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A Strange New Story Every Time

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One of these days, Logan is going to have to start grocery shopping at normal human hours.

He recognizes, logically, that he has his reasons for being in the Food Emporium at 11:30 on a Wednesday night. Reasons like his demanding job; reasons like nosy paparazzi who still manage to find him some days. He's not even alone in his habits--half of the city seems to be in here with him, god bless New York. He suspects that at least a few of his fellow shoppers have fallen victim to his most pressing problem: an inability to notice that his entire apartment is empty of edible food until it's too late to be reasonable about it.

He's going to have to work on that, though. He feels kind of creepy seeking out olive oil after dark, however innocent his intentions may be.

Creepy or not, he can't help but glance to his left as he choses between brands. There's a short blonde woman with her back to him reaching for a raspberry vinaigrette on the top shelf; amused, he watches her grab a nearby bottle of ranch and try to knock the thing down. Never one to turn his back on a blonde in need, he laughs and crosses to her, grabbing the bottle himself.

"This seemed easier," he says, dropping it in her cart.

"Thanks," she replies, distracted, and even before she's turned around Logan knows it's her--there are some voices you never forget, no matter how many years it's been. It's still a punch to the gut when he meets her eyes, wide and surprised under the flickering florescent lights.

"Veronica Mars," he says, recovering himself by adopting a terrible southern accent, "as I live and breathe."

Her mouth works soundlessly for a second, and Logan flashes wildly on the thought that she's going to punch him in the face. Which--it's not like she's ever actually done that, not like he's ever been particularly frightened of her physically…but. But there's a difference, he recognizes hazily, between Veronica Mars and The Legend of Veronica Mars, and he's spent rather less time with the former than the latter in recent years.

But then she smiles at him, bright and false to cover her own surprise, and lilts, "Logan Echolls, I do declare."

"It's Logan Lester, now," he says, because he might as well. It's not like she doesn't already know. "It just got too hard to have a mild-mannered alter ego with such an infamous name."

"Well," Veronica says, her smile mutating into something more real, more playful, "if we're going to play that game, it's Special Agent Mars."

"I didn't do it," he says at once, putting up his hands in mock-surrender. "And if this is a sting, I've gotta say, I'm impressed with the foresight. It takes a talented agent to time me down to the last of my food supply."

"All part of the job description," she quips, and they both laugh, a little stilted.

There is an awkward moment; Veronica glances down into her cart and Logan runs a hand through his hair, unsure of where to go from here. On the one hand, it is ridiculously, almost painfully good to see her, but on the other hand--well. There aren't exactly social guidelines for what to do when you run into the once-love-of-your-life in the salad dressing section of the Food Emporium. "Do you feel like re-starting our semi-tragic love affair," seems over the top; "So, remember that time my dad murdered your best friend," seems more than a little unnecessary.

Briefly, Logan considers "Seeing you in a pantsuit has rekindled a number of basically depraved sexual fantasies for me," but decides better of it.

"So," she says eventually, biting the corner of her lip, "what are you up to these days?"

He's pretty fucking sure she knows the answer to that--regardless of how much time has passed, he can't really envision a Veronica Mars who doesn't keep tabs on him in some capacity. It's a lob of a question, though, easy enough to answer despite the wave of surrealism threatening to engulf him, and he takes it gratefully enough.

"I'm a reporter," he says. "By day, at least. Maybe you've seen my byline?"

"I never really believed it was you," she says, lowering her voice conspiratorially. "I seem to recall you being less than fond of the press. Is this some kind of if 'you can't beat then, join them' thing?"

"Well, I considered becoming an international man of mystery, but the waiting list for the academy was intense that year," he sighs. "And newspaper was always my favorite class in high school, it's not like I don't come by it honestly."

"And here I thought you just liked the free hall passes and the chance to stare at my ass," she teases. "I'm sorry, but I just can't picture you as part of the paparazzi."

He shudders, putting a dramatic hand to his forehead. "You wound me, Veronica. I'll have you know I report only the hardest of news."

"I bet," she snorts. And, god help him, in some ways it's just like high school--he can't help but push her that extra inch, can't control himself at all.

"The newspaper business is a noble choice for those of us born to wealth and class," he informs her sternly. "There have been Kennedys in my line of work."

She's laughing now, her shoulders shaking with it. He probably shouldn't be so proud of himself. "God, did I miss you becoming a Kennedy? I guess I do need to keep up with the news."

"The Echollses have a number of similarities with the Kennedys," he says, mostly kidding. "A tendency to die young, for one."

"And I see time has yet to dull your morbid streak," she returns. She's still smiling, and he remembers too well a time when she would have cut into him for going down that road--but then again, he remembers a time when going down that road was more than he could handle. "Good to know some things never change."

"I'll say," he responds, leering at her a little. She meets him stare for stare and he backs down, grinning at her properly. "You look exactly as terrifying as I remember you."

"Not more terrifying?" she asks, tilting her head and pouting. "You know, there's a whole class on scowling at Quantico. I got full marks."

"You mean they didn't let you teach it?" he demands. "That's an outrage, I'll have to do an exposé."

She's laughing again, bright and uninhibited, and he takes the chance to look her over while her guard is down. Her hair's longer, pulled back in a loose ponytail, and her face has lost some of the roundness that always made her look deceptively innocent. She looks more pulled together, happier, and somehow less…dogged, less intense than she once did.

Logan figures he's probably the only person in the world to find his ex less intimidating after she's been licensed to kill, but then, he's always been an unusual guy.

He's opening his mouth to say something to that effect, actually, when a woman with an overfull cart approaches them. "I'm walking here," she snaps, bitchy to the hilt, and they step back to opposite sides of the aisle to let her through. It breaks the spell somehow, and Logan realizes he can't exactly stand in the middle of the grocery store forever, chatting up his past.

Veronica must realize the same thing, because she laughs again--awkwardly, this time--and says, "Uh, right. So, I, um--"

"Do you want to get a drink?" Logan asks, before he can think about it. He isn't sure how that thought made it out of his mouth without give his brain so much as a passing wave, but he doesn't regret it. It's probably stupid, but he's not--he doesn't particularly want this encounter to end.

Then Veronica winces, and he rethinks the whole not regretting it thing.

"Oh, Logan," she says, "I'd love to, but I--"

"Never mind," he says quickly, taking a step back. "I don't--I mean, obviously you've got--we've both got groceries, and--"

"No," she says, "no, I mean, honestly, I'd love to, but I haven't been home all day and Eddie's probably tearing up the apartment again--"

Logan smirks before he can help himself. "And here I remember you objecting to overly-jealous boyfriends."

She blinks at him for a second, stopped in her tracks, and then she--well, it's not quite a blush, but it's not quite anything else. She closes her eyes, embarrassed, for half a second.

"God," she breathes, laughing on it a little, "ah, no. I, sorry, Eddie's--Edgar--he's my dog. He's only a year old, he gets a little lonely when I'm not at home, and since we just--you know, I only moved here a few weeks ago, he's not used to--um. I'm not actually, uh. I'm not dating anyone."

"Oh," says Logan. It's not his best recovery ever.

"You could come to my place," Veronica says suddenly, and then makes a face that leads Logan to the conclusion that she's having some impulse control problems of her own. "I mean, you don't--I'm not like--oh, fuck. I just, I really would like to have a drink, catch up, but I seriously think Eddie'll tear the couch to pieces if I'm not back soon, and I--"

"Sure," Logan says. "That sounds--yeah. That sounds good."

"Okay," Veronica says. She smiles at him, a strange mixture of confident and awkward as all hell, and Logan's stomach does a complicated flip-flopping kind of dance. "So should I just--meet you at checkout, then?"

"That's probably for the best," Logan agrees, glancing into his cart. "I doubt you'll still want to associate with me when you realize I subsist largely on Hungry-Man and applesauce."

"Too late," she tells him cheerfully, and heads off for aisles unknown.

If Logan spends five whole minutes standing stock-still next to the balsamic, wondering if she'll end up reading into his olive oil purchase--well. It's not like he has to tell anyone about it.

--

"I'm sorry about the smell in here," Veronica says, wincing as he follows her down the hallway to her apartment. "I swear it's not normally like this, the super said it's some kind of--"

"Veronica," Logan says, cutting her off, "this is an apartment complex in New York City. I'd be freaked out if the hallway didn't smell."

"Did you just pass up the opportunity to make a 'so this is how the other half lives' joke?" she asks, turning her head just enough to give him a suspicious glance. "Are you sure you're Logan Echolls?"

"I'm sure I'm not, actually," he throws back. He means it lightly, but she pulls a face, and he feels like an incomparable ass at once.

"Right," she says, sounding uncomfortable. "Sorry, that's going to be hard to get used to."

"Yeah, I know how that is," he jokes, trying to diffuse the awkwardness. "Some days I look in the mirror and I hardly know myself."

She throws a grin back at him and stops in front of one of the doors, juggling her bags as she reaches for her keys. Unthinkingly, Logan steps forward to take one of them from her, putting his hand on her back to steady himself; the touch is fleeting but not without aftereffects, and he pulls away quickly. She's still grinning, though, as she puts the key in the lock, and he thinks suddenly that it's nice, to see her relaxed. Most of his memories of her are tied up in complicated emotions or tragedy; the idea of making new ones appeals.

Of course, there's a fairly large chunk of memories that are devoid of complication and tragedy, but those also tend to be devoid of clothing. He's not sure if this is headed that direction. He's not sure he wants it to.

"Look," she says as she turns the key, "don't let Eddie freak you out, okay? He's still young and he's kind of…territorial, but he's well-trained, he won't attack unless I tell him to."

She opens the door and the dog comes running; he's a marbled pit bull, and Logan doesn't bother holding back his smile. Eddie jumps around excitedly, butting at Veronica's leg, and then stops and turns a glare on Logan.

Logan--because dogs are easier to handle than long-lost loves--puts the groceries down on the floor and crouches. "Hi, buddy," he says, careful to keep his voice low as the dog comes up and sniffs at him. After a second Eddie's licking his face, quivering with excitement, and Logan laughs, petting him in earnest.

"Yeah, you're just terrifying, aren't you," he coos, scratching behind Eddie's ears. "Who's a territorial bastard? Who's a big scary monster? Who's getting killer slobber on my jacket, yeah, hi, there's a good dog."

"You know," Veronica says, sounding put out, "it was bad enough with Backup. This is downright creepy."

"Did I never tell you I was a dog-whisperer?" Logan asks, still scratching. "I try to be selective about who I share that with--some people become overwhelmed with my genius, and then it gets all awkward, doesn't it, Eddie?"

"I can barely handle your brilliance," Veronica agrees, very dry. Logan just laughs again as Eddie headbutts him, knocking him onto the ground. Then, unceremoniously, he plops himself onto Logan's lap.

"Oh my god," Veronica says, "seriously, this is ridiculous. You have bacon in your pocket, right? Tell me you have bacon in your pocket."

"Maybe I'm just happy to see you," Logan suggests, wiggling his eyebrows. She gives him an unimpressed look that doesn't manage to conceal the way the corner of her mouth is twitching, and he looks away, because--fuck. Because it's Veronica Mars, isn't it, and on some level he's actually fairly certain this is some kind of ridiculous fever dream, and he's going to wake up strapped to a bed in a hospital somewhere with Dick outside yelling "Dude, I told you not to list me as your emergency contact, you know I can't control myself around nurses!"

Not that that's ever happened. It's just been a reoccurring nightmare ever since he filled out that bit of paperwork.

"Right," Veronica says, "well, if you just came to illustrate your talents in turning all my pets against me--"

"I didn't turn Eddie against you," Logan says, aghast. "Did I, Eddie, no I didn't--"

"Is it so much to ask that I be the only one to babytalk at my dog?" she asks.

Logan turns to Eddie and affects his most serious expression. "Sorry, buddy, the boss-lady's jealous. And trained in hand-to-hand combat, so you gotta let me up."

Eddie whines pitiably but slinks away when Logan shoves at him, plopping himself down in the corner and putting a paw over his face.

"He's pining," Logan points out, hauling himself to his feet. "Look at him, he's all sad, is your heart made of stone--"

"Don't encourage him," Veronica warns. "God, you're as bad as each other."

Logan raises his eyebrows and makes a sympathetic face in Eddie's direction; Veronica gives up the stern act and almost laughs, shaking her head ruefully.

"I can see what you're thinking," Logan informs her cheerily. "It's practically written on your face."

"So now you're a mind reader?" she asks. "My, my, you have picked up a number of talents since the last time I saw you."

"You should see me on a tightrope."

"I shouldn't," she says, "I really shouldn't. But I'll bite--what am I thinking?"

"What do I get if I'm right?"

"Oh, no," she says, waving a finger in front of his face. "That's not how this works--you offered up the information, you don't get to go back and demand payment for it now. That's practically extortion."

"Only practically?" Logan asks, steepling his fingers and raising his eyebrows. "Could it be that I've become less evil in the eyes of Veronica Mars? Oh, gosh, and I don't even have a speech prepared--"

"Can it," Veronica says, and she's trying so hard to hold back her laughter that her voice is cracking. Logan feels the satisfaction in his toes. "Am I going to have to torture you to get you to tell me my own thoughts? I will, you know. There was a class in that too."

"But you were so skilled in it already, I can't imagine you needed any extra training." She levels a half-hearted glare at him and he sighs, admitting defeat. "Fine, you're thinking--'why did I let this lunatic into my apartment?'"

"Actually," she corrects, smirking at him, "I'm thinking that leaving the door open is letting the smell in. Also, I need a drink. "

She disappears into a room Logan assumes is the kitchen, and he looks around the apartment, charmed despite himself. It's very Veronica, to the extent that he can judge that after a decade of radio silence--one wall of exposed brick, big windows, eclectic decorating. And there are certainly signs that she's newly moved in-- there's a box tucked under the coffee table, and a couple of framed black and white photos sitting on the floor, clearly waiting to be hung.

"You take these?" he calls, remembering her toting around that giant camera in high school. "The photos, I mean."

"Yeah," she says, coming back into the living room with a bottle of wine and two glasses. "Not exactly money shots, but you know what they say about old habits."

"They're good," he says, accepting the glass she hands him. "The ocean shot--that's in Neptune, isn't it?"

She nods, gracious without being conceited, and he notes that she's learned how to take a compliment. Which, actually, is kind of a shame--rattling Veronica Mars had been enough of a challenge when she was a teenager. He thinks he might actually have to do a striptease to manage it now.

"My dad got remarried this summer," she tells him, tilting her head towards the photo. "On Dog Beach. You remember Ms. James, the guidance counselor?"

"Oh my god, Keith married Ms. James? Was--wait, were they dating when we were in--"

Veronica laughs and sits down on her sofa, gesturing for him to do the same. "For like ten minutes, until I put the kibosh on it. They got together again a few years ago, when I was too far away to interfere."

"Not a fan?"

"What, of Rebecca?" She shakes her head and takes a sip of her wine, thoughtful. "I don't--I mean, I don't actively dislike her or anything. It's just--weird. I mean, among other things, she remembers me as the teenage brat who broke them up the first time, and…I don't know. I didn't think he'd ever remarry, I guess? But she makes him happy, so it's fine. It's great."

"You hate her, don't you," Logan interprets. She makes a face that only confirms his theory and he smiles, trying to put her at ease. "Hey, don't look at me like that, I'm certainly not in a position to judge. Family shit can be weird, no one knows that better than me."

"You know, I saw Haul Out," she tells him quietly. "I actually--I tried to call you, but you'd changed your number by then, and I didn't want to--"

"Oh, god, don't worry about it," Logan says, sighing, "They were going to make a biopic about Aaron eventually, it was inevitable. In a lot of ways it was better than it could have been--got Trina out of my hair, for one thing."

"I still can't believe they cast her as Lynn."

"I still can't believe they cast her at all," he says, because he can't. She'd done a decent job of it, though, from what he'd seen--he'd left the theatre fifteen minutes into the screening and never looked back. "You could have, you know."

"Could have what?"

"Called," he says, swirling the wine in the bottom of his glass. "Looked me up, or whatever. I know it would have been misappropriating FBI resources, but I wouldn't have hated to hear from you."

"Well," Veronica says, kicking off her heels and tucking her feet up under her, "if I'd realized the alternative was being ambushed in the grocery store, I might have."

They smile at each other over the rims of their wineglasses, and it's--it should be more awkward, probably, and less too. Instead it's not-quite-comfortable, and they volley bits and pieces of their last ten years back and forth as they work their way through the wine. Veronica's still in touch with Wallace (married and living in Chicago) and Mac (just through with husband number two in Silicon Valley), and Logan tells stories from his days as a cub reporter that leave her in stitches.

"I still can't believe you ended up in New York," she says musingly, when they're close to the end of the bottle. "I guess on some level I thought you'd be surfing with Dick Casablancas in Neptune for the rest of your life."

"Your confidence in me is touching," he laughs, raising his eyebrows. "And I hate to break it to you, but Dick's getting married in a month and a half."

Her mouth drops open. "You're fucking with me."

"Not even a little," he says gleefully. "To a real bitch--"

"Well, that's not a surprise."

"And in New York," he adds, setting his glass down. Veronica gives him a speaking look.

"If Dick Casablancas is living here, you have to tell me," she says, deadly serious. "I'll ask for a transfer, this town isn't big enough for the two of us."

Logan laughs. "No, god no, you couldn't pay him to leave California. Miranda--the girl he's marrying--her dad's in the state assembly here, it was a big deal that they do it in the city. I've been planning his bachelor party for six months."

"Don't count on my credentials to get you out of jail," Veronica says sternly, wagging a finger. Then, considerably less sternly, "Jesus, Dick's getting married, that's bizarre."

"Just seeing you is kind of bizarre," Logan admits. "If I'm still surfing in Neptune in your mind, then you should know that you're still handing out the dish best served cold in mine."

"The revenge business turns out to be kind of disheartening," she says, rolling her eyes. "No one ever learns, for one thing."

He's got his mouth open around a reply when he hears a buzzing noise; they both go for their pockets at once, casting around for their phones.

"Mine," Logan says, pinching the bridge of his nose as he reads the text.

"Booty call?"

"Hardly," he sighs. "I'm working a story on a coke ring in a local high school, and I've got this source who thinks it's cool to text me at three in the morning."

"Is it three?" Veronica demands, grabbing for her phone again. "Oh my god, it is, I've got to be at work in like five hours."

"Jesus," Logan says, blinking. "I didn't realize--"

"Yeah, me neither," she says, shaking her head. He stands, a little off balance, and heads for the door.

"I'll get out of your hair," he says. "Sorry, I wouldn't have--"

"No, really, it's--" she pauses, shakes her head again, and smiles. "It was really good to see you, Logan."

"Likewise," he says, quirking a faint grin. She stares at him for a second, the smile still tugging at the edges of her mouth, and then pulls his phone from his hand.

"You should call me," she says, punching in her number and handing it back. "I mean, if you want to, don't feel--obligated, or anything."

"Well, I was kind of considering going another ten years," he says lightly, "but since you offered…"

She punches him in the arm, lightly enough, and she's still smiling, and Logan is feeling a little lightheaded, actually. It's probably the wine, the wine or the surrealism or the fact that he's been more-or-less hard for nearly four hours, but for a second all he can think about is pushing her back down against the couch and kissing her breathless.

"I'll call you," he says, which is stupid and redundant and makes him feel fourteen, but she doesn't stop smiling, and he doesn't realize he's forgotten his jacket until he's all the way home.

--

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 11:58 EST
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 1:23 EST
Wilde? Bold choice. Did time cure you of the inspiring voicemails?

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 1:27 EST
Don't be silly. I've just learned that inspiration requires a personal touch.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 1:35 EST
Torn between asking what brought you to that conclusion and congratulating you on using the word "touch" in a sentence without making it dirty.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 1:38 EST
You underestimate me. Who says inspiration can't be dirty?

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 1:41 EST
There's something wrong with you.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 1:43 EST
Just one thing? Veronica, that may be the nicest thing you've ever said to me.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 1:45 EST
I'm trying to work here. You know, that whole government job thing? Kicking ass, taking names? Text messaging is not encouraged.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 1:50 EST
Speaking of your government job, I think the FBI kind of frowns on employing thieves. You stole my jacket the other night. Don't make me report you to your superiors.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 2:07 EST
You wouldn't report me to my superiors. You'd write a ridiculously exaggerated front page story about misappropriation of resources. And I didn't steal it, you left it.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 2:15 EST
So you have been following my reporting career! I'm touched, even if backhanded praise from thieves means nothing to me.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 2:22 EST
You know, people are supposed to get less obnoxious with age.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 2:24 EST
I've never met a rule I couldn't break, you know that. You gonna return my property, or am I going to have to sue you for grand theft jacket?

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 2:30 EST
Grand theft jacket. Logan.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 2:31 EST
Don't doubt the sincerity of my threats.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 2:34 EST
Threatening a federal agent is not generally the wisest of plans, I'm just saying.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 2:37 EST
And I'm just saying I want my jacket back.

--

Right, so probably he should have stopped at the first jibe about the jacket.

Actually, probably he should have sent a messenger over to pick it up, or at the very least cleaned his place a little in anticipation of her digging up his address and showing up at his door with a scowl three days later. As it is he's not expecting her, so he opens the door shirtless and sucking at a burn on his thumb, with Toby Keith blasting in the background.

"Um," she says, jacket in hand, hair perfectly coiffed, staring at him like he's a crazy person. "This is--not what I was expecting."

"A man's home is his castle," Logan says faintly, because he's got absolutely no other recourse. He hasn't felt so naked in years. "His castle and his sanctuary and his den of not being judged by the federal government, oh, look, you've brought my jacket."

"You're rambling," Veronica says, sounding about as at sea as he feels. "And you've got barbecue sauce on your shoulder."

"Accurate," he says, still trying to get a handle on his thoughts, which are spewing unhelpful, panicked ideas like Kiss her! and Find some sand and bury your head in it like an ostrich! "You should--you should come in, and I'll just go, um, locate a shirt."

"That's," she says, "yeah, okay."

He leaves her in his living room and tears through his bedroom, casting around frantically for a t-shirt. In the process of pulling on the first one he finds--black and of questionable cleanliness, but readily available and thus his best option--he catches sight of his face in the mirror and notices it's bright red. Cursing himself, he slips into his bathroom and splashes his cheeks with cold water, which succeeds only in making him look half-drowned.

When, he thinks, scrubbing his face with a towel, did I go from being the kind of teenager who fucked MILFs to the kind of adult who can't hold his shit together?

The towel fails to answer him, so he goes back out into the living room and finds Veronica perched on the arm of his couch.

"I have to tell you something," she says, all business. "You might want to sit down."

"If it's that you're here to arrest me, it was nice of you to let me dress myself first," he says, in an attempt to be flippant. His voice cracks on it, though, because Veronica Mars is secretly a robot designed to take him back in time, and he prays to higher powers he's never believed in that she didn't notice.

"It's worse," she says, lowering her voice. "I've come to a conclusion, and I've got to tell you, I'm disturbed."

"I'm dying in suspense over here," Logan says. "Also, if you don't spit it out soon my dinner's going to catch fire."

"This apartment," she says, looking around. "It's nice, but--Logan, I know this is going to be hard for you to hear, and frankly I'm surprised you missed it, but this isn't even a penthouse."

He stares at her for a second, and then her poker face breaks and she's laughing, bright and warm, and he's dizzy from her all over again. He thinks, in a vague, half-assed sort of way, that he should maybe consider getting a CAT scan.

"Thanks for bringing that to my attention," he says, when he feels in control of himself again. "Anything else you want to tell me, while I'm in the headspace for bad news?"

"Well, your girlfriend seems to have left her dog here," Veronica says, her tone falling out of playful and into something else entirely. Logan frowns at her, confused, until he notices Butch curled up on the floor.

"C'mere, girl," he says, clapping his hands. Butch hops to her feet and does a complicated three-surface jump that lands her in his arms. "Hate to break it to you, Veronica, but Butch is all mine."

"Butch," Veronica repeats, staring. "Logan, that's a Lhasa Apso. That's a purse dog. Did you--Butch? "

"Well, I wasn't going to call her Princess SparklyPants, she's enough of a hit to my masculinity as it is." Veronica raises her eyebrows and Logan laughs, unable to help himself. "Look, I stole her from Dick's fiancee, it's kind of a long story."

"I've always got time for tales of dognapping," she informs him, eyebrows still up. "All the time in the world, even."

"Unfortunately, I wasn't kidding about the possibility of burning dinner," he sighs, letting Butch down. And then, because he's just full of brilliant ideas this week: "You could stay, you know. There's no way to make ribs for one, so I was going to have too much food as is. We could get a drink, after--a proper one, I mean. If you wanted."

Veronica looks up at him, surprised, for a long second. Then she smiles and says, "Uh, yeah, okay. Thanks. Let me just call my dog walker, see if she can run Eddie out for me one more time?"

"Sure," Logan says. He goes into the kitchen and briefly considers beating himself to death with a saucepan for breaking one of his own rules: do not invite the girl to dinner before you're sure you can fuck her without becoming hopelessly attached. Not that he thinks he's going to fuck Veronica--he's pretty sure that Veronica would put him in handcuffs if he tried, and not in the good way--but the hopelessly attached part is already looking like a legitimate fear. Logan casts his mind around for the last time he felt this unmoored, this off-balance, by a woman, and can't come up with anything.

Well, anything except Veronica the first time around, but there's no point in going there and actually giving himself a heart attack.

She comes into the kitchen a minute later, and she's taken off her jacket and shoes, loosed her hair from the clip that had been pulling it back. She's in casual clothes, jeans and an untucked button-down, and it's even worse than the pantsuit was, somehow. He swallows hard and looks away.

"I thought you lived on Hungry-Man and applesauce," she says, looking over the stove with interest. "You mislead me."

"Learned to cook when I got out of school," he replies, shrugging and flipping the ribs. "I think it was a backlash against all that room service freshman year. But, to be fair, I do mostly live on Hungry-Man and applesauce, if only because I don't usually have time for much more."

"As someone who goes through at least 20 Clif bars a week, I hear that," she laughs. "But I was promised a dognapping story, and I intend to collect."

"It's a sordid tale," he tells her. "You have to promise not to judge me too harshly."

"So promised," she says, hopping up onto the island and letting her feet dangle. "Come on, enough with the stalling."

"Right," he says. "So, a couple years ago--in my youth!--I went out to California to visit Dick, and he dragged me to this party at the governor's mansion--you know, his mom--"

"Yeah, I remember," Veronica says. "Get to the good part."

"So there was this girl," Logan sighs, reaching to stir the mashed potatoes, "and, look, I'd had a lot to drink, and she was…attractive, I guess, in that plastic bimbo sort of way, or she seemed attractive at the time, I don't know. Anyway, to make a long story short, I brought her back to Dick's guest room, and while we were fooling around I heard this whimpering noise."

"She'd brought the dog with her?" Veronica asks, surprised. "What, to a one night stand?"

"Butch was in her purse," Logan says, unable to keep a little bit of a growl from slipping into his voice. "She was just a puppy, and when I opened the bag she was just--huddled in there, right, and I'd been with this woman for hours by that point, between the party and the cab ride, and I had no idea she had a dog with her. When I asked when the last time she'd fed her was, Miranda said it didn't matter, and then I told her she could either leave the dog with me and get out or wait while I called the ASPCA."

"You're kidding," Veronica says. Logan shakes his head.

"Afraid not. She left, and made it all the way down the hall before running into Dick. They've been together ever since."

"Wow. She must love you."

"Not my biggest fan ever," he admits, laughing. "Especially because she knows I kept the dog--I didn't mean to, but I brought her home with me so I'd have time to find her a good home, and then she just kind of stuck."

He doesn't mention the truth of it--that Butch had been terrified of people, had shied away from touch, had cowered whenever he lifted his hand to pet her. He doesn't mention that there'd been something about her, so starved for affection that she feared it, that spoke volumes to parts of himself he generally tried not to address. He doesn't mention that he'd kept her out of some sort of sick fellow feeling, out of a need to prove to her that everyone wasn't like that, but when he meets Veronica's eyes they're soft and knowing, like she's figured it out anyway.

Logan glances away and rips a piece of meat off the ribs, tossing it down to the dog and laughing again to cover his discomfort. "So, yeah, that's my dognapping story. You're officially an accessory now, I think."

"That's not how that works," Veronica tells him. "Also, dognapping for a good cause: generally not high on the list of FBI priorities."

"Whew, that's a relief," Logan says, and she smirks at him, and if he's having a little trouble in the breathing department, it's probably nothing to worry about.

They have wine and easy conversation with dinner, and Veronica's good enough to compliment him on the food, to slip Butch scraps under the table. And that's actually the weirdest thing about seeing Veronica again--she's not the girl he remembers, but she's not anyone else, either. She keeps tucking her hair behind her ear absently as she eats, and that's a habit he recalls, but there are new lines around her eyes, nuances to her speech that weren't there before. He finds himself comparing her to his memories, tracking the changes, trying to figure out which version of her he likes more.

It's around the time she puts on her jacket and follows him to the nearest bar that he decides it doesn't matter one way or the other.

She orders whiskey, on the rocks with a twist, smirking at him when he brings up the fruity drinks she used to like.

"My tastes have matured considerably," she says, knocking back half of the glass in one go, and he downs his scotch just to keep up with her. They went through a bottle of wine with their meal and so they're both pleasantly buzzed when a guy slides into the barstool next to her, orders himself a beer, and puts his hand on her leg.

"Not interested," Veronica says, sounding more bored than anything else. "Move your hand, please."

"Aww, c'mon, baby, don't be like that," the guy says, leering. Logan can smell the vodka on his breath, and does a now-familiar dance of control with the rush of anger that surges in his chest. He knows he could take this guy, but he also knows that his anger management classes had been right about bar fights being a bad choice.

"The lady asked you to move," he says, his voice tight.

"Logan," Veronica says, shooting him a quicksilver smile, "please." She turns back to the guy and leans close to him, pouting.

"Sir," she says, sickly sweet--and what the hell is she doing, what the hell is she thinking about--"I need you to know that I have a three strike system, and you've just used one. So let's try this again--remove your hand."

"You don't scare me, sweetheart," he slurs, and Veronica smiles.

"Last chance," she singsongs, and the guy just tightens his grip, and then--Logan doesn't even have time to blink before Veronica, three drinks in and a little unsteady on her feet, has somehow managed to faceplant the guy against the bar. She's got both of his arms pinned under her left hand, and with her right she pulls her badge out of her pocket, waves it in front of the man's face.

"Bet you'll think twice about ignoring a warning next time, won't you," she says, and Logan laughs so hard he cries.

This is how they end up walking aimlessly around the streets of Manhattan, trying to avoid the curious stares of their fellow bar patrons. Veronica's drunker than she seemed inside and Logan's not particularly sober himself, and when they reach an old wooden dock they wander out onto it, stare out across the Hudson.

Veronica shivers, and Logan sighs and divests himself of his recently returned jacket, draping it over her shoulders. "You can take the girl out of California," he jokes, and Veronica smiles, leaning against the railing.

Then, abruptly, she says, "I was engaged, you know."

"I didn't, actually," Logan says after a beat. From the hunch of her shoulders he figures it's not a happy story, but he has to ask anyway: "What happened?"

Veronica sighs, picking at her nails. "You know how it is. Special Agent Mars sounds sexy on paper, but Special Agent 'Sorry Honey, I Know It's Your Birthday But Duty Calls,' is…less attractive. He called me a succubus, when we broke up."

"That word, succubus," Logan says, because he has to say something, "I do not think it means what he thinks it means."

Veronica laughs, but it's bitter, tired. She sounds older than she should, like she's seen more of the world then she's due. And that's always been true about Veronica Mars--always been true about both of them, really--but it stings anyway, brings up that old ache that used to surface when he thought of her.

"Probably not," she admits. "But I'm not all that great at maintaining relationships, so I can't really be sure."

"You think I'm any good at it?" Logan asks, running a hand through his hair. "The girls I date either know about my past--in which case they're usually fishing for my money--or don't know, and then run screaming when I tell them."

"I'm sure they don't run screaming," Veronica demurs, a hint of a smile creeping onto her face in the darkness.

"Screaming," Logan insists. "There's no good way to say 'one time my movie-star dad slept with and killed my girlfriend,' believe me."

She laughs again, a little less bitter, and then she tilts her head and looks up at him. "Can I ask you a question I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole if I was sober?"

"Shoot."

"Do you ever," and she pauses, looks away from him, shifts her weight from one foot to the other before continuing, "do you ever think about us? I mean, obviously it was a long time ago, and I'm not--this isn't a come on or anything, but I just. Do you ever think that if I'd, or if you'd…if we'd handled it differently, I guess. If we ever had a chance?"

Logan, very briefly, considers jumping off the pier. But Veronica's still not looking at him, and her voice is just this side of raw, and he figures her owes her an honest answer as much as he owes himself one.

"I think we were kids, and between us we were dealing with murder, rape, child abuse, kidnapping, infidelity, arson, and abandonment," he says quietly, leaning against the railing next to her. "And that's just the shit that's easy to sum up. Frankly, I think the fact that we made it as long as we did is a testament to our tenacity."

She snorts, still looking out at the water. "God, Logan. When did you go and get all wise?"

And what Logan wants to tell her is that he doesn't feel wise, not at all. What Logan wants to tell her is that being around her makes him feel like that kid again, so achingly desperate to feel like someone loved him that he was bound to screw it up. What Logan wants to tell her is that he'd had that answer ready because of years of therapy, because he'd had to forcibly disabuse himself of the notion that fucked-up high school romance was forever, because he's still half in love with the version of her he knew ten years ago.

What he says instead, a little harsher than he means to, is, "Veronica, people grow up."

She turns to meet his eyes then, her gaze probing even in the darkness. "Yeah," she says, sounding more wistful than he'd have believed possible, "yeah, I guess they do."

--

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 10:31 EST
Supposing I needed a favor...

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 10:37 EST
Is there a rest of that sentence? My copy editor would eviscerate you for that.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 10:41 EST
There's this FBI dinner next week, an awards thing. I have to go, and I don't really relish the idea of doing it solo.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 10:42 EST
Veronica Mars, are you attempting to engage my services as an escort?

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 10:45 EST
Well, if the shoe fits.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 10:47 EST
Calling a man a whore = not the best way to get him to help you out.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 10:50 EST
Horrifyingly, I'm not above begging. I don't know many people here yet, and I happen to know you look good in a tux.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 10:53 EST
Ah, flattery, now we're getting somewhere. Tell you what: I'll do the FBI thing if you'll come to Dick's wedding with me.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 10:57 EST
You're not serious.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 11:02 EST
As a heart attack. I'd pick up a random floozy to drag along, but last time I did that I ended up with a dog and Dick ended up engaged. Seems unwise.

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 11:07 EST
Has anyone told you lately that you're an incredibly classy guy? Because, really, Logan, the depth of your class, I can't even tell you.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 11:10 EST
I tell myself every morning. And twice on Sundays. Do we have a deal?

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 11:15 EST
I can't believe you're still dragging me to 09er parties.

From Logan Lester to Veronica Mars, 11:15 EST
Was that a yes?

From Veronica Mars to Logan Lester, 11:16 EST
Fine, yes.

--

There aren't many things being the spawn of two royally fucked up movie stars trains you for, Logan has discovered. Luckily, one of them is wearing a tux and loitering awkwardly at a party at which you know no one. Logan stands in the corner of the ballroom and nods politely at the passing agents, feeling vaguely like he's going to be charged with something. Trespassing, perhaps, or doing favors for Veronica Mars--he's sure, at this point, that law enforcement officials have recognized that for the crime it usually is.

He checks her last text again--"Things a little hairy here, going to be late, sorry sorry sorry,"--and sighs, taking a long sip from his champagne flute.

"Let me guess," comes a voice, light and amused. "Stood up by a feeb? Talk about adding insult to injury."

"To be fair, I don't think I've been stood up," Logan says. He looks up from his phone to see a guy in a crisp suit and a black trilby smiling at him. "More of a rain delay."

"Ah, the old working-on-a-case brush off," the guy says, nodding knowingly. "You should know it never gets any better--they're all like this."

"I'm a journalist," Logan says, shrugging. "So it's not exactly new territory for me. You're a little harsh on your brethren, though, I've got to say."

The man throws his head back and laughs, and then holds his hand out, eyebrows up in amusement. "Hell, man, I'm not an agent, don't let them hear you call me one. Neal Caffrey, Consultant, White Collar Division."

"Logan Lester, New York Times," Logan returns, shaking. "How do you end up an FBI consultant, if you don't mind my asking?"

"Off the record?" Neal asks, and Logan likes this guy already--anyone that hyper-aware of the rules is bound to be willing to consider being an informant. "You leave your life of crime behind for a cushy work-release program."

"Life of crime," Logan repeats doubtfully. "No offense, dude, but you don't exactly strike me as the criminal type."

Neal laughs again, but it's an evasive maneuver this time, and Logan resolves to look into this guy's history at the nearest opportunity; it's bound to be interesting. "Maybe that's what makes me so good. So, tell me, which one of our nubile young agents are you waiting to romance this evening?"

"Oh, I'm not--" Logan starts, not even sure how to explain what the hell he's doing at this event, but he's cut off by the whirling tempest of Veronica arriving. Her hair is flying wildly behind her and she's clearly been running, but she looks gorgeous, in a simple black dress and spike heels that bring her nearly three inches closer to eye level with him.

"Logan," she gasps, out of breath, "sorry, sorry, I didn't think that would take so long--"

"Breathe, Mars," Logan advises, grinning at her. "You think this is the first time I've had to wait on a beautiful woman? Plus, this gives me a free pass to cut out on you for a story sometime."

Veronica stares at him like he's grown a second head, and Logan remembers her saying "Special Agent 'Sorry Honey, I Know It's Your Birthday But Duty Calls,' is…less attractive." He wonders how many guys she must have lost to her commitment to her job, how many boyfriends had to have guilted her over this kind of thing, to make her this frantic over being late to meet a friend.

Admittedly, a friend doing her the favor of going to a stuffy black tie FBI event he wouldn't usually be caught dead at, but still.

"Really," Logan says, quieter, "Veronica, it's fine. I even made a friend, look."

Veronica looks away from him for the first time since she's showed up, and he can see her relaxing, and he suddenly hates, actually viscerally hates, every shitty selfish boyfriend she's ever had.

"Caffrey," she say, sounding considerably more like herself, "who made the mistake of letting you talk to the press?"

"You're here with Mars?" Neal says, looking back and forth between them in a pantomime of shock. "Jesus, I thought the next guy on her roster would be a Bill Gates. Or a movie star, at the very least."

"Logan's an old friend," Veronica says, scowling good-naturedly at Neal. Logan is achingly uncomfortable at the movie reference until she brushes her fingers against the back of his hand, a light, calming touch. "Don't you have silverware to be stealing?"

"Cased the joint already, nothing worth taking," Neal sighs, put-upon. "Plus, Peter's still not used to the fact that he can't track my movements, so it's not like I could get away with it anyway."

He nods across the room to another agent, who is, indeed, staring him down. Logan cocks his head and Veronica laughs, delighted.

"Neal here is our pet felon," Veronica explains, her laugh deepening as Neal pulls an exaggerated expression of wounded pride. "He's been confined to a two-mile radius for the last four years, just got his ankle monitor off last week."

"Peter's my handler," Neal says, nodding over to him again. "I think he thinks I'm going to flee the country if he turns around."

Logan looks between them and deduces a number of things at once; one of the benefits of being disillusioned is the ability to see things for what they are, and one of the benefits of being a disillusioned reporter is that you've seen everything. Caffrey is, unless Logan is much mistaken, sleeping with his handler, which means he he can be blackmailed--not that he would ever blackmail a source, that would be unethical, but certainly with a light enough touch between two intelligent parties, the idea of blackmail--

"Well, as much as I've enjoyed this little chat, Logan's looking at you like you're his next front page headline, so we should probably get out of your hair," Veronica says. Logan blinks, shaking himself out of his fond imaginings of--well, yeah, of interviewing this guy and maybe digging into his gritty past, following the threads of his old contacts and his new shiny FBI job into fascinatingly murky waters--but how had Veronica known that?

"Your trained investigative skills are more than a little alarming," he tells her, casting a quick look back at Neal as he's dragged away. "Seriously, it would just be a few questions--"

"You and Caffrey are a bad combination," she says. "I can feel it my bones. Come on, I need a drink."

"I feel like you're always saying that when I'm around," he complains.

"It's this case this time, not you." She sighs and orders herself a glass of wine at the bar, leaning back against it. "We keep getting so fucking close to this guy, only to have him slip away again, it's driving me crazy."

"You'll get him," Logan says, as she reaches to take her glass. She gives him a look, one of those sarcastic nice-try-buster typical Veronica looks, one of those looks that--like the rest of her--has gotten more refined with age. He laughs, shaking his head.

"Fine, if you're going to be like that." He raises his glass and his eyebrows, more a joke than a challenge. "To catching the bad guy, then. May he live in fear of the day you track him down."

Veronica looks at him for a second with her eyes narrowed, like she's weighing him out. Then she cracks a grin, lifts her glass, and drinks to it, and Logan is surprised to find his faith in her is genuine, not even a little bit forced.

--

The month between the FBI dinner and Dick's wedding ends up featuring a lot of Veronica, for better or worse. Logan's not entirely certain how it happens, if it's just the natural progression of a friendship or something more, something that speaks to their history. Whatever the reason, they're going for drinks and meeting for lunch, catching late movies and walking their dogs together. Butch takes about fifteen seconds to establish her unwavering dominance over Eddie, to Veronica's dismay and Logan's amusement, and things settle into a comfortable pattern.

They cancel on each other as much as they meet, which is a novelty Logan finds himself enamored of. She abandons him over dessert to follow a lead on a case, and her leaves her 45 minutes into the new Tarantino film to track down a source, and neither one of them is angry, after. Logan's not used to this level of balance, doesn't know how to navigate in waters this easy, feels thrilled and rudderless by turns.

There are topics they don't broach--his parents, their past--and Logan's not sure if he's grateful for that or not. Aside from her brief, drunken inquiry that night on the pier, Veronica never mentions the years they spent together and not together, dancing around each other like boxers in the ring. And Logan would bring it up, but he can't help but feel that he's walking a tightrope, that if he strays too far towards what once was he'll lose what is.

It's an oddly terrifying thought, losing Veronica's friendship. He's not entirely sure why.

The Saturday before the wedding is the thirteenth anniversary of Lilly's death; he's had it circled on the calendar for months, even though it's not like he could ever forget. He thinks of it, privately, as his personal sad-sack day; mourning his father's death seems perverse and disgusting, and his remembrance of his mother is always tainted by an anger he can't quite shake. So he mourns for Lilly--for all of them, really, as much as he doesn't like to admit it--on the one anniversary of loss that feels justified to him, that feels safe.

He should expect Veronica to show up, really, but he doesn't, and is surprised by the knock on his door. He finds her waiting outside, holding a bag of Chinese food and a bottle of Cuervo and two novelty shot glass. Her eyes are red.

"We might as well do this together," she says, pushing past him into the apartment. "You know what they say about drinking alone."

Logan does know; it hasn't stopped him from starting early, not today. Veronica eyes the glass of scotch on his coffee table knowingly, but doesn't comment, and he's grateful, but not as grateful as he is when she twists the top off the tequila and pours them each a healthy shot.

"To Lilly," she says. "May she be wreaking glorious havoc in whatever reality she calls home."

"I'll drink to that," Logan says, and if his voice is rough already, Veronica's good enough not to comment on it.

Hours later he's stretched across his own couch, his head pillowed on her lap, with Eurotrip playing in the background and no real memory of how he got there. It's nice, he thinks through the haze of tequila, not having to do this alone.

"Do you ever wonder who she'd be?" he asks. "Lilly, I mean. If my--if Aaron--if none of it had happened. What she'd be doing now."

Veronica makes a snorting kind of noise and tips her head back in contemplation. "Divorcing Bono, probably."

Logan laughs, imagining Lilly pushing thirty, a trail of celebrity husbands in her wake. "Or marrying Charlie Sheen."

"She used to say she was going to into the stock market," Veronica says. "Said she'd do anything to be richer than her parents, just to rub it in Celeste's face."

"She used to say she'd never get married, too," Logan remembers. "I never believed her--but then again, for awhile I guess I thought she'd end up marrying me."

Veronica makes the snorting noise again--not quite amusement, but something like it. "Well, at that point I thought I'd be married to Duncan and bearing his children by now, so."

"Fuck," Logan says, "maybe she'd have ended up my stepmother, I don't know. If she'd never found the tapes, I mean."

"She wouldn't have done that to you." Logan knows she means it, but her voice is uncertain all the same, and he can't help but turn his face into her shirt, just a little, just enough to hide his eyes.

"She wouldn't have meant to," he agrees, after a long minute. "She just…"

"Loved a thrill," Veronica sighs. "Yeah, I know."

"She knew," Logan says, because if they're going to talk about this they might as well talk about it. "I mean, it was a long time ago, I know that, but I still can't believe--about Aaron, you know, the way he…what he did. I told her, and she still…"

"Oh, Logan," Veronica says, and from anyone else it would sound like pity, and he'd hate it. From her it's soft, like a warm blanket, like a caress. Or maybe he's just had too much to drink.

Too much or no, he knows it's not the alcohol slipping slender fingers into his hair; he knows it's not the alcohol murmuring comforting nonsense about the way Lilly was. He'd be ashamed of himself, of the way he's clinging to her shirt and taking choked, ragged breaths, but he's drunk and sad and, anyway, she's Veronica Mars. It's not like she doesn't already know.

He wakes up on Sunday under a comforter she clearly brought in from his bedroom, with a throw pillow tucked carefully under his head. There's a bottle of water on the coffee table with a piece of folded paper balanced over it--a cursory check reveals it to be a sheet from one of his reporter's notebooks.

"DRINK ME!" it says, in large underlined letters, and, smaller, below, "Guess I never realized how much better it would be with someone else who loved her. Thanks. V."

Logan has never felt more like a middle school girl in his life, but he saves the note.

--

Veronica actually beats him to Dick's wedding, which would be embarrassing if he wasn't hungover as all fuck from the stupid bachelor party.

"God," she laughs, looking him over outside the church, "could those sunglasses be any bigger?"

"If there were bigger ones, I would have bought them," he says, reaching up to rub at his temple. "Are you always this loud?"

"Don't even try for pity," she says, "you brought this on yourself."

"Rub it in, why don't you," he mutters. She gives him a half-hearted version of the evil eye, but then she reaches into her bag and hands over an industrial sized bottle of Advil.

"Standard issue," she says, as he raises his eyebrows and uncaps it. "This might come as a shock to you, but being an FBI agent isn't short on headaches."

"I am, in fact, deeply shocked," he says, dry-swallowing four of the pills. "Almost as shocked as I am grateful, really."

"Logan Lester expresses gratitude--I think that's definitely got some traction as a front-page headline."

"You're so funny," he says, not without bitterness. "Really, the humor, I'm overwhelmed."

"Too hungover to give as good as you get, now I know the apocalypse is nigh."

"Can we just go inside, please," he says despairingly. "Where there's less sunshine and fewer flashbulbs, I hear it's a glorious place."

"There's going to be organ music," she reminds him, and then she laughs as he groans and follows her to a pew, because she's deeply, impossibly cruel.

"I still can't believe I actually got you to come to this thing," he says, when they're settled. "I was sure you were going to come up with a last minute excuse."

"I still can't believe you're not the best man," she returns. "I mean, you planned the bachelor party and everything, it's hardly fair."

"Apparently having the guy who stole your bride-to-be's dog in your wedding party is awkward," says Logan, shrugging. "Can't imagine why. But I'm sure I'll have another chance to be Dick's best man."

"Can't even wait till he's out of the church to malign the happy couple," Veronica sighs, her voice thick with mock-disappointment. "You should be--oh my god, is Dick balding?"

"Try not to mention it," Logan advises her. "It's a little bit of a touchy subject. And by 'a little bit of a touchy subject' I mean 'I had to pull him off a dude who called him q-ball last night.'"

"Oh my god, this is the best day of my life," Veronica whispers, as the church doors shut and the music swells. Logan's hangover makes a strangled cry of anguish at the increased volume, but Veronica is snickering next to him, her back heaving with silent mirth in her ridiculously sleek blue dress.

If you'd told him sixth months ago that today he'd be sitting next to Veronica Mars, watching Dick Casablancas exchange wedding vows, he'd have laughed in your face. But life's funny like that.

--

In a stroke of luck, Logan doesn't actually have to deal with Dick's new wife until an hour into the reception. Dick himself comes over to their table five minutes into dinner to deliver an excited soliloquy about his wedded bliss that largely involves the word "Dude" and several crude hand gestures; he doesn't even notice Veronica until he's done, and then he stares, agog.

"Ronnie," he says finally, "you grew up hot," and Veronica nearly spits out her water.

"Nice to see you too, Dick," she manages finally, and gives Logan a look that says, very clearly, "You see why I never went to 09er parties?"

Logan smirks at her, unable to help himself, and delights more than he probably should in the eyeroll she gives him in return.

Still, some things are inevitable, and there was no way he was going to be able to get out of this wedding without interacting with Miranda. She glides across the dance floor on Dick's arm, looking fantastically trashy in her deceptively white dress, and gives him a once-over.

"Dognapper," she says.

"Cruella," he returns, without missing a beat. Next to him, Veronica chokes on a peal of laughter that she hastily turns into a cough, and he excuses himself to get drinks before the temptation of amusing her further goads him into being a complete jackass. When he comes back Miranda is fawning over Veronica's dress, high-pitched vapidity written in every crevice of her face, and Veronica looks like she's seriously considering breaking out a side-arm.

"Let's dance," Logan says, passing her a glass of champagne and resting his palm against the small of her back. Lowering his voice, he adds, "Preferably before you kill someone, yes?"

"So nice to meet you," Veronica says, managing to sound at least halfway sincere about it, and lets Logan lead her onto the dance floor.

"Delightful, isn't she?"

"I can't believe you call her Cruella," Veronica says, grinning, draping her arms over his neck. He feels the bottom of her champagne flute settle against his back and smiles, pulling her in a little closer.

"Cruella Deville," he sings against her ear, "Cruella Deville, if she doesn't scare you, no evil thing will…"

"I don't know if it's worse that you know the words to the song or that you're actually singing right now," Veronica says, following his steps across the dance floor. She's still smiling, though, honest and stunning, and he keeps going with the song because expressing any of his thoughts right now would be terminally stupid. He remembers the last time he danced with her, at homecoming their senior year, remembers how she'd felt agonizing and incredible and dangerous in his arms. He'd been terrified of her.

He's not scared of her now, not scared of her or scared for her. He's scared of himself, of the things he wants, of everything he'd take from her if he could only figure out how.

--

He's having lunch with a source when his phone buzzes; he hits a button to silence it in his pocket and forgets it, moves on. But three minutes later it buzzes again, and when he yanks it out it's her name across the screen, and he can't help himself.

"It'll just be a minute," he promises, and then flips the phone open and says, "Special Agent Mars, to what do I owe the pleasure?"

"Logan?" she says, sounding frantic. He frowns. "Oh, Logan, thank god, I'm sorry to bother you, but I really need a favor."

"Those words never lead to anything good," he teases, but she doesn't bite, and he feels his frown deepen. The source looks at him curiously, and he makes a 'one second' gesture, stands, and walks towards the door of the restaurant. "Veronica? What is it?"

"You remember that case? The one I've been--"

"Yeah, of course, are you--"

"We got a break," she says, "we got a break, a big break, it's huge, it's great, but Eliza, the girl who walks Eddie, she's out of town, and I still--I don't have all that many friends here yet who aren't with the Bureau and I don't know when I'm going to be home and I don't want to just send in someone he's never met--"

"You need me to walk the dog," Logan infers.

"Could you?" she asks, and her voice is clipped now, like she's running. "I don't want to impose, but, I mean, Eddie likes you--god knows why--and I've been working crazy hours so he hasn't been getting much attention anyway--"

"It's fine," Logan says quickly. "It's fine, I'm happy to do it. Tell you what, I'll even bring Butch over, it'll be like a little doggy play-date. Ooh, should I make them matching collars? I bet they'd love that."

"You're such an ass," she pants, and yeah, she's definitely running. He tries, and fails, not to think of what exactly a trained federal agent might be running from.

"We really need to work on this flattery thing," he says. "Look, you sound kind of busy, I'll just--is there a Hide-A-Key or something I can use to let myself in?"

"There would be if I was an idiot," Veronica snaps. "But as I don't really enjoy having my apartment broken into, no."

"You feds," Logan laughs, "so touchy about personal safety. Well, if that's out--actually, I'm having lunch down the street from your building--"

"I know," Veronica says, and then he looks up to see her tearing around the corner, and hangs up the phone.

"Traced your cell," she pants, bending over to catch her breath. "Sorry, but time is short."

"You put the creep in creepy," Logan says lightly. He tries to muster some irritation at what is unquestionably an invasion of his privacy, and comes up short. "Do you do this kind of thing to all your friends?"

"Just the ones getting me out of a tight spot," she says, straightening and pulling a keyring out of her bag. "This is my spare, if you could just--take him out, and actually if you could feed him too that would be great, two scoops of the dry food under the sink, I really am sorry--"

"Veronica," he says, reaching out before he can stop himself. He means to cup her cheek, actually, but redirects just in time, putting a hand on her shoulder instead. "It's fine, really. Are you okay?"

"Fine," she says, "fine, fine, just--this case is just--I'm fine. Seriously, thank you--"

"Seriously, it's nothing. Butch will love the chance to push Eddie around."

She smiles, and it doesn't quite reach her eyes, and he makes a mental note to push a little harder into what, exactly, she's tracking down. But then he forgets, because she's pressing the keyring into his hand and leaning in to give him a quick kiss on the cheek, and it's suddenly all he can do to keep from falling down.

"Thank you," she says fervently, "I have to go but just, god, thank you so much," and then she's running across the street and disappearing into a cab before he can say anything else.

He stands there like an idiot for a minute, and then goes back into the diner, whistling under his breath. His source--a sleazy lawyer who's gotten in far deeper than he meant to--takes a large bite of pie and looks him over.

"Your girlfriend or something?" he asks, mouth full.

"Or something," Logan agrees, and twirls the key on his finger, resisting the urge to touch the spot on his cheek where he can still feel the press of her lips.

--

He cheats, and gives the dogs steak.

Oh, what--he buys the steak, it's not like he takes food out of Veronica's fridge, he's not a complete bastard. He just doesn't see any reason not to further cement his position of esteem in Eddie's eyes, and Butch has been getting the rock star treatment since he was forced to interact with her former owner anyway. They both look up at Logan like he's the light at the end of the tunnel when they're done eating, and he smiles at a bribery job well done.

He walks them, taking them for a long, winding romp through the neighborhood, and then sinks onto Veronica's couch when they get back inside. He figures he'll let them play for a few minutes, tire Eddie out so he won't be impossible when Veronica gets home, whenever that might be. He doesn't factor in the weight of the steak in his own stomach, the sheer enveloping softness of the couch, or the three hours of sleep he got the night before, and he wakes up at one AM to a still-empty apartment, both dogs curled happily against him.

"Fuck," he says, stumbling bleary-eye towards the bathroom, "and I thought I couldn't beat Veronica for creepy today."

He uses the toilet as quickly as he can, splashing some water on his face to try and wake up, and hopes against hope he can get out of her apartment before she returns and discovers he's--what has he done here, exactly? Taken a simple favor and turned it into a stalker-caliber mistake? Gone beyond familiarity and into something else entirely? Royally fucked up?

He doesn't have time to further consider the proper name for his actions, because he hears the door opening and slamming shut, hears Veronica clattering around inside.

"Fuck," he mutters again, reaching over to flush the toilet and wondering how the hell he's going to explain this.

"FREEZE," he hears her yell, and he does, his hand wrapped around the doorknob. "I am a federal agent and I have a gun trained on this door. Whoever you are, come out with your hands up where I can see them. If you try anything, I will not hesitate to shoot."

"Oh, god," Logan says, opening the door slowly. He raises both hands and steps out of the bathroom, hoping his expression conveys sheepish remorse and not his desire for the ground to swallow him whole. "I'm so sorry, I fell asleep on the…"

He trails off once he actually catches sight of her, all thoughts of embarrassment slipping from his mind. She does, indeed, have a gun trained on him, but it's wavering in the air, because her hands are shaking so badly he can see the tremors from here. There are bloodstains on her shirt, on her face, and a bruise is blooming on her left cheek, dark and terrible.

"Veronica," he says, reminded forcibly of a night he's spent over a decade trying to forget, "Veronica, it's me. It's Logan. Put the gun down."

She stares at him for a long second; then she blinks and comes back to herself, lowering her weapon. "Logan? What are you--"

"I fell asleep," he explains quickly, "watching the dogs, I'm really--Veronica, what happened to you?"

She shakes her head and swallows, and he fights the urge to cross the room and pull her into his arms. "It was just--I just. I had a really bad night, I'm sorry that I--I just, god, that was stupid, Butch is right there, isn't she."

"Not stupid," Logan says, taking a step toward her. "Stupid of me, for falling asleep. Stupid and creepy on my part only."

She almost laughs, the faint ghost of a chuckle slipping out from between her lips. "It's fine. I. Um. Thank you. For taking Eddie, that was--thanks. You can…you can go now."

"I think maybe I should stay," Logan says, as gently as he can. She glares up at him, eyes fierce, and he puts his hands up again. "Look, no, I'm not trying to--no one's questioning that you're the boss here, if someone breaks in we both know who's going to be cuffing him and who's going to be screaming like a little girl, okay? I just…you look like maybe you could use a friend."

She holds his gaze for a second, the fire still behind her eyes, and then breathes out hard through her nose. "Yeah," she mutters, "yeah, that's. Okay."

"Okay," Logan echos. Then: "You want to tell me what happened?"

"Can I," Veronica starts, and then she shakes her head, looks disgusting with herself, and continues, "I'm going to take a shower, and put on different clothes. Do you mind--"

"I'll wait," Logan says at once. "I'll be right here."

Veronica nods at him and vanishes into the bathroom, leaving him to try to not to panic while she's gone. Eddie, whose emotional instincts are apparently keen, whines and butts his head against Logan's shoulder; Butch just looks him over with mild interest and settles down on the couch again.

"Fat lot of help you are," he mutters, and then realizes he's talking to a dog, and shuts up. He occupies himself with taking deep, even breaths, with running his hands through Eddie's close-cropped fur, with refraining from breaking down the bathroom door and shaking her until she tells him who left that bruise.

He's not seventeen and desperate anymore; he's not nineteen and balanced on the edge of sanity, waiting for the fall. He's older, but maybe not quite old enough.

She comes out in workout shorts and an oversized t-shirt half an hour later, her hair damp and coiled behind her head. "I need a glass of water," she says, when he moves to stand, "just--can you just--just wait a second, okay?"

"Yeah," Logan agrees, "sure, whatever you want."

She throws him a sliver of a smile, there-and-gone again, before slipping into the kitchen. He waits five minutes, and then ten; when it's been fifteen he swears under his breath and goes after her. She's sitting on the counter staring at nothing, kicking her bare legs against the cabinets, and she jumps when he says, "Veronica?"

"God," she says, "you scared the shit out of me. I guess I--I forgot you were here, I think. Sorry."

She looks so much younger, suddenly, that his heart breaks for her--because he knows that look, remembers it despite himself. He's seen her make this face before, the one that means she's scrabbling desperately for control, the one that means she's half an inch from breaking down.

"Veronica," he says, and his voice is gentler than he ever knew it could be, "tell me what happened."

"It's…kind of a long story."

"I've got nothing but time," he reminds her. She sighs and kicks her feet again, looking twelve and twenty and ninety-five all at once.

"My first case," she starts, "or maybe my second, I don't know, as a probie in LA--you remember reading about the Bookrate Bomber?"

"Shit, yeah," Logan says, blinking. "He was news out here too--he blew up, what, like thirty people in that one--"

"Yeah," Veronica sighs. "Yeah, he--anyway, everyone thought it was this professor but my partner at the time, the guy I'd been assigned to, said that bombers were meticulous, obsessive…we went to interview one of his students and there were all these ships in bottles and there was a secret room and I just, I just knew. But the agent I was there with, he--he grabbed her and held a knife to her throat, and we'd just thought it was a routine interview, so we didn't have any backup, and I…tackled him, because I didn't know what else to do, knocked the knife out of his hand. I got him cuffed and we arrested him."

"Okay," Logan says, not really sure how this relates but not wanting to push her. She takes a deep breath and looks up at the ceiling, keeping her eyes trained on it as she continues.

"We couldn't charge him," she spits. "We didn't--his whole house was clean, we swept it completely, and I knew it was him, but he wouldn't confess and there wasn't--there was no evidence, there was nothing he could do. We got him for assaulting an officer but his attorneys managed to get him off on insanity, god knows how. He spent a two years in a minimum security psych ward as part of the plea bargain, and then he escaped, and I knew he'd--I knew he wasn't done killing, and there was a manhunt but it was half-assed, and then I saw the stuff about the Davy Jones Strangler out here--"

Logan sucks in a harsh breath without meaning to; he knows about the Davy Jones Strangler, so named because of the impeccably done ship-in-a-bottle he leaves as a calling card at every crime scene. He strangles his victims, six of them so far, with a length of sailing rope, leaves it twined in a perfect water knot across their chests. He's seen the guys coming back from those scenes, late night in the newsroom--hardened criminal reporters shook up beyond belief.

Veronica nods at him, still not meeting his eyes. "I asked for a transfer, because I knew it was him, and it was--personal, I mean, I knew he'd remember me, he's not the kind of guy to forget something like that, and I knew I wasn't going to be able to sleep at night until he was locked up. And tonight we finally got him, had him cornered, all the evidence lined up, and when we got to his place he was waiting for us, and I can't figure out how he managed it, but he got the drop on me. He grabbed me and he, he held a knife to my throat just like--"

"Jesus, Veronica," Logan rasps, before he can help himself. She meets his eyes then, wraps her arms around her chest and glares at him. And it's an old feeling, the desire to pull her close and hide her from everything that could hurt her--an old feeling mixed with a new one, with a deep, sharp pride in her that settles like a weight on his shoulders.

"I kicked him," she continues, almost dispassionate as she glances away again. "And when I got loose he hit me and Sean--one of the other agents--Sean jumped for him, but he still had the knife and I was the only one with a clear shot and I--I had to, Logan, I had to, you have to understand, I didn't have a choice--"

"I understand," he says quickly, because god, he wishes he hadn't asked now, wishes he hadn't made her tell him, doesn't need to hear her say the rest, "hey, look at me, I understand, it's okay, I know that you--"

"I killed him," she whispers, and then she puts her hand to her mouth and her face twists in on itself and she says it again. "I killed him, I didn't mean to but I--I took the shot and he moved and it was supposed to be his shoulder but it went through his heart and I know, I know he's a murderer but I--I shot him and he died, Logan, I killed him, I killed him."

And then she's crying, wracked with it, shaking with sobs that sound more like screams muffled against her hand. He closes the distance between them in three steps and draws her forward, and her hair against his cheek is still wet from her shower--it's a stupid thing to focus on, the way it's sticking to his skin, but he can't help himself. Everything else is too big, big the way she isn't, and he's forgotten over the years how much smaller she seems when she's wrapped up in his arms. She's so much person, Veronica is, that it's still a shock to remember she's tiny underneath all that charisma.

"It's not your fault," he says, and she presses herself closer, so close that he can feel every gasping breath she takes against his neck. "Oh, Veronica, it's not your fault, this isn't your fault. You saved a life--fuck, you probably saved ten lives. You're a hero, sweetheart, you're a hero, fuck, it's okay."

He feels her shaking her head, feels the doubt and regret and anguish in the gesture, but her breathing goes a little softer, and she sounds less like she's dying. He runs his hand down her back and holds on, saying whatever comes to mind, trying frantically to decide if he's making it worse or better, if he even could make it worse, if there's any way to make her stop.

Eventually she quiets enough that he can think again, and he realizes that she's still on the counter. "C'mon," he says, lifting her in his arms, "let's at least get you to the couch, huh? You're gonna get snot all over your kitchen, and no one wants that."

She doesn't pull her head out from where it's burrowed in his neck, but she does laugh, a weak, watery chuckle that he almost misses. He holds onto that as he nudges Eddie off the couch with his foot and sinks down against the cushions, keeping her balanced on his lap. When they were teenagers this would have been dangerous--inappropriate, badly timed erections being par for the course--but he's old enough now to keep himself under control.

He doesn't know how long they sit like that, smashed together inelegantly, her fingers tightly clenched in his shirt. When, eventually, her breathing evens out completely, he tilts her face back and discovers she's asleep. Even tearstained and puffy she's beautiful, heartbreaking and hopeless and stupidly gorgeous.

"You're going to kill me, Veronica Mars," he whispers, and then he kisses her on the forehead and deposits her in her bed, hoping the Bureau will send her to therapy in the morning.

--

The Bureau does, in fact, send Veronica to therapy. They also put her on a mandatory three month suspension, restricting her duties to paper pushing and occasional cold case perusal. He makes the effort not to look relieved as she tells him this, but fails.

"Try not to actually wet yourself in excitement," she says, rolling her eyes. "I'm eating here."

"The way you throw things like that around, you'd think it was my dog that pissed on your $2,000 rug."

"I can't be blamed for that," she says, spearing a piece of asparagus and brandishing it at him. "You're the one who kept teasing him with that bone, it was bound to happen eventually. He's only a puppy."

"My dog's better trained than your dog," he says, just to be contrary. Veronica snorts.

"Mature, Logan."

"Maturity is my middle name," he agrees, and steals a potato from her plate.

He'd expected her to pull away from him in the wake of what happened--that would have been the Veronica thing to do, once upon a time. Instead she's been even closer, even warmer than before, like there's some barrier that's finally come down between them. Logan doesn't know what to make of it--the near-constant texting, the way she sits a little too close while they watch old movies on his couch--but he's not questioning it, except to fear, desperately, that it will end.

He doesn't dare say that aloud, though. She'd run, or laugh at him, or laugh at him and run.

Her twenty-ninth birthday falls five weeks into her suspension, and Logan discovers in discussing it with her that she has a number of traditions surrounding the date. The most significant of these is that Mac and Wallace always show up, come to town for the weekend so they all can get drunk and sing shitty karaoke. Logan's not nervous about seeing them, not at all, because it would be ridiculous to be nervous--he and Veronica are just friends, and it's not like he doesn't know Wallace and Mac.

"You're sweating," Veronica observes gleefully, as he runs through this thought process for the fifth time. "Like a pig, really, it's horrible, you should be--"

"You know, the fact that it's your birthday doesn't give you a pass to be impossible," he snaps, favoring her with a glare he doesn't mean at all. She grins at him, her hair falling in her eyes, looking happy and carefree and less crazed then she has in weeks, and he can't breathe for loving her.

"I always have a pass to be impossible," she laughs, and then Mac and Wallace are coming into the bar, and she stops paying him any attention at all.

He's not jealous. Of course he's not. Because that would, again, be ridiculous.

It's not even awkward, not like he expected it to be. Mac's grown up to be almost frightening self-possessed, all snappy confidence and witty rejoinders, and the wedding ring on Wallace's left hand only underscores his air of steady reliability. Logan likes them, and he likes the Bureau friends Veronica invited along, and he likes failing spectacularly at karaoke. He's having fun, which makes the whole thing that much worse. This is the kind of tradition he could happily subscribe to for the rest of his life, and he's pretty fucking sure that's not something Veronica's offering.

It takes several drinks to get Veronica onstage, even though the whole thing had been her idea. Mac goes with her, laughing and egging her on, and they have a whispered conversation with the sound guy before Veronica smiles out at the audience and lifts her mic.

"Right," she says, "so, it's my birthday--" The bar cheers, and she does a self-depreciating little curtsey that leaves Mac in stitches. "And it's also kind of a reunion--lots of old friends here tonight--"

"Yeah we are!" Wallace calls on Logan's right. Veronica salutes in the direction of the sound, and Logan bites down on a laugh.

"So we thought," Mac picks up, "that we'd indulge in a little blast from our past."

She nods towards the sound booth, and a heavy, familiar baseline thrums through the speakers. It takes Logan a second to place it, and then he remembers--the Faders, they'd played at homecoming senior year, this song had been on right before Veronica had yanked him away from that girl--Janie, Jackie?--he doesn't even remember her name, Jesus Christ.

And they're dancing, Veronica is dancing across the stage, her jeans clinging to her ass in a way that leaves nothing to the imagination as she belts "You want me, you want me all the time," into the microphone. She's dancing and he does, he does want her all the time, he's tried not to be he always has, these past few months have been a testament to his self control if nothing else--

"Need some air," he grunts, and he's out of the bar before he can think about it twice. He leans against the brick wall and tries to get hold of himself, because he's hard as fuck and that won't do at all. Because he's Veronica's friend and that's it, and she needs a friend, and he owes it to her--to himself--not to fuck this up. Because for all she makes him feel seventeen he is not, in actual fact, seventeen, and he's not going to throw away this fragile perfect thing he's rebuilt for the sake of getting in her pants.

But he wants to. God, god, he wants to.

"You've got it bad, huh?" someone says; Logan jerks his head around and sees Wallace grinning at him. "Don't bother trying to deny it, I know all the signs. I love the girl, but she's not exactly short on lovesick bastards, is she?"

"I can't be lurking outside a bar whining about my feelings for Veronica Mars," Logan says. "I can't be doing that, because then I'll be the definitive proof that high school never ends, and that's just not the contribution to society I set out to make."

"You set out to make a contribution to society?" Wallace asks, leaning against the brick next to him. "That's news to me."

"Well, delivering the news is my specialty," Logan says. "Maybe that'll be tomorrow's headline: Former Bastard Attempts to Make Good, Shocks Those Who Knew Him."

Wallace laughs. "Veronica said you were still obnoxious, but I guess I thought she was exaggerating. Teach me to doubt her."

"She talks about me?" Logan asks, and promptly feels like an idiot. He opens his mouth to execute some hasty backpedalling, but Wallace beats him to it.

"She talks about you," he confirms, giving Logan a fairly obvious once-over. "Sometimes you're all she talks about, man. I don't want to get your hopes up or anything, but I don't think you're the only one lugging that torch around."

"It's a real bummer at the airport," Logan says, because he has to say something that isn't Tell me everything you know. "The torch, I mean. Huge hassle at customs, and you'd be surprised how hard it is to fit into a one-quart plastic bag."

Wallace laughs again, and Logan doesn't even know why he does it, but he can't help but say, "Hey, um. Thanks, and everything, but--I don't remember you liking me all that much, when we were in school."

"I didn't," Wallace agrees. "Sorry."

"No, don't be, I was kind of--" Logan waves a hand to indicate a gigantic fuckwad, and Wallace nods, understanding. "I'm just wondering what's changed, I guess. That's valuable information you just gave me."

"You want me to answer that honestly?"

"Yeah," Logan says, "Yeah, I really do."

Wallace looks him over again and then sighs, mind apparently made up. "You were a train wreck. And I don't blame you--you went through some seriously crazy shit, anyone would have been--but Veronica didn't need that drama. She had plenty of her own, you know? Without all your issues cropping up everywhere."

"And now?" Logan asks, disheartened despite himself. "I mean, my--issues or whatever--they haven't gone away."

"Naw, but you don't have the crazy eyes anymore," Wallace tells him, grinning. "You grew up, man, you know you have, and Veronica knows it too. Even I can tell, and I've spent like three hours with you. To be honest, I don't know what's holding you back."

Logan sighs. "We've got a lot of history, and I wouldn't want to, I don't know. There's always the chance that it's the idea of her, and not actually her, and that wouldn't be--and there's always the chance that it's the idea of me, right, and either way it could end up being a mess."

"Hey, you want to make excuses, it's your call," Wallace says, shrugging. "I'm just telling you how I see it."

"And if you're wrong?" Logan asks. "If you're wrong, and I try something, and she never wants to talk to me again? Because I don't think I could do that, man, I really don't."

Wallace gives him a sharp look, so reminiscent of Veronica that Logan wonders if she gives lessons. "She's grown up too, you know," he says finally. "If you think she'd pull something like that now, maybe you don't know her as well as I thought."

Logan goes back into the bar a minute later with that thought ringing in his head; he watches Veronica sing her way through the rest of the night, hugs her goodbye with it playing through his mind. When he gets home, he slides into bed still thinking of it, and then he's thinking of her, slipping a hand into his boxers almost unconsciously.

It's not like it's the first time in the last decade he's jerked off to the mental image of Veronica Mars. She's cropped up again and again over the years, when he was feeling particularly nostalgic or he saw a look-a-like on the street. He's even done it a few times since falling in with her again, feeling shameful and dirty all over when he was done. But this is the first time he's thought of her as she is now, not of the two of them as fumbling fucked up teenagers rolling around. He thinks of her in that dress at Dick's wedding, in her FBI-standard pantsuit, in sweats and oversized t-shirts, in jeans that night on the pier. He thinks of her hair, longer, darker than it used to be, thinks of pressing kisses to a mouth just starting to show laugh lines, and comes harder than he has in years.

"Jesus," he gasps, and realizes that it's not the idea of Veronica he loves at all.

--

If Logan's childhood taught him anything, it's this: real life is not like the movies. There's nothing clean-cut about reality, no perfect transitions, no swells of music to accompany earth-shattering revelations. No one has a hair and makeup team good enough to keep them flawless 24/7, love is never simple enough to be summed up in ninety minutes, and no one ever, ever catches the train they're running for.

Still, there's something kind of undignified about making your first overture of passion in an all-night grocery store.

He's watching two kids argue about the price of condoms, that's how it starts. They look like they're maybe 13, too young to be fucking by a long shot, and he can't think of anyone who will appreciate the true ridiculousness of this more than Veronica. He pulls out his phone, sends her a text ("Watching a prepubescent couple throw down over condom prices…definitely need to find a classier time to shop. What are you up to?") and pushes his cart into the next aisle, where he is confronted, yet again, with the olive oil.

I should really just pick a brand and stick with it, he muses, trying to decide between the Phillip Berio and some fancy local variety. It would be easier. Then his phone buzzes in his pocket, and he puts both bottles down to check it.

From: Veronica Mars, 11:45 PM EST
Me? I'm watching some jackass fondle the olive oil. No one buying that stuff after dark can be up to anything good. You think I should bring him in for questioning?

Logan turns, and there she is, smirking at him over her mostly-full cart. "Hey, creepy," she says, "not that it's not good to see you, but I'm starting to think you're stalking me."

And really, really, that shouldn't be what does it. It should have been at Dick's wedding or at her birthday party, should have been that night on the pier--he should have rented out a restaurant, set up fireworks, bought her a fucking pony. There is absolutely no reason for Logan to succumb to his ridiculous, inescapable love for Veronica Mars over a stalking joke in the Food Emporium, but real life isn't like the movies, and that's what he does.

He doesn't even say anything, can't figure out where to begin--he just shoves her cart to the side and hauls her in, kissing her like his life depends on it. But she's frozen against him, not responding at all, and he thinks fuckfuckfuck and pulls back, opens his mouth to apologize.

Then: "Thank god," she breathes, sliding a hand into his hair, "oh, fuck, Logan, thank god," and she's kissing back, her tongue hot and slick in his mouth. He reaches up, palming her cheek even as he settles his other hand into the small of her back and guides her into the nearest shelf; she goes, colliding with rows of vinaigrette bottles.

"Public place," she gasps, as he pulls back just enough to enjoy the heady sensation of kissing her again. "We should--"

"Leave, yeah, we should definitely leave," he agrees, and draws her bottom lip between his teeth. She moans, and her hands are on his face, on his neck, and Logan's just going to go ahead and die happy now, thank you very much.

"Seriously, this is--inappropriate--"

"Bad, very bad," he murmurs between kisses, "I know, completely--"

"Immoral, people could--Logan, really--"

"Yeah, yeah, we should…absolutely…stop… ."

"Ahem," says someone who is decidedly not the person he's kissing. Logan pulls back from Veronica at speed, running a sheepish hand through his hair when he sees the person behind the cough.

It's a little old lady. Of course it is.

"Does this look like a hotel room to you?" she demands, less traumatized than pissed off, and Logan spares a fleeting second to love New York. "Get yourselves some rubbers and get out of my way, I'm trying to shop here."

"Oh my god," Veronica says faintly, staring after her as she stalks away. After a second she's cracking up, her cheeks bright red as she leans against his chest, and he's dragging her out of the grocery store as fast as she'll go.

"You don't want to finish shopping?" she teases, breathless, when they get outside. "Because I can wait, you know, if you feel the pressing need to go back in and get--"

"It's a good thing you're so much fun to shut up," Logan growls, and he's got her by the hips, got her tongue in his mouth before she can say anything more. She shudders under his palms and he tightens his grip, pulling back just enough to mangle the inflection of "My place or yours?" against her mouth.

"Mine," she gasps, "closer," and he nods and resumes ignoring the rest of the world, stumbling towards the street to hail a cab without breaking the kiss.

"You're going to get us run over," she manages, drawing away.

"But what a way to go," he murmurs, and her laugh turns into a breathy gasp when he leans down and nips at her neck.

The cab ride is more of less tortuous. She slides in first and pushes him away when he tries to crawl over to her, directing her eyes significantly towards the driver. They have a quick, non-verbal argument about the impropriety of fucking in a moving cab, which Logan thinks he's lost until Veronica smirks at him, wicked, and slides a hand into his pants.

"I want you to know that you're evil," he says, keeping his voice even through Herculean effort as she tightens slim fingers around his cock. "Don't they do psychology tests for evil at the--oh, Veronica, fuck."

"You should try to keep yourself under control," she comments, sounding for all the world like she's watching a fucking polo match, cool as a goddamn cucumber. It just makes Logan harder, how completely unfazed she seems, and he leans back against the headrest and tries not to whine as she brushes her fingertips against his balls.

And then, because she's a terrible person, she pulls her hand out again and smiles at him like it never happened.

"I hate you," he grumbles, "I hate you so much, I could write odes of hate--"

"Well, we're here," she says. "So you can either pay the man and come inside, or you can stay out here writing angry poetry. Your call."

Logan is not particularly proud of the way he scrambles out of the cab like it's on fire, but Veronica doesn't seem to mind. It certainly doesn't stop her from climbing him like a fucking tree in the elevator, wrapping her legs around his waist as she lays siege to his mouth. He cups her ass in his hands, holding her up, and thinks desperately about anything but coming in his pants like a teenager until the doors slide open.

"Put me down," she gasps, "I have to--keys--"

"I like you where I've got you," Logan says, and balances her against the wall as he pulls her spare out of his pocket. She just uses the extra leverage to grind into him, slipping down a little to frot desperately against his cock, and he stumbles into the apartment only to kick the door shut behind him and press her against it, her legs still around his waist.

"You've gotten better at this," she says, her smile gone dangerous. "I'd almost believe you were in my league."

"I am," he growls, "way out of your league, Veronica Mars," and he rips her shirt open to underscore this point. She just smirks at him and leans in, bites down hard on his collarbone, and he throws back his head and makes a choking, guttural noise.

"You don't want to fuck with me, Logan," she purrs. "I'm much more bite than bark."

"You're right," he gasps, "I'm not interesting in fucking with you at all," and then she's unwrapping her legs from around his waist and sliding down to stand on her own. He'd argue, but her hands are fumbling at his belt, betraying all the sharp, frantic energy she's not letting into her voice, and he doesn't really want to make that stop.

It's easier to pull at the remains of her shirt instead, rip them clean of her to reveal the black lace bra underneath.

"You're paying for that," she snaps, "I liked that shirt."

"I've got something you'll like more," he says, and she actually laughs at him, throwing her head back.

"You always did think you were smooth."

"Maybe you could stop interrupting," he suggests, "and let me get on with proving it, hmm?"

"I guess I could be persuaded to--" she starts, but she's cut off when he flicks her bra clasp open and slides a hand up to cup her breast. She draws in a ragged breath as he balances her nipple between two fingers, rolling it between the callouses there before leaning down to pull it into his mouth. She moans then, some mangled combination of scraped-raw syllables that might be his name--he's not really bothered to know what she's saying, so long as he can make her say it again.

"Condoms," she gasps, "tell me you have condoms."

"Look who's eager all of a sudden," he says, and her nipple is still in his mouth, easy enough to flick with his tongue. She arches up off the door and he catches her in the pose, one hand on her thigh, the other resting on the swell of her ass. He moves lower, trailing sticky, sharp kisses down her stomach, and feels a spike of pleasure at the thought that there could be hickeys in the morning to mark his path.

"Didn't answer my question," she groans, and then, "fuck, Logan, I swear to god--"

"In my wallet," he mumbles against her hip, letting her slip down again to fumble at the catch of her pants. "Have a little--"

"If you tell me to be patient," she snaps, "after all these months--"

"Oh, and you think it was easy for me?" he demands, pulling away to give her an incredulous look. "Like you didn't look fucking fantastic everywhere we went, like I wasn't hard just looking at you--"

"Jesus Christ," she bites out, hungry, "god, I want--I want you to--"

"Why, Veronica," Logan says, affecting shock, "are you asking me to take you to bed?"

He doesn't give her a chance to answer, just scoops her up and tosses her over his shoulder, the sounds of her shrieking laughter filling the apartment. She's always been small, easy enough to manhandle if he felt like it, but it had been one of those things he'd never tried, before. Veronica had been shy sexually back then, shy the way she wasn't in every other aspect of her life, careful and modest and, as much as he hadn't liked to think about it, traumatized. But she's had ten years, therapy she's told him bits and pieces about, time and space and other partners. There are things he'll have to be careful about still, things that never go away, but she's also…well, there's also no question that she could throw him to the ground and cuff him right now, if she wanted to.

She's still laughing as he hauls her through the threshold of her bedroom, dropping her down onto the mattress with little ceremony. In the living room, Eddie whines, and they tell him to shut up in one voice, startling him.

"Sorry, buddy," Logan says, yanking off one of his shoes and throwing it at the bedroom door. It shuts, and he smiles down at her, satisfied. "Ah, privacy."

"I'll show you privacy," Veronica gasps, which doesn't even make sense, but Logan's not complaining as she yanks him down onto the bed. She pulls off his shirt and then lifts his wallet from his back pocket, rifling through it with interest.

"If you're carrying any kind of false documentation, now's the time to tell me," she jokes, still flushed and breathless. Then she adds, "Ahhh, paydirt," and pulls a condom out of the back fold.

"Look at you go," he murmurs, reaching down to help her slide out of her pants. "All those investigative--fuck, is that a thong?"

Rather than replying, she raises her eyebrows, pulling back to kick her jeans off and display it fully. He groans from low in his throat and tackles her back against the pillows, sliding his palms down her bare thighs.

"Have I ever told you," he hisses, "that you're fucking gorgeous?"

"Been awhile," she pants, hooking her leg around his and pulling it his pants. "Have I ever told you that you're not naked enough?"

"Think I'd remember that," he manages. "Yeah, no, I would definitely recall--"

She leans in, breath hot against his ear. "Logan," she whispers, "you're not naked enough."

He's out of his pants in three seconds flat, flinging them across the room. She pulls down his boxers and shoves hard at his shoulder, gets him on his back and straddles him, ripping the condom open with her teeth.

"Veronica," he chokes out, "fuck, Veronica--"

"And you said I was eager," she grins, reaching down to fist his cock. There's a dribble of precome there and she smears it across the head with her thumb, looking far too pleased with herself when he arches up against her. "Oh, god, Logan--"

"You planning on using that condom any time soon?" he gasps.

"You're an ass," she says, rolling it onto his dick anyway. "You're such an asshole, I shouldn't like that as much as I do, your stupid mouth always did get you into trouble--"

"Wanna see what else my mouth can do?" he asks, and she's rolling her eyes even as she's lowering herself onto his cock, and then he can't breathe anymore.

She's so tight, so much stronger than he remembers, and he reaches up to cup both of her breasts as she rides him, her head tipped back in pleasure. He has a few fleeting thoughts about how different it is, Veronica now compared to Veronica then, but they fizzle out quickly--this is really so much better that any comparison is moot. He lets one hand drift down and just manages to get his thumb on her clit, swiping at it as he gasps her name, and she can't seem to decide if she wants to smirk at him or swear at him more; what results is an odd combination of both, which shouldn't be as hot as it is.

"Jesus," he growls, unable to stand it anymore, "Jesus, Veronica, come here." He puts a hand behind her head, drags her down a little and meets her halfway, licking into her mouth. She moans and runs her nails down his back, and he tangles a hand in her hair and jerks up into her, sharp and fast.

"Shit," she gasps, "Logan, fuck, that's--oh, god, that's so good, but--but I want you to--I don't want to come like this, I want you to--"

"Wish, command," he says, and flips her, kissing her again once she's under him. She shudders as he fucks into her, and then, god, god, she's wrapping her legs around him again, pulling herself up against his cock, and he's going to come if he's not careful, he's barely holding on.

"There," she cries, "there, right there, oh fuck yes, don't you dare stop--"

"Fuck," he says, "Veronica, oh, god, you're so--come for me, baby, come on, please, please--"

She doesn't answer him, just tilts her head back and chokes on her own breath, and he knows well enough what a woman on the edge looks like. He picks up his speed with what little control he has left, drives into her hard and fast until he can feel her clenching around around him, until she's sobbing his name and going boneless in his arms. Then he's putting his head down on her shoulder and his hips are jerking out of rhythm of their own accord and he's coming blindingly hard, coming like he's never come in his life, coming like a fucking teenager.

They're silent for a minute, getting their breath back, tangled together over the sheets. Logan can't help but press a lazy kiss into the curve of Veronica's shoulder as he pulls out, and she makes a soft, pleased sound beneath him. He tosses the spent condom in the trash and settles back down against her, content, and he's thinking seriously about passing out when he feels her start to shake.

"What?" he says, pushing himself up onto one arm. Her face is turned away from him against the pillow, and panic flares in his chest--he's done something wrong, he's pissed her off, she thought this was a one night stand, she hates him--before she turns and he realizes she's laughing.

"Well," he says, relief white-hot as he puts his head back down, "that's not usually the response I go for, but I guess it could be worse."

"I just," she says, laughing so hard she can barely get it out, "I just--I mean, I think that's the best sex we've ever had."

He grins at her, and she's laughing so hard now that she's almost hysterical, but he gets where she's coming from, at least. It is…more than a little bizarre, on every level, to be stretched along the bed next to her; aside from the deja vu of it, he'd been more than certain that this was something he'd never get to do again.

He cups her cheek, tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, and lets her laugh it out. When she's calmed down, nothing but a few last stifled chuckles left of her mirth, he affects a serious expression and meets her eyes.

"You know," he says, "in some ways, I think fucking it up with you in college was the best thing I ever did."

"You'd better have a pretty good follow up to that," she warns teasingly, propping herself up on an elbow. "The couch is more than available, you know."

He smiles at her and casts his eyes down, running his thumb along the curve of her hipbone, wondering. He knows, if only by dint of being told over and over, that he's a surprising but incurable romantic--he knows by dint of experience that she's not, most of the time. He says it anyway, though, because he means it, because he doesn't know how not to.

"I just think it would have a damn shame, if you'd grown up to be anyone else."

She doesn't say anything, but when he chances a glance up, her eyes are warm, and she's smiling like she doesn't know how to stop.

"That's a pretty fucking good follow up," she admits, soft. If it comes out a little strangled, he knows her well enough not to call her on it.

--

To: llester@nytimes.com
From: v.mars@fbi.gov
Subject: I caught you drooling on your pillow this morning, FYI

Hey you,

Sorry I didn't say goodbye before I left, but you had the whole post-deadline consumptive look going on, and I kind of couldn't bear to wake you up. People shouldn't be able to have circles under their eyes while sleeping, Logan. I don't think that's normal.

Saw the article, though. Fantastic as ever, but if I catch you using Caffrey as an "inside source" again I'll no-show when you win your Pulitzer.

Logistics shit that I know you know already: the people from the kennel will be by to pick up the dogs at 3:30, I already threw out anything in the fridge that could go bad (except that pizza in case you wanted breakfast, don't forget to toss that if you don't eat it), and I've got my suitcase with me, so all you need to do is pack and show up at the airport by 7. Doing dinner would be great, but I don't think there's any chance I'll be out of the office in time. I'm just gonna print our boarding passes here, I'll meet you by the Continental gate?

By the way, when I said pack, I meant more than just sex toys and your swim trunks. No one wants a repeat of Hawaii; I don't know if you know this, but your attractiveness plummets when you wear nothing but novelty t-shirts and Tommy Bahama. Don't make that face--you needed an ego check after that article, you know you did. I'm doing you a favor here. You wouldn't want to have to buy an extra seat on the plane for your swelled head, would you?

Also, I already packed the sex toys.

Love you,
V