the clock. At exactly 11:55, there’s a pounding and splintering at the back door, and the silent, peaceful morning erupts into chaos.

Yelling filters out, and chairs crash, overturned--this causes Kate to start from her seat and run for the private room. She’s tackled by Murphy, who quickly pats her down; as he’s cuffing her to the soda machine, the door for which she was heading bursts open. A bleached-blonde guy built like a bodybuilder scrambles out, nine-millimeter clutched in his hand.

“Gun!” Veronica yells, which makes Murphy spin, reaching beneath his jacket for his piece. Whereupon blondie takes aim and shoots him square in the vest, with a lack of hesitation that bodes ill. Murphy flies backwards from the bullet’s punch, landing supine by the exit with a groan; Veronica grabs the shotgun, cocks and aims it, muzzle balanced on the bar. “Federal agent! Drop your weapon and lie face-down on the floor, hands on top of your head!”

The guy laughs instead of complying, training his gun on her; at which point Logan hurls himself through the door like a Black Friday toy-shopper, and tackles him mercilessly to the ground.

A struggle ensues, while V tries to get a bead on the shooter, heart pounding so hard she feels dizzy. Then, by virtue of smashing the guy’s hand brutally against the concrete floor, Logan manages to disarm him, before cold-cocking him with his own gun.

Agents swarm from the back room in response to the shot, hauling Logan off his opponent and cuffing him before he can speak. His eyes are bright, the way they always get when he fights, but he doesn’t resist; just stares across the room at Veronica, both of them vibrating with adrenaline.

“This one’s with me,” she tells Costas, interrupting the reading of Mirandas. Crosses the room to wrap her arms around Logan’s waist. “I told him to stay clear of the raid, but he isn’t great at listening.”

She rests her forehead on his chest as Costas nods and moves on, absorbing his shivers. “Why weren’t you armed?” he demands, in a low, urgent voice. “If you hadn’t managed to grab that shotgun, and I hadn’t tackled that guy, you could have been KILLED!”

“I didn’t want to blow my cover?” His chest reverberates with a groan of frustration. “Don’t make that noise at me. I told you to stay CLEAR! Do you ever stop to think this worrying business goes two ways?”

“Does it?” He gazes down at her, eyes gone liquid in a way that usually means kissing. Then the team begins herding hostile, cuffed surfers past, as squad cars pull up in the lot to transport them, and the moment’s over.

Murphy makes it upright, with a little help from Costas, grimacing as he unfastens his vest. Rubs at the bruise no doubt blooming on his pec. Thibodeaux leans out from the back room, and calls, “Yo, Mars, you need to get in here for a sec.”

She frowns, but disentangles and goes. Feels smug at first, upon seeing the kilos of coke spread out across the table; then shocked, when she realizes Troy Vandegraff’s sitting at the head, uncuffed, arms folded, and glaring at her with considerable venom.

“This guy’s DEA.” Thibodeaux, never one to mince words, tosses a badge onto the pile for Veronica to inspect. She picks it up, frowning over the image, and he adds, “Says the meeting was to set up a deal with the supplier--which, apparently, we’ve screwed.”

“Two YEARS,” Troy snaps, managing somehow to ratchet his anger up a notch. “Two endless fucking YEARS undercover, in an effort to wipe this international operation off the map, and Veronica Mars ruins it all in an afternoon. I figured, when I saw you at the beach, that you were up to your usual snoop-for-clients bullshit; but I never expected this grade of interference. How the hell did you manage to convince a law enforcement organization to accept you? Everybody said you helped Duncan escape to Mexico!”

“I had nothing to do with that kidnapping, and I wish people would quit throwing accusations in my face,” she snaps. “Besides which, pot, kettle. You were one of the biggest teenage screw-ups I knew, Vandegraff, and in Neptune, that’s saying something.”

“Um, hello, history of drug sales?” He gestures around him, at the contraband and weapons being bagged. “Uniquely suited for this line of work--I’ve got the cover story in my background! You really are something, Veronica. I thought we were cool after that incident at Hearst.”

“This is just one of those mistakes made when branches of law enforcement don’t share information,” she says, defensive. “I’m after bank robbers, here. Do you expect me to apologize?”

“You?” Troy scoffs, which elicits a quiet Hey! From Thibodeaux. “Not likely. But if you’re chasing the Mutant Turtle gang, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I was with these guys in TJ at the time of the last heist, handing singles to strippers and pounding fifty-cent tequila shots.”

“Are you sure?” she demands, and he shrugs, smug.

“I should know. It’s my stomach lining, rapidly eroding.”

FUCK, Veronica thinks, mind speeding down paths that might save this investigation…and also, her own skin. But before she can process, the splintered door’s shoved open; and Morris, still in her immaculate suit, saunters in.

“Congratulations, Mars.” Her gaze drifts around the room before coming to rest on V, as Troy passive-aggressively cracks a soda and drinks. “Looks like you found no evidence of robberies, and ruined a DEA sting in the process. I want a write-up of this debacle on my desk in two hours--and then you should go home, think about what you’ve done. Tomorrow morning, bright and early at nine, you and I have a date to discuss consequences in my office. If I were you, I’d set an alarm.”

Veronica groans, a noise akin to the one Logan just made. But nods, before heading off to do her duty. Because the main thing separating the good and bad guys, apparently, is the ability to prep paperwork.

XXXXX

Logan’s waiting in the lobby when she finally makes it downstairs; apparently he’s been interviewed and released. He gives her the once-over, smiling faintly, and extends a soda and sandwich bag, like food will soothe her wounds.

“The hero emerges from battle--battered by fate, but not defeated,” he intones, as she accepts the offering. Leaps lightly to his feet. “Come on, I’ll drive you home, give you a back rub. Maybe someday we’ll learn to laugh at all this.”

She makes a face, but unwraps the meatball sub and takes a bite; she’s never yet been so upset she can’t find her appetite. Follows him to his car and chews in silence as he drives…grateful, as she’s often been, that he’s not the kind to chatter while she broods.

When they make it to her condo, she tosses wrappings in the trash, then flops backwards on her bed with a sigh. He shuts the door and leans against it, folding his arms.

“So.” He sounds faintly amused. “Now that you’ve had time to process. You want the bad news, or the worse news? Or do you need an orgasm first, to put you in a better headspace?”

“There’s worse news than the fact that I just screwed up my career?” She sighs at the ceiling. “I still maintain it was an honest mistake. Troy’s an excellent suspect, and the DEA should have flagged his file.”

“True.” Logan pushes off the door with one shoulder, crosses the room to sit beside her. “He’s not, however, the ONLY suspect. I believe I mentioned at Neptune’s Net I spent the morning doing research?”

She turns to face him, and he winds a loose thread from the comforter around his finger. “I confirmed a suspicion…Todd joined Cape Crescent after defecting from Bodie’s crew.”

Veronica frowns, sitting up, and he smiles without humor. “Apparently, and I made sure of this by reading his EXTREMELY emo blog, he was down with the whole be one with nature ethos, before sensing a ‘dark undercurrent’ in Bodie’s philosophies--at which point, he decided to skate. He comments several times on Tumblr that Bodie views him as a defector.”

“So why is this relevant?” she asks, and he breaks the thread abruptly, looking up to meet her eyes.

“Because of the bracelet,” he says. “And those photos you took this morning. I’m guessing you didn’t notice, but the Black’s Beach guys are wearing them, too.”

She folds her legs beneath her. “But you said that jewelry was popular, and easy to find. And as we just determined via my screw-up, the wearing of bracelets doesn’t constitute proof.”

“Here’s the thing, though,” he says. “They’re symbolic of Bodie’s worldview, one Trent claims to support, even though he hates the messenger. Water is life, etcetera etcetera, harmonious hippie bullshit. Plus the fact that they’re for sale in Cape Crescent means guys would have to infiltrate hostile territory to buy one—so it would constitute a membership test, of sorts. Do you agree with our message enough to risk your skin to spread it? Prove your loyalty by putting yourself in danger. Admit it, my theory makes sense.”

“So why are you telling me now?” she demands. “And not pre-raid, when it would have been helpful?”

“I didn’t have evidence, yet, that you were wrong. And it’s not like I’m gonna go, ‘Oh, hey, my best friends since junior high? They ALSO wear bracelets and use Sex Wax, arrest their asses.’ At least, not without a damn good reason. You may recall I’ve been on the other end of a frame job--I can personally attest, it sucks.”

“Are we throwing stuff from ten years ago in each other’s faces now?” she demands, squaring up. Because a fight with Logan might go some ways towards lifting her mood. “I bet I’d win that argument hands down, let’s see if I can recall why.”

He opens his mouth to answer, some excellent zinger, no doubt, that will lead inevitably to sex; then shuts it as the doorbell rings, loud and long. “What the hell?” she murmurs, as they glance at each other, confused. “Only like three people visit me here, and NEVER on weekdays.”

Logan pads over to the door, peers out the peephole, then turns to her, solemn. “It’s Bodie,” he says, in a low voice. “How does he even know where you live?”

She frowns, crossing to her bag to retrieve her gun. Tucks it into the back of her shorts, as she calls, “Hang on a minute!” then shrugs on a sweater to cover it. Logan closes his eyes, making a fist with his right hand, then slowly shakes it out, and moves to unlatch the door.

“Echolls!” Bodie says, when it swings wide, with an instantly-suspicious level of bonhomie. “Figures I’d find you here, all shacked up with your girl.”

The rest of the crew emerge from both sides of the house to follow as he pushes through the door, overwhelming Veronica’s personal space like the tide sweeping up the beach. They surround, close in, forcing V and Logan outside before she has a chance to think…sucking them back to sea. “Sorry we missed you this morning, man--we had places to go, things to be. But we’re gonna make it up to you now. Got a very special adventure planned.”

“We were just getting ready to…” Logan starts, but Luke’s already opened the door to the jeep’s back seat, and they’re shoved, by the press of bodies, inside. “Never mind, we seem to be free.”

“Sure you are.” Bodie climbs into the passenger seat, Luke behind the wheel, Casey and Dick blocking both rear doors. Bodie turns in his seat to grin, and the expression seems faintly vulpine. “You’re part of the crew now, man. Where we go, you go. When we need a hand, you help--cycle of life. You’re born, you grow, you do what you can for the tribe, and when it’s your time…you go out in a blaze of glory.”

“Very poetic.” Logan shares a glance with Veronica that isn’t the least bit reassuring. “Think I might have read that on a greeting card, once.”

“Well, if anyone knows poetry, it’d be you,” Bodie agrees, affable. “Seeing as you’re a writer, and all.”

Logan exhales, quiet, slow; silent acknowledgement that they are, in fact, fucked. Veronica reaches over to twine her hand with his. “You followed me this morning,” he says.

“Case did.” Bodie gestures with his chin, and Casey grins, the kind of smile he used to don in junior high, right before he knocked someone’s lunch to the floor. “All the cops showing up out of the blue yesterday made him suspicious--so when we dropped you off, he trailed you home.”

“Camped out in the car, which blew, by the way, while you screwed Veronica Mars’ brains out,” Casey confirms. “But I was rewarded, in the morning—still can’t believe you ditched us all to play Clark Kent. And it only took two calls to dear old dad’s publishing cronies to learn Logan fucking Echolls is none other than Julien Gracq. AKA the reporter trying to make surf squads sweat, just for living free.”

“I can’t believe you, dude,” Dick says, from V’s other side, face mutinous and clearly betrayed. “I TRUSTED you! I ALWAYS had your back, no matter what shit went down…and you repay me by turning into some fucking NARC?”

They skid through a turn and something slides from under the seat, bumping hard into Veronica’s feet. She glances down—it’s a suitcase. The kind you’d pack when Endless Summer’s over, and you’re preparing to ice some pesky witnesses, then flee. There’s a brochure in the front pocket, the words Miramar Marina just visible over the flap, so she guesses she knows their escape route. She bends forwards enough to take a picture with her necklace. This way, at least, if she’s offed, the cops will find clues ready-and-waiting on her corpse.

“What, exactly, have you done that investigative reporting might worry you, Dick?” Logan asks, pointedly. Casey cackles and hoots like he can’t WAIT for this situation to unravel.

“It doesn’t matter.” Bodie nudges Luke and points right, and the car skids into a turn. Cruises past the First Neptune Bank at a slightly-suspicious crawl—as if, say, they’re casing the entrance-- then kicks up in speed once they’re safely past. “Black’s Beach is a family, and families don’t betray each other. Or if they do…they’ve got a duty to make things right.”

“Clearly you’ve never met my family,” Logan snarks, as Bodie picks up a backpack from the floorboards. Cuts short whatever he was about to say next as a Ninja Turtle mask is tossed on his lap. He gazes down at it for a long moment, then up at Veronica, and the look in his eyes is bleak. “Man, I’m not doing this, end of story. I’d rather take a bullet.”

“Oh, we’re not going to shoot you. We’ll shoot your girl.” He nods at Dick, who throws an arm around V’s throat--he has a gun pressed to her temple before she registers he’s a threat. She struggles, briefly; but Dick, while an idiot, is also strong. And she’s afraid he’ll cold-cock her, if she tries too hard to fight. “Case tells me you’ve loved her your whole life. Probably you’d do just about anything to keep her safe.”

A muscle ticks in Logan’s jaw, and the cold, deadly look he gives Dick makes the arm squeezing her neck tighten. But he strokes her hand with his thumb, lets it go….then lifts and dons the mask.

Casey trills a war cry, catches the Leonardo version tossed to him and follows suit. Luke crosses himself and does then same; then Bodie, after a wink at Veronica that solidifies her loathing into rage, dons his, and begins passing out guns.

“Lock and load, boys!” He hands Casey a semi-automatic as they shriek around the corner, back towards the front of the bank. Extends a pistol to Logan, butt first, and adds, faux-apologetically, “Afraid yours doesn’t have any bullets, Echolls. Don’t want you getting ideas.”

Logan accepts the weapon, fingers curling around the butt. Meets V’s eyes once more, and mouths the word sorry. Then they lurch up to the curb, pile out and rush inside; and Veronica’s alone in the back seat with a so-tense-he-might-break Dick, debating how best to break free.

“You should let me go,” she tries, going for conversational, feeling around with her toes for a place to brace herself. “And run. There won’t be cheerleaders and brewskis in Chino.”

“Logan betrayed the code,” he says stubbornly, destroying her purchase by turning, to better watch the bank doors. “Probably because you talked him into it. You’re a fucking black widow, Veronica, but he never seems to get that. Probably because he’s so whipped he can’t even…”

Screw this, Veronica thinks; and squeezing her eyes shut, headbuts backwards as hard as she can. Hears cartilage crunch as Dick wails, then slips from his loosened grip and twists his wrist savagely to disarm him. “Think for himself?” she finishes, viciously sweet, retrieving his gun from the floor. She scoots between the front seats as he clutches his face, blood burbling through his fingers. “A lesson for you, too, Dick--I hope you learn it. And I repeat…run now, or you’ll never get another chance.”

She kicks open the door, checking the clip on Dick’s weapon, and races, full-speed, towards the bank.

The automatic doors in front are wedged open by a whimpering customer, flat on the ground with his hands behind his head; she’s able, consequently, to creep through without attracting attention.

Inside, the retail space proves long and narrow, with cubicles along one side, and teller kiosks along the other. The locked entrance to the vault takes up most of the back wall. Down the middle of the generic-gray room runs a long, blue counter, stocked with pencil holders and deposit slips; Bodie stands atop this, machine gun in hand, exhorting the terrified, prostrate customers to, “Stay down if you want to stay alive.” Luke and Casey are carrying bags between tellers, shouting for them to throw in cash. And Logan’s positioned as close to the door as he can get, gun braced in a two-handed stance, determinedly ignoring the old guy behind him, who’s reaching for an abandoned cell.

Veronica catches the man’s eye, shakes her head. Appropriates the phone herself, and carries it behind a potted plant. Silently dials 911, shows the man what she’s done, then sets it on the floor; this way, there’ll be a record of everything that happens. Taking cover behind an ATM, she balances Dick’s gun atop; but as she’s drawing breath to announce herself, Casey loses his mind.

One of the women ferrying cash is sobbing so hard she stumbles, spilling paper-wrapped sheaves of hundreds across the floor. Casey checks the clock, visibly tensing, and shouts, “Pick it the fuck up, you clumsy bitch! Can’t you see we’re in a hurry? Move your ass--or I swear to God, I’ll shoot you dead and do it myself!”

Her only response is to cry harder; he lifts and aims his weapon, apparently not kidding. Luke puts a restraining hand atop the muzzle. “Dude, stop, she’s trying. Look, just chill, I’ll help.”

Shouldering his gun, he vaults the counter to do so, which draws Bodie’s immediate and focused wrath. “What are you THINKING? Get back out here, now! Speed is of the essence, and the curtain’s going down, bro!”

Veronica takes advantage of the distraction to grab a pen and throw it at Logan. It glances off his shoulder, but he turns…and his whole body fractionally relaxes. Get behind the counter, she mouths, but he shakes his head.

“They’ll see you,” he murmurs, and points at his empty gun, to show that his ability to assist is limited. She rolls her eyes, retrieves the service weapon from the back of her shorts, and sends it skidding across the tiles towards him…

...which seems like a smart move, until the old guy beside the door dives on it, before it can reach Logan’s hand. Shoots straight into the ceiling and re-cocks, like he knows his way around a weapon, and yells, “You get away from that girl!”

He aims at Casey, frail arms shivering from the gun’s weight, and Casey spins, muzzle tip lifting as he seeks a target. The man jerks at the threat—the gun wavers as he squeezes the trigger—and Luke makes it back over the counter at exactly the wrong time. He takes the bullet meant for Casey dead-center in the chest, the force punching him backwards against the wood with a thunk.

Casey bares his teeth, emits a guttural noise, and sends a spray of fire across the area just to Logan’s right. The old man shudders with multiple impacts before slumping, wheezing, to the floor.

Logan belatedly takes V’s advice, diving for cover, and she shouts, “Federal agent! Everyone drop your weapons and put your hands in the air!” Her words are punctuated by the sound of sirens in the distance.

Bodie leaps from the counter, running for Luke, as Logan yells, “Veronica, no! Stay down!” Casey spins, blanketing the length of the counter with bullets, and Logan curls into a ball as they strike the wood behind him. It’s only a matter of time before Casey Gant turns the robbery into a massacre.

So she takes a deep breath, carefully aims, and drops him with a shot to the head.

The sirens’ volume increases, drawing near; Bodie glances up from where he’s crouched beside Luke. Grabbing the sack of money, he leans down to murmur in Luke’s ear. Tucks the rifle he’s carrying in Luke’s slack grip, then sprints for the door.

Before Veronica even processes that he’s fled, Logan’s off in pursuit, leaping the figures on the floor and racing into the midday glare.

She emerges from behind the ATM in time to see Bodie, dodging cars, make it across the street, and scale a fence on the far side, just as two cop cars screech up to the curb. Logan, who’s just reached the sidewalk, finds himself abruptly surrounded. Lifting his hands in response to the multiple weapons aimed his way, he skids to a stop; kneels, slowly and carefully, then goes mask-down on the cement, hands behind his head.

The patrons of the bank begin, cautiously, to rise, as it registers that the threat’s ended. They stampede for the door, only to be brought up short by police storming in. Veronica removes and pockets the clip before ditching Dick’s weapon, then checks the old man—dead. She crosses the room to Luke, the only combatant who seems to still be breathing, and carefully removes his mask.

He’s pale and panting, shallow, sharp breaths, eyes half-shut and body slack. She yanks off her sweater, wads it up to press against the wound, but the blood’s pooling around him--she knows it’s too late. “This guy needs medical intervention, stat!” she calls, her voice going unheard amidst the general pandemonium. He reaches up, hand flailing until he manages to grasp hers.

“Veronica…” His voice is a thread of a whisper. His fingers convulse, squeeze.

“I’m here,” she says, softly. “Right here with you, Luke. I’ll stay.”

“We thought…” he wets his lips, tries again. “It would be an adventure. Did it for the thrill. All the surf trips we…planned…”

His eyes drift shut, the last of his breath wheezing out, and she feels the tears start, dripping soundlessly down her cheeks. For the Luke she met in third grade, front teeth missing-- so uptight he melted down when his lunch box got dented. Even for Casey, who was nice to her once when she went to Moon Calf Collective, and she had to…and she just….

Bodies ebb and surge around her, restoring order, soothing fears; she ignores them to kneel on the floor. Lets herself cry, as the last vestiges of the past she thought she’d never shake crack and shatter, and fall, now ruined, away.

Chapter Text

Hours seem to pass, while Veronica grieves and the world spins; but it’s probably only minutes before a shadow falls over her, recalling her to reality. Wiping wet eyes with the back of her hand, V looks up and up, to the faintly-frowning face of Agent Morris, who’s surveying her with folded arms.

“You know, I worried you’d bungle this case, Mars,” she says, as behind V, the EMT’s give up, and begin loading Luke into a body bag. “But you managed to surpass my wildest expectations. Three people dead, one shot with your service weapon, and the ringleader’s escaped to sin again another day.”

“They kidnapped us from my apartment.” Veronica’s voice is hoarse, but surprisingly steady. She braces a hand on the floor, and manages, somehow, to stand. “Things spiraled rapidly out of control.”

“Things frequently do, in law enforcement.” Morris hands her a handkerchief, makes a circular gesture with one fingertip to indicate Veronica should wipe her face. “It’s the reason we have rules, such as never surrender your weapon, and always wait for backup. And it’s the reason I’ve been skeptical from the start of your ability to join a team. Because to you, rules are just annoyances, made to be broken if they get in your way.”

Veronica shrugs—it’s true, she operates best in shady, grey areas. But she wanted, so much, to be upstanding and make Dad proud. “Is this the part where you admit you’ve lost that loving feeling?”

“You’re suspended, pending investigation,” Morris tells her. “Which I’m sure comes as no surprise. Your gun’s already bagged as evidence, but I’ll need your badge. And then we should talk about a little thing called sensible precautions, until Bodie Chang is found. He’s likely miffed at you now, and he knows where you live.”

Veronica glances out the front door, where Logan sits, still cuffed, on the hood of a cop car, gesticulating with chained hands as he narrates events into Dumbrowski’s mini-recorder. “I left it with the suit I wore to work this morning,” she says. “I’ll grab it as soon as I’m able to go home, and swing it by your office before five.”

Morris nods. “Believe it or not,” she says. “I was rooting for you, Mars. You were a smart kid, and you’re smarter now. But until you can play nice with others, there’s no place for you at the FBI.”

She strides away, somehow still pristine in white despite the blood and chaos surrounding her. Veronica looks down at the rumpled, stained cloth in her hands and quietly lets the dream go. Then she squares her shoulders, tosses the handkerchief in the garbage, and heads outside.

Dumbrowski passes as she goes, offering a rapid once-over and concerned smile before continuing on towards Morris. V marches up to the lone cop standing desultory guard over Logan, and digs the badge from her pocket to flash in his face.

“FBI,” she says, confidently, assuming a stance that brooks no argument. “Agent Mars. Our team needs to debrief Mr. Echolls in depth before we release him. We’re prepared to take custody at this time.”

The cop examines her credentials, then shrugs, making a ‘go for it’ gesture in Logan’s direction; Logan keeps his face still, but his gaze is fixed on hers. “Mr. Echolls, if you’ll come this way, I’ll drive you to the field office myself.”

He nods once, jerky. Precedes her down the sidewalk while she looks for an unmarked cruiser, left unattended in the rush—she knows her coworkers, there should be a few with keys dangling. Sure enough, a brown Crown Vic halfway down the block fits the bill. She ushers Logan in, discreetly cranks the engine, and escapes, at the least sedate pace that seems wise.

“Are we…fleeing the scene?” he asks, over the crackle of the police-band radio, as they round the corner and the bank disappears from view. “Because it’s my ex’s week to have custody of the dog, but sooner or later I’ll need to retrieve him. Plus, I don’t want you to end up fired.”

“Enh, I hated my job anyway.” She runs a yellow, veers into an alley behind a deli, and kills the engine. Gestures for him to lift his wrists, unlocks the cuffs with a snick. “But FYI, firing’s the least of my worries--I may actually be a fugitive from justice. That guy shot Luke with my gun, and I just stole a car and freed a suspect while suspended.”

“Am I really a suspect, though, if I was kidnapped helping the FBI?” He shrugs, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’ve been arrested enough times, during my storied bad-boy career, to feel confident this is a bum rap. If you’re in trouble, though…I won’t let you take the blame alone.”

She launches herself into his arms, and he murmurs, “Hey, now,” shifting to embrace her. “It’s all right, Veronica. We’ll be okay. We weren’t given a lot of choices, and we did the best we could.”

“I shot him,” she whispers, into his warm and beach-scented neck. “Casey. He killed someone, and I had to take him down.”

Logan nods, brush of motion against her ear, as silently, she lets herself cry. “And Bodie got away,” he adds. “Which is the part that galls me. The rest of them—Luke, Dick, even, sort of, Casey—they were okay guys, before he took over the crew. They would never have done something so terrible if he hadn’t worked them up to it, bit-by-brainwashing-bit.”

They WEREN’T okay guys, Veronica wants to say. But two of them are dead, and Dick’s presumably on the lam; at this point, there’s no harm in him believing his own spin. “What if Bodie DOESN’T get away, though?” she asks, after she manages to calm, and wipe her face on his shirt. “Because while we were in the car, I saw a brochure in his suitcase pocket, and…I think I know where he went.”

He pulls back to gaze down at her, face grave—after a moment, the corner of his mouth crooks. “Someone always has to pay?” he asks. “Just like old times?”

She nods, and he says, “Then lead the way. I have nothing better to do this afternoon.”

XXXXX

The Miramar Marina in San Diego juts out from a left-bending tongue of land, which houses the Shelter Island Resort. It’s just wide enough for a two-lane road, a parking lot, and a row of red-roofed Spanish cabanas--meant to house weary yacht passengers seeking solid ground. Hundreds of vessels, ranging in size from glorified speedboat to cruise ship, are docked along the piers. It’s confusing, but Logan knows where they’re going, and leads her, surefooted, towards the walkway.

“Casey keeps…kept… a Ferretti 620 Flybridge docked here,” he explains, pointing left as he strides out onto the weathered pier. “A privately-owned boat’s the only way they could get out of the country without pinging anyone’s radar. But Luke’s dad sold his, so he could run for Congress and seem salt-of-the-earth, and Dick’s been broke for six years. He can’t afford a CANOE—or at least he couldn’t, before he took to robbing banks.”

“And you know which boat is his?” she asks--redundantly, probably, but he nods.

“Sure, name on the side’s Pomaika’i, means ‘good luck’. And it’s always right here in slip….37.” He stops beside an empty indentation in the dock, ropes dangling from their tie-offs into the water, and slants a grave look sideways. “Well, hell.”

“Is it shaped like white wedge, with a Jetsons-kinda fantail?” she asks, gazing out at the water, where a yacht with this configuration is motoring into the distance. She points, and he follows the line of her arm. “If so, I sure am a good detective.”

“Still got that badge?” he murmurs. Gestures discreetly with his chin at a slip a few feet away, in which a middle-aged, goateed guy with a paunch is sipping beer, while pointedly checking his watch. She nods, fumbling it out of her pocket, and Logan, never very good at stillness, explodes into motion.

“FBI, we need to commandeer your vessel!” she yells, kicking into a run, because he’s already leapt into the cockpit, startling its occupant so badly he spills beer all over himself. She waves the badge in the guy’s face, snaps it shut before he can get a good look, as Logan twists the keys in the ignition, kicking the engine into gear. He tosses her a hot-pink life vest, which she dons as he bodily removes the boat’s owner, then rushes back to haul ass out of the marina before the man can climb back on. She gets one last glimpse of the guy, red-faced and shouting while waving his empty bottle, before Logan turns in a sweeping curve and speeds towards open sea.

“Find me a lifejacket,” he directs, yanking back the throttle, tilting sideways to crest a wave. “Then get on the radio and call the Coast Guard. There should be a list of distress codes nearby.”

She locates a vest large enough to fit him—turquoise, emblazoned with tropical fish—and helps him don it while he keeps one hand on the wheel. The radio’s mounted on the dash, so she pulls the receiver far enough on its cord to sit, then braces herself against the chop and sway. “Channel 16!” he shouts, over the roar of cleaving water. “Just start with a mayday on us. If we catch this asshole, we’re gonna be in danger anyway!”

“Mayday, mayday, mayday!” V depresses the button and yells into the crackling speaker. “This is…” she consults the chart, grimaces, “the Feelin’ Groovy, registration number 543ZH27. FBI agent in pursuit of federal felon on vessel Pomaika’i, attempting to flee the country. Request immediate Coast Guard backup, headed southwest away from the Miramar Marina, over!”

Crackling silence greets her as they close on the yacht with surprising speed; then, abruptly, “Copy that Feelin Groovy, Coast Guard deploying a response boat now. What is your latitude and longitude, over?”

“Activate the GPS!” Logan slaps a small orange plastic device, the size of a coffee cup, in her hand. “Unlatch it, twist off the cap, deploy the antenna, then wait till the light flashes blue before sticking it in your vest. That way they’re tracking you personally, in case we have to ditch this boat to board him.”

Veronica does as asked, clipping the attached lanyard to the strap of her bra for good measure, then replies, “US Coast Guard, this is Feelin’ Groovy, I’ve activated a marine-rescue submersible GPS. We’re approaching the target now. Wish us luck, over.”

“Wish us luck?” Logan asks, dry, catching air as he mounts a choppy wave, flinching as spray from the slap-down drenches them both. “What are you, John McLane? Gonna craft a quip for every perilous moment from here on out?”

“Quit mocking me and make a plan,” she snaps. “For instance, how will we get on board?”

He points at what looks like a black line down the boat’s side. “Ladder--I’ll climb it and try to get the drop on him. We’re clean out of weapons, and I’m bigger than you. You know how to drive this thing?”

“How hard can it be?” she asks, and he shoots her a look.

“Push the throttle forwards to increase speed, pull back to slow, steer like a car. And try to come at the waves sideways, so they don’t crash down on top of you.” He demonstrates, increasing the speed to the limit. “There, you’re an expert now. Try to keep it steady until I grab the ladder, or I may go under and get chopped up by the prop.”

She nods, trading places with him, and he gets a foot up on the side of the boat, ready to spring. “Now wish ME luck,” he mutters, bracing himself, twining a coil of rope around his wrist. As soon as she pulls level with the ladder, he jumps.

His hand slips, making her heart stutter, but he manages to grab hold; pauses to lash the speedboat to the yacht, motioning for her to turn it off. He blows her a kiss, gesture a blur past the briny spray, then goes hand-over-hand upwards, and disappears from view.

V casts around for a weapon—something, anything, that might equalize the odds between herself and Bodie Chang. Because while she has fight training, so does he, and he’s twice her size. Finds an aluminum rod with a hook at the end, rolling starboard as the two boats rock in tandem. Sticks it through the back of her vest before beginning the perilous climb.

Her head pops over the top. She’s peering right into the setting sun as Logan creeps along the rail towards the cockpit, when a large shape leaps directly from blinding brightness, lands atop him.

It’s Bodie, and he’s got a big fucking knife.

Reaching back, she yanks the makeshift weapon from her vest, then has to lock an arm through the ladder and cling, as the boat smashes into a wave and lurches sideways. When the moment passes, and she’s able to edge over the rail, Logan’s managed, somehow, to throw Bodie off; they’re zigzagging around the deck now, Bodie feinting and stabbing. Logan’s gone deadly-focused as he, just barely, manages to evade.

“You call the COAST GUARD on me?” Bodie pants, spinning with the knife poised to strike. “Like I don’t have a radio, too? Why are you even chasing me? Maybe you’re not down with recreational theft, in service to a greater good--but you are ONE of us, Echolls! What do you care about the squares’ stupid laws?”

He lashes out on the last word. Logan goes down sideways with a thunk, then crab-scrambles backwards, eyes wide. Veronica swings, as hard as she can, denting the rod on Bodie’s knee, and Logan makes it back to his feet during the resulting moment of agony.

“I care because people DIED.” He moves sideways away from Veronica, trying to draw Bodie’s attention. “Some random old man. Two of my FRIENDS. And that’s YOUR fault, for filling their heads with bullshit about how nothing matters but the thrill.”

“Nothing DOES matter but the thrill.” Bodie shakes off the pain, tossing wet hair out of his eyes. “And it’s always a good day to die—right now, even, for the three of us. Don’t you get it, man? I preach what I BELIEVE.”

He grins, the expression bone-chilling in its fatalism; then spins, and rushes Veronica top-speed.

She gasps, flailing with the rod, missing; Logan grabs the base of the hook and yanks her behind him, which proves an unnecessary move. Bodie sprints past without trying to attack, grabs a backpack resting in a coil of rope, and flings himself, unhesitating, over the rail.

“What the actual…” Veronica rushes after in time to see him slash the rope holding the speedboat to the ladder, then climb inside. “Shit, Logan, he’s taking the boat we stole! But WHY?”

“Who cares?” Logan pulls her to his side as below, the engine roars, and the small vessel cuts cleanly away through the swells. “He can’t get far enough, at this point, to evade capture when the Coast Guard shows, and frankly…”

Whatever Rhett Butler-esque opinion he was about to voice goes unspoken, however…because the front of the yacht bursts into flame.

“Hold on!” Veronica yells as a second, sub-surface explosion sounds, followed by the sound of wood rending and cracking. The boat keels sideways, going into a spin. Bubbles burst up all around, and she adds, probably unnecessarily, “We’re sinking!”

Logan throws open the bolt on a locker beneath the fantail, revealing a strapped-down Jet Ski and an assortment of scuba gear. He opens the valves on tanks and hands them, with a mask, to V, squinting through the smoke. “You know how to dive?”

She nods, and improbably, he smiles. “Of course you do. Strap this on, then go over the side! We need to put distance between us and the whirlpool before this thing goes down!”

Buckling the harness, she fits the rebreather into her mouth; is halfway down the ladder when the Jet Ski flies over the rail, landing atop a cresting wave with a splash. Logan follows, just as frighteningly fearless as Bodie, and climbs astride…not wearing a tank himself, she notices. Then again, how would she fit on the seat behind him if he did?

He cuts a circle through the boiling foam, holds out a hand. She takes it, climbing aboard, and gives him the octopus, which he shoves between his teeth. Revving the engine to max, he navigates the crest of the trough forming, and speeds away through the drench and splash.

Veronica wipes her eyes against one shoulder, clinging to him tight. All she can hear is the sound of her own breathing, harsh and magnified, and the muted crash and glug of the ocean, as it consumes Casey’s nautical indulgence. Night is falling; but when she peers around Logan she can see the silhouette of Bodie’s speedboat, lit by flames. The water calms marginally as they pass the danger zone, and Logan opens the throttle in pursuit.

The sun sinks below the horizon, turning the scene before them orange-tinted grey. They weave between crests and eddies, the direction of the water’s motion changing. Logan leans back, taking the rebreather out of his mouth to shout, “Waves moving in towards a shore. There’s an islet off the coast…that direction.”

He points, then has to grab the handlebar as something large jars the side of the Jet Ski; a smack-slap of flesh before it scrapes, sandpapery, away. Veronica’s not sure what the close encounter just was, but she’s afraid, based on the sudden tension in his shoulders, she knows.

“Sharks,” Logan confirms, cutting across a wave the way he would on a surfboard, then tacking back the other direction. “Troubles at work don’t seem so bad now, huh?”

She grips tighter with one hand, points past him with the other as, in the distance, a cliff face comes into view, black shape jutting from the water towards the fading-to-indigo sky. Above it, tiny as a dragonfly, whirs a helicopter, making a slow spiral downwards as it prepares to land.

“Dick got away, right? Maybe that’s him, providing a ride.” Logan leans forward, coaxing extra speed out of the machine. She spots the Feelin’ Groovy atop a cresting wave, tossed up and sideways, briefly catching air; then, just past it, the pale stretch of a beach comes into view. “Not sure I can go faster, though. The landing looks tricky to pull off, as is.”

The waves grow larger, choppier, as they move in towards shore. Logan kicks on the probably-illegal Jet Ski lights, illuminating the water around them in a wavering halo, and puts a hand over hers as they’re buffeted almost off the vehicle…caught beneath a break. “Surging waves up ahead—big ones. But I won’t let you fall,” he insists, more faith than foreknowledge. She appreciates the statement just the same.

He mounts the crest of a huge one, driving straight up at it, and from the vantage point she can see he’s right; the wind has picked up, whipping massive rolls of water cliff-ward, and Bodie’s speedboat bobs and spins atop like flotsam.

“Shit, is his engine dead?” Logan tacks sideways so they won’t be dragged under. “I can’t hear anything, but if he doesn’t hook a left towards the beach…”

I’m not sure he can, Veronica thinks, squinting as they draw nearer. Because Bodie’s not fighting to navigate, to paddle, to turn or save his skin. He just sits balanced in the middle of the deck as the ocean batters him, and his posture is almost…peaceful.

Behind them, a massive explosion reverberates, displacing air in a rush of sound and heat; for just a moment, it illuminates the sky day-bright. Which makes it possible to see the speedboat as it’s shoved beneath a wave—washing-machined, was Dick’s term—then flung back up, like a bathtub toy, and smashed against the unforgiving cliff.

Rocks jut up from the water, revealed as the wave retreats. Logan makes a hard left to avoid them, teeth bared as he struggles to keep the Jet Ski upright. Spitting out water, he yells, “Hold on! Gotta ride this next swell just right, or we’ll end up a stain on that promontory, too!”

V clings, stretching to press her face alongside his. Usually she’s brave, but there are sharks, and no-telltale-whitewater-undertow, and boulders right beneath the surface. And she’s just FOUND Logan again, so how could she bear losing him? The cliff looms closer, the Jet Ski’s small engine losing the battle with the water surging towards them. She clenches her jaw, hard.

Then abruptly, gracefully, they’re arcing over a wave, sideways down off the spill, going briefly airborne. Logan skates across a gloss of water like it’s an icy pond, and crunches to a grinding stop in the shallows of a white beach.

Veronica stumbles off, shoved by Logan past the trailing kelp and driftwood. She collapses onto the sand as he drags the Jet Ski up after, then hunches beside her, choking and coughing. He flops onto one side, vomiting up the water he must have inhaled; she gives him the rebreather, to bring oxygen back to his lungs.

After a long few minutes, during which he gasps and she strokes his hair, he collapses onto his back with a groan. “Lives ruined, bloodshed,” he says conversationally, voice hoarse; and despite the circumstances, she can’t help but laugh. “You know, until I ran into you again, I’d begun to think of myself as upstanding.”

“Shows what you know.” She leans up onto her elbows. Watches the burning boat, in the distance, sink beneath the waves. Its end is strangely beautiful. The tide laps at her feet, surface scattered with hundred-dollar bills in the process of disintegration, and she shakes her head. “Once a loose cannon, always a loose cannon. Just ask my boss—well, former boss—at the FBI.”

He cranes his neck backwards to look as, behind them, with a rush of rotors, the helicopter takes off, lofting back up into the sky. “So much for the dramatic, last-minute, DB Cooper-esque escape.”

“Isn’t Dick even going to search for him?” She turns her head towards Logan, who shrugs.

“No way Bodie survived that collision,” he says, grim. “And no way Dick will avoid being caught, at this point, even if he makes it back to a helipad. That thing was chartered somewhere, it has to land somewhere, and the FBI knows his name. Probably better for Chang that he went out on the waves, on his own terms, rather than rotting in some jail. Not that I wouldn’t prefer to see him suffer.”

“I hesitate to point this out.” She wiggles free of the scuba tanks, then flops backwards into the sand. Through the mist of salt spray, the stars are clear and bright. “But that chopper was OUR best way off this rock, too.”

“Nah.” He turns on one elbow to face her. “Still got that GPS stashed in your bra, right? The coast guard will be along to pick us up, eventually. In the meantime, we’re not injured, and there’s a mansion up there, somewhere. We can just…pretend this is a luxury beach vacation.”

She snorts. “Some vacation. I expect better from a man of your means, Echolls.”

He laughs, tracing over the bump of the location-tracker with his fingertip. “When all this is over—since you’re in between jobs, at the moment—how about I make the last twenty-four hours up to you? Somewhere OTHER than a beach, maybe? Mountain cabin, roaring fire?”

She gazes up into his dark eyes; and the tenderness she sees there, after everything that’s happened, cracks something open inside her. She thought she’d managed to suppress such bad-girl urges, in an effort to make Dad proud…but she’s starting to think they’re an integral part of who she truly is. “We only live once.” She lifts a hand to curve around his jaw, one thumb stroking his cheekbone. “Might as well make the most of it.”

He bends to kiss her with cool, briny-tasting lips, achingly gentle as always--an advance against which she has never wanted to defend. She responds, the space between them warming through layers of life-vest and sand. Breaks away to look as a horn blares, presaging the appearance of a Coast Guard cruiser on the horizon. Then returns to her task with a vengeance, because priorities matter.

Maybe she really is a not-so-secret rebel, after all.