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*~*~*~*

*~*~*~*

Duncan Kane believes in fairy tales.

All of them.

The soft, spun sugar, and chocolate-coated dreams that Disney, Little Golden Books and his nannies spouted with over enthusiasm, emphasis on the happily ever after following the good, the virtuous, honest and fair. Even the darker ones, thistle heavy and danger rampant, dripping with symbolism, blood and sex, fed to him in small, tantalizing doses by the Brothers Grimm and Lilly.

He believes in enchanted castles and realms laid waste to spells of grief and despair, the kingdom fallen into inescapable paths of lethargy and apathy. He believes that they’re all waiting, silently sighing into their hands, just waiting for someone to break the spell.

They’ve been waiting since October 3rd, since Lilly stopped.

He believes that there’s one great, grand action to sweep it all away, to bring back the color and the glory, one noble act that will bring its own reward. That, somewhere, there’s a fairy godmother or guardian angel, watching with benevolent eyes and biding her time until all the pieces are right where she wants them. Until he’s collected enough pumpkins and mice and swords, slayed enough dragons, rescued enough damsels.

Only, he hasn’t exactly been collecting anything other than a tongue and brain equally fuzzy with medication.

She’s lying on the bed when he finds her and there’s nothing more symbolic than a sleeping girl in a white dress, pure and robbed of life, limbs heavy with the same curse that has fallen over everything. Her face slack and carefree, careless, as she slumbers. She’s everything: the innocence, the loss, the temptation, the danger, the knowledge and the fall.

Duncan believes in fairy tales and he knows how to wake the sleeping princess.

He leans over her, mouth to mouth, just breathing her air for a second, her succulent little lips open and slightly dry, almost cracked with it. He shouldn’t, he knows it in the back of his brain, but he can’t help himself.

His tongue flicks out and drags on the edges of her dry mouth.

Her hair is soft and golden, spun like the sugar of the tales; thin and silken as he lifts it between his fingers, inspect it against the whorls of his fingerprints. Her breath smells like sweet cola and sticky rum, her neck smells like fruity teen perfume and salt, and her eyes are wide, bottomless pools of blue. His hand cups the side of her face when he finally leans in, mouth to mouth, a slight moan sliding against her.

She doesn’t wake up when he leans back to blink at her.

“I miss you.” He says it like an apology, like he’s been waiting months to say it. “Baby, I miss you so much.”

There’s a wrinkle between her brows, two soft, little lines that pucker between her eyes and he smiles thickly at it. She’s beautiful, even and especially in sleep. He leans down to kiss it, lips pursed, pressing chastely against the heated skin.

Her eyelashes flutter against the skin of his jaw.

It’s like a tease. Like a million other times when she looked at him with her lips quirked up in a little smile and a glimmer in her eyes. He’s kissed her mouth before, lots of times, felt the soft skin at the edges of her hips, and knows what it’s like to drive whimpers and moans from the back of her throat.

He scoops her up, like she weighs nothing, like it’s natural for her head to flop back down as his hands cup her shoulders, her neck stretched out before him.

There’s a sound, a half garbled scratching echoing out from the back of her throat and his eyes look down, study the shape of it. He lingers over the lines of her tendons, the faint pulse he can see beating underneath the skin, and he knows what she’s trying to say.

She misses him, too.

And this is what he’s missed; this is what they’ve been denying him all these months, what they’ve been telling him he cannot and should not have. She’s too sweet and simple, so much of her is what he aches to have again. She’s laughter and she’s the roll of Lilly’s eyes and the slick buzz of champagne bubbling up his nostrils, the slide of pastel pink satin up a silky thigh in the back of a limo.

He kisses her throat, open mouthed and hot, tongue pressing into her salt slick skin as his hands pull her closer, lift her body up to his.

“…uhleeeeeee…”

She’s soft and pliant as he lowers her back down to the pillow, following her. His shoes clunk lightly on the floor when he kicks them off and climbs up over her, hands on either side of her head and knees on either side of her thighs.

“Yeah, baby.” He whispers it into her ear. “I’m here.”

His lungs fill with the scent of her as he buries his face into the crook of her neck, nuzzling her, taking the time to flood his cells with the memory of her. Then he kisses down the side of her neck and around to the indentation where her collarbones meet as his hands run up her arms, bare skin tantalizing and so soft.

“Veronica.” He claws at the strap of her dress, thin and fragile and easily broken as he bares her left breast. “God, Veronica.”

He sucks her flesh; plump and heavy as he brings his right hand down to push the nipple up to his mouth, teasing it, until it begins to swell under his tongue. Nuzzling, suckling, his left hand combs through her hair, running through it, fingers twisting through the strands and pulling slightly.

She tries to moan again.

Her waist is tiny and familiar in his larger hand; he still knows this flesh, this girl. His fingers know how to curl over the edges of bone that stretch the skin there, push into the swell of her ass as he dips one knee between her legs.

“I love you.” It’s a whisper, curled into the peak of her nipple as his fingers twist in the white cotton. “I always have.”

Slowly, agonizingly, the twists of his fingers drag the skirt of her dress up. He can feel the cool skin of her thighs against his as he quickly pushes his own pants down. She’s perfect, of course, slim legs and soft, ivory skin.

A hand comes up and weakly bats at his shoulder. He tells himself it’s a caress and not a push.

He’s frantic in his kisses, hot and wet on her breasts and shoulders and neck, and his hands drag the only barrier they have left down her legs. Twisted white cotton that catches on her knees. This is how it was always meant to be.

“…uhleeeee…”

“I’m here, baby.” He’s hard and tense and solid between her legs, heart pounding harder than he can ever remember. “I’m here.”

“…leeeaase…” A long, low, soft groan. “Noooooooooooooooo.”

And she’s hot and tight and almost wet as he pushes in.

***

He watches her.

He can’t help himself. His eyes follow her down the hall, greedy in their need. She’s tiny, but she looms over everyone, everything else. She’s harder now, all sharp edges and brittle tongue, flashing eyes and heated anger.

But he remembers when she was soft and open and all his.

When he walks down the hall he sees two boys crowded around her locker, the smell of paint acrid in the air and a W-H-O scrawled over the bright yellow. They freeze and look at him, neither of them moving as he walks right by, never blinking. A Mexican standoff. There’s a nervous sort of laughter that echoes down the empty hall when he turns the corner.

He knows what they’re saying about her, he knows what they’re doing, and everyone knows not to go overboard when he’s there. But he doesn’t stop it.

Doesn’t need or even want to, not when it’s working in his favor.

Duncan is a Kane, he comes from one of the finest families in Neptune, he’s expected to make big things out of his life, and they’re already grooming him for politics. The Kane Heir will make a fine Senator. That’s what he’s heard all his life.

The Kane Heir is not meant to think about his sister half naked and spread for him.

And only him.

In his dreams, late at night, where no one else can see and demean and medicate her out of his system, he thinks about Veronica, whispers her name into his pillow, and the two words that echo most are Lover and Sister, again and again, until they bleed into each other. Loversister, loversister, loversister. They might be wrong, they might be horrid, ugly words when pushed together like that, but they sound familiar and comforting to him.

But he has no misconceptions about how they’ll sound streaming from anyone else’s mouth, vicious and tainted with disgust.

Sisterlover!

So he says nothing and he lets the world tear her down, because she’s pushed outside and away and always off limits to anyone. And in some small way, that makes her his, always his, and she’ll never be anyone else’s.

It’s the only safe way.

He thinks, sometimes, that she understands. She’s stronger than everyone knows, she rises out of the worst of it seemingly unscathed and, every now and again, she smiles across the hall at him. He sees her in those moments, bright eager eyes and luscious curving mouth, all for him.

And then he speeds into the bathroom to frantically beat off before anyone notices his raging hard on.

Duncan Kane believes in fairy tales.


*~*~*~*

*~*~*~*

Veronica Mars doesn’t believe in happy endings; she used to, once upon a time, but not anymore.

Happy endings have their brains splattered all over imported pool tiles, happy endings are roofied and wake up alone with blood coating the insides of their thighs, happiness flees out of town leaving behind rasping fumes of scotch.

People who believe in happy endings deserve whatever comes their way.

That’s a sentiment she can get behind as she knocks on the door. The sniggers behind hands and the outright jeers in her face had told her all she needed to know before she got to her locker. The WHORE splashed over it didn’t surprise her, but she’s still slightly impressed by the careful lettering.

It’s nice to know they’re making an effort, after all.

“Mister Clemmons?” She keeps her voice steady and even as she answers his polite call to enter the room. “I need access to the janitor’s closet.”

The look he gives her is weary and sympathetic.

“Again, Veronica?”

She blushes, hot and red all the way to the roots of her hair.

“It’s nothing.” But she doesn’t believe it and neither does he. “Just words. I’ll wash it off.”

“This can’t continue.” These are words he does believe and she doesn’t try to correct him. It can continue, though, she knows it; it hasn’t stopped since it began and there are no signs of it ever ending. “Just tell me who it is.”

He’s tired and concerned, the edges of his voice and eyes tell her that he wants to help. A part of her, deep and hidden, wants to tell him, wants to be able to point the finger at any one given person or group and finally see an end to it.

There are no endings, this she knows.

“I don’t know.” It comes out like a whisper, weaker than she meant it. “I don’t know who.”

Those words are truer than she can stand.

***

It takes her an hour after school before she’s satisfied that the word is gone. From the locker at least, it’s too far ingrained into her mind to wash away with bleach or astringent. She wonders why she bothers, there’ll be something new and different and equally mortifying before she returns in the morning.

She walks through the school with her head held high and this is her downfall. She knows that if she were to crumble, to cry, to show weakness in front of the masses, they would be lenient, their animosity and cruelty sated. But she doesn’t and it makes them double their efforts.

They laugh at her, not bothering to disguise the bitterness of it. And she spends her time trying not to listen too closely, trying not to wonder if each separate laugh is deeper than the others. If one giggle, one guffaw out of the crowd is registering past ‘I laugh because they call you a whore’, a few decibels down to ‘I laugh because I made you one’.

He’s there, he must be.

Her skin shrivels if she thinks about it, sliding over her flesh, crawling until she can barely stand it. In the middle of school sometimes, out of nowhere, she feels eyes and wonders if he’s watching her. If he’s thinking about her and what he did.

Not even the teachers blink anymore when she runs out of class and scurries to the bathroom, splashing water over her face and trying not to throw up.

There’s amusement in their eyes, glittering meanly when she meets them, everywhere she turns. It sends her into downward spirals of questions. Questions about who was there and what they saw, if there was more than one and if she’d been helpless at the hands of many.

She doesn’t bother asking herself if there was someone who might have helped her. Even if such a person existed, no one would have stepped up.

***

Backup barks when she lets herself into the apartment. No matter what happens during the day, she knows that there’s at least one being glad to see her. She ruffles his ears and buries her face into the top of his head, his thick fur smelling like heat and wet dog.

His heart beats hot and fast inside his chest, eager and steady against her fingers splayed across his ribs. She misses the feel of touch.

“C’mon.” She says into his low whine. “Let’s go for a walk.”

Her voice is high and happy, excited at the suggestion, but she knows that he’s not fooled. Her hands are shaking and he pushes his face into hers, nudging and trying to lick at her cheeks. They must smell like salt, sticky with dried tears.

***

She sits alone at lunch.

It’s not as bad as it used to be. She brings her texts and studies, finishes homework she was too exhausted to complete the night before after chasing cheating spouses and lying low lives. Open books and printed words give her an escape she can barely calculate.

Her fingers linger on the soft, crinkled pages of her Calculus book. The edges are stained an ugly brown, thanks to the pudding someone strained through the slats of her locker one day.

She tells herself she likes the scent of chocolate to keep her company.

***

“How was school?”

He doesn’t stop asking.

“Fine.”

She doesn’t stop lying.

The silence that follows stretches the air into uncomfortable as they scratch at their plates with forks, idly lifting limp bits of pasta. This is a man she loves, who loves her, and she would give him everything and anything if she could.

“Veronica.” It’s a low, deep word weighed down by apology and warning and despair. “What happened?”

She looks down at her plate and shakes her head.

“If they…” He sighs, bone weary and resigned. “I think we should look into a new school for you.”

“No.” At this she does raise her head, she looks him straight in the eye and pays him the only homage that means anything anymore. “They’re not going to run me out, Dad, I won’t let them.”

***

The guy at the gas station knows her by sight now.

He smiles as she drives up and comes over to open her door and help her blow up her tires. If anything, she’s become an expert at car maintenance. She doesn’t particularly need help, but she thinks she needs the sentiment.

If he thinks it strange that she keeps three spare tires in her trunk, he never says anything.


It’s just lotion.

The words repeat and echo in her brain as she wrinkles her nose. Firm, insistent, she doesn’t give herself any other possibility as she uses the end of a pencil to lift the sagging, limp condoms full of a murky, white liquid.

There’s laughter behind her in the hall, insidious and ever present.

***

She rests her head on her folded arms and closes her eyes.

“I tell thee what, get thee to a church o’Thursday, or never look me in the face…”

After three weeks of silence from everyone around her, Veronica is strung out. She can’t sleep anymore; the longer they leave it the worse it will be. Whatever they have planned, and she knows they have something; it’s going to hurt. She wishes they’d just get it over with.

“And then to have a wretched… oh, um… puling fool…”

Giggles alert her to the danger and she lifts her head to see what’s coming.

“Meg?” Miss Murphy raises her brow across the class. “Is there something wrong?”

Meg’s face is bright red and Veronica frowns.

“I… I can’t finish this passage. There’s something wrong with it.”

Someone sniggers to the left.

“Capulet is merely berating his daughter for not obeying his wishes to marry Paris.” Miss Murphy sighs, taking her glasses off her face and massages the spot between her eyes. “It’s hardly the most explosive scene William Shakespeare ever wrote, we’ve gone over this.”

“But…” Meg flounders.

“Miss Murphy?” Dick’s hand shoots straight up in the air and if that isn’t enough to arouse suspicions, Veronica’s not quite sure what is. “I don’t think Will Shakespeare ever wrote saying Juliet was as slutty as Veronica Mars.”

“What?” But the damage is done and the class erupts into full laughter, even as their teacher tries to quiet them down. “Meg, bring your book up here.”

Casey pipes up, all innocent choirboy expression.

“It’s in all of them, Miss.”

Sure enough, when Veronica’s eyes scan the page in front of her, her name is there, printed like the rest of the page. The book looks as though it hasn’t been altered, not in the slightest, and the verse blends in with all the others.

They all have to surrender their texts to the front of the class.

By the end of the day, the freshman Biology texts, the senior Trig texts, some books from the library on the Civil War, and all the Health class sexual reproduction texts have to be confiscated and replaced. Miss Hauser has to send away for new slides on STDs.

At least Veronica can sleep now.

***

She takes her shoes off at the beach; secure enough in her anonymity to leave them in the sand. Strangers don’t have any reason to take notice of her. It aches a little that she feels safer among people she doesn’t know.

Her ankles push against the give and take of the sand, toes digging into the warm grains as Backup trots along beside her, eagerly chasing a ball and bringing it back. She can feel the grains press deep into aches on the soles of her feet.

A pitbull who sees only two people on a regular basis, her father and her car. These are things that she holds dear. Three things that they can’t take from her, no matter how hard they try. They’ve taken everything else she’s cared about. Lilly’s gone. Her mother is gone. All her friends are gone, even the ones she didn’t particularly like in the first place. Her sense of security and trust has long since vanished.

If she closes her eyes, she can let everything drift away. There’s nothing but the sound of waves crashing on the shore, a child laughing in the distance, gulls cawing above. She’s free behind her eyes, even as her hands clasp her elbows close into her body.

If she closes her eyes, she can remember laughing in a crowd, sharing noodles and egg rolls at the lunch table, automatically included in the game. Secure in the knowledge of a happy home, friends, a boyfriend who loved her, and an eternity of the same stretched out forever.

The thing is, she doesn’t even want that back. She doesn’t know what she’d do if she woke up tomorrow and everyone started smiling again, pretending as if it had never happened. She’s not built that way. And she’s not sure exactly what she wants, what she’d prefer.

Only that, sometimes, when she thinks about the placid, docile, dreamy girl she used to be, she feels sick.

Reality scrapes furrows deep into her skin, but she’s fairly sure she’s better off for it, for the knowledge. She likes the constancy of truth, even if it’s harsh and unforgiving. Truth is fact and fact is solid. There is no argument, no guessing, and no wondering.

She envies the jealous wives, even as she takes photos of their husbands banging the maid or the secretary or whatever cliché half their age takes their fancy. The truth of it must hurt them, but it’s a clean slice. Bam, your husband can’t keep it in his pants. Deal. Move on.

They’re not stuck in this limbo of never knowing.

But she has Backup and she has her father and… And she has a car with a broken windshield.

The cracks that spider web across the glass are milky and almost beautiful in their pattern. There’s a definite center, a point of impact, too large to be an accidental rock or pebble thrown up by a passing blader or cyclist. Her dad is already teetering past the line of believing mishaps to her car are accidental and he’s going to pressure her to move again, to change schools. She’s not sure she has the patience to fight him off anymore.

Her heart sinks heavy in her chest as Backup begins a low growl. She twists his leash around her wrist.

She doesn’t tell anyone, but sometimes she envies Lilly. She thinks maybe Lilly had it right, maybe Lilly knew something the rest of them didn’t. Maybe things would be easier if she got her skull bashed in, if she closed her eyes and never woke up.

It should have been her, Abel.

“Hey Ronnie.”

Her eyes close. She’s taken a lot over the last couple of months, from people she barely cared about, to those she considered her closest friends. She doesn’t think she can take it right now, just not now, not after the day she’s had.

Not from a boy she knows likes cauliflower, but not broccoli.

“What’s the matter, cat got your tongue?”

Maybe if she waits him out, he’ll get tired and just go away. She counts her breath in slow margins, in and out. Backup’s growl turns into a low rumble, steady and warning. With a slight tug on the leash, the sound stops and her throat closes.

He’s patting her dog.

“Hey.” He’s close enough to feel, breath hot on her neck, and she knows she can’t open her eyes. “I’m talking to you.”

She wants to think she’s imagining the threat, wants to think he’s still the boy whose giggles migrate into her own, who makes dirty jokes and funny faces. But he’s not. He hasn’t been that boy for a long time. She knows if she opens her eyes, he’s going to be staring at her with hatred.

Seething with violence.

He’s frightening in his intensity, sometimes, vicious and cruel in ways that steal her breath. His mother used to call her ‘Veronica Dear’ and his sister used to drive them to the mall. And he hates her with such passion now that it’s all too easy to believe he might be capable of rape. Of her rape.

Her teeth bite down hard on her lip to stop the tear that burns just inside of her eyes.

“Let me go.”

He’s not holding onto her, hasn’t even touched her. The great Logan Echolls would never deign to sully himself like that, but that’s not what she means and he knows it. Her plea is broken and heavy with unshed tears, he’d have to be deaf not to know how scared she is right now.

“You need a ride?” It’s a sneer, full of amusement, and they both know he’s not really offering. “Looks like your little matchbox car is out of commission.”

If only she could get back to her apartment, lock her door and breathe. Spend several minutes taking deep lungfuls of air, then maybe she’d be able to regroup, to put on her mask and face him head on. Maybe then she’d be able to match him barb for barb.

She can’t hold it in; it’s too much.

“Why?” It comes out in a broken sob. “Why are you doing this?”

There’s no answer and she didn’t expect one. There’s really nothing to say. Her chest heaves as she tries to pull the sobs back in, but they’re already out there. She’s already given him too much ammunition and this will be fodder for weeks.

She opens her eyes to find him staring at her, mouth gaping wide and something cracking inside his eyes.

And she hates him for it, suddenly; it drives into her like a railroad spike through the eye. She can’t take his offhand pity and regret, this throw away realization that maybe they’ve overstepped their boundaries. He’s going to blink and it’ll disappear and she’ll be left with tatters and spite again.

“Can’t you just leave me alone?”

“Veronica…”

The way he says it is like a plea, like he really means it, voice softened to something she might recognize from months before. She can almost taste it, the tentative branches to friendship and acceptance again. The last few strands of happiness float in front of her eyes like wisps of hair. There, if only she’d reach forward and grasp them.

But she’s already walking away.

And she doesn’t stop.

Veronica Mars doesn’t believe in happy endings, not anymore.

*~*~*~*

*~*~*~*

Logan Echolls writes his own stories.

He stopped swallowing the pre-made ones a long time ago. All those too neat narratives complete with heroes and damsels and easy conclusions with resolutions that wrap up in two palatable hours or less. He knows better than that.

Sometimes the hero is really the monster, sometimes the damsel is a bitch, and sometimes the background characters deserve more of the spot light than they will ever, ever get. And sometimes the underdog drinks himself into a stupor to forget that he allowed his damsel to be beaten to death.

The house is empty when he gets home and he’s grateful for it.

He can’t stop thinking about that moment on the beach. He’d gone there to do one thing and one thing only: make Veronica Mars’ life hell. It’s certainly something he knows how to do; he’s gotten enough practice at it since Lilly died.

And then she had to go and spoil all his fun by breaking down. It wasn’t even the pathetic, fake tears of someone pretending to be the little girl she never was, had no right to ever be again. Yeah, they’d all seen how much of a heartless bitch she was when she spat all over Lilly’s memory by upholding her father’s claims.

No, she didn’t defend herself. She had to fall apart like she was tired, just tired and broken and about to crack open.

He should be happy. He should have taken out his phone and recorded the moment for prosperity. They’d been knocking her down for months and all of a sudden he had her there, crying and frightened and without any of the smart-ass comments she usually throws back at them.

Dick and Sean could have made merry sport out of that footage.

But he hadn’t. All he saw in that moment was not Veronica Mars, girl pariah and sharp-tongued miscreant, he saw Veronica. Lilly’s friend. Duncan’s ex. Hell, his own friend if he admitted it. Suddenly he’d been full of the strangest urge, an old forgotten possessiveness and protectiveness to his own clan, to route out the source of her troubles and make them disappear.

A highly improbable and impractical urge, considering he was one of the main offenders.

“Fuck.”

He grabs the phone and dials information to get the number he needs. It’s Friday night, no way in hell she’s gonna get anyone out on short notice.

“Yeah, I need a windscreen replaced. Yes, tonight. I’ll pay you double.”

The phone bounces in its cradle when he slams it back down. There’s absolutely no goddamned way he’s turned soft. None at all. There’s no reason for him to be shaking. The problem here is not him, it’s most definitely her.

She went from being Ice Bitch extraordinaire to real actual human being in the flick of an eyelid. And fuck that; fuck it all to hell. He knows what he has to do.

Double his efforts and really bring her down.

***

She has her head buried in her locker on Monday and doesn’t even notice him walking right up to her. He leans his shoulder against the row of lockers next to hers, crosses one ankle over the other and waits. She doesn’t give any kind of sign that she’s noticed him.

And she’s taking an awfully long time to grab a few books.

Eventually, she sighs.

“I know you’re there.”

It makes him chuckle.

“Yeah, I know I’m here, too. Wow, no wonder you make the big bucks as a P.I. huh?”

Her fingers wrap around the edge of the door and he sees, with a touch of surprise, that they’re painted purple. He tries to blink that off as her head appears amid the crisp sound of metal closing on metal.

“What do you want, Logan?”

She sounds bored, exasperated, but the closer he looks, the more he sees her shoulders are tense and she’s hugging her Biology book close to her chest. They’re facing each other, standing next to the lockers, and to anyone else it would look as though they were having a simple conversation.

“See.” He brings his hand up to play with the combination lock in front of him. “You ran out on me so fast the other night.”

The flicker of confusion that passes over her face makes him tingle.

“Why?” Her eyebrows rise. “Did you need me there to vandalize another car?”

“I didn’t…” But he stops, he doesn’t care what she thinks and, really, it works more in his favor if she thinks he did it, anyway. “Now, now, Ronnie, what if I just wanted to talk to you?”

She smiles and gives a little gasp.

“Wow.” It’s a teasing, breathy giggle before her face and eyes turn stony. “You wouldn’t think I’d miss the flying pigs, would you? I have things to do.”

He’s left feeling vaguely unsatisfied as she turns to go, walking a few steps before his hand reaches out and captures her arm, spinning her around again. Her face is blanked out in surprise, but her eyes show a flicker of fear and he uses that, squeezes his fingers tightly on the muscles of her arm.

“I’m still talking to you.”

She gives a hard tug, but he doesn’t let go and her hand balls into a little fist.

“What are you…?” Her voice trails off as she looks to the left.

People are starting to take notice; he can hear the voices whispering.

“I’m being civil and you’re being a bitch. You used to be nice.”

Her mouth opens, like she wants to say something, but she doesn’t.

“Hey, would it make it easier if I paid you? I hear that sort of thing makes you real…” His eyes travel down her body and back up again. “… friendly. What’s your going rate nowadays, anyway?”

Her arm jerks violently out of his and her face hardens even further.

“Screw you, Logan."

The laughter in the hall is infectious and he has to grin.


Some people have absolutely no class.

“What the fuck are you doing?” The kid isn’t even in their grade, Logan can barely think of a name when he looks up. “Go find some second hand porn before I kick your ass.”

John? George? Whoever he is, the kid frowns, but takes his cue and flees.

He might not be Miss Marple, not by a long shot, but he knows some rules of polite society. You don’t get drunk before the first hour has passed at a party, you don’t ogle or admit to ogling your friend’s mother, sister or cousin unless there’s a ‘step’ in front of the title, you don’t wear white after Labor Day.

And, goddammit, you certainly don’t vandalize a car twice in the same week. It shows a serious lack of imagination.

Logan looks down at the tire, quickly losing air and flattening in front of his eyes.

“Nice.” The voice sounds almost cheerily detached behind him. “Your handiwork, I presume?”

“What?” He spins, already showing too much guilt. “I didn’t… that’s not…”

“Save it. I don’t care.” Veronica hefts her bag into the trunk and pulls out a jack. Her movements are easy and practiced. “I have other things to do, so you can run along now.”

She flicks her wrists in an annoying ‘scat’ gesture that makes him want to get right up in her space and make her cringe like she did before. And something is definitely wrong if he can’t come up with something to make her at least blush.

“Don’t you mean ‘other people' to do?”

Oh, lame.

She only rolls her eyes as she crouches down next to the deflated tire, fingers pressing into the rubber to test the damage.

Fuck, he’s seriously off his game.

***

It’s dark and it’s late and he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing parked on a side street in what could only aspire to be called the bad side of town. His phone flicks open easily and he punches in the numbers jauntily.

“Hello? Yes, I’d like to report a disturbance. There’s someone outside my house taking photographs.”

The officer on the phone takes down the address as he gives it and Logan snaps his phone shut and leans his head back on the seat and waits. Ten minutes later a patrol car drives up with its lights flashing.

Logan grins as he watches the officer slap the cuffs on her wrists. He grins even wider when her head spins around and spots his car. Large, yellow Xterras aren’t exactly covert and he thinks he can hear her growl even this far back.

He hopes she can see his jaunty wave.

***

Bears are just no fun unless you poke them.

Repeatedly.

He walks into the station whistling.

“Evening officer.”

The uniformed deputy at the desk barely glances up at him before gesturing towards a wooden seat, obviously telling him to wait his turn. He’s more interested in the teeny, furious creature that’s glaring at him. If looks could kill, he’d be long gone.

He timed it wonderfully, it seems. They haven’t had time to process her yet, she’s sitting awkwardly on another wooden bench, her hands firmly behind her back.

“Do you know what you did?” She hisses as soon as she thinks no one can hear them. “You have no clue…”

“What?” He lets his lip curl up. “Your john gonna have to find another date?”

She bites her bottom lip, obviously wanting to say something. This? He can take. When she fights back, he can fight harder and there’s less to be guilty about. Not that he’s guilty. Not him. Whatever she’s going to come up with, it’ll be a whole lot better than…

“My hair.”

What?

“What?” He feels his footing slip just a little. “Did you sniff too hard at the paint can? What are you talking about?”

Her eyes roll again, as if she’s talking to the dimmest child on the short bus.

“My hair.” Her eyes stretch out, as if trying to pass on a message all their own, even as her voice lowers to a whisper. “Undo my pigtail.”

“You really have lost it, Mars.”

She stomps her foot and damn if it isn’t cute.

“You owe me, Logan.” It’s a hiss. “I know you’re the one who got me in here.”

It’s just not sporting if he doesn’t give her a ‘well duh’ look of his own. Apparently he’s not sitting by himself on that short bus. Why the hell else would he be there to gloat? Somehow, and he’s not sure how, he finds himself leaning forward to do exactly what she says.

Her eyes are glued to the deputy running up paper work as he reaches around her face and fumbles with the tie. He tries not to notice that her hair is soft and cool from the night air, that his knee is now touching hers and her breath ghosts out onto his wrists.

“Hey!” His fingers close on a small metal object. “What’s…?”

“It’s the memory stick.” She shushes him. “To my camera. If they find that, they’ll take it as evidence. Give it to my dad.”

And he’s going to what? Lock step and ask how high when she suddenly tells him to jump?

“When do I take orders from…?”

“Get away from me!” Her face contorts with anger and she actually kicks him in the shins. “Do I look like I’m in the mood for your shit right now?”

“Huh?” Automatically, he jumps back. “I didn’t…”

“Hey kid.” The deputy looms over him and all becomes clear. “She’s in custody right now. This isn’t playgroup. What did you need?”

His fingers curl automatically around the stick and he shrugs as he pulls his hands back, shoving them into his pockets.

“Nothing. Not a thing.”

The officer snarls.

“Then get out before I arrest you, too.”

***

She misses school the next day, but she’s there on the Wednesday.

Waiting for him at his locker.

Her face is calm and casual, too perky for so early in the day, and she leans against the bank of lockers as if she’s got no cares in the world. The closer he gets, the brighter her expression becomes, and she opens her hand, palm upwards, with an expectant expression on her face.

“What?”

“My memory stick.” She provides, pleasant and cheerful, as if he doesn’t already know what she’s talking about and she shouldn’t expect him to. “I told you to give it to my dad.”

“Yeah, well.” A casual shrug. “It’s not like I talk to him that much, is it?”

She gives him an indifferent shrug and keeps her hand stretched out. He sighs as he reaches into his pocket and pulls it out, placing it in the middle of her palm delicately, as if it’s some prize to be treasured. Her head bobs in a quick nod of thanks and she spins around, ready to walk away.

“So, Mr. Jones likes underage girls, huh?”

The speed with which she spins back must leave her dizzy.

“You looked at them? Logan!” Her face is bright red and flustered. “That’s sensitive case information!”

“I must have missed that day in Super Spy School.” He whispers dramatically. “Can I keep my decoder ring?”

Her mouth snaps shut so fast even he grimaces for her.

“You… I…” There’s a wrinkle between her brow as she struggles to find the words and he can’t help but smile a little at it. “You know what, Logan? Just forget it. Leave me alone.”

He watches her storm off, streaming down the hall in a tizzy and smiles to himself, wondering how long until she checks the files and finds the most recent additions he left for her.

***

Twenty four hours, it seems, as he walks into school the next day to find poster-sized enlargements of his ass plastered to the walls.

“Dude!”

Dick slaps him on the back and Logan preens.

“I think she got my best angle, don’t you?”

***

She sits alone at lunch.

He’s never really noticed it before, other than to make snide comments to everyone else, but he watches her across the quad now, head bowed over a book, hand idly scratching a pen across a notepad. The urge to know what she’s writing is sudden and confusing.

Especially given she’s taking her information straight from a class text and that his eyes would roll back into his head from boredom were he to actually bother going over there to see. He just has the slightest inkling that even if she’s copying out the phone book, it’s going to be a whole lot more interesting than the current debate of Johnny Depp versus Orlando fucking Bloom.

The high screech of Pam’s voice is like nails on a blackboard.

He tries to remember who she sits with and comes up empty. It makes him wonder who she shares those insipidly girly moments with. And he knows there has to be many, because fuck if he didn’t have to sit through hours of pointless back and forth between her and Lilly discussing nail polish and the Spice Girls and pastel crayon over goddamned summer fruits as color themes.

Nothing about that girl, soft pinks and fuzzy curves, remains in the sharply angled figure defiantly existing in the middle of their lunch hour. Suddenly he finds his eyes sliding down over her legs, encased in a tight, short skirt and the butchiest of butch boots known to man.

Maybe she left the girly things buried with her false loyalty back in Lilly’s coffin.

“Hey.” A hand lands on his wrist and he turns to face Duncan’s eyes watching him. “What’s wrong with you, man?”

He doesn’t know why he feels guilty.

“Nothing.” He just knows he’s sick of it as he slowly takes his hand away. “What the hell’s wrong with you?”

Duncan leans forward, close enough so that the rest of the table doesn’t hear their words, and there’s a predatory look in his eyes.

“You keep watching her.”

There’s not even an inkling of a doubt who Duncan’s talking about and it confuses him. This is a man who hasn’t shown one iota of concern for Veronica since before Lilly died, Logan had immediately jumped on Duncan’s side then without asking why.

“And?” It’s a casual shrug. “So what if I do? I wouldn’t be the only one.”

His voice is low and suggestive and nowhere near the worst they’ve ever said about her. The entire table stops talking and watches them out of curiosity. Duncan’s eyes narrow, flashing an immediate warning, and the corners of his mouth tighten as he grabs Logan’s hand back.

“Leave her alone.”

Logan laughs, easy and sure.

“So what? The entire football team can have her on her knees at half time and I can’t even glance at her during lunch?” A sneer tumbles over his lips and it makes him vaguely ill. “Fuck that, man.”

It’s small and barely worth taking note, but Logan knows Duncan, knows him better than anyone living. He feels the shake of Duncan’s grip and sees the flicker of anger behind his eyes. Logan might spend his time cruising along, but he’s not stupid and he’s well aware of the veneer than Duncan has been putting forward.

This is the first true emotion that he’s shown in months.

A second later, it’s gone, flushed away with the sound of false laughter echoing out of Duncan’s chest.

“Whatever. Just don’t say you weren’t warned if you catch anything.”

The mood breaks and everyone laughs, loudly and meanly, not bothering to hide the venom or the direction in which they’re looking. Logan sees her shoulders tense and her mouth set.

***

The chicken is moist, he can practically see it weeping as his knife slices the meat, blade piercing and dragging through the fibers, but his mouth is dry and every mouthful chokes him. Unbearable rasping as his teeth grind and his tongue guides each unwieldy mouthful.

He remembers why he tries so hard not to spend time at home.

Like he needs a reminder.

“Do you have anything to say for yourself?”

The chicken is, apparently, not happy enough being hard to swallow, it suddenly needs to become hard to keep down. Logan swallows thickly, trying to stem the flood of bile.

“I didn’t do it, dad, I swear.”

“You swear?” Comes the chuckle, deep and low and chilling. “Then why is your mother getting calls from your school about books? Do you know how much it’s going to cost me? Not only to replace the ones they had to destroy, but to keep this out of your record?”

“I…” His mouth stumbles and he keeps his eyes down firm on his plate. “I didn’t…”

The words run as dry as his mouth.

***

Monday is a wash and he doesn’t get back to school until the Tuesday, seething and angry and looking for blood.

He’s wearing long sleeves and every breath he takes still feels jagged, as if the backs of his ribs are scraping along shards of broken glass. He takes special care to sit on the very front edges of all his chairs, and he makes sure that there’s at least one foot of personal space between him and anyone else, especially those with careless limbs.

It’s only been months, not enough time, not nearly long enough. He needs that familiar face, soft and serene when she wanted it to be, peaceful for him when he needed it. Only she knew how to take one look at him, her eyes tightening slightly at the edges, and keep him docile. Lilly was like his drug for as long as he needed, kept his mind off it, kept his temper in check. His body and his temper haven’t learned to stop looking for her when he’s like this, even if his brain constantly berates him for it.

It’s boiling inside him now, he knows it, and it’s really only a matter of time before something pushes him over the edge. He’s waiting for it, actually, testing the taste of it out on the tips of his teeth, teasing it with fingers clenched open and closed underneath his desk. It won’t take much to push this sliding, slinking feeling out of himself. He needs release. Something, anything, anyone.

Like Veronica fucking Mars smiling at him in the hallway.

She’s so goddamned smug and happy and superior and how dare she fucking smile at him? She thinks she has it bad? She has no goddamned clue what everyone truly lost. Not one.

“Something funny?”

Her eyes are the first to react; he can practically see her defenses slam up, brick by brick as they turn to ice. She recovers well, hitching her bag higher up on her shoulder as she points to the library.

“No. I was just…”

“What’s the matter? All the sports teams finally see the light and stop paying?” It’s weak and not his best effort, but it relieves some of the pressure. “You have to accost the geeks now?”

“Yes, why? Are you…?” Her face slides from curious to overly surprised. “Logan, are you jealous? Because, you know, I’m not due to hit the spoiled rich brat table for another… oh, let me see, never.”

His teeth grind inside his jaw.

“No, no, it’s good you’re moving on.” He goes in for the kill. “I mean, guess you have to, now that Duncan’s hooked up with Shelley again.”

Her eyes widen.

“God, I mean, it’s about time.” He rolls his eyes in mock relief, his shoulders heaving dramatically. “Now we won’t have to hear him moaning on and on about how his last girlfriend was such an ice cold, frigid BITCH, now, will we?”

“Oh, nice.” She’s trying for casual, but he can see the cracks. “Going for originality points, are you?”

He grins, feral and mean.

“Just the truth, Ronnie.” The name grates up and down her spine, he can follow the path of it as she straightens her back, readies herself for a fight. “You might have had him fooled, always acting the innocent, but I never once believed it. I always knew you were easy.”

She steps back and he’s not even sure she knows she’s done it, but he follows, keeping up with her. There’s no use having quarry if he lets it run away.

“Lilly would have laughed.” He’s prepared for the name, but she’s not. Her mouth opens and a little gasp comes out, breathy and hurt. “To see how quickly you went from Mary fucking Sunshine to School Whore.”

They have an audience, he can see them grinning, can hear them quietly nudging each other and urging him on. Veronica shakes her head in disbelief.

“Don’t you dare bring Lilly into…”

“Oh.” He interrupts her, not giving her the chance to breathe. “But she’s already in it. God, do you know how much she used to laugh about you behind your back? You have no clue. You wanna know what she used to say? Do you?”

She doesn’t, but then she really does. He can see it in her eyes.

“She used to say you’d be such a stone cold fish the first time, Duncan should just slip you a few drinks and get it the fuck over with.”

He feels her fist hit his jaw before he even registers that she’s moved. Her face is wide and shocked and there’s something about her eyes, pained and injured and hateful, that stabs him right where it hurts.

“You know what?” She spits it out. “Fuck you, Logan. I hope you rot in hell.”

He watches her turn on her heels and run to the girls’ bathroom. Her books lie in a pile at his feet.

“Bro!” Dick’s voice booms out of the growing sound of audience accolade. “That was awesome.”

He’s too slow to stop the hand slamming down on his back and his breath hisses hard out of his clenched jaw.

“Yeah, whatever.” Logan shrugs Dick off easily. “Bitch had it coming.”

The boys’ bathroom is just a few steps further and he hurtles himself through it, gasping as he clutches the edges of a basin. His ribs slide easily under his flesh now, free and loose and gratified, even as he spits blood into the sink.

Somehow, remembering her eyes, it really doesn’t seem worth it.

***

He sends her a stuffed dog, taking great pains to keep it anonymous.

Two days later he finds the head in his locker.

He keeps it.

***

“He left, that’s what they said.”

“I heard he was fired.”

Logan’s not surprised. He saw the photos. This is exactly what a teacher sleeping with students is going to face if they’re caught. It’s not exactly brain surgery. Lech on the jail bait, you end up getting real friendly with Bubba Joe in cellblock D. He feels a slight thrill knowing he saw the evidence before anyone else.

“You know?” Madison simpers into the table. “I heard it was Veronica Mars.”

“God.” Dick breathes. “Does that bitch ever keep to herself?”

Logan frowns down into the pizza in the middle of the table.

“Not from what I’ve heard.” Sean sneers.

It’s nothing they haven’t all said a million times over, but Logan can’t help feeling vaguely uneasy about it as his eyes slide over the quad to the figure who’s just entered, as if hearing her name out loud is her cue to stride valiantly into sight.

She’s wearing Capri pants and they’re hugging her calves and if he can just stop looking at her legs altogether he’d probably feel a whole lot more comfortable. With everything.

Ever.

“Pity.” Madison twists the cap off her bottle of water. “Mr. Jones was a good teacher. He shouldn’t be forced out of a job just because some people can’t keep their trashy mouths shut.”

He doesn’t even need to listen to Dick’s low guffaw and deep grumble to know exactly what he’s saying about Veronica’s mouth. The answering sniggers make him slam the lid of the pizza box closed.

“Give it a rest.”

They all gape up at him and it’s not a big reach to understand why. His part in this oft-practiced little play is to join in with an even filthier, more outlandish comment. He’s not supposed to be throwing this two-year-old tantrum.

“What the hell, dude?” Dick swipes a napkin and angrily smears at the sauce that was splattered up onto his face. “What crawled up your ass and died?”

“Boredom.” He answers with a straight face. “Because none of you seem to have an original thought in your head. Can anything go wrong around here without you blaming Veronica goddamned Mars? Jesus, you’ll be blaming her for JFK next.”

Apparently, Logan grew an extra three heads in two seconds. Everyone’s staring at him like he just admitted to shopping at WalMart.

And liking it.

“Fuck this.”

He leaves them sitting there, motionless. They don’t worry him. He could care less about them, really. It’s the two pairs of eyes following him all the way to the carpark that make the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. Veronica looks curious.

And Duncan looks downright deadly.

***

She’s waiting by his locker at the end of the day.

Logan sees her before she sees him, brow furrowed and teeth chewing on her bottom lip as if she’s trying to decide if she really wants to be there. The closer he gets the more he can see those little white buds pressing deep into the flesh of her lip and he’s suddenly hungry.

That’s not right.

“Hey.”

He smiles as he leans back on his closed locker and… that’s not right either. He didn’t mean to do that; he could swear it.

“What are you doing, Logan?”

“What?” The question pierces him with a mild panic for some reason. “I’m not doing anything. Why would you ask?”

Her mouth is drawn when she looks at him, corners turning down, and her face follows suit, the edges of her eyes and cheeks and even, it seems, her ears pointing towards the floor. She’s eyeing him with barely disguised suspicion.

“Just stop it, okay? Whatever game you’re playing now, just stop it.”

“Ah, just stop it, the lesser known Nike ad.”

But it’s all cover, a moment of relieving the tension, because underneath all the hard shells she’s put up, he can see the sparks of real fear. Pinpoints of pain glaring straight at him from the insides of her eyes, a small tongue coming out to lick the corners of a dry mouth, fingers that twist the spine of the book she’s holding.

She’s truly afraid of him and that thought slams into him like a hammer.

It’s the first time he’s really looked at her since before Lilly, probably before Duncan threw her to the side, and he can’t ever remember that look in her eyes. She had never, not once, looked at him or anyone else and had that ingrained fight or flight response that he, himself, knew all too well.

He did it. He put it there.

“I…” It sticks in his throat, a ball of tar inching its way up, giving nothing but a whisper. “I’m sorry.”

God, his dad must be so proud.

“Logan?”

She’s got her head quirked to the side as she looks at him, really looks, and he feels as if she’s reading words right off his face and skin. Blood pumps hard in his ears and throat and chest, ratcheting up to unbearable levels and suddenly all he wants to do is run. Get away from her, get away from here, just get away.

“Logan, are you okay?”

Her hand moves at normal speed, it must, but he doesn’t see it coming until she’s reached out and lightly grasped his shoulder. It’s her eyes that burn, deep and worried and the slightest of what he’s afraid might be understanding.

Veronica has blue eyes, this he knows, but all he can see is the slightly widened, knowing brown eyes of Lilly.

He needs to run. Forget about keeping up appearances, he needs to get away. Run. Just…

Fight or flight.

“Don’t touch me.” He slides his hand easily under hers and throws it hard and wide, far away from him. “If I wanted to catch anythi…”

But his tirade stops for a second when he hears the faint sound of flesh hitting metal and sees her face twist in pain as she gives a whimper. His eyes skid to the side to see her wrist bent awkwardly over an open locker. She bites her lip hard and sucks air deep.

“If I wanted to catch anything, you two bit whore.” He sneers it, even as she pulls her arm in close. “I’d go to someone who knows what they’re doing. Not someone who learned their trade from their incoherent, drunken, town bike of a mother.”

Hours later, sitting wedged on his bedroom floor, eyes glued to the giant screen, fingers furiously pumping buttons on the controller, Logan tells himself the tears in her eyes were due to her wrist and not him.

He still feels sick and he’s waiting for his dad to get home so he can pick another fight.

***

The phone rings again and again.

He doesn’t stop dialing.

“What?” She picks up eventually, her voice thick and weary. “Logan, it’s three am, stop calling.”

“Then answer the damn thing, Mars.” He’s slurring his words. He can hear it. “It’s not my fault you don’t even have the… the decency to pick up… someone’s calling… you don’t care.”

She sighs.

“Goodnight.”

“No, wait! Wait. Hang on.”

There’s silence, which his alcohol and pain killer soaked brain takes as a good sign that at least she hasn’t hung up yet. He tries to think about how he needs the words to come out. He’d had it practiced. Long and detailed, he knew exactly what he needed to say, to explain to her everything.

“What am I waiting for, Logan?” She sighs after a while. “It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m just going to go…”

“I’m sorry.” He whispers it, the words tumbling out of his mouth. The planned words disappear and all he can think is that he needs to keep her on the line, needs to stop her from leaving any way he can. “I’m sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry.”

It’s the only word he has left.

“I’m going.”

There’s harshness to her voice, ice, and it stings.

“Sorry.” It’s like he can’t stop, now that he’s started. “God, I’m so sorry. Just sorry.”

The dial tone echoes loudly.

“Sorry.”

***

A week later she still has the bandage on her wrist, she’s wearing a long sleeved hoodie, she’s been wearing them the whole time, but he can see it peeking out from under the sleeve when she moves. He knows what to look for.

“Mr. Echolls? Do you want to explain yourself?”

His knuckles throb in response to Mr. Clemmons’ question.

“He was asking for it.” Logan gives a grin and a shrug. “It’s not like I could say no, is it? Look, he was being an asshole and, I’m fairly sure, breaking this school’s strict policy on slandering other people”

Veronica rolls her eyes. Mr. Clemmons is sitting behind his desk and Miss James is standing behind him. Veronica is sitting all the way across the room, her chair pushed back as far from him as she can get, and he feels the opposite wall at his back.

“Miss Mars?” A long suffering sigh and a roll of his shoulders take Mr. Clemmons’ focus to the other side. “I trust you can tell me what happened?”

She spares him a quick glance and he can’t read it. Her eyes are nervous and timid, embarrassed really, and he’s not sure why. Her fingers keep picking at the hem of her shirt and her foot taps spastically against the leg of her chair where she has it crossed over her other leg.

“He’s telling the truth.” The words seem to stun everyone in the room. Logan’s not even sure if he’s the last person who expected her to agree with him, everyone else seemed just as sure she would stick the knife in. “I was headed to class when Dick stopped me and he was saying… stuff.”

Not that she would have stood up for the last occupant of the room. Sitting on a chair between him and Veronica, Dick cautiously pokes and prods at the growing bulge of his left cheekbone. He seems both unaware and unconcerned by Veronica’s discomfort.

It makes Logan squeeze his fingers shut until the skin of his knuckles stretches again, splits even further.

“And then Logan came out of nowhere, I… didn’t see him coming. But he started hitting… I mean… Dick was being inappropriate.”

And, as noble as it sounds that Logan came to her rescue, the look they share across the room tells him they both know she just signed his death warrant. Logan threw the first punch.

“I wasn’t saying nothin’.” Dick protests anyway. “Just minding my own business when she sicced him on me.”

There’s an uncomfortable moment where triumph flares in Dick’s eyes, looking straight at Logan, and maybe nobody else in the room understands or realizes what it means. Perhaps Veronica does. Logan just broke one of the rules and he sided with Veronica over Dick.

An undercurrent is beginning to rip through the school.

“You’ll have to give me more information than just ‘being inappropriate’, Veronica.”

He watches her flush a deep red at Mr. Clemmons’ words.

“He, uh…” She dips her head, looking straight down into her lap as she twists her hands into themselves. “He was making an unflattering distinction between me and a bowling ball.”

Mr. Clemmons frowns and, while Logan is trying to weigh up the extreme unlikelihood of this man never once being on the receiving end of a ‘yo mama’ joke in his entire life, he’s more than willing to beat him senseless if he asks Veronica to clarify that out loud, Vice Principal or not. He can hear Dick snigger quietly, still amused by his own jackassery.

Everyone seems to breathe a sigh of relief when Miss James jumps in.

“That’s enough, we get the idea.”

Her eyes seem to convince Mr. Clemmons that the subject isn’t worth harping on in front of everyone. Probably that she’ll explain the punch line in private. Mr. Clemmons coughs for attention, glaring across the desk.

“Mr. Casablancas, I believe I’ve talked to you several times before about your attitude towards certain students in this school.” Why he’s being coy about it defies explanation. They all know who he’s talking about. “Given that you’ve been warned before and your actions led directly to physical altercations, consider yourself suspended for a period of three days, not including today. Your parents will be notified, thank you.”

Logan and Veronica shift awkwardly, waiting for Dick to huff as he leaves.

“Mr. Echolls.” There’s a long, drawn out sigh and a shake of his head before Mr. Clemmons looks up. Logan thinks he can spot a brief glimmer of humor before the face sets itself back into a frown. “While I find it somewhat inspiring to realize that you are soaking up some of my lectures, albeit months late, I cannot condone physical violence in my school. I advise you to find alternate avenues of expressing your anger. Consider yourself suspended for one day, not including the rest of today, and an added deterrent of a week’s detention should be fair enough. Don’t you think?”

Logan nods.

“Yes, sir.”

They walk out of the office together, side-by-side, and he doesn’t bother turning to enter the nurse’s office like he’d been instructed. He’s had worse and he’ll deal.

“You’re not helping.” Veronica’s voice is soft when she speaks. It’s the first time she’s said anything to him since his disastrous late night call. “I don’t know what you’re trying to do, but it’s not helping anyone.”

Logan feels tired of all this talking around the issue.

“They’re stopping.” He looks down the hall, eyes following the wake of Dick. “At least, most of them are.”

She sighs again.

“They haven’t stopped a thing. They’re just not doing anything while you’re there.”

He’s suspected as much, but the truth hits him hard anyway, the blatant acknowledgement.

“I don’t know what else to do, Veronica.”

On some unspoken signal, they both stop in the middle of the hallway. She looks up at him and he’s struck by how small she really is, how impossibly fragile. Everyone has demonized her to the point of ridiculousness, to the point where it’s almost impossible to see her as a real human being.

She reaches out, slowly this time, and takes his hand.

“You can’t do anything.” She sounds too old for her age. “It’s all too little, too late. Just leave me out of it.”

He thinks there’s something he should say, something to counter her words, to convince her that he’s really trying and that he’s going to stop it all somehow, but his brain refuses to work. It’s too busy concentrating on nothing but the feel of her thumb rubbing slow and gentle circles on his swollen knuckles.

It’s going to be totally embarrassing if he starts purring in public, but he can’t seem to pull away.

“For what it’s worth.” He tries again, because he knows she’s already gone and there’s nothing to lose. “I really am sorry.”

She smiles, soft and real and it tugs at him.

“I know.” She squeezes his hand before letting go. “Thank you for trying.”

***

He thinks about her hands for days afterwards, thinks about the soft padding of her thumb stroking the webbing between his fingers. Slow, torturous strokes that make him breathless. He thinks about the way only the edges of her lips had curved in that sweet little smile, secret and only for him.

She’s going to drive him crazy without even trying.

He can’t stop it, no matter how hard he tries.

A whole forty minutes worth of Chemistry is lost as he suddenly looks down at his book to find that he hasn’t written one thing, too busy staring across the room at her face, all calm seriousness as she listens to the teacher.

His brain tortures him with memories of her laughing, open and easy and full of mirth, and he feels almost sad watching her now, trying to come up with anything to make her laugh like that again.

She doesn’t look his way.

Chairs scratch on the floor as the bell rings and the quiet, dreamy tone of the room suddenly breaks as the sound of books being piled up and people stretching and talking fills the air. Her movements are slow and steady, unhurried as she lets everyone else pour out of the room before her.

It gives him the chance to catch her by her elbow, pull her back into the room and force her to look at him.

Her mouth opens, just slightly, her lips parting as she waits.

“Veronica, wait, please.” He rushes the words out. “Just talk to me?”

She shakes her head back and forth and tries to walk around him.

Logan throws his arm out, slapping his hand to the wall and preventing her from moving any closer to the door. Her eyes narrow when they look up at him. He shifts himself just a little bit closer.

“I can’t stop thinking about you.” It sounds corny, even to him. “And you won’t even talk to me, why?”

She blushes, pushing her shoulders back into the wall. He can’t take his eyes away from the flow of blood into her face, he sees it in microscopic detail, scribbled little red capillaries breaking all over her cheeks. Her skin would be warm to touch.

Warm and soft.

“Don’t.” She whispers, as if she’s afraid of raising her voice. “Logan, don’t look at me like that.”

And he can’t help but grin a little.

“Like what?” He whispers in kind, leaning even closer. “Like I want to kiss you?”

She shivers in front of him, all over, and he’s kind enough to warm her up by breathing heated air over her ear. He takes it as a good sign when she doesn’t push him away. Or cut off his balls.

“Like I want to touch you?” He follows his words by lifting his hand to her face, sliding his finger over the curve of her jaw. “Like I want to make you moan my name out loud?”

The heel of his palm rests just under her chin and he can feel her pulse as it thunders under her throat.

“Logan.”

He laughs, a puff of air against her neck.

“Kinda like that, yeah.”

She laughs and it makes her whole body shiver against his. He takes the opportunity to slide his mouth sideways and over hers. Her lips taste like strawberry and she gasps into him. He doesn’t back away and he watches the way her eyes fly wide open.

They break apart and he gives her just enough time to take in a breath before he leans in again.

This time he does it properly, coaxing her mouth open with his tongue as his hands cup her face, his hips compelled to push forward into hers and they’re both groaning.

“Logan.” And this time she growls it out, deep and throaty and exactly how he wants it. “Logan, stop.”

Her hands rest in the middle of his chest, as if they’d been about to push him away and then decided otherwise.

“No.” He laughs a little as he lightly pecks at her mouth. “No.”

Quick, soft pecks, again and again until she’s smiling, then he dips lower, sliding his mouth over her jaw and over to her neck. She gasps out loud, a pant in his ear, and she tastes better than he ever thought. He can’t help his hands sliding down her neck, over her shoulders and down her waist.

She’s so small his hands cover her whole abdomen.

The skin of her belly is hot and clammy and she lets him lift her shirt.

“We shouldn’t…” She tries again, only half-heartedly. “Someone’s going to come…”

“Yeah.” He stops her with a hard, wet lick of her neck. “You, if you play your cards right.”

His fingers curl around her ribs and his knee pushes between hers, softly grinding.

“God, Logan.” Suddenly her hands are in his hair and he feels tugging at his scalp. “Please.”

And he’s never been one to make a girl beg if he can help it, so he drops his head down, mouthing along her collarbone and then further down, palming at her breasts even as his lips find the rise of flesh. Her nipples harden against his thumb and his hips grind again.

“Logan. Logan.” She’s moaning loudly now and he’s grinning. “Mr. Echolls!”

Logan’s head jumps up and he hears laughter before he realizes that he’s still sitting at his desk and everyone is watching him. Amused. Mr. Wu gives him a frustrated sigh.

“Nice to know my classes are that interesting, Mr. Echolls.” More laughter echoes around the room before Mr. Wu turns away. “Perhaps you can enlighten us on the answer, Miss Halls, seeing as some people happen to be taking their afternoon nap.”

Logan lets his head fall forward and hit the desk with a loud thump.

Three seats to the left and one back, Veronica gives him a sympathetic smile.

***

Awkward doesn’t even begin to describe the atmosphere between himself and Duncan.

“Here.” He gestures to the page in his hand. “This sentence doesn’t make sense.”

“Really?” There’s a tense line to Duncan’s jaw. “What do you suggest, then?”

Logan breathes in and steadies himself for a second before pushing forward. Things have been building for a while and he gets the strangest feeling that they’re going to boil over.

“I don’t know what your problem is, man, I’m just doing the exercise.”

Duncan gives a little laugh, like he doesn’t quite believe the words.

“The exercise? Right, yeah. Edit my article. Go on.” And there’s something in his eyes that Logan can’t remember seeing before, something colder and harsher than he’s used to. “Is there anything else in my life you wanna correct?”

“Jesus, Duncan.” Logan throws the page back on the desk. “It’s a fucking journalism assignment. What do you want from me?”

Duncan scoffs, as if the answer should be obvious to anyone with any shred of basic, common decency.

“Loyalty. You’re supposed to be my best friend, you’re supposed to have my back.”

He can’t quite believe the words coming out of Duncan’s mouth.

“Supposed…? I did, Duncan! I’ve done nothing but…”

“Really?” This new peevishness in Duncan is completely ugly and it makes him seem all of twelve years old. “’Cause you could have fooled me.”

For someone who prides himself on avoiding any and all serious issues easier than breathing, Logan is getting incredibly tired of everyone skirting around the words they want to say, but don’t. Like it’s any secret why Duncan’s been pouting for weeks, or why everyone still smiles at Logan, but the smiles are strained and the conversation tense until he gets up to leave.

The son of a Hollywood movie star will never quite reach pariah status in Neptune, but he just might not rate the effort of sincerity.

“You know what? Fuck this and fuck you, Duncan.” Logan pushes his seat back. “I had your back, I haven’t done anything but have it. You know what? Veronica was my friend, too. Did you even think about that?”

There are shifts and seismic undercurrents ripping through the entire school, but there is still this unspoken line between the two of them, a deep and unbreachable chasm, and Logan is sick of it.

“Even before Lilly… I turned my back on her, because of you, and I never asked why. Not once. I mean, what the hell did she do?”

Silence is his answer, but Logan’s not dense enough to miss the small signs, the tensing of Duncan’s jaw and the narrowing of his eyes, the frantic pawing of the pen in his hand.

“You led the whole fucking school into attacking her, you led me into it, and why?” He waits and it’s obvious that Duncan’s not going to answer. “Seriously, man, I mean it. I’m asking for a reason now. Why? What did she do that was so bad?”

The words come so quietly, that Logan almost misses them.

“Drop it, Logan.”

Hell no.

“If you hate her so much, Duncan, why the hell don’t you want anyone around her?”

The questions are coming too thick and too fast to stop. It’s everything he’s been holding onto, everything he’s been wondering about for months, everything that got buried in the wake of losing Lilly. He hadn’t even noticed it, hadn’t stopped to think about it, but now that he’s got free reign to ask, he can feel the resentment pouring out of himself, bitter as bile.

“She was my goddamned friend, Duncan, and you had no fucking right…”

Duncan grabs the collar of his shirt hard, pulling him all the way out of his chair. As he rises Logan feels his legs scramble on the ground, looking for purchase until he feels one of the desks pound into his spine. A collective gasp runs through the room and he can hear Miss Dent calling for them to stop it.

“Stay the hell away from her.” Duncan hisses it into his face with flecks of spittle. “She’s too good for you.”

“Too good for me?” He sneers it, even as his hands come up to throw Duncan’s off. “Where the hell were you when they were saying all that stuff about her and the entire Pan High Lacrosse team? Why is it so different now?”

A spark of understanding makes him smile, ugly and vicious.

“You still love her.”

Duncan throws the first punch.

Logan throws the second. And third.

“Boys!” Miss Dent’s voice screeches into the atmosphere, affecting absolutely nothing. “Stop it, now!”

Logan feels himself being tackled to the ground and a desk crunches against his shoulder as he goes down, breathless with the weight of Duncan’s shoulder in his stomach. He laughs loudly amid the cheers of their classmates.

“This is too fucking beautiful!” His hand grips tightly, the first piece of Duncan he can get hold of, and spins them both around. “You’re threatened by me!”

“Screw you!”

Duncan spits the words up.

“Oh no, my friend.” Logan lords the temporary victory of being on top. “I’d much rather enjoy screwing her.”

Duncan gets a second wind and they both go flying.

They slam each other into the wall and more chairs and desks go screeching. There are voices carrying the pent up excitement from the room all the way down the hall. And that’s an excellent idea. They both make up their mind in the same instant and drag each other to the door.

“What’s the matter, Duncan?” He gasps it through the pain of a fire hydrant slamming into his shoulder blades. “The truth hurt thrown into all your lies?”

He can taste blood.

“Don’t touch her!” Duncan practically screams it and the words echo through the quickly crowding corridor. “Don’t you…”

“You know what?” Logan feels preternaturally calm by comparison, laughing in the face of all this spite. “From what I hear, she might just enjoy it.”

There’s a crack and Logan highly suspects it might be his cheekbone. At the very least, he’s going to have an ugly bruise. He gives every bit of it back, in spades, his fists flying harsh and angry.

“Isn’t that what you like everyone to say?” They roll, clumsily avoiding the crowd of feet as Logan raises his voice high above the jeers. “Isn’t it? Veronica’s such a whore! Veronica’s such a slut!”

Duncan goes still, his eyes lighting up as he breaks into giggles, amused and uncontrolled.

Logan doesn’t want to lift his head, because he knows what he’s going to see, but he does anyway. Veronica is staring, open mouthed and red faced. He can’t recognize the emotion in her eyes, but he knows it’s not good.

She turns and walks away.

“Mr. Echolls!”

And there is Mr. Clemmons.

Fuck a goddamned duck.

***

Veronica doesn’t answer her phone for three days, not to him anyway.

Logan sends her a teddy bear.

He removes its head first, to save her the trouble. Nothing ends up in his locker, but he sees a suspiciously fluffy lump dripping stuffing on the dashboard of her car days afterward.

***

By the time the end of the week comes around, Logan has learned several things.

Veronica Mars arrives at and leaves school both early and late, with no particular pattern. This, he suspects, she likes to do to avoid running into and therefore being forced to talk to him. Veronica Mars has an uncanny knack of disappearing down hallways, into classrooms and, his personal favorite, the girls’ bathroom whenever he’s able to find her. This, he’s not sure, but he suspects, is a power she reserves mainly for him.

Veronica Mars may not have many friends, but she has allies she is not afraid to use. This he learns as he battles to escape some stoner kid as she hurries to her car and drives away before he can reach her.

Veronica Mars knows how to effectively train her dog. This he learns when Backup no longer stops growling when he tries to pat him on the beach. Logan is suddenly grateful for strong leashes.

***

“Talk to me.”

She stares out at the water, sucking her cheeks into hollows as the wind whips her hair around her face.

“I don’t have anything to say.”

He jumps at the only space she’s given him.

“I do.” When she doesn’t walk away, he rushes ahead. “Veronica, please, let me explain.”

Usually, this is the time he expects people to walk away. Anyone else would, he knows, any of the airheaded, empty girls that flounce about and try to prove that their righteousness is justified, when they’re just being petty.

He should have known that Veronica’s not one of them.

She taps her foot. He knows enough not to point out how endearingly cute and ineffective it is when she’s doing it in the sand.

“Well?” She huffs. “You know, Logan, your explanation really sucks right now. I hope you have more than that.”

His throat is empty.

“I’m sorry.” God, he sounds like a broken record. “I’m sorry.”

“Yeah.” A bitter laugh tumbles out of her mouth. “I got that part. What else have you got?”

There has to be something so incredibly hypnotizing about the ocean, waves crashing loudly against the sand, considering she won’t look away from it, she won’t turn her head a quarter of an inch to give him the time of day.

He wants to shift his position, plant himself smack dab right in front of her and force her to face him.

He doesn’t.

“I didn’t mean it. What I was saying, it wasn’t what it sounded like.” Her face flinches and he hurries to continue. “You didn’t hear the rest of it, you didn’t hear what came before.”

“Jesus Christ, Logan!” Veronica throws her hands up, dropping the leash as she does so, her hands spreading wide and then closing in again. “You think I don’t know that? You think I care about anything you or your friends say about me anymore? I’ve heard a lot worse. Trust me.”

Backup whines against the obvious stress in her voice.

“Then what?” He’s going to regret asking this, he can tell. “Why won’t you talk to me?”

She shakes her head, biting her top lip, and he sees the tremble of her chin. If she starts crying he’s going to lose it.

”Wow.” Her teeth are this close to slicing right through her lip. “You must have the shortest memory in history. Have you forgotten the last six months? You know what, forget all that. Why should I talk to you now? Give me one good reason.”

“I’m a jackass.”

She laughs, bitter and hurt.

“I know that, Logan, try again.”

“I’m a jackass, I know it.” He says again. “But I’m trying now, Veronica. I am.”

“And I’m supposed to what? Turn the other cheek? Hate to break it to you, but that one’s kinda scarred as well.”

She sounds bitter and he hates that she has a right to.

“I fucked up.” He pleads; he’s not sure what else he can do. “We all fucked up, but I should have known better. I should have… fuck… I should have been there for you. Okay? I shouldn’t have done all that stuff; I know it. If it makes you feel any better, I hate myself.”

He doesn’t want to have this conversation to an ocean, the words ricocheting from one of them off the waves and back to the other, as if they need this buffer between them. He wants to look at her and have her look at him; he wants to see what she’s feeling.

This side view, the narrowed eyes and half a nose, mouth screwed up as she hugs herself, it’s not enough anymore.

“Veronica, please? Please let me try and make it up to you?”

The swallow he hears from her throat is wet and slick and it hurts all the way down his chest.

“Don’t do this to me, Logan, please?” She takes a great, shuddering breath that looks almost painful. “Can’t you just leave me alone? That’s all I’ve asked. Just go away and leave me alone.”

It hurts more than it should, this little plea.

“What is so wrong with that?” He grabs her shoulders and turns her around forcibly, trying to make her look, but she strains her neck, keeps her face turned away from his. “What the hell is so bad about me trying to be nice?”

“Because!” She cries it out as she shoves him off her, stumbling back as she does. “Because I can’t do it again. I’m not strong enough, Logan, can’t you see that?”

He resists the urge to move forward, to close the distance between them. She looks as if she’ll crack if he doesn’t give her the space she’s obviously craving.

“Strong enough for what?”

Eerie, how calm he sounds when his head is reeling.

She breathes in, a rasping, shuddering pull, and when she breathes out, it’s calmer, slower, more controlled.

“For you to play whatever game you’re playing, be the noble friend, whatever, for however long it takes until you’re bored, and then you decide I’m not good enough again.” Her voice is calm and it’s scarier than his. For as low and as even as her words are, he can tell there’s a thousand more currents underneath. “I can’t be friends with someone who’s just going to turn around and punish me for it the second something else takes their fancy.”

“I won’t.” But his quick promise sounds empty, even to him. “I won’t do it again.”

“Ha.” She does look at him, then, and her watery eyes flash a challenge. “Where the hell is Duncan, then?”

Before he even has a chance to think about a response, she’s giving it to him.

“You guys have been best friends since you were how old? And you were almost killing each other! How long until the wheel turns and it’s me again, huh? A month? Two? Three years?”

He doesn’t have an answer and they both know it.

“I can’t be your punching bag, Logan, I’m not built that way.”

Backup is ready and alert for the quick whistle she gives, trotting to her side instantly, and she’s got his collar clipped on and the leash half stretched out before Logan can react.

“Hey!” He’s surprised by the desperation in his voice. “I’ve never hurt you, not like that. I know I’ve been a bastard, but I’ve never laid a hand on you…”

Something flashes in her eyes, a little too close to pity for comfort, and she’s speaking before he even finishes.

“I didn’t mean it like that.” Soft, calming words meant to reassure him. They don’t. “But do you even understand what you’ve been doing these last few weeks? Do you? You’ve tried to be nice, I get that, I do, but god, Logan, every time something goes wrong in your life, for whatever reason, you take it out on me. Then you try and make it up with some big gesture. A toy or punching out Dick in the hall or replacing my windscreen.”

“I’m sorry.”

He’s just beginning to understand the futility of those words, how very little they really mean.

“It doesn’t matter!” She’s shaking now. “I can’t keep waiting for something else to happen, waiting to see how long before you snap and turn on me again. Can’t you see how hard that is? Can you possibly understand?”

If she wanted to reach inside his chest and dig out his heart, it would have been a lot easier to use a dull, rusty spoon.

“So, what? Walk away and never look back?” The sudden venom in his voice surprises him. “Give up on four years of friendship?”

“How dare you?” She spits his venom right back at him. “Don’t you dare turn this on me. You walked away first! The first time you called me a slut! Laughed with the rest of them when they put putty in my car’s ignition, put dye in the shampoo in the locker room, vandalized my tires. Every single time, that was you! Not me!”

Anger is better than tears; he’s thinking these exact words when it occurs to him that this is exactly what she’s been saying. He uses anger and it’s never backfired as much as it is now.

“I miss you.”

He says it simply and suddenly, more honest than he can ever remember being with anyone.

“Fuck you, Logan.” But she doesn’t sound angry, she sounds broken. “You think I haven’t? You think after I stopped crying for Lilly, I didn’t cry for you and Duncan, too? Where the hell were you, then?”

She folds into the sand, crumpling like a concertina.

“You think I didn’t miss you when my mom left? I needed you and you weren’t fucking there.” The words are coming out hard, bitten through tears. “And when I woke up that morning, I needed you then, I needed someone and no one was fucking there!”

He drops down next to her.

“What morning?”

It’s a soft question, but she reacts as if he burned her, as if he’s said something so completely offensive that she can’t stand to be next to him, can’t stand to share the same air.

“I need…” She gasps as she scrambles to get away. “I can’t be here.”

“Veronica!”

But she’s running and she’s pulling hard on Backup’s leash and he knows he’s not supposed to follow her.

***

He’s reeling.

There’s nowhere to go.

He can’t go home. His dad has been on the warpath since he got suspended twice in two weeks for fighting. Nobody particularly wants him at their house, certainly not the Casablancas’, he’s made too many outbursts to be welcome anywhere.

Logan is drinking, an open flask of something bitter and biting in one hand and the wheel in the other. It’s only fitting, he thinks as he rolls the window down and feels night air brush over his face, that he has no place to go and nobody to turn to.

This is what he did to Veronica.

He remembers her at Lilly’s funeral and the hazy week afterwards, awkward and stilted, everyone groundless and unsure. He’d been stunned and hollow and unable to process anything, wilting into the shadows of the Kanes, hiding under the gaping loss they exuded, but he’d taken the time to slip next to her in that time of limbo.

When she’d been separated from Duncan, but not from the rest of them, when he still considered her a close friend. When he’d held her as she’d sobbed and she him and they’d both talked about Lilly, at first as if she’d be canonized the very next week and then with a little more humor, a little more truth, a little hushed awe at the girl that was.

Then her dad had focused his investigation and battle lines had been drawn and he’d stopped thinking of her as anything but a cold, heartless shrew.

Her emotional go to girl had always been Lilly, Logan knows how close they were, but he’d made a fine stand in. She’d told him this herself one night when the Kanes were in Napa and she’d been having problems with her mom’s drinking. It hits him how coldly and cruelly he’d used that information, the weakness she always showed when it came to Lianne Mars.

He slams his hand down hard on the wheel and hears a loud, insistent horn skitter out beside him.

Shit, that had been a red light. He needs to stop driving.

It’s too fucking beautiful, he thinks, when he finally stops the car. Parked outside the window for half an hour like some stalker or ex lover before he gets the courage to get out and ring the bell.

“Hey.” He drawls when the door finally opens. “S’I need to talk.”

“You shouldn’t be here.”

Logan can’t quite tell if the distaste in her eyes is there because of the alcohol or the situation. Probably both, he decides as he holds himself up with a hand against the doorframe.

“C’mon, Rosita. Is he here or not?”

Her head flicks behind the door and back so quickly he almost laughs. Her eyes are wide and strained.

“Mister Duncan can’t see you now.”

Mister? It’s Mister now? This is a woman he’s known since he was twelve years old. She smiled at all of them in secret, made notes of each of their favorite foods and made them whenever they came over, gave them bits of advice. She was the only person at the Kane house above seventeen that had ever given Veronica the time of day. She’d been the one to show him how to lessen visible swelling around his wounds using everyday acne cream without making a fuss over it.

“Oh.” He nods calmly. “I think he will.”

Taking a deep breath, Logan lifts his face high.

“Duncan!” He yells it, grinning on the inside at her visible flinch. He hopes to hell that he’s interrupting some important Kane event. “Duncan! Get your ass out here!”

It doesn’t take long.

“Logan.” Tight jaw and disapproving glare, Duncan is the picture of genteel distaste and Logan is counting on his need to keep things quiet. “What are you doing here?”

He can see the last traces of swelling across the left side of Duncan’s face, the sickly yellow of faded bruises. It matches the same colors dotting Logan’s own face. And if it were any other day, any other time, Logan would give a cocky little grin and all would be forgiven.

“You gonna lemme in?” He thinks he might have drunk more than he originally thought. “Or should I jus’ fall on the ground here?”

His arm sweeps down in what he assumes is a graceful gesture to the ground. It thumps dully against the wall and he frowns, looking down at it, confused.

“Come on.” Duncan sighs as he grabs Logan’s arm and hauls him inside. “We’ll go to my room.”

Logan likes the easy forgiveness of the Kanes.

***

“You ever miss it?”

Logan takes a swig from the bottle. Duncan produced it out of nowhere and they’ve slowly, and very quietly, been getting blitzed. He knew he was friends with Duncan for some reason.

“What?”

“Us.” Logan says it like it’s obvious. “The four of us, we used to rule the world, man. You, me, Lilly and Veronica.”

There’s a moment, heavy and stilted, before Duncan takes the bottle and takes a long swallow.

“Yeah.” A gasp of alcohol. “Good times.”

A lull falls and Logan leans back against his elbows, legs sprawled out on the floor in front of him. This room is as familiar to him as his own. He knows the walls, knows what year they were painted, and knows that if you knock lightly in some places, you can hear it in the next room. A room with lighter colors and photos of a dead girl.

“Duncan?” He muses. “Do you like you?”

“Shit.” Duncan puts the bottle high up on a shelf and settles back on the bed. “I think you’ve had enough.”

“I don’t like me.” Logan continues. “I used to, I think, but I look at me now, and I don’t like it.”

This makes Duncan laugh.

“Nobody loves themselves more than you do, Logan, so cut it out.”

“I think Lilly loved Lilly. Who didn’t love Lilly? Nobody. Everybody loved Lilly.” He’s rambling, he knows it, but it seems vitally important just to get the words out. “I don’t think Veronica likes Veronica, you know?”

“I’m going to sleep, Logan, goodnight.”

“She used to, she used to like everyone, even when they didn’t like her. God, your mom’s a bitch. But I don’t think she likes herself anymore. We did that, you and I; we killed Veronica, not anyone else. It doesn’t matter who said what, it was you and it was me and we killed her. Just like Abel killed Lilly.”

A pillow slams into his face.

“Shut up, man, you’re wasted.”

“Little Veronica pieces smeared all over the school. And I look at that, at what we did, and I don’t like myself. So… do you like you?”

A pause and Logan thinks Duncan’s just plain ignoring him.

“No.”

It’s small and sad and Logan blinks hard as he tries to sit all the way up.

“So why?”

There’s a soft groan from the bed and Logan sees that Duncan is lying back with his head on the pillow with an arm flung over his face, as if this is enough to stop the harsh memories.

“Logan?” Duncan doesn’t lift the arm. “Did you ever think Trina was hot?”

He’s drunk, he can barely keep upright, but he’s not that drunk.

“She’s my sister, you tool.”

“No she’s not. I mean, not really. Your dad signed a piece of paper with his ex, but that doesn’t mean she’s your sister. Your mom doesn’t think so, anyway.”

“Fuck my mom.” Logan spits. “Trina might not be dad’s, but she’s still my sister. You don’t forget one and a half decades of mental torture just because some fucker in a white coat says your blood doesn’t match.”

He pushes his way up off the floor and stumbles to the shelf to get the bottle back; Duncan doesn’t stop him.

“Fuck! Is Trina hot? You’re drunker than I thought.”

Duncan doesn’t answer, just laughs bitterly into his arm.

***

Duncan’s asleep when Logan slips out of the room. He’s fairly sure that a truce has been called, neither of them really felt the urge to kill each other, but somehow Logan just doesn’t feel right staying there. It might have something to do with ice-cold eyes that had looked down a thin, craggy nose.

“He’s not staying, is he, Duncan? Do you really think that’s a good idea?”

No wonder Veronica had wilted and gone quiet whenever Celeste had entered the room, Veronica, shouldn’t you be going home soon?

His hand fumbles for what seems like an age before he finally gets the key into the ignition.

Logan has to blink his way through several sets of traffic lights, squinting at all the colors that blur together and fighting the growing nausea in his belly. His eyes seem desperately heavy and his fingers are fat, bulky and awkward, refusing to move properly.

He only stumbles three times walking from his car to her door.

“Hi.” He knows he has to play casual, get her trust before he does anything else. “How’re you going?”

“Logan, oh my god, are you drunk?”

“Nah. Nope. Not me, why?”

This, right here, it’s his very best smile. He knows it. It’s won many hearts in its time. He can just flash some teeth and get whatever he wants. Which, at the moment, would be eyes that could distinguish shapes and colors and a sense of balance that actually worked.

“Jesus, okay. Just come inside before people see you.”

“You know.” He even throws a wink in for good measure. “I thought you should know, I like you, Veronica.”

“That’s nice.” She rolls her eyes and grabs his arm, pulling him inside the door. “Really, that’s great.”

Something in her voice alerts him to the fact that maybe, just maybe, she’s not taking him as seriously as he really wants her to. He’s thought about this since he left Duncan’s and it seemed important all the car ride over that he tell her.

“No, no, see?” His arm slides out of her grip as he steps away and gestures for her to listen. “I like you, even if you don’t like you. I thought you should know. I didn’t want to kill you.”

“That’s…” Her nose crinkles as she frowns at him. “…comforting.”

A soft shuffle at his leg makes him look down and he sees the curling lip of the dog. There are no growls or threatening rumbles, unlike the beach, and Logan wonders exactly how in tune he is with Veronica. If this means she’s forgiven him, too.

“Backup!” Logan drops to his knees and begins ruffling the dog’s head, even as his lip snarls in warning. “How’re you doing, boy? I bet you like yourself, don’t you? Don’t you?”

“Veronica?” A stern voice floats out. “Do you know what time it…? Is that Logan Echolls?”

“Sorry, dad, he came by to tell me he likes me. And, apparently, our dog.”

Logan nuzzles into the slightly suspicious face of Backup, who hasn’t completely relaxed, but isn’t tearing his throat out. It’s just possible that if the dog doesn’t kill him, he might have another chance to make things up with her.

“Has he been drinking?”

“What gave it away?”

“He didn’t drive, did he?”

“I don’t…” Logan feels a hand at his back. “Logan, where are your keys?”

He fishes them out of his pocket helpfully; holding them out to her by his fingertips and playfully snapping them back just before she reaches them. He misses this, simple and easy teasing between them.

“Logan, just give them to me! For crying out loud!”

“You’re fun, V’ronica. We used to have fun, you know?”

“Dad, are you gonna help me, here?”

“Well, I don’t know. He hasn’t said he likes me at all. I feel somewhat left out.”

“Laugh it up, dad, he’s probably parked next to you. I sure hope he doesn’t scratch…”

“Logan?” There’s a serious note to the man’s voice now, which makes Logan go very, very still. “Give her the keys.”

He does.

“Tha’s my car.” He tells her seriously. “It’s yellow.”

Inexplicably, snickers and laughter follow his comment.

“He’s an observant drunk, isn’t he, dear daughter?”

“C’mon.” She tugs at his arm, trying to get him up off the floor. “We’ll call your mom or someone to pick you up.”

Logan pulls himself free and tries to grab the keys back from her.

“No! No! Please, not like this. He can’t…” A loud thump sounds, accompanied by a dull ache in his shin and he thinks he might have knocked into something. “Not home. I’ll go, I just…”

“It’s okay, Veronica.” Mr. Mars’ voice cuts into his consciousness. “He can sleep it off here. I think that might be best.”

“Yes.” Logan nods his approval enthusiastically, even if neither of them is really looking at him. “Stay here.”

“Hello, my name is Veronica, and you are?”

“Just listen to me for once, okay? He doesn’t need to go home like this.”

“You know.” Logan squints up into the older man’s face. “Mr. Mars, I think I like you, too. I hope you like you, ‘cause that’s important, you know?”

“See?” Comes Veronica’s pleased voice. “He likes you plenty, dad.”

“I’ll make up the couch.”

“Logan?” Veronica sounds worried and it makes him frown. “C’mon, sit here for a sec, okay? We’re just getting the couch ready for you. Do you want some water?”

There’s a chair under him and a bench in front of him.

“S’it have scotch in it?”

This makes her laugh.

“Just water. Here, drink it. Trust me, you’ll thank me in the morning.”

It’s flat and metallic in his throat and Logan clicks his tongue back and forth trying to dislodge the taste. He would much prefer it had a bit of a kick to it, but he’s ready to do everything she says, even as she’s laughing at him. He stops sputtering long enough to give her another smile.

She’s beautiful when she doesn’t hate his guts.

“Pillows, blankets, bucket.” Mr. Mars is back. “Did I miss anything?”

“I think that covers it, dad.”

“Look, Veronica, it’s really late and I have that thing…”

“Go to bed, I’ll make sure he doesn’t kill himself. Tonight at least.”

They make him laugh, the way they talk in circles. They’re not making much sense, but they’re not arguing with him, so he’s happy enough. Plus, the apartment is getting increasingly warmer and he feels his skin getting clammy under his shirt.

And he’s so dizzy he could fall down right now if it weren’t for the chair.

In fact, that sounds like a pretty good deal. The floor is flat and it doesn’t spin and if he could just lie down then maybe the air would stop swirling so much…

“Hey, hey.” There are hands on his arms, propping him up. “There’s a whole couch for you, kid. Just over here.”

“You know, Mr. Mars? You’ve got a really great daughter. Did you know that?”

There’s a chuckle as he’s hefted towards the couch, but there’s something about it that’s not entirely pleasant. Logan’s reminded of a panther, lying close to the ground and ready to pounce.

“Yes, Logan, I knew that. I’m glad you know that, too, but if you make me regret letting you stay here with her or, apparently, my dog, I’m going to have to remind you that I have a gun, okay? Tell me you understand.”

Logan nods.

“Yes, sir.”

“Gee, thanks, dad. Glad to note I rate the same warning as the dog.”

“Oh, sweetie, you know I love you both the same.”

“Huh. Then how come Backup always gets the front seat when we go on car trips?”

“Behave, and try not to kill Logan, okay?”

It’s a small couch, kind of lumpy in parts and not at all the big, sprawling leather monstrosities or wide, open fastidiously new creations his mother brings home, but Logan practically hums as he relaxes into the cushions and blankets.

“Did you just purr?”

Veronica sits down next to him and he gives her his best smile.

“I like you.”

Logan curls himself, bringing his knees up so that he can look at her sitting next to him.

“Yeah, well.” She gives him a wry smile as she leans her head back. “You sure have a funny way of showing it. Not to mention, you’re so drunk you probably don’t even know who I am, so you’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you, right?”

“But I do, V’ronnie.”

“Vronnie? Logan, no, just no.”

She’s cute, even when she’s stubborn.

“What’ll it take for you to believe me?”

“A lobotomy? You’ve done nothing but torment me for six months, surely you can’t be so brain addled that you’ve forgotten.” She sighs when she turns her head to look at him. “Fine, you like me. What exactly is it that you like? The sluttiness? The bitchiness? The, what was it you said that time, ‘reek of trailer-trash, poor-white-skank that just won’t wash off?”

That’s when he knows. She’s being stubborn because she hasn’t realized yet. She doesn’t know that he’s changed, that he’s figured out exactly where he went wrong and that he wants to make up for it. She’s still shoring herself for battle.

“Tha’s all nothing.” He reaches out to touch her shoulder and either she moves or his hand sips, but either way he misses. “Water under the bridge, you gotta let it go. I really do like you, you’re feisty.”

“Is that a step up or down from scrappy?”

“An’ you’ve got awesome hair. I know I said stuff about it, but it’s just good, all spunky.”

“I think I prefer feisty.”

“Shush.” He glares at her and she bites her lip. He must be doing something right if she keeps laughing. “I’m telling you what I like. An’ your eyes, I like them when you smile. I think you’ve always been pretty, always. If it wasn’t for Duncan…”

Her face falls.

“Logan, come on. I don’t think you want to do this now.” She frowns a little, inching back. “You’re going to hate yourself for this in the morning, and me, and I don’t want to deal with that.”

One of her hands stays on the couch, fingers splayed carelessly on the cushion between them and he puts his hand on it, spreads his own fingers over hers. Her eyes look down at them and he watches the flutter of her eyelashes on her cheek.

“Nah uh.” A soft assurance. “Now’s the best time. I never remember what I say when I’m drunk.”

“Well, then.” She gives a half laugh, which really doesn’t sound all that happy. “Aren’t I the lucky one?”

She slides her hand out from under his and he’s left cold. It’s perfectly logical to follow that movement through by reaching forward and touching her face, just to get the feel of her skin back.

“And I like your eyes.”

Veronica pulls back even further.

“Logan.”

Her voice is low and deep and it could be a warning, but it could also be desire and he’s playing his odds here.

“And your chin and your neck.” The look she’s giving him makes him think of a baby deer, all skittish and afraid. “And you know what? Your legs. I really like your legs. I watch them at school, can’t take my eyes off ‘em.”

She grabs his hand and throws it away from her.

“Well you better learn.” And that’s definitely warning in her voice now. No questions asked. “Hands and eyes off my… everything, unless you want to lose them. Do I have to remind you about my dad’s gun?”

He pouts.

“What?” But she’s not giving in, so he pouts even further. “Okay, fine. We’ll just be friens, then, your legs and me. Nothing more. Frien’ly legs.”

Her shoulders shake and she gives a snort.

“God, you’re wasted.”

“Not even.” He protests, but even he can hear the slur of his words and knows that the general fuzziness around his head means that he’s had more than he really should. “Maybe. Okay, yeah.”

“You think?”

She shifts, almost bouncing in her sudden excitement, and the movement makes his stomach eddy and swirl in a way that’s not at all good.

“So you really don’t remember anything after you’ve been drinking, huh?”

He shakes his head violently, as an answer, but also to dislodge the lump in his throat, that growing, hard bulge that keeps pushing against his gag reflex.

“Do you… uh…?” She’s going for casual and Logan takes the opportunity to sneak a look to the floor, reassuring himself that the bucket is, indeed, where they told him it was. “Do you remember Shelley’s party?”

Logan frowns.

“Shelley had a party? An’ she didn’t invite me? Tha’s just mean, you know? They don’t like me, anymore, but I’m always…”

“No.” A hand rests on his arm for just a second and he stops to look at it before she takes it away. “I mean the one she had last year, in December. The end of the year party, you were there. Do you remember?”

“Yeah.” And then he has a thought that makes him smile. “Hey! You came. You looked real nice. I remember you had on that dress. It was hot. And smelled nice and you tasted like…”

“What?” He’s thrown by the anger in her voice, the sudden way she jumps off the couch and leaves him spinning. “How the hell do you know what I tasted like?”

“’Cause of the body shots.” It’s fairly obvious, if she thinks about it, really. “When we did the shots.”

Her face crumples and she looks like she’s about to cry again.

“We did body shots? You and me?”

It makes him snort.

“No. Not just me. S’everyone. You were on the pool lounge. And we put the lemons in your mouth and salt on your neck, there were lots of us. And we licked it up. Right off your neck!”

“Oh god.” The couch sinks again and suddenly she’s kneeling in front of him, shoving him hard against the back of the couch. “What happened? Tell me.”

His teeth chatter inside his jaw at the impact.

“We did shots.” He tries to push her off. “Nothing happened. I left. You know, I think I got lucky. Some girl, wassername…”

“Yeah, huh.” She gives a bitter laugh through clenched teeth. “Lucky. At least one of… I can’t… Oh, god, I have to…”

She goes quiet and stands up slowly, swaying a little as she does.

“To what?”

The look she gives is hard and brittle and he doesn’t know why.

“Throw up.”

That, right there, is an excellent suggestion, and he lurches for the bucket.

***

When the hell did five hundred jackhammers take up residence in his brain?

That’s the first thought that Logan wakes up to, trapped blood pulsing thickly inside his brain, killing him with every thump-thump-thump. Something oily and greasy reaches his nostrils next, the smell of cooking. It makes his stomach do flips, rolling over and over, grinding into itself.

“Morning, Sunshine!”

He groans as he opens one eye to see Keith Mars grinning at him and holding a frying pan of eggs.

“Wha…?”

“Well, I see your diction is highly improved. Come on, time to get up, you’ve got school!”

Fuck school.

But Logan merely groans as he clumsily lifts one hard to wipe at his face, coming into contact with sticky, dried drool over his mouth. Nice. He scans his brain trying to remember how he ended up, a quick look around confirms it, in Veronica Mars’ apartment. He manages to sit up, blinking at the harsh light.

“Hungry?” And how exactly does one man get so damned cheerful this early? “You know, Logan, you’re lucky I’m not the Sheriff anymore, otherwise I’d have to write you up for underage drinking, driving under the influence, I’m sure public indecency could be added to that list in some form or another. And who needs that paperwork? Plus, I’m still not too sure if you should be allowed unsupervised around my dog.”

“Uh…” His voice creaks out, thick and croaked. “Sorry?”

“Here.” A plate is shoved in front of his face. “There’s eggs, extra runny, sausage…”

It’s all Logan can do to push the plate away as the man chuckles at him. Sadist.

“Dad!” Her voice is too bright and perky and it makes him wince. “Leave him alone! Like I didn’t get enough of him puking all over the floor last night. Go do your thing, go on, go!”

As Keith laughs, bantering back and forth with his daughter in the kitchen, Logan looks down at the said floor and sees nothing. Nothing… except a suspiciously wet ring on the rug around a bucket. He closes his eyes, because no goddamn way did he get so drunk he collapsed at the Mars household and then threw up all over their floor in front of Veronica. No fucking way.

She’s looking at him when he finally glances up and it’s almost a look of sympathy. Her arms are lifted high, hands absently arranging clips in her still damp hair, and he can’t help but admire the way her body stretches as she does it. Can’t help it, that is, until she begins to glare at him.

He has a sinking feeling that he’s just been caught.

“Okay.” Keith finally leaves all the food alone, grinning as he leans over and kisses the top of Veronica’s head. “I’m going, you two have a great day at school.”

There’s a look that passes between them and it leaves him stunned.

“Take care.” She warns him seriously and the way her eyebrows rise and her chin juts as she says it makes Logan smile to himself. “I’ve already booked your flight and there’s a car waiting at the airport. You like Blazers, right?”

“Veronica.”

“You’ll have to get there to find out.” She all but pushes him out the door. “You’ll call when you get there, don’t do anything dangerous, lock the door, walk the dog, eat fiber, brush my teeth, don’t sass the teachers. Did I miss something?”

“Goodbye, honey.”

The door closes and then it’s just the two of them again. It’s a dramatic shift that happens right in front of his eyes. Veronica’s face, bright and happy and cheerful, shining red from her shower, falls in an instant, becoming hard and pointed and angry as she turns to him.

“Shower’s through there.” The point is so brief and quick, he’s barely sure he registered it. “Your keys are on the counter.”

“Whoa, slow down, Veronica.” Feeling brave, Logan stands, testing out his new ability to remain upright. “Your hospitality is overwhelming.”

Her face reddens, but she bites back whatever’s lingering in her throat.

“Do whatever you need to do and then get out.”

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that she’s angry. Hell, even Dick would pick up on that chokingly obvious display. The real question is why.

Logan knows he had to have been spectacularly drunk to have gotten there, to have completely blitzed his memory of what happened after beginning to drink with Duncan, to be on the Mars Family list of needy welfare animals, to still actually feel the aftereffects of a hangover. He has to have consumed more scotch than Scotland could legally produce in a year.

But even drunk, he’s not stupid enough to do anything with Mr. Mars in the apartment.

Is he?

All his brain can come up with is blurry images of Veronica laughing next to him, their hands sitting together on the couch, the feel of her warm fingers rubbing over his back as he heaved over the bucket, her voice telling him it was okay, but that he surely owed her big for this.

“What happened last night?” He grimaces. “What did I say?”

She gives a casual, but somehow still chilly, little chuckle.

“Nothing much. A whole lot about liking each other and, honestly, I can now live happily knowing you like me… my dog, my dad, our TV, the coffee table and my toothbrush. Which you can keep, by the way.” She shrugs. “Also something about not wanting to kill me, which I’m still not sure is as comforting as you seemed to think it was.”

He groans, bringing his hand up to his forehead.

“Oh.” Her voice is back to ice in an instant. “And a whole bunch of interesting stuff about Shelley’s party.”

“Oh, god.” He can hear it now, his slurred and completely unaware voice happily claiming how everyone licked salt --right off your neck!-- Fuck! “This is about the body shots, isn’t it?”

“The body…?” Her fists clench as she stands there, looking completely helpless and futile in the middle of the floor. “Screw the body shots, Logan! What happened after?”

“After what?” He searches hard in his head, tries to come up with a reason for this absolute vitriol. “What are you talking about?”

“Why don’t you tell me?” Her voice cracks, just before her eyes do. “You seem to remember that night a whole lot more than I do.”

“I have no idea what you’re going on about. It was just a couple of shots.” It’s the truth and he doesn’t know what else to say. “I didn’t even see you after...”

“After what?” She challenges. “After you all high fived each other for taking advantage of the wasted chick?”

Logan’s never been one to back down from confrontation before. At least, it was drained out of him a long time ago if he ever was. Veronica can huff and puff and glare at him all she likes, it doesn’t bother him in the slightest.

“Taking what of the who?” He spits. “What the hell is your damage, Veronica?”

A garbled, strangled little choke scratches out of her throat. It sounds like an injured animal left by the side of the road and all the resentment that was building suddenly drains away as she deflates in front of him.

She walks over to the kitchen bench without looking at him, busying herself by grabbing a glass out of the cupboard and pouring a glass of juice. He watches her studiously avoid him, pretending he’s not there like a little kid would do, carefully and distinctly putting the carton back in the fridge.

But she isn’t fooling anybody.

“Veronica, look at me.” He keeps his voice calm, but there’s no room for argument, he’s not going to give up, not now. “What aren’t you telling me?”

Her hand shakes when she lifts the juice.

Then her eyes go wide and he gets the distinct impression that they both have the same image at exactly the same time. Mothers in synch. It’s confirmed by the way she flicks her wrist to the side, juice splattering the sides of the sink as she empties the glass.

She quickly walks to the couch and folds herself up in it.

“I don’t know.”

“What?” There’s nothing else to do but sit in the armchair. “What kind of answer is that?”

Her hand trails through her hair and leaves furrows, great rows that somehow look worse now than if he’d never seen them made. He has the strangest urge to reach over and smooth her hair back down.

“Look, can we not do this now?” Her voice is shaking. “I mean, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not hash over one of the worst moments of my life with someone who’s made it their life mission to make sure it’s a very competitive list. Okay?”

“I didn’t…”

The flare up is automatic, instant denial. He knows that he’s to blame for a lot of things that have sucked in her life lately and, really, he’s not going to argue the point right now. She hasn’t responded to his denials and he needs to change tactics.

“So it’s bad, then?” Her response is a wary nod of the head. “In your top five?”

He’s played this game before, countless times when he was a kid, the passing of knowledge without giving any details between himself and Trina. She nods again. Considering the last few months of their lives, Logan doesn’t really want to think about anything that could match what he already knows she’s been through.

“Worse than all of us turning on you?” Another gentle nod. “Worse than your mom leaving?”

And Jesus Christ, she nods again. He almost can’t ask the next one.

“Worse than Lilly?”

She breathes in, a big, messy sniffle.

“What the hell kind of question is that, Logan? You can’t measure something like that, I mean, for god’s sake, what the hell can be worse than seeing your best friend’s body on the ground?”

That right there is the sixty million dollar question, but he’s not an amateur and he knows what her sudden defensiveness means.

“Okay, okay.” He gentles. “So it’s worse than your mom, but not Lilly?”

Her eye roll is monumental as she reaches for some tissues out of a box on a nearby table.

“Hey, don’t shoot the interpreter, Little Miss Mars, you’re the one giving off the signals.”

It’s an attempt at brevity, something to lighten the atmosphere that is stretching rubber band thin as each second ticks over. He sees the slightest flinch cross her face at the long forgotten nickname. It’s doubtful anyone has called her that since she was fourteen and made such a big fuss over it.

“Forget it, Logan, it’s not working.” Her words are simple, but the emotions flickering across her face aren’t and he wants nothing more than to figure out what they are. “Maybe once upon a time we were friends and all this grand standing you’re doing would have made a difference, but not now. Things have changed. You’ve changed. I know I have. We’re not friends, we’ll never be friends again and I’m not about to tell you all my deep, dark secrets, okay?”

It hangs between them, heavy and harsh, stark words. She’s just laid it all out in brutally honest words.

He’s a predator. It’s a survival skill he learned early and certainly from the very best. He’s honed it to the point where he can isolate and highlight any weakness that he can use to his advantage without even knowing he’s doing it. It’s like breathing. Right now, he wants to help Veronica, he wants to prove to her that he can change and that he really can and wants to be her friend again.

It’s the kill that counts and his strike is deadly.

“So who are you telling?” Her face blanks out at his question and he doesn’t give her a chance to answer. “Exactly who is this grand beneficiary of all your great dark secrets, Veronica? Because I don’t see anyone. There’s nobody here. Who is this great friend?”

“Don’t, okay?”

She backs up against the wall when he slides off the armchair and kneels in front of her; she draws her knees up to her chest and makes herself as small as possible, like a trapped animal.

“Who, Veronica?” He presses forward until he’s almost an inch from her face. “You don’t want to talk to me, fine. Then who?”

“You know!” It’s a hiss.

“No.” It’s cruel, but he continues the attack. “No, I don’t know. Enlighten me.”

“Nobody!” She blurts it out, desperately. “There’s nobody, okay? Are you happy? Nobody knows; nobody wants to know. You made sure of that when you took away all my friends.”

He reaches forward, even as she shies away, and tries to wipe away the tears on her cheeks.

“So tell me.” It’s as soft as he can ever remember being with her. “Tell me what happened that’s got you so worked up.”

She sighs, one great shuddering breath, and then she goes limp, everything about her sags. It’s like she’s given up. Her face falls to the side and she looks dully at a spot over his shoulder as he watches her hand sink down and flop open, her fingers spreading out like a flower, empty on the cushion.

“What do you think happened, Logan?” It’s robotic and lifeless, the way she says it. “What else happens to unconscious girls at parties where everyone hates them?”

No. He’s obviously heard her wrong, because she’s not saying what he thinks she’s saying. She can’t be. It starts as a chill down his spine, a sudden and inexplicable tremble that runs through his limbs.

“But I saw you.” A vague, halfhearted insistence. “And you were…”

Her forefinger twitches next to her thigh and it’s the only movement he sees.

“I was roofied and raped. Does that answer your question?”

The way she says it leaves him gutted.

He wants to hug her, throw his arms around her, pull her in and tell her it’s going to be okay. With a sharp intake of breath he realizes exactly how close he is to her and how much she’d tried to pull away, how she’d scrambled back from him. How much he’s still invading her space.

Logan can’t stop himself from launching backwards, falling back from his knees onto his heels.

She moves slowly, wrapping her arms tightly around her legs and bringing her hand up to nibble on the edge of her thumbnail.

“Who?” Even the question sounds obscene. “Who was it?”

“I don’t know.” She shakes her head. “So you’ll forgive me if I don’t seem overjoyed to learn I was the main attraction for you and every other guy there?”

What she’s saying hits hard.

“It wasn’t…” He doesn’t know exactly how to voice it aloud. “You don’t think it was me? I swear, Veronica, I didn’t…”

She gives a bitter breath, like a sigh.

“You know, I think that’s about the only thing I’m sure of right now. It drove me crazy, for a while, wondering who it was, who’d seen it, and who’d done it. And all I could think about was, out of everyone at the party, how much I used to trust you and Duncan, how much fun we used to have and all the time we’d spent. I never really thought it was either of you, it couldn’t be. The boys I knew then could never have done that.”

Her eyes close for a second and she shudders before she opens them again.

“And then you’d call me a whore or a slut or some variation. It hurt. And it made me wonder, because the boy I used to know would never have done that, either.”

He almost wishes that she’d kept them closed, because the truth in her eyes is even harsher than that in her words. He sees all the times he’d spouted some insult or other, and she was right, it usually revolved around calling her a slut. In hindsight, he can see the abject horror in her face the first few times, before she’d gone home one day and returned the next with sharp edges, shorter hair and a backbone made of steel.

“I’m sorry.” The words are empty. “I’m so sorry.”

There are so many things he needs to apologize for that he’s not sure there are enough words in his vocabulary. He wants to stay like this, kneeling on the floor before her and knowing that they’re finally on the same side.

“I’ll kill him.” He promises suddenly. “I’ll fucking kill him.”

“And what?” She shifts her face to look at him and he sees blue shadows under her eyes, as if she suddenly aged ten years. “You’re just going to walk up to everybody at school and ask them if they did it? I’m sure one of them will own up.”

“I don’t…”

He’s at a loss, but she continues, her voice wavering again.

“Maybe he’s proud. Maybe he’s waiting for someone to ask. Hell, maybe it’s more than one. Maybe they have photos.” And fuck, because he never thought of that. The very idea makes his blood run cold. “Maybe it’s on video, up on the net somewhere, available to anyone for $29.99.”

“No.” He’s not sure where the certainty comes from; it’s not from his quivering stomach. “Don’t think like that, Veronica. You can’t.”

“And why not?” It’s not really a challenge, he can see it in her eyes; it’s a straightforward question. “What do you think I’ve been asking myself since it happened?”

He can see it and he doesn’t want to. Months of never knowing, of having that black hole in her memory, of questioning each and every taunt thrown at her by the wolves, of never knowing and never being able to know.

His brain surges in twenty different directions at once and he’s fairly sure he knows more than she does. He doesn’t remember anything about roofies at the party, but he sure as hell knows there was GHB. He knows that Duncan rescued her from the body shots, but not even ten minutes later he’d seen Duncan without her. These little bits of information don’t add up to anything remotely helpful. They don’t narrow down the list of suspects and they don’t give any kind of comfort.

Logan breathes in and tries to push it all to the back of his mind, analyzing all the details now will do nothing but drive her further into this slump. He knows with a certainty that the only way to find out what happened is to gain back the trust of everyone at school, then ask questions, and then make each and every one of the fuckers pay.

That’s going to take time and she doesn’t need to drive herself crazy thinking about it until then.

“I’m sorry.” And this time the words have meaning. “I’m sorry you had to go through that alone. But I’m here now.”

Her bottom lip quivers.

“No, no.” He insists grandly, overly dramatic as he stands up and holds out his hand. “None of that. Come on, we have lots to do today and we’re not gonna get them done on the couch.”

Her mouth falls open and she looks up at him in utter confusion.

“What?”

“Let’s skip.”

Two words, small and simple and she’s heard them from him before, he knows it and he knows she has to remember all those times sitting in the back of his Xterra, giggling with Lilly, when he’d turn and suggest skipping school. Inevitably, Duncan and Veronica would scowl and demand to be dropped off, but Lilly would always be up for it.

Not once, in the years that they had been friends, did Logan ever remember Veronica’s eyes lighting up as she nodded.

“Logan.” It’s a sigh, heavy breathed and impatient, and a small quirk of her eyebrow. “People will talk if we both don’t show up.”

But it’s not a no and he smiles.

“So? Let them.” She’s weakening, he can tell. “Come on, Veronica, there’s no way I can possibly concentrate on class work with my head like this. Going to school would be a waste of time. And you look like you’ve just been to hell and back.”

“Gee, thanks.”

He grabs her hand and pulls her up, she doesn’t fight him and he bounces a little on the balls of his feet.

“I feel like doing something I shouldn’t be doing.”

She actually manages a laugh, weak and watery, but still there against his shoulder.

“When don’t you feel that?”

“Good point.” He cedes. “Seriously. We’re going to spend the day being outrageously indecent and forgetting who we are. I’m going to make you feel better, if only for today.”

She pulls back to smirk at him.

“Pretty sure of yourself there, aren’t you?”

There’s nothing else to do but leer back at her.

“Always, baby, always.” He mimes dipping his hat. “So, you with me?”

She nods.

“As long as you can refrain from spouting such Dr. Phil wisdoms as ‘you’re a survivor, not a victim!’, then I think we’ve got a deal.”

Her hand is still clasped in his and it feels clammy all of a sudden, like he’s just becoming aware of how close they’re actually standing. If he brought his other hand up, he could wrap it around her waist, just hold her close and that thought steals all the moisture out of his mouth. It’s too much, too soon.

This is not a feeling he’s used to.

“Yes, well.” He breaks away awkwardly. “Give me about ten minutes and a bar of soap, because I feel somewhat less than fresh, and then I’m all yours.”

She nods and there’s a blush creeping over her cheeks, a warm flush of something akin to the gratitude in her eyes, and he’s pleasantly surprised to notice that the pattern of red flooding her face is almost the same as his dreams.

It’s been several months since he’s seen it, but Logan recognizes that look. She trusts him. The sudden responsibility of it nearly sinks him faster than a lead balloon. He doesn’t know what he’s doing now, he has no idea how to make things better for her; the only thing he’s even remotely capable at is avoidance.

As he walks towards the bathroom, he prays fervently to whatever deity may be listening that he can only live up to that spark in her eyes, because he knows he failed miserably in the past. GHB and tequila and the slide of a blade through tires of a black car rise up like bile in his throat.

He’s not an idiot, no matter how hard he pretends to be. He’s fully aware of the things he’s done and just as aware that they’re going to have repercussions he can’t even think of yet. The kids at school are cruel and they won’t take this lying down, not even for the prestige of the Echolls name.

There’s going to be hell raised in that school until they finally stop talking about her. He can see fistfights and suspensions and many instances of facing his father’s wrath, he can see long stretches of isolation and, suddenly, none of it bothers him.

 

“Logan?” The sound of her voice makes him turn around. “I… I just…”

She struggles for a second and then sighs.

“Thank you.”

He hopes the smile he gives at least looks sincere.

“No, Veronica, I think what you mean is ‘about damn time’.”

Logan Echolls writes his own stories.


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