Actions

Work Header

Cassette Tapes

Chapter Text

Logan didn’t even do it on purpose.

He wanted it on record, when he told someone, everyone, in a haze, but it never seemed to make the cut. He didn’t do it on purpose. He had no further ambitions, nothing he wanted to accomplish. He was just curious.

Curious. He’d stopped being curious a long time ago, when he’d learned that asking too many questions led to a beating when his father got annoyed and that his mother wouldn’t do anything about it. But then Lilly and Veronica were so curious, maybe too much for their own good, both of them. And he could have been placid like Duncan, outwardly he was as placid as Duncan. He was fifteen, he had to be cool. But in their little quartet, the girls were curious, always after something. They were different kinds of curious: Lilly liked finding out the gossip, knowing everything about everyone; Veronica liked uncovering the truth and getting at the bottom of something. After three years of being with them at all times, it had to have rubbed off on him.

That day, he was feeling the Veronica kind of curious. And yet, what he ended up discovering led only – mostly – to people asking questions the Lilly kind of curious.

He was in the pool house, like he often was, his safe haven when at home, when he couldn’t hang at the Kanes’, aimlessly looking for a screwdriver because he’d closed the air vent too tight last time and jiggling it didn’t work. He just wanted a drink. That one detail had also gotten lost in the grand scheme of things, probably for the best.

And then he saw something he’d for some unfathomable reason never noticed before. He was no expert – really, really no expert – but it kind of looked like it could be a camera on the ceiling? And when the hell had they installed a camera there? Was it to watch him, to make sure he didn’t open the alcohol cabinet again? That seemed overkill, especially for Aaron, who didn’t usually need any such sophisticated proof to start railing on him. And then again maybe it wasn’t a camera. So his eyes followed a line on the ceiling and he walked to doors where the line seemed to lead, which he opened and then, right there, were some cassette tapes. Most likely from what was probably indeed a camera on the ceiling.

He didn’t know how long the camera had been there – forever? – so it was probably safer to erase the tapes. Unless they were some old movie one or both of his parents had been in, split into several cassettes. So, curious (not malicious, damn it), he popped them in a player and pressed play. And he watched.

For way longer than anyone should watch that.

But he was transfixed, trying to wrap his mind around what he was seeing. Not quite believing it. He knew his father’s face. He knew his father’s voice. He knew Lilly’s face. He knew Lilly’s whole body, in fact. He knew the way she moaned. But those were completely separate entities. Different realities. Different parts of his life. One was the hell he escaped every day. The other was where he escaped to. But there they both were, clearly in bed together, clearly one on top of the other (although sometimes which was which changed), clearly naked. Clearly enjoying this.

Also, one was clearly doing something very illegal. Not that the other seemed to mind.

And so when the tape ended, he shakily stood and retrieved the cassette, and the others. Then he did the only things he could think of.

First, he cried and hit the pillow of the pool house bed repeatedly.

Then, he got into his car – not quite his yet and he didn’t have his license yet but what was on those tapes was far worse than whatever he’d get if he was caught driving without a license and anyway what did rules and laws and logic matter anymore – and went to the only person left he thought he could maybe trust about this discovery.

The one person he thought he probably wouldn’t want to start screaming at and who would forbid him from going to hit something or someone.

It was Lianne who answered the door, looking buzzed as always, greeting him with a smile that faltered as his ghostly complexion and empty expression.

“Logan, are you alright?”

“Is Veronica here?” he asked, ignoring her question because how could anyone in his position even start to answer that?

Lianne took a step on the side to let him in and said, “In her room,” with a vague gesture in the wrong direction.

Logan gave a nod and climbed the stairs to his friend’s room. He didn’t knock, just opened the door. Veronica turned to him, first to indignantly manifest that it was not okay to just barge into the room of a teenage girl, but it died on her lips when she saw him.

She repeated her mother’s question, “Logan, are you alright?” as she rushed to him, a hand on his back, then closed the door behind him and sat them both on her bed.

“I have to tell you something. Show you something, actually.”

“Okay,” Veronica said, confusion and concern furrowing her brow.

“You’re not gonna like it,” he warned. “It’ll probably be the worst thing you’ve ever seen. And it’s going to change everything.”

Logan had always had a penchant for the dramatic, so it didn’t overly worry her. That is, until she’d fetched the necessary material to insert the tapes Logan had brought with him and seen what was on them. Suddenly, his lifeless eyes and struck expression made sense. And she knew he was telling the truth, on both accounts.

 

*

 

Veronica had always had more practical sense than he had. So while his (good, cowardly, instinctive, or a mix of all three) decision had been to take the issue to her, her solutions were much more hands-on. She got out a notebook and a pen – not one of the fluffy pink ones she and Lilly usually favoured, Logan noticed, but a plain black pen she’d probably taken from the Sheriff’s station – and started a list of things they’d do. The first thing she wrote down was that Logan was not going to go beat someone up or Veronica would beat him up. (She sounded out that last part as she was writing it, with a glance that told him she was dead serious.)

Neither of them seriously considered keeping it to themselves, even if they both wanted to forget having ever seen that, because forgetting it all wouldn’t make it any less true or any less horrific. Veronica wanted to take it to her father immediately. Logan was more hesitant. Was there nothing else they could do before? Like what, Veronica asked, but he had no answer, so she wrote it out after the second bullet point she’d carefully traced. Tell her father. Show him the tapes, have him have them as evidence. As evidence of what, they weren’t sure yet. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. He’d keep it as hush-hush as possible, as silent as reasonable, at least at first. Neptune had a good sheriff.

“Then we probably have to wait until they do something before telling anyone else,” Veronica said quietly. “They’ll want to arrest your dad. I think. We have to make sure he gets no warning.”

Logan nodded, yes, of course, whatever she said. They would arrest his father, someone would, he’d probably get out of it because he was Aaron Echolls. And then Logan didn’t know, but that was too far in the future. He didn’t want to think about what this would do to his mother, either. One thing at a time.

“And Lilly… we have to talk to Lilly. After,” Veronica continued.

Logan’s mind had been alternating between never wanting to talk to her again, cutting ties forever because what she had done was just one step too far, and wanting to ask if she was okay, ready to forgive anything, ready to let her convince him she hadn’t done anything wrong. Veronica seemed to know, seemed to know everything when she put her warm hand on his glacial one. His hands were always warm. Why weren’t they warm now?

And how long would Veronica be there? How long before she gave the same attention to Lilly, took her side if there was a side to be taken, dropped Logan from the group? How long before he became the son of the evil, evil man who had slept with her best friend? How long until their friendship didn’t matter anymore? Because they Kanes always came first. Always. To one another, to Veronica, to Logan, even. Neptune was the Kanes’ town, their domain, their turf. They ruled it. They were practically royalty. Whatever they decided was rule. If they said Logan was old news, if they said Logan was out, he was out.

Duncan wouldn’t do anything about it because Duncan hardly ever did anything about it. Any “it”.

Celeste would destroy anyone’s life if they were destroyable. If this week it was Logan, as a by-product of the mess that would undoubtedly result, then she’d destroy him, no questions asked. Even if he was fifteen, innocent, hurt. Beyond hurt.

Lilly was unpredictable. She was the one factor no one could ever do anything about because no one knew what she’d say or do next.

And Jake would do whatever this week’s biggest bully said – either Celeste or, more likely, Lilly.

And Veronica did what Lilly said because Veronica loved Lilly and Logan could hardly blame her.

 

*

 

It was around 9PM when Lynn called, asking if Logan was there. Keith picked up the phone just as he got inside the house, moments before Veronica rushed down the stairs to get it.

“I saw his car outside, I think so. I just got home, I’ll check with Veronica,” he told Lynn before covering the phone and asking Veronica in a whisper where Logan was.

“He’s upstairs,” Veronica replied, but as Keith opened his mouth and uncovered the phone, she stopped him, an idea occurring to her. “Can he stay over? It’s late.”

It wasn’t that late, but Veronica didn’t often make a request like that and she looked worried, maybe shaken, so he relayed the question to Logan’s mother. Lynn sounded surprised, but agreed. She knew Logan was safe with the Mars family.

When he hung up, Keith widened his eyes at his daughter, awaiting an explanation. She sighed and twisted a strand of hair around her finger.

“The guest bedroom is ready, isn’t it?” she asked him, and Keith nodded. “Can I explain tomorrow? I think he needs the rest time. I do too. I promise I’ll tell you in the morning.”

“Okay. I trust whatever it is you’ve got going on. Is Logan okay?”

“I don’t think so. Um.” She stopped to think for a moment, but didn’t voice her thoughts. Instead, she walked the few steps separating her from her father and kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Dad. You’re a great dad.”

Keith stood there several moments after she’d already disappeared in the staircase.

 

*

 

“You can stay the night. The guest bedroom is ready for you,” she told Logan when she got back to her bedroom. He hadn’t moved, still pale, still looking a bit lost, still sitting on her bed.

He looked up at her and had a small smile. “Thanks. Is it too early to turn in?”

“No,” she assured, sitting beside him and resting her head on his shoulder. He’d been there for five hours, and they’d been intense hours for him, emotionally.

“I have to call my mom.”

“My dad was just on the phone with her. She says it’s okay.”

“It’s a good thing tomorrow’s not a school day, huh?”

“You would’ve just skipped it.”

“Yeah, but you wouldn’t have.”

“Yeah.”

 

*

 

Keith was waiting for the two of them in the kitchen the next morning when Veronica woke up and dragged herself downstairs. When she saw him, she remembered everything that had happened, everything she had to tell him. She sat down wordlessly and filled a cup of coffee, waiting for Logan to wake up. It was like he got the signal, because he was there a few minutes later, hoodie on, and cassettes tucked in the pockets.

“So what happened?” Keith asked softly.

Veronica shot a look in Logan’s direction, and he gave an imperceptible nod, nodding more with his eyelids than with anything else. She nodded back, nervously, and turned to Keith.

“It wasn’t so much that something happened yesterday, but that… we found out something had been happening.”

“Okay,” Keith encouraged her.

Veronica bit her lip, uncertain which way to go. Logan took the cassettes out of his pocket and placed them on the table. Veronica pushed them towards her father, who picked them up carefully.

“They’re… they’re the evidence. Well, and the way we found out,” she added, trying – and failing – to somehow lighten the mood.

“What’s on the cassettes, Veronica?” Keith asked, and Veronica could tell he was starting to panic. It was hard to pick up for anyone else, but Veronica could always tell.

“You need to know I’m coming to you as sheriff right now, Dad. That’s…” she looked at Logan, who nodded again, his face saying he was sorry he couldn’t say it himself, and also looking kind of nauseous. “That’s child pornography, and proof of statutory rape.”

Keith almost choked on the nothing at all currently in his throat and paled. “Where did you find this?” he asked finally.

“Pool house,” was all Logan managed to say.

“I… I’ll have to watch them,” Keith warned the two teenagers. They both nodded.

“If I watch them another time, I’m going to be sick,” Logan whispered and Veronica took his hand in hers, squeezing.

“You don’t have to. You shouldn’t ever have to,” she told him softly.

She registered her father getting up and walking away, to go see what exactly was on the cassettes, and now it was out of their hands. In a few minutes – a few seconds, maybe – her dad would realize just how bad it was. How many people this was going to wreck. The consequences it would have. And how personally it affected all the people in the room.

 

*

 

Logan didn’t remember much of the next days. It was a blur, a whirlwind. Veronica’s dad went to work immediately after viewing the tapes, making a stop in the kitchen where Logan and Veronica still were to give each of them a reassuring pat on the back and asking Veronica to tell her mother he’d be gone all day and would probably be home late. Logan stayed with Veronica, God knows how long. Lilly called Veronica several times throughout the day, she didn’t pick up, and he was grateful. He couldn’t deal with Lilly.

Nothing happened for a few days. They had to pretend everything was normal again. Their normal had already been twisted since Duncan had dropped Veronica with no real explanation, and while Logan had spent the first few days firmly by his supposed best friend’s side, on Monday he met with Veronica in the parking lot and they made their way to their first class together – geography – like they often did before the breakup. When Lilly tried to kiss him at lunch and he recoiled, she got mad, calling him “lover” loudly while asking what the fuck was wrong with him. He just shrugged and Veronica told Lilly to go easy on him. He hadn’t slept well, she said.

“And how do you know that, Veronica?”

She shrugged. “He told me in geo this morning.”

And just like that, the lie worked. Veronica was good at covering his ass.

Veronica called him every night, to check in, she said. Her father was working late, she hardly saw him at all. He’d gone to the Kane house on Wednesday, that was October 1st, but Veronica didn’t know what he’d said. Logan figured he must have talked to Jake and Celeste because Lilly was a minor.

It was mid-October, almost 3 weeks later, that an arrest was made. At first no one knew why. Keith had wanted to do it silently, for Logan, but it was inevitable that when the police showed up at two movie stars’ house and the sheriff himself arrested Aaron Echolls, it got all over the news.

Aaron Echolls, arrested at his Neptune home. Aaron Echolls, another victim of overzealous police? Then there were speculations as to what the reasons for his arrest were. Aaron Echolls, drug dealer? Aaron Echolls, irresponsible driver? None of them guessed “Aaron Echolls, slept with his son’s underage girlfriend and taped it”.

At school everyone expected Logan and Veronica to be at odds. Her father had arrested his, that had to be a grade-A 09er rejection letter. It should have guaranteed that Logan would send her away from their lunch table, that her 09er-by-association card would be revoked, no matter how much Lilly Kane liked her. Because everyone had heard that Lilly Kane and Veronica Mars weren’t as close as they used to be, as observed by Madison Sinclair on the pep squad and relayed to everyone afterwards. Veronica Mars was supposed to plummet in social standing when a rift formed between her and Lilly, after Duncan had dumped her, and even more so when her father arrested Aaron Echolls. But Logan kept her glued to his side and everyone started wondering if the Kane siblings maybe knew something the rest of them didn’t about Logan and Veronica.

Logan couldn’t have cared less what anyone else thought. Veronica was his friend, and he expected her to flee him like the plague any day now, now that their fathers were obviously at odds, when she’d have some other friends to care about, like Meg Manning from the pep squad. If everyone was surprised Logan kept Veronica around, Logan was surprised Veronica kept him around.

Duncan wasn’t speaking to Logan either now, not since Logan and Veronica had started spending every lunch together, walking each other to class and both distancing themselves from Lilly. Something inside of him told him it wasn’t fair to do that to Lilly, and that it was selfish of him to keep Veronica to himself. But he didn’t really care.

 

*

 

Veronica wanted to be there for Lilly, give her the benefit of the doubt, listen to her. Lilly was a victim, the victim of a predatory man. But Veronica couldn’t get out of her mind the image of Lilly on the tape, eyes rolling back in their orbits, a large grin on her face as she moved on top of Aaron Echolls. She didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to have to explain.

Three days after the arrest, it got out what Aaron Echolls had been arrested for, and that they’d be keeping him locked up until the trial. Child pornography. Statutory rape. Keith had to hold a press conference to keep a grip on the information, what was real and what wasn’t.

The media didn’t like those charges. They were bad, they were heavy, they weren’t glamorous. Fans defended Aaron, saying it couldn’t be possible. Journalists said the accusations were preposterous. No one managed to get Lynn Echolls to say anything, so “sources” with wildly different versions of her opinion went to them, making front page news almost every day.

Then Veronica knew she’d have to talk to Lilly, because Lilly was smart. If her parents hadn’t told her, if the sheriff hadn’t told her, then she’d definitely guessed she was the victim in the arrest. She wanted to think she’d known all along, but a part of her imagined Jake and Celeste wanted to punish whoever did that to their daughter without asking her opinion, an opinion which was sometimes not so pure and not so smart in the long run.

The discussion went badly.

It was all “how are you coping, Lilly?” and “what are you talking about, Veronica? I’m grand!” and “you have to be kidding me, right?” and “why would I be kidding?” and “oh my God you’re actually not kidding” and Veronica was left empty and hollow by the conversation, in complete disbelief that her best friend was so unaffected by everything. That she’d slept with her boyfriend’s father and he’d taped them and that was it. It made Veronica angry.

But then, Lilly wasn’t always upfront about her emotions, so maybe she’d come around one day. So Veronica stayed in the vicinity, in the periphery, hovering around Lilly while they both pretended their friendship was the same as it had ever been. But it felt bitter and fake and plastic. The way Lilly said her name with such exuberance suddenly made her want to roll her eyes and clench her fists. The way she airily talked about the boys she’d fucked and the boys she wanted to fuck as if she hadn’t just recently been with Logan and the reason they both knew they’d broken up was because she’d cheated on him, again, but this time with someone much worse than anyone else, made Veronica sick.

Their friendship was rotting, and fast. Meanwhile, Duncan stayed alone most of the time, Veronica pretended to be peppy enough during pep squad, and Logan was drinking more than before. Logan had always been drinking, more than any fifteen-year-old boy ever should, regularly and for “special occasions”. But now it was worse. Worse like showing up to school not quite sober, worse. Worse like Veronica had to drive him home once because she didn’t trust he could find his way to his own front door, worse. Worse like she started wondering if he’d end up like her mother, or like his mother, worse. Just worse.

But they didn’t know just how much worse it was going to get.

In early November, TMZ reported they’d been given footage depicting just why Aaron Echolls had been arrested.

They were right. That was the footage.

The upside of the whole thing was that most media outlets stopped claiming that Aaron Echolls was obviously an innocent stuck in some awful coincidence. That really was the only upside.

Sheriff Keith Mars held a press conference again, saying an investigation had been launched within the sheriff’s station to find out who had leaked the tapes, who had sold them. He also said any further distribution of the videos would lead to child pornography distribution charges, so afterwards hardly anyone could find the footage anymore.

But the damage was done.

When she saw the news, Veronica stared at the TV for a while, couldn’t believe any of her father’s deputies could have done such a thing. But then again, wasn’t she learning slowly that basically everyone sucked? It was her great disillusion moment. So, one deputy or another – who cared.

Then when she started thinking coherent thoughts, she got into her car – it wasn’t a great car, it was old and used, but it was a convertible and it was hers – and drove to Logan’s. She expected the media to be there, especially in the wake of such news, but she didn’t expect that many people. It wasn’t like Aaron was there. There were only Lynn, Logan, maybe Trina, and some of the help. Had they figured out who the girl in the videos was? If they had, they were most likely there for Logan.

She honked violently when she reached the mass of people at the gate and people moved out of the way. She hadn’t wanted to have to honk, but they weren’t moving when she was practically running them over, so the way she saw it, she didn’t have much choice.

She punched in her code – Logan had given Lilly, Duncan and her one personal code each when they were 13, but she suspected hers was the only one still active of the three – at the gate, stretching out of her car, and her glare discouraged any of the paparazzi to sneak in after her. If they had, she’d have gotten her taser out and that meant her father might have had to come arrest her, so she was relieved she was spared that.

She parked her car behind Logan’s in the large driveway and walked up the steps. She didn’t bother knocking, she knew no one was likely to come answer. She opened the door and walked inside. Almost immediately, she ran into Lynn, who was nursing a whiskey. Veronica didn’t have to check her watch to know it wasn’t even close to lunchtime.

“Veronica, hi. How are you?”

Veronica gave a slight grimace. “As good as anyone can right now, I guess.”

Lynn nodded thoughtfully before taking a long gulp and looking at the bottom of her glass as if surprised it was empty. “Logan’s upstairs.”

Veronica thanked her and walked quickly, going straight for her friend’s game room instead of his bedroom. The bedroom probably reminded him of Lilly, he hadn’t slept in it much since he’d found the tapes.

He didn’t acknowledge her arrival, but she knew he’d registered it because of the way his jaw twitched, like he was taking a deep breath. She sat down, didn’t say anything. He was staring straight ahead at a turned-off television.

“It’s my fault,” he said.

Veronica frowned and got to her knees in front of him to make him look at her. “Logan, none of this is your fault. Nothing.”

“I found the tapes.”

“What’s on them would have been true regardless. And it could have escalated to something out of control if you hadn’t. Lilly could’ve gotten hurt. Well, more than she has.”

“Fuck Lilly,” he spat. She didn’t flinch, didn’t move, didn’t say a thing. Logan faltered. “I’m the reason they know each other.”

Veronica shook her head. “Jake and Celeste knew your parents. He would have met Lilly eventually anyway.”

“Why’d she have to cheat all the time?”

“Because she’s a selfish bitch.” Logan looked surprised at her harsh judgment of her best friend. She shrugged. “She is. I love her, but she is.”

“Yeah. Me too.”

She stayed with him the whole day, at first just being there in silence, but in the afternoon she beat his ass at Mario Kart, and he looked like he’d almost forgotten it was a shitty day. The paparazzi were still camped outside the gate after dinner, so Veronica called home. Her mother picked up, not very coherent, and Veronica sighed, asking her mother to put her father on the phone at least three times before Lianne understood and Veronica could imagine her stumbling to thrust the phone at Keith.

“Dad? I’m at Logan’s. There’s still paparazzi and journalists at the gate, Logan says it’s not a good idea to try to go through if I don’t have to, especially since I’m apparently not a great driver.” She said the last part with a fake glare tossed Logan’s way. He smirked.

“Is Lynn okay with you staying over?”

“I don’t know. Probably. She’s… kind of in the same state as mom.”

She heard Keith sigh on the other end of the line. She could tell he’d rather have the two of them with him rather than alone in a mansion with only an inebriated Lynn still there at this hour. He’d come around to the idea of the two of them spending the night in the same house, they’d done it several times in the past weeks, and she could tell Keith also worried a lot about Logan.

“Alright. Do you have any change of clothes?”

“No. It’s fine, though. I have a toothbrush here, so I won’t get cavities, Daddy,” she said mockingly.

“The bed in one of the guest bedrooms down the hall is made for her,” Logan called and Veronica scowled at the loud sound directly in her ear. He shrugged.

Her father said okay. He was only passing at home to get a few things, he’d be spending the night at the office anyway. Logan and Veronica went to sleep, each in a different guest bedroom at different ends of the hallway. At 2AM, they both wandered outside, hadn’t been sleeping well, and curled up together in Logan’s proper bed, falling asleep almost instantly. They didn’t need any words. They just agreed.

 

*

 

It took 17 days to find who had sold the tapes to the media. It was a deputy Veronica didn’t know; he was new, young. Leonardo d’Amato. He was fired. Veronica had to convince Logan not to beat him up. She wasn’t sure she’d succeeded, until that night Logan wandered into her bedroom – he was staying over again – and she held him through the night. She felt then that he didn’t have it in himself to fight, not now. He wasn’t mad at d’Amato. He was mad at himself.

 

*

 

The news of the identity of the seller of what was essentially porn of Lilly filmed without her consent didn’t seem to ruffle Lilly all that much. Veronica asked her about it the next day, asked how it felt to know who had exposed her like that to the public, even if she was a minor. She’d gotten her fifteen minutes of fame thanks to him, she replied with a shrug.

That made Veronica mad. Like, really mad. Completely and utterly blinded by rage and indignation at her best friend’s behaviour. Yes, she was a victim in this scenario. But she embraced it so fully, it really didn’t even seem to occur to her that anything was wrong, and she truly didn’t care in the slightest how her actions – their actions, her and Aaron – had hurt others, had irremediably changed everything in so many people’s lives.

“How do you not care?”

“It was just some fun, Veronica,” Lilly waved off flippantly.

Just some fun? Veronica couldn’t believe what she was hearing, couldn’t believe this girl was her best friend. Couldn’t believe how little she knew about this girl. “How could you do this to Logan?” she exclaimed.

“Logan knew what he was getting into with me.”

Seeing how unrepentant, how casual, how uncaring and insensitive Lilly was, something in Veronica snapped. She knew they weren’t coming back from this. This girl… she didn’t know her. That wasn’t the girl she’d become friends with in elementary school, who convinced her to be bold, who pushed her outside of her comfort zone to make her better. That wasn’t the girl whose fingernails she’d painted a hundred times over beside the pool, the girl who had prepped her for her first kiss with lip gloss and smiles and tips. That girl was mean, and spiteful.

“He didn’t know you were going to fuck his dad!” she screamed.

And it went on like that for what felt like hours. Lilly got riled up, started screaming too, saying Veronica shouldn’t care so much about Logan, that she was a prude, that she wasn’t a real friend. Veronica left in tears.

 

*

 

She called Logan when she got home. He picked up with a soft “Hey.”

“Lilly and I had a fight.”

“I’m sorry.”

“I don’t think I’ll be speaking to her again.”

“When?”

“Ever.”

“Okay.” Then, after a pause: “Want me to come over?”

She could hear him pick up his car keys before she even answered.

It really was lucky her father took so much pity on Logan he never arrested him for driving without a license, even if he knew very well that Logan was fifteen.

 

*

 

From that moment on, both the Mars and the Echolls families were divided from the Kanes. The Marses were still technically in the Kanes’ good graces because the Sheriff had handled the scandal tastefully, but that was mostly because of Jake Kane. Celeste had always hated the lot of them, and Veronica had no idea why. Her mother, her father, even herself – Celeste’s look would always throw daggers when she thought Veronica wasn’t looking. She’d been around a lot just the same, because of Lilly and Duncan. But Duncan had dumped her without explanation, and been a semi-zombie since then, not even talking to Logan since they’d all learned about the tapes, mostly because of his parents. He didn’t have the backbone to resist either of them. And since Lilly and Veronica were clearly not friends anymore, there was a blatant divide in what had once been the most popular group, most popular lunch table, at school. Logan and Veronica had been dropped completely, and sometimes Veronica thought it was for the better. She didn’t know how long she could have kept on in such a superficial world without her best friend – who was effectively not even her friend anymore, nor someone she recognized.

In a lot of ways, now, it was Logan and Veronica against the world, which was strange, because if anyone had asked Veronica a few months previously who she was closest to in her group of friends, it wouldn’t even have been a question that Logan would have ranked last. She liked him, of course she liked him, and they had their own little secret jokes, and they were capable of hanging out without the Kanes, but they rarely did. And now that was all they ever did. Veronica wondered sometimes why Logan didn’t spend his time with Dick, Beaver, Luke, Sean, all the others with whom he’d also been kind of friends before. But she didn’t ask, because she didn’t want to give him any ideas. She thought maybe it was because none of them had asked him how he was doing when the tapes surfaced. The friendships had been so perfunctory.

Shelly Pomroy hosted an end-of-the-year party to which Veronica was sure Lilly would have dragged her to – you know, if they were still the best of friends, still inseparable, if Veronica still had that wonderful best friend she’d lost. As it was, no one mentioned to either Logan or Veronica that there was a party, although of course they picked up on it and saw the flyers, but they didn’t have any reason to attend parties with that crowd anymore. So they didn’t.

When Keith learned about how his daughter was no longer entangled with any of the Kanes, he said he was relieved. They were always full of trouble, he said, and he was probably right. It was nice that for once, no one in his family had to deal with being emotionally attached to a Kane. Then of course, he’d always had his reservations about Logan too, before. Aaron gave him the creeps at time, he felt like one of the sleazes Keith should have been arresting but somehow charmed his way out of it – now he knew why – and Lynn wasn’t the most responsible of mothers. Logan himself was somewhat of a wild child, driving around before he was 16, drinking regularly way before he was 21, always kind of mocking and sarcastic. Veronica was sarcastic too, though, and she was a good kid. And Logan had proved himself to be nothing more than a vulnerable child – he was only fifteen, for crying out loud – and a guy with a good, generous heart, who two people who should have been caring for him had trampled over. And he was always nice with Veronica.

So it didn’t really bother Keith anymore that Veronica had Logan Echolls as a best friend. It was better than being caught up in the Kane empire.

 

*

 

But of course life is full of ironies. Cruel irony, sometimes. It was mid-December that it broke out, thanks to some pictures courtesy of Vinnie Van Lowe, that the Neptune Herald had managed to procure and deemed big enough news to be printed on the front page.

Lianne Mars was having an affair with Jake Kane.

It would have been funny if it wasn’t so fucking awful.

Once it was out, the details started pouring out of Lianne, out of Jake, out of Neptune Grand Hotel employees babbling to the media because who didn’t enjoy ruining people’s lives for entertainment? Keith and Lianne fought a lot the next days; Veronica was half-convinced they thought she couldn’t hear them, that they were sheltering her. It might have had a chance of working if her dad hadn’t trained her from a young age to listen to everything, see everything, make herself scarce to be neither seen nor heard when gathering information. And the information she’d gathered was that the picture wasn’t of a one-time thing, and that her father had been aware once upon a time that something was going on, and that Jake and Lianne had been prom king and queen, not that it mattered, but she’d heard it sarcastically out of her father’s mouth enough times in the past week to have that information memorized probably forever.

One night, they dropped any pretense, and were full-on screaming at each other, and Veronica decided she couldn’t take it anymore. She grabbed her overnight bag that was always kind of ready, it was a habit she’d picked up years ago, just in case, and perfected in the past three months, and jumped into her car.

Logan hugged her wordlessly when she walked in his game room, pausing his game without looking at it. She let herself shed a few tears on his shirt before looking up at him with a sigh. She didn’t need to vocalize it for him to understand. Why is everything so shitty? Why us?

He settled for a different question. “What is it with our families and fucking the Kanes, huh?”

She snorted, pulling back and shaking her head, a smile on her lips despite herself. “Hey, I didn’t partake in that. Oh, God, thank God I didn’t,” she said, feeling suddenly sick as it came back to her, the reason she’d decided that this time she couldn’t even stay home and listen to her parents argue.

Logan kept a hand on her back, worriedly looking at her. “Veronica? Veronica, are you okay?”

She nodded absently, took a steadying breath and closed her eyes before sitting down on the edge of the couch and opening her eyes to look at him.

“I heard my parents fight.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Yeah, they weren’t very subtle about it. But, uh… I heard something I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t have heard. Did you know Jake and my mom were prom king and queen at Neptune High?”

“I… uh, no.” He looked wary, not knowing where she was going.

“Well, they were. Yep, and according to what I overheard, this little liaison isn’t a new thing. It’s happened before, somewhere around, oh, seventeen years ago.”

“Seventeen – shit,” Logan let out as the implication dawned on him.

“Yeah, so you may want to revoke your Kane-free card. There’s a nonzero possibility you’re with one right now.”

Logan tugged her closer to him and rested his chin on the top of her head. “You’re nothing like them. Hey, Veronica, you hear me? You’re a Mars. You’re a good person like your dad.”

“But maybe he’s not my dad,” she choked out, the tears coming back.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Veronica.”

She appreciated him not telling her that it didn’t matter, that blood didn’t make family, because even if it was true, it wasn’t what she needed right then. She needed comfort, she needed to be able to feel what had to be felt when news like that were dropped out of nowhere. She needed someone to understand why it hurt. Logan did.

 

*

 

The papers didn’t seem to want to stop printing – Neptune’s richest, most powerful man, the one who had put the town on the map, was caught up his second large-scale scandal in two months. Every new development was front-page news. It took a few days after the initial front-page news for an in-depth story from an anonymous long-time employee of the Neptune Grand to be published, giving many details about the Kane-Mars affair and even providing a timeline. Veronica wondered how much money that person had been paid to recall/make up all that and give an exclusive interview.

A lot of people knew about Sheriff Mars’ daughter, and it didn’t take much digging for the journalist to find out that said daughter had been conceived in the timeline of Jake and Lianne’s trysts. And the fact that she was a minor, with her own life to lead and her own problems, who didn’t want to be mixed up with all of it, didn’t stop him from speculating on her parentage at the end of the article. She balled up the paper, then unfolded it to tear it into hundreds of tiny shreds.

She had to go to school that day, and she knew all eyes would be on her before she even made her way into the parking lot. Logan was waiting for her and asked if she wanted to go away. She didn’t have to face them all, he said, she was smart enough to miss a day at school without consequences, and Clemmons wouldn’t give her grief. She said no, but thanked him with a squeeze of her hand and a surprisingly genuine smile.

He stayed with her the whole day, walking with her to her every class, and even if he had good intentions – the best of intentions, really – she felt a bit crowded. She supposed that it was his way of showing he didn’t give a shit what people were saying about her, how they were looking at her, that he’d stay by her side. And she imagined that Logan, the eternal social butterfly, just wasn’t used to having only one person – her – instead of a large group of friends, an extended social circle. He always needed to be with someone, talking about something, flitting from one group to another, and flanking Veronica at all times was his alternative now that they’d effectively dropped everyone else.

But Veronica was often a loner, by choice, liked and needed her alone time, her independence. She didn’t need to be guarded 24/7, no matter how much she liked Logan. Even if he was her best friend.

So, naturally, instead of saying so calmly, she waited until her irritation had reached its peak. “Logan, I don’t need a bodyguard,” she snapped when she saw him waiting right outside her fourth period algebra class.

She instantly regretted it, from the way his eyes widened and he lifted his hands in surrender. I’m treating him like Lilly – like a Kane, was her immediate thought at his put-off face. It made her want to puke and she took the few steps separating them, taking his hand in hers and holding so tight she saw his slight wince.

“Sorry,” she mumbled, both for snapping and the way she was holding his hand.

“’S’okay,” he replied in the same manner.

She was going to let it go – she would have – but something in her clicked into place.

“Let’s get out of here,” she told him.

He looked surprised but nodded almost imperceptibly, tugging at the hand still crushing his.

She waited until they were both in his car (parked around the corner, because the school parking lot wouldn’t allow someone without a license to park their car there, which was reasonable if a little inconvenient for them) before saying anything or explaining why she’d changed her mind, waited until he tried to shift his car into drive, and she put her hand on his to stop him.

“I really am sorry. You were just being a good friend. But I… I really do need to be alone, sometimes.”

“Okay.”

“Which is nothing against you, or anyone. It’s just me.”

“Okay,” he repeated.

“And I don’t want you to brush it off when I do something that hurts you,” she continued after taking a deep breath, looking up to meet his gaze.

“You’re going through something tough,” he justified.

“Yeah, but so are you. And it shouldn’t stop me from being a decent person.”

It was frustrating her, how she couldn’t put it into words. She didn’t want him to be so used to getting hurt and tossed around and treated like shit that he just took it without comment because she was someone he cared about deeply. She hated that his dad had done that to him, messed with what Logan perceived as affection and love, she hated that Lilly had reinforced that, she hated that she’d let Lilly do it for years and hadn’t really thought anything more of it. She didn’t want to be like Lilly, not now, not anymore, not towards Logan.

“Hey,” Logan said, to get her attention back, running his thumb over her knuckles.

Her eyes came back into focus and she looked at his soft gaze. “Yeah?”

“If it makes you feel better, I will call you out when you’re being shitty.”

“No, you don’t get it,” Veronica replied, shaking her head, her frustration growing. “I don’t want you to do that to make me feel better. I want you to do it – you should do it,” she corrected, “because you deserve better. For you. Not for me. Or, I don’t know, do it for me, value yourself more. For real, not just for show. I know they all think you’re tough and arrogant and kind of an asshole, but you’re – you’re not. So don’t fake. Not with me.”

“You can see through anyone’s bullshit anyway.”

She snorted. “Pretty much.”

He smiled his genuine, goofy grin. “Why, Mars, I didn’t know you had such a high opinion of me.”

“You’re my only friend.”

“You just told me you’re a loner – you could so easily drop me.”

“Right, so I must actually like you.”

“Wild,” he noted, and it should have worried her that the whole self-worth thing hadn’t quite permeated yet, but his smile was contagious and she smiled back, throwing her head back laughing when he asked where they were going and she answered to surprise her and then guessed within 30 seconds where he was taking her.

It was the beach. Dog Beach. Surfer boy.

 

*

 

Some days Veronica could handle everything that was going on – everything that was going wrong – in her life, and some days it was harder. Some days she thought about all the times she’d considered going all the way with Duncan and the newfound knowledge that he was maybe her brother and she wanted to stay alone in her room all day. She threw up once or twice when she obsessed over it too much. Other times she laughed bitterly, ironically, in the empty house, remembering the times Lilly lamented that they weren’t really sisters, but when Veronica inevitably married Duncan, they would be.

Sometimes she wished she knew the truth. Sometimes she didn’t want to know, because she was too scared of what she would find out.

She didn’t tell anyone when she sealed little bags with some of her hair and some of her dad’s and mailed it away in the hopes that she’d get answers, because she wasn’t even sure she would read the results when they got back. She didn’t think anyone would understand.

 

*

 

It was two days before Christmas that year when Lianne cracked under all the pressure – the pressure of what, exactly? Everyone discovering she was a shitty wife? Veronica wasn’t sure – and decided she’d had enough.

The details weren’t clear, and even less so when Veronica was going back through her memory to make sense of those crazy couple of months, but that day, Lianne Mars left her husband and her daughter, left in the middle of the night, taking with her some belongings and money. And a few bottles.

Veronica didn’t know where she went, or even really knew exactly what it was that had pushed her over the edge. Maybe it was the scandal. Maybe the scandal had just been the tipping point and she would have broken regardless. Maybe she knew who Veronica’s real father was and didn’t want to have to tell her. Veronica hadn’t been able to look her in the eye since her affair had come out, and had certainly not asked any questions. Now that her mother was gone, she wished she’d have screamed. Wished she had accused her, been mean and angry and asked for apologies she knew she’d never get.

 

*

 

Christmas was unexpectedly calm. With Lianne gone, celebrating Christmas with just her dad felt strange. The past few years, she always had the enormous Kane Christmas party to look forward to, and she spent all of Christmas Eve with Lilly, for the party and getting ready for it. The party wasn’t happening this year, so as to not attract attention, not that Veronica would have been invited – or wanted to go – if it was, anyway.

She couldn’t spend the 24th with Lilly because they were basically dead to each other, and she couldn’t spend the 25th with her parents because one of them had taken off. It was unusual, kind of sad.

“Is your Christmas kind of pathetic this year, too?” Logan asked her on the phone when he called on Christmas Eve evening. He must also have been feeling that weird unease associated with the lack of Kane Bash and the absence of one parent – although, thankfully for both of them, their better parent was the remaining one.

“I’m sure pathetic for the Echolls house is not as pathetic as the Mars version.”

“Depends. Do huge impersonal Christmas trees all over really make it less pathetic?”

“Not really,” Veronica admitted.

“So, same level of pathetic.”

“It’s screwed up that I miss her right now, right?”

“No.”

“I just kind of want her to be there, to have a normal Christmas, then she can go again.”

“She’s your mom, it makes sense.”

“Does it?”

“In our upside-down world, yeah.”

“Yeah.” Then, after a beat: “What about you?”

“To be honest, I feel relieved.”

She hummed in approval. “He always was kind of creepy at the Christmas parties.”

“Try year-long.”

“Yeah.”

“Wanna come over tomorrow? You and your dad. Mom would like that. Maybe it’ll distract her from convincing me to call my dad for Christmas.”

“I’ll ask him, but I think so. That would be nice.”

“It’s no Kane party but…”

“But it’s only people we actually like.”

“Yeah.”

Christmas day at the Echolls household wasn’t much more fun than it was at the Mars household, but at least, the more, the merrier, right?

 

*

 

“I have high hopes for 2004,” Veronica declared a few minutes before midnight. She was standing on the balcony beside Logan, at his house, their parents in one of the living rooms, waiting for the ball to drop.

“Really?” Logan asked, surprised.

“Nah. But that’s what you’re supposed to say, right?”

“Well, it can’t be worse than 2003, can it?”

“Yep,” Veronica confirmed, popping the p before taking a gulp of her champagne her father had miraculously let her have, just for the New Year.

“That’s supposed to be for midnight,” Logan noted.

“A lot of things are for midnight. We’re not gonna do all of it. You’re not going to kiss me at midnight, are you?”

“Why, do you want me to?” he asked, waggling his eyebrows over his smirk.

“No,” she lied. “Just pointing it out.”

“Right. Well, then, by all means…” He gestured around with his own glass and took a small sip.

10… 9… 8… 7… 6… 5…

Keith and Lynn joined the two of them on the balcony, glass in hand.

4…

Keith pressed a kiss to his daughter’s hairline.

3…

“This year’s gonna be our year, okay, honey?”

2…

“Yeah, dad.”

1…

Happy New Year!