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Wingspan

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Keith is home but not fully healed when Veronica goes back to New York. She wants to stay for every minute of his rehab, but she’s worn and washed the outfits she has in Neptune far too many times. She needs to pack her stuff and get it out to California before she ends up buying a whole new wardrobe.

She hires a nurse despite Keith’s insistence that she’s only going to be gone three days.

“Are you not going to eat or use the bathroom for three days?” she calls to him as she packs her suitcase. “I’d hate to think you were just faking your inability to move on your own just to get some up close and personal time with me.”

“I don’t need to manipulate. I am your patriarch. I simply command and my wish is fulfilled.”

“You can forward your commands through my secretary,” she answers mildly. His voice and manner are the same, but she came so close to losing him again that she has to close her eyes to tamp down the memory. Even when she doesn’t think about that, every time she realizes again that she has disappointed him, that she has made her life into exactly the opposite of what he wanted, it weighs on her. She can see it in his eyes, even as she knows he loves her.

He’s in a lot of pain the morning her flight leaves, but insists she go get everything done. “They’re going to put you on the no-fly for inconsistency if you keep cancelling flights,” he admonishes, so finally, weeks after she meant to leave Neptune, Veronica makes the trip back to New York.

She unpacks in a hotel, and the strangest part is how not strange it is, as if years of living in the city were just some sort of extended vacation instead of a life she had been building. She arranges with Piz to be in the apartment during the day, while he’s at work. He doesn’t sound bitter over the phone, just rueful, and the tears that he was holding back the last time they spoke are gone now.

"I probably should have guessed,” he tells her, voice a shrug.

She’s clumsy in explaining herself to him. “There was nothing to guess. I thought that life was what I wanted until I realized that it wasn’t.”

“You might have just realized, but I should have known.” He sounds weary with just a touch of bite in his tone. “You’re a leopard, Veronica, and all your spots say Neptune and Logan Echolls.”

She feels bad for hurting him, but not as bad as when she shows up at their apartment, the one they’d moved into only six months before, and finds that he picked up boxes for her to use. She presses her lips together and breathes in through her nose. Hello, guilt.

She does the apartment in pieces, as if she’s surgically removing the details of herself from this city, this life. Already some of the things that were routine are fading, revealing their artifice. “How the hell did I get so many gray jackets?” she asks herself at one point, and starts adding them to the donation pile by the handful.

The last thing she does on the third day is check the mail. Piz had stacked everything addressed to her- bills and ads, mostly- neatly on the counter, but she checks the box one last time before she goes and is glad she did. Because in the midst of Piz’s collection of magazines and envelopes, there’s something addressed to her.

She checks her watch. The letter has Logan’s handwriting. They’d called back and forth between the time he’d left Neptune and the time he had told her they were shipping out, but she hadn’t heard from him since, and even their conversations in those first days hadn’t been deep or lengthy. She needs to ship all her things and then get the late flight out. She stares at the curves of her name for a moment, holds the paper to her forehead as if the information inside could slide out instantly into her mind, then sighs and tucks it into her bag.

She’s never been good at flying, and the weakness in that just rattles her more. She clutches at the arm rest on ascent and tries to think only of a figurative New York shrinking away below them. There were things she liked about the place. There was a fast-paced, no-nonsense feel that fit her more than the laid back California lifestyle ever seemed to. But Neptune was the exception, California’s city that never slept, and she smiled a little to herself thinking about digging her teeth back in there.

The cabin is quiet, most passengers giving in to the late hour and at least closing their eyes, by the time they level out. Veronica lets herself relax, checking to see if her seat companion is awake. He seems to be sleeping, propped, mouth open, against the window. She reaches up and turns on her overhead light and tries to tell herself that it is her anxiety over flying that makes her hands shake as she takes out Logan’s letter.

I didn’t want to start this “Dear Veronica,” it begins. Because I thought that would give the wrong impression. So I’ll assure you that I don’t have any plans to break my promise, and start again.

Dear Veronica,

We’re leaving today for parts unknown. Well, unknown to you, which I’m sure must be some specialized torture for you, but trust me on this: don't try to find out.

I'm going to call you in a while and tell you this. I've learned my lesson about silence, and more than anything I want it to work between us this time and that has to start with talking. It’s one of the first things you learn here: if you’re afraid to talk because you might be wrong, if you refuse to at least bring things up in case you ruin everything, you can endanger the people you’re meant to protect.

I wouldn’t trade our time together for anything in the world, that’s the first thing you need to know. But what was going on then...“drama” is putting it lightly. I was a murder suspect. Someone important to me was dead. It didn’t make what happened mean any less to me. I don’t think it did for you either, despite your dad and Piz and everything. But if we want to get beyond the one step forward-twelve steps back thing we did in college, we have to talk about it.

Cell service on ships is for shit, and we get limited Skype access. As romantic as I’m sure you’d find a courtship by letters, I’m thinking email is the way to go. Civilian addresses aren’t always supposed to be accessed while we’re out, but you know me and my way of making friends and influencing people. I’ll get anything you send.

So write me long letters, Veronica. I want to know everything. I want to tell you everything.

Logan

 

She wipes at her eyes with the tips of her fingers and is surprised to find them dry. She stares at the way the first two letters of his name are inked more deeply than the rest, as if he had meant to write something else and then stopped himself. She smiles and pulls out her laptop.

Dear Logan,

You’re a hopeless romantic, attempting to woo me with that remarkable penmanship of yours, but next time let’s not rely on Piz’s desire to ensure my mail’s appropriate delivery. It could have easily ended up as an offering to the vengeance gods. Luckily for you, I’m just on my  way back from picking up my stuff, so your old-fashioned gesture did not go to waste.

Being in New York was weird. I know everywhere, I have friends and a favorite takeout place and no one tries to take me the long way in a cab, but it doesn’t feel like home, not like Neptune did. And somewhere along the way I decided that to be a real lawyer I would have to look like pre-Oz Dorothy. Can’t believe Lilly never came to possess my body and force me to buy something in a primary color. Then again, it probably would have been some kind of horrifically expensive lingerie, so we’re probably all better off this way.

My dad’s recuperating at home. He says to remind you that he can still kick your ass if you get uppity, but I think it’s time to face those little realities. I’ve seen your arms, and if the remote control gets too far away, he needs to use one of those grabber things to get it back. Humor the old guy if you happen to speak, though. He can always use his crutches as weapons.

I know you were doing training maneuvers when you went back to Lemoore, and I know you’re aboard the Nimitz, but I imagine there’s a lot more to it than sitting around playing poker in a snazzy flight suit. Tell me what you can, or I’m going to stop trusting you and have Mac obtain me some illicit information. You know I don’t do well when the loop is over there and I’m all alone over here.

Don’t get all Baryshnikov and end up over the side. I’d kind of like to keep you around for a while.

And if you’re going to bring me a souvenir, you can’t go wrong with cash money.

Veronica

P.S. Or military technology. You know me. I’m not that picky.

It feels stilted even as she writes it. As much as she wants this, she is afraid. She loves the truth, but she isn’t good at telling it. She can target someone’s fears with a razor blade smile and a few words, but she doesn’t like revealing her own.

She doesn't even have internet at the moment, so she’ll look over what she’s written and decide tomorrow if she wants to send it. But she’s pretty sure she will. Logan now, with his golden wings and easy smile, this Logan wants to know her, and the feeling is mutual.

She closes up her laptop, settles back in her seat. The cabin is silent and still and dark around her, and so she closes her eyes and allows hands and metal and air to carry her back home.

Chapter Text

Just a tip: when you're not going to see a guy for another five months, mentioning lingerie, primary colored or otherwise, is ill-advised. I'm trying to serve my country while you're violating my eighth amendment rights from across the ocean. And you say you want to keep me around.

If I recall correctly- and these kinds of things rarely slip my mind- I was at some point promised pictures from home. I'll let you draw your own suggestions from that.

I did ask for letters, though, so I'll do my best to respond coherently. That famed military discipline at work.

It took a while to figure out where to mail my Nicholas Sparks gesture, but I figured New York was the best option. I knew that you would eventually get back there, or Piz would continue to be his normal, good guy self and just forward your mail like a functional person would after a relationship ends. Better chance of that than your dad eagerly handing it over as the new captain of Team Logan. Although I'm told that my fan club does have some t-shirts in bold colors if you think that'll convince him.

And you got the letter, so everything's apparently coming up Logan. Don't tell Dick. He'll hire cheerleaders. And they'll probably be of the full service variety.

Even if he tries to intimidate me with words like "uppity," I'm glad your dad is doing okay. He looked pretty rough the last time I saw him, and I'm sorry that I can't be there to help the two of you through it. You're your own boss, but just make sure that you don't kill yourself taking care of him and getting to appointments and doing your usual Sam Spade thing. What are you working on now, anyway?

As for keeping you in the loop, I'll tell you this: we don't have a lot of time for poker. I fly. I fly an F-18 Hornet, and God, Veronica, she's gorgeous. I have to spend my time learning every part of her- how she flies and what keeps her up and how to take care of her- and it's not even a chore.

(That's a lie. Command Master Chief was coming by, and he does not take well to snippiness. I do love it, though.)

When I'm not flying or learning how to fly or preparing to fly, I'm a training officer. It's something that just happened, because when you were a history major, you're no one's top pick for maintenance and they kick you out of clerical when the best thing you can do for the office is bring muffins. The kids I'm working with have been training for at least a couple of years before they get onto the Nimitz, but Christ, Veronica, I wouldn't trust them to pet-sit my hamster and they're supposed to be working with millions of dollars' worth of equipment. If I have to break up one more brawl over Grand Theft Auto, there are going to be murder charges that even you aren't going to be able to get me out of.

They haven't hurt my girl, though, so I haven't gone Howling Mad yet.

Other than that, I spend my time pining over my stateside heart. My bunkmate hates the sound of your name already. Guinness is sending you a little plaque to commemorate this record; that should be arriving any day.

That's what I've got for you. Hold off on Mac at least for today. Going on the lam is only fun when you're outrunning the regular police. The military police have the power to arrest you, plus they practice their poker faces for twenty minutes every day and twice that on Sundays, so they're a lot less likely to be swayed by that pretty smile of yours.

And you know that the first rule of running is no contact, and I suspect Mac would go into withdrawal if she wasn't allowed to use her computer.

I'll do my best to twirl only on the inside. I haven't fallen off yet.

Logan

She sent the email once she got back to her dad's house, taking a hot shower and several deep, deliberate breaths before hitting send. And even though eagerness lapped at her at the thought of hearing back from him, she didn't expect him to feel the same, didn't expect to wake up from the dead sleep that comes from shuttling back and forth across the country to find a reply.

The time stamp reads 3:22 AM, Pacific Time. She calculates: mid-morning if he is near England, just past noon if he is out by Afghanistan, close to 3 PM if he is farther into the Middle East toward Syria. She hates not knowing.

She's supposed to go into Mars Investigations today, start work on the backlog of cases that have been piling up over the past weeks, but she takes the time to read it through and then does it again. She doesn't quite know how reading it makes her feel. She smiles, but it's so odd to read his words without the gestures, the eyebrow twitches and spinning twirls that are part of Logan. There's a sterility to it that she finds off-putting, unexpectedly so. All she really considered when she and Logan had talked about him going away was him being in danger halfway around the world. She didn't think about missing him like this when she spent years away from him, gestures and words.

She presses her palms to her eyes and gets up. She and her dad are stuck in a sort of catch-22. If she doesn't work, then she can stay and take care of him but they won't be able to afford those fun little life bonuses like food and Keith's nice new house. Beyond that, she'll go slowly insane. And if she does work, then all the money she earns will just slip away to pay for a nurse for him, something he'll endure but despise.

"Maybe you should have married rich," she says to her dad as she cooks eggs for the two of them. "Boy toy for some cougar. You could do that with your eyes closed."

"In my day, it was the daughter we paired up with the neighbor boy to keep the family farm."

Their joking has a slightly uncomfortable edge, but it's either laugh or cry. "Well, the times, they have a'changed, Pa. The bras have been burned and we have taken back our power." She puts his eggs on the coffee table, and kisses his forehead. "And now to complete our role reversal, I'm off to the salt mines while you sit here and do needlepoint for your hope chest." She gathers her jacket and laptop and bag, speaking to him over her shoulder as she does. "Someone will be here in a couple of hours to make sure you haven't passed out in front of SportsCenter. Make sure to have your face on, or you'll disgrace the Mars name."

"If they don't love me for what's in here," Keith says, pounding on his chest, "They don't deserve me." But the words are curdled with a yawn, and although morning has barely begun, it looks like he is due for a nap courtesy of his medication. Veronica is glad that Wallace has a key for when he comes by during his free period.

The morning is a blur of paperwork. If there was one thing law school was good for, it was her speed-reading skills. She makes calls to people whose cases she put on hold weeks ago to inform them that Mars Investigations is reopening. Some of them say that their business is resolved or that they've taken it elsewhere, but most are like the woman who tells Veronica, "Honey, I'm not getting any younger, and my husband hasn't stopped being turned on by twenty-two year olds. We've got the time, you and me." By lunchtime, Veronica has a list of clients that will keep her busy for the next few weeks. She closes up the office and goes to check on her dad. She makes sandwiches for the two of them ("maybe I should have sent you to culinary school") and they talk about nothing until she has to go back to the office.

Mac comes by in the afternoon. Veronica is surrounded by files. "I don't think my dad has organized anything since I left for Stanford," she complains, but hands over a stack of folders, Post-its inserted where a computer expert would come in handy. She has another stack next to her thigh, one that foretells many nights of her and her camera on a stakeout.

Probably a bad sign that those are some of my better high school memories, she thinks, rueful but not bitter, and goes diving back under. The corruption at the sheriff's department means that a lot more people have been looking to her dad to help them with their problems, but even though it's a great cash flow opportunity, it'll take a little time to get things sorted and even more to actually get the work done. And all of that time means less time available to figure out the important things: who was driving the truck that night and why? Her dad had reluctantly told her about Sack's claims of a larger conspiracy, and that seems like the first avenue to tackle, except it's not an avenue as much as a hidden back road with a decoy entrance, and the only possibly friendly guard is dead. She's going to have to work to even start finding what she's looking for.

Her dad is, in fact, passed out in front of SportsCenter when she gets home, so she drops her bag by the kitchen counter and goes to cover him up with an afghan. He wakes as she does and looks up at her blearily. "How is it in the outside world?" he asks sleepily, and Veronica laughs softly as she hands him a takeout container of shwarma. But even as she sits beside him and smiles, she knows that they can't live like this for long. She clings to the doctor's most accelerated timeline for his healing, but knows that there are a million things that could make it last longer.

It's barely dark out, but she takes a shower and settles in bed with her laptop. Two weeks spent focusing on her father's recovery and saving up the sensation of Logan against her, so she didn't waste time getting the lowdown on the inner workings of an aircraft carrier. She needs information, she always has, but Logan isn't her only source for this and she needed him for other things while he was still close by. She spends an hour researching, looking at carrier pictures and schematics, and videos of F-18s. She starts watching a documentary about life on the Nimitz, but the first scene is of the ship leaving port and she can't watch the sobbing of the families left behind for too long. It's been years since Logan's first tour, but she wonders if he still felt a wrench when no one held him back from getting on the carrier.

Finally, she pulls up his email. The words are a familiar pattern to her now, so she wants to just start writing. But the first thing to respond to is sexual. She knows that Logan is attracted to her. She's turned too many times to see him to see him watching her with lowered lids and a smile not to know. That's not even considering the times he's tried to keep her in bed for days, although obviously not against her will. And she's fairly certain of the fact that she's not bad in bed. She dated a guy in New York, Max, for nine months years ago, and she dated Piz, and neither of them had ever been dissatisfied. But there's still something about being with Logan that makes her nervous. Because he's Logan, and Lilly used to moan about his skills, and he was with Madison who knew that he wasn't into one piece numbers, and he dated Carrie Bishop with her smoky eyes and her swaying walk. There's something in her that isn't soothed by time or the way he pulls her hips toward him as if he couldn't get close enough, something that is irritatingly, insidiously nervous that while she might be good, she isn't good enough at this.

So she'll respond to that part, say something sly and sassy, but she'll do it later.

Forget fan t-shirts. After your whole white horse maneuver, my dad has actually begun worshipping a statue of you. What you really should be worried about is him using the envelope as part of his attempt to clone you.

But seriously, he's doesn't dislike you. He wouldn't have burned your letter in a bonfire and cackled over it. You did save his life, and he appreciates that and respects it. Also bonfire building would necessitate being able to move around on his own and that's not going to be in the cards for a little while. And I feel

She erases the words, hesitates for a moment. There are minutes during the day where she has to shake off her panic about how they're going to pay the bills. It's something she's struggled with since high school, but there's so much more now: living expenses, the new house, the new office, her student loans, and medical bills. She wants to be able to talk about it, but it feels like weakness. There is no longer any fear in her that he will look down on her for it, that he will bring it up with bitter words and a harsh laugh if she gave him this knowledge. She suspects that he would offer money, the same way she knew before she saw her ticket confirmation that he would book her in first class. Taking it would make things easier, but she knows that it will also make her ashamed and vulnerable and angry.

She can recall his face, rounder with youth and strained with grief, as he accused her of never needing anything. She still doesn't like to, but she wants to try. She wants to try to be a person who can be attached to someone without being afraid.

She types with hesitant fingers. I love being back in Neptune, in all its anti-Stars Hollow glory, but it's hard. Not like making it in the big city was super easy sitcom fun, but I'm going to have to up my juggling act to keep up with everything here.

She sketches out a few of the more interesting cases for him: the three women who separately want money shots of the same man, Cliff hiring her to refute the accusation that Loretta Cancun crashing into the DMV building caused the gas leak there. She tilts her head and adds, And when I'm done with all that, I thought I would start cleaning up these mean streets. Time to start figuring out what is this season's conspiracy fashion.

Hard to complain about all this to the guy who's at war, though. Even though it sounds like you keep yourself busy with your amazing flying girlfriend.

She lifts her fingers from the keys again. She remembers vividly the email from Wallace midway through her senior year. Between a discussion of wrangling people as captain of the Hearst basketball team and a comment about his dislike for his mom's new boyfriend: Just thought you should know that they're saying that Logan got drunk and applied for the Navy. Guess some things change and some things stay the same.

She had thought to herself, 'They must be really desperate,' but it had been with a faded sense of anger and disappointment. After that, whenever she happened to think about Logan, she overlaid a uniform onto her imagined version of him, but it was strange and without context.

How did the two of you get together anyway? From whence did Lieutenant Logan Echolls spring?

Speaking of your new duties, if I recall, you can cook fine. They should stick you in the mess hall instead of putting you near impressionable children. Who I will bet you all the money in my pocket, a stick of gum, and your car are not the only ones throwing down over GTA. Duncan used to have bruises after you played together. Still, I guess you should get some credit for not going Howling Mad, although that might be because you have some other military nickname. Maybe you're gonna go Smug Snarky Rich Boy on them?

Although it sounds like your bunkmate might off you before you have a chance to snap. I think this might be the first time someone's hated me before they met me, but I'm proud. You know I've always dreamed big.

Keep the news coming, pal, or I'm going to be dreaming big with Mac, MPs and withdrawals or not. I don't care about diamonds. Just keep me in information.

She tips her head back against the wall. She fixes in her mind the image of Logan's eyes as she moved toward him in his shirt, and just before adding her name writes, If you complete that mission, I might be persuaded to remind you of the good parts of home. Keep serving your country, Lieutenant, and we'll see what happens.

You're set back, by the way, by your insinuation that there's anything my smile can't do. These pearly whites are magic, baby.

Veronica

She knew that he had probably been getting anxious because of the eighteen hour gap between his response and hers, but she didn't realize how it would feel until she is lying in bed the next night, about to turn out the light after another day full of files and cooking and cases and empty of news from Logan. She checks her email one last time, and somebody is finally smiling down on her, because there it is.

My amazing flying girlfriend is named Lola, because whatever she wants, she gets. Take a minute to remember my patriotism before you start hitting me with your best shots, she reads, and she laughs hard and silent so her dad doesn't wake.

Lola and I flew today. Can't tell you the where or when, but I will say that it's the scariest and best thing in the world. Burns my Hollywood-bred fashion sense to put on the outfit, but we go so fucking fast, it's worth it.

Flying is what got me here in the first place. The summer after freshman year, you were gone and Dick was living the denial life with his dad. I knew that I wanted to not be the person I was, but I also wanted to drink myself to death. You can understand my dilemma. But I saw this ad for flying lessons and I figured that at least it was something to do. I started learning with this guy, Gerry, at the air field in San Diego, and I just fell for it. I kept coming back and I got my pilot's license. Gerry's a crotchety old bastard, ex-Navy, but he loves to fly and he saw that I did too. Senior year, this guy "happens" to be watching one day when I'm at the air field. He caught me on the way to my car, and I could tell by the way he was standing that he was military.

"How'd you like to come fly jets for us?" he asked. He had this whole speech about protecting people and learning the value of hard work that maybe would have convinced me, but that first thing he said…that's what made me want to do it. Because he asked. Because he watched me fly, and he wanted me.

That's my origin story. How'd you get from California crime solving to Columbia Law?

She checks the clock and knows that she should go to sleep. She sits up against her pillow and starts to type.

If you leave me for Lola, I'll understand. The two of you clearly have a connection.

It's weird how you and Weevil are both ruled by the women in your lives. Only his are his human family, and your woman could one day start singing 'Daisy, Daisy' and leave you to make sure your parachute works.

I moved out to New York after I graduated. Industry, job market, all those buzzwords. Except that I forgot that a BA in Psychology isn't exactly a clear path to career success. I ended up in the HR department at a newspaper. It was terrible. It was like going undercover as Biffy McPep every day, except that it was actually my life. Six months in, I was ready to do anything to get out. I was looking at becoming a paralegal, but I figured why dream small, and applied to law schools. All the kids were doing it. It was something I could be good at, somewhere where maybe I wouldn't be a bitch for being competitive.

Plus it was the only way to get Cliff to notice me, and I was desperate for that.

Writing to Logan like this is almost like writing in a diary. There's a separation that makes the truth easier than it is when she is looking into his face, and she has promised him that truth. She still hits send with a jabbing nervousness before she can change her mind.

Just after her ten AM client meeting, her phone buzzes. He's written just four sentences.

I'm not leaving you for Lola. She'll be jealous, but you had me first, and you'll have me longest.

If you need to leave me for Cliff, though, I'll do the noble thing. I understand the allure of a voice that can make you weak in the knees.

More later,

L

Chapter Text

 

If you think I didn't notice you're avoiding telling me your call sign, you really have been away too long. Can you even remember my face?


If I ever forget what it looks like, I can just go peek at my chest tattoo. Your face, right over my heart.


I'm guessing that avoidance wasn't part of your officer's training. If it was, they weren't very good at it. I'm asking for a refund on my tax dollars.
Is your military nickname something embarrassing? Nugget? Nose Dive?


My call sign is Skywalker. Want to try Skype again tonight?


Yes, but only if you're going to finish that story. I'm telling you, Logan, you need a remedial class from the Veronica Mars School of Avoidance.


We're not doing avoidance anymore, remember? Maybe your school needs to be renamed the Veronica Mars School of Pestering.


That's the subtitle.

If we're not doing avoidance anymore, spill it.


Fine. Stop it with the interrogation, J. Edgar.
The first time I did air-to-ground bombing in flight school, I showed off the best video game skills a man can have, and the guys took me out for a beer afterward. We're three or four in, and someone asks me how it felt. And I made the mistake of telling them that it was just like shooting womp rats in Beggar's Canyon back home. It just would have been just a weird, drunk thing to say, but this one dude knew Star Wars and I haven't been able to shake it.
9 your time?


Yeah, okay. I'll have a magazine ready, though. It gets boring staring yearningly at your blurry, frozen face. The Navy realizes it's now possible to Skype from space, right? The ocean shouldn't be that hard.
Is it worse that they found out that you're a closet nerd, or that you led them to think you're Luke Skywalker when you're obviously Han Solo?


Hey, you and I'll know the truth. It's kind of a pride moment for me, actually, that I've managed to conceal the fact that I'm a scoundrel for this long.


It might be hidden under the uniform, but the scruffy-looking nerf herder I've always known is still there.


If you're calling me scruffy-looking, say it to my face.


If you actually manage to get online, I will.


That wasn't terrible, although you have grown fuzzier than I remember. Must be all that California sun. I'll have to amend my tattoo accordingly.
I forgot to ask how your dad is.


He's doing better. He's finally coming back into the office with me tomorrow.


Sure you must be psyched about that.


Well, you know what they say: more Mars, more fun.


There's apparently a reason that no one actually says that, though. When her dad enters the office, she feels almost like a kid who threw a big party when the parents were out of town, anxiously checking to make sure that the broken vase has been swept up and the beer smell has been aired out.

"I think I've finally found the right Frank Williams for the Crawley will, and I have some pictures that will make Mr. Carmichael either very, very happy or very, very sad. And I'm starting to work on the Braverman fraud thing, so I think we should be-"

"It looks good," he interrupts, wincing just a little as he sits in his chair. She makes a note to order him some kind of cushion off of Amazon. He swivels gingerly, looking around the room. "Ah! And you file, too."

"Even used the alphabet." She almost adds, "Something you seem to have forgotten," but considering his recent concussion, the confusion he still sometimes falls into for a minute, it is too close to home. "Without being fooled with breakfast, so take note for the future," she adds instead.

"Speaking of fooling, tell me about the Melville case."

"Right, so these two crazy kids are arguing custody…"


She goes out to do some of the footwork for the Braverman case, whatever she can do without Mac, who is stopping in later in the day. She pauses by the door, turning with a hand still on the knob. She can see her dad's shadow through the window of his reclaimed office, leaning toward his computer. She glances at the other desk, clear of files but obviously the receptionist space, and knows that it's not going to be smooth sailing.


She brings back wraps, sitting across the desk and starting in while her dad finishes up a call. 'Ten years? It feels like I'm going to have to go do my history homework in a minute,' she thinks.

Keith finishes speaking and hangs up, settles back with his lunch. "I miss the good old days of cheese and sauce atop some sort of wheat-based product," he mourns, holding up his turkey sandwich. The doctor has put him on a diet which has eliminated most of the enjoyable food from Keith's- and by extension Veronica's- life. At heart she doesn't mind, though. She'd rather keep her dad in her life than junk food.

"Well, if you want to stick it to the man," Veronica says, lowering her voice and leaning in, "I'll take you out for low fat, low sodium pizza. I've heard there's even a place that will put on fat free pepperoni." She nods at him significantly. "How's that for a Friday night?"

"You live for my suffering, don't you? Is this still because I bought you the wrong Polly Pocket for your seventh birthday? Because I apologized for that multiple times." He bites into his wrap, asking overly casually as he swallows, "I guess your offer means that you don't have plans?"

"My best friends are a high school teacher and a software nerd, and my boyfriend is halfway across the world. I'd say," she looks up, pretending to contemplate, "World domination and then maybe a milkshake are in the cards for tonight."

Keith looks down, picking out a piece of tomato. His voice bland, he asks, "So Logan is your boyfriend?"

She snaps the word when she says, "Yes," but only because it's something that she sometimes wonders herself. She thinks he is, but they've never had a discussion about it. She softens her voice, trying to recall after three months the feeling of his body beneath hers and the security that he was there for the long term even if not physically. "I refuse to wear the letter jacket, but I do have his pin if you want to see."

"You don't need to show me proof of relationship, Veronica," her dad says dryly. "I'm just making sure that you know the choice that you're making."

"Hello, I'm Veronica. We met one fine August day at a time when your locks still flowed in the wind." He snorts. "I always know the choices I make."

It is a while before he speaks again. Keith must have gotten new chairs, because Veronica does not remember the old one being this uncomfortable. "You've made this choice before, more than once, and it's only ended in you being hurt."

Her blinking seems, very suddenly, slowed and significant. "That was ten years ago, Dad. Logan's changed since then."

"You've said those words to me before," Keith says, gentle and compassionate like he's breaking terrible news to her. "And we lost a lamp, and Logan broke your heart. I just don't want it to happen again."

Veronica studies him. She doesn't know how he can look at Logan and see only his damaged child self. She doesn't know how to explain this to him, how to make him understand how different Logan now is from Logan then, how much more settled he is, how much more satisfied and comfortable and controlled. How much more she trusts him now, because all her evidence to the contrary has grown a decade stale. She opens her mouth to try. "Dad, he saved your life-"

"And I'm grateful. Of course I'm grateful for that. I can see that he's trying to turn his life around. But that doesn't erase the things he's done. The way he brought you back to Neptune-"

"Stop, Dad."

"Logan has instincts that don't go away. And some of those instincts are dangerous and-"

"What? He's dark?" Logan's spoken to her a little about his officer's training, about how there were bullies among the sergeants and he had needed to learn to breathe through anger, to let it go, to choose his fights. She tries to do that now, because she loves her dad. She understands why he is saying these things. She understands how much he has wanted to protect her, and how much he regrets not being able to, whether he knows about it or not. "Dad, I'm not Sunshine Mary. I'm more like Typhoid Mary. I've made mistakes. There are things I've done that I can never take back. You've seen the things that I've chosen to do."

There is a moment where she thinks that he is going to get up, that he is going to come around the desk and rest a serious hand on her shoulder. But she sees the stiffness in his movements, the pull of pain on his face, and leans across the desk toward him instead. "And you chose to get out, honey. You chose to do something different. And now you're back in Neptune, living that same life, solving cases with the same boyfriend."

"I didn't come back to Neptune for Logan, Dad." Her voice is harsher than she thought it would be. It startles her. "I came back because this is who I am. This is what I'm good at. This is what I love doing. Solving crimes, finding out the truth, making sure the people in power deserve to be there. I didn't come back here to be Logan's girlfriend or your secretary, and I didn't come back because I was afraid or because I failed at being a lawyer. I came back because this is the family business."

"I wish it weren't, sweetie." He grasps her hands.

"Not as much as Neptune does. And that's why they need us. Someone's got to try to get this town on the straight and narrow."


She avoids her dad for the rest of the afternoon. She thinks she got through to him, but she knows that normalcy is a hard ghost to give up. She's still edgy when she gets home, but she hasn't emailed Logan all day. She debates: she tries to keep her emails to him light, knowing that he has enough drama without hers, but she knows that he gets uneasy when he doesn't hear from her. She opens up a new email.

I know I owe you, but I kind of got into a thing with my dad and I don't want to put it on you. Just know that I'm fine and I'll talk to you tomorrow.

Twenty minutes later he writes back:

You never owe me anything, Veronica, and I want you to put it on me.

She has done enough research about the realities of flying jets, about the difficulty of landing, about the likelihood of injury from one wrong move, to know that it wouldn't be fair.

Not if you and Lola were out today, she writes.

She's still recovering from last time. Tell me.

And so she does. It's not a script of what happened, just the gist, but she doesn't edit it.

If I saw my relationship resume, I'd tell you to run in the opposite direction. Your dad isn't wrong, he writes back, slightly later than normal.

About who you are now? I thought you military guys had to be sensible and clear thinking. I trust you, Logan.

I trust you too.
Now let's put trust into action: tell me what you're doing in your mission to clean up Neptune.

When they were going out, Logan had generally been okay with her working cases. He had even asked her to a few times. Knowing what she did and how good she was at it didn't make him feel less manly. But there's something different now that he's thousands of miles away. He can't interfere, can't try to get her to leave it alone with anything more than words blunted by screen and distance, but then again, he can't interfere, can't play backup with an unloaded gun or be called to the rescue with a forwarded text.

She doesn't realize how long she's been staring until her blinking cursor fades into a black screen. 'Gird your loins, Veronica,' she thinks. 'Trust. Communication. You can do it.'

I started by looking into the developer who seems to think Neptune is the Promised Land by the way they're buying up property. Shell companies like nesting dolls, obviously, but Mac and I think we've followed the breadcrumb trail.
The thing is that it looks like a dead end. I've been visiting the facilities of the different corporations, looking into their business dealings, even talking to employees, and I have no idea why what looks like your run of the mill property management firm is suddenly interested in taking over Neptune.

I'm no expert, granted, but maybe it's not something nefarious about the developer. Maybe it's something special about the land?

She's thought of that, has looked in the official county records and had Mac check to make sure that nothing had been tampered with or deleted. Everything looked clean, the purchases still inexplicable. But there's something about his sentence that bugs her. She reads it over twice more, and her brain catches it. Granted. She frowns and opens up her files on the case. And there it is. A midlevel software firm called WinTech Solutions that they had assumed was only hiding bigger fish up the chain. But she pulls up the list of their executives, and right there on the board of directors, like he doesn't even care that she found him, is the name Grant Winters. 'There's a reason I don't believe in coincidences.'

Veronica?

She shakes herself. She'd forgotten that he was probably waiting for a reply.

Sorry. Doesn't look like anything to do with the land, but I might have found something. Junior year, I worked a case for this girl Wallace liked who fell for an email scam. Turns out that it was run by these computer geniuses who were using the scam money as capital to create some kind of revolutionary super-game. I left an anonymous tip with the FBI about it, but it looks like at least one guy, Grant Winters, didn't get the punishment he so richly deserved. He's got his own company that's somehow related to the people who are snapping up Neptune and the little integrity its public servants had along with it.

I'm guessing you didn't part as friends, so…be careful, Veronica. Do you have a concealed carry permit?

No, but it's just surveillance and computer stuff. I shouldn't need one.

It's just computer stuff now, but eventually it's going to escalate. You're smart and resourceful and great at what you do, but this guy has had ten years to build up a grudge and apparently some power to go along with it. Take care of yourself, okay?

Veronica thinks of literally catapulting from zero to a hundred and sixty-five miles per hour, of the one in ten aviators who die from ejecting from falling, burning or malfunctioning craft. She knows how he feels now when he thinks about her doing her job. You take care of yourself too. If you're returned to me in less than pristine condition, I'm going to be having a stern word with your CO.

He's already quaking.

Good. Then my work is halfway done. May the Force be with you.

Damn it. I should have just let you think I was called Nose Dive.

Hey kid, don't get cocky. You really have been away too long if you forget that I would have found out anyway. You can fool some of the people some of the time, and you can fool some of the people all of the time, but you can never fool me.

Chapter Text

Rodney Goodman is nineteen, but looks younger. His suit is too large on him, and no one has tamed his hair, so it pokes up in swooping cowlicks.

Veronica came to Gia's gravestone unveiling hoping to see his mother. The first property Grant Winters bought was back in 2006 right after his graduation (from Heart, coincidentally. He had apparently transferred after their encounter) while Woody was still mayor. There was nothing unusual in the official paperwork, and the area was still vacant. It was a long shot, but Veronica had hoped to see if any of Woody's notes had been kept by his family, if he had ever mentioned a twenty-year-old kid buying one of the county's old buildings, abandoned for newer facilities. But the cold-eyed woman who Veronica had seen only a few times had not put on an appearance for this.

She isn't the only one. Gia Goodman had overcome the stigma of being the daughter of a pedophile, only for her involvement in two deaths to be discovered. Her funeral had been private, family and friends only, but from what Veronica had heard, the number of friends in attendance had been small. The number that showed up to the cemetery today is even smaller. It is mostly less influential 09ers, the hangers-on, wanting to be seen, to gape at the spectacle, and to gather any gossip that might be floating around. They talk amongst themselves, standing away from the grave and leaving even as the ceremony ends. Rodney stands at the graveside, looking deflated. Veronica glances toward her (Logan's) car. She should really be back in the office. She walks over to Rodney, who is shaking hands with the rabbi, a portly, middle-aged man who looks as if he wants to leave too.

"I have some…good memories of your sister. She could be a lot of fun," she offers, standing slightly behind him.

He nods a little, and swipes a hand by his nose. It makes him look even younger. Veronica starts to step away.

"You were with my sister when she died, weren't you?" Rodney's voice is deep and wavering. Veronica blinks sharply. It reminds her of Logan after Lilly's funeral. "Did she…I know this sounds stupid, because she was shot and everything, but do you think she was happy until then?"

The truth is that Gia Goodman had been scared and manipulated and trapped and pretending, that her last moments were not peaceful, that Veronica had never heard Gia speak about her brother with any particular fondness. "I think that there were good things in your sister's life. I think you were one of them," she says, and she walks quickly back to her car.

Her father's 11 AM is just leaving as she strides into Mars Investigations.

"I'll call you before next week, Mrs. Cobb," Keith says, ushering the woman out the door. Once she's through, he turns to his daughter and raises an eyebrow.

"Hey." She raises her hands and moves around him to the inner office. "Part of me becoming a partner was getting to be my own boss. The sweet smell of freedom, Daddy-o. There's nothing like it."

He leans against the doorway, still examining her. "Part of you being a junior partner was showing me that you could make it in the big leagues. And right now I'm more inclined to hand Mac the keys to the kingdom." He and Veronica glance out toward the main space where the latest employee of Mars Investigation sits. Mac recently decided to give up on Kane Software and give in to Veronica's hints that she should just come to work for them. ("Your stuff is so much more interesting that anything they're doing, and it usually doesn't make me feel sleazy. Plus I'm working on an app that should be taking care of my dubious future grandchildren, so I have no excuse for money over integrity.")

Mac looks up from her computer, her brain taking a second to catch up and focus on them. "Oh, no. Keep your keys. I'm happy to be the sidekick."

"Good. You just crack wise and look pretty," Veronica says, adding roughness to her voice.

Keith looks at his daughter, cocking his head in pity. "But then what will you do?"

"Hey! I bet Mac's De Niro impression's got nothing on mine."

Keith walks over to his desk. His step looked just slightly heavy today, Veronica thinks, relieved. She moves to go sit at her own desk, now tucked slightly awkwardly against the wall. "Yes, I've heard that's how you make it in the biz. I use mine at least twice a week," he says.

"Gonna need it for our latest client?"

"Someone broke into her home two weeks ago, and she thinks the sheriff gave up before he started. First step will be to request the official report from the sheriff's department."

"I'll do it."

Her voice is measured, casual and unhurried, a vague, distracted offer as she looks over something on her computer. Keith looks suspicious anyway. "Alright. But remember that there are still deputies who saw you dressed as a bunny for Halloween when you were six. Hard to intimidate them into getting whatever information you're looking for after that."

Veronica grabs her bag and holds her hand out for the Cobb file. "You've never seen my De Niro."

She fills out the request for the burglary report, unsurprised when she writes in an address in the 02 zip code. She hadn't thought it was possible for the sheriff's department to be more unwelcoming but without even Sacks to look dry and consistent, there it is. The Lamb dynasty might have ended, but Duffy, the elected replacement, is not much better. He has been with the department twenty years- Veronica recalls him as a slightly bumbling shadow in her childhood- and he makes up for the former sheriff's malignance with apathy. Veronica also can't help but notice that a shiny new Lexus sits in his parking space.

She sides the form across the desk. "Here you go, Deputy…" He's new, young and a little too muscular. She checks his name tag. "Crowder. Haven't seen you around here before. Where'd you come from?" The new station has a high desk; it's harder to lean against flirtatiously because mostly she seems like a child on tiptoe.

Apparently it doesn't matter. Not looking up, the officer grabs her form. "I know who you are." He clicks something on the computer. From his dragging, Veronica suspects he's playing solitaire. "Veronica Mars."

She raises an eyebrow. "I guess my reputation precedes me." It really was only a matter of time before they started posting her picture around with the caption Don't talk to this girl. She relaxes away from the desk. "And I suppose this means that you're not interested in talking to me about the twenty-six percent crime increase in certain districts?" She digs in her pocket, holds up a coin pinched between her fingers. "There's a shiny quarter in it for you."

Veronica is used to being laughed at. This, however, is not the kind of nasty laughter she knows. Deputy Crowder laughs genuinely, as if he is truly amused by a joke she did not even realize she was telling.

"Oh, sweetheart," he says, still smiling widely. "You've got to know that a quarter isn't going to cut it. Not with the big boys who are so publically-minded with their checkbooks."

Veronica's Taser has regained its place in her bag, but despite the "sweetheart," despite the arrogant near-admission of bribery, she holds back. There's a reason Logan can count on one hand the times he's won against her at poker. Veronica is a strategist. Neptune knows her; they must realize that she is investigating but she doesn't want to show her hand. "I was just a concerned citizen. You know how property values fall when people get up to no good," she says, and taps a finger against the desk. "Put me down as publically-minded too." She heads toward the door.

"Five to seven business days for your report," Deputy Crowder says, his voice bored and rote. He has returned to his solitaire game.

Being a junior partner is officially supposed to mean a lot of paperwork, but her dad is still stiff, still healing, so Veronica spends the rest of the day out of the office, just her and car, coffee and camera.

Toward evening, she goes and looks at an apartment. It might not be money-conscious, but it's something she's thinking about. She doesn't worry about her dad being alone anymore, and she doesn't want to be thirty and living at home.

The real estate agent she has been talking to is a tired, dusty, cheerful woman named Diana. "There are plenty of available residences right now," she says, her husky voice making even the slow emptying of Neptune seem attractive. "But we have many wealthier buyers who are purchasing old lots and building new homes. Still, I think we can find something for you." But the place they check out is a large, empty loft that reminds her of Gia's place enough to give her a tingle along her spine, so she doesn't consider it any further.

"We'll keep looking," Diana says. "It's a buyer's market in Neptune right now."

Her dad is in the kitchen when she gets home. He is singing a little, badly.

"Ratatouille and couscous, to give you a little taste of the international, baby." He has that wide grin of his on his face as he does Austin Powers, also badly. It pulls a laugh out of her and she goes to the cabinet for plates.

Her dad mentions watching a movie after dinner, but she asks for an hour first. She has gotten into the habit of writing to Logan by now, just about her day, about observations and cases and the new place that she found with the great muffins.

Lemon-poppy today, she starts, Which you would think would be weird, but I was convinced to try and I'm leaving you for a sixty-year-old baker named Martha, so take from that what you will.

It was a good day, fairly routine, so she doesn't even consider censoring her account until the end. She hasn't mentioned going to the cemetery yet.

Went to Gia's unveiling today. Not the social event of the season. In related news, I think they've decided that the motto for the 09er zip is "Cold as ice." Not that the two of us were sleepover buddies or anything (narrowly avoided, actually) but I feel bad for her. They didn't do the right thing with Susan, but no one deserves to be Cobb's special blackmail friend.

Hard to feel upset about the stories I've heard about how he's doing in County. My dad would hide his face in shame if I connect the dots about how that came to be, but I will say that it's nice to have an in with some of Neptune's less law-abiding citizens.

Don't tell, or they won't let me write to you anymore. I know you Navy boys are supposed to keep your associations as clean as those spanking white uniforms of yours.

V

She and her dad argue over what to watch, finally compromising with some comedy chosen at random. She thinks that she has seen it before until she realizes that it's just reusing jokes from actually funny movies. They both fall asleep in the middle, waking groggily for the last fifteen minutes.

"I have an excuse," Keith says drowsily as they turn off TV and lights, shutting down the house for the night. "You're just getting old before your time."

"Nah, I just know what I like to do with my time. My clubbing days are over."

"You had clubbing days? I must have been napping for that hour of your life." His voice is wry. He still isn't entirely comfortable with the idea that her grand return to Neptune isn't just a temporary thing, still makes offhand comments about New York, but it makes her relax a little more each time he jokes about the idea that she's never going to be normal, never really going to be easy going Veronica Mars.

There's nothing from Logan before she goes to bed, but he's replied by the time she checks her email between throwing on clothes and biting into toast. Most of it is pretty standard, a recap of his day stepping around the information that he isn't allowed to tell her. He might be the one flying fighter jets and traveling to distant locations, but his days are repetitive, fairly strictly scheduled. He fills in the mundane with color, with descriptions of his trainees, his friends, the lack of well-conceived lemon-poppy muffins. She laughs, a couple of crumbs escaping as she gets ready to leave. She stops laughing, though, when she gets to the end.

Gia and I only had sleepovers by accident (she ended up passed out at Carrie's a few times) which meant that I missed out on all the chatty bonding development of our relationship. But she could make Carrie laugh like nobody else and I know what it feels like to be trapped, so I guess you can put my motto down as "Room temperature."

Not for Cobb, though. We have more of a "hope you like hellfire" relationship, so your continuing involvement with Neptune's criminal element will go uncontested by military censors.

Pretty sure they already know that I'm not spotless, though. There's probably a bet by this point about who's reforming who.

L

There's plenty to respond to, but Veronica has a question that she hasn't asked through almost six months of casual, fond mentions of Carrie. She holds the last bite of toast in her mouth and swipes out a one sentence reply.

How did you get together with Carrie anyway?

She doesn't feel bad about the length or the abruptness until she is sitting in the car following through on a fraud case, and her phone buzzes with an email. She finds that she is a little anxious to open it, anxious that he will be offended or still so pained over her death that he can't talk about it.

Neptune must be offering some intense distractions if you could hold yourself back from asking about this for six months.
Carrie went on tour after her second album came out. It had a lot more experimental stuff, and she started doing shows in these little venues. She was doing a late one this one night, so she went to grab dinner first. I had just been transferred to Lemoore that week. I didn't have groceries yet so I'd been eating out a lot.
I don't think I would have recognized her (I don't think we were ever in the same room in high school, and she had changed so much anyway) but she recognized me and she came over to say hi. I gave her my number at the end, just because it seemed like the thing to do when you ran into someone from high school, but I guess she saw that being the new guy on the block was hard because she started texting me. And when she was heading back home after the tour, she came for a couple of days and it just…happened.
But I'm glad that it did. Carrie was loyal- I watched one of her bodyguards, this guy who she didn't fire after he let Ruby get by him at a concert once, cry because she was cremated so he couldn't be a pallbearer- and she was funny and we both knew what it meant to want to be someone different than you were in high school.
I'm glad that we had that great year because the next one was…let's start with "catastrophe" and get out the thesaurus to fill in the rest. I wasn't there the whole time, but she slipped so far so fast that I didn't even notice it until she was on the cover of every tabloid there was.
Ships have a zero tolerance policy and they already knew that I had a history when they asked me to enlist, so I had to do alcohol intervention courses for a while. That helped when I was trying to figure out what to do. But I also knew how it felt to have something in your life that make you want to drown everything out, to make these choices that just ended up making everything worse, to make a life that you didn't like but didn't know how to leave. So helping Carrie…it was like helping myself.
I don't know if she would have stayed sober that last time, but I hate that I'll never get to know.
Anyway, that's the flashback into the Logan/Carrie saga. I still can't believe you waited this long for it.

I started trying out this new place. Not sure if you've heard of it. The high road?

That's right near the land of being a better person, right?
Yeah, I don't spend time there. Which leads me to my next question: how did Piznarski Part 2: The Pizening, happen?

One day you'll join me up here. The air…so clear. The intentions…so good.
Piz and I were a coincidence. I was working HR for a newspaper that he freelanced for so we'd see each other if he had meetings. We had a couple of mutual friends. We'd run into each other at Starbucks. So after a few years of awkward side hugs and detouring right around the details when we had to explain how we knew each other, I just asked him if he wanted to actually run into each other on purpose.
Piz was always a really easy guy to go out with, and I guess when I stopped being Veronica Mars: intrepid girl detective and started being Veronica Mars: law student, where the hardest part of dating me was that I was studying all the time, I was a pretty easy girl to go out with.
And plus side of that dating move: I started listening to a lot of NPR, so now I'm an excellent addition to any cocktail party.

You sure you're on the high road, and not the one to hell?
I know it's been a while, but I suspect that you're still more cases than cocktail parties these days. How is that going?

I happened to be in the sheriff's department yesterday and I heard some very unsavory mentions of bribery. And I was sure that our fine officers of the law would never engage in something like that, so I had Mac do a quick check into the sheriff's department financials, and you'll never believe it, but it looks like a foundation called Fortress has been giving a little something whenever it can to a fund for "department morale and comfort."
I'm not sure how much time you've spent in their waiting room lately, but it doesn't seem to have gotten any more comfortable.

Well, I for one maintain hope that we will one day have an interrogation room with cushioned seats. Maybe an espresso machine.
Have you thought more about getting a gun?

Veronica is picking up pizza for herself and her dad and Wallace when she gets that one. She feels her lips purse, her breath going even to try to calm her annoyance.

She still remembers the menace of the gun in Logan's hand as he pointed it as Liam Fitzpatrick, still recalls the feel of Cassidy Casablancas's in her hands, the smooth, sleazy weight of it. Guns are intimidating and unpredictable. She never wants to hold one again.

I'm going to stick to use my weaponized little mind. Nothing's happening anyway.

But it's going to happen eventually, and when you don't know what your mind is going to be up against, a little cold steel is good backup.

Here's the thing: she's mad at him, but it's hard to fight over email, hard to write the words and look at them, to pause and allow her fury to send them anyway. She's gotten angry with him over the past few months, but she usually ends up waiting a minute, erasing her words and rephrasing.

Is this a protective instinct thing now that you aren't here to be my backup? Because you know that my perfume is called "Strong Independent Woman."

You changed your perfume? We really don't communicate anymore. Now I'll have to change all of my special imaginings.
You're the best PI I know (don't tell the second best PI I know; I really do enjoy this new development where I can look your dad in the eye) but this whole situation has flashing danger lights. I just think it's important to remember that even your mind doesn't come with its own bulletproof vest.

Never ever tell me what "special imaginings" is code for.
I'll think about it, but don't expect me to be Veronica Get Your Gun. I've been menacing enough so far with a Taser and a winning smile.

There's barely even enough time for the message to send before she types out another.

To solve that bet from earlier: I don't think either of us is reforming anyone. I think we're just finally figuring out how to put the puzzle together.

She wakes in the middle of the night, throat rough. As she gets back into bed, she checks her phone, just in case.

Well, he's written. You always were good at puzzles.

It would do terrible, wonderful things to his ego if she told him she went to sleep smiling just from that.

Chapter Text

 

"I guess bad guys don't respect the power of a good naming surprise," Veronica says, shaking her head. "This is like Darth Vader all over again."

"Like you knew enough Dutch to figure that out. Still, I like that the nerd grows strong in you." Mac grins, reaching into the sleeve of jelly beans and popping one into her mouth. "But I don't think the Castle was really looking to surprise you, just to find a name for their bribe your local sheriff fund."

The two of them are at the front desk, Mac in the primary position by her computer, Veronica twirling just a little in her chair beside her. "But this is stupid kids giggling because they figured out how to use the thesaurus. It's like they're not even trying anymore."

"If they're not trying anymore, it doesn't do great things for our rep if we can't actually figure out the grand scheme of things." Mac leans back, using fingers to tick off all the questions they still have. "Somewhere along the way, your old friend Grant got onto the Castle membership list. The Castle is bribing the police through a foundation called Fortress. We still don't know why. No idea why it's different than your typical rich people-money-cops scenario, or why Grant is special to the Castle."

"Negativity," Veronica says, rolling the word in her mouth, "Is not the name of the game. Patience is." She reaches over to select her own jelly bean, but gets exasperated with the decision and just slides a handful into her palm. "Capitalize on my willingness to take a break, and satisfy your mom's wish for you to bring home a guy. This is a rare offer of my wingwomanship."

"Can we go back to conversations that pass the Bechdel test?" Veronica raises an eyebrow and Mac raises her palms in response. "What? I just like conversations that don't revolve around guys."

Veronica nods, businesslike. "Okay. Want to take advantage of my wingwomanship to pick up a girl?"

They pause for a minute, listening to a police siren in the distance. Veronica's eyes are a little tighter when they meet Mac's again, and Mac has to resist the urge to turn back to her computer. Instead she holds Veronica's gaze and asks, "Are you okay? Not to be like a seventh grade girl at a slumber party, but I'm getting a weird vibe from you."

"Sure."

"Really? You're fine? Logan and your dad are-" she winces a little, apologizing in advance for a terrible pun, "All shipshape?"

Veronica's response takes just a touch too long, but her voice is still light. "As far as I know."


Veronica knows how to deal with the unknown. You revisit the scene. You badger witnesses, and get information from people in power. You fit things together and puzzle it out until it is known. And then when it's over you sit vigil beside hospital beds and victims. You find closure. You move on with enlightenment in your heart.

She is familiar with crisis. But none of the normal rules apply to this one.


It is the tenth apartment that they are seeing, but Diana is undaunted.

"Sometimes it just takes a little longer to find the right place," she tells Veronica, still cheerful, and Veronica feels guilty for a moment about forcing her through the trouble when she is still uncertain that she'll be able to get her own place at all.

The apartment almost changes her mind, though. It's not particularly large but it feels spacious, all rough wood floors and light walls and gray accents.

"Now, there's only the one bathroom, but it's a nice size," Diana is saying, but Veronica is still looking around.

"And you're sure this is within my price range?" She takes her eye off the big windows to look straight at the real estate agent, gaging.

Diana grins. "Hard to believe, isn't it? It's just gone on the market, but I knew that this was a listing that would appeal." Veronica gets over her shock enough to make sure that it includes enough of the features she wants, but everything still looks too good to be true.

"Now," Diana says as they walk out, losing a bit of her smile. Veronica braces herself for the plot twist. "I know that you were still unsure about your time frame for moving, but this is a listing that is going to go fast. I've already heard that there's some interest from someone out of LA who is willing to pay above asking." Her grin sneaking back on despite herself, she leans over toward Veronica. "Actually, I heard that it was Jeremy Sloane."

A brief image of Lilly flashes across Veronica's mind, and the nostalgia of it makes her relaxed and open. "My best friend and I were obsessed with him. We used to watch his show, that terrible soap opera he was on, and plan our weddings to him like he would have been cool with marrying a couple of fourteen-year-olds." Diana is locking up the apartment, but Veronica catches one last glimpse. It still looks perfect to her. That makes her frown. "But why does he want this place? It's gorgeous, but why does he need a one bedroom in Neptune? Even if he was going to use it for storage or turn it into a Ping-Pong room, it's still a commute from the land of the golden parachutes."

"I think he's actually thinking of moving here. We're going to have to lock up the teens, you know. I think that man must have sold his soul because he doesn't look like he's aged since you were fourteen." Diana goes to leave the key in the building manager's office, keeping up a warm flow of chatter as she does. "He actually went to Hearst, before he got discovered, so he already knows the area. He'll probably buy that apartment, buy out all the other tenants who live here, tear it down and build himself a nice new place. The location is excellent." The evening is warm, so the two of them stand comfortably beside their cars. Veronica leans against hers. It might be Logan's, but she has grown attached to this gorgeous, sleek vehicle in his absence. Her breath catches for a moment, and she anchors herself with the reality of the metal.

"What happened to your architectural integrity?"

"Hey, for what he's paying, he could tear down my house and use it as overflow parking." More than her words, it is Diana's rich laugh that makes Veronica smile. "It's actually a great time to be a real estate agent in Neptune. Sloane is part of a pack of people with big checkbooks making their way here. Tearing down properties and putting up new ones, even paying residents of the…lower rent parts of town for their lots."

"Am I allowed to chain myself to this building so they can't take my sunshine away and replace it with a soulless McMansion that costs more than my college tuition?" Veronica extends a foot. "These are my sticking-it-to-the-man boots, after all."

"I'll tell you what. I'll try to make sure that this place is held for a couple of days. No guarantees after that, though."

"I can work with that," Veronica nods, and they shake on it.


Veronica knows fear. The ignored worry that she would one day to come home to find her mother aspirating on her own vomit. The numbness that comes from being surprised by a psycho with a gun or a spinning tattoo needle. The scream of the world upon seeing her father bruising and burning and broken. The pulse of her heart matching music as she confronts a maniac with only a unicorn or a Taser in her hand. But this is the worst kind of fear, the kind that chokes her every minute, the kind that stays in her chest even as she tries to outrun it, the kind that sits small and clawed in her mind.

Veronica hasn't heard from Logan. It has been six days.


Her dad is out when she gets home. She suspects that he has started seeing someone, but doesn't mind waiting until he confirms it. It is a bit of a relief not to have to talk to anyone.

She gets ready for bed. The quiet just makes the fear in her mind grow. She takes out her computer, checks for new mail. There is nothing. She tries to avoid looking at the display of emails below, but her eyes wander to the last one in her email chain with Logan.

If you keep trying to argue for the Stones over the Beatles reads the line displayed in her inbox. She closes her eyes, remembering the rest: my dad's Fab Four-dar is going to go off, and he'll fly over there to drop kick you into the ocean where they'll never find your body.

Her knuckles are clenched white around a pillow as she manages to fall asleep.


She dreams that she is putting together a puzzle. The pieces are large, obvious, but she can't seem to get them to fit together. One has a large house, one a police car, one a man's face. She twists them together, hoping that they will slide together in a match.

She wakes up with an intake of breath. 'Very literal,' she thinks. 'And I try to be a challenge for the shrinks.' But she understands now how to make her match.


'How would I know?' she wonders on the way to work. Who would they tell? Trina is probably his next of kin, just by default. Would Trina tell her? Would she even care? She imagines going to the drugstore and seeing Trina's face on a magazine cover, twisted in exaggerated grief beneath a false headline about personal tragedy.

Her cell vibrates against her thigh and she tenses, breath tripping into her throat. It's an email.

Hi Veronica! I'm a recruiter at Epic, and I recently reviewed your resume as provided by the Columbia University resume book. I'm excited to learn more about you-

She doesn't know whether the spam makes it better or worse.

Logan is a part of her life, her whole life, in a way he never was in their prior incarnations. She tells him about her cases, about arguments with her father. He is the one who slides her into humor when she is in a snappish mood after a bad day. She finds his stories sneaking into her conversations when she speaks to Wallace or her dad. She has worried about losing him before, but he has never been so dispersed into the parts of her life, so fundamental.

Logan is her friend now in a way he has not been in many years.

She presses the panic down and goes into the office.


Either Mac is aiming for employee of the month, or she really has a thing for the bad instant coffee they have in the office because she is already sitting at her desk. Rewinding the past fifteen hours, Veronica sits in the chair beside her, her grin intense.

"Imagine," she starts, "That you have a ridiculous amount of money and you want to break the law."

Mac doesn't even turn. "Well, you already just described my life, so, done."

"But are you part of a secret society?"

"The Castle?" Mac finishes what she is doing, or is finally interested enough to look up. "Did you have your magic moment?" She wiggles her fingers around slightly, hovering them above the keyboard.

Veronica keeps her voice low. The door to her father's office is closed, but she wants to be careful. He has already been hurt by these people for getting too close. "So you've got money and you want to break the law, but you don't want to have to keep bribing the police."

"Efficiency-conscious criminals?" Mac turns to look at her fully. "This is new."

"More like cops for hire, a personal police force. Making sure that they're always going to look the other way and help you out, no matter what happens." The dream still fresh in her mind, Veronica tries to put the pieces together in a way that will make sense to Mac as well. "I don't know if you've been playing 'I Spy' with the sold signs around town, but Neptune is getting a fresh crowd of 09ers, and they're not staying in the safe zone of city real estate. This is not just a few people. This is a migration, to a place where they can do anything they want, where they will never have to listen to the law."

"Is this a sitcom where the businessman moves to the barrio and everyone bonds and a laugh track plays over hilarious cultural misunderstandings?"

"By the time the businessmen move to the barrio, it will be the 09 South. The cops have been more aggressive. That's already started to convince people to get out, and when these guys come up with their checkbooks, they take it and move to somewhere the grass is greener." There is a shuffling from inside the office. Her dad might be coming out in a minute. Veronica gets up, positions herself in front of the desk. "Can you cross a list of people who have bought real estate in Neptune with the Castle database?"

"Oh, I didn't tell you about my amnesia? I've lost the ability to do simple computer tasks." Mac looks at her almost pityingly before smiling. "I'll email it to you."

Keith is opening the door as Veronica places her hand on the knob. "I thought I heard you out here," he says suspiciously.

"Just catching up with my peeps." Veronica throws finger guns at Mac.

"I'm the peeps," Mac says flatly, and while Keith and Mac raise a dry eyebrow at each other, Veronica shrugs and goes to her desk.

"I'm never going to be beloved by all with the negativity from those nearest and dear to me."

"I would start with being beloved by the occasional passerby," Keith tosses after her, giving a false pursed-lip frown. "Start small." His voice grows muffled as he moves toward the door. "I'm going out, and yes, I feel well enough. And Veronica," he leans his head back into the office, "Don't follow me. I taught you those skills. Don't think the student can use them against the master."

"Like I don't have better things to do than keep an eye on the old man," Veronica snorts. When Keith leaves, she goes to Mac's desk and drops off her keys. "Don't let me have these until I actually have to leave."

Still distracted, Mac holds the keys aloft in her fist. "And I thought if I stayed in and hung out with nerds I would never get a designated driver moment like this." She does not pay attention to Veronica's smile, absentmindedly allowing the keys to drop into a drawer as she organizes the Castle information.

Veronica reenters her office. She pulls up a listing of their current cases, tries to prioritize them. But without the drive of the corruption in Neptune to focus on, her undistracted mind wanders back to Logan. It is the seventh day.

She had not thought that she would worry like this. Not when she went nine years without seeing him. Not when there is no sign that anything is wrong. But she is tense with a lack of knowledge.

Logan has known that she would be. The day before he had left, he had given her an email address. "If anything goes wrong, they're not going to tell you. We're not related, and we're not married. It'll be a media blackout until they've told all the families and then they'll release to the press," he had said, folding a piece of paper into her hand. He had read her face and stopped her thoughts as they were forming. "I'm not joking, Veronica. This isn't the kind of thing where you can get information with a head tilt, or fake tears, or a good story and a photoshopped badge. If you don't hear from me for a week, write to this address. I'll tell you what to say."

"A week? Logan, a week without information for me is like-"

"Years, I know." He had left off pressing clothes into his bag and come over to loop arms around her waist. "But promise me. Whoever I ask to do this, they would be breaking operational security. They'd be putting their job on the line for me. I would be asking them to trust that I was making a decision that wouldn't endanger the entire crew."

She had leaned back against his supporting arms to look into his face. "You have people who would do that for you?"

She was glad that she was watching because the smile of shy confidence that filled his face was something worth seeing. "Yeah. I do." He had pulled out his phone and showed her a picture of his uniformed self standing beside a stable looking woman with bright red hair who was grinning toughly at the camera. "This is Annie, my best friend in the service."

Veronica looked at the email address in her hands. CBrendanawicz. "Shouldn't it be A Brendanawicz?" She had gasped with delight as a thought occurred. "Is the C for commander? Tell me she's your superior officer. I'll know I've had a good influence if you're making friends with the people who can get you the good stuff."

"She wishes she was my superior. We were in training together and we've moved up together since then. She'll outpace me eventually, though. Helps when you don't have a regular date with murder charges." But he said it lightly, without the contained bitterness it might have held in his teenage years.

Logan's easy relationship with women had always bothered Veronica. She had never been sure whether he was unconsciously, easily friendly with them, or if it was some misguidedly dysfunctional way of forcing her jealousy to confirm her affection for him. She forced a breath, forced calm. "How did you become friends?"

"I was the famous one, she was one of a handful of women, and the only married one. This one CO wasn't fond of either of us, kept giving us the shit jobs. Eventually she said, 'If we're going to keep getting stuck together, I should probably know more about you than that your dad used to be my Auntie June's favorite actor and that you can curse in seven languages.'"

"Isn't that how all the great friendships start?"

"Controlling girl decides that you're going to be friends? It's worked out for me so far." He had gazed at her, remembering a similar incident on a soccer field almost two decades ago, until she pressed a palm to his cheek, gently pushing him away.

"Keep the sex eyes in your head." She had pulled away a little, adding Annie Brendanawicz's address into her phone. Logan waited patiently and eventually she had met his eyes again, gaze serious. "And she'll tell me what's happening?"

"Yes. But one week, Veronica. One Earth week."

'It's into the seventh day,' Veronica thinks now, and writes out the message that Logan had given.

Hey Annie,

Haven't heard anything in a while, so I'm just checking in to make sure everything's okay. Fill a stateside girl in!

V

She has looked up Annie, knows that she was born Canada Gordon and married Paul Brendanawicz eight years ago. She knows that her call sign is "Nuff Said" because her name was bad enough to be a nickname all on its own. She knows that she has red hair and stands as tall as Logan's shoulder and has joked about making Logan godfather if she ever has a kid in such a way that he doesn't know if she is serious or not.

She doesn't know when she will write back. She doesn't know if she is any condition to.

It's like an ache that this is all she can do. She bends her head to her hands, just for a moment, then takes in a sharp breath and opens a case file at random. She has started making notes about the direction that she should take when her email chimes.

"Thanks, Mac," she calls, shoving the folder to the side and opening Mac's list. Grant Winters's name is at the top, just because Mac is thorough. Jeremy Sloane's name is there. Veronica can't believe that she never noticed it in the list when they took Jake Kane's hard drive in the first time, but it was a frantic few hours between cracking it and deciding she no longer wanted to have anything to do with it at all. Overall, the list is a little longer than she expected, but not by much. Just enough people to start an elite little kingdom by the ocean.

The problem now is not lack of information. It is confusion about what to do next. She leans back, swivels a little in her chair before standing abruptly.

"I need my keys." She takes her bag and strides toward the door. "Mac, I need my keys, and cancel all my appointments."

"There were days," Mac remarks, glancing at her, "When I renowned and respected for my expertise. Once I was the sidekick in this whole operation, not the secretary."

"I'm having a cape made up, just for you." Veronica gives what she hopes is a convincingly winning grin. Mac allows a matching one to creep onto her face. She digs in the drawer for her keys.

"You didn't have any appointments anyway."

Veronica is already in the doorway, but she turns and proposes, "Tomorrow I'm going to take you to the movies. I'm going to buy you popcorn."

"It's a lady-date." Mac makes a face at the expression as Veronica closes the door. Through the wood, she can hear her call, "But why am I suddenly afraid that we might not live to see tomorrow?"

Veronica jubilantly starts the car. She knows where she needs to go. But she thinks of Logan, of panic and the possibility of him alone somewhere, and the smile slips from her face. She'll make a stop first.


On the drive, Veronica imagines funerals. She thinks of uniforms filled with people who belong to a different part of Logan's life than she does, visualizes gun salutes drowning out for a moment the clicking of paparazzi cameras. She pictures herself giving eulogies, saying things rote ("Logan Echolls died serving his country") or dramatic ("Logan Echolls was the love of my life") or true ("Logan was my oldest remaining friend, and the last promise he made to my face was a lie").

She presses her foot to the gas even though Logan's car doesn't need it. She has to keep focused. She has to try to outrun the fear.


Weevil's house is bracketed by For Sale signs. As she comes down the street, Veronica sees a cleared plot of land, once big enough for several homes, now with the barest beginning shadow of a larger one.

Jade answers the door when Veronica knocks. They have had few conversations, just one really, when Veronica had seen her at the grocery store a few days after Weevil was arrested for disorderly conduct two months ago. "Why are you letting him fall back into this?" she had asked. "He has you and Valentina now, and he seemed happy."

Jade had placed a box of cereal in her cart. "People come after you because you pester them. If you stopped, they would stop too. It's different for me and Eli. People are always going to come after us for looking the way we look and living where we live. He's trying to protect us the best way he knows how."

Jade's face is a little tenser than Veronica remembers, but maybe that's just the natural reaction people have when she turns up. "Eli," Jade calls over her shoulder, "Someone wants to know if you can come out to play."

Weevil comes down the hall, his daughter balanced on his hip. He hands the little girl to his wife as soon as he sees Veronica. There's something distressing about that. He steps out onto his porch with her.

They stand for a moment without speaking. "People are running scared, V," Weevil says finally, tilting his head toward one of his neighbors' homes.

"You want to do something about that?"

"No." Weevil doesn't even hesitate. "If it's going to risk me not getting home to my wife and my baby girl, not even for you."

"And running up against the cops who have it in for you isn't a risk?" They are beyond the cutesy head tilt. Veronica looks at him straight on. "Weevil, if you help me with this, you won't have to worry about getting home to your family anymore."

"Even your well-meaning stuff, it's threatening. You practice that?" He looks out at his neighborhood, at the quiet. "Let me talk to Jade," he says.


"How's Echolls?" Weevil asks as they drive, not quite making it to casual.

Veronica stares dead ahead. "I haven't heard from him in a week." It's the first time she has said it out loud. She keeps her voice flat so it won't break.

Weevil is shaking his head beside her. "He's a stubborn cabrón. Whenever you think you've got rid of him, it just means that he's mutating into something harder to kill."

The corners of Veronica's mouth spread upward a little. "And they say your bromance is dead."


If there is a vampire in Neptune, it is Clarence Wiedman. He never seems to age, and irritatingly, never seems surprised to see her there.

"Ms. Mars," he says as he answers the door, not even having the courtesy to throw a little 'I've been expecting you' in for ambiance.

Veronica rests a hand on his shoulder. "Clarence, if he's still not treating you right after all these years, you should leave him. By this point, you should at least have a snazzy uniform."

"I'll inform Mr. Kane that you're here," Wiedman says dryly. He hasn't invited her, but she steps inside anyway, Weevil naturally managing threatening beside her shoulder.

"Lilly's dad have a hermit thing going?" he mutters. He isn't wrong. Jake doesn't technically live in Neptune anymore. Mac had given her what she knew about the newest Kane residence, best described as a cabin, near one of the park areas outside of the city.

"It's still probably wired better than your place or mine. Maybe if everything goes well, he'll let us stick around and see what's on his super cable." She does a little headlining arc with her hands to highlight the last words. But her jazzy voice and wide eyes fade as Wiedman and Jake Kane come into the room.

"Hello, Veronica," Jake says. She thinks he has said those words to her more than any others, but they seem wearier than ever. She had been in the background at his fortieth birthday party when a friend had boisterously declared that Jake Kane was growing older with more dignity than the rest of his generation put together. It is no longer true. He is just past fifty and looks aged and shuffling.

"They kicked you out of the Castle, didn't they?" The words blurt out, but gently, muffled. She does not know why she thought she would need Weevil. Jake Kane is no longer the man who helped the sheriff position escape her father twice, not the man who lied and concealed and ignored justice, not the grieving terror of a man who threw himself howling at Aaron Echolls. He is a man in two dimensions, as if life has finally given up on him, and even Wiedman can't make up the difference.

Jake makes his slow way to the couch and rests heavily upon it. "There is no real leaving the Castle, but yes, I lost my position. I made a mistake when I publicized the theft of my hard drive. The members were not pleased to hear that I had not protected our most potentially damaging material and it had…escaped into the wild."

"Who did they get to replace you?"

"A computer specialist named Grant Winters," Jake says, and a hoarse kind of smile comes into his voice. "But I suspect you knew that. It was my understanding from some of his confessions that it was your influence which brought him to our attention in the first place."

And the pieces just keep clicking together. "And it was your influence that got him out of the FBI scam charges."

Jake sees the disgust in her eyes. "The Castle wasn't always like this. There was a time when it was about something other than power."

"I don't think even you believe that," Veronica says, arms crossed. "And I definitely know better."

Jake sighs, a little plea for understanding in his tone. "He was a promising talent who was being expelled from his university due to the investigation. There were those among us who thought that he was someone useful to have with us, so Hearst was convinced to offer him a place, and Clarence had some of his connections in federal law enforcement clear up the legal trouble."

"You played that one wrong, didn't you?" Weevil says, voice low. "Give a guy like that some love, he's going to think he deserves to keep taking forever. So now he's taking my city."

"Actually." Veronica does not think she has ever felt so triumphant as when she sees Wiedman raise an eyebrow as she pronounces the word. She doesn't want to work with these men, but she definitely believes that it is better the devil you know. "I didn't just come here so we could have fill in the blank time. I think it's time for Grant to get taken instead."


She checks her email one last time before she goes in. And maybe it's a sign that she's doing the right thing, because a stranger has sent her just what she needs to hear from across the sea.

Hey V,

It's great to hear from you! Everything here is fine, boring even, except that Lola is grounded for a couple of weeks. I'll have someone tell you the story later, or maybe the two of us could get together sometime.

Love,

Annie

Her shoulders relax as she reads the word 'grounded.' It stands for something that Logan had told her could happen. "Engine malfunctions, or a bird hits you wrong so you land on a base at the ends of the earth, but then you have to wait two weeks with sporadic radio contact for some old guy to come up with replacement parts strapped to the back of his camel."

She won't hear from him for another little while, but he is boringly safe. She goes into WinTech Solutions smiling.


Grant Winters is cocky. The building he has listed as his business is little more than an empty warehouse without even cubicles to give the illusion of office space. He has no employees and no security. Veronica walks in, hands in her pockets, and says, "I've been thinking about opening lines- you know, the classics- and this is probably a 'there ain't room enough in this town for the two of us' situation."

Grant Winters looks older. He has lost the imbalance of spreading ears and nose attached to a round face, but there's still something shifty and ghostlike about him. He wears a polo shirt and khakis and an unpleasant smile as he approaches from the desk in the back. "I figured you would get here eventually, but I didn't think it would take this long. It's been months since you got back to town."

"Well, you weren't the only one who wanted to throw me a welcome home party. Also, my dad had a little accident, so you were kind of just down there," she gestures toward the floor, "On my priority list."

"Oh, yeah, I had heard about your father." His voice has a run of satisfaction in it, so while Veronica keeps her smile, it turns concrete and feral. "That was a real shame."

Veronica waves a hand in the air between them and squints up her face. "Yeah, see my bullshit detector is telling me that you don't really think it's a shame, and my common sense tells me it's because you probably knew about it before anyone else. You probably weren't driving, though. You guys in the Castle have people to run over the good guys for you."

If Grant is surprised that she knows about the Castle, knows about his connection to it, he shows nothing. "It really is good to be king."

In a detached way, Veronica wonders what Logan would do now. Would this be the point where he would tackle Grant with a curving 'you really shouldn't have said that' grin, or would he hold out, let logic rule? She will have to ask him.

"Yeah, I figured that it must be for you to have decided to be the ringleader for the merry band of billionaires."

Grant moves a hand as if to brush back his hair. He smirks, trying to seem relaxed rather than embarrassed when he realizes that it is now too short. "When the Castle came to me and asked if I would do a better job with their information than Jake Kane had, I had a bigger idea. What running into you taught me back then was that you need to have the authorities working for you. You have that, you can do anything you want. So we set up a little fund. Everyone contributes to the pot, and the police look the other way or come down hard on whoever we want them to and get to go home to their new big screens." He looks at her with pride not that does not ask to impress. It is the decided pride of a creator discussing an undoubted accomplishment.

"Funny, the lesson I learned was not to be an entitled sociopath who steals from people, but I guess it stuck for me because I already knew that one."

"This isn't stealing." Grant opens his palms, amused rather than affronted. "This is just making sure that there is a place for all my brothers to come and live the lives they deserve. After all, they picked me up after you almost ruined me. It's time I gave a little back." He cocks his head to the side, watches Veronica nod and smile understandingly. "Oh, did you think that you just got the confession you needed? That you transmitted all the damning evidence through one of your clever bugs?" His smile grows. "I've been waiting for you, Veronica Mars. I knew it was only so long before you showed up with your sneaking and your wires. This place has the most advanced anti-surveillance systems available. The CIA could be trying to get a glimpse inside and would come up blank. I just wanted to see the look on your face when you realized that I beat you this time."

"Well, you have to tell me when that happens. I want to know when to smile for the picture," Veronica says. She shifts her weight and looks at him. "I had these best friends growing up. Rich kids, who could have had safes installed in their rooms to hide the things they didn't want their parents to see. But they went simple. Air vents and screwdrivers." Veronica takes a digital tape recorder out of her pocket. "Simple." She extends it toward him a bit. "Want to say hello to the man behind the curtain?"

Grant freezes. He reminds Veronica in that moment of an ancient building, firm on the outside but crumbled and empty within. "What are you going to do with that?" he tries. "There isn't anyone around here I don't own. If you wanted me to make you and your father into laughingstocks again, all you had to do was ask."

"Right, Balboa County judges William Schall and Ronald Lewis. Hearst classes of '68 and '76." Veronica looks disinterested. "You know, Grant, I've been away for a while. And in that time, the sheriff's department gained a new responsibility. They're actually in charge of collecting Neptune's taxes now. And you know what that makes them? Part of our country's greatest system: the IRS." Grant is across the space, shadowed, but Veronica can see his jaw clench. She can't resist going further. "That's right. You went federal and you didn't even know it." She clicks off the recorder and tucks it away. "I went to law school since we last saw each other. Figured I should get a return for my investment."

Junior year of high school was eleven years ago. Veronica can see every one of those years shattering in Grant's eyes. "We have people in the federal judiciary, too," he says, shakily.

"No. You don't. And the guy you usually relied on to smooth things over with the Feds, Clarence Wiedman? He has a bizarre loyalty to Jake Kane, and Jake Kane no longer seems to have any loyalty to you." She starts toward the door. Grant begins to move toward her, but his desire for dramatics, a standoff with proper ambiance and gravity after all this time means that he has too much space to cover. "I've heard that at this point you should just gracefully admit defeat," she advises before striding out of the building and handing the tape recorder to a gaping Special Agent in Charge Deborah Fielding.

"That should have enough for bribery, and if you have a good prosecutor and a lenient judge, intimidation and harassment." Agent Fielding peers at her from out of the FBI van. Behind them, Grant Winters is being handcuffed. He looks dazed, Veronica notes with satisfaction before turning back to Agent Fielding. "Why do I always get the disbelieving stares instead of the gold star for ingenuity?"

"Maybe," Keith says as he clambers out from behind Agent Fielding, "Your ingenuity would get more recognition if you had let someone know ahead of time that you thought there might be a reason that the wire wouldn't work."

Veronica fakes a gasp. "But the last minute twist stroke of brilliance is my specialty. We can't go changing the bag of tricks now!"

Keith puts an arm around her, tucking her firmly against his side. "I just want to add in a trick where you actually tell me how your case is going before I get a text that says In the car with Jake Kane. Going to meet with the FBI."

Veronica angles her head to look up at him. "You already took one for the team. It was my turn to get dirty. And there's still going to be the next few months of trials. You can be my number one man for that."

"You know they aren't going to be easy," Keith warns. They begin to walk away toward their own cars. Veronica needs to go back with the agents, but she is not going in the van. "There are a lot of powerful men wrapped up in this. You and Mac have the list of names, the bank transfers to the police department, the Winters confession, and it still might not be enough."

"Hey." Veronica leans against her car and throws a fake punch. "What ever happened to the Mars fighting spirit?"

"What ever happened to my jaded daughter?" Keith doesn't sound too sad not to see her.

Veronica thinks of a base at the end of the earth and a wounded plane named Lola. She feels like her lungs are truly taking in air for the first time in a while. "It's just been an optimistic kind of day," she says.


She wakes up four days later to an email.

I figured I would have the story to tell this time, but I got back to 'don't worry' messages from Mac and Wallace and your dad, and a 'chill out, it's just Veronica' one from Dick, so I'm going to guess that I've been upstaged again. Want to tell me what I missed?

She looks at the time. She is going to be late for work. She sits up and begins to fill him in.

Chapter Text

 

Being in Neptune is exhausting. She is proud and not sorry that she has revealed the reason behind the changes in this little slice of hell that continues to surprise her, but she had forgotten how nice it was to be anonymous in New York, to wear black and walk with a tough stride and never have a microphone shoved in her face.

As they expected, the case is big. How could it not be when Neptune's newest residents, now mostly under house arrest, included moguls and movie stars? It's on TV every day, someone talking about "affluenza," the growing class gap, or the menace of immigrants forcing people to close themselves off from the world. It makes for great headlines, too, screaming words about California's Extravagant Experiment and The Final Statement of the First Estate.

Someone didn't earn that A in History class, Logan writes cheekily. I didn't see any clergymen on that list. Nice that they can keep their sterling reputation clear from this.

He's been amazing through the whole thing, probably calmer than she would be if he were taking on a powerful secret network with vast funding or confronting an old enemy with a grudge bearing only a tape recorder and wits. It is a few months before the trial will start, but they have already started discussing testimony and strategy. Grant made the mistake of incorporating his company in Sacramento (Really, it's like he wanted all the dominos to line up so I could just push them on down) so the trial is being held up there, far enough away from Neptune for Veronica to let herself feel just a little more secure in the fairness of the outcome. Logan's emails are the thing that helps her through the flights there and back for prep. They are scraps of his usual self, wry and open and fantastically normal.

The best one, though, comes a few weeks into the whole thing (probably more of an affair, really, Logan writes, and the words read tawdry even through the screen) when she is flying back to Neptune as dusk falls and, turning her phone on as they pull onto the tarmac, finds an untitled email from him. All it has is a date, a few days after he had originally said, but close enough to this minute that she makes a noise that has the man sitting next to her reaching automatically for his rosary.

Part of her wants to play it cool. It would be easy over email. It would be protection. But as strange and terrifying as it is, she doesn't want to be cool with him. She wants to see him, and it's okay for him to know it.

Give me a time and I'll be there.

He's replied by the time she is out of the terminal. It'll be late. I fly myself from the carrier to base, and then there'll probably be debrief. I'll drive down in the morning. You can treat me to breakfast.

That makes sense. She'll get a good night's sleep. He'll get as much sleep as he expects. He'll get to see the apartment that she has recently moved into now that Jeremy Sloane is not in a position to be purchasing real estate.

Mars Investigations has done good business over the past few months while the sheriff's department was not a friend of the common man and even now, as things calm down and an interim sheriff is thoroughly checked out and appointed, continues to be patronized by suspicious citizens. Getting the apartment was still a stretch. But she had needed to move out, had needed her own space. She has started letting herself think of Logan spending time there, coming back from a stakeout with her and eating Chinese food, bickering over movies. She doesn't need the denial of normalcy, not anymore, but there's something unutterably sweet as she thinks of a homier, more everyday version of them than they've ever gotten to have.

She wants that sooner. It's odd, because Logan was always the one who felt that days turned into months when they weren't together, who always leaned in for one more kiss. Nevertheless, she has started to develop this urgency, this desire to spend time, to not pull away.

I'll treat you to breakfast, but let's do it at your place.

She might be imagining it, but he seems tentative when he responds, not sure what exactly she means and not wishing to overstep. We're at the stage where you don't have to drive up in the wee hours with restaurant pancakes in a Tupperware and try to pass them off as your own.

Hey, my pancakes could kick your smart ass, but now you'll never know. I just heard that you've got a pool up there and I figured I'd grab some alone time before I have to start hauling your dead weight around.

Someone's been spreading false rumors about pools, but if you were that eager for the perks of NoCal life, all you had to do was ask. I keep a key with Mrs. Fredrickson, my neighbor across the street. She's a mean old bitch (and according to her grandson in my squadron, before that she was a mean young bitch) but the other option was Mary Kay Implants next door, and she's made a few too many implications about my jet and her runway for me to leave anything with her.

She is squinting at the slightly crooked living room blinds, criminally placed over gorgeously wide windows. She stands before them, trying to decide if she can get them replaced, picturing long white curtains that offer both light and privacy, when her phone vibrates with that one. She leaves off her imagining to read it, laughs and sighs. Of all the people in her life, Logan is the one who has hit her with truths that stung, truths that others so frequently let her deny or quip past. But for once she blesses that ability of his to see through her. She wants to be honest with him, wants to not to hide from him, but she appreciates that he can make it so she does not need to cut herself bare before him in words. Now that he has given her an out, she lets herself go in.

Maybe I just want to see you, beat the rush of fans. So in that line of questioning, is there anything else I need to know? Treats to bribe the dog guarding your house?

She doesn't have a lot of furniture in the new place yet, so she sits on her bed to organize her case files on her laptop. Her trips up to Sacramento have meant that she has to maximize the days that she has in Neptune, planning out the legwork she must do while there. She knows that her father would gladly take any cases off her hands if she asked him to (although at this point not gleefully, and without a ticket to New York at the ready), but she asked to be his partner and that means taking her share of the weight. She is absorbed in a case about a food truck possibly running a credit card scam when she notices that she has new mail, and goes to check it almost absently.

The passcode for the security system is 6277. I have a code word for you to get the key, but try to take off your reading-too-much-into-things glasses and know that this was just a random choice.
Tell Mrs. Fredrickson "bobcat" and she'll give you the key. She's more of a dragon, though.

She laughs at this, but there's a sweetness in it too. She goes for humor anyway.

If you think I need my reading-too-much-into-things glasses for this one, you have seriously underestimated my skills. This one could be cracked with barely my Captain Obvious telescope. Don't worry, though. There will be no snide remarks from me. It's Wallace you have to watch out for. I'm going to gain major best friend points for telling him that you've been pining after me for ten years.

She knows that it isn't true, for her or for Logan. They had each made lives for themselves, lives with jobs and friends and shared beds, lives where weeks could go by without thinking of the other. That doesn't mean that there isn't some truth to his reply.

The pining isn't a secret. He found the box where I keep all your hair clippings, so I think he already knows.


She does not ask for the week off from involvement in the case as much as she informs Tim and Barbara, the prosecutors she is working with, that she will not be available. She has tried to cooperate fully so far, knowing that the sensationalism and the unconventional investigation are already working against them, but it has been a hundred and ninety-six days since she last saw him, she has an inbox full of their version of love letters, and she isn't compromising on this.

The weather is cool as she heads north, so she has the top up, but it's sunny and she hums along with the radio as she drives. It might be her imagination, but Logan's car seems happier, gliding and shifting just a touch more smoothly than usual. She wonders if it has a name, almost begins composing an email in her head to send when she stops to get gas before she remembers that she can just ask him in person.

She begins seeing posters as soon as the exit for the base gains mention on the highway signs, "welcome home" proclaimed in bright colors. They're on bridges and telephone poles, and, as she drives into Logan's neighborhood, beside doorways decorated by balloons. Logan's house, a squat building with a circular driveway, has none of these things, and the blankness makes her glad she came today.

She parks and goes across the street for the key. Mrs. Fredrickson is squinting and elderly with heavy scowl creases around her mouth, but she seems to want to get back to Wheel of Fortune far more than she wants to antagonize Veronica. Even as Veronica says, "He said to tell you 'bobcat,'" she is handing over an envelope containing a slim bump, shuffling back in and closing the door on Veronica's "thank you."

'This is why I avoid people,' she thinks as she steps away. But she had still smelled something baking in the background, and hopes that someone had taken Logan home with them after his last tour. She doesn't want to think of him alone, with fewer people to care about him than if he were living with Grandma Good Times across the way.

As she goes to unlock Logan's door, a curtain flutters on the neighbor's house and Veronica can see a bare sliver of lovely face. She blindly flicks her fingers in a wave as she slides the key in. There's a banner on the porch that reads "Welcome home Daddy!" with paint handprints at the corners. She's not worried about Logan getting too friendly with the girl next door.

She puts her bag down beside the door and goes to look around. Logan's house is full of strange combinations: tile leading into different textured carpet, light wood and dark wood mixed with granite, arched doorways in some places and angular ones in others. But it comes together under his vintage movie posters, tucked away video game equipment, and glossy framed candids of him and his mother. Hanging in the stairway is a shot of herself and Logan with Duncan and Lilly, and further down the hall, one of them alone which Wallace had taken the summer before college. They are smiling and not facing the camera.

She returns from her self-guided tour, standing in the foyer and looking around. It strikes her suddenly: Logan has a house. She has been writing to him the whole time while he flew secret missions in fighter jets, but this is what makes it sink in. Logan has a house. Logan is an adult. He is an adult who is her boyfriend, and he is coming home tonight.

She thinks about takeout, but decides against it. Logan has a cleaning woman who tidies up before he comes home, brushing off dust and buying basics to fill the cupboards and fridge. Veronica finds plates and pans through guesswork, and bread, cheese and butter are fairly intuitive. She eats her grilled cheese and works on a couple of cases. She considers sitting out in the backyard for a while, but with the sun down, it is too chilly, so she curls up on the couch to call her dad. They talk about the work she has done in the apartment and the disappointing no pets policy in the building. Keith is being cagy about it, but she suspects that he is considering getting another dog. They had originally gotten Backup for her, to look menacing on stakeouts and help the Mars family sleep better at night when Keith had to chase down bail jumpers and leave teenaged Veronica alone, but the dog had stayed when Veronica went to Stanford and his absence was sharper there.

Veronica finds herself tired early, but when she goes up to Logan's bedroom she freezes in the doorway. Her mind goes not only into overdrive, but off-roading too. She wants to be Logan's girlfriend. She definitely wants to have sex with him as soon as possible. She has been communicating with him nearly constantly for six months and probably knows him better now than she ever has. But now that it is becoming real, a tangible, purposeful relationship that they are entering with clear heads and easy hearts, she hesitates. She goes downstairs and finds an old movie on cable, something with Myrna Loy and William Powell.


Carrie was an insomniac, often falling asleep downstairs, so Logan's lights and TV are still set on a timer. The movie is off, the room dim around her as Veronica startles hearing the scrape of the door opening.

She can see it from the couch. Logan toes off his shoes and locks the door again. He is wearing jeans and a dark untucked button down rather than the Henley that is now familiar. His uniform is on a hanger and he is putting it in the hall closet as he spots her.

He comes over and crouches before her. "Hey," he says, resting a hand on her leg.

She is still slightly groggy as she looks down at him. "Hey. Welcome home." The clock behind his head reads 2:14. "You weren't kidding about it being late."

"Do you want to go back to sleep?" He keeps his voice low, as if he isn't sure she is entirely awake. It makes her smile.

"You are back on this continent, right?"

He begins to smile back. "Yeah, but you have your priorities."

She doesn't even bother answering, just pulls him up beside her and kisses him, making it clear what her priorities are. It is long minutes later when he pulls away. She has settled in his lap by this point, but she wonders if it is just that that makes him look overcome as he searches for breath. "Wait," he says. "Wait. Are you sure you don't want to just wait until morning? You're still in this time zone. It's the middle of the night for you."

The look she gives him could turn sand into glass. "You've been gone for six months, Logan. I don't care if my body thinks it's in Russia right now. Did you think that we were going to be watching cooking shows and playing Scrabble when you got back?"

"Veronica," Logan says, grinning up at her, "Take me to bed-"

"Shut up," she laughs, half to keep him from completing the eye-roll worthy quote and half because losing him forever is no longer an option. She pulls at his hands, kissing him again as he stumbles into a stand. Her legs are around his waist and she can't help thinking about that night, but she smiles into his mouth because it is about now and them rather than being tangled with past or panic.

When they land on his bed, her heart is thrown a little. He looks cocky without even trying, and in the pause, without pure momentum driving them, she remembers the reasons he has to look cocky.

Veronica needs actions rather than words. She needed a mother who would finish rehab instead of just giving promises and pleas, a father who wouldn't preach morality and then ignore the seventh commandment. She couldn't be totally at ease with a boyfriend who would break his voice calling them epic and then sleep with someone else hours later. Nevertheless, she thought that she would not feel sexually equal to Logan until he looked her in the eye and said, "Veronica, you're the love of my life, you're the best I've ever had, no one else can compare."

Now, though, looking down at him, at the way he is looking up at her like starlight, she relaxes. He has landed first on the bed and she realizes that he often does, often gives her the security of control. He is patient, waiting for her to make the first move. He believes that she will be good enough, and if she trusts him, she has to believe the same.

She leans to kiss him again and he returns it lingeringly. She is murmuring his name over and over against his mouth- Logan, Logan, a solid, heartbeat name- over and over. And that's odd, too, because it was always him who couldn't stop talking, who would whisper filth and prayers and her name as if it wouldn't stay in his chest. He seems to relish the reversal, though, straining against her. Things get very primordial, very quickly after that.


"Veronica. Veronica, wake up."

"Can I get back that offer of sleep?"

"That was a use it or lose it deal. Get up. I want to talk to you."

It is on the tip of her tongue to tell him that the couples' communication retreat is next door before she realizes that they are trying to be a communicating couple. She squeezes her eyes tighter and opens them, rolling to face him. She has had three hours of sleep. "Forget what I said before. Time zones are important." She settles herself on his chest, facing him. "What do you need?"

He brushes a hand over her hair. "Would you want me ask for a discharge when my enlistment is up?"

"They really don't teach you about time in the military, do they? Your enlistment isn't up for another three years."

"I've always been forward-thinking. It was in the special comments section of my kindergarten report card." He says it with an assured head tilt, but there's something underlying it as well, a question about permanence and having people to care about you. Considering six breathless days without a word, she wants to assure him that there is someone who cares. But she also wonders if she could live through that again, if she can live a life where for long, unpredictable periods of time words do have to be enough, and sometimes would not even be available to him.

"What would you do if you left?" she asks instead.

He doesn't even think before he answers, "Something with PTSD. Getting money for research, a service dog program, a shelter with counseling services. Rates are lower for the Navy, but there are a million Army guys still fighting a war even after discharge." Logan had always twitched in his sleep, never waking, just flinching every so often. Veronica had wondered about that idly before. Now she stares him down, evaluating. He catches on right away. "Put away the interrogation lamp. I'm fine."

She tilts her head, but moves on. "So you have something here. What's keeping you there?"

"I love it," he says baldly. "The flying, the squad. Even if it means being stuck on the dark version of the Love Boat for months at a time. And there was a while where knowing that the sarge would be on my ass if I screwed up was the only thing that kept me from doing it. I owe them. I'm in this as a career, not as a placeholder." There's contemplation in his face and his words, in his pause, as he adds, "But I would leave if that's not the kind of relationship you want."

Veronica has never been in a relationship that put its own permanence and possibility forward so clearly. She had taken Piz's word that their moving in together was just convenient for New York real estate and had ignored his gleeful face as he had assumed it meant a step toward something more significant. She tries not to feel scared now, tries to watch Logan's face and focus on his body beneath her, the relaxed solidity of skin and sleek muscle sewn tightly over bone.

"I don't know what kind of relationship I want," she says slowly. He just listens, not reacting. His eyes do not cloud with hurt or confusion. "I don't want one where I force you away from something you love. I don't want one where you get sent away whenever the president decides that everywhere is better with more jets. But we have three years to think about that." She looks directly at him. "You want to figure out what this relationship is? You be Merriam, I'll be Webster. And if we still need help, I do a pretty mean coin toss."


Veronica goes back to sleep for three hours. Logan manages another eight. She rolls her eyes at his poor handling of jet lag, and works until he wakes up. They end up in bed again, eating Chinese out of the cartons while Logan tells funny stories about the new kids on the crew ("you sound like a boy band") and Veronica talks about her latest meeting with the prosecution team. After a while, she makes sure that chopsticks are a comfortable distance from the bed and pushes him down again.

"You're going to make me think you only wanted me back for my body," he informs her.

"Did I give you some other impression?" she retorts, and he laughs, sliding joyous arms around her.


They actually leave the house the next day, going to meet Annie and her husband for brunch. Veronica remembers asking Logan once what the best part of being back on base was. He had replied without hesitation: No one asked me if I did it. Annie and everyone, they apologized about Carrie, but it never occurred to them that I could have. So Veronica has high expectations for Canada Gordon Brendanawicz.

Annie stares at her for a minute, an unsmiling evaluation, before she invites Veronica to sit. Veronica likes that. She likes the sly, lazy way Annie tells a joke, and how can play with her husband's fingers at the same time that she teases him for getting conned into watching the neighbor's kids. She likes the way Annie seems aware of everything that is going on in the diner, and that she yells at the guy in the next booth when he is rude to the waitress. She is still taken aback when Annie gives her a firm hug as they are getting ready to leave.

"You're worth at least half of the times Walker over there mentioned your name," Annie says. "So you exceed expectations." When Logan opens his mouth to protest she points a finger and shuts him down with a glare. "Simmons kept a running tally. You don't want to see the proof."

(Annie also slips her a muffin to go. Veronica likes that too.)


Sometime in the lazy midday after brunch, Veronica receives a text from her father. (Dinner tomorrow night?) and when she reminds him that she is staying with Logan for another couple of days, he says that he was thinking of driving up.

If you promise you're not driving for five hours so you can intimidate Logan, we can do pasta for three.

It ends up being four. Keith brings his girlfriend, Helen, who Veronica has met a couple of times before and found quiet but likeable.

"It's good to have you back," Helen tells Logan as soon as they are introduced. "I know deployment can be grating. My brother was a Marine."

"Jarhead," Logan says automatically, his voice tempered with humor. Veronica suspects that it is an insult and pokes him in the arm with her fork anyway. It is subtle, but Helen is a teacher and has two teenagers at home.

"It's alright. Daniel would probably call him a squid and make fun of his uniform."

"We had some Marines with us this time," Logan puts in. "They were mostly good guys. Knew to keep their comments about the uniform to themselves."

Helen shakes her head. "Daniel never quite learned to keep his smart remarks to himself."

"Invite him along next time," Veronica and Keith say, seeming so in synch that neither can tell who said it first.

Veronica has been trying to read more, to find a hobby that is not cases or law school, so after dinner Helen stands with her outside the restaurant and gives some book recommendations. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see her father and Logan speaking by the curb.

"What were you and my dad talking about before?" she asks Logan, relaxing back in her seat as they drive home. Keith has seemed increasingly supportive over the past few months, but she braces herself for Logan to say "the weather in New York" or "breakthroughs in castration technology."

"He said that next time I was in Neptune, we should all get together again. He wanted to hear more about life onboard." Logan's voice is as casual as the comment, but there's an undercurrent of delight to it as well. She turns her smile out the window and texts her father a thank you without context.


"We've really bonded over the past few months," Veronica says as Logan puts her bag in the trunk a few days later. "It would be a shame for this to end when it's only just begun."

"Do I have to iron a label with my name inside?" Logan asks, swinging himself into the driver's seat. "You can't have my car."

"You're just afraid that she likes me better," Veronica counters. She smoothes a hand over the leather.

Logan points out, "If it's a girl, she definitely likes me better. Girls always like me better," and Veronica pouts until they've reached the highway. Once there, she becomes quickly aware that they are not heading back to Neptune.

"Is this the part where you kidnap me so you never have to clean your own bathroom again?" He rolls his eyes and turns up a long drive with fences on either side. The park beside what looks like a large warehouse.

"There's one more thing I wanted to do before the clock strikes midnight."

She cocks an eyebrow at him. "The movie theater was creative. This is just weird, Logan."

He pulls her toward the building. Inside she sees a snub nosed little plane, white with glossy blue accents. It's vaguely ugly, looking as if it belongs in a cartoon.

"I rent it sometimes," Logan says fondly from behind her. "You'd think I'd get sick of flying when it's my day job, but I like to take this one out when I have the chance." He goes over and starts checking things out. After a moment he comes out and extends a hand to Veronica. "Want to see things from a non-Napoleon perspective?"

"I'm sorry, I only accept historically accurate insults," she says, elbowing him a little as she gets in.

Flying back and forth for the trial has meant that she has needed to accustom herself to air travel. She still isn't entirely comfortable. The plane is small, only two seats, so she thinks that Logan sees the slight clench to her fist as they take off, but she barely notices it herself. As they climb into the sky, Logan has a smile of contained brightness that makes her heart seize just a little in a way unrelated to altitude. As they level out, she relaxes beside him, nodding when he shouts "Isn't it great?" and trusting his hands, his control of metal and air, to carry her safely with him.