My entire world fell apart when Lilly died. Bit by bit, like a collapsing wedding cake. First, the little bride and the little groom tumbled off the top. And then the pillars and the arches collapsed; the tiers and the swags of icing, the roses and the fancy writing. Everything I believed was so sweet and so secure. That whole spun sugar world, gone. Nothing meant anything, until the day I told myself it wouldn't happen again. Never again.
Logan died because of me. I knew that. I also knew I could still make it right. I loved him. So, this couldn't happen. Not when I'd worked so hard, and I'd given away so much. Not when this was right. Not when what I felt for Logan was so raw and so real, and I didn't even realize it until -- no. I wouldn't say "until too late." I'd say... I didn't realize until just then. Because I'd make it right for him. I would. Everything was going to be all right.
I found that crumpled scrap of paper right away, stuffed into my English Lit notes. Strange how some things stay right where you've left them, exactly where they ought to be, while everything else gets turned inside out and upside down. Meg had given it to me in the hall at Neptune High, the morning after Logan's "birthday" party, the morning after everyone had discovered we were dating, the morning after I discovered the cameras in the pool house.
"Here," she'd said. "You need this more than I do. For Lilly." And she'd walked away, without a backward glance. She must have wanted vengeance on Duncan. She must have wanted it and not taken it, because Meg was Meg, and she was too nice for something like that. I wasn't.
I lit the candles and I poured the circle of sand in the center of the living room carpet, exactly as the instructions told me to. Dad wouldn't be home from the hospital for a couple of days. Note to self: vacuum later. When there is a later.
I knelt in the center of the circle. Closed my eyes, and I saw the way it ought to be. Flying in his yellow Xterra, windows down and a ribbon of road unfurling; Logan's hands tapping time on the steering wheel. Just a little bit farther. Just one more push, one more problem solved, and the road would fall open and level, as easy as the scrap of paper unfolding in my hands.
It should have been ancient yellow parchment, not a torn corner of three-ring binder paper. It should have been crabbed and creepy ink-splattered scrawl, not Meg's curly hand in ballpoint pen. Guess you take what you can get. I didn't believe it would work anyway. How could it work? I didn't believe in things like that. I believed in what I could see and touch and prove. But, I didn't have another choice.
Feeling stupid, even though I was by myself, I read the incantation aloud. "Let this space now be a gateway to the world of Arashmaharr, where demons are spawned. I come in supplication. I bend as a reed in the rush of the river. I come in devotion. I bend as a flower in the fury of the wind. I come in vengeance. I bend as a beast poised to spring."
Backup lifted his head, doggy-puzzled. I think he knew I wasn't speaking to him. It was after three in the morning, and he probably wondered why I wasn't in bed. Maybe he sensed what was coming.
"D'Hoffryn, Duke of Hell, hear my petition," I continued. "D'Hoffryn, Lord of Vengeance, hear my cry. Hear me, and answer."
I folded the paper along its creases. I waited. Nothing answered me. Nothing but the sound of air rushing past my ears, and that silence special to the small hours of the morning, when everybody else was asleep without a worry in the world. The cliché was true. You never knew how much you missed someone until they were gone. Everything you meant to say. The lies you knew you'd forgive, the anger you knew you'd forget. The kisses you never shared. If I had known. If somehow I had seen. That afternoon on the beach, that last look. Logan walking away across the sand with his shoulders hunched as if waiting for a fist to fall. For nothing. He loved Lilly. And with all the best intentions, with all the fury of purpose, I pushed him away. I made him hate me. I killed him. I meant to tell him everything the next time I saw him. I meant to say, I thought I was doing the right thing. I never meant to hurt you. Except, except... I did. I meant all of it, at the time. I thought you murdered her.
You never really think these things are going to happen. You always think there's going to be one more afternoon on the beach. But, Leo stuck his head into my father's hospital room at a little after eleven tonight. Last night. It was tomorrow already. Today. I've always hated the way twelve a.m. is a brand new day, when those hours between midnight and dawn are the never-ending time of night. I could tell from Leo's face that my night was far from over. I laid my dad's hand on the blanket, stood up and walked into the hallway, wincing as all my bruises and scrapes fired up again.
"How are you doing, Veronica?" Leo asked.
"Just tell me," I said impatiently. "What's he gotten himself into?"
"Come on. I know you're here about Logan. He's in jail, isn't he?"
I'd been hoping for home and a hot bath and four or five weeks of sleep. But, whatever Logan had done, it didn't matter. He'd have heard about his father and Lilly by now. He'd be drunk and angry. Well, he had a right to be both. He'd probably wrecked his truck, or gotten into a fight. A part of me was pleased. Logan was acting like Logan again, the way Logan always acted. I'd get him out of trouble. Sweet talking. Cashing in a few favors. Nothing I couldn't fix. Nothing I wouldn't do for him. Not then, and not now.
"Veronica," Leo said. Slowly, cautiously. He looked like he wished he had a hat to twist in between his hands. "Logan's dead."
I didn't believe him. Not right then. I laughed. It was funny. I knew Logan and I would laugh about it someday.
Backup scrambled up, startling me. I dropped the paper, and snatched it up again. The pit bull spun to face the front door, crouching low, ears flat and muzzle wrinkled in a snarl. I couldn't hear the air moving anymore, or the muffled rumble-rushing of the traffic outside. I couldn't hear a thing. Backup curled his tail under his legs, and then I smelled urine. A sudden sharp knock at the door, and he fled for my bedroom, claws scrabbling and squeaking on the wooden floor.
Panic wouldn't do me any good. I climbed shakily to my feet and crossed the living room. I opened the front door. The spell had worked. He was here. I could fix it. I could make everything right. I smiled. "I was hoping it would be you."
"Veronica Mars," drawled D'Hoffryn, rolling my name around on his tongue as he swept into the apartment, floating beneath the trailing hem of his heavy robes. "I thought for certain you'd give me a chant after Miss Pomroy's party."
I pressed my lips together. "I didn't need your help with that."
"You spent nearly a year agonizing over the identity of your rapist just for kicks, I suppose."
"It wasn't rape," I pointed out curtly.
The vengeance demon waved one clawed hand. "All the hurt washed away by the beauty of your consensual love."
"Revenge wouldn't have solved anything."
"Revenge is never about solving things, my dear Veronica. It's about satisfaction." D'Hoffryn tapped the tips of his fingers together, tilting his craggy, horned head. "Tell me. What will it be? Flaying off Mr. Kane's skin? Withering his genitals?"
"Don't you touch Duncan. He's been through enough."
"Ah, yes. Fornicating with the girl he thought was his sister. The self-loathing must be exhausting."
"Stop it!" I snapped. "That's not why I called you."
"A quick game of canasta, perhaps?"
"I do want revenge. But not on Duncan."
D'Hoffryn raised one feathery silver eyebrow. "Unfortunately, I can't punish your ex-boyfriend for stepping off a bridge. Not my department, sorry."
Black, thundery pain rose inside of me. I'd held on so tightly. If I let go, it would rise and swallow me whole, and I would never see that road falling open. There would never be another sunny day. Never another afternoon on the beach, another kiss, another chance.
D'Hoffryn added, "Your victim must be alive. You see the difficulty."
Before I could stop myself, I pictured Logan shut in a narrow metal drawer, with a black plastic sheet over him; pale and cold and still.
"Logan," I whispered. The word felt like knives in my mouth.
"He had more reason to ask for my help than you did, if you want my opinion."
"I don't. And I don't want vengeance on Logan. He's the last person..." I closed my eyes. If I started to bleed now, I would never stop. I would drown inside. "I never wanted to hurt him."
"Then why did you?"
"Because I was wrong."
I opened my eyes again, and the vengeance demon was smiling at me, the tips of his pointed teeth gleaming through his parted lips.
I said grimly, "You're playing with me."
"Pain has so many flavors. Each one delicious and unique."
"You're wasting my time."
"No one is wasting your time but you. Ask..." he hissed. "Perhaps I shall help."
"All right." I lifted my chin and stared into his dark, ancient eyes. "I want you to send me back in time to the day Lilly Kane died, with all the memories I have now. With full knowledge of what happened this past year. And I want to take one person with me, also with full knowledge of everything that's happened."
D'Hoffryn stroked his long, silvery goatee. "Who might that individual be? I can't possibly imagine."
I glared at him. "Logan Echolls," I said through my teeth.
The demon laughed. "You're a magnificent creature, Veronica Mars. Your single-minded devotion, no -- your obsession -- with catching Lilly Kane's killer, at the expense of every single thing that matters to you, and every person who stands in your way... it's truly awe-inspiring. I'm honored to stand in your presence." He pressed one hand to his chest and bowed to me. "You're practically a vengeance demon all on your own."
"Just tell me you'll do it."
"Your request is unusual. What will you give me?"
"What do you want?"
"Don't you know?" D'Hoffryn placed one finger under my chin, his claw pressing lightly where my pulse fluttered. "I want you, Veronica."
"Don't be so hasty." He trailed his finger down my throat. "I can only keep you for one hundred years, and time passes much more quickly in the demon dimension than it does here on Earth. Here, a day will pass. Two, at most. After that, you're free to return."
"How do I know you're telling the truth?"
"I never lie, and I never break a promise. There's never a need."
"If I say yes, you'll do what I ask?"
"I swear it," D'Hoffryn replied. "What a vengeance demon you'll make. It's breathtaking to contemplate."
My hands curled into tight fists at my sides. A century in the demon dimension. Only a day or two here. I'd be back in time to clean the sand and the dog pee off the rug. I'd be back before Dad came home from the hospital. I could do this. I could. For Logan. For love. I would. "A century. That's all. And then I can come home."
"If you wish."
"Oh, I'll wish. Count on it."
D'Hoffryn reached into his robes, and drew out an ornate silver necklace studded with cloudy green gemstones. "For you."
"Does this mean we're going steady?" I asked, and then my sarcastic smile died, as the demon smiled back.
"Put it on," he told me.
Fingers trembling, I fastened the clasp of the necklace. The cold metal drew warmth from the heat of my skin.
"Just so we understand one another, Veronica -- from the moment you summoned me, you stepped into my world. With my rules."
"I don't want you to interfere."
"I won't," D'Hoffryn replied, the smile still lingering at the corners of his mouth. "You may rely on that. But, you have one single wish. One chance to revenge yourself. One chance to rearrange the world to your liking."
"To put things right."
D'Hoffryn waved one hand. "You say tomato..."
"Fine. I get it. No do-overs."
"Then, my dear, by all means... wish."
I took a deep breath. "I wish Logan and I could go back in time, to the Pep Squad car wash, the morning before Lilly died. Both of us knowing everything that's happened since then."
D'Hoffryn grinned. "Done."
"I have a secret," Lilly said. "A good one."
No whooshing through a dark tunnel. No cascade of images tumbling trough my head. No sense of time turning back. One second, I stood in the apartment with D'Hoffryn. The next second I found myself bent over a silver Escalade, a soapy sponge in one hand. Warm October sunlight twinkled on chrome and glass. I stumbled away from the SUV, dropping the sponge and staring down at myself. Green shorts and a white baby tee. My Pep Squad uniform. October third. I was back.
I raised my head quickly, as Lilly came around the front of the Escalade.
"Are you okay?" she asked. "You're white as a sheet."
I threw my arms around her neck and held her tight. "Lilly! Lilly, thank God!" Let D'Hoffryn sneer all he liked. I didn't care. I was here. I could save her.
"Whoa, hey!" Lilly laughed, and pushed me gently away from her. "Good thing Logan's not here. He'd get jealous. Or turned on."
And here was something I hadn't factored into all my plotting and planning. Logan belonged to Lilly. Nothing else mattered. I had erased an entire year, and everything between me and Logan. He would always belong to Lilly, and I would always be second choice. I loved him, and I loved her, and seeing the two of them happy together was better than living without them. I'd already lived that life, and it was no kind of life at all.
Of course, if Logan knew everything that had happened last year, maybe he would choose differently. Maybe he would choose me.
"I'm sorry, Lilly," I said. "I'm fine."
"You're not fine," Lilly replied firmly. "You've got sunstroke."
"I don't. Really. I just... I've missed you."
"You saw me yesterday," She shook her head and took hold of me by the arm. "Come on, silly."
Lilly pulled me unprotesting into the small tent set up next to the carwash. Inside, Meg sat on a folding chair with her feet propped on an ice chest, sipping a diet Coke.
She jumped up when Lilly and I walked in. "What happened?"
"Sunstroke," Lilly said.
"I don't have sunstroke," I protested. "I'm fine."
"You don't look fine." Meg flipped open the ice chest and pulled out a couple of sodas, then thunked it shut again. "Sit down. Here."
Smarter not to fight the both of them, so I sat on the rough plastic lid of the ice chest, which felt pleasantly cool and not too damp under my butt. Okay, maybe I was shaken up. A little. I'd had a rough night.
Meg popped open a Skist and handed it to me, then she handed another to Lilly. As she did so, I studied her for some hint, some clue. Meg didn't have a reason to ask for vengeance. I'd never dated Logan; she'd never dated Duncan. If Duncan even was the reason she'd intended to summon D'Hoffryn in the first place. God, this was confusing. So many ifs, and no time to investigate them. I had bigger fish to fry. I scanned the opposite side of the street. Sure enough, Logan's yellow Xterra sat at the curb. He'd made it. D'Hoffryn had kept his promise. My heart began to hammer. Lilly glanced at me, then turned to follow the direction of my gaze.
Meg did likewise. "What are we looking at?"
"Logan's truck," Lilly answered.
"I thought he was in Mexico with Dick and Beaver."
"Guess he came back early to spy on me."
"Lilly, honestly!" Meg laughed. "There's nobody in the truck. It might not even be Logan's."
"It's his, all right," Lilly replied. "I hate how he's so possessive."
Anger surfaced, sudden and ugly, scalding the back of my throat like bile. I hated her. I hated how little he meant to her. She planned to drive off after the car wash, and go roll around in the Echolls' pool house with her boyfriend's father, who would smash her head with an ashtray and heavy glass crushing brittle bone, that was the sound of the world caving in, that was the sound of every brand new day between midnight and dawn. Lilly had gotten off lucky by only dying. How very Lilly of her. Everything came so easily.
"Maybe Logan came back early because he loves you and he misses you," I snapped. "Ever think of that?"
Lilly turned her sassy, arch smile on me. "You must be feeling better, if you can get up in my grill."
"I know what your big secret is," I told her.
Her eyes narrowed. Meg, sensing the change in the weather from friendly banter to frigid confrontation, stammered a hasty excuse about getting back to work, and hurried out of the tent.
"You don't know shit," Lilly said.
"I know you're fucking Aaron Echolls. How do you like that shit?"
Her mouth fell open. For the first time I could remember, Lilly Kane was speechless.
"Don't go," I said. "He'll kill you."
"What the hell are you talking about?"
"Please." I stood up, laid my hand on her arm. "Just trust me, please."
"You're freaking me out, Veronica."
"Good. Come on."
Lilly and I darted across Fairview Avenue at break in traffic, and headed for Logan's Xterra. I had no idea where he could be. Maybe putting the "I Got Baked in Ensenada" shot glass in Lilly's car, but no... he wasn't up the street near Lilly's green VW Bug, either. I put my hands on my hips. Logan was supposed to be here, not off getting himself a venti iced mocha.
"Oh my God!" Lilly exclaimed.
I swung around. She stood with both palms pressed to the passenger side window of the truck.
"What is it?" I asked, but by that time I was next to her, and I could see for myself. Logan lay wedged into the passenger-side foot-well. For one horrible moment, I knew it. I knew he was dead.
Lilly opened the passenger-side door. "Logan?" She bent down. "Baby, what's wrong?" The instant her fingers brushed his skin, he lashed out with both hands, and shoved her away. She staggered back in surprise, tripped over the curb, and sat down hard in the grass. "Ow! Hey!"
Logan rolled himself into a tight ball. He didn't attack her again. He stared at both of us over the crook of one arm, his brown eyes flat as old pennies, like he'd never seen us before. Like he had absolutely no idea where he was. He hadn't known what would to happen, of course. My wish yanked him from the Coronado Bridge, straight into today, a year and a half earlier, with no warning and no explanation. Still, this wasn't Logan. Running around, waving his hands in the air and hollering swear-words -- that was Logan. Not this silent shock.
I crouched next to the open door. "Logan. We're not going to hurt you. I know all this is a little bizarre. I can explain."
"That would be a good start," Lilly said dryly, rubbing her bruised hip.
Logan's keys were hanging from the Xterra's ignition. Lilly drove his truck to the hospital. Logan didn't object. He didn't say anything at all. He stayed curled up in the foot-well. I followed in Lilly's VW, praying a cop wouldn't pull us over. The way the Xterra wobbled around in its lane, Lilly was obviously paying a lot more attention to Logan than to the road. I didn't blame her.
It took two burly male nurses to drag Logan out of the truck. He started to struggle as soon as they laid hands on him, just like he had with Lilly. He fought like an animal. Silently. That was the worst thing, the loss of Logan's voice. All his quips, all his stinging insults. All his words. His entire arsenal of weapons, gone. One of the nurses jabbed a syringe of something clear into Logan's arm and he went quiet with scary speed. A little while later, he sat slumped on an examining table, his arms wrapped across his stomach, staring at nothing with those empty eyes set in the blank mask of his face.
"I'm from the future," I said to Lilly.
"Is George W. still president?"
"Yes. I've only come back a year and a half."
"Then, I'm a happy cadaver."
"Lilly, be serious!"
"I'll be serious when you start being serious." She pointed at Logan. "Look at him, Veronica. What the fuck is wrong with him?"
"I don't know, Lilly. I'm not a doctor. That's why we're at the hospital."
"Why don't you tell me what's going on?"
"I'm trying to."
"Right. Aaron Echolls is plotting to murder me. That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. We're only..." Lilly shrugged one shoulder uncomfortably, and flicked her eyes at Logan. He just sat there, oblivious. "Fooling around," she added in a lower voice. "Knocking boots with a movie star. It's every girl's fantasy."
"Not this girl."
"Come on. Logan and I are on the skids anyway."
"Listen to me, Lilly. Aaron isn't plotting anything. He's going to kill you just because --" I stopped myself before I told her about the tapes. Those were why she'd died. "-- it's spur-of-the-moment. Like when he locked me in a refrigerator."
"Are you on crack? Logan's dad never locked you in a refrigerator."
"No, not yet. Not from your point of view."
"You die today," I said. "Without you, nothing is the same. Me, Duncan, Logan... we fall apart. You never should have died. It wasn't your time."
"You don't know that," Lilly replied.
"I don't care!" I snarled.
She grinned. "I think I like this Veronica from the future."
"Everybody's life turns to shit. Duncan thinks he killed you in an epileptic fit, I thought Logan killed you, and Logan..."
And Logan. And suddenly, it all made sense. Horror embraced me with excruciating slowness, squeezing me in a smothering, crushing cold blanket. Oh, God. Oh, no. How could I have overlooked that one detail, that single, simple, little thing?
"And Logan what?"
I turned to him. I didn't dare touch him.
"Logan what?" Lilly exclaimed. "Veronica, stop it!"
Logan raised his head. "Excuse me."
Both Lilly and I jumped. Logan's voice came out cracked and rusty, as if he'd been crying, or getting over a cold. That wasn't the comparison I wanted. Something more tugged at the back of my brain. Something I couldn't quite coax forward, into the light. Logan hopped off the exam table and headed for the door.
Lilly reached out to catch him by the arm, then stopped herself. "Where you going, babe?"
He smiled at her. It came nowhere near his eyes. He'd shrunk down so far inside himself, there was no glimpse of Logan visible from the outside.
"Gotta drain the dragon," he answered pleasantly, and left the examining room.
"What have I done?" I whispered.
"You've turned my boyfriend into a turnip, that's what you've done."
"Maybe..." I cleared my throat, and started over. "Look, I'll explain later. I promise. But maybe you ought to go after Logan. Make sure he's okay."
"And meanwhile, you'll be...?"
"I need a second."
Lilly shot me a disgusted look, and followed Logan out of the room.
As the door closed behind her, D'Hoffryn materialized in a flash of purple flame. A vengeance demon popping out of thin air -- that was the anticlimax. I laughed shakily, and bit my lip, fighting the urge to keep right on laughing.
"Tell me," D'Hoffryn said. "How is the grand scheme unfolding?"
"Like you don't know," I retorted, twisting my fingers together tightly. "Lilly doesn't believe me. And I brought Logan back from the dead, didn't I? From Heaven, or from the Elysian Fields, or from wherever dead souls go. He knows it, too. I brought him back with all his memories."
"My dear Veronica. I thought you were an Honors student. Don't they include Dante in your curriculum? Logan Echolls didn't slip. He wasn't pushed. He jumped. He took his own life, and he went to the place where all suicides go." D'Hoffryn extended one index finger and pointed it straight down.
"I brought him back f-from Hell?"
"Don't fret. You didn't mean to make him kill himself. You only did what you thought was right. It's not your fault he climbed up on that bridge railing, after you lied to him and accused him of murdering his girlfriend. And broke his heart. Saving the best for last."
"You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"My sweet child, of course I am."
"But, Logan was only in Hell for a few hours..."
D'Hoffryn raised one hand. "You've forgotten."
No. I hadn't forgotten. Not for long. One day here, a century in the demon dimension. Logan's voice had sounded so strange to me because it was a voice that hadn't formed words in years. Many, many years. That was the sound of a voice accustomed to screaming. The things a girl could learn, just by asking a question or two. I clutched the side of the exam table to steady myself, sinking my fingers into the thin mattress.
D'Hoffryn went right on talking, "It's an entirely new perspective on sanity. Fascinating field of study, really. But, I digress. My point is that Logan Echolls may not be the boy you remember."
"You knew all this." Rage was a white-hot metal ball spinning in the center of my chest. "And you didn't tell me."
"Would you have left your beloved in Hell, if I had?"
"I would have been prepared."
He chuckled. "I doubt that."
"How is this right? How could he end up in Hell? How could he end up a... a..."
"Turnip?" D'Hoffryn suggested.
"How is this justice?" I demanded.
"How is it justice to let a killer walk free? You didn't accept that as justice when your friend Lilly was killed."
"Logan didn't kill anyone else."
"Now you're assigning degrees of morality."
"All right. Stop it." I pressed a hand to my forehead. It felt burning hot, or my hand was freezing cold; I couldn't tell the difference anymore.
"Such a shame you didn't summon me after Miss Pomroy's party. When you were still a small-minded girl with small-minded hatred."
"I didn't know about you until Meg told me."
"You would have crossed my path, nonetheless. Those in need always do."
"Meg didn't. She never used the chant."
"Did she tell you that?" D'Hoffryn asked. "Or did you just assume? Perhaps this is her vengeance on you."
I narrowed my eyes. "Is it?"
"You really don't give Miss Manning enough credit. She's quite subtle."
"She said it was for Lilly."
"Maybe she didn't like Lilly any better than she liked you," he replied. "Or, maybe she knew invoking Lilly's name would send you running straight to me without a second thought. But now, you must share. Don't keep me in suspense. What horrible punishment would you have dreamed up last year, to take your revenge on Duncan?"
"I don't know. It doesn't matter."
"You wanted him to feel the same way you did." D'Hoffryn lifted one of my pigtails, and ran his claws through my hair. "Betrayed, confused, excluded. Don't you want to know what I would have done for you?"
"I don't care."
"I would have made Logan see your side. He would have given his best friend the cold shoulder, instead of you. He and Lilly would have argued. Then broken up. And you know how the Echolls family loves to present a united front. Aaron couldn't have continued his little tryst with Lilly after that. It wouldn't have been proper."
I closed my eyes.
"Bruised feelings," The vengeance demon murmured in my ear. "A chilly graduation. Separate colleges. So very sad. But, you wanted be noble. And strong. You wouldn't ask anyone for help."
"I'm to blame for Lilly's death, then? Is that it?"
"Not at all, my dear." D'Hoffryn stepped away from me. "Aaron Echolls is to blame. That is... he was the first time around." The demon lifted one hand to his mouth in a mocking gesture, as if he'd said too much. He'd said exactly as much as he meant to say.
I turned and ran from the examining room. No sign of Lilly in the corridor. She wasn't standing impatiently outside the restroom, or sitting on one of the hard plastic seats. I darted across the corridor, slammed open the swinging door and burst into the men's room, skidding on the floor like the tile was iced, almost falling, catching myself against the trashcan and bowling it over and then I did fall, landing with my hands splayed in front of me. Crumpled paper towels spilled out of the trashcan, and a heavy wad of something red and wet rolled to a stop in the center of the darkly gleaming floor.
Lilly lay sprawled on the tile. Pastel green at the edges. Just like the walls. Most of the walls. Much the floor was now blackish-red. A pair of scalpels gleamed near her outstretched bare foot, and her red sneaker lay across the room, under a stall door. I couldn't even tell how many times she'd been stabbed. It was a moot point, because -- because --
I forced myself to turn my head. Not like that was any better. On the wall, Logan had written in blood, in an elaborate cursive hand, Heartless Bitch. He'd taken the same time and effort making each letter, as he had taken to split Lilly open like a fruit and tear out the stone inside.
Lilly's purse lay on the floor, contents scattered. Cell phone, wallet, pens, lipstick, loose change. I concentrated on that. I couldn't help it. Cataloging. Taking inventory. Making a checklist. Shock; this was shock. I was in shock. And anybody could have walked into the bathroom and caught me crouching on the bathroom floor, holding Lilly's hairbrush so tightly my knuckles were white. Logan's car keys were missing. Of course. Yes, of course they were. But I still had the keys to Lilly's VW in my pocket.
I scrambled up and ran out of the bathroom, knocked an orderly out of my way, crashing into him and slapping my handprint in blood on the front of his green scrubs. His startled, "Hey!" trailed after me as I sprinted for the parking lot. Driving to the Echolls' house with my foot all the way down on the accelerator, I shot through a red light, and then I started laughing, really laughing. It was funny, it was. The little details clicking into place, exactly like before. From the corner of my eye, I saw the flash of the traffic camera as it photographed Lilly's speeding VW.
The Xterra was halfway up the lawn of the Echolls' house, tipped against the front stoop with trail of torn-up grass and dirt leading from the driveway to the truck. I jumped out of the VW and dashed up the front steps through the front door, my footfalls echoing on the marble floor of the mansion. I knew I'd find both of them out by the pool, the same way I knew I'd be too late. Running seemed so stupid, so pointless, and I couldn't stop myself. I shoved open the glass doors to the patio the moment Aaron grabbed Logan by one arm, wrenched him halfway around and hurled him to the cement patio. Logan hit the ground and didn't move.
"No!" I screamed.
Aaron spun around, and froze. Veronica, my goodness. What a surprise. Perky little Neptune High pep squad uniform, splattered in blood. I'm sure there was blood caked in my pigtails, too. Aaron held a long kitchen knife in his hand. Not a carving knife. Maybe a fish slicer. I was doing it again. Taking inventory. Instead of doing something useful. Stop. Stop it.
Logan's father lifted the knife in both hands, to show me, to tell me, in that silky red-carpet voice, "He went crazy. He attacked me. With this. I had to defend myself. It was an accident. Call an ambulance, Veronica. Please."
"Never mind, Mr. Echolls." My own voice sounded almost gentle. "It's all right. I came here for you."
"I beg your pardon?"
"Beg all you like."
I felt myself changing. Inside and out. Power shone out me like a black sun. Aaron stepped back, eyes widening. I had no idea what I looked like. I hoped I looked horrifying.
"It's all because of you," I told him. "Lilly. Logan. Everything. All your fault."
"My God -- what are you?" Aaron gasped.
"Me? I'm vengeance." I tipped my head to the side, and smiled at him. "Jake Kane said you'd fry for what you did. I think you will."
Lifting both hands, I stretched them toward Logan's father. He burst into flames. Flailing, shrieking, burning, he stumbled over his son's outstretched arm and plunged into the swimming pool, and he kept burning with an unearthly green light, until only flecks of ash drifted on the surface of the pool. I had what I'd come for.
I knelt beside Logan. The front of his shirt was soaked with a spreading bloodstain. He blinked at me. He wasn't dead. The fall had only stunned him. And I had power. So much power. There was still a chance. Maybe now. Please now. I reached for him and he shrank back, trying to squirm away from me across the cement, this thing I had become mirrored in his frightened eyes.
"Shhh..." I whispered. "Don't. It's all right. I won't hurt you."
He opened his mouth, coughed up blood and saliva. "You..." he said.
"Yes, it's me. It's Veronica." I took his cold hand in my own. I stroked his sticky hair. "Everything's going to be all right now. I promise."
"Bitch," he said. "You fucking bitch."
Somehow, after everything, I had still believed I could make things right. I wanted so badly for Logan to look up at me, and know how much he meant to me. How far I had come to save him. I wanted forgiveness. Some shred of mercy. But, he was strong. He might even survive this, the way he survived everything. And I couldn't let him live hopelessly mad and broken. Not that it mattered. I knew I couldn't heal him. The power burning inside me existed for one purpose only.
"I'm so sorry," I said.
Placing one hand on his chest, I pressed it into the spreading hot puddle of his shirt, and I concentrated. With a single focused thought, I crushed his heart like a paper cup. His chest filled with blood. He gasped once, his eyes widened, and he was dead.
I reached out to close his eyes, but I stopped. He'd faced everything. The worse it was, the braver he became. Denying the truth, turning away... that was my way of walking through life, not his.
Something shot through me, freezing cold. I looked up, and saw Logan standing over me, shimmering in the afternoon sunlight, his expression faintly sarcastic. Dark tendrils seized him, coiled around him, and he vanished in an instant. A life was a life. He had taken Lilly's, and I hadn't changed a thing.
"Logan," I said. Two syllables carried away my longing and my useless love for him. Better to leave the excess baggage. I couldn't take it with me, where I was headed. I'd be coming back in a century, in a day or two. Nobody would even miss me. But now the road opened in front of me, neither clear nor level, but twisting through darkness. A road I'd travel alone.
Almost alone. D'Hoffryn materialized beside me, right on cue.
"Well done, my dear," he chuckled. "If you'll pardon the pun. Very well done indeed."
"Leave it," I said. "You have me. You have everything you want. One chance, you said. And I fucked it up completely."
"There, there. Don't cry."
"I'm not crying."
D'Hoffryn laid a hand on top of my head, caressing my hair. "It's not all bad. Eternal life. Eternal beauty. An eternity of bringing the smackdown. Think of all the fun you'll have."
I slapped his hand away, and rose to my feet. "Damn you."
"Amusing choice of words."
"We had a deal, D'Hoffryn. One hundred years, and then you said I could go home. You promised me."
The demon examined his claws casually. "Minor technicality, Veronica. Aaron Echolls isn't a murderer this time. But, you are. And Hell is where murderers belong."
"No," I said. "No, no..."
But the scream that ripped through the core of my body wasn't my own. It reverberated in my ears, in every part of me, striking me like a taut string. I sucked in a sharp breath, filled with shock and sudden focus; a dark anticipation spiked by delight.
Watching my face, D'Hoffryn smiled. "Ahh, yes... the sound of a soul crying out for vengeance. Duty calls, my dear."
He held out his hand to me, and I took it.