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Cassette Tapes

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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!

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“I got it.”

“What?” Logan asked, confused.

“In the mail. The test results,” Veronica clarified, holding her phone in one hand and the envelope in the other.

“The test results? What test results? What test did you take outside of school recentl – oh.”

“Yeah.”

“You took a paternity test.”

“Yeah.”

“And now you received the results.”

“Yes.”

“What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay.”

“I think I’ll open it.”

“Alright.”

They stayed on the phone in silence for several minutes, but Veronica didn’t open the envelope.

“I can’t do it,” she finally said.

“You don’t have to open it now. Or ever.”

“I feel like I should.”

“Why?”

“I’m not sure.”

 

*

 

She kept the envelope in her room, always knowing exactly where it was, but occasionally moving it around. She almost shredded it, once, but settled for tucking it at the back of her closet instead. Logan didn’t ask about it.

 

*

 

One day, halfway through January, she picked up her phone. She’d gotten home from school and decided today was the day.

“I opened the envelope,” she said quickly. “It’s all there. All the results. My dad is my dad. He has to be, unless Jake and him are twins or something. I’m a Mars,” she concluded, a weight seemingly lifted off her heart, a small smile playing on her lips. When he didn’t answer immediately, she furrowed her brow. “Logan?”

“Yeah, no, Logan’s in the bathroom. But I’ll be sure to relay the message.”

Veronica froze in her spot. It couldn’t be. She had to be recognizing that voice wrong. “Lilly?”

Her interlocutor giggled, she actually fucking giggled. “Who else?”

Veronica hung up without saying goodbye, her heart hammering in her chest.

Lilly? What was Lilly doing with Logan’s phone? Where was Logan? What were they doing? How long had this been going on? She itched to jump into her LeBaron and drive over to Logan’s to see if they were there, drive over to the Kane mansion if they weren’t, spy on them, see what was happening. It didn’t occur to her to just ask Logan about it, because people had been repeatedly disappointing her for months now – why would it be any different with Logan? Asking would put her in a vulnerable position, and the more vulnerable she was, the more she could stand to get hurt. It hurt less to assume the worst and stay confused and angry and wounded in her house. Probably.

This was supposed to be a good day. Her dad was her dad. Lianne and Jake hadn’t taken that away from her. So of course it had to go and get ruined by a Kane.

Fuck her. Fuck them all. Stupid fucking Kanes.

Of course, a part of her was imagining that that was exactly what Logan was doing right that instant – fucking her, that is. It hurt more than it should have.

 

*

 

She ignored him at school the next day, bypassing their habit of meeting up in the parking lot before heading inside, and locking herself in the journalism classroom to eat lunch. She kept walking straight ahead with no acknowledgement when he sidled up to her in the hallway and ducked in the girls’ bathroom before he could stop her. She didn’t answer his calls in the evening and when her father asked her if everything was alright at dinner, she smiled and said she had good news.

“Please don’t be mad,” she said before explaining that she’d had a paternity test done and the results had come back.

He said it was her right to know who her parents were and took her in his arms, tucking her into a bear hug, when she showed him the results. He kissed her forehead and held her against him, rocking her back and forth like she was just a baby again. His baby. Because she was.

She cried and they were mostly happy tears, but then she remembered she’d accidentally told Lilly and she looked at her father fearfully. “I told Lilly.”

Keith looked surprised. “Why?”

She looked down and bit her lip. “I didn’t do it on purpose. I called Logan, but she had his phone.”

This seemed to confuse Keith even further. “Why?”

“I don’t know. Haven’t talked to him since.”

“You think he and Lilly are together again?”

“I don’t know. Probably. It took him longer to take her back after she’d treated him like crap this time, but hey. The offense was worse, so I’m guessing the longer time makes sense.”

She knew her father could pick up on the hurt she was trying to conceal with her flippant tone, but it didn’t matter.

“Are you okay, sweetie?”

No.

“Yeah.”

Or she would be, anyway. Once she got over the fact that everyone she knew would let her down, turn their back on her or turn out to be a horrible person, it would all stop hurting when it inevitably happened, again and again.

 

*

 

After dinner, she let her answering machine play. Logan had called again, and left a message this time. Three messages, actually.

“Veronica? Is everything okay? Call me back,” was all that was in the first message.

The second message had been left an hour later. “Veronica,” his voice said, and she hated how it made her feel when he said her name like that, so softly yet naturally at the same time, like it was the default setting, full of friendship and caring. Hated it. “Are you okay? Did something happen? Why aren’t you answering? Is your dad fine? Just… call me back when you can.” There was a pause there, a few seconds long. “I’m worried.” And then the message clicked off.

Veronica sighed. He sounded genuinely worried. But then she remembered that Lilly had had his phone, and he had said nothing about it to her, and they were probably sleeping together again, and in a relationship again, and she really, really didn’t like that idea, so she listened to the third voicemail with no intention of calling him back.

In the beginning of third one, he sounded slightly annoyed, as opposed to the first two, in which he was mostly enquiring. “Did I do something? Come on, Veronica, what’s going on? Can you just… answer me? Let me apologize or explain if I did something to you? Please, you’re the only one I have left.” At this point, he sounded hurt again; not annoyed, but tired.

She wanted to pick up her phone and call him because he was right, they were only friend the other had left, but she kept hearing Lilly’s giggle in her ear, from her phone, telling her that she wasn’t really all Logan had left – he had Lilly again. She’d cut off her ties with Lilly mostly because of what she’d done to him, but he got to have her back. How unfair was it that she had lost in the process her best friend of a decade, yet he got to have her again? She didn’t want his apology – because it would be false – and she didn’t want his explanation – because it would confirm what she knew and just hurt her more.

She shot him a text. Stop calling me.

There. Then she turned off her phone and went to bed.

 

*

 

The next day, he intercepted her in the parking lot, grabbing her arm to stop her in her tracks.

“Let me go, Logan,” she hissed between her teeth. She didn’t want to make a scene.

“What’s going on?” he asked in a low voice, letting her arm go but staying between her and the entrance.

Veronica didn’t meet his eye, looking everywhere but at him. When he didn’t move, she sighed before looking straight at him, trying to keep all her emotions in check. “I’m ‘the only one you have left’? That’s what you said in your message. But it’s false. You should watch who answers your phone before you lie to people like that.”

She held his incredulous gaze for one challenging second, then pushed past him and into the building.

 

*

 

She should have felt some form of victory by managing to shut Logan Echolls up, but it didn’t satisfy her in any way. He was her only friend left, and sure, she’d kind of lost him already yesterday, but at least he’d been groveling. She still mattered. Now she wasn’t so sure. If he could go back to being Lilly’s flavour of the week without hiding it from her, and now that she’d firmly severed her connection to her former best friend, Veronica would probably lay forgotten. Another one of Neptune’s richest heirs’ discarded toys.

But apparently her shutting up of Logan Echolls hadn’t been that effective because he was leaning against her locker when she made her way to it at lunchtime. She seriously considered turning on the spot and he must have seen it in her eyes because he took a step sideways so he wouldn’t be covering her locker anymore.

“Come on, Vee. Can you talk to me? So I can explain?”

“Okay. Explain,” she nodded, opening her locker without looking at him.

“Can you explain what I’m supposed to explain? Because I’m lost here, Veronica.”

She sighed and turned to face him. “How long have you been sleeping with Lilly again?”

“What? I’m not sleeping with Lilly.”

“Right. Okay,” Veronica replied, focusing on putting her books in her locker again.

Logan reached out, touching her forearm. “Hey. Veronica. Look at me.”

“Look, Logan, it’s… whatever. If you want to take her back, again, that’s your call. But maybe don’t pretend I’m your only friend when she’s with you after school and manning your phone.”

“She came to my house after school once, and I would have told you if you hadn’t dodged me and my calls for two days,” he replied, shifting to try to look in her eyes. “Veronica,” he added, irritated.

“Like I said – it’s your choice.”

“No, you’re not listening!”

“Then fucking explain better!” Veronica exclaimed, turning to face him so suddenly he took a step back. “Because what I’m gathering is that Lilly came over, you two have miraculously not had sex yet, you were going to tell me you were seeing my ex-best friend whom I no longer talk to because of the way she treated you, but I accidentally told her something very personal on the phone thinking it was you because I was unaware you were seeing her, so you didn’t get around to telling me about it.”

“For someone who’s so good at deduction, you sure jump to conclusions easily.”

She widened her eyes expectantly.

“Lilly snuck in, I still have no idea how, and she did want to get back together – or just sleep together? I don’t know – but I said no and promptly sent her back to wherever she came from. I had no idea she’d answered my phone.”

“If you’d checked your phone log, you would have seen I called you.”

Logan sighed loudly. “Is this really the issue here?”

“No,” Veronica admitted. “Sorry I jumped to conclusions,” she mumbled, and Logan smiled.

“Why, is Veronica Mars apologizing? What’s next, will you admit you were wrong?”

“Fine,” she replied, a begrudging smile growing on her lips. “I was wrong to assume you’d crawled back to Lilly.”

“I’m not sure what it says about me that in the same sentence, you said Lilly treated me like shit and got mad at me because you thought I was sleeping with her.”

“I’m efficient.”

“Uh-huh. Right. So… we’re okay?”

“Yeah. We’re okay.”

“Great,” Logan said, clapping his hands together.

“And, uh… hey, you okay?”

“Yeah, we just… said we were okay. I’m okay if we’re okay.”

Veronica rolled her eyes. “I meant about Lilly breaking into your house and asking to sleep with you.”

“Yeah. Felt good to tell her no, for once.”

“There is a certain freedom to it, isn’t there?”

Logan hummed in response.

“Has anyone ever told you you’re very dramatic, Mars?” he asked, turning to her as they walked side by side towards the outside tables.

She snorted. “That’s more like you.”

“You’d think I have enough of that for the both of us, wouldn’t you? Then you come around and give your dramatic little one-liners.”

“It wasn’t a one-liner,” she protested.

“’You should watch who answers your phone before you lie to people like that’? Please.”

She smirked. “It was pretty good, wasn’t it?”

“Left me speechless there for a while. More impactful than any of my dad’s movies.”

She knew it didn’t take much for something to be better than Aaron’s movies in Logan’s eyes, but regardless: “I appreciate it.”

“So, is Miss Dramatic done?”

“I thought we’d cleared the air.”

“Just making sure.”

“You’re a jackass.”

“Yeah, why?” he smirked.

She reached over to kiss his cheek. He smiled goofily.

“What was that for?”

She shrugged. “Nothing.”

My jackass.

 

*

 

“Did you check this morning’s paper?”

Veronica groaned and walked to the kitchen to get it from where her father had left it on the table, unread. “I have it in front of me right now. Since when do you read the paper?”

“Mrs. Navarro showed it to me. You might want to flip to page 14,” Logan advised her.

She did, and let out a heavy sigh. Of fucking course.

“Well, at least we didn’t make front page news,” she said. (Whereas factless conjectures about her parentage had made front page news, but she’d take the small victory of not being the centre of attention.)

“How do you think they know?”

“I told three people about the result: my dad, you, and Lilly. So unless someone from the paternity test company blabbed…”

“Why would she do that, though?”

Veronica sat down. “I have no idea. But hey, at least the speculation can stop, now. Everyone knows.”

“You busy today?”

It was a Saturday. “Not especially,” Veronica replied. “Why, are you?”

“Free as a bird.”

“You know, birds aren’t all that free. They have to build their schedule around the climate, they get hunted...”

“And I build my schedule around a tiny blonde. So?”

“So, come over.”

There were butterflies in her stomach at the thought of Logan basing anything around her that she elected to ignore.

 

*

 

A few weeks later, the rumours started circulating around town (around the school, around the playgrounds, everywhere) that Jake and Celeste Kane were getting a divorce. With what had happened with Lilly and Aaron and the subsequent alienation of all their friends and allies, it was no surprise there was a strain in their marriage; what was surprising was that they’d lasted all of two months after Jake’s affair had been very publicly exposed and Lianne had left town. Neither Duncan nor Lilly came to school that day, probably to avoid any questions or prying eyes. Of course, that only made it worse when they did come back to school. One of the richest men in the country going through a divorce that could cost him millions wasn’t the kind of news that went away after a few days.

Lilly stayed her shining, unapologetic self throughout everything, reveling in the attention, knowing very well that her parents’ mess of a marriage didn’t stop anyone from wanting to be her like they always had before. The way she was so unruffled by everything used to be something Veronica admired. And, okay, she still kind of did, but now it was mostly annoying, once she’d seen how uncaring Lilly could be about issues that should have ruffled her.

Duncan, on the other hand, was more subdued. He always had been, but now that all 3 other members of his immediate family had made the headlines in the past few months, he was laying low, like he was scared he was going to be the next one to go. Logan thought boring old Donut could never do anything interesting enough to get anyone to read about it, not even in the school paper, let alone legitimate news outlets. (But then again, Logan was still a bit salty about the fact that Duncan hadn’t even tried to reach out to him after the tapes had been found.)

But subdued Duncan – zombie Duncan – was always kind of clueless and it became evident to Veronica when he asked to talk to her one Thursday after school. She accepted because she couldn’t think of a good enough reason to decline, and Duncan was harmless anyway. She refused to go to his house, though, because she didn’t want to run into Lilly, or Jake, or Celeste who had always hated her long before the last year had cut the Kanes and Marses apart.

Instead, they went to a diner near school, and Duncan explained fervently that the reason he had broken up with Veronica in the early fall was because his mother had told him about Jake and Lianne’s relationship – she’d told him Veronica was his sister. Suddenly, it made a lot more sense, the way Celeste looked at Veronica like she’d taken something from her.

“But now,” Duncan said, taking Veronica’s hand in his own on the table, “now that we know you’re not my sister… We can be together again.”

Veronica squirmed uncomfortably in her seat. “Duncan…”

“You have to understand – I was so confused and I did the only thing I could think of, the only thing that made sense.”

She pulled her hand away. “You could have tried to explain. You could have broken up with me properly. Instead, you ignored me, pretended I didn’t even exist anymore, you acted like a jerk. I don’t want to get back together, Duncan. Just… get away from me and stay away.”

“Veronica, come on –”

“No, no, you don’t understand,” Veronica cut him off, her tone matter-of-fact and curt. “I don’t want anything to do with any of you anymore. Your mother was always awful to me. You dumped me without telling me why. Your sister cheated on Logan.”

Duncan scoffed. “Like Logan didn’t cheat on her.”

Veronica’s jaw dropped open, looking at Duncan disbelievingly. “How could you say that? How could you even think that? Logan would never –”

“Think what you want, Veronica.”

Yes, I’ll think what I want,” she replied forcefully, standing up violently. “I think you’re an asshole, just like your whole family. I think Logan was a better friend than you ever deserved. And I think I deserve better than being your afterthought.”

She left the diner without even finishing her plate, didn’t look back, just drove away. She didn’t know where she was going until she’d parked in front of the Echolls house and realized she always went there for comfort nowadays.

Mrs. Navarro greeted her with a smile and Veronica thanked her for alerting them about the article in the newspaper, the previous month.

“The Kanes were always full of trouble,” Mrs. Navarro replied as an explanation.

It made Veronica smile. “That’s what my dad says, too.”

She found Logan outside, by the pool, and she almost rolled her eyes at his need to be always close to the water, if not in it, even in February. Veronica kicked off her shoes, sat down on the floor next to her friend’s chaise longue and swung her feet into the water. It was heated, like it always was at the Echolls estate.

“What’s up?” Logan asked, pushing down inexistent sunglasses from his nose to look at her.

She cracked a smile. “I just spoke to Duncan.”

“Yeah? What’d he have to say?”

She shrugged, picking at a loose thread in her cardigan. “He wanted to get back together.”

Logan gave a low whistle. “Let me guess: he blamed the breakup on someone else. On you?”

“No, not on me. On Celeste. And Jake and my mom, I guess. He said he broke up with me because Celeste said I was his sister.”

“And now that you’ve managed to deal with it on your own after he treated you like dirt, he wants you back.”

“Basically.”

“Charming. We really did choose our best friends with such care. What did you tell him?” Logan asked, sliding off his chair to sit next to Veronica on the edge of the pool.

“That he was crazy. He wanted to just… brush everything under the rug. Like it didn’t happen. Like we can just erase the past months and all that’s happened since we broke up.”

“Do you want that to be possible?”

“No,” Veronica replied forcefully. “No,” she repeated, softer. “I don’t know. It feels like it was necessary, you know?”

“I do know. But you deserve better, Veronica. You deserve better than Duncan.”

“You deserve better than Lilly.”

“You deserve someone who’ll put you first, and trust you, and just…” He looked at the sky for the right word. “Just adore you.”

She blushed and ducked her head. “Good luck finding that.”

Logan took her hand in his and traced circles on the inside of her wrist with his thumb. “You okay?”

“Yeah… but that – that’s not all he said.”

“What did he say?”

“When I said I wanted him to stay away – him and all his family – he said… he said you cheated on Lilly. I know you didn’t,” she added hastily, tightening her grip on Logan’s hand because he’d started removing it. “But I just… it made me mad that he’d say that. That he’d think that. Because that’s not you. And it annoyed me that he tried to poison my last friendship with bullshit accusations.”

Logan didn’t say anything, so after a few seconds, she raised her eyes to see him looking at her intently. “What?” she whispered.

“You deserve better,” he reiterated, and then he lowered his head.

And he kissed her.

She immediately dropped his hand to hook hers around his neck, like it was rehearsed, like it had been rehearsed somewhere else than inside her brain. His hands moved to her hair, tangling in the blonde locks, holding her steady to his lips.

It was just… it was kind of strange, at first, because that wasn’t something they did, but then it wasn’t (strange) because maybe it should have been something they did. Logan’s thumbs on the sides of her face were kind of the perfect shape, really, and his neck under her fingers was actually really warm and soft and then there were his lips, which were just – well, she understood why Lilly always wanted more. But she didn’t want to think about Lilly, just about Logan, so she opened her eyes, just slightly, to look at him, and she realized he also had his eyes half open and mischievous and she let out a small laugh that was more of an amused breath. He smiled against her lips and she kissed him again, keeping her eyes slightly open as he closed his.

And he was just… just Logan, and she didn’t really know how to explain it, but it made sense and it was kind of perfect, this moment, because she was kissing her best friend, and he kissed really well, and she really liked it, and he seemed to really like it too, to really like her, and it was a bit surreal. It was… it was just happy. She couldn’t remember why he’d kissed her in the first place and she didn’t even care.

It was a few more minutes – and, fine, a few more kisses – later that Veronica regained her senses.

“Right. Well. I should get home before my dad starts worrying. I didn’t tell him about going to see Duncan because I didn’t expect it to be long, so…”

“Right. Yeah, right, of course.”

Veronica stood up, and decided Logan looked nervous, so she leaned down and pecked his lips another time. Just, you know. Because.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” she said, and he probably answered, but belatedly, and she didn’t hear.

 

*

 

The next day, at school, neither of them really acknowledged anything that had happened, didn’t talk about it, but there was a wordless agreement they seemed to have reached regardless. Not at school. That was clear; whatever it was, it wasn’t ready to be scrutinized at school by everyone else.

But then she was giving him a ride home at the end of the day, and when they were both securely in her car and the roof was on and no one else was around, they met halfway, a sweet little kiss, like a congratulations on getting through another day. Veronica couldn’t really tell which one of them had moved first. It didn’t really matter.

It was a bit of a relief that Logan and she seemed to be on the same page about it. She wasn’t going to go around kissing someone else, and she didn’t think he would either, and she didn’t want to think about if it meant they were more than friends now because it didn’t feel that important in the grand scheme of things. They were Logan and Veronica, and that was it.

 

*

 

Nothing much changed, except that now they kissed. Because it was fun sometimes. Because it was comforting sometimes. Because Veronica couldn’t think of a single reason not to.

She’d rest her head on his shoulder while they were studying her notes together, and he’d kiss her forehead, which wasn’t new, but then she’d angle her head upwards and kiss him delicately. It was nice. He’d get up when having to leave her house to go back to his and plant an affectionate kiss on her lips to say goodbye. It was sweet, and slow, and intimate, and it made sense. For them, it made sense. Veronica didn’t stop and think to understand what it meant. It just was.

 

*

 

In March, he took her sailing on his parents’ boat and she wondered if it was a date, but then she reached the slip he’d indicated and he kissed her cheek when they lifted the anchor and she forgot to keep wondering.

Except that back in her room, that night, she started wondering again. She wondered if she wanted it to be one. To have been a date.

She decided it wasn’t a date, it was a Logan-and-Veronica outing. Whatever that was.

 

*

 

But at one point the sweet kisses started occasionally morphing in not-so-innocent makeout sessions and, just – well. She hadn’t made out with someone other than Duncan before, and it wasn’t the same at all with Logan. She kind of felt like Logan was looking at her and listening to her while he was kissing her and wrapping his hands around her waist, which was very un-Duncan. Logan was also fully involved into the kisses, and it really felt like making out with someone who was alive – not that Duncan had ever been dead, but sometimes it was kind of stiff. Never with Logan. And it was really nice and it always ended with her having to wipe some of her lip gloss from Logan’s face and sometimes even having to bat him away when he kissed her neck because if he left marks and her dad saw, they’d both be dead. But, generally, it was fun and playful and, yes, fine, sometimes she used it as a distraction so he would stop asking her if she was okay when she looked lost in thought – sometimes she thought of her mother and she didn’t want to talk about it – but mostly it was really… special. Like it was their own thing, like they’d invented it.

And it was really fucking stupid, because people had been making out for centuries, but they hadn’t been them so it couldn’t have been quite the same, so maybe it was okay to feel like it was their own special thing.

But sometimes, when he left, or when she left, she kept feeling guilty, kept feeling like they were pushing the boundaries of whatever this was, that if they weren’t careful it would snap. They were stretching the elastic and the last month or so had been practically idyllic – by Neptune standards – so if they kept stretching, it had to break soon, right? And maybe that elastic shouldn’t have been stretched so much because it was pretty delicate.

But then Logan would look at her and/or kiss her and/or lay a hand on the small of her back and she’d forget about stretching the elastic. It didn’t feel wrong. So it had to be right, didn’t it?

 

*

 

One day, she overheard him turning down Carrie Bishop when she asked him out. She didn’t know why, but it sent a thrill down her spine.

Well, that was a lie. She knew why. But she didn’t want to admit why, because everything was so fragile. Darn elastic.

 

*

 

A few days before Logan’s birthday, they went shopping, mostly because Lynn had asked Veronica, when she was over at their house again, if she had been to the new store at the mall and Veronica had had to say no because she didn’t really go to the mall anymore, not since her and Lilly stopped being friends. And then it had been polite small talk, what kind of shop is it?, it’s a tea shop but they have the cutest cutlery, etc., and suddenly Veronica had agreed to go with a bewildered Logan to take a look at it. Neither of them was really sure why they were there, honestly, because neither of them cared about tea shops or tiny forks or pretty cups.

So after a solid five minutes of trying to stay entertained by the shop, they’d started wandering the alleys of stores, because they weren’t going to go home right away and also Veronica still had to buy Logan a present for his birthday and she wanted to do some scouting. She was thinking something along the lines of a keyring for his car keys, now that he could finally drive that car, as a joke because they both knew he’d been driving a while, and then her real present, but she didn’t know what that was going to be, yet.

“Hey, you know, my birthday is coming up,” Logan said in between bites of the ice cream they’d stopped to get, just as they were passing in front of a surf shop.

Veronica smirked. “Is it?”

Logan ignored her quip.

“So, don’t get me any presents for my birthday.”

“What?” she laughed.

“Don’t get me any presents. I just have one request.”

“Mighty confident of you to assume I was going to get you any presents in the first place,” she replied with a grin.

He turned to stand before her, stopping their movements.

“Go out with me. Be my girlfriend. As a birthday gift.”

“Logan…”

“Think about it?”

She sighed. “I just… I don’t want to ruin this. What if we break up?”

“What if we don’t? And, look, it’s not like we… it’s not like we’re really single. Unless I’m reading this wrong.”

Veronica bit her lip. “No, I don’t think you’re reading this wrong.”

“Great. Then… I don’t know, give us a try? I’d really like for you to be my girlfriend.”

She smiled despite herself. “Yeah?”

He took a step forward and nodded emphatically. “Yeah.”

She brought the hand that wasn’t holding ice cream to the back of his head and kissed him softly. “I’ll think about it.”

But she’d just kissed him in the middle of the mall, so they kind of both knew her decision was already made.

 

*

 

Logan didn’t bring up his birthday request or whatever it was again and Veronica half wondered if she’d dreamt it. He still kissed the tip of her nose when getting out of her car, and it tickled her sides when he grabbed her to bring her on his lap when they were making out, and it was all normal. Their new normal. But there was a certain appeal to the idea of holding his hand in the hallways, and kissing on the hood of her car, and just being able to call him her boyfriend. She kind of really, really wanted to call Logan her boyfriend. And if she doodled their names together in her history notebook, that was her own business. It was also her own business if she used her father’s shredder to get rid of the evidence of her sappiness.

And it was also her business if she decided, when he came to pick her up the evening of his birthday (they’d talked about that, “shouldn’t I be picking you up, since it’s your birthday?” and “it’s my 16th birthday, I want to drive”), to place what she was holding down on the ground to tug on his arms and kiss him, with her father probably watching them from inside. And then, if Logan wanted to sigh happily against her mouth and kiss her back and have his arms span her entire back when he enthusiastically returned the kiss, that was his business.

She was just, generally, someone who very much respected people’s privacy and their right to their own business.

(Ha. As if.)

“I’m going to take that as a…”

Veronica cut him off. “Yes. I’ll be your girlfriend.”

He beamed at her. “This is already shaping up to be the best birthday so far.”

Except Veronica knew that he and Lilly had had sex on his last birthday, so it was making her a tiny bit insecure. But it was fine. It was fine. He wanted to be with her. He’d asked her first. He’d kissed her first. It was good. It was all going to be fine.

Logan trailed a finger down the side of her face to get her attention once they were inside his car. “Earth to Mars.”

Veronica groaned. “It wasn’t funny the first time, it’s not funny the hundredth time.”

“Fine, geez. Neptune to Mars.”

She rolled her eyes but a smile crept on her lips. “You better drive away before my dad shoots you.”

“You made me a shooting target for my birthday?”

She gave him a sugary-sweet smile. “I know how much you like adventure, snookums.”

“Yeah, well, shooting a teenager might not be the best thing for his re-election campaign, so I’m holding on to that for now.”

Right, that. With the whirlwind of the past several months, Veronica had let it take the backseat. But there were less than 3 months left until the election for sheriff, and Don Lamb had thrown his hat in the ring, so it wasn’t looking as sure as it had before. She knew her dad was nervous, even as he tried not to tell his daughter. But he’d trained her too well.

“You thought ahead,” she remarked, almost impressed.

“Yeah, well, dating the sheriff’s daughter isn’t something I wanted to half-ass.”

“Like you do most projects.”

“Precisely.”

“I appreciate that you’ve deemed me worthy of not being half-assed.”

He darted a quick look at her, grinning, and she couldn’t help but grin back. It was so stupid.

 

*

 

Logan and Veronica had kind of been their own unit, a whole thing at school already, for a few months. It wasn’t a surprise to anyone to see them together literally all the time, or even to have Logan draping his arm around Veronica’s shoulders, although that had definitely become more frequent recently. But, just, it was normal. They were normal.

Still, the next day, while Veronica didn’t really think any more of it when she kissed Logan’s cheek before heading down the hallway to her class, it garnered attention. And when he hooked his finger on one of her belt loops to bring her back to him for a quick peck on the lips, that garnered full-on whispering. Yep, they were back at the centre of attention. Veronica just rolled her eyes at Logan, not really noticing how much they were being noticed, and went through her algebra class as usual.

“So, guess what I found on my locker today?” she asked Logan at lunch when she slid in the seat next to his.

On your locker?”

“Spray painted. Quick job, since they had to do it during the morning classes. God, what a waste of a fake bathroom emergency excuse. You’d think people would know to use those to have sex in the empty locker rooms instead.”

“Are you offering?”

She didn’t dignify that with an answer and took a bite of her sandwich.

“So, are you going to guess?” she asked him.

“Uh… let me think… I’m going to go with ‘no’.”

“Your creativity?” Veronica said, and Logan nodded, amused, to get her to go on. “On the floor.” She gestured with her hand, leaning down to further her point.

“And here I thought dating you was going to give me a few free passes. So, come on, what did it say?”

“You know what? The tagger’s creativity also sucks. Bad day all around for that. He – or she, what do I know, I can’t recognize handwriting through graffiti – wait, that could be a cool skill.”

“Veronica. The point?”

“Fine, geez. They wrote ‘slut’.”

“They what?”

“It was still fresh, a couple of wet paper towels got most of it off, it’s fine.”

But Logan seemed ready to go hit someone, not at all as relaxed about it as his girlfriend.

“Logan, calm down. It’s fine.”

“No, hold on –”

She put a hand on his forearm. “Forget it. I was just sharing the reason I was late.”

“Well yeah, but… wait, this is about me, isn’t it? Because you’re dating me?”

Veronica shrugged. It probably was. Likely one of the 09ers who still hadn’t stomached the two of them leaving their usual crowd behind.

“Fuck that,” Logan said.

“Fuck what, Logan? We don’t know who did it, and it doesn’t matter. People hate us, boo-hoo. They’ll get tired of it.”

“I should be getting my locker disfigured, too.”

“Well, did you check recently? Maybe you got a cute message, too.”

He hadn’t, to neither of their surprises.

 

*

 

Weeks went by, and it was nice, for once, how peaceful everything was, how tiny their problems were – Logan wasn’t doing too good in math, Veronica’s neighbour’s dog had puppies that barked in the middle of the night, normal teenager stuff.

When the first debate for the sheriff county elections rolled around, it was starting to be clear that the race would be a close one. Lamb dug up the weirdest statistics about Keith’s term of office that Veronica wasn’t convinced were factually correct, but lots of people ate it all up, but the worst of it was when he started bringing up Lianne.

Veronica had to gather a lot of strength to keep calmly taking pictures instead of jumping at Lamb’s throat when he said, “Not even his wife was satisfied with Sheriff Mars, why should we settle for him?”

That was the day she decided to start handing out flyers for her dad for the elections because she couldn’t even stomach the idea of his disgusting opponent taking any kind of control.

 

*

 

When finals time rolled around, Logan finally relented and agreed to study with Veronica and let her help him along, but she suspected it was just so he could spend time with her and he knew she’d be studying.

“What’s sine?” she asked him.

“Uh… something you do to a poor unsuspecting angle minding its own business.”

Veronica rolled her eyes and elbowed him. He scooted closer on the couch and kept hold of her arm, stroking his fingers down her forearm.

“How do you calculate it? Come on, Logan, we saw this a million times.”

“I’m trying, okay! It’s, uh, the opposite side to the angle, divided by the long one.”

“The long one is the hypothenuse, but yes.”

“See? I pay attention,” he replied, angling his torso to be closer to her.

By the time they got to the cotangent, he had an arm around her shoulders and she was resting her head on his chest, and when they moved on to the chapter on statistics, Veronica was sitting in his lap, Logan’s chin on her shoulder as he occasionally nipped at her jaw.

“How do you find the median of a distribution with an even number of entries?” she asked him, slightly breathless, as his fingers traced patterns on the soft skin of her stomach.

“You take the middle value,” he whispered in her ear and damn him, just – just damn him, seriously, because math wasn’t supposed to sound so hot. Wrong math answers weren’t supposed to sound so hot.

“I said an even number of entries,” she replied, trying to ignore the urge to drop the papers and push him down on the couch to kiss him senseless.

“Right, right,” he breathed against her skin. “The average of the two middle values.”

“Good,” Veronica croaked out.

“Yeah?” he asked, running his hands up and down her sides.

“Oh, screw it,” she murmured.

“What?” Logan whispered, confused.

She flung her papers somewhere in the direction of the coffee table and twisted around so she was straddling him.

“You win,” she declared, and he smiled and it was honestly ridiculous how adorable he was.

So she kissed him, because, whatever. She was a weak-willed girl and he made her feel good.

Thankfully, by the time her father got home, they’d gone back to studying. Unthankfully, Logan was lying down on the couch and Veronica was sprawled out over him, reading out loud from the notes she’d propped up on his chest. When Keith cleared his throat, the two teenagers jumped apart, scrambling each to one side of the couch, flushing red.

“Hello, Logan,” the sheriff said calmly.

“Uh, hi, Mr. Mars.”

“How’s the studying going?”

“Good,” Veronica replied. “We’ve gotten through three chapters already.”

“Have you now?”

“Yep,” she replied a bit too quickly.

“Well, by all means, don’t let me keep you from a studious afternoon.”

 

*

 

Veronica received the last of her results for her finals in late June, coinciding with election day in the county. Her father was out of the house, for interviews and to meet with last-minute undecided voters, and she called Logan from the empty kitchen.

“Did you get your math results?” she asked, pouring cereal in a bowl.

“I sure did.”

“So? Don’t leave me hanging!”

She could hear the self-satisfied smile from where she was. “B+, baby!”

“Please don’t ever call me ‘baby’ again.”

“So, no comment on my performance?”

“Oh, stop pouting. We can celebrate during the election get-together tonight. You still coming?”

“Acute stress for everyone involved and some swearing at the TV? Wouldn’t miss it.”

“Admit it, you’re only coming so you can speak with Cliff. You’ve always had a thing for him.”

Logan laughed. “You know me so well, baby.”

“I hate you.”

“See you tonight.”

“Come over earlier.”

“I thought you hated me.”

“I’m lonely; school’s been out for a week and Dad’s always busy. Backup misses you.”

“Right, Backup misses me.”

“He does. Don’t you, boy?” she asked the dog stretched out under the table. “He says yes,” she relayed to Logan.

“Well, if it’s for Backup…”

“See you soon.”

“Bye.”

 

*

 

Veronica baked cookies, fresh out of the oven when Logan got there, and whispered against his lips that she was proud of him when she kissed him hello.

His smile was so bright the rest of the afternoon, Veronica wished she could freeze the moment in time.

 

*

 

By the time the polls closed at 8PM, the Mars house was already full of people, the party buzzing. As much as a party could buzz when most attendees were middle-aged and discussing politics, anyway. The latest polls still showed Keith in the lead, but not by much, and his lead had been shrinking during the entire campaign, so all bets were off. Veronica barely paid attention to the nachos circulating when she grabbed some, eyes fixed on the TV, where the presenter was talking about very early numbers.

Everyone cheered for Keith when he arrived, and Logan caught Veronica’s nachos when she got up to greet her father. She’d slapped the beer out of his hands early in the night, so his reflexes were still sharp enough. It was kind of adorable to watch, really, how fidgety Veronica was, when he was usually the fidgety one, how she was bustling around her dad, trying to do something, anything, even if there was nothing to be done but wait.

Logan didn’t know Don Lamb at all, not like Keith or Veronica did, but he’d watched some debates (okay, he’d been with Veronica to some debates and kind of listened) and nothing about Lamb inspired trust. Even if he hadn’t had the insider information that the sheriff candidate was an idiot, he knew that he wouldn’t have taken the fatidic tapes to Lamb, for example. He didn’t trust him with any sensitive issues. So when, a few minutes after 11, it was announced that Don Lamb had won the election and was the new sheriff of Balboa County, he groaned along with everyone, and meant it, and felt a pit in his stomach, like something bad was going to happen, because it always did in Neptune. But whenever that was, he imagined the sheriff’s office wouldn’t be easing his mind and solving it efficiently like he’d grown used to in the years since he’d moved from Los Angeles.

Veronica flopped down on the couch, bereft and downcast. She looked like she didn’t really see anything in front of her, or heard any of the angry conversations maintaining Keith should have won. She barely reacted when Logan pulled her close and drew circles on her back with his hand.

Someone – Logan didn’t see who – turned off the TV when one of the presenters commented on the “ex-sheriff recently left by his wife” whose term had not been renewed.

It felt like the small bubble they’d created in the past 3 months where they were sheltered from anything coming their way, anything too bad, had been popped and it was back to the real world. Veronica’s father didn’t have his job anymore. Neptune’s law and order weren’t in good, capable hands anymore. Logan couldn’t help but think of his own father’s trial, which would be starting the following month. It was stupid, but Logan suddenly wasn’t so sure Aaron would get convicted, anymore.

He absently placed a kiss on Veronica’s forehead and she glanced up at him. “We’ll manage,” she said, and Logan wasn’t sure who she was talking about, if it was the two of them, her and her dad, or Neptune in general, or what exactly she meant to say, but he nodded. She needed the convincing as much as he did.

 

*

 

Veronica had been the sheriff’s daughter for most of what she remembered of her life. The idea that she wasn’t anymore, that someone else would be calling the shots, that maybe someone else’s kids would take cookies from Inga’s outstretched box whenever they visited their father at work… it was strange. To think of her dad as a cop like any other, it didn’t make sense, and she knew he didn’t especially like it, either. She didn’t trust Lamb, and neither did Keith, but they just had to accept defeat and move on, he said. Veronica felt like they’d done way too much of that, recently.

With Lianne gone, with more money than Veronica had initially thought (not that her father would tell her the sum, but she could gather from his sighs and everything he wasn’t saying), both Keith’s social standing and salary knocked down a notch, and Veronica’s soon approaching college tuition fees, it was clear quickly enough that they couldn’t keep living in their current house, and would have to move to a different neighbourhood.

It was settled within a month, and Veronica couldn’t help but think that her father had been planning for this longer than he’d let on, ready to put the plan in motion whenever he needed to. Their new apartment wouldn’t be far from the place her father had been eyeing to transform into his own Private Investigation agency. He’d been saying it for years, mostly as a joke, that he’d go private when he retired, when the sheriff’s department wouldn’t need him anymore. It probably needed him more than ever, but Keith couldn’t keep obeying stupid orders and hearing taunts from the new sheriff, and he was getting ready to leave whenever his agency could open.

Packing her room was more nostalgic than Veronica had expected it to be. There were all those things at the back of her drawers and her wardrobe that reminded her of Lilly or of her mom, two women who had been so important in her life for so many years, but who were now off to other businesses, other lives. Two women who had let her down.

“That’s my sweatshirt,” a voice sounded from the doorway of her bedroom.

She smiled at Logan and he smirked, walking inside and kissing her temple.

“It probably is, why?” she asked, full of innocence, playing with one of the sleeves she’d rolled up so her hands could surface.

Logan shrugged. “Nothing.” Then he added, covered with the most ridiculous fake cough she’d ever heard, “Gold digger.”

She gasped exaggeratedly and swatted at him with the damn long sleeves. He laughed and leaned in to kiss her properly.

“Why do you like this sweater so much, anyway?”

It was her turn to shrug. “It’s comfortable. And warm. And it smells like you. And you never wear it, anyway.”

“It smells like me?” he echoed, looking positively delighted as he wrapped his arms around her waist.

Veronica blushed and looked down. “Sometimes,” she muttered.

“Well, what do I smell like?”

She wrinkled her nose. “What kind of question is that?”

“What makes this sweatshirt smell like me? Other than the detergent.”

“I don’t know. It just does. You smell like this sweater. And sometimes saltwater when you’ve just been surfing. And sun.”

“I smell like sun?”

“And saltwater, when you’ve been surfing,” she repeated.

“It’s not fair, I don’t have any sweater of yours that would fit me so I can have your smell when I miss you.”

She rolled her eyes. “This conversation is starting to tend towards creepy. Come on.”

She patted his chest and they got back to packing boxes and carrying them outside to her LeBaron and her father’s car.

When he got into the Xterra to go back home at the end of the day, Logan found one of Veronica’s scarves on his dashboard. He pressed it to his face and inhaled, then smiled. He had no idea how she’d gotten it inside his car, but that made him like the gesture all the more. Veronica didn’t like the show of it, but she was his.

 

*

 

The day Aaron’s trial started, neither Logan nor Veronica went. They’d go watch, maybe, when the verdict would come, towards the end, but they didn’t want to hear the bullshit his lawyers would want to come up with to excuse him. Keith was going, though, as the former sheriff, the person who had arrested him, and the one who had, as far as the general public knew, discovered the tapes.

Every person in Neptune, and probably well beyond Neptune, had seen at least part of the tapes, when they’d circulated months previously, and it was pretty solid evidence.

“I’m still not convinced he’ll get anything,” Logan told Veronica that day, when they were on a blanket in her almost empty living room. She was lying down across it, her head on his lap, and he was twisting strands of her hair in his fingers. He would have braided it, done something better than just twisting and untwisting the strands, but he’d never picked up on how to do it, no matter how many times he’d watched Lilly and Veronica absently braid each other’s hair.

Veronica sighed. “Me neither.”

Aaron was rich, white, and most importantly, famous. He was adored by so many people, it was hard to imagine a jury would convict him, no matter how damning the evidence.

“The good thing, though,” Veronica continued, “is that the Kanes probably got a great lawyer to get Aaron arrested for what he did to their daughter. I just hope they don’t make Lilly testify. Who knows how that could go?”

“I don’t know enough about the law. She’s a minor, can they make her testify?”

“I have no idea.”

And so the afternoon went, unknown after unknown, Veronica’s hair swirling around each of Logan’s fingers, conjecture after conjecture, Veronica’s hands reaching up to Logan’s cheeks, question after question, and the one certainty that at least it had brought them together.

Sometimes when she was just lying there with Logan, she thought she should have been feeling guilty, because for a long time, he was her best friend’s boyfriend and her boyfriend’s best friend, and now he was hers. Her best friend, her boyfriend. Like she’d stolen him away from the two people who used to hold these titles. But she couldn’t really bring herself to feel guilty about dating Logan, because Duncan had kind-of-dumped her and more or less done the same thing to Logan when it was decided that the Echollses weren’t welcome with the Kanes anymore, and Lilly had repeatedly cheated on Logan and… And, okay, she hadn’t really done anything to Veronica, and maybe that was why she should have felt guilty after all. But she didn’t.

She only felt guilty about not feeling guilty and it was a bit fucked up, honestly. She wondered if Logan felt that way, too. But she was scared that if she asked him, he’d suddenly feel guilty about their whole relationship and call it off. She was selfish, she didn’t want him to have that information that might make him break up with her, so she kept it to herself. Just in case.

 

*

 

The day after they fully moved into the new apartment (which was not as bad as Veronica had thought it would be, although the shower periodically and unpredictably ran out of hot water), Veronica came back home with her hair radically shorter. The sharp layers framed her face, and it was almost shocking, how defiant it was, how different from the loose, calm, good girl, slightly wavy cascade of blonde hair she’d been sporting for most of her life.

Her father was visibly taken aback, and he pursed his lips but didn’t comment. It was her hair, her choice. She was slightly more anxious about Logan’s reaction, not that he had any say in what she did, but still.

When he saw her, he let out a whistle.

She made a show of tossing her hair behind her shoulder, which really wasn’t much of a show because it barely brushed her shoulders, and he laughed. “You like?” she asked.

“I like,” he confirmed, picking up the spiky ends from the tips of his fingers, before kissing her forehead and whispering, like it was a secret, “It’s pretty hot, if you ask me.”

Veronica would not let herself blush. Logan was very much testing that resolve, though.

“Well, the weather is pretty hot. That’s why I cut it all off. Makes my neck breathe.”

Logan hummed his approval, trailing kisses down her neck to show how he appreciated its newfound freedom, too.

“So this has nothing to do with the fact that it’s a new house, a new job for your dad, a new school year, a new everything?” he asked casually and, ugh, she hated when he could read her so well and gently swerve around the explanations she gave.

“Not a new everything,” she replied, avoiding the subject. “You’re not new.”

“Is this your way of telling me I’m getting chopped off, too?”

“No, you idiot.”

“Well, this,” he said, gesturing between them, “is still kind of new.”

“It’s been four months.”

“Three and a half.”

“Is there a point to this?”

“Hey, we worked on my math. I’m putting it to good use.”

She bit her lip because she would not laugh at that. He looked way too proud of himself, a goofy, relaxed grin shining down at her, and damn it, the corner of her lip quirked up.

“Yeah, well, I still wouldn’t trust you to do my taxes, but yay for your math skills,” she amended, to dampen her smile, but it didn’t really work and he saw right through her.

“Just admit that was funny.”

“It wasn’t.”

“You’re smiling.”

“I’m not smiling at your joke, I’m smiling despite your joke.”

“Uh-huh. Sure. Whatever you say, Mars.”

 

*

 

One of the problems with the apartment as opposed to the house in which Keith and Veronica used to live was, according to Veronica of course, that her father had suddenly realized that Logan and Veronica were dating. Like, dating-dating. That they might want to… do some things together that he did not want to think his daughter was old enough to do, and that he never wanted to think of her doing. And, all of a sudden, he wasn’t really completely okay with their “sleepovers” anymore.

That was what Veronica had tried to explain to Logan when she’d noticed her father had insisted on the phone that she come home from Logan’s that night, even if it was late. She thought it had probably clicked when he’d woken up to the two of them coming out of Veronica’s room one morning and he’d realized Logan obviously wasn’t sleeping in the guest bedroom anymore when he spent the night, since they didn’t have a guest bedroom.

And, honestly, they’d had a pretty good run, all things considered. None of what her father was obviously scared about had even happened or come remotely close to happening – they just slept tangled up together in some way, and that had even started before they were dating. It was a comfort thing, more than anything. And, okay, sure, she enjoyed settling in her boyfriend’s arms when going to sleep and kissing him goodnight and all of that, but it had started out completely innocently, thank you very much. Logan had been meeting her in the middle of the night in a room different from that in which one or both of them had initially decided to fall asleep for months. Since, like, November. They just started the night in the same room (the same bed, whatever, details) now out of convenience for all parties involved.

So it was no more spending the night for the two of them, which was a damn shame, because Logan’s body was comfortable as hell. So they only spent the night together when Keith was out of town for a case or another, which was pretty frequent, as a lot of the cases of his brand-new P.I. office had him take off to chase bail jumpers. His clientele wasn’t very large yet.

And, really, Keith had brought it on himself when he’d said no to the sleepovers, it was entirely his fault that Logan and Veronica spent every single night he was out of town together, sometimes at Logan’s, sometimes at Veronica’s. (Mostly at Veronica’s, because it wasn’t the best idea to leave Backup alone, and Cliff would get suspicious if she asked him to take care of the dog too often.) It was entirely Keith’s fault that what had been something soothing and relaxed and comfortable and just a bit romantic was now exciting and giggle-inducing and kind of sexy. Mostly they’d just end up tugging the covers over themselves and snuggling, but their breaths would still be short from laughing and their eyes glinting with happiness at having someone to do this with, and then it made Veronica want to see what all the fuss was about, sometimes. But she would just kiss him and push his legs away because he always moved them too much in his sleep and it woke her up, ignoring the urge to trail her hands not only down his back and his arms, but his whole body.

Later, she told herself. Later.

 

*

 

“What?”

Logan looked down at his book. “Nothing.”

“What?” Veronica repeated, laughter in her voice.

“It’s nothing,” Logan insisted, and pretended so hard to read his book that he actually was trying to read the words but for some reason they just wouldn’t form sentences. He snapped it shut and looked back at Veronica, who was still watching him with amusement.

“Hey, you’re the one who watched me first,” she defended herself before he said anything. “And I know you weren’t watching your mom’s decorations, because they haven’t changed in years and you live here.”

“It’s just… I was just looking at you, and… I don’t know, the way the sun was catching your hair, it was… I don’t know.”

She nodded slowly, clearly still amused by his stammering.

“Sometimes I can’t believe you’re mine,” he finally admitted.

“Yours, huh?”

“To a degree. Not in terms of ownership, more like –”

Veronica dropped on his lap with a smirk on her lips and a finger on his. “I got it.”

Logan nodded. After a pause, he breathed out a “Fuck, you’re beautiful.”

Her smirk morphed into an embarrassed smile, and she looked down.

“Ah, ah,” Logan tutted, bringing her chin back up with his knuckle. “This is the part where you know you’re absolutely fucking gorgeous and flip your hair or something.”

She laughed. “You’re not ready for me to flip my hair at you. You’d be a puddle on the floor, if this old getup can get you to sweet-talk like that.”

“Hey, Veronica?”

“Yeah?”

“You do know you’re beautiful, right?”

She shrugged. “I guess. I mean, my hair isn’t as shiny as… as shiny. And I don’t have all those curves in all the right places like… like others. And I’m really short. And – why am I telling you this?”

He cradled her face in his palms and she got the distinct impression that he knew exactly who she was comparing herself to. “You’re perfect. You’re perfect. You’re so fucking perfect, Veronica.”

She felt tears prickling at her eyes. “Thanks?”

His lips brushed against hers. “You’re welcome.”

 

*

 

 

The first time Logan told her he loved her, Veronica wasn’t expecting it. She didn’t think he was expecting it, either. Her father was out of town for the weekend, it was the middle of the night and they were tangled together in her bed, light sheets covering them loosely from the July heat, patches of skin in contact where her shirt rode up and her shorts didn’t reach. He was half asleep, his front to her back, one hand splayed possessively over her stomach. She was just starting to drift off to sleep herself when he mumbled in her hair, “I love you…”

She stiffened under his touch, and he rubbed his thumb over the warm skin of her hip to relax her, under the hem of her shirt. “Sorry,” he said.

“Don’t be sorry.”

She turned her neck to look at him, his sleepy but adoring eyes observing her. She twisted the rest of her body around, to face him, and took his face in her hands. She wanted to tell him, too, and he deserved for someone to say it and mean it, but she wasn’t ready yet. Those were big words. They were a promise she was a bit scared of. So, instead, she kissed him, and he smiled against her lips.

 

*

 

The first time Veronica told him she loved him, Logan laughed. It was the morning, during another one of her father’s short trips, and she’d spent the night at his place. He was organizing clothes on his dresser (throwing the smelly ones in the general direction of the hamper and leaving the rest unfolded at the top of the dresser) when she came out of his bathroom, fresh out of the shower, her hair still wet and glistening, and she marched right up to him, then planted herself in front of him.

“I love you,” she said, almost like it was an order.

And that was when he laughed.

She crossed her arms, trying to hide that she was flustered, but kept looking right at him. “I’m serious.”

“I know,” Logan said with a nod. “But you’re holding a bottle of shampoo and wearing a bathrobe, while declaring it like people usually declare a war, so please excuse me if I have just a tiny bit of trouble finding this situation normal.”

“That’s my shampoo,” she said, gesturing with the nearly full bottle in her hand, that she had found in the shower.

“Yep.”

“And that bathrobe has a V on it.”

“It does.”

“I love you,” she repeated.

This time, he only grinned, a wide, wide grin that would have put the Cheshire Cat to shame. “I love you, too.”

Her shoulders relaxed and her face broke in a timid smile when he pulled her in to his chest and she had a small laugh. “Yeah, okay, that wasn’t a very romantic declaration,” she admitted sheepishly, and it made Logan laugh softly into her wet hair.

 

*

 

The trial lasted several weeks, and they tried to ignore it, tried not to talk about it, tried to pretend it didn’t affect them. Truthfully, it didn’t really affect Veronica directly, but Logan coming to her with the tapes had kickstarted the downfall of life as they all knew it, so it felt like it affected her, too. It felt like the outcome of the trial was the validation of everything they’d been through. It was irrational, but the decision to convict Aaron or not for the charges against him felt like it could be convicting him for ruining their lives. As if legal recognition of Aaron’s penchant for young girls and inappropriate videos of them would recognize that Lianne had been cheating on Keith, that she’d left, that Lilly had become someone Veronica couldn’t recognize, that Keith had lost the election.

Veronica’s father called her when the jury started deliberating. He didn’t say to come, didn’t ask her if she wanted to be there, he just let her make her decision without any pressure.

“It’s almost over,” she told Logan.

Logan wanted to go. Veronica wanted to stay with Logan, so she went, too.

By some miracle, Aaron was convicted. Veronica cried in relief, but didn’t let Logan see. He thought he’d been so good at concealing the marks on his back and the way he tugged on his sleeves in the years since they’d known each other. She was pretty sure she wasn’t as good as hiding either, though, and that he noticed that she’d been crying.

Logan didn’t say a word to his father as he was taken away, going instead to his mother, who had, by some masochistic urge, sat through the entire trial.

 

*

 

“I convinced her,” he told Veronica a few days later.

“What?”

Logan dropped down on the chaise longue beside Veronica’s by his pool and handed her the tube of sunscreen he’d gone inside to fetch. “My mom,” he said. “By the time he gets out of jail, I’ll be an adult, I can break away completely. But she’ll still be married to him. I managed to finally convince her to get a divorce.”

“Good,” she simply said.

“Yeah?”

Veronica got up and squeezed by Logan in his chair. She ran her hand down his arm. “Yeah.”

“You know,” he realized, after a beat.

“Investigative genes,” she confirmed with a shrug. She’d been helping out a little bit at her dad’s new P.I. agency, Mars Investigations, and it sharpened her skills. “I don’t know the… the details, but I kind of pieced it together. It tracked with his creepy demeanor. A lot of things suddenly made sense when I figured it out.”

“When did you figure it out?”

“I suspected there was something going on the first time we went to your house. I didn’t really think about it much. But later, it was the little things Lilly said, I don’t think she fully realized.” She thought back for a moment, then started ticking off on her fingers: “Some days you skipped school and were evasive about it. The next day you’d be careful not to touch anyone much, or you’d flinch when someone was out of your sight and suddenly talked from behind you. Since Aaron’s been arrested, you’re not as reluctant to go to the main house. And, well, recently, I’ve seen your body a lot. I notice things.”

He kissed the top of her head, unsure of what he could reply to that.

“What about your mom?” Veronica asked, hesitant. “Does she know? Does he… is he like that with her too?”

“Yes to both.”

“I’m sorry.”

He shrugged. “It’s over now.”

She knew it was never really over, the scars and memories, but she nodded.

 

*

 

As the summer winded down, the days until the return to school now countable on one hand, Veronica was growing slightly anxious. The summer hadn’t been easy, per se, what with the elections, the move, and the trial, but it had been isolated. She barely saw anyone besides her father and Logan (and Logan’s mother), so she’d managed to forget how everyone at school hated her. It wasn’t that it mattered what they thought, but it was sometimes exhausting.

Four days before classes started, reassurance came in the form of Meg Manning. She walked up to where Veronica was sitting on a bench outside of Amy’s while Logan was inside getting them ice cream, sat down hesitantly.

“Hey, Veronica.”

“Meg. How are you?” Veronica asked.

“Good. I spent the summer at my aunt’s, it was nice. How have you been?”

The conversation was stilted, kind of awkward, but it was also nice to talk to someone else, to talk about normal things and normal people.

“As good as I can be, I guess,” Veronica replied with a shy but genuine smile. Why was she shy? Veronica Mars was not shy.

Meg returned her smile. “I wanted to say hi, and tell you that just because you think everyone chose Lilly over you, doesn’t mean it’s true. Some of us remember you.”

It occurred to Veronica that remembering was a strange word choice, but it was oddly fitting. They remembered a time when Lilly had basically forced all her friends to like Veronica, and then (for the most part), they’d actually taken a liking to her.

“Thanks, I… Thanks, Meg. I’m sorry I haven’t really been in touch.”

Meg waved her off with a smile. “Just don’t wallow, okay? You’re not alone.” She shot a look towards the building. “The two of you aren’t alone.”

Veronica bit her lip to keep herself from smiling more and nodded. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“I also wanted to tell you… I don’t know if you heard, but Lilly and Duncan moved to Napa with their mother, at least for this school year.”

“Really?”

Meg nodded. “That’s all I know. Something about getting away from Neptune after the year they’d had.”

“And Jake wasn’t going to be the one to leave Neptune.”

“That’s what I thought, too.”

They said their goodbyes, including a small hug and a promise to hang out at school, and Veronica felt herself sag with relief at the information. She wasn’t hopeful enough to think the ‘09ers would suddenly be nice to her, but maybe it wouldn’t be such a cold shoulder every time she entered a room. Lilly and Duncan would be gone, for the moment, and she had Meg. And Logan, of course, but she’d known that already before, long before. Maybe junior year wasn’t going to be so bad after all.

 

*

 

Two days before the first day of school, Veronica’s dad was out “just for a quick arrest” (he still hadn’t quite mastered the art of speaking like a P.I. who couldn’t actually arrest people, instead of a cop) with the promise of being back for her first day of school.

She spent the night at Logan’s and let him remove her bra and touch her breasts. She was grateful he didn’t push for more, but a part of her also wished he would have, because she didn’t know how to ask, didn’t know what to do with the sensations in her body, so overwhelming and warm and good. Under Logan’s hands, she was beautiful, she was “baby”, and when he did that with his thumbs it didn’t matter that he called her that, in that sultry drawl that drove her crazy. She wanted more, because if just this, when the only clothes that were removed between them were a tank top and a bra, caused such a fluttering in her belly – no, not a fluttering, it was practically a palpitation, it was so much more than just butterflies – then she couldn’t even imagine the next steps. But the idea still sort of terrified her, so she closed her eyes and enjoyed the moment, the whisper of Logan’s lips on her neck as he murmured something she figured were probably words, but she couldn’t make out anything.

 

*

 

Picking out her clothes for the first day of school felt strangely solemn, this year, Veronica realized. Her mother had always chosen her outfit with her the night before (and pretended Veronica had a say in it), so that whatever she wore could represent the upcoming school year. The reasoning was kind of dumb, and the last few years Veronica had rolled her eyes at her mom’s insistence to keep the tradition going, but now she felt a pang of longing for those mundane moments that had been theirs.

Sure, she had her father, and she had Logan now, but she occasionally found herself wishing for before, when she had two parents, a nice house, a best friend (who wasn’t her boyfriend), and her innocence. She had never been completely innocent – her father had been the sheriff, after all, and she’d overheard her share of sordid stories – but she wasn’t as jaded as a child as she was now.

So she tossed a short skirt on the chair beside her combat boots. She was pretty sure her mother wouldn’t have approved that first-day-of-school look. That’d teach her for running away.

 

*

 

The next morning, while making her way out of the Neptune High parking lot and towards the building itself, Veronica noticed a commotion. A crowd had been drawn, catcalls were whistled, and her stomach churned, wondering what could possibly be happening. Logan – because he was taller, damn him – caught a glimpse of what was going on first.

“There’s a kid taped to the flagpole. Either new or a freshman, I don’t recognize him.”

“Again? When will they ever get creative?” Veronica mused, rolling her eyes and digging into her bag for her pocketknife. She wordlessly handed the bag to Logan before pushing through the crowd – one of the advantages of being short and slippery.

When she reached the front, the last few students parted, curious about what she was going to do. She saw the new kid’s eyes widen when she bared the small blade, but she went straight for his side and started cutting through the duct tape. The interest was gone, so the crowd dispersed.

“Welcome to Neptune High,” she told the new kid sarcastically.

“I like your welcome better than theirs,” he replied, and Veronica snorted.

“Yeah, well, try not to piss the PCHers off again.”

“Hey, Veronica, I know you were relieved we didn’t have the Kanes to hate us at school anymore, but if you wanted another group to be after your blood to replace them, you could have told me,” Logan quipped behind her.

She smirked. “It’s more thrilling when there’s the element of surprise,” she replied as he handed her her bag back and the PCHers’ victim scrambled for his clothes.

 

*

 

The new kid – Wallace, it turned out he was called, as Veronica learned in first-period algebra – sat with them at lunch, which caused him a lot of raised eyebrows.

“Just so you know,” Logan said when Wallace sat down, pointing a fry at the newcomer, “You’re committing social suicide right now.”

Wallace shrugged. “The way I see it, I have two choices. I can sit with the kids who laughed at me, or I can sit with the chick who cut me down and her sarcastic boyfriend.”

“He makes a very good point,” Veronica told Logan, who was smirking as he picked at his fries, before turning to Wallace.

“So, Wallace, what’s your story?” she asked.

“Should I be scared she knows my name?” he asked, the question directed at Logan.

“You should be relieved she didn’t already dig up your ‘story’,” he emphasized with air quotes.

Veronica shoved him. “Stop it, this is why we don’t have any friends.” She then turned to Wallace expectantly.

Wallace shrugged shyly. “Just moved here from Cleveland.”

“And you’ve managed to anger a biker gang already?” Veronica asked incredulously. “I’m impressed.” Logan poked her side. “What?”

“Sweetie, we talked about this. Having gangs as enemies is not a life goal.”

“Yeah, well, honeybunch, I’m trying to listen to Wallace here,” she countered, gesturing at their companion.

“Uh… yeah, um, I work at Sac’n’Pac,” Wallace explained. “Two of the bikers came in and obviously shoplifted, I pressed the emergency button, you know, to signal it. Turns out they didn’t like that.”

“No kidding,” Logan commented.

“Well, Weevil has been known to overreact.”

“Does that happen a lot around here?”

“What? The overreaction or the whole pole taping thing?” Veronica asked.

“Both.”

“Yeah. That pole thing is a PCHer specialty, but you’ll find a whole lot of overreacting everywhere.”

“And you guys are not psychos, right? You’re safe?” Wallace asked, only half joking.

“That sounds like a trap,” Logan said, and Veronica hit his arm. “Ouch! See, she’s a psycho, but her family is normal. I’m a perfectly normal guy –” Veronica snorted “– with a psycho family. Overall we’re somewhat safe.”

“And we’ll cut you down from flagpoles if you get in trouble again,” Veronica quipped.

“Well, Veronica’ll cut you down. I’m likely to be one of those suckers taped to the pole, too.”

“You guys are weird,” Wallace decided.

“Yep,” Veronica agreed, popping the P. “Still wanna sit with us?”

Wallace shrugged. “Still seems like my best option.”

And that was how they made a new friend. Veronica later learned that he worked as an office aide, which was just an added bonus to help her snoop for the cases she took despite her father’s insistence that he only needed her to answer the phone.

 

*

 

“Veronica, darling?”

“I thought you’d know by now that sweet-talking me is only going to annoy me more, so spill, Echolls.”

“You know that new kid, Troy?”

“Yeah, I have a few classes with him. Why?”

“Can you run a background check on him?”

“What? Why? What did he do?”

“He seems very sketchy.”

“Logan,” Veronica sighed, “what did you do?”

“I want it on record that I, personally, did not do anything.”

She buried her face in her hands. “Oh my God, what did you do?”

“Nothing! Yet.”

“Why do you need a background check on this guy?” she asked, powering up her laptop.

Logan slid into the chair in front of her Mars Investigations receptionist office. “Okay, here’s a deal: you run the background check without asking questions and… you can decide what my side of the deal had to be.”

Veronica narrowed her eyes. “What could you possibly have that I want?” she asked airily, pretending to be deep in thought.

“A pool?”

“It’s November. And you’ve always let me in before.”

“That’s it, that’s all I have. With my gorgeous body, of course.”

“Of course.”

Veronica typed on a few keys and looked back up to Logan. “The only thing I want to know is whether you actually knew he was a drug dealer or if it was a shot in the dark.”

Logan jumped out of his seat and over to Veronica’s side of the desk to look at her screen. “Seriously? A drug dealer? Oh, that’s good.”

Veronica looked up at him sideways. “Good? Will you tell me what the hell is going on?”

Logan sighed. “I just don’t like him,” he mumbled.

Veronica raised her eyebrows. Clearly, that response wasn’t going to cut it.

“I don’t like the way he looks at you, okay? It’s like he’s trying to undress you every time he glances your way. It’s fucking unnerving.”

Veronica grinned and just stared at Logan. “And, what, you wanted to blackmail him so he’d stop? I think a bit of PDA would do the trick.”

“Just wanted confirmation that he’s a jerk.”

Veronica was still grinning. “You’re ridiculous.”

“So, about that PDA…”

Veronica reached up and tugged him down to her by his neck, kissing him soundly.

“My dad just left for the airport,” she mentioned when she released him.

“Oh, yeah?”

“So, you could elaborate a plan to let Clemmons know Troy is a criminal… or you could come over.”

“Let’s go.”

Veronica let out a laugh and gathered her things.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Time trickled by, faster than Veronica had thought possible. Soon junior year was a thing of the past, senior year was flashing by, Wallace was tagging along for most of Veronica’s not-totally-legal activities for the cases she kept taking on, and Logan was… well, Logan was Logan. Logan got himself in detention and Logan whispered highly inappropriate things in her ear whenever he felt no one would hear him. He didn’t always gauge extremely well, though, and they had heard Wallace mumble “Gross, guys” many a time.

But mostly, Logan was a goddamn gentleman to her, he wasn’t as much of a mess as most people expected him to be after his father’s incarceration (or that Rebecca James expected of him, which maybe wasn’t the best standard), and he had reconnected with some of his old 09er friends from before he had been shunned from their ranks. (It wasn’t too hard when your mother had landed a role in a successful soap opera straight out of her months of rehab and was back to being the A-lister she hadn’t been in over a decade, and you were still a millionaire. Teenage boys weren’t all that complicated – wealth was still status, and grudges only mattered as long as trends did.) (Still, however superficial the reasons for his renewed friendships were, those guys had his back and could keep him entertained for the activities for which Veronica was out of her depth, like surfing and video games.)

Veronica, for her part, had managed to convince her father to let her handle more serious cases than picking up the phone. Sure, she often ended up staked out at the Camelot at 1 in the morning, waiting for an adulterer to show their face, but it was still more thrilling than desk work. And she had all the cases she undertook herself for classmates and acquaintances.

 

*

 

“Come to prom with me?” Logan asked out of the blue, turning around to face his girlfriend in the line in which they’d been waiting longer than reasonable for a cup of coffee.

“It isn’t like I’ve been dating you for two years or anything.”

“Veronicaaa,” he whined.

She bit her lip to keep from smiling too wide. “I don’t know, I was kind of thinking me and Wallace would make a pretty attractive couple.”

He tugged on her hand to bring her closer to him, then whispered against her lips, “Yeah, but would Wallace kiss you like that?” before dropping his lips onto hers.

“If I asked nicely, maybe he would.”

Logan pouted, and she finally decided to put him out of his misery. “Yes, I’ll go to prom with you,” she assured, kissing the pout off his face. “But I require a corsage matching your boutonniere.”

“Whatever milady requires.”

“Does that mean we can ride a pony to prom?” Veronica asked enthusiastically.

Logan brought her hands higher and kissed her fingertips. “Hm, no, but if you want a cowboy hat with your prom dress, I’d have to oblige.”

Veronica made a face. “No thanks.”

“That’s what I thought. Should we ask Wallace and Jackie to share a limo with us?”

“Wallace hasn’t asked her yet. Don’t pressure him.”

“Ah, but of course. The limo talk would pressure him. Not the oh-so-subtle allusions to prom dresses and prom themes and prom decorations you’ve been going on about for months,” Logan enumerated, counting on his fingers.

“You know that’s not by choice,” Veronica noted. “Meg roped me into the stupid prom committee. You’re welcome, by the way. I was the deciding vote against having ‘outer space’ as a prom theme.”

“Hey, I could’ve made that work.”

“Yeah, well, I wasn’t feeling the stardust makeup and moon boots.”

“You’d look cute in moon boots,” Logan declared, tracing the length of Veronica’s collarbone with the tip of his finger. She shivered, knowing exactly where his mind had gone.

“You’d fuck me in any outfit, Logan.”

“Well, yeah, but moon boots would be a unique experience.”

“Please don’t tell me you have moon boot fantasies.”

“I have fantasies of every article of clothing, as long as I get to strip it off of you.”

Veronica rolled her eyes and shook her head. “You can turn anything into a dirty conversation.”

“Excuse me, I recall you bringing up sex in the conversation. I’m innocent.”

She snorted. “You brought up sex when you started using that voice.”

“What voice?” Logan asked innocently, leaning forward, but the tip of his nose barely had time to graze Veronica’s cheek before she stopped him.

“Ah-ah,” she admonished. “Hands visible and no starting anything that might leave a mark even remotely resembling a hickey. Those are the rules in public.”

Logan pouted again. “I don’t like your rules,” he replied, kissing her cheek chastely.

“But just imagine the night after prom.”

“What about during prom –”

“No,” Veronica shook her head. “We will behave properly.”

“But your dress will be easy to remove?”

“You know I can’t make any promises,” she grinned wickedly. “Maybe I want to make you work for it.”

“I gladly will.”

 

*

 

One of the strangest “lasts” of high school was Wallace’s last basketball game. He’d been asking Veronica – teasing her, really – for two years to show some Pirate Pride. (With capital letters.) She’d come to most of his games, but never caved for the school spirit. (She refused to call it even pirate pride, without the capitals.)

But still, when the last game of the season rolled around, Veronica found herself hesitating. She had a box of snickerdoodles all good and ready to go, like every time, even if Logan had stolen some when she’d baked them and subsequently burned his tongue. This was the last game, though. Not his last ever, because he already had a basketball scholarship at Hearst in the fall, but his last with this team, his last as a Pirate.

So, screw it. Veronica would be the supportive best friend Wallace deserved and surprise him with her stupid spirit/pride attire for the game tonight. (Logan pouted when she called Wallace her best friend, and she replied by hitting his shoulder. “Humble up,” she said.)

That day, she painted his number on her cheeks with yellow and green face paint, dug out the pep squad shirt she hadn’t worn in the two years since she’d quit after winter break sophomore year (it was a bit tighter than it used to be; Logan enthusiastically approved of the getup) and even found her old pompoms and attached them to her skirt. At the game itself, she bought one of the large foam fingers and made Logan buy a baseball cap, and stood up and screamed every time Wallace scored – which was more often than she’d anticipated, and her throat was sore by the end of the game, but she was smiling wide, happy with herself.

She was even convinced Logan had enjoyed himself (even if he would have denied it) when she dragged him in a standing position every time she stood, because by the end he didn’t even need her to do it, he was on his feet on his own. Also, he’d gotten to eat all the popcorn because Veronica had been too busy cheering and had her hand in a foam finger. He’d fed her a hot dog after she’d pleaded, but drew the line there.

“I will not pop snacks in your mouth every five seconds,” he’d said, shaking his head. “Also, please never make me feed you anything outside of bed again.”

“What if I’m sick?”

“You’ll be sick in bed.”

She’d cocked her head. “What if I’m not sick?”

“Then you better hope you’re naked if you want me to feed you anything.”

(That had earned him a glare from the lady sitting next to them with her grandson, who had not appreciated the clarification.)

Now they were waiting just outside the gym doors for Wallace and his companions to make an appearance with the cup they’d just won. When he finally did, he skipped up to his friends, beaming.

Veronica hugged him enthusiastically before pulling back. “Gross, you’re all sweaty.”

“Yeah, that’s what wins championships,” Wallace replied with a wide smile, singing the last word.

“Dude, that was awesome,” Logan jumped in, launching into a complicated handshake with Wallace as Veronica watched, amused. She’d never managed to get the hang of what they were doing.

“Thanks, man. I see your girlfriend forced you into buying a Neptune High hat.”

Logan shrugged. “Not the most flattering item of clothing. Or colour. But you know how she is.”

Veronica huffed in indignation. “You wear orange by choice. This yellow and green combo can’t be worse.”

“I hear no rebuttal of the last part of my statement,” Logan quipped.

“Shut up.”

The two boys laughed out loud.

“Seriously, though, Vee, thanks. I know you don’t like all of this. I appreciate it.”

Logan ran his fingers along the hem of her shirt, in the small of her back. “Hm, me too.”

“Pervert,” she shot at her boyfriend, before turning her attention back to Wallace. “Anything for my BFF.”

Wallace groaned. “Not this again.”

Veronica laughed. “Why do you hate it so much?”

“Because I just won a high school basketball championship, girl. I’m not a pre-teen picking her favourite member of *NSYNC.”

“Oh, come on, Wallace,” Logan jumped in. “You know Veronica prefers the Backstreet Boys.”

“I hate you both.”

“Aww, you don’t mean that,” Logan cajoled her, nuzzling her temple and pressing kisses along her forehead.

 

*

 

Veronica slammed the door as she sat down in her car and looked at the time on her dashboard before letting out an audible curse. She was late already, and she’d never hear the end of it.

She quickly dialed her father’s number and held her phone between her ear and shoulder as she pulled away from her parking spot.

“Heyyy, Pops,” she said sheepishly when he picked up.

She heard Keith sigh on the other side. “Do I have to come get you out of somewhere?”

Veronica made an affronted noise. “No! I’m calling to say I’ll be a bit late –”

“You’re already late.”

“… And I’m on my way right now, cruisin’ down the streets of Neptune. I’ll be there in no time at all.”

“In the meantime, I’ve had to entertain your guest.”

Veronica groaned. “How long has he been there?”

“Long enough for me to have already had all the Concerned Father Talks.”

“Daaaad, you’ve already had all those talks in the past.”

“Prom night is always a good time to remind your boyfriend of all the rules and expectations I have.”

“Fine. Just… tell him I’m not injured and there are no cuts on me to ruin our prom pictures.”

“I’ll tell him to take your word for it and not inspect you.”

Veronica rolled her eyes, cringing. “See you, Dad.”

“Bye, honey.”

When she reached a stoplight, Veronica checked her makeup in her mirror. The smoky eye could stay, but she’d have to change the colour of her lipstick – bright red worked for her case, but with the dress she’d picked, it would just be odd. And her hair… well, it wouldn’t be as fancy as she’d planned, but if she just curled it and tied it back in a low ponytail –

The car behind her honked, pulling her from her reverie. If she hurried up, Jackie and Wallace would barely notice the limo was picking them up later than usual.

Of course, when she got home, Wallace and Jackie were there, since Logan had told the driver to go pick them up first while he waited for his date to come home to start getting prepared.

“I’m here!” she huffed when she opened the door, only to stop dead in her tracks at the sight of Logan in his tux, leaning against the side of the couch, anxiously tossing the box with her corsage from one hand to the other. Fuck he looked good. The suit was obviously well-tailored, the white jacket a sharp contrast with what he usually wore.

“I was starting to think I’d been left at the altar. No, wait.” He pretended to think, index finger tapping on his lips. “Wrong event,” he shrugged.

“You’re hilarious,” Veronica replied, dropping her bag on the kitchen counter. “When does it start, again?” she asked to no one in particular, shaking out her hair from its braid.

Wallace looked at his watch. “In two minutes.”

“Shit! I’m sorry. I’ll be right out, you won’t even notice anything,” Veronica promised, rushing to her room. “You look great, Jackie!” she called out behind her before closing her door, muffling the other girl’s words of thanks.

She quickly slipped out of her clothes and washed her lips with a makeup wipe before squeezing in her elegant black dress. The skirt was long but loose, allowing space to move, but the leather-like top part was much more form-fitting, and she had to wrestle it close on her own. If she asked Logan, they wouldn’t get anywhere, and if she asked her dad, he’d lament again how old she was getting and if those cutouts in the fabric on her sides were really necessary, and they would also get nowhere.

After a dozen minutes or so, she walked back out of her room.

She silenced Logan’s appreciative whistle with an icy stare and a small jerk of her head in her father’s direction. Appropriately chastised, Logan walked to her and took her fingers in his to bring them to his lips, and Veronica rolled her eyes affectionately when he winked at her and placed a delicate kiss on her knuckles.

“You look beautiful,” he whispered in her ear after sliding the corsage around her wrist and tugging her closer.

She ducked her head and tucked already perfect hair behind her ear.

“Time for pictures!” Keith announced, presenting his camera to the four teenagers enthusiastically.

“Dad, no…” Veronica protested. “There’ll be photographers at school, with the cheesy backdrop and everything. You don’t need to take some.”

“Ah, but I promised Lynn and Alicia I would.”

“When was that, your weekly ‘complaining about the kids’ meeting?” Veronica asked ironically, nevertheless letting Logan coax her into a pose with Jackie and Wallace.

“Now, now, darling daughter. You know we call those our ‘how can we keep the kids alive another week’ meetings.”

“I manage to stay alive well enough on my own,” Veronica objected.

Logan kissed the side of her head. “On your own?” he questioned, smirking. “I seem to recall a few situations requiring my help… or Wallace’s… or Mac’s… or your dad’s… or Weevil’s, for some reason.”

She glared up at him, clearly not enjoying that Logan agreed with her father. “You’re one to talk.”

“I don’t pretend I’d be anywhere good without your intervention.”

“Oh, that’s right, butter me up, Echolls,” she replied, but her smile didn’t quite match her sarcastic tone.

“You like it,” Logan assured, kissing the tip of her nose.

“Occasionally, maybe. When you aren’t acting like a scoundrel.”

“Did you just quote Star Wars at me?”

Veronica harrumphed, as if offended. “No.”

She turned back to her father and waited for him to have taken a few pictures before looking back up to Logan.

“I quoted The Empire Strikes Back at you.”

Logan barked out a laugh and captured her lips with his own, forgetting where they were until he heard someone clear their throat behind them.

“Come on, man. Save it for the dance,” Wallace said, and Jackie giggled in his shoulder.

“How about save it for next fall?” Keith suggested instead, which only made Logan grin wider.

It had taken a lot of convincing – a lot – to get everyone to agree, but he’d managed to persuade Veronica to move in with him in the fall when they started Hearst together. Their apartment was already picked out and lined up, close to campus, and miraculously Veronica had somehow agreed to move out of her dad’s place, with the promise to be back for dinner at least once a week. But to get there, they still had to finish high school.

It was mostly out of spite, a little because he could, and a little because he just wanted to, but Logan pecked Veronica’s lips another time. Veronica’s eyes laughed up at him, twinkling, and Wallace groaned.

“Come on, let’s go, if we want to get there before everyone goes home,” Veronica declared, kissing her dad on the cheek and moving towards the front door.

“Don’t forget to make it home!” Keith called after them as they got into the limo.

“I’ll make sure she’s there before curfew,” Logan agreed, the only one actually scared of what Keith could do to him.

Keith gave him an appreciative nod, and Logan closed the car door when he slid in beside Veronica.

“When is your curfew?” he whispered in her ear, and she laughed.

“2AM. But if any of the hotels in town sees either of us tonight, even if we make it back before 2, it’s midnight for as long as I live under his roof. So no funny business.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”

“Logan, nibbling my jaw is funny business.”

He placed a last kiss just below her ear and sat up with a pout under Jackie’s amused eye.

“Are they always like this?” she asked Wallace.

“You mean, so in love it makes you sick? Basically.”

“Hey!” Veronica exclaimed, hitting his shoulder, and Wallace snickered. “We’re normal.”

Wallace eyed her disbelievingly. “Sure, Vee. Whatever helps you sleep at night.”

Logan kissed Veronica’s forehead to soothe her and she leaned into him. Normal or not, she wouldn’t have it any other way, wouldn’t have anyone else go to prom with her.

 

*

 

When they got there, the party was, as expected, already in full swing. Jackie still insisted to have everyone squeeze into the photo booth for a few silly shots, and Veronica caught her friend Mac and asked her to join them. Her date, Cassidy Casablancas, one of the few ‘09ers with whom Logan had stayed in touch, also came with them, and the six of them crammed into the tiny booth long enough for all of them to have one strip of pictures. Logan protested that he didn’t need one, and his legs were starting to hurt, all the others were so short, but Veronica leaned in and whispered in his ear, “We’ll put yours on the fridge at our place,” and that shut him up. Also, he was kissing Veronica in the next three shots.

The dance was going well, for the most part, Veronica decided once they’d been there for almost four hours. Her dress still wasn’t getting on her nerves, she hadn’t tripped on the long skirt and she hadn’t felt too exposed with all the skin she was showing – although that might have been because Logan kept stroking her skin with his knuckles in a manner that wasn’t entirely appropriate. Wallace seemed to be having a blast with Jackie, who so happened to not be as much of a bitch as had been Veronica’s initial impression. The food was decent, Madison Sinclair had seemed as constipated as usual when she caught sight of Veronica and Logan (how had she still not gotten over them being together after years?), and no one was drunk enough to have made Clemmons send everyone home early.

Of course, Veronica even thinking those things was like tempting fate, she’d come to discover. And yet, she still hadn’t learned.

She was just swaying on the dance floor with Logan, forehead to forehead, the rest of their friends having disappeared somewhere, exhausted and feet hurting, when she spotted her.

“No way,” she uttered under her breath, her eyes darting away from Logan’s.

He turned his head in the same direction and his jaw dropped. “Wasn’t she in Napa?”

Apparently, Lilly Kane had made an exception and come back for the Neptune High senior prom, hanging from the arm of a beatifically smiling Cole. He looked probably drunk, probably a bit high, too.

Neither of them had spoken to Lilly (or Duncan) since the end of their sophomore year, and they were utterly unprepared to have her show up tonight, especially given that she wasn’t even in their grade. Veronica felt a pull of longing for the girl who had been her friend, the girl with whom she’d planned prom looks in 8th grade as they took pictures of what they did to each other’s hair “for future reference”. It was easier to pretend this girl was just gone from her life than to try to face her tonight. Then Veronica would have to come face to face with how abnormal her life was, and she didn’t like that. She’d put that behind her.

Lilly had other plans. As soon as she spotted Logan and Veronica on the dance floor, she let out a long, sardonic, frankly a bit terrifying, laugh. Head thrown back, hands on her heart (more like her cleavage), the whole shebang. The laugh felt real, but not amused.

Veronica shot Logan an uneasy look, and he shrugged helplessly.

“Veronica!” Lilly exclaimed when she reached them.

“Lilly!” Veronica replied politely. “I didn’t know you were back in town.”

“Oh, I’m not really,” Lilly replied with a wave of her hand, looking everywhere around her. “Just came back for prom with Cole.”

“Your dress is lovely,” Veronica offered, internally panicking. She was wary, what did Lilly want? If she wanted to rekindle a friendship, it certainly didn’t seem like the approach she had come to know: pretending nothing had happened and that they still were the best of friends.

“So is yours. I mean, black, sleek, sexy… I knew you had it in you.” It didn’t sound like the compliment Veronica felt it would have been if it had been coming from the Lilly of three years ago.

“Thanks.”

Lilly continued as if Veronica hadn’t said a word, growing louder, and Veronica felt something sink in her stomach. “Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. You’ve changed quite a bit, haven’t you? Emulated me. You even went in and stole my boyfriend, so you really did the whole thing. Props.”

Veronica opened her mouth to protest, she didn’t know with what because Lilly’s words hit too close to home for her liking, but Logan beat her to it.

“As much as I enjoy being referred to as if I’m a property and not there, there was actually no stealing, Lils.” He pointed to her in mock reflection. “Slept with my dad.” Then he pointed to Veronica. “Didn’t sleep with any of my family members. Really a hard choice.”

Veronica put a hand on his arm to get him to calm down, she could feel his mounting agitation and the anger in his tone was rising dangerously.

“Oh, I get it,” Lilly replied, her voice also rising, but in volume and pitch. “You never really loved me, huh, Logan? You were always just using me and my family to get in my best friend’s pants, I see that. Well, what appealing pants. Can’t say I blame you.”

“Lilly, you’re drunk,” Veronica cut in while Cole tried to reign his date back in.

Lilly shrugged Cole off angrily. “So what if I’m drunk, Veronica? You get what you want. You always do. I lost everything and you just swooped right in. I thought you were my best friend.” Lilly’s voice cracked and Veronica frowned, her heart cracking just a little bit as well. It wasn’t fair. She’d lost a lot too, and she certainly hadn’t taken anything away from Lilly.

“I thought you were a lot of things,” Veronica replied sadly. “And I loved you, Lilly. Would have done anything for you.”

“Well, it didn’t stop the two of you from getting together like that’s just a thing people do, date a girl, then her best friend!” Lilly practically shrieked, and it was drawing a crowd at this point.

Veronica had had enough. “What about date a guy, then his father? Don’t you think that’s slightly worse?” she said with practiced calmness, her fury all the more terrifying with her even tone. “You have no claim over Logan, or me. You spent all your relationship treating him like he meant less than nothing to you. Logan and I have been together for far longer than the two of you ever were. So leave. Us. Alone.”

She stayed right into Lilly’s face for a few seconds, before relaxing her entire body and taking a step back, taking Logan’s hand in her own and guiding him back to their table, leaving a flummoxed Lilly in the middle of the dance floor.

When she sat down and exhaled heavily, letting the tension fall from her shoulders, Logan’s hands were immediately on them, massaging slowly.

“Hey, baby? I love you,” he told her, and Veronica had a tiny smile.

“Don’t call me baby,” she replied. At this point it had become an automatism. He wouldn’t stop, and she didn’t actually want him to. “I love you too,” she added like an afterthought.

He stopped kneading her skin for an instant in surprise, but resumed his ministrations.

“Do you want to go home?”

“And let her win? Hell no. It’s barely even midnight.”

“Veronica…”

“Logan. Really. She doesn’t matter. We just have to shake her off. Come on, this is our night. Dance with me.”

She stood up, discarded her shoes and stood on her tiptoes to kiss him playfully. She didn’t want to talk about what had happened, or even think about it. She was better off ignoring it. Logan looked at her with slight worry, but accepted to be led back to the dance floor, albeit on the outer edges this time.

“You know you can’t just ignore all your problems until they go away, right?” Logan asked a few minutes later, in between songs.

Veronica looked at him, stunned and stung. “What are you talking about?” she asked harshly.

“I’m just saying – just because you pretend something didn’t happen doesn’t mean it actually didn’t happen. There’s stuff you have to face.”

“Are you seriously saying this right now? Are you doing this to me right now?”

Yes. I don’t want this to follow you around as a suppressed memory or… or I don’t know.”

“I think,” Veronica replied in a way that made it clear that what she thought was fact as far as she was concerned and it should be for him too, “that you aren’t quite the right person to be saying that kind of thing.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Logan, you were practically an alcoholic at 15.”

“You’re throwing this in my face now?”

“Well, I was just trying to dance with my boyfriend at prom, but you had to get all ‘let’s face our problems’,” she replied with a poor imitation of a manly voice.

“Whatever, Veronica. If you want to stay under your rock, then by all means, stay.”

He twirled around – fucking twirled – and walked towards the men’s room, leaving Veronica alone in a mass of bodies.

She pushed through everyone as fast as she could, because how dare he just leave in the middle of a conversation, she was the one who decided when that could happen, and a few minutes later she was in the men’s bathroom.

“Veronica? Jesus Christ, what are you doing here?” Logan asked, jumping when he caught a glimpse of her in the mirror.

She shrugged. “Hung an out of order sign.”

The corner of Logan’s mouth curled at the memory of all the times they’d been alone in a bathroom together thanks to one of her signs, and it melted her indignation. She walked over to him and rested her head on his back, her arms around him. He was still facing the mirror, looking at her through their reflection.

“I’m sorry for pushing you,” he said.

Veronica nodded. “I’m sorry for snapping.”

“You’re right, let’s just forget it for tonight.”

A wicked smile made its way on her face. “The music’s loud. No one could hear us.”

“You’re bad, Miss Mars. I thought you said not during prom?”

She shrugged. “Plans can be amended.”

Logan twisted in her grip and picked her up before placing her on the counter. “I like your amendments,” he decided before kissing her soundly and letting his hands slide up her thighs under the layers of her dress.

 

*

 

They made it back to the party before anyone started wondering where they were – thankfully – and back to the Mars residence before Veronica’s curfew – thankfully.

“The light’s still on,” Veronica remarked as she circled around the front of the limo.

“What do you know, looks like Sheriff Mars likes to party all night,” Logan quipped, getting out to walk her to the door.

“Shush,” Veronica admonished, a hand on his chest behind her as she carefully looked through the front door, between the blinds.

“What’s going on?” Logan stage-whispered.

“Your mom is there!” Veronica hissed.

“What? Let me see.”

Veronica pressed her hand harder against his chest to stop his movement. “Not yet. Alicia is there, too.”

“So, what, they’re having their… what was it? Meetings to keep us alive? at 1:30AM?”

“I can’t see well, damn it.”

“Well, go inside. It’s not like they’re having an orgy. Wait… they’re not having an orgy, are they?”

“Ew, Logan! Why the hell would your mind go there? Ew. Ew. Ew.”

“Well, come on, open up. Your dad knows we’re supposed to be back right around now.”

“Wait, hold on. I want to hear what they’re saying.”

“So open the door.”

“What if it’s a secret? They’ll stop talking when we get inside.”

Logan sighed loudly. “Man, you can get the girl out of the investigation, but you can’t take the investigation out of the girl.”

Veronica turned to narrow her eyes at him.

“I’m just saying,” Logan justified, “your dad might have the stealth for an operation like this, but my mom and Wallace’s mom don’t.”

“Ohh, your mom just jumped up from the couch. She looks really happy!” Veronica exclaimed in a loud whisper, clawing blindly at Logan’s shirt behind her. “My dad’s standing up too… Ugh, I can’t see his face. And Alicia. Okay. They’re all…” She turned to face Logan with a puzzled expression. “They’re all hugging.”

Please tell me that’s not a euphemism.”

“Logan! No! Get your mind out of the gutter, God. Those are our parents.”

“Fuck it, let’s go inside. I wanna know.”

“Wait, no –”

But it was too late, Logan already had a hand on the doorknob and was twisting it to open the door. The three adults turned to look at the two of them in the doorway.

“Um, hi,” Logan said.

“Don’t let us interrupt. Keep doing what you were doing. The exact same,” Veronica greeted them, moving to get water from the fridge. “Want some?” she asked Logan, brandishing a bottle at him. He shook his head wordlessly.

“How was prom?” Lynn asked. “You look beautiful, Veronica.”

“Thank you. It was… it was nice. Right?” she asked, turning to Logan.

“Oh, yeah. Intrigue, car chases, murder mystery, adultery, everything Veronica likes.”

She smacked his arm. “Your nice suit won’t stop me from kicking your ass, you know?”

“This is a tuxedo, Veronica. A bit of respect, please.”

“Alright, rich boy. There was no murder,” she told the three adults, but that didn’t seem to reassure them.

“Car chase?” Keith asked.

Veronica made a face as if he was asking a ridiculous question. “Of course we partook in those, daddy dearest. You know limos are the perfect vehicle for that.”

“Adultery?” he asked again.

“Dad, it’s prom. You know a bunch of people will use tonight to have sex with someone they shouldn’t. I’d even bet at least one faculty member is included in this,” she added, looking at Logan as if to ask for confirmation.

He wasn’t quite as comfortable as Veronica with kidding about those kinds of things around her father, so he deflected.

“So, what are you all doing here? Having your little private prom?”

“What, can’t we have a bit of a get-together ourselves to lament how old our children are getting?” his mother replied with a wink.

“Not at 1AM,” he mumbled, accepting the water Veronica had again presented to him after she’d taken a gulp.

“Wallace and Jackie were still dancing when we left,” Veronica told Alicia.

“I’m sure he’ll be back home in time,” she replied with a grateful nod.

Veronica was a lot more doubtful, given that Wallace had banked on his mother being long asleep by the time his 2AM curfew rolled around. Logan seemed to have had the same thought, because she saw him pull out his phone under the counter and shoot a text to their friend.

“What had you all celebratory?” Veronica asked again. It was strange to be the one asking questions (or rather, the one question they apparently didn’t want to answer) when coming home from prom, but then again nothing was really normal in any of their lives.

“Grown up stuff?” Keith tried, knowing very well that wouldn’t work on his daughter.

Logan tried to conceal his laugh with a cough as he watched Veronica’s reaction to her father’s suggestion. “I’m 18. In fact, we both are,” she said flatly.

“If we promise to tell you soon, will you drop it?”

Veronica tapped her foot a few times, considering. “Fine,” she eventually conceded. “If I get a date for ‘soon’.”

“Sold,” Alicia agreed.

“Sunday at lunch,” Keith suggested. “Does that work?” he asked the other two parents.

Lynn shrugged. “It’s not mine to tell.”

Logan leaned down to whisper in Veronica’s ear. “I’ll break her before then if you want advance notice on the information.”

Veronica shifted to look at him over her shoulder. “I like you.”

He kissed her temple, hearing another four-letter word instead of like. “So I’ve heard.”

Really he shouldn’t have been surprised when her elbow collided with his ribs. Nevertheless, he let out a small “oof” and she smiled at him angelically.

Fully aware that he had three adults, including his mother and Veronica’s father, watching him, Logan opted for a PG version of what he wanted to do – but damn, that wasn’t how he’d imagined prom night ending, so tame and proper, when he was younger. He pecked Veronica’s lips quickly, trailing his fingers along the naked skin of her sides because he wasn’t a monk and he still had very good, very fresh memories of pushing that dress aside. Everyone made their goodbyes, Veronica trying to delay Alicia to make sure Wallace managed to get home before her, and soon she was left to put her fancy dress on a coat hanger in her dresser and wiping her makeup off.

(Logan snuck in a little after 3:00 for the prom night they’d expected to have had there not been parental intervention, then snuck back out at the crack of dawn, leaving a very satisfied Veronica to lounge in bed all morning.)

 

*

 

The Sunday lunch news were underwhelming, all things considered. Veronica had already guessed weeks earlier and told Wallace about it to prepare him for the eventual bomb that would be dropped on them. Logan didn’t even have to weasel it out of his mother.

Keith and Alicia were dating.

Everyone was happy, it was an excuse for a lunch between families and a more in-depth prom debrief, and Veronica could now teasingly call Wallace “bro”, which he pretty much hated. It was another in a series of surprisingly good events in their lives, and Veronica was really starting to think that maybe they’d pushed past the hardest parts. They’d had all their hardship, now they could just be calm and peaceful and normal.

 

*

 

July brought a heat wave, the stress of packing up boxes to hopefully permanently move out of their respective parents’ houses, no idea where to store graduation caps and gowns after graduating, and Lilly Kane. The latter was the most unwelcome, especially when she turned up at the gate of the Echolls mansion right as Logan and Veronica were leaving.

“Are you sure you’ll be able to handle living in an apartment with no game room and no pool?” Veronica was teasing her boyfriend, helping him choose what to pack up and what to leave to his mother to store in the attic. He had too much stuff, too many clothes, too many useless trinkets, to ever possibly fit in a small apartment shared by two college students.

“I’m sure I’ll find some consolation somewhere in that deal.”

Veronica giggled and pushed the gate open. Just then, they stopped dead in their tracks.

“Lilly,” Logan astutely remarked.

“Can I talk to the two of you?”

Logan and Veronica had a wordless conversation, conducted between the quirks of their eyebrows and widening of their eyes, then agreed, leading Lilly inside. Their plans could wait, and besides, Veronica was too curious to hear what Lilly had to say.

Once they were all seated comfortably in (one of) the Echolls living room(s), Lilly chose to open with, “I guess I owe you an apology”.

Veronica merely raised an eyebrow.

“Right, yeah, you don’t take anyone’s shit anymore, I heard about that,” Lilly continued, looking down at her nails pensively.

Veronica put a hand on Logan’s arm to stop him before he said anything, to let Lilly continue.

Lilly smiled gratefully at her former best friend. “I don’t apologize often.” (An understatement.) “But I’m trying to work on that, because what I had going, well,” Lilly let out a crystalline laugh, “it wasn’t going to keep me going for very long once I was out of high school.” She looked back up at her interlocutors. “So that’s how I’m trying to change. And I’m starting with you two. Ronnie, I…”

“No one calls me Ronnie anymore,” Veronica interrupted, but her tone was soft.

“Yeah, of course. Veronica. I’m, uh. I’m proud of who you’ve become. I’m not gonna flatter myself and assume I was responsible for it, but… I always saw you blossoming like that, one day. And I’m really happy for you. Red satin,” she added in a whisper and Veronica’s features eased into something resembling a smile.

“Red satin,” she confirmed, while Logan looked between the two of them, mildly bewildered.

“Yeah. And I didn’t get a chance to say – well, I did, but I took my own chance away – you were beautiful at prom.”

“Thanks, Lils. So were you.”

Lilly smiled at the nickname. “I’m sorry I was a bitch to you. Like, just, royally, a straight-up bitch. You didn’t deserve that. And, um. I leaked your paternity test results to the press. Sorry about that…”

Veronica bit her lip to keep from laughing, but she caught Lilly’s eye and they both burst in giggles.

Once she’d sobered, Lilly turned to her former boyfriend. “And Logan. Uh…” She looked back down at her twisting hands. “I was kind of awful with you. The whole time, but especially at the end. I shouldn’t have cheated on you, obviously.” She gathered her courage and looked at him in the eyes. “I’m sorry. And I’m sorry for sleeping with your dad, that was… that was just so far past the line.”

“He’s more to blame than you,” Logan replied.

“Yeah, I know… and my therapist says so, too. But still… I knew when I was doing it that it was wrong, but I liked the thrill, and I liked having my moment in the spotlight and… I did it by hurting you, and I’m truly sorry about that.”

Logan gave her a curt nod, accepting her apology wordlessly.

“And about prom…” Lilly’s mouth curled in an embarrassed grimace. “I came back to Neptune to make amends, and I got a bit too nervous and a lot too drunk, and I achieved the opposite of what I wanted, so… Sorry I said all those things. I’m happy for you two. You’re a great match,” she finished with a genuine smile.

“Thanks, Lilly,” Veronica replied.

“I knew you had a crush on Logan when I started dating him,” Lilly confessed. “I just didn’t care.”

Logan turned to Veronica. “You had a crush on me?”

Veronica blushed. “So?”

“Nothing.”

“I just figured, if you minded, you’d say something about it… but it figures that you’re just too good a friend and decided to step aside.”

Veronica shrugged. “You were my best friend. I just wanted you to be happy.”

“Yeah. And I wasn’t the best friend you deserved.”

Veronica smiled sadly.

“Look, I know… I know these relationships are probably beyond repair at this point,” Lilly admitted. “But I really am sorry, and I wanted to apologize.”

“We appreciate it,” Logan replied, and Veronica nodded.

“If you need anything… a background check on someone or something… or to talk about what happened to you with, um… well, you know… don’t be a stranger, okay?” Veronica asked when Lilly got up.

Lilly laughed. “Never change, Veronica Mars. I love you.”

“I love you too, Lilly.”

And deep down inside her, Veronica knew it was true. She’d never have her relationship with her best friend back, and they’d never be the same again. But she’d always have the love of years shared, years spent in adulation of her best friend.

It was a wound that had, at long last, been cleaned. It could start healing properly, now.

 

*

 

Even if he’d agreed weeks previously, Keith Mars was now having some qualms about his daughter moving out. Seeing her shelves emptied in boxes, especially, cemented the realization that it was really happening.

“You know, it’s not too late to change your mind if you want to stay with your old dad,” he told her carefully, leaning against her doorway.

Veronica sighed. “Dad, we’ve been over this.” She walked over to him and kissed his cheek. “I’m old enough to make my decisions. I’ve been with Logan a long time.”

“But you’re still so young… I know you’ve been through a lot, both of you have, but you’re still my little girl. You don’t have to rush into this.”

“We’re not rushing. I promise.”

“But if anything happens –”

She kissed his cheek again. “Nothing will happen. But thanks for your concern. Thanks for being my dad.”

Veronica felt herself growing emotional at the idea of leaving her dad alone in the apartment, of no longer living with him. He’d been away a lot recently, for his job, but she’d always been her daddy’s girl, and in some ways – though she’d never tell him – it was strange to imagine coming home to someone else every day, no matter how thrilled she was that she was taking this step with Logan.

As if sensing her feelings, Keith gathered her in his arm for a long hug. “I love you, kid.”

“Love you too, dad.”

 

*

 

“You know, I think I’m supposed to be the one with all the products taking up the cabinet space,” Veronica called from the bathroom, arranging her toiletries for the very first time in their new apartment.

Logan’s head popped through the doorway. “Yeah, but then, what would you complain about?”

Veronica snorted. “I’m sure I’d find something.”

Logan smiled and walked in the small room to wrap his arms around her from behind. “You have time to find more things about me to complain about.”

“Can’t wait,” she replied, matching his soft smile.

“Come on, you can finish organizing later,” Logan declared, taking her hand in his and spinning her away from him, then back in his arms.

Veronica laughed and took his face in her hands as he swayed them clumsily to a tune that must have been in his head, but she couldn’t recognize it, the bathroom floor tiles cold on her bare feet.

“We need a rug,” she remarked.

“You need slippers.”

“Or we could not dance in the bathroom.”

“Now where’s the fun in that?”

Instead of answering, Veronica brought his face forward to kiss him.

 

*

 

“What are you doing?”

“Uh, setting up the bedside table on my side of the bed?” Logan replied, confused.

“But we never discussed which side of the bed was whose,” Veronica remarked, setting down her alarm clock on the comforter.

“You always sleep on the left when you sleep at my place.”

“Well I – wait, I do?”

Logan nodded, smirking, taking the two steps separating them. “You most definitely do.”

“Oh. I guess you can have the right side, then.”

“Why, thank you.” He kissed the tip of her nose. “We can switch if you want, though, I don’t mind.”

“No, that’s okay.”

“I’ll go order a pizza while you get settled in the bedroom.”

“Can you take –”

“Double cheese?” He smirked again. “It’s like I know you or something.”

“Guess you do,” Veronica replied.

 

*

 

Settling in with Logan was smoother than Veronica had expected. Sure, he left his clothes on the ground and didn’t pick them up, but often she was the one who had removed them from him in the first place. And, sure, he always opened the windows to let some air in without checking if the AC was turned off and without checking if his still-sleeping girlfriend would be cold with extra wind. And he left so much sand in the bathroom when he came home from surfing. But overall, it was all going well. They split dishes duty (after Veronica complained about how bad Logan was at it and taught him), quickly adjusted their schedules around each other, and the ability to just pause the movie (or not) and start having sex right there instead of sneaking around and getting scratches from the window frame was a definite bonus.

Logan complained Veronica was a blanket hog, but he already knew that, and they usually fell asleep together in the middle anyway.

“I think you secretly like that I’m a blanket hog,” Veronica observed one night as they got settled in bed, her naked back resting on his own naked chest, the skin contact warm and reassuring.

“And why would I, pray tell?”

She twisted around to look at him and saw an amused smirk dancing on his lips. Now that just wouldn’t do, so she kissed him so she wouldn’t have to see it. He answered her kiss by opening his mouth languidly and reaching down to cup her ass and bring her higher, closer to him.

“I’m trying to talk!” she protested.

“You started,” he remarked, nevertheless relinquishing his hold on her as she settled back down on his chest.

“You like that I’m a blanket hog because it gives you an excuse to snuggle with me in the middle. You say it’s so you have some of the blankets too, but I call bullshit.”

“You do, huh? Well then, why do I want to snuggle with you in the middle?” he asked innocently as his fingers started stroking the inside of her thigh.

Veronica’s breath caught. She cleared her throat in the hope to clear her head. “To have your wicked way with me, of course.”

His fingers kept their tortuous dance on her skin, just an inch higher, and she almost groaned.

“Did you know,” Logan started conversationally, “that having sex at least once a week reduces the chances of having a stroke by 50% – for me – and regulates menstrual cycles –for you?”

This time, she did groan (and not just because he was talking complete nonsense (why did he know that?) and it wasn’t like at least once a week was a problem they’d had since they’d started having sex) and close her eyes. “Logan… I’m trying to have a conversation.”

“So am I. Is yours interesting, because…?”

“It’s really not,” Veronica admitted with a gasp and a nod as his fingers skirted along her thigh and all the way up.

“Good.”

 

*

 

Almost two weeks after they’d moved in, Logan came home barely past 8AM to find Veronica already awake, poring over a case file at the kitchen counter, drinking absently from a coffee mug.

She raised her head and smiled at him.

He toed off his shoes and approached her, kissing her neck when he reached her. “You’re not supposed to be awake yet,” he murmured.

She shrugged. “I felt awake.”

“I went to buy you fresh croissants,” Logan pouted, gesturing to the warm bag he’d placed on the counter. “You were supposed to eat them in bed.”

Veronica turned to kiss his cheek. “We can always relocate. I just really think I’ve got something here.”

Logan sighed but nodded, settling in the high stool beside hers. In reality, he loved watching her work her cases, her focused frown, her lips mouthing along some passages so vaguely it was impossible to guess what she was reading, and the glint in her eye when something clicked into place.

After a few minutes and two notepad pages of scribbled notes, Veronica closed her file and looked at Logan expectantly. He raised an eyebrow in challenge, and she rolled her eyes.

“Well?” she asked. “Are you going to take me to bed to eat croissants?”

“Now see, you say ‘eat croissants’ but I hear something entirely different.”

Veronica widened her eyes innocently. “Me? Never. You don’t want to mess with me before I’ve had breakfast, mister.”

“I should know that by now.”

Veronica nodded and reached for the bag of croissants. Before she could get up, Logan wrapped his arm around her waist to bring her to his lap. He kissed her cheek, her jawline, then nuzzled her neck as she sighed contentedly. “Happy birthday,” he whispered in her ear.

“It was about time.”

He let out an amused breath. “What, you think I just go buy you breakfast early any day of the year? You overestimate me.”

She shrugged. “Guess what I’m getting for my 19th birthday is disillusion.”

“Aw, snookums, it’s cute that you think I believe you still had any illusions about the world.”

“Hey, it’s my birthday, let me pretend I’m normal, not jaded.”

“Hmm,” Logan brushed his lips along her throat, “but why pretend you’re normal when you’re extraordinary?”

“Sweet talker.”

“Croissants are getting cold.”

Veronica huffed a short laugh. “Nice segue. It’s always about getting me in bed, isn’t it?” she teased.

“Damn, you’ve caught me.” He paused to look pensive. “Although, you do insist on wearing those skimpy little sleep shorts, so who can blame me?”

She patted his chest and hopped down from the stool, then grabbed the bag of croissants and walked towards the bedroom. “If you want any, you better follow!” she called over her shoulder.

Once breakfast had been had, Veronica rested her head on Logan’s chest and looked up at the ceiling.

The calm silence didn’t last long, though. “Hey, did you get the paper when you were out this morning?”

“Uh, yeah, I think I did. Do you really have to read it every day?”

“My dad reads it every day. I don’t know, I just picked up the habit.”

“There didn’t seem to be anything really interesting today, that’s all.”

“Logan, what’s going on?”

“What?”

“Why don’t you want me to read the newspaper?”

“I don’t mind if you read the paper,” he protested.

“Bullshit.”

She pushed herself off of him and out of bed. Logan scrambled after her. When he caught up with her, he grabbed her arm. “Veronica, can you just read it tomorrow?”

She shook him off. “I will if you tell me what it is.”

“Can you just trust me on this?”

“No.”

It wasn’t anything important she wasn’t trusting him with, but it still stung.

“Well, alright, then. It’s beside the door.”

Veronica practically marched the few steps separating her from the newspaper, but her act dropped when she glanced at the secondary news blurb summarized on the right side of the front page.

“No way,” she breathed out. “Fuck. Fuck. I can’t fucking believe her guts.”

Logan walked up behind her and put his arms around her waist and his chin on the top of her head.

“Don’t,” Veronica warned tensely.

“Don’t what?” he asked, letting go of her but staying close.

“Don’t tell me you told me so.”

“I did tell you so, but I wasn’t going to say that.”

“Okay,” Veronica nodded, pushing herself back into him.

Logan got the message and wrapped his arms back around her.

“Do you want me to burn it?”

“Nah. Gotta keep the crossword.”

Logan extended his hand to take the newspaper from her, removed the crossword puzzle and handed it to her before throwing the rest on the floor behind them.

They could pretend Jake Kane hadn’t announced his upcoming wedding to his high school sweetheart on Veronica’s birthday for a few more hours.

 

*

 

Keith called later that day to wish his daughter a happy birthday before the dinner she’d be spending at his house, his too-casual tone immediately discernible to Veronica.

“Dad, you can stop walking on eggshells. I saw the paper,” she eventually told him after minutes of careful avoidance.

“I’m sorry, honey.”

“Yeah, me too.”

She picked at the skin of her thumb, a nervous habit she’d managed semi-successfully to get rid of in past years, but not enough so that Logan wouldn’t have picked up on it – as soon as he saw her do it, he lay his hand on top of hers on the table and stroked her wrist with his thumb.

She looked up at him with a tiny smile, then refocused her attention to her conversation.

“How are you doing?” her father was asking.

“Trying to forget I ever read that headline? And the goddamn engagement photoshoot.” She fake shuddered.

“Veronica.”

“What, is ‘goddamn’ not a swear word I’m allowed to use?” When her father didn’t grant her an answer, she sighed. “It just sucks that she didn’t care enough to tell me she was coming back to Neptune, you know?”

She started nibbling her thumb, Logan gently pried it away from her mouth and kissed her hand.

“I know. Try to keep your mind off of it, at least for today, okay? I’ll see the two of you tonight.”

“Yeah. See you, dad.”

She hung up and let out a heavy sigh.

“Wanna talk about it?” Logan asked, her hand still in his, still held to his lips.

“No,” she replied, but a smile tugged at her lips at the silly kisses he placed all over her fingers, palm, and wrist.

“Okay,” he nodded, kissing the tip of her middle finger, patiently waiting until she decided to say something anyway.

“Do you think she knew it was going to be published today? Did she… she didn’t remember my birthday? Or is it that she didn’t care?” Veronica asked, her voice small.

“I don’t know, baby.”

Veronica nodded absently. Her mind was focused on wondering which of the options she’d offered him she liked the most. Then she was angry she even had to ponder that.

“I just – I hate her,” she declared, pulling her hand away from Logan.

He didn’t say anything, just kept looking at her with concern, though his fingers were now drumming on his thigh in the absence of Veronica’s hand.

“She’s a cheater and a drunk and I hate her,” she asserted. “And… and she’s a shitty mom and she’ll be a shitty wife to Jake because she was a shitty wife to my dad and he’s the easiest person to be a good person for.”

Logan made to reach for her, but she recoiled from his touch.

“Veronica…”

She pretended not to hear him. “I can’t believe that when she left, she stayed in contact with him. She didn’t leave Neptune. She just left… us.”

At that, Veronica deflated.

Logan reached for her again, and this time Veronica didn’t stop him. With his arms around her, she burrowed into his embrace, her face instinctively finding the crook of his neck. She inhaled and sighed. There was something reassuring about the way Logan smelled. Almost a memory prompt, reminding her that even if someone had chosen to walk away from life with her, at least someone else, Logan, had wanted and still wanted to start living with her, in every possible way.

“Why did she come back to Neptune for him and never for me?” she croaked out, because her brain wouldn’t shut up. “Isn’t that what mothers should do? Pick their child before anyone else?”

“I don’t know. I’m sorry,” Logan whispered into her hair before kissing the top of her head and laying his cheek back on her hair. He smoothed some of it away from her face and Veronica realized he’d probably felt a tear in the motion, but he didn’t ask for an explanation so she didn’t give one. “You deserve someone who comes back for you, you hear me? Someone who doesn’t leave in the first place. You did nothing wrong, Veronica. Nothing at all. That’s all on her, not you.”

She nodded, figuring that was what he wanted, even if she wasn’t convinced. After all, hadn’t she been repeating him similar messages about his own parents for years?

“Hey,” Logan nudged her chin to bring her face to face his. “Look at me. 19 years ago the world got a little better because you arrived, and it’s your mom’s own damn problem if she can’t see that.”

Veronica snorted. “You’re so cheesy. Please stop.”

Of course, he understood that what she meant was please don’t stop, because he leaned in to kiss her gently, a tiny little peck on the mouth, and cupped her cheek.

“Your mom’s an asshole; Jake’s an asshole. This should be your day. And it is your day, at least it is to me. And to your dad, and Wallace and Mac. So screw them and their geriatric engagement photoshoot – I mean, really, who uses eggshell as the background of a romantic picture?”

She let out a small laugh. “They’re in their forties, Logan.”

“Yeah, but did you see the conservative necklines? They might as well be 75, blind, and senile.”

Veronica smiled. “75 is a bit young to be senile.”

“You get it,” he pouted, sliding his hands down her sides to her waist.

“I do. Thanks.”

“I love you, Veronica. And I’m not going away.”

“Good. Because I like having you around, too. You bring me breakfast in bed.”

Logan laughed and kissed her hard. “That’s the spirit.”

 

*

 

“I think the TA hates me,” Veronica remarked when she got home after her first day at Hearst. When she didn’t hear an answer, she dropped her bag to the floor and took a step further into the apartment. “Logan?”

She’d seen his Range Rover parked in the street, she knew he was home.

It took her another minute, after a trip to the bathroom, bedroom, and living room, to eventually find his note propped on the kitchen counter.

Gone surfing with Dick. Yes, I went to all my classes today. Yes, my car is here – we’re taking his.

Love you.

- L

She snorted, then put the note down and turned to get a snack from the fridge.

Her enthusiasm at coming home now deflated, she took out her books and got a head start for the readings for her first few classes, fanning out her coloured highlighters on the counter as she precariously balanced an apple in her hand while trying not to accidentally swallow any of the highlighter caps.

“Honey, I’m home,” Logan chanted sarcastically when he opened the door about half an hour later. It never failed to make Veronica roll her eyes when he did that.

“Who is this honey you speak of?” she called out.

“Someone’s prickly,” he declared, resting his surfboard against the counter to come kiss the top of her head.

“The criminology TA hates me,” she justified, then raised her head to see the surfboard and wrinkled her nose. “Oh, Logan, not in the kitchen.”

He shrugged and picked it up, just as her phone rang. Veronica didn’t move to answer it, so he peeked at the display.

“Uh, Veronica… why is your mom calling you?”

“Huh? Oh, I don’t know.”

“Shouldn’t you answer…?”

“I don’t want to speak to her. Come on, go get cleaned up, I don’t want sand and saltwater everywhere.”

Logan took a few steps backwards but the look he gave Veronica told her the conversation was far from over.

 

*

 

The conversation actually wasn’t over for several weeks. Every time it was the same thing: Lianne would call, Veronica would let it go to voicemail, Logan would suggest she pick up to see what Lianne wanted, Veronica either pretended she didn’t hear him or flat-out refused.

By late September, they’d had that discussion almost a dozen times, and they were both getting sick of it. Veronica blamed Lianne – if she stopped calling, they’d stop having this non-argument. Logan blamed no one officially, but Veronica felt like he was blaming her, so she picked up that day mostly out of spite, and because Logan wasn’t there to see her anguished face at having to talk to her mother.

Her phone rang again the next day, and Logan gave her the same look he always did.

“Don’t give me that look. I talked to her yesterday. It was plenty."

“You did? How did it go?”

She shrugged. “She said she wanted to see me and talk to me; I said no. Mother-daughter relationship reborn from the ashes. We can all move on now.”

Logan scooted closer to Veronica on the couch.

“Why won’t you hear her out? Maybe she’s changed. Maybe she really does want to apologize.”

“And maybe she’ll just make excuses again and ask me to be flower girl at her wedding – no thank you.”

“You’ll never know if you don’t try.”

“God, Logan. Why are you so obsessed with this? I don’t want to know. I don’t want to give her a chance. She doesn’t deserve one. She left,” Veronica reminded him, standing up to pace the short length of the room. “She announced her wedding to the guy with which she cheated on my dad for years on my birthday. They waited twenty years to get married, they really couldn’t have announced it any other day? But no, she didn’t, because she’s a selfish person, and I don’t want her near my dad again. He’s just started doing better with Alicia now, I’m not complicating his life any further. If she’s in my life, she’ll end up in his, and I don’t want that.”

“I just think –”

“No, you listen. I don’t want to talk to my mom. And you can’t make me. If your dad was trying to reach out to you, would you hear him out?”

“No, I didn’t,” Logan admitted seemingly reluctantly.

“You didn’t – oh. He has reached out.” It wasn’t a question, it was an affirmation. “See? You didn’t do it. And you didn’t even tell me about it, which I’m letting slide by the way –”

He cut her off, standing up too. “Oh, don’t act like you’re all nice, Veronica. Don’t act like you’re being a saintly little girlfriend by not pestering me about that, because we both know the only reason you’re not all over me not telling you something is because you want the same exemption.”

Veronica crossed her arms. “I didn’t hide anything from you.”

“Don’t pretend you didn’t understand the point. And, by the way, you know I know that’s a lie and there are many things you keep from me, but I’m gonna let it slide –”

She gasped in anger. “Fuck you, Logan Echolls.”

“Something you have done repeatedly.”

“Oh, are you twelve? Is that the best you can do?”

“You’ve resorted almost immediately to faulty comparisons and childish insults, so I think my lowering the IQ of the argument is warranted here. I get my turn, too.”

“You’re so fucking petty it’s unreal,” Veronica gritted out, passing her hands over her face in exasperation.

“No, okay, you want mature? Let’s backtrack to the mature part, then. The part where you equate me not telling you my dad tried to reach out to me to you refusing to talk to your mom. I want to hear that magnificent piece of reasoning.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Logan sighed tensely. “I don’t know. I didn’t know how to bring it up. I didn’t want to talk about it. I was scared you’d convince me to talk to him because you always win. It’s just… we’ve cut ties: my mom got the divorce sorted out, I’m an adult. I can pretend he doesn’t exist anymore, I can pretend he’s not ever going to hurt anyone ever again. If I talk to him, I have to face his bullshit again.”

“How is that not the same thing?” Veronica asked, incredulous.

“How is that – Veronica. You cannot be serious.”

“My mom hurt me too!” she cried out, pointing at him accusatorily. “She left when she was supposed to be there for us. She left when she was supposed to love me. She cheated on my dad! She chose Jake over me and our family.”

“Oh, your mom announced her wedding on your birthday, we got it!” Logan interrupted, and his voice was loud, it was angry, it wasn’t like it had ever been when directed at her, and Veronica choked back a sob. “My dad manipulated my mom so bad, you know she wouldn’t be here now if she hadn’t spent most of last year in rehab and therapy. He hurt her in every possible way, and he slept with my girlfriend, unless you somehow forgot about that? Huh? But yeah, that’s definitely comparable to your mom’s disregard for your birthday.”

Veronica took a physical step back in an attempt to do so in her head as well. Her chest was heaving, she’d lost track of how much snot was on her sleeve from having wiped it from her nose, and her cheeks were soaked with tears. Logan was yelling at her, and she was yelling at him, and it was all wrong, because those things they were volleying back and forth in a game of My Trauma Is Worse Than Yours were supposed to be the things they reassured the other about, rocking together to sleep and wiping tears away, not causing more to spring out.

Logan wasn’t supposed to hurt her. Logan was the one who was there when she got hurt.

She continued taking steps backwards until she reached the wall. In that moment, she made a split-second decision. She picked up her messenger bag from where she’d left it coming home, and swallowed hard.

Neither of them had said anything for a full minute, but they hadn’t broken eye contact either, their breaths loud and irregular.

“I’m going to Wallace’s,” Veronica said, then she dashed out the door before Logan managed to reply anything.

 

*

 

When she knocked on her best friend’s door, his roommate answered instead.

“Is Wallace here?” Veronica asked.

Piz stepped aside wordlessly and let her in, where she walked over to her friend, who instantly saw something was wrong and closed his arms around her.

“Vee, you okay?”

“Can I stay here for the night?”

“Yeah, sure. Whatever you need.”

She smiled at Wallace in relief. She knew her dad still had her old room ready for her, but she didn’t want him to know that less than 2 months after moving in with Logan, she already needed to sleep elsewhere. She just needed some space. But she couldn’t face her dad’s judgment or his knowing glances.

Veronica raised her head to look at Wallace. “Can you not tell your mom I’m over here?”

Wallace nodded. “I won’t say if she don’t ask. If your dad comes asking though, I ain’t lying.”

“Thanks, Wallace. I owe you one.”

“Don’t mention it. That’s what friends-slash-almost-siblings do, right?”

“Right. Logan knows I’m here, by the way. Just – you know. You don’t have to pick a side or hide it from him or anything.”

“Why me, and not Mac?”

“Parker would make me talk about my feelings. And I’m just not feeling it.”

“Got it. No girl talk.”

“You’re the best.”

“And don’t you forget it.”

 

*

 

“I’m Piz, by the way,” Wallace’s roommate eventually introduced himself when Wallace went to the bathroom, a few hours after Veronica had arrived. Veronica already knew (and had run a background check on him to make sure Wallace wasn’t rooming with a sociopath), but she smiled politely.

“Veronica.”

“I know, Wallace talks about you a lot.”

Wallace did not talk about Piz a lot, so Veronica couldn’t return the nicety.

“I’d say I hope it’s good things, but I don’t think I’ve done enough ‘good things’ to have even a conversation about it,” Veronica replied with a derisive smile.

“Is that what your boyfriend has you believe?”

That took Veronica aback. “Huh? Logan? No, Logan’s… he’s always trying to convince me I’m a good person, which… well, he’s an optimist.”

Optimism maybe wasn’t one of the best qualifiers for Logan (at all), but Veronica realized he did always build her up and that this afternoon had been an exception. He believed more good of her than she did herself, that was for sure.

“Why’d you… uh, why’d you fight, then?”

Um, boundaries much? Veronica thought, but the guy was harmless and Wallace liked him, so she decided to give him a chance. Maybe that was what he had been taught was hospitable, in Wherever-The-Fuck, Oregon. (She couldn’t remember for the life of her the name of the town he was from, even if she’d read it on Prying Eyez.)

“It was stupid. We’re both just tired, that’s all. Shitty parent comparisons got a little out of hand.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Well, it was bound to happen at one point. We’ve been living together since early August, we had to have our first major fight at some point."

“Living together? Must be a serious relationship, then.”

Again, boundaries, but Veronica didn’t care much. “Yeah, we’ve been together for two years and a half. We were friends for years before. He’s kind of a big part of my life.”

“Talking of me?” Wallace asked, making his way back to flop down on his bed beside Veronica.

“You wish. Logan.”

“I thought you said no girl talk.”

“Not talking about feelings. Just the person. Totally unrelated.”

Wallace snorted. “Okay. I think that you just can’t go a day without gushing about Logan to someone.”

Veronica made an affronted noise. “I do not gush.”

“Not openly. It’s not like you’re bragging or anything, you just can’t help yourself sometimes. You’ll mention your boyfriend and, like, light up. Or, remember when that Parker girl complimented your necklace and you got all proud to say it was from your boyfriend?”

“You make it sound like I’m bragging.”

“Nah, you don’t do it on purpose. The reminder of Logan sends you straight to your happy place or something. I think it’s nice, that you’ve got him.”

“I kind of screwed up tonight,” Veronica admitted. “Well, so did he, but…”

“Don’t stress it, Vee. He’s the exact same as you are. He’s always looking at you. Constantly. Like he still can’t believe you’re real or some shit. I’m telling you, it’s sickening.”

Veronica shoved him playfully. “Stop it, it’s not sickening. And he’s not constantly looking at me.”

“You do know we’re talking about feelings right now, yeah?”

“Shut up, we’re not.”

Wallace laughed and dodged the pillow Veronica threw at him.

“I’m just saying,” Wallace continued, “don’t be worried. You can crash here as long as you like, but Echolls is crazy about you. It’ll be fine.”

Piz had been listening intently the whole conversation, but had yet to pipe in since Wallace had come back. This, though, seemed to be his opportunity, much to Veronica’s chagrin. “Echolls? Like Aaron?”

Veronica immediately interjected, “No.”

She didn’t know why she’d said that. Echolls was the same name, the same family, so yes, like Aaron Echolls, but Logan was so far removed from his father that Veronica didn’t want the connection to be drawn between them, especially not tonight of all nights, after their argument. It wasn’t a good comparison on any day, anyway. But she knew that whatever happened, whatever they did, the name would always hark back to the movie star, to what he’d done.

 

*

 

The next day, around noon, Veronica made her way back to the apartment, a bit wary about her reception after the way she’d walked out with barely a word.

She turned her key in the lock – Logan hadn’t changed the locks, not that she had expected him to, but it was a relief regardless, and it struck her how crazy her line of work was if that thought crossed her mind so easily – and pushed the door open. She dropped her bag beside the door and took the few steps leading her to the small living room.

Logan’s head was raised to look at her before she made it there – he’d probably heard the door – and she smiled at him shakily. He put his coffee mug down on the table, so she took it as an invitation to approach him.

Veronica half-sat on the couch, her knee settled beside Logan’s legs, the rest of her awkwardly leaning on the cushions. She swallowed and leaned her forehead on Logan’s, taking his face in her hands. He didn’t move.

“Sorry for running away.”

Logan closed his eyes and she spied a half smile on his lips. When he opened his eyes again, they were twinkling back at her and she felt a smile creep onto her own face.

“Sorry for yelling at you,” he replied.

“Sorry for saying those things.”

“Sorry for pushing you.”

Veronica tenderly pressed her lips to Logan’s in what she hoped was a soothing kiss.

“I love you,” she told him.

“I love you too.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

He pulled her onto his lap and kissed her again.

 

*

 

That night, Veronica lay awake long after Logan fell asleep. She usually had very little trouble falling asleep when Logan was with her, but she felt the same restlessness as the previous night, the same questions plaguing her and keeping her awake.

She turned to look at her boyfriend, sprawled out on the mattress, mouth open and chest rising and falling in rhythm with the deep breaths marking his peaceful sleep. Her fingers found their way to his forehead, but he didn’t react when she pushed back strands of hair from his face and stroked his skin. Her chest constricted with how much she loved him, right there, but she couldn’t help but think about why she was so happy for his deep and undisturbed slumber. She remembered agitated nights that had him twisting and turning, muttering in his sleep and sometimes even cowering in fear. Back then, her fingers on his face, even soothing, even just a brush, would wake him up. It would calm him.

Now he didn’t need to be woken up, didn’t need additional calm. He was safe.

She hated that she was contemplating taking that calm away from him.

It wasn’t that she didn’t love Logan. Or even that she loved him less than she used to. No, if anything, she loved him more and it was… maybe it was the problem, actually. She was so wrapped up in her and Logan, that little whatever miracle born in the craziness storm that had been sophomore year, that she wasn’t thinking of the rest, not really.

She continued her whispered trail of fingers down his face, and the ghost of a smile emerged on Logan’s lips, but he didn’t come closer to waking up. He was still fast asleep, beautiful and unaware, and all Veronica could think about was that she was going to shatter him.

She was lost. Everything was so big and unsettling and hard to account for. And she had always pushed it down, because she would deal with things one at a time, until it calmed down, because everything fucking sucked, but then that mode had become her autopilot, her automatism, even after the situation got better, and that didn’t seem a good mode to be in anymore. It irritated her. But she kept holding on, clinging to it all, like it was just the two of them and, fuck. She kept clinging to Logan because he’d been her anchor when the shit with Lilly had hit the fan, when her mother had left, when they hadn’t really had the choice anymore but to band together. But with him, she carried her habits and all her baggage from that time, too, and, sure, he’d saved her then, but what if now he was just dragging her back into it? And her, him? What if… what if they had to let go of each other if they were to ever be free of the absolute shitshow high school had been?

What if he was better off without her, and her without him, and they were poisoning each other by staying together and living together every minute of every day? Because, really, no matter how much they claimed to have cleansed themselves of the Kanes and their machinations, the Kanes had brought them together, introduced them to one another, betrayed them simultaneously to throw them together. And what if that relationship that had been so golden, such a godsent, so right, was just the last byproduct of that appalling phase?

What if she could never look at him without thinking of the bad?

She thought back about what Wallace had said, about how deeply they needed each other, how blind they were to the rest of the world, and it suddenly didn’t seem cute and endearing anymore, it felt… it felt stifling. She thought back about what Piz had said, too, or rather about what his words had made her think about, the Echolls, Mars and Kane names stuck together in every printing press, every archive room, how they would forever be intertwined, and not in the right way. Maybe it was just time to let all of it go. Ignore her mom, forget every Kane family member, including her future stepfather, distance herself from Logan.

She could do that. It was the right decision to do that.

Veronica snuck another look at Logan, and instantly almost gave up on the decision she had just made. Instead, she leaned over and kissed his shoulder before settling her head on it. That did make Logan halfway wake up, because he mumbled something she didn’t hear and buried his face in her hair while his arms snaked around her waist.

I hope you understand, she thought, with the underlying knowledge that he wouldn’t.

 

*

 

Veronica kept her decision to herself at first, but it was in her mind at every second. She tried to see if she could not think about it, see if the past could not be mentioned, but it always was. There was always the underlying knowledge. It was everywhere in their home, everywhere between them. Part of Veronica wanted to never bring it up and blindly go through this relationship with Logan like nothing was wrong, but another part of her was overwhelmed, hated herself for ever coming up with that need to break free, because the more she was with Logan, the less she wanted to let him go.

She knew the moment had come when he brought it up.

“Veronica, what’s wrong? You’ve been acting kind of strange for a few weeks. I didn’t want to say anything, because… well, you know, but I’m worried about you.”

Because of their fight. Because they hadn’t really solved it, just apologized and buried it deep, and he didn’t want to bring it back up.

“I want to talk to you about something,” she told him, and dragged him to the couch with her. She didn’t want to do it. Somewhere at the back of her mind, something was screaming not to go through with it. But Veronica Mars always saw things through.

Her calm didn’t seem to overly reassure Logan, which was already a dent in her plan. He had to be open and conciliatory at the beginning if he was to stay level-headed at all by the end of the discussion.

“What is it?” he asked. “Are you doing okay? Are you sick? Is your dad sick?”

“No, no, no, nothing like that. I’m fine. My dad’s fine, everyone’s fine.” For now.

“Okay.”

“I think… you and me… we should think about this. About us,” she clarified. “Our relationship.”

Logan stood up and Veronica started to reach out to stop him, but her arm swung in air and her hand fell back to her in a fist.

He looked weary when he answered her, nervous. His fingers were twitching repeatedly against his leg. “What is there to think about? I love you. It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.”

“You’re oversimplifying. I’m not… I’m not saying that’s not true. I’m saying it’s not enough to stop the swirling thoughts in my head.”

“What swirling thoughts?” he asked, alarm tainting his tone. “I fucking love you. I’ve loved you for years, I’ve loved you forever, and I’ll love you forever. That’s what matters, isn’t it?”

Clearly, he was rambling in an attempt to stop her from going elsewhere, from bringing something up. Nip this discussion in the bud. She almost let him.

Veronica stood up to reduce the height difference. “You’re 18! I’m 19. We’re… we’re too young for this kind of… this kind of love. Forever, Logan? It’s just… it’s a lot. I don’t want to throw myself in it because I need to think. We both need to think and take a step back and I’m sorry it came to me now but that’s just the way it is. We have to.”

“Think about what?”

“Look, we need to each go our own way, for now. Figure out our own stuff. Separately.”

“What the fuck, Veronica?”

She felt her cheeks heat up. She had to defend herself, but she couldn’t think straight, her resolve was slipping away and Logan’s eyes were so wide, so desperate already, and she didn’t know what she was saying. “Don’t put this all on me!” was all she could come up with.

“It is all on you! I don’t get it. Why do you want to do this? I thought we were happy. I thought we were in love. Can you just…” He turned, passing his hand in his hair heavily. “Can you just tell me that you don’t love me anymore? Don’t bullshit me.”

“I’m not bullshitting you!” she screamed, tears prickling her eyes. Tears because he wasn’t hearing, tears because he thought he wasn’t worthy of love, tears because doing what was right sucked so fucking much. “I’m telling the truth and you won’t listen because you’re too caught up in your own head to see what’s happening, to see further than right now.”

I’m not seeing further than right now? I’m the one who wanted to move in together. I’m the one who’s making plans for our future. I’m the one who’s so fucking in love with you I can’t imagine spending a day without you for the rest of my life.”

Veronica heaved a sob. “I just need some space.”

Logan sighed. “Great. That’s what every boyfriend wants to hear.”

“You’re not my boyfriend anymore, Logan. That’s kind of the point of breaking up.”

“Hold on, wait a second. I thought you wanted a break – because you need to think, you want to take a break. You… you want to break up,” he said incredulously.

“It’s not that I want to break up, Logan. We are breaking up. This isn’t some hypothetical.”

“I think I should get a say in this.”

Veronica let out a frustrated growl. “Look, I… I want us to take the time to think. To consider. To decide what the best is for us, as individuals. We can’t do that if only one of us tries.”

She felt like she was having a conversation with a wall, it was so cyclical.

“I know what’s best for me,” Logan continued stubbornly. “What’s best for me is you.”

“Branch out. Date other people. I don’t care, just… figure yourself out. I can’t keep basing who I am around who I am with you, and neither should you. We’ve been doing that for so long,” she pleaded.

“You don’t care?”

“I didn’t mean it that way –”

“No, you know what? Fine. I’ll date other people. I’ll sleep with other people. If you don’t care then I’ve got no one to ask and no one to feel guilty about.”

“Fine!”

“Fine!”

Veronica picked up the bag she’d kept prepared just in case with more force than necessary and walked out the door, fuming.

As soon as she was gone, Logan crumpled on the couch, depleted of all energy and staring unseeing at the ceiling. What was he supposed to do now?

 

*

 

Veronica crashed with Wallace again that night.

“I broke up with Logan.” was her opening when he let her inside his dorm room.

“You what? What did he do?”

“Nothing, I just… It was time.”

Wallace looked at her sideways, but didn’t contradict her. “Okay. What are you gonna do?”

She sighed. “Tomorrow I’ll tell my dad, and move back in with him. I’ll go get my stuff from the apartment soon, but for tonight… Can I stay here?”

“Yeah, for sure. Do you mind if I… D’you mind if I call Logan? Guy might want to talk. I won’t tell him you’re here.”

“Yeah, go for it. I can’t stop you being friends, that wouldn’t be fair.”

Wallace gave her a tight smile and got outside in the hall to dial Logan’s number.

“Hey man, how you doing?”

Logan didn’t bother sugar-coating. “Bad.”

Wallace passed his hand through his hair. He did not look forward to handling both sides of what was already turning out to be a mess. “Yeah, I figured as much. How, uh… how are you holding up?”

“Well, what do you think? The love of my life just left me when I thought everything was fine between us. I’m doing so damn great right now.”

Wallace grimaced. He sympathized with Logan, he really did. But he had no idea what to say, or even what he was feeling. That all-consuming thing he knew Logan experienced, he didn’t understand how it came to be – whether it was just the way Logan was, or if it was because he and Veronica had known each other for so long, or a mix of both. He didn’t really believe in high school romances going the long run, or even most college romances, but for some reason he just wasn’t putting his two friends in the same “high school romance” bag as the rest of the couples around them. He’d never known them single, not all over one another, and it had been two years – which was an eternity in high school time.

Basically, Wallace felt way out of his depth with this breakup, and it had only been a few minutes.

“I’m sorry, man. I had no idea she’d do that.”

“That makes two of us. Do you think… do you think she’ll come back?”

They both knew Veronica well enough to know that she didn’t come back on her decisions, but Wallace just replied that he didn’t know, then told Logan not to drink too much and hung up after hearing his friend’s promises he knew he had no intention of keeping.

“How is he?” Veronica asked when Wallace came back. “Wait, no, forget it. I don’t want to know.”

“Yeah. I don’t think that’d be very healthy.” He sat down beside Veronica. “Wanna take my bed? I’ll take the sleeping bag on the floor.”

“Oh, no, Wallace, I can’t do that to you. I’ll be perfectly fine with the sleeping bag. Thanks. I’ll just go…” she pointed towards the bathroom and took out her toiletries from her bag.

When she came back out, Wallace was pretending to be in a deep slumber in the sleeping bag. She smiled and whispered her thanks before settling into his bed.

 

*

 

Her father didn’t comment when she asked him to move back into the Sunset Cliffs apartment, and she gave him the same explanation she’d given Wallace when he enquired about Logan: it was time. He pushed more than Wallace for that, though. Veronica assured him Logan hadn’t done anything bad, nothing violent or disrespectful. It was just time.

Quickly enough though, she had to go do what she dreaded the most: going back to the apartment, their apartment, to pick up her belongings. She texted Logan asking if she could come by the next evening.

 

*

 

When he received her text, Logan almost threw his phone down again.

Can I come by tonight to pick up my stuff? I won’t be long. – Veronica

She’d signed it, what, like he had already deleted her name from his phone? Maybe she could cross out a relationship like theirs in a day, but he couldn’t. Her contact picture was still one of him kissing her cheek while she laughed. He changed it after receiving her text to a more neutral option, not featuring him.

It’s your apartment too. Come whenever

She hadn’t replied to that, and maybe it was better that way.

Logan wanted to straighten out the place for when Veronica came by. (Why? In the hope that his messiness was what had been the last straw to make her leave him? As proof that he could be better?) He didn’t, though, because she’d notice and if he didn’t change anything maybe she’d realize it was her home and she wouldn’t leave once she’d rounded up her belongings.

She entered with her key, which Logan thought was a good sign, but when he walked to greet her close to the entrance, both of their standings were so awkward, it was unlike anything they’d ever been to one another before.

“Hey,” he said, and he cursed his height, his long limbs that didn’t have a good place to go while he stood there looking at her.

“Hey,” Veronica replied, just as awkwardly. “I, uh, didn’t think you’d be here. Thought you’d want to avoid me.”

“Why? I’m not the one who wanted to break up.”

“Right. Yeah. Uh, I’ll…” she dropped her keys to the small table beside the door, “leave my keys. For the lease, I’ll keep paying my half until the end of the year or however long it takes to –”

Logan didn’t let her finish. “Don’t… don’t even think about it. You paid your half for this month, let’s just leave it at that.”

“No, but I’m leaving in the middle of the lease, I –”

“Stop. Just stop, Veronica. You know I don’t give a rat’s ass. Don’t pretend I care about that crap, that I want your money, I –” He took a breath, looked away. “I just wanted to live with you. You’re just paying half the lease because you wouldn’t let me pay the whole thing.”

“Fine, I’ll – fine. Okay. I won’t pay.”

She shuffled her feet awkwardly and bit her lip before taking a step to the side. “I’ll bag up my stuff in the bedroom.”

Logan nodded, a quick jerk of his head, and gripped the counter behind him to keep from entirely collapsing. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go. She wasn’t supposed to leave.

“Veronica, wait,” he called out, practically running the short distance to their bedroom. Their bedroom. Not his. Theirs.

He stopped in the doorway, hanging onto the molding, and trained his eyes on the short blonde currently reaching under her pillow to retrieve an old notebook she always kept there. He’d read it last night. It was just lists, for cases, for grocery shopping, for birthdays. Nothing interesting anymore, but he’d read every word with care, because it was her handwriting. And because his name had appeared a few times, innocuously, like he was just a natural part of her life she didn’t have to think twice about. Because he was.

“Don’t go. Look, we can work it out. You can pay the lease. I can pay the lease. We can move. I don’t care, just stay with me.”

“Logan…”

“No, no, don’t say it. Just say you’ll stay. Just fall asleep in that bed and wake up there tomorrow and then we can talk about everything and we can go wherever. Let me come with you.”

She climbed off the bed without taking her eyes off him, so he saw the birth of every single one of the tears now making their way down her face the way he wanted his lips to do.

“That’s not how it works.”

“Why not? I can’t live without you, Veronica. Please.”

If you go, I can never fall in love again.

“Logan… if I stayed, you wouldn’t fall in love with someone new either.”

Guess I said that out loud.

“Yes I can. I fall in love with you every single day. I fell in love with you our first summer together, with your new haircut and when we snuck around your dad. I fell in love with you when you cut down Wallace from the flagpole. I fell in love with you when you made me a scrapbook for Christmas. I fell in love with you the first time we made love. I fell in love with you when you drove us all the way to Fresno because that was where you’d had the best ice cream you’d ever tasted and you wanted me to try it. I fell in love with you when you washed the sweater you stole from me months before with my laundry because that way it’d still smell like me. I fell in love with you when you let me go on a stakeout with you and I distracted you when it was time for the money shot and you were so mad at me. I fell in love with you the first time I saw you solve a case right before my eyes and it was like you were shining so damn bright, from inside. I fell in love with you when you got into Stanford and turned it down to go to Hearst with Wallace and Mac and me. I fell in love with you when you agreed to move in with me. I fell in love with you the first time I woke up with you by my side. I fell in love with you the first time I kissed you. I fell in love with you when I took the tapes to you and I knew somehow that because of you, it would be okay. I fall in love every time you smile at me. I can still fall in love with you so many times. Let me fall in love with you some more. Please, Veronica.”

During his whole speech, his whole pouring of his heart out to her, she kept crying silently, shaking her head like he was lying. He wasn’t.

Veronica took a few steps towards him. “You have so much love, Logan. You can fall in love again. I know you can.”

She took his face in her hands.

“With you. Only with you.”

He twisted his head to the side and kissed the inside of her wrist.

Veronica shook her head. “Not with me.”

“I love you. You know you’re the only one I love.”

“I know,” she nodded. “It still doesn’t change any of my reasoning.”

“Why are you so scared?”

She dropped her hands from him. “Scared? I’m the one making the hard decision, here.” Her voice, steady already, rose in volume and conviction. “I’m the one doing the scary thing. You’re scared of the unknown.”

“No you’re not. You’re running away because you’re scared. You’re scared you’re exactly who you think you are. You’re scared there’s not more of you than the person I know. You’re scared someone knows you better than you know yourself. You’re scared someone could love you this much without having to do it. You’re scared that I choose to love you and you choose to love me and it’s lasted so long you don’t remember how it felt when we weren’t in love. You’re scared that you found something real. You’re scared that I’m serious about forever. You’re a coward, Veronica Mars, because you know I’m right and you don’t like when you’re not in control, so you make sure no one has any control.”

“It’s not all about you, Logan Echolls. Maybe this is about me. And if you’d listened to anything I’d said, you’d know that. But all you think about is yourself, your own version of events and your interpretation of everything. You don’t know me as well as you think you do.”

By then, Veronica had thrown all her clothes and everything that was hers from the bedroom, into a suitcase she’d slid out from under the bed. She moved over to the bathroom and Logan followed her.

“I could name you every bottle in that cabinet,” he replied. “I know how you like your eggs. I know which shoes still need to be worn in before you can wear them for an entire evening. I know you never wore that blue dress you bought. You said it’s because it’s not appropriate for anything you go to, but it’s really because you’re not comfortable with how plunging the neckline is. It looks amazing, you should try to wear it one day.”

She moved away from the bathroom and into the living room and started lifting the couch cushions to look under them.

“Logan, that’s not even close to relevant.”

He continued. “Okay, then. I know what your eyes look like when you’re laughing for real. I know that you always look down quickly before saying ‘I love you’. I know you like it when I kiss your clavicle because it reminds you of the butterfly that stayed there for five minutes when you were 7 and it made you feel like a fairy. I know you take protein bars to stakeouts but only eat the peanut ones and the almond ones at the bottom of your bag are likely past their expiration date. I know you like being on top to feel in control, but you don’t mind being on the bottom because you know I won’t hurt you. I know you feel safer when people don’t know anything about you.”

“Logan…”

He walked to her and took her suitcase from her, pushed it away.

“Tell me it’s wrong. Any of it.”

“It’s not.”

“Don’t leave.”

“I need to. I need to do this for me. And I’m sorry I have to hurt you in the process.”

“You’re scared.”

She jerked her hands away from his. “What do you know?” she challenged. “You don’t even understand why I’m doing this.”

“I do understand why. I understand that you’re leaving those who love you because it’s easier for you than to stay and work out all the problems.”

“Excuse me?”

“You and your mother have something in common, after all.”

Veronica narrowed her eyes and grabbed her suitcase’s handle violently. “Fuck off, Logan. That’s a low blow, even for you.”

She turned on her heel and started walking away while Logan just stared after her, not entirely sure why he’d decided that insulting her like that was the best course of action.

Once he was sure she was gone, he finally moved. His initial destination was the liquor cabinet, because come on, what were breakups for if not reverting to past destructive habits? But something caught his attention on the way, a reflect of the moon on the tiny railing a step away from the living room.

A t-shirt Veronica had put there to dry a few days previously after soaking part of it to get out the red spaghetti sauce stain was still swaying gently in the wind. Logan hoped she knew she was never getting it back. That was his to keep, along with every other fraction of her he could find around the apartment, if there were any left.

Chasing around a no-longer-shared apartment for traces of the previous occupant was probably not a healthy way to cope with a breakup, Logan was very well aware. But that was all he wanted to do, all he wanted was more Veronica, whatever he could still hold on to, so he would cling to whatever was in his reach.

When he was too tired to keep wandering through the apartment, he slipped between his sheets – their sheets – and dug out his own little notebook from its place under his pillow. It was also filled with Veronica’s handwriting, but all intended to him.

It wasn’t actually a notebook, but a card holder. In each of the transparent slots, he’d inserted a note she’d written him over the years. A goodbye if she had to leave his house before he woke up, notes passed in class, notes to ask to meet him after school, lists of things to pick up from CVS the next time he went, a post-it she’d left on his windshield, hand-drawn smiley faces, clumsy hearts, notes signed “V”, some signed “you know who this is, and if you don’t you better watch your back”. None of them were important, he saved those in a box in the closet, but they were slices of their lives and it was like having Veronica with him again.

Like she still respected him enough to trust him to push her to be the best version of herself.

 

*

 

Veronica gave herself two weeks of moping because she had, after all, been the one to pull the plug on her relationship with Logan, and besides, she’d had weeks to plan it ahead. Or at least, that was what she kept telling herself, assuring her friends that she was fine and ready to explore other options – ultimately, wasn’t it why she’d broken up with Logan? Besides, someone as attractive and eligible as Logan probably already had a ton of girls lined up and ready to be his next love story.

That was how she found herself going on a date with Piz. He seemed pretty much like the perfect option: he was the friend of a friend, had a normal life completely unrelated to her high school days, provided no drama, he played guitar and had a radio show. Guitar players were considered hot, right? Right. So Veronica would go out with this guitar player and see where it led her.

The first date was okay. He took her to a niche restaurant she only knew about because she’d once tailed a suspect all the way inside, and since Piz was pretty new to Neptune, she gave him points for that. He’d chosen the night carefully because a band he liked was playing, which was thoughtful and organized, so she gave him even more points for that. He was nervous, which was understandable, but kept the conversation flowing, mostly interestingly, and fed her fun facts about the band playing.

Overall, Piz was exactly like she’d wanted him to be on a first date. He was nice in that harmless you’ll never break my heart because I’ll never fall in love with you way. The whole night, he was charming, polite, if a little flustered. And yet she could barely remember a single thing he’d said the whole evening because she’d been too busy measuring every word he said against what Logan would have been saying if he had been the one with her.

So she decided to give Piz another chance. She’d try again with this perfectly nice guy, because it was entirely her fault, not his, that she kept measuring him up against her ex in her mind.

 

*

 

Meanwhile, Logan didn’t exactly make the choice to start moving on, but rather was forced into it by Dick. It had been Mac’s idea in reality, to get him out of his pity party at his apartment, and she’d relayed it to Cassidy, who had relayed it to his brother. And so Dick had taken it upon himself to drag Logan out pretty much every day for the entirety of the month of November.

It was fine with Logan, parties were something he was well used to. They hadn’t been a staple of his life for a while, but slipping into rich jackass mode was second nature, it came easily. All he had to do at these parties was make an appearance, pretend to have fun, and just move over his excessive drinking to a more social setting and with cheaper booze.

He never brought anyone home, although he did flirt with several girls, who were as different from Veronica as possible, just to prove to himself that he still could, and because that was what was expected of him.

He followed a redhead to her dorm room after a handful of parties where they’d crossed paths, and he was about 75% sure her name was Annie, and when they got to her room, she assured her roommate wouldn’t be back all night, so he did what was expected of him, what he kind of wanted to do but not really, and he slept with her that night.

It was all wrong, she was too tall, not the right shape, not the right voice, and it had been too long since Logan had had sex while drunk, so it was sloppy and he couldn’t think of what he was doing, really. She informed him her name was Aimee when she kicked him out in the morning.

Two days later, the same scenario played out with a Hawaiian exchange student named Katelyn. (Which he got from the sign on her dorm room.) Every time it happened, he loathed himself more.

 

*

 

Dating Piz was pretty great, Veronica decided. They had been on five dates so far, and she had mostly enjoyed herself on every one of them.

She found out that Piz seemed genuinely nice to everyone he interacted with, somewhat innocent in that his life had never been turned upside down and he’d never developed crazy trust issues, and he never whispered sarcastic judgments to her when someone wasn’t listening.

Piz was honest and genuinely enthusiastic, took her out on great dates and never expected more in return, and Veronica imagined that was why that mid-November day as they were walking across campus back to their cars, she kissed him first.

She hadn’t kissed anyone besides Logan in a while, so this was something to get used to. She could get used to it with a bit of practice, she was sure. Piz was an okay kisser, but she gave him the benefit of the doubt because maybe she just considered the kisses like she was used to with Logan good kisses, but maybe they weren’t actually the only good kisses.

Kissing Piz was fine. The way he kissed was the way he did everything: properly, nicely, maybe a bit nervously. It was a far cry from passion and spinning her around and holding on to her waist like it was a lifeline, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t as good. It was just different.

Normal different. And that was what she wanted when she started dating again. A normal guy.

 

*

 

That same day, Logan was on his way to meet Dick at a party and get drunk, as usual, when he spotted a familiar figure across the quad. He wasn’t about to go say hi or anything – he’d thought about that, but last week, when Mac had left to go study with Veronica, he’d felt sick to his stomach at the idea of her seeing him like the mess he was, so he knew it was a bad idea. Like any normal guy still in love with his ex-girlfriend, he was just going to watch to see what she was doing, make sure she was safe, and maybe just spy on her a little bit. See what she was up to.

He was utterly unprepared to recognize the figure beside her as Wallace’s roommate with the dumb name he never got around to remembering, and even more to see Veronica stop him and raise her head to kiss that guy. On the mouth. In front of anyone who would pass by.

It was like a punch to the gut. She already had a new boyfriend, that floppy-haired idiot who lived with Wallace, and he’d been busy moping around and drinking himself to oblivion and using her blessing to sleep with girls whose names and faces he couldn’t remember the next day. But she was dating. That was meaningful, that was real. That was a sober choice, a conscious decision to open her heart to someone else, and something Logan wasn’t even close to capable of doing right then.

And it was Wallace’s roommate. (LaPaz? Pez? Was there an S in there? Something was telling him there was an S in his name.) Wallace’s… fuck, Wallace’s roommate. That meant Veronica had slept over at that guy’s place on more than one occasion, and every time when the two of them weren’t doing so hot but were still dating. Did that mean…? No. No. Veronica couldn’t have cheated on him, she wouldn’t do that. She was so vehemently against cheating.

But what if…? It wasn’t technically impossible. She’d started getting weird after that night she’d spent at Wallace’s so what if something had happened between them?

And even if Veronica hadn’t done anything then, had he made a move on her when she was still dating Logan? Fuck, he wanted to puke. He wanted to cry.

Wanted to drink so much he wouldn’t even remember his own name, let alone his broken heart and the love of his life kissing someone else.

So he headed to the party where Dick was waiting, and downed his first three beers within the first ten minutes before moving on to something stronger.

There wouldn’t be any good decision-making to be made that night, he thought, but what the hell? The only good thing in his life was busy making out with Wallace’s roommate. He drank so much he didn’t remember anything of that night, which was probably for the better.

Waking up the next morning in Madison Sinclair’s bed, though, that he remembered. Her victorious smile when he came to his senses, too. The feeling of disgust that rose in him at the idea of what he had done. Ruining a carpet when he couldn’t get to the toilet quickly enough.

Feeling like he had sunk as low as he ever would, his head hurting like all damn hell.

 

*

 

The second time Veronica kissed Piz wasn’t much better than the first. Or, actually, it wasn’t better at all. The third, fourth, and fifth time didn’t show a single improvement either.

She was getting a bit tired of waiting for it. It wasn’t just the kissing, either. Seeing him arrive to their date didn’t excite her, she felt no butterflies or fireworks at any point during their conversations, found herself still uncaring of the obscure bands he wanted to make her discover and kept forgetting the names of the people from back home he told her about.

She never had any trouble remembering the name of every one of Logan’s childhood friends who made an appearance in his occasional stories, remembered his mother’s stylist’s personality despite having never met the guy, still got a warm feeling in her stomach when thinking of the first time he kissed her, still got butterflies when she remembered the day he’d asked her to move in together for college, still lost track of everything around her when Logan kissed her, and kept a detailed list of his favourite songs and movies just in case she ever forgot, which she still hadn’t over a month after breaking up with him or feeling any of those feelings firsthand.

She missed his cutting remarks and sarcastic comments. They were sometimes mean, generally not very nice at the very least, and she chastised him for them, but she was never serious. Piz would never say such things, or even think about indirectly insulting someone. Logan did, and Veronica didn’t know why she liked that better.

Piz didn’t know her past, didn’t know Lilly, or Duncan, or her mom, didn’t know about the cassette tapes or anything of sophomore year. That was exactly why she’d decided to leave Logan and figure out who she was outside of those events, she remembered. But now she missed having someone who understood why she was the way she was, who accepted her that way and loved her anyway.

More importantly, when she thought of Piz, he almost felt like a chore, something she had to keep entertained, and it was an everyday effort to date him. In the thirty months she’d spent dating Logan, she had never felt that way. Sure, they had had to work on their relationship, and they’d fought more times than she could count and had to compromise occasionally, but seeing him didn’t feel like a chore. It felt natural. Like it was who she was.

That day, Veronica realized that it didn’t matter who she was outside of Logan, because Logan saw all of it and accepted it. It wasn’t Logan’s fault that her mom had left, but he knew that part of her and kept it cherished in a box beside his heart. It wasn’t Logan’s doing that she had fallen out with Lilly, even if he was inextricably tangled in it. He had been her anchor then, and that was how she’d fallen in love with him, but she knew now that it wasn’t the only reason she’d fallen in love with him, and it wasn’t all there was to their relationship.

She loved Logan because her saw her, understood her, knew her bad traits and didn’t care. She loved him because he paid attention to the trivial things, never paraded what he did for her or asked for brownie points for doing something nice for her. He just loved her. Sometimes he pushed and sometimes he pried, and that annoyed her, but he did it because he cared and she wanted that back. She didn’t want a guy who let everything go because he didn’t want to upset her. She liked getting worked up, liked arguing and being challenged in her views and opinions. She liked the passion she and Logan had, that intense feeling that no one else mattered and no one else was better suited for either of them. And she reprimanded Logan when he got into fights or got uselessly worked up, but secretly she kind of liked the reminder that he cared so much. Piz certainly never would have needed stitches after punching a guy in the jaw for making crude comments about Veronica’s ass like Logan had this summer, and while that was the kind of reassurance her dad would like, Veronica had only felt growing affection for her boyfriend every moment of his recovery. (And had gotten a bit turned on while he was fighting with a man much larger than him, but that was just – come on. How could she not have been?)

She knew who she was when she wasn’t with Logan – she was lonely and a hypocrite.

Now there was only hoping she hadn’t made an irreparable mistake.

She started with Piz, telling herself it would be much easier to break up with him (if it could be called breaking up when they hadn’t ever made it official that they were boyfriend and girlfriend) than it had been to break up with Logan.

“Piz, it’s not working out.”

“Why not? I mean, I know we haven’t been on many dates yet, but I think it’s going well.”

She opted for the frank, if maybe too direct response, to be done as fast as possible. No use in circling around the point. “Yeah, it is. It’s just… I realized I’m still in love with Logan, and it’s just not fair to anyone to keep this up.”

“Oh. Okay.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, I – I get it.”

Veronica smiled tightly, wondering if she’d served enough platitudes or if she had to stay there longer.

“Wait, uh…” Piz told her, and Veronica perked up, feigning interest. “What does he have that I don’t have?”

Veronica opened and closed her mouth a few times to try to come up with a response that would be truthful and not hurt Piz in the process.

“He knows me better than anyone,” she eventually decided on. “We’ve been through everything together and he gets me without needing to ask anything.”

Piz nodded. “I get it.”

But she was pretty sure he didn’t, that he didn’t understand the depth of her relationship with Logan. It didn’t really matter though, as long as that illusion got Piz to let her leave to go see the person she really wanted to see.

 

*

 

Veronica walked up to Logan’s doorstep emptyhanded. (She didn’t know how to refer to the apartment. It wasn’t theirs because she didn’t live there anymore, but she had helped choose it and it was strange to imagine Logan in there alone. She had checked with Wallace and Mac to make sure he did indeed still live there, so she just hoped he was home at 8PM on a Tuesday night.)

She knocked on the door, realizing she’d never done that before because it used to be her home, and took a step back to look around nervously. Maybe Logan wasn’t there. Maybe he wouldn’t open the door. Maybe he wouldn’t want to talk to her. Maybe he’d gotten over her. Maybe he had a girl in there with him. Maybe –

Logan opened the door and froze when he saw who was there.

“Hey…” Veronica said.

“Hi.”

He looked guarded, but mostly still in shock.

“I, uh, I need to talk to you…” Veronica took a breath. “I’m sorry. I’m so sorry, Logan.” She fixed him with her stare, trying to communicate as much as she could with her eyes. “I made a huge mistake. I shouldn’t have left, I just let my thoughts escalate and get the better of me instead of talking it out with you. That was wrong, and I’m sorry. I love you, I really do, even if I’m so bad at showing it, and you should know that. You should know that I didn’t leave because I didn’t love you, because I did and I do, and I should have seen that it was all that mattered and if you hate me now I understand because you deserve better than what I did to you but if I’m not too late, I hope you’ll take me back because you’re the only one for me and I want to keep falling in love with you too.”

As soon as she exhaled after the last words of her jumbled-up declaration, Logan was on her, his large hands on her cheeks and it felt so right when he pulled her to him, kissing her like there was no tomorrow. It was consuming every molecule of oxygen in the vicinity and commanding every cell of her body to attention, it was all-encompassing, and it was exactly how she remembered it, the way nothing seemed important when he was kissing her, just the two of them together in that moment. His thumb was stroking her cheek and it made her heart do a somersault, the familiarity of it. How loved it made her feel, how so obviously natural everything was when they were together like that.

“I missed you,” he murmured, and she kissed him again.

The butterflies were still there. Every time.

“I missed you too,” she replied when he let go of her lips to kiss his way down her throat.

“Next time you want to leave… don’t, okay?”

“Okay.”

She closed her fingers around his short hair, trying to reawaken as many elements of her sensory memory as possible, her hands wandering across his body. His hair (he held her tighter), his hands (he closed them around hers in an intimate gesture they didn’t do often enough, fingers laced together), his back (he tossed his shirt off to help her reach more of it as she pushed the fabric away from his skin), his mouth (he let her trace his lips once, twice, then closed them on the tip of her index finger and placed there a delicate kiss with a tenderness that only made the desire in his eyes appear to burn brighter when Veronica held his gaze).

“Where are your suitcases?” he asked in her ear just as he backed her against the wall to lightly bite her earlobe.

Veronica gasped and dug her fingernails into his scalp. “Didn’t want to be presumptuous.”

Logan let out a laughing exhale. “How are you still thinking straight enough to use words like ‘presumptuous’?” he asked, pulling back to look at her face.

The blonde in front of him shrugged cheekily and brought him down for a quick peck on the lips. “Think you can keep up with me?”

“Absolutely not. But that’s why I love you.”

Veronica smiled, really and truly smiled, for what felt like the first time in weeks. Logan was the only one who could ever keep up with her, and he probably knew it. But it didn’t matter to him because he just admired her.

“What is it?” he asked, a smile teasing the side of his lips at seeing her own.

“You.”

He leaned down to kiss her again, and she smiled against his mouth. She almost laughed at how utterly happy she was in that moment, but instead she pulled him closer, teasing the hair at the nape of his neck.

“Just to be clear,” Logan asked.

“Hm?”

“You’re moving back in?”

“If you’ll let me.”

“What part of this reception is telling you I might not? Because I want to remedy that.”

“It’s just… I screwed up. And I hurt you, or, well, I think I did. If I didn’t, that’s great –”

He cut her off with a kiss. “Yeah, you did. But I’d be making the same mistake you made if I let you go now.”

“So you forgive me?”

“Yeah. We all make mistakes, especially me.”

“But –”

“Veronica, shh.” He put his finger on her lips. “We can talk about the how and the why tomorrow. I have other plans for tonight.”

“Will I like those plans?”

“I hope so,” he said with a wink before carrying her to his room – their room.

 

*

 

Keith was not especially pleased with Veronica’s third move in less than twice as many months, but he knew that trying to stop her would probably make it worse.

“Are you absolutely sure, honey? You’ve tried it already, and it didn’t work. Maybe you could just stay home for now, and reconsider moving with Logan later. I’m not saying you shouldn’t get back together – just maybe take the steps slower?”

Veronica took pity on her father and kissed his cheek as she closed one of her boxes. “I’ve tried that too, remember? For over two years. I’m sure, Dad. And I’m sorry for all the moving around.”

“It is what I signed up for as parent, I imagine.”

She shrugged apologetically. She was sorrier for Backup than for her dad; the poor dog was all confused and kept following her around as she tried to pack up again.

“And you’re sure you’re safe there?” he continued.

“Yes, I am. One hundred percent. Well, unless one of the people we’ve locked up gets out of jail and comes murder me.”

“Not funny, Veronica.”

“Come on, a little bit funny.”

 

*

 

Lying in bed a few days later, her back to Logan’s chest in their post-coital bliss, Veronica decided it was time to bring up the subject she’d been dreading. But no matter how much she was dreading it, she was curious and couldn’t hold it in any longer.

“When we weren’t together…” she started.

“Oh, here we go.”

“I just want to get to a place where we can be really intimate.”

He gestured to their tangled limbs. “It doesn’t get much more intimate than this, Veronica.”

She bit her lip. “I don’t want there to be any secrets between us. You tell all, I tell all. You can ask anything you want to me.”

Logan sighed, and she could tell he knew he wouldn’t win this one. “Alright. You can start.”

“Were you with anyone when we weren’t together?”

“Depends on your definition of ‘with’. Did I spend time with other people? Yes. Did I go out with anyone? No. Did I sleep with anyone? Yes.”

Veronica swallowed and looked down, trying not to show she was hurt by the idea of him sleeping with anyone else. “Okay. Your turn.”

He hesitated for a second, and Veronica assumed he wanted to take back his agreement to play her little game.

“Were you?” he finally asked.

“I didn’t sleep with anyone. I went out a few times with a guy.”

Logan opened his mouth, then seemed to think better of it. “Your turn.”

Veronica shook her head. “No, what were you going to say?”

“Who was it?”

“Piz. You know, Wallace’s roommate?” At his nod, she continued. “We went out maybe six or seven times. He was nice, but he was… he just wasn’t you. And it never went any further than kissing.”

“But you kissed him because you liked him.”

She turned in his arms to face him. “I don’t know how to answer that. I didn’t sleep with him and I dumped him, so clearly I didn’t like him all that much.”

She couldn’t understand what Logan was getting at, what he was trying to say.

“Forget it.”

“No, tell me.”

“The idea that you formed a connection with someone else is just… not the most fun.”

“You slept with someone else. That’s a connection,” Veronica replied flatly.

Logan sighed heavily and passed his hand across his face. “While we’re telling all… It was – it was more than one person.”

“At the same time?”

“No, not at the same time! God, Veronica.”

“How many?”

“… I don’t know. I’m not sure,” he added hastily. “Maybe seven? Eight?”

“How are you not sure?” she asked hesitantly, electing to ignore that seven or eight was a pretty damn big number for a little over a month of being apart.

“I spent most of the evenings of the last month drunk out of my mind, Veronica. I didn’t make a single good decision at any of the parties Dick dragged me to. It didn’t mean anything, any of the times.”

“How can it not? You were together, like together. That’s… that’s intimate.”

She unconsciously pulled the covers higher on herself, frowning.

“Because I wasn’t thinking properly, for one. Couldn’t have meant anything even if I had wanted it to.”

“Did you want it to?”

“No. I was just trying not to spend every second thinking of you.”

“Did it work?” she whispered.

“No.” His voice was choked, and he turned away from her to lie on his back and look at the ceiling. The fan was turning, turning, turning, and neither of them said anything for several minutes.

It was Logan who spoke first. “It was just sex, Veronica.”

She pulled her covers even closer to her body. “Okay.”

“Baby, talk to me. This was your idea.”

She mellowed at his use of the pet name and when she replied, there was the hint of a smile in her voice. “Don’t call me baby.”

Logan let out a small laugh.

“Alright,” Veronica decided. “I don’t understand. I don’t get how it can be just sex.”

“You’ve only ever had sex with me,” Logan realized. She knew he knew, but it just wasn’t something that was on the forefront of his mind, apparently.

“Yeah.”

“I guess it’s not the same to you than it is to me.”

“Okay.”

“Not like that.”

“Not like what?”

“You’re thinking it didn’t mean anything to me to sleep with you.”

“Well, isn’t it what you’re saying?”

“No. I’m saying I can have sex – I have had sex – without the emotional component attached to it. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there when I’m with you. It doesn’t mean I don’t feel my love and respect and admiration for you when we’re having sex. It doesn’t mean it’s not better with you, because I love you and we have that additional connection.”

“Okay.” She could accept that. “I still don’t like the idea of you sleeping with other girls,” she admitted. “I kind of see it like our thing.”

“If it’s any comfort, I kind of plan on that being our thing from now on.”

Veronica laughed and shuffled over to encircle his waist with her arm. Logan moved his own to be around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.

“I think… I think that feeling you get, it’s the same as when I imagine you on a date with another guy. It’s just wrong. It’s our thing.”

“But it’s just a date,” Veronica interjected, confused.

“Well, maybe it is to you. To me, it kind of feels like you’re opening your heart up to him. I couldn’t do that, couldn’t go on a date. I just had some meaningless hookups, but I couldn’t start giving my heart to somebody else.”

“Oh. I guess that makes sense. And I did break up with you and told you to sow your oats, so…”

“Sow my oats?”

She jammed her shoulder into his ribs. “Shut up.”

“Um, ouch.”

“Fine, sorry.”

“One last thing on that subject… you’re not gonna like this, but I hope that in light of the discussion you won’t be mad.”

Veronica jumped back to look at all of him, panic rising in her. “What is it?”

She was already imagining all kinds of scenarios in her mind, all worse than the last, and at least three involving him cheating on her. He reached out to trail the back of his index finger on the soft skin of her stomach to relax her back into a less tense state. Goosebumps rose all over her upper body, but she didn’t move.

“One of the girls I slept with last month… Fuck, I don’t remember most of it. I saw you on campus, kissing someone – Piz – and I kind of freaked out. I got shitfaced drunk, more than usual, and most of what follows is a complete blank. I just remember waking up with Madison Sinclair.”

“Here?” Veronica asked in a small voice.

“What?”

“Did you sleep with her… here?”

His face fell and he moved to stroke her cheek. “Oh, God, Veronica, no… I didn’t sleep with anyone in the apartment. Not in our bed.”

“Okay. Okay.” She leaned into his touch. “It was your bed, you know. So, it was… it would have been okay.”

“No, it wouldn’t have been okay. We picked this bed out together and it was always ours to me. Every night I spent in it without you was wrong. But I never brought anyone else to it.”

“Why did you think I’d be mad?”

“You hate Madison Sinclair.”

“Yeah, but you were drunk.”

“Yeah.”

“And you don’t love her.”

“Never.”

“You love me.”

“Always.”

“So, there. We’re okay.”

“Any more confessions, Mars?”

“None come to mind…”

“What’s with the smile?”

“What smile? I’m always smiling.”

“Liar.”

He grabbed her for easier tickling access, and she writhed in his grasp.

“Let’s make sure we never need to have another conversation like that,” she panted out when he finally let her go.

“That works for me. That works very well for me.”

 

*

 

The day before Christmas Eve, a letter addressed to Veronica arrived in their mail.

Logan brought it up to the apartment with the rest of the mail and tentatively approached her with the envelope in hand.

He kissed the top of Veronica’s head and dropped the letter on her lap, on top of her computer. “I think your mom sent you a Christmas card. I can throw it out if you want.”

She twisted her head to look at him. “Open it for me?”

“Are you sure?”

Veronica nodded.

“Let me just put everything away, and I’ll be right back.”

By the time he sat down next to her, Veronica had put her laptop away and was turning over the envelope in her hands nervously. She handed it to him, and after one last check-in with her, Logan opened the envelope and pulled out the card.

“Can you read it out?”

Dear Veronica,” Logan started, darting a glance at her, “Merry Christmas. I’ve given up on the idea that you would want to spend part of your holidays with Jake and I, but if you do, you can always give me a call.”

“How did she get my address?” Veronica interrupted.

Logan looked at the envelope and saw it hadn’t been forwarded by Keith, their address was really written there. “Probably the same way she assumes you’ll get her number.”

“My dad?”

“Seems like the most likely option.”

“Huh.”

Veronica seemed lost in thought. It made sense, given that part of her reluctance with renewed contact with her mother was with her father in mind.

“Do you want me to keep going or stop there?”

“Keep going,” she decided.

“Okay.” He cleared his throat. “I know I haven’t been present in recent years –” Veronica snorted “– but I thought of you every day, my little flower. You’re all grown up now, and I wish I hadn’t missed so much of the process of you becoming an accomplished young woman. Best wishes this holiday season, yadda yadda, and she signed it ‘Mom’.”

“Well, that sucked.”

Logan turned the card over in his hand before laying it down on the coffee table. “Could’ve laid the guilt on a little bit thicker.”

“She could have at least thrown in an apology or something, instead of making it seem like she was held back by someone else.”

“Do you regret reading it?”

Veronica crawled over to his lap and shook her head into his chest as he hoisted her a bit higher and hugged her to him.

“Are you going to reply?”

She shook her head again. “I don’t want to. Maybe one day.”

“Okay.”

“I just… I can get my closure on my own, you know? I don’t need to forgive her and I don’t need to forget, I can just move on without these things. I don’t have to stay mad at her, but I don’t have to go back to my mommy anymore, either. Is that okay?”

“If that’s what feels right to you, yes.”

“Sounds like you’re really an adult now – that was a grown-up answer.”

“I like to think so, but my drinking binge circa last month might put a damper on that celebration.”

She nudged him with her shoulder. “And what are you going to do? I never got around to properly ask you about that.”

Logan sighed. “I’m not planning on doing anything. He’s been trying to reach out to me ever since I turned 18. I only replied once, to tell him to fuck off.”

“When?”

“Graduation day.”

“I didn’t know.”

“I didn’t want to hear your points, if you had any. I didn’t want to reconsider.”

“What did you think I’d tell you?”

Her tone was inquisitive more than accusatory, for once, so he dared the truth.

“That I was being a coward and that I should face my fears.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You didn’t actually say that, so there’s no need to apologize.”

“Well, I’m sorry the voice in your head telling you those things is mine.”

“What would you have said?”

“I’m not sure. But I know what I’d say now.”

Logan gestured for her to go on, hugging her closer to him.

“I would say you don’t have to answer. You could go to the police with hospital records and you and your mom could testify about what he did to you, and it could get you left alone. But if you want to not think about it, that’s okay too. If you want to just ignore him, I’ll be there with you and I’ll be your family.”

Logan blinked to hold back tears, so Veronica wouldn’t see how deeply her words had touched him. “My family, huh?”

“I have no idea why I thought I could leave you. I can’t. You’re a part of me now, whether you like it or not. So, yeah. Family.”

“Two months ago, you were saying forever was too intense for people our age,” he teased.

“I think I just realized what’s between us isn’t something that can be broken. It’s more than a romantic relationship.”

“Are you saying I’m not a romantic?”

She shoved him back all the way to his back. “Shut up. I’m trying to be open here.”

“You’re doing good,” he laughed, extending his arm to play with a strand of her hair.

“Stop making fun of me,” she replied with an exaggerated pout while settling down on her stomach, on top of her boyfriend.

“I love you, Veronica Mars.”

She bent to peck his lips.

“I love you too, Logan Echolls.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Veronica let out a heavy sigh as she settled in her chair at the front desk of the Mars Investigations office. Wednesday afternoons weren’t usually very busy, so she didn’t expect an especially intellectually challenging day, but that would be a nice respite from the exam period she’d just completed. She’d come here straight from handing in her last final of junior year (okay, straight from the sandwich place where she had decided to stop for a celebratory bite after handing in her last final of junior year) and was looking forward to letting off steam, but the piles of paperwork on her desk promised hours of calls and filing. Not her favourite method of relaxation, but at least it wouldn’t burn her out.

Her dad popped his head out of his office. “Honey?”

“Yep, just got here.”

“Think you can handle a case for me? It doesn’t look too complicated, the client just wants to track down something valuable for his family – should be a quick job.”

Veronica reached for the file he was holding and dropped it on top of her stack of paperwork. “I’d love to. All of this can wait for tomorrow, right?” she asked, gesturing to her overflowing desk.

Keith kissed the top of her head. “You can work through that tomorrow. Unless you’re spending it with Logan to celebrate the end of the year?”

She shook her head. “Nope, he’s on a surfing trip with Dick for the week. He finished yesterday, they left this morning.”

“Sorry to be leaving you all alone, then. I’ve got a lead in Nevada, so I’ll be skedaddling too.”

“Doth Alicia knoweth thou always abandonth her when taking fancy trips?”

“Your old English needs work, sweetie. And there’s nothing fancy about Reno.”

“Hey, I have very fond memories of the trip we took there when I was 9,” she called after her father as he made his way out of the building.

“Bye, Veronica,” he called back without turning around.

“Bye,” she grumbled once he was already gone.

She turned her attention to the thin case file her father had handed her and flipped it open. Then she turned it around a few times, because all there was in there was a single sheet of paper reading Last seen and a set of latitude and longitude coordinates. She turned the paper over and held it in the light to see if there were any more details, but that was it. No mention of what the object was, or even about the client. It wasn’t entirely unheard of for her father to remove clients’ personal information before giving her case files because apparently she had been known to snoop around people’s lives instead of investigating what they had been hired to investigate.

Still, it seemed like her father had removed a lot more information than necessary from this one file, so she went to his office to see if she could find whatever came with the geographical coordinates.

After fifteen minutes, she hadn’t come up with anything, so she resolved to think the client was just an eccentric. A little excitement like this could be exactly what she needed to occupy her afternoon.

She closed up shop – any other clients could drop by tomorrow instead – and got into her Saturn before entering the coordinates into her GPS. She had never been more grateful for having splurged for that small luxury.

The coordinates led her to a nondescript restaurant in Irvine after little over an hour of traveling California highways.

Oookayyy, Veronica. You’re here. Now what?

She felt suddenly dumb. The hour on the road hadn’t managed to impart her any wisdom besides that if you liked it then you shoulda put a ring on it and that Madonna shockingly only had 4 minutes to save the world (which she’d wasted singing), thanks to her radio. But nothing about how she’d find an object of which she had no description, last seen at an unknown time but apparently in that pitiful little building before her.

She couldn’t really imagine walking up to someone and asking if they had seen a valuable object, perhaps yesterday, perhaps fifty years ago. But she had no better plan so she got out of her car and walked up to the hostess stand.

Before she could say anything, however, the waitress asked her if she was with Mars Investigations.

“I am, yes…”

The waitress handed her an envelope. “This was left for you.”

“Oh, okay. Thank you.”

Confused, Veronica opened the envelope on her way to her car and pulled out a sheet of paper when she sat down in her driver’s seat.

A typed-up note – which was strange on its own, why not write it by hand? – awaited her, detailing her client’s misfortune when he tried calling the office and found that no one was there (well yeah, because you sent me coordinates as the only clue, smartass, I wasn’t going to just stay at the office), so he had to leave her a note in Irvine to tell her that he had remembered wrong – the last time his valuable object had been seen was actually at the Hilton Pasadena. Which – okay, restaurant in Irvine vs hotel in Pasadena, how did he mix those up? She was being unkind, but her sociology final had left her cranky, so she blamed the professor, not herself, for those harsh thoughts. But she had to give it to him, he was resourceful – he had correctly assumed she’d be heading to the coordinates and had gotten a note to her there.

Still, Veronica wished she hadn’t missed her client’s call, because going directly to Pasadena without a stop in Irvine would have saved her a few minutes, and she was now off for another hour on the road with no way to call back this oddity who was setting her up on what looked more like a scavenger hunt than a legitimate case to ask for more details.

Nevertheless, there was the small thrill of the chase, and maybe her dad had also found their client strange, and that was why he hadn’t given him her personal number or given her any tangible information about him.

As she tossed the envelope on the passenger seat, she noticed something else fall out of it. Bending to retrieve it from the floor of her car, she managed to identify a small eraser, probably no bigger than the nail of her thumb, shaped like a tiny ice cream, the kind she and Lilly collected as kids and never put to use to erase anything. (She was pretty sure it was 6th grade law that those cute erasers were to never ever serve their purpose.) She looked up at the restaurant frontage and saw no sign of anything related to ice cream or any kind of frozen treat. She shrugged. Probably something that had slipped into her envelope but was meant to entertain the kids waiting for their meal.

Once she was back on the highway and away from Irvine’s downtown area, she looked at the time. It would already be a bit late by the time she got to Pasadena, and if she had to investigate such a bizarre case, she might not be back on the road to Neptune before night.

I hope the forgetful weirdo knows he’s getting billed for my gas and whatever accommodations I need to sleep tonight.

Following the indications for the Pasadena exit, Veronica couldn’t help but think of Wallace as she passed signs indicating the direction of Caltech – he had been talking about grad school in Caltech for months, and raving about wanting to visit the campus there. She’d have to tell him she’d been to Pasadena before him.

Once she reached the Hilton, Veronica felt the same hesitation as previously at the restaurant in Irvine. Another letter sending her on a wild goose chase was probably not going to be handed to her when she walked in this time, but searching every single room for an unknown object didn’t seem like a viable option either, nor did asking some of the personnel if they had seen anything that looked valuable.

She bypassed the valet, parked the Saturn on the street a block away (even the non-valet parking was too expensive for her taste) and elected to take a look around the lobby until security decided she looked suspicious.

While she discreetly looked between cushions of the armchairs and couches adorning the lobby, she called her father on his cellphone. Maybe he’d have a bit more information to go by, or the client’s number for her to call.

She tried a few times with no success, and on her third try, she left a message on Keith’s voicemail.

“Hey, Dad, I’m at a hotel in Pasadena looking for clues – anything, honestly – to get me to the ‘missing valuable’ but I’m hitting a dead end over here. Do you have any more information on this client? A phone number so I can ask questions, any kind of gauge of when and what was lost…? Not gonna lie, Pops, I think he’s making fun of us. I don’t think I’ll solve that case tonight like planned. Good night.”

He was most likely driving, and for some reason he didn’t like to talk on the phone while driving, but he would probably hear her message and call her back when he could. In the meantime, Veronica had finished going through all the cushions and had moved on to the brochure stand. There, an envelope caught her attention, behind a stack advertising the Rose Bowl stadium. She slid it out, unsurprised to find the word Mars written in block letters in Sharpie on the flap.

Yeah, that guy is definitely making fun of us. But what the heck? This is kind of fun.

She got back into the Saturn a few blocks over before opening the envelope, much thicker than the previous one had been.

First she found a stack of printed directions – looked like someone was anxious her GPS would lead her astray – which she set on her dashboard while hoping they wouldn’t fall off (which time would later tell her they would, repeatedly). The last few instructions were vaguer than the rest, not taken from an online map with directions, but rather typed by the person who had placed them in her envelope, omitting any street names or addresses in favour of “the second right” and “the first roundabout”. Veronica checked her bag to make sure her taser and pepper spray were in place (they were) and started reading through the instructions to make sure she wouldn’t be taken by surprise by whatever awaited her at the end of the directions.

Besides the stack of papers, there was a tiny shampoo sample like magazines sometimes carried, lodged in the envelope.

What the fuck?

She turned it over, but there wasn’t anything written on the sample besides what had been printed. It was the marshmallow-scented shampoo she used to use, back in high school and middle school, before she found the slightly more mature scent she currently used.

She tossed the sample in the file to join the initial coordinates and the letter she’d found in Irvine.

Half an hour after she had hit the road, her phone rang. Without checking who was calling and expecting her dad, she picked up. “I’m driving so if there’s weird noise, that’s why,” she warned before even addressing him.

Instead of the expected reprimand about her greetings, Logan’s warm chuckle resonated in her car. “I’ll keep that in mind. How are you?”

“I thought you were my dad,” Veronica apologized. “Didn’t expect you to call while you were dominating the waves.”

“I’ve always got time for you, sugarbun.”

She laughed. “Alright, Romeo. What’s up?”

“Not much. Just wanted to check in with you after your sociology final. Where are you driving? I thought you were supposed to be working with your dad this afternoon.”

Veronica merged onto the rightmost lane. “Yeah, but he got a lead in Nevada, so he left, and I got a puzzling case.”

“Puzzling?”

“Well, I’m certainly passing time while you’re gone, that’s for sure. Some weirdo client is currently making me drive from Pasadena to Malibu, I think. I’m not one hundred percent sure it’s Malibu. Hey, is your mom renting her place to anyone right now? Do you think I could call her and ask for her address to crash at her beach house for the night?”

“The Malibu beach house? No idea. I don’t think there’s keys anywhere near the beach house though, her realtor’s in L.A. and she’s in Neptune, but I’ll call her for you and check.”

“Thanks. Tell her I’ll clean up after myself and everything.”

Logan laughed. “I don’t think my mom would be worried at all about you in one of her houses.”

“What can I say, I’m charming that way.”

“Well, I’ll leave you to your driving and call my mom. I’ll talk to you later.”

“Bye. Love you!”

“Love you.”

Veronica disconnected the call and focused back on the road. She probably had another half hour before she reached her destination, and she was growing antsy. This client was either fucking weird or… or nothing, that seemed like the only likely possibility.

Well, there was also the possibility that she had picked up an envelope not meant for her in Pasadena, but it was a damn big coincidence if it wasn’t there for her. She was almost certain that strange scavenger hunt was hers to follow.

She slowed the Saturn when she got to the last part of the directions, cautious in case someone ambushed her or she missed a turn, especially since the sun was already setting and it would be harder to see anyone trying to sneak up on her. She was led into the kind of street she never really went to anymore, full of sprawling mansions resting on enormous plots, ornate outdoor pools, and she even spied one stable behind one set of high gates and trimmed bushes. Logan still hadn’t called her back, and neither had her father, but the latter was probably still on the road and the former might not have gotten hold of his mother yet.

The “third property on the right” as detailed in her directions was a gleaming white three-storey building sitting right on the beach, once one got past the long driveway and closer to the stylish floor-to-ceiling windows and lavish staircase. The gates were open, Veronica presumed for her, so she eased her noticeably out of place car into the empty driveway.

Curiosity mounting, Veronica grabbed her bag from the passenger seat and stored her file and the directions in the glove compartment before getting out of her car and locking it. In this neighbourhood, stealing her car would probably be the dumbest move a thief could make, but she couldn’t be too safe. (Her dad would be happy to know she did pay closer attention to security nowadays, regardless of his – and Logan’s – habit of telling her she was putting herself in danger too often.)

She contemplated walking up the stairs and ringing the doorbell, but something caught her eye on the side of the house. One hand in her bag just in case she needed to quickly grab her taser, she walked around the mansion, following the soft yellow lights that had attracted her attention and the subdued music accompanying it.

Probably she should have known from the very beginning, but somehow she hadn’t, and she removed her hand from her bag when she reached the wide patio and took everything in. Fairy lights and wisteria hung from the pergola above her head, the fading rays of the sun casting a pink glow on the young man standing at the middle of it all.

“Logan,” she exhaled, putting her bag down beside her. “I thought you were in Mexico.”

He smiled crookedly. “Looks like I’m not.”

Veronica returned his smile with careful confusion. “Hi.”

What the hell is going on?

“Hi.” Logan took a step forward. “Are you going to stay standing there?”

“No, yeah, I’m still kind of wrapping my head around what’s going on.” She walked to him and folded herself in her boyfriend’s arms. “I have a lot of questions.”

“I figured,” Logan nodded, kissing the tip of her nose. “Ask away.”

“You – wait, is this your mom’s Malibu house?”

Logan laughed. “Yeah, I kind of panicked when you brought it up on the phone. But you’d never seen it in person, so I was safe after all.”

Veronica nodded thoughtfully. “You left the gate open for me?”

“Yes.”

“You left that envelope for me in the Pasadena hotel?”

“I did, and thank God no one picked it up before you. I had to call you to check you’d gotten it.”

“So the one in Irvine, too?”

“Yep.”

“Did my dad know?”

“That it wasn’t really a very unspecific and anonymous client? Yes.”

“What was up with the eraser and shampoo sample?”

Logan chuckled at that. “Thought those up at the last minute to confuse you some more.”

“Because the wild goose chase was so straightforward.”

“Right. Well, the ice cream eraser… You used to have a drawer full of those tiny cutesy erasers in junior high. And we were eating ice cream when I asked you to be my girlfriend, sophomore year of high school.”

Veronica’s eyes widened. “I would not have guessed that meaning. I can’t believe you remember that.”

Logan leaned down to kiss her softly. “And the shampoo… It was ‘cause of a bottle of that shampoo that you told me you loved me for the first time.”

“You’re so weird,” she replied affectionately. She had to make a rectification, though: “It wasn’t because of the shampoo. It was because of the gesture, that you’d bought a bottle of my shampoo for your shower.”

“I have very fond memories of that smell regardless.”

She rolled her eyes and reached up to kiss his cheek. “Well, I can certainly say that I spent an interesting afternoon thanks to you, although I’m still kind of confused.”

“Yeah. I imagine you are. This wasn’t very… well, it wasn’t very conventional. I was scared you’d give up and tell your dad a psychopath was stalking you. So, I’m glad that didn’t happen.”

Veronica laughed softly and cupped Logan’s cheek with her hand. He looked preoccupied. “You okay?”

“Never better. There’s just something I need to tell you. Veronica… It’s borderline ridiculous how in love with you I am, but you know that. More than that, I like you, I respect you, and I admire you. You’re not just the love of my life, you make me want to be a better person and you humble me. I love the way you laugh, the drive you have to pursue your cases, the way you’re the only one who’ll banter with me and mean it, the way every part of you fits perfectly against every part of me and how you call me on my bullshit. Any day I’m not with you is just wasted, and I don’t want to waste any more time. You’re the only one for me and I hope you’ll let me show you every day for the rest of our lives how much it means to me that you let me love you, which is why I devised this ridiculous plan to get you all the way here.  So, you’ve asked all those questions, and you can ask as many others as you want, but I only have one.” He nervously looked down and they both held their breath as he pulled out a box from his pocket. “Is your left ring finger busy? ‘Cause I think I might have something for that if it’s not.”

The ring box in his hand flipped open and Veronica laughed as she let out her breath and smacked his chest. “Can’t even propose properly,” she tutted with a shake of her head.

“Kinda leaving me hanging, here,” Logan pointed out, his thumb toying with the velvety cushion holding the ring in place.

“Yes,” she said quietly, her answer bright in her eyes. “Wait, hold on, I didn’t even look at it properly, let me see what I’m agreeing to.”

Logan raised the box he was holding in his hand down at hips’ height, all the way to Veronica’s eye level and kissed her forehead in relief as she examined the ring he’d picked out, taking the box from his hands.

“Do I have to put it on myself?” she asked coyly after a few seconds.

He ducked his head to capture her lips, and she felt all the love he’d just declared poured into his kiss. Careful not to drop the ring, she got up on her tiptoes to press her lips more fully to his and draped her arms around his neck, her question forgotten for the moment.

“No, I can do that,” he finally replied, reaching behind his neck to take the box from her. “Just to make sure…” Logan explained, getting down to one knee in front of Veronica while keeping her hand in his as he looped it around his head then cautiously taking the ring out of its box, “the ring comes with the downside of having to marry me.”

He slid it on her ring finger just as she grabbed his collar using her right hand, destabilizing him as he stumbled upright. “Shut up,” Veronica declared, kissing him again, quickly. “You’re the upside. The downside is how complicated it’ll be to wash my hands now.”

“Didn’t think of that.”

“Men rarely do.”

“So, no regrets?”

“No,” she assured him.

“So I can call your dad and everyone else to come join us?”

“Who’s everyone else?”

“My mom, Alicia and Darrell, Wallace, Mac, Dick…”

“Where are they? There weren’t any cars in the driveway, not even yours.”

“We all parked in the neighbour’s driveway. Told him I needed to propose to my very observant girlfriend with a suspicious nature, who would immediately recognize all our cars, and he agreed. The perks of gated communities where neighbours are incredibly far away from one another.”

“And he didn’t tell you to stay away from that trouble and save that proposal idea for someone else?”

“No, but I wouldn’t have cared if he had. I only want you. Besides, no one else would have willingly followed a trail with no real clues or clear objectives just for the sake of it. I would’ve stood here alone forever.”

“Did my dad know know? Like the whole plan? And he agreed?”

“Hold on, I’ll call him to let him know they can start moving over, then we’ll explain everything.”

 

*

 

Before everyone arrived, Logan showed Veronica in which of the numerous rooms his mother’s house counted he had stored some of her clothes, that he had brought over for the celebratory soirée and for the night – and the next few days if she wanted to stay. The bedroom he had chosen for them was on the third floor, with a thick plush carpet, a canopy bed and a plunging view of the strip of beach beneath them and the cerulean sea.

“How didn’t I notice you taking all of that? I left after you this morning.”

Logan smiled and kissed the tip of her nose. “I went back after you left to make extra-sure.”

“Sneaky.”

“I know how sexy you find sneaking around.”

“That’s you, honey. Just you,” Veronica replied with mock condescension.

“Darn. Missed my shot?” Logan asked, leaning in for a kiss.

Veronica granted it to him. Pulling back, she tilted her head to ponder. “Eh, you did okay.”

She changed into the short blue dress Logan liked so much (he insisted it had nothing to do with the low neckline, she called him a liar and slipped the bodice on as slowly as possible just to see his reaction), and he shrugged into a button-down shirt and a pair of slacks, then they mutually agreed to get in some kissing down on the patio to wait for the others and had to straighten out their brand-new getups and jump apart like schoolchildren when Wallace cleared his throat.

“Be happy it was me and not one of your parents,” he said at their guilty look.

Veronica just hugged him quickly. “Thanks, bro.”

 

*

 

Logan held his promise, explaining exactly what every single person involved knew. (They all knew Logan was proposing, but most of them only found out when he asked them to come to Malibu; Wallace knew beforehand in case Veronica asked him to join her on her quest so he wouldn’t discourage her from the seemingly pointless and hopeless sleuthing; Dick knew the surfing trip wasn’t real but was only told why once he and Logan were on the road towards Malibu that morning, because he wasn’t sober often enough to trust him not to let the secret slip out; Keith knew most of the details of the operation and Logan had told him about wanting to ask Veronica to marry him several weeks beforehand.)

Alicia asked to see the ring (“I’m sure this fine young man has impeccable taste, but between us ladies…”), Lynn welcomed Veronica in the family with a hug and an assurance that she would have still liked Veronica the best of all the girls Logan had dated if she had turned him down (which Logan didn’t especially appreciate because of the implications that it was a possibility that Veronica would have – and still could – turn him down), Keith pretended he didn’t cry, Dick pretended he liked Veronica for the evening and she extended the courtesy, champagne was wheeled out for everyone but Darrell, Wallace ate most of the chocolate-covered strawberries except the vegan ones he left for Mac, and Logan kept an arm around Veronica the whole evening, which she had to nudge upwards and away from her ass a handful of times.

 

*

 

Once the party died down and everyone went inside to be led to their rooms for the night, Logan and Veronica decided to take a stroll down the beach. It was completely dark outside, the sea was rolling in and the only sound was its periodic crash against the sand. They walked hand in hand, shoes forgotten somewhere at the beach house, hips bumping into each other over and over.

“I think you’re kind of drunk,” Veronica told her fiancé – fiancé! – while clinging on to his shirt, rumpling it in the process, but it made the ring on her finger catch the faint light of the stars reflected on the waves so she didn’t let go.

“Now where you would be getting that from?” he asked, taking her hand away from his shirt to raise it to his lips, missing his goal of kissing her knuckles and kissing the outside of her thumb instead.

She giggled. “You’re swaying and there’s no music.”

“There could be music. Close your eyes.”

She looked at him dubitatively but obliged, then felt Logan’s arms around her, gently maneuvering her in a slow rhythm, left and right.

“Love you,” she whispered, following his movements even if she had no idea what song they were supposed to follow.

“Love you too.”

He kissed the tip of her nose, then each of her eyelids and she opened her eyes just in time to see him kiss her cheeks delicately, one at a time.

“What’s your favourite letter?” he asked her.

The question didn’t strike her as absurd in the moment, so she replied seriously, “X.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s mysterious and useless.”

Logan nodded, like it made perfect sense.

“What’s yours?” Veronica asked.

“E. Because if you remove it from your name, it’s just Vronica and that sounds like a car motor.”

“That’s a terrible choice.”

“It’s an excellent choice.”

“You’re drunk,” Veronica noticed again.

“You’re drunk too.”

“There better be champagne that good when I marry you.”

“Yes please.”

“To the champagne?”

“To the wedding.”