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Homecomings & Deployment

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"How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." A.A. Milne

HOMECOMING

It wasn't a big deal. He'd come home from deployment before and had no one waiting for him. The OAC offered a fenced-in parking lot and that's usually where he left his car while he was gone. While the other guys from his squad were being greeted by family and loved-ones, Logan would hike over to the lot and drive himself to… wherever he was staying.

He paused on the tarmac. It wasn't that she didn't want to come; he'd told her not to make the drive.

"Of course, I'm going to meet you."

"It's too far and I don't want you driving—"

"I swear if you say 'in your condition' I'm going to deck you."

Logan wisely kept his mouth shut because that's exactly what he was going to say.

He couldn't wait to see her and the baby belly. Since returning to the ship after Veronica's shooting and his emergency leave, he'd been unable to Skype. They'd talked on the phone and written letters and sent emails, but he hadn't seen her in four months and she'd refused to send photos – naked or otherwise. So he desperately wanted her to be waiting for him, but —at almost seven months pregnant— he didn't want her stuck in freeway traffic for hours. He'd waited this long; he could wait a little longer.

"And San Diego is not that far."

"That's only where the carrier returns; I land at the air station."

"Oh." Veronica managed to say a lot with very little.

She was the smartest person he knew and learned things so fast it sometimes made his head spin, but she had purposely erected a mental roadblock when it came to anything Navy related. "Don't worry, you'll get the hang of it."

"Uh-huh."

Shouts of "Daddy, Daddy!" pulled Logan from his reverie, bringing him back to the tarmac and the homecoming celebration. A small girl with braids and a shirt that read 'the Navy has my daddy, but I have his heart' broke away from the line of people and raced toward Clipper. The happy, crying girl threw herself at him and he pulled his daughter into a tight embrace.

Logan turned away; he felt like he was intruding on the intensely personal moment. His eyes scanned the crowd and the welcome home signs and the 'we missed you' banners. It was the same each time. The orderly line of people waiting to catch a glimpse of their returning pilot quickly escalated into chaos as they spotted their husband, wife, fiancé, parent, and started running to greet them- the few feet separating them suddenly intolerable after months apart.

"I'm not really a flag-waving, sign-carrying kind of girl, but" —Logan spun around— "I brought a present."

Veronica. He didn't even stop to look at her. Pulling her into his arms, he lowered his mouth to hers. In the second before their lips met, Logan heard her sharp intake of breath in reaction to his impassioned greeting. Her arms wound around his neck, drawing him closer; the corner of the box she was holding jabbed the back of his head, but he didn't care. Veronica is here in my arms.

She didn't quite fit the same way she used to. His hand slid down her back, grazed her hip, and moved to the belly separating them. He smiled against her lips as he felt the baby —our baby— kick.

Breaking the kiss, Veronica pulled her head back. "Not one word from the peanut gallery about my size."

Logan dropped to his knees in front of her. "You're beautiful." He pushed open the short denim jacket she was wearing for a better view. The heather-gray shirt was pulled taut over her protruding belly. He smoothed his hands over her stomach. "Hey baby, it's Daddy." His voice broke on the word and he bowed his head, pressing his forehead to her navel.

Veronica lightly stroked the back of his head.

He tilted his head back to see her. It wasn't just an empty compliment designed to make her feel better- she really was beautiful. And sexy as fuck. He wanted to take her home and spend days exploring all the changes to her body.

Her cheeks flushed and she pushed at his shoulder. "Stop looking at me like that."

Logan shook his head. "I suggest you get used to it." Standing, he cradled her hips and brought her closer for another kiss. "I love you, Veronica Mars."

"Then I suggest you feed me. I've been waiting here for hours."

He frowned. "I told you you didn't have to come."

"Logan" —she took his hand— "When have you ever told me to do, or not do, something and actually had me listen to you?"

"Uh, never."

"Exactly." She gave him a radiant smile. "Besides, I really wanted to be here; I missed you." The simple admission made him incredibly happy. He picked her up and spun her around planting tiny kisses across her face. "You're going to make me drop your present."

"Who needs gifts when I have you and our baby?" Putting her back on her feet, he tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, and kissed her nose. "I have everything I want."

The corner of her mouth quirked in amusement and she snagged her bottom lip between her teeth. "I think you'll want this." She held up the flat, square box. It was wrapped in beige paper with little baby ducks printed on it.

Logan arched an eyebrow. "What is it?"

"I have no idea" —Veronica rubbed her belly— "That's why I need you to open it." Her eyes were sparkling in anticipation.

"Is this a gift for me… or you?"

"I wanted to know what we're having, but I didn't want to find out without you."

He stared at the present in his hand. "Wait… you're saying the sex of our baby is inside this box?"

She nodded.

His brow furrowed in confusion. "And you don't know the answer?"

"No," she huffed on an exasperated sigh. "Have all these months at sea dulled your senses? I had the doctor seal the box and Dottie wrapped it."

Logan couldn't stop staring at the box, but he dragged his gaze away to look at Veronica. It took every ounce of self-control he possessed to not laugh at her frustration. This is going to be fun. "You didn't sneak a quick peek?"

She shook her head.

Logan waved the box. "And you need me to open it in order to find out?"

Veronica's eyes narrowed. "Logan."

It was her warning tone, but with less of an edge. This one said 'don't toy with me.' He grinned as she tried to snatch the box from his hand. Raising his arm, he held it just out of her reach. "Ah, ah, ah… my present."

Her bottom lip quivered. "It's not nice to tease a pregnant woman, Logan. I'm very emotional."

He knew her too well. "How do you manage to go undercover with those bush-league acting skills, Mars?"

Veronica glared at him.

Taking her hand, he kissed her fingers. "Let me feed you and then we'll open the box together."

She remained unconvinced, her expression mulish.

"Gunny's Sandwich Shop is five minutes away." He let go of her hand and wiggled his fingers to emphasize the five minutes. "He's a former marine, but try not to hold that against him."

A skeptical look. "Five minutes?"

"Best tri-tip sandwich you'll ever eat. They make it on fresh baked, jalapeno cheddar bread," he coaxed.

Her features softened and he knew he had her. Snaking an arm around her waist, he tugged her against him and pressed his face to her neck inhaling the sweet smell of her skin. He trailed kisses down the column of her throat. Veronica melted into his side, her fingers caressing his cheek.

"Hey," he whispered. "Thank you for waiting for me." It wasn't only for waiting to learn the sex of the baby together or for the months he was gone, but for waiting for him to grow up and be the man she needed him to be.

Veronica cupped his face and brushed her lips over his. "I love you."

He briefly closed his eyes, relishing the sound of it. "Okay, you win." Pressing the box into the palm of her hand, he said: "Go ahead, open it."

A gleeful smile crossed her face as she tore at the edge of the wrapping paper. Logan nestled her back to his chest. Draping his arms around her waist, he pressed his palms to her belly and rested his chin on top of her head.

The wrapping paper fell to the ground and she used her nail to break the tape seal. Flipping off the cover, Veronica lifted a tiny pair of pink socks from the bed of tissue paper; they were trimmed in lace with small pink bows. "It's a girl."

"Those are for a doll, right?" He picked up one very small sock. It barely filled the center of his palm. Logan gulped. "They're not actually for Wyatt's feet?"

He could feel Veronica's shoulders shake with suppressed laughter. "Yes, for Charlotte's feet."

So tiny. His gaze fell to his hand still resting on Veronica's belly and he gently rubbed. A tiny little person who would be completely dependent on him for everything. My daughter. It was amazing and terrifying. The emotions so polarizing, he was rent in half. He wanted this more than anything in his life; so much so that the only thing he felt in equal measure was the fear. Fear that he wasn't enough. Please let me be a good father.

XXXX

DEPLOYMENT

"Dada, dada," she sang as her pudgy little legs toddled their way across the hangar toward him, his white uniform hat clutched in her hands. "Hat," Wyatt pronounced with a proud smile.

She'd learned the new word yesterday at her early birthday celebration when Veronica made everyone wear pointy party hats. Hat and tate (cake) joined mama, dada, no, up, nana (banana), dow (down), m'out (come out), pool, and me on her ever-growing list of words and she was now obsessed with hats. Even if it wasn't a hat, so long as she could put it on her head she was happy.

Logan grinned, his eyes meeting Veronica's over the top of their daughter's head. "See I told you, walking and talking by her first birthday."

"I didn't realize there was a chatterbox gene, but apparently there is and it's passed down from the father's side." Veronica scooped up Wyatt. "Give Daddy his hat."

The baby adopted the same mulish expression her mother wore when she didn't want to do something and shook her head. "Me!"

"Yes, your hat." Logan took it from her fingers and put it on her head. "Where did Wyatt go? She was just here and then, poof, she disappeared like magic."

Wyatt pushed the brim of the hat back, sending it toppling to the floor.

"There she is," he exclaimed, making the baby giggle.

I'm going to miss that sound. Logan took Wyatt from Veronica's arms, cuddled her close, and kissed her forehead. He wanted to freeze this moment —and her— in time so he wouldn't miss anything while he was gone.

Resting her head on his shoulder, Wyatt stared up at him with the same blue eyes as her mommy, and she patted his cheek. Despite what Veronica liked to call his overly-dramatic flair, Logan knew there was the very real possibility that this would be the last time he got to hold Wyatt. Or Veronica.

He snaked his arm around Veronica's waist, pulling her into the hug, and she wrapped her arms around him tight, giving him a squeeze. She'd been extra sarcastic and biting as his deployment drew near, picking fights over the smallest things, and distancing herself. Dottie had assured him it was normal —a coping mechanism— because it was easier to let him go if she could convince herself she was angry with him.

Logan swallowed. "I have to…"

Veronica nodded against his chest. She took a step back wearing that fake smile- the one that was too bright and designed to cover what she was really feeling. Logan wasn't the only one who could sense Veronica's unhappiness; when she held out her arms for the baby, Wyatt shook her head and tightened her grip on Logan's neck.

Closing his eyes, he kissed the top of the baby's head and breathed in the scent of her no-more-tears shampoo and then passed her to Veronica. "No, no, no, no," she wailed holding her arms out for him.

Logan bent over and plucked his hat from the floor. He angled it on Wyatt's head, grabbed her reaching hands and cradled them between his, kissing her fingers. "Be good for Mommy, okay? I love you."

Turning to Veronica, he stroked her cheek. "I love you, too." His lips grazed hers.

"I feel like someone should be singing Leaving on a Jet Plane," she joked with a smirk. Her gaze was soft and she blinked away the tears gathering in the corners of her eyes.

"When I come back, you'll wear my wedding ring," he sang the lyric softly in her ear and then kissed her temple. Backing up a step, he took in the sight of them. My girls. Before he totally lost his shit, he turned away, and picked up his flight bag.

"Wait," Veronica called. He craned his neck to see her over his shoulder. "I love you, Logan."

XXXX

   

Dear Daddy,

Today was my birthday and I got a new cup from Grandpa. It's yellow and orange with Winnie-the-Pooh on it. I'm not sure I like it because I think that means my bottle is going bye-bye.

Love, Wyatt

The few sentences were in Veronica's recognizable handwriting even though she'd tried to make the words big and childlike. There was no way anyone would believe tough and brazen Veronica Mars spent the time crafting construction paper letters from a baby just to make him feel like he was hearing from his daughter. But, his fiancée was exactly what Wallace always called her – a marshmallow.

Logan smiled and read the letter again.

He'd missed Wyatt's first birthday. Obviously, he knew he would, which is why they had the party before he left, but it still hurt not to be there. Logan stared at the accompanying photographs.

One was of Wy sitting in her high chair, holding the offending sippy cup. Instead of looking at the camera, she was staring at Winnie-the-Pooh with a frown on her face. Her hair was down and she was wearing a pink headband with a flower. The next photo she was covered in cake with her fingers shoved in her mouth and a wide smile. Logan smiled in return.

There was no letter from Veronica herself.

He sighed. Folding the pink construction paper, he put it back in its envelope, and stored it in the desk cubby for later reading. He tore a few pieces of tape from the roll, sticking them to his fingers, and then climbed into his bunk. He taped the new pictures of Wyatt to the pipe running overhead.

There was already a photo of Veronica with Wyatt taped to the pipe. It was his two girls curled together and fast asleep in his and Veronica's bed. Logan liked waking up to the image. It let him pretend they were there in bed with him.

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

Mommy tried to get me to eat with a spoon today and it was hilarious. I got cereal on everything – even the walls and maybe the ceiling! I don't think Mommy looks too happy though.

Love, Wyatt

Logan grinned at the picture of his daughter's smiling face covered in farina and holding a blue plastic spoon in her tiny fist. He chuckled at the photo of said farina all over the high chair, the kitchen floor, and the walls. And he laughed at the picture of Veronica with a glob of cereal on her cheek. God, I miss them.

Jake dropped into the seat next to him. "Hey, Mouth."

He'd come to the Ready Room to open his care package away from Jake and his sticky fingers. "How do you always seem to find me when I've got a box from Veronica?"

"I've got friends in low places" —he grinned— "And Veronica sends the best shit." Jake tapped the large box with his toe. "Come on, times-a-wastin'; let's see what she's got inside."

With a sigh, Logan ripped the packing tape from the box. The first layer was essentials: razor blades, deodorant, body wash, boxer briefs, and tee shirts. Next were the snacks: beef jerky, sunflower seeds, pistachios and, protected in bubble wrap, two bottles of hot sauce from Las Cuatro Milpas. Logan wasn't sure how Veronica convinced the restaurant to part with their homemade sauce —or what favors she traded to get it— but it made him the most-popular guy on the ship come Taco Tuesdays.

Jake gazed at the two bottles like he was witnessing a holy apparition of the Virgin Mary. "If you don't marry that girl as soon as we get home- I'm going to."

"Like she'd ever marry your sorry ass."

Jake shrugged. "She agreed to marry you."

Touché. A new deck of cards and books were next. She'd sent him A Farewell to Arms and Moby Dick. Logan shook his head. Sometimes she was not subtle.

The Tupperware container of brownies was snatched from his hand before he even finished taking it out of the box. "You know those are for me and not you, right?"

"Think what you want, I know the truth. Veronica wants me to have them," Jake said around a mouthful of brownie. "She needs me to make sure you remain in good shape for her."

"Uh-huh. But you know" —Logan thoughtfully eyed the brownie— "She's pissed right now so you might be spending an unfortunate night in the head."

Jake choked. "Seriously?"

"Veronica does vengeance better than anyone," he said with a fond smile. And I'd be grounded - a win-win for my future wife.

There was still no letter from Veronica, but at the bottom of the box was a stuffed teddy bear in a Ziploc bag. He wasn't wearing an 'I love you beary much' tee shirt, but he was holding a photograph. In it, all three of them —Veronica, Wyatt, and the bear— were wearing matching white pajamas covered in pink hearts. Logan opened the bag and pulled out the brown bear. Burying his face in its soft fur, he inhaled the scent. The little bear smelled like Wyatt and home.

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

I can wave bye-bye now and Mommy bought me new blocks. I don't really build anything. I just like to suck on them, but I've sent you one so you can build for me. Mommy is trying to use them to teach me colors (I know blue now, but I call it boo).

Love, Wyatt

The letter was inside a small padded mailer along with a red triangle shaped block, a battery pack, and a memory card.

Before he'd deployed, Veronica gave him an all-in-one, mini DVR from the Mars Investigations surveillance equipment closet. "So we can send each other video," she'd told him as she'd packed it in his bag.

He'd waggled his eyebrows at her. "Dirty videos?"

Logan had almost fallen off the bed when she'd shrugged and said, "Maybe."

First popping the fresh battery into the DVR, he then inserted the memory card. He was impatient to actually see them even if it was only on this tiny three-by-four screen.

Wyatt was in a pair of denim overalls with a pink tee shirt underneath and she was sitting on the living room floor surrounded by a sea of the multi-colored blocks. "Can you say hi to Daddy, sweet pea?"

The baby pulled the red triangle from her mouth. "Daddy?"

Logan squeezed the wood block. It was the first time she'd said, Daddy. Not da, or dada, but Daddy. He pressed his fingers to the screen. "I love you, Bean."

"Daddy?" Wyatt asked on the DVR, her head turned away like she was searching for him, and her bottom lip quivered.

"We're making a video for him; look here at the camera." Veronica's finger entered the frame as she tapped the lens. Wyatt started to cry. "This was not one of my better ideas," Veronica muttered into the microphone. "Hey, can you find the blue block?"

Big, sloppy tears slid down Wyatt's cheeks and the screen went dark for a second. When the video started again, the baby was now happy and smiling as Veronica asked her to find the blue block.

"Boo!" She picked up a blue circle and then looked directly in the camera. "Boo?"

"Good job sweet pea, that's a blue circle." The baby's head tilted and her mouth moved like she was trying to say circle. "Now can you wave bye-bye for Mommy?"

Wyatt tossed the blue block on the floor and grinned when it thunked on the hardwood. Holding her hand up in front of her face with the palm facing inward, she opened and closed her fingers. At the same time, she said bye-bye, but it sounded more like aye-aye, as in aye-aye, Captain.

The camera swung around to Veronica. "I'm sorry. I was going to delete her mini meltdown, but I wanted you to hear her say Daddy. Most of the time it's still dada, but…" Her voice trailed off and she bit her bottom lip. "I love you."

It was the end of the video. Logan started it over.

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

I like to drop things and watch Mommy have to pick them up. I throw my stuffed animals from my crib (not Cuddles though) and food from my high chair. Mommy took me to a place called the supermarket and I dropped lots of stuff – I really like the sound cans make when they fall over.

Love, Wyatt

He laughed out loud at the photo of Wyatt in the supermarket. Cans of Dinty Moore beef stew were scattered all over the beige polymer flooring. Wyatt's head was bowed, staring at the mess, and she was biting the tip of her finger.

Logan suddenly had a pretty good idea of what was in the heavy box that had come with the letter. Pulling off the packing tape, he revealed four neat rows of dented stew cans.

They were in "River City" —a complete communication blackout— so he couldn't send an email to Veronica letting her know the package arrived. And he couldn't check if she'd sent a response to his last message: a lengthy pros-and-cons list for leaving the Navy. Of course the biggest con —missing Wyatt grow up— seemed to outweigh the entire list of pros.

There were still no actual letters from Veronica, but she'd finally started sending emails. Hallelujah! None of them were more than a few sentences and they mostly had to do with the wedding plans:

Picked up our wedding rings from the jewelers today, but he made a mistake with your inscription – instead of 'always' and the date, it read 'jackass.' Strange, huh?

Does Dick have to come to the wedding? No, seriously. I can't figure out what seating arrangement would cause the least amount of embarrassment. Can I make him stay in the kitchen?

Remind me again why we aren't just going to the courthouse?

Picked my bouquet today – they're lilies.

It was both another reminder of how sentimental she could be, and how she could say a lot with few words. He'd gone back over the letters she'd sent from Wyatt. Each one was carefully constructed to chart the baby's progress and to match the photographs. There were hearts drawn next to the "Love, Wyatt." Even when she was "fake" pissed and not "talking" to him, she'd managed to convey that she loved and missed him.

Logan wanted to go home.

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

I know where my eyes, nose, mouth, and ears are and I point to them when Mommy sings the song. I like when Mommy sings- I make her do it a lot.

Love, Wyatt

The mood of the squad was subdued. They were topside on a small deck at the rear of the ship smoking cigars. Logan could see Ghost's fingers tremble every time he put the cigar to his mouth and he knew his were worse. He'd had a close call today.

The ship had been rolling and pitching and yawing and he'd been trying to land in the dark. He'd missed the wire. Logan had needed to take off again. If he came up short, he risked hitting the back of the carrier. His life didn't pass before his eyes and he wasn't filled with sudden panic, he'd just relied on his training, took off and gave the landing another go. It was after he was back on the flight deck that the shakes started.

"Hey Mouth, play the video again." Clipper wasn't just humoring him. Logan's wasn't the only close call tonight and they all wanted the reminder of home.

He didn't need to be asked twice. Pulling out the mini DVR, he pressed play. The camera was focused on Wyatt in her white, footie pajamas. They had pink and black polka dots with a cute ladybug on the side and ladybug faces on her toes.

She was rocking side to side as Veronica started to sing. "Eyes, nose, mouth, and ears… mouth and ears… mouth and ears…"

Wyatt covered her eyes, missed her nose entirely, skipped over the mouth, and then tugged on her ears.

"Eyes, nose, mouth, and ears, make a happy face."

This time she poked at her eyes, skipped the nose, clapped a hand over her mouth, forgot her ears and then grinned.

"She's too cute, man." Logan nodded in agreement with Clipper's assessment of his daughter. "Watching your kid grow up in pictures and videos sucks ass."

Ghost sucked on the end of his cigar. "If the Navy wanted us to have a family, they would've issued us one."

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

Today I got crayons! I tried eating the boo one, but Mommy says they aren't for eating so I drew you pictures like the ones in my new book. Mommy sent you a copy so you can read it to me.

Love, Wyatt

The board book Veronica mailed was another one by Sandra Boynton: Blue Hat, Green Hat. He flipped through the pages. It was a perfect book to help Wyatt learn her colors and the names of her clothes. It started with hats— I wonder if she's still obsessed with hats? —and ended with a swimming pool— has Veronica been taking her swimming?

Logan hated that he didn't know the answer to either question.

Wyatt's three "drawings" were all scribbles. The first white sheet had blue squiggles all over it, the second sheet was wavy lines of green, and the third sheet just had one long red line that disappeared off the page. He guessed they were supposed to be the hats from her story book.

There was a new battery pack, an empty memory card, and a letter from Veronica.

Dear Logan,

I miss our Skype sessions- please tell the Navy that this "priority communication" edict is bullshit. Wyatt is asleep (finally) in her crib, in her own room! I'm hoping this means Mommy gets a night of sleep without getting kicked in the ribs or waking up with Cuddles in my face. Please read the new story and send it home as soon as possible. We've progressed from just using the "Daddy tapes" at bedtime to naptime and while we're eating breakfast, too. There's a buttonhole camera on your DVR and I need some new material, fast! Can you read the story to baby bunny? I think Wyatt's asking about her? She keeps tilting her head at me and saying "bay buh."

Love, Veronica

P.S. Have I mentioned how much I hate wedding planning?

A paragraph at the end explained how to use the covert button camera function to record video. Logan set up the camera, placed it on the desk, and got the baby bunny from his rack.

Before he'd deployed, he'd bought a small version of Cuddles to take with him. He'd explained to Wyatt that "Daddy bunny" was going to stay with her and that "Baby bunny" would go sailing with him. Logan didn't think she'd understood one word of what he'd been saying, but it was one of the tips for "staying securely attached" while parenting from a distance.

Veronica wanted to call bullshit on priority communication and he wanted to call bullshit on fostering attachment "through the five senses." New age crap. But he'd done it anyway- leaving his hat behind, reading stories on video, putting pictures of him in Wyatt's room, and taking "baby" with him.

He hit record on the camera. "Hey Jellybean, Mommy sent me a new book to read to you and baby bunny." Logan held up the stuffed animal so Wyatt could see her.

Using Route's bunk to keep the right angle for the camera, he tucked Baby into the crook of his arm, and opened the board book. "Blue hat, green hat, red hat –oops!" He smiled and tapped the picture of the bird so Wyatt could see. "Look at the silly turkey standing in his hat."

When he was done reading, he closed the book and kissed baby bunny's nose. "Night- night Bean, I love you."

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

I'm getting something called molars? They hurt and I cry a lot, but Mommy let me sleep in the big bed and gave me medicine. Then she baked cookies and I helped.

Love, Wyatt

Logan tucked Veronica's letter into his pocket and took the snickerdoodles with him to the dirty shirt wardroom for breakfast. He had a Strike Planning briefing in CVIC at oh-nine-hundred and then four other briefings before tonight's mission. How the brief goes is how the flight goes. There was no time to linger over the letter – chew and read.

Taking a tray, he moved down the line paying little attention to the food, his mind focused on the letter in his pocket.

Veronica's emails were longer now and not only about the wedding. She still griped about the planning details —Dottie suggested starfish shaped candles for favors!? —but she was also talking more about Wyatt and things that were going on at home. They were impersonal updates filled with daily life: Wyatt doesn't like spinach, I painted the guest room your favorite color- orange (just kidding), we hired a new field agent, Lisa, and Dad hates the cappuccino machine (Mac loves it, but she thinks you may still owe her a BMW).

The handwritten letters were personal; she actually talked to him inside their pages.

His eyes scanned the tables of guys in their color-coded shirts. Veronica collectively referred to them as Sprinkles. Logan grinned. Only Veronica could relate the flight deck crew to an ice cream topping. He found an empty table in the corner and dropped into a chair that allowed him to keep his back to the bulkhead and his eyes on the clock.

Dear Logan,

I miss you. It's hard to banter with a baby, all my funny lines go right over her head and she doesn't get any of my references. Last night, I put her to sleep in our room and told her the bed's too big without you and she had no idea I was using lyrics from a Police song. Babies! On the bright side, I seem very clever and can plagiarize whomever I choose- she thinks it's all me. On the downside, the bed's too big without you, too. (I hope you're burning these letters after reading them? If they got out, they'd ruin my street cred. I wonder if I can make them self-destruct? New project!). I'm finding it hard to—

"Are those Veronica's cookies?" Jake took the seat across from him.

"They're my cookies."

Ignoring him, he waved Dogfood over. "Veronica made cookies." He turned back to Logan with a wary eye. "Is she still pissed at you?"

"If I say yes, will it stop you?" The question was clearly rhetorical because Jake already had the box of cookies open and was munching on a snickerdoodle while picking through the contents. "You keep eating and you're not going to fit in the cockpit, Chunky Town."

"Oh, man, are these my mother's caramel squares?" Jake bit into the layered cookie —shortbread, caramel, and chocolate— and groaned. "They're almost as good." He paused in his chewing to study Logan. "Do you think Veronica will still send me care packages when I'm deployed and you're not?"

"No." With a sigh, Logan refolded his letter and slipped it back into his pocket. He'd have to read it later after debrief.

"Maybe my mom's right and I do need a wife."

Dogfood bumped Jake's shoulder as he joined them at the table. "Fuck no. I don't care how good her cookie tast—" At the hard look from Logan, Dogfood abruptly stopped talking and changed the subject. "Uh… you really leavin', Mouth?"

"Yes."

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

Mommy and I got new bathing suits and Mommy took me swimming in the pool like she promised. I love the water and she says I get that from you.

Love, Wyatt

There were two pictures. The first was Wyatt poolside with Cuddles. She was wearing a sky blue bathing suit with white polka dots and the shoulder straps were fastened with lime green, heart-shaped buttons. On her head was a floppy sun hat —as per Mommy, still obsessed with hats— in matching blue and a lime green band running around the edge of the brim. It was adorable.

Logan did a double-take at the second picture. Veronica was in a red bikini. The bandeau bikini with the tie halter-neck strap featured a metal ring that gave him a teasing glimpse of cleavage and matched the metal rings that laid flat against her hipbones. Logan swallowed- hard. She'd written "Miss me?" across the bottom of the picture. Tease. He adjusted his pants and slid the photo under his pillow for later.

He missed her like crazy.

The Navy was a good fit for him. It gave him a sense of belonging that he'd never had before. These guys were his family. It was a foreign feeling for him to be respected by his peers for his own accomplishments instead of being deferred to because his father made fifty million dollar crap piles. And no one was more surprised than him to find that he liked having rules and structure. His leaving the Navy had never been a consideration.

When he'd been with Carrie, they'd sometimes talked about the future. Not marriage and certainly not kids —Can you imagine just how fucked up our kids would be Logan? —but the vague idea of a future. She would schedule tours while he was deployed and record albums while he was on shore duty. It sounded good to him. But Carrie wasn't Veronica.

Veronica couldn't transport her life to wherever he was stationed. She couldn't buy her own plane and fly off to see him whenever the mood struck. Yet, Logan knew he wouldn't have quit the Navy for her either. It would have been hard —the long separations, maybe living in separate states, hell, separate countries— but they were both stubborn enough to make it work if that's what they'd wanted.

The addition of Wyatt changed things.

Why? That's what Veronica wanted to know. Pesky woman- always asking questions. At least he was prepared for Wyatt's 'endless question' stage of development. I've had enough practice with her mother.

There was no simple answer to her question. It was a cumulative effect. His childhood had been a weird combination of abandonment and abuse. When his parents left him alone with the various nannies or housekeepers, he was safe, but he also missed them How fucked up is that? You could even argue that the abandonment was part of the abuse.

Logically, he knew it wasn't the same thing. Leaving Wyatt to serve his country was not abandoning her, but it skirted too close for his liking. What was the difference between six months of deployment and six months spent filming a fantasy-adventure in Malta?

Then there was Pam. Logan remembered their conversations about her life with her Air Force Colonel dad. Feeling like she played second-fiddle to the military- an inconvenience. And the nightmares she'd have when her dad was away, the fear that he was going to die. Logan didn't want any of that for Wyatt.

He looked at the picture of her in her swimsuit with her little round belly and wide blue eyes. "You are the most important thing in my life, Jellybean."

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

I can kick a ball and Nana Dot got me a purple one! I use sentences now like "me ball" and "no nap." I don't like naps so much, but I love story time with Daddy. Today I listened to Moo Ba La La La (again), it's my favorite. I like to read along with you. I turn the pages and point to the cow and the pigs and the doggie.

Love, Wyatt

Another videotape. They were his favorite pieces of mail by far.

Veronica wasn't on any social media, she refused to post videos of Wyatt on YouTube, and Logan couldn't access their Dropcam cloud account from the ship, so these videos —and the ones he brought with him— were the only chance he had to see and hear his daughter.

They were having a barbecue.

"Keith say hi to Logan," Dottie said as she panned the camera from the steaks on the grill, over Keith's 'Stand Back Grandpa's Grillin' apron, and came to rest on his face.

"Hi, Logan," he parroted. "You need to come home soon; two of them are too much for me." Keith waved the barbecue tongs toward the yard and the camera followed the movement.

Barefoot, in cutoff jean shorts and a tank top, Veronica was chasing Wyatt around the yard. "I'm gonna get you."

"Me ball!" Wyatt shrieked as she ran away with the purple, Little Tikes, grip and roll ball clutched between her palms.

Veronica scooped her up and spun her around, making Wyatt laugh and drop her ball. They stopped spinning. Veronica looked toward the deck, mouth opening like she was about to say something to Dottie or Keith, and then stopped when she saw the camera. The corner of her mouth lifted and she waved.

She pointed off-screen, stage right and the camera swung in that direction. Wyatt was walking behind her ball. When she got too close and started bending over to reach for it, she didn't stop moving forward and her toes pushed the ball away. "No go."

Logan grinned. I wouldn't exactly call it kicking the ball, but it's adorable.

As if Veronica could hear him, she crouched down next to Wyatt and put a staying hand on her tummy. Both the ball and Wyatt were now stationary. Veronica positioned the ball and said, "Show Mommy how you kick the ball."

Wyatt hesitantly lifted one foot and started to teeter. She kicked the purple ball and quickly put her foot back down. Veronica clapped and then so did the baby.

The screen went dark and Logan felt a sharp stab of disappointment.

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

A big month for me! I can build towers with my blocks now and I know boo, gween, and wed (red). I walk up stairs holding Mommy's hand and I like to pull off my diaper. I find it funny, but Mommy not so much, especially when they're dirty.

Love, Wyatt

There was a stack of pictures this time. Wyatt with a wobbly tower of three blocks; the tip of her tongue sticking from the corner of her mouth as she concentrated on her building project. A photo of Veronica and Wyatt walking up the stairs of Mars Investigations hand-in-hand. One of just her laughing face, head covered in bubbles during bath time.

Logan chuckled at the photo of Wyatt in a tee shirt and diaper. Veronica had wound a piece of silver duct tape around the Pamper to make sure it stayed on. But his favorite was Wyatt in her pink pajamas fast asleep on his side of the bed.

"New pictures of the rugrat?" Route asked from the bottom bunk.

Instead of answering, Logan passed down the picture of a sleeping Wyatt.

"It's a good thing she takes after Veronica in the looks department; imagine having to go through life with your ugly mug? 'Course you don't hafta imagine. I bet the teasing was rough."

"No worse than what you had to endure; I've seen those pictures."

"Fuck off," was Route's good-natured reply as he returned the photo. When he didn't say anything else, Logan picked up his letter from Veronica. This was his fourth time reading it.

Dear Logan,

Wyatt has figured out how to press play on the portable DVD player. She was in the living room playing blocks while I was doing dishes and then I heard you say, 'hey, Jellybean.' I banged my shin on the door to the dishwasher in my rush to see you. I thought maybe… silly, right? Then you read, 'a cow says moo' and I realized what had happened. We both really miss you. Wyatt carries Cuddles everywhere and she needs to have the DVD player in sight at all times. I'm sorry. I know I'm supposed to try and keep these letters positive and upbeat. So… read any good books lately?

"Are you really not going to re-up?" Route's voice pulled Logan from his letter. Before he could answer the first question, Route asked another. "Aren't you going to miss the sky?"

Logan didn't even have to think about it. "Wyatt is my sky."

XXXX

Dear Daddy,

Ripping paper is fun! I'm sorry I ripped up the last letter you sent. Mommy had to tape it together so we could read it. I love to read stories.

Love, Wyatt

P.S. I think Mommy is tired of Moo Ba La La La and wants you to come home to read something new.

I want to come home too, Jellybean. Their return date got pushed again. The Navy could carry out its missions with precision and accuracy, but it couldn't get its shit together when it came to return dates. He'd never once gotten home when planned. Return dates were as fickle and mutable as the ocean currents beneath the ship.

It was the same for deployment schedules. Six months was the norm at first then it increased to ten, but it was too hard to sustain that pace. Stress levels were out of control and everyone came home ragged. The new cycle called for eight month cruises with longer stretches at home, but four years later and they still hadn't fully rolled out that plan. And, of course, the Navy couched it with "cruises aren't guaranteed. If national security needs arise, lengths of deployment could be extended." Logan smirked. Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die.

They'd set the wedding for a full month past his original return date and crossed their fingers. Veronica joked that after all the planning, if he wasn't home on time, she was going to use a proxy for the ceremony- a courtesy California extended only to members of the military serving overseas. She'd even printed and mailed Logan the POA form. To her shock and horror, he'd filled it out naming Dick as his stand-in, effectively thwarting her plan. He knew there was no way she'd go ahead with that farce.

The Navy might have been his substitute family before, but he had a real one now and Logan had waited too damn long to marry Veronica Mars to let anyone else stand up there with her and take his vows.

XXXX

HOMECOMING

Logan's pace quickened when he saw them. They were with the other loved ones waiting at the hangar, but standing off to the side under the beige 'Beware: Jet Blast' sign. Veronica was holding Wyatt and nodding at whatever the baby was saying to her. A pair of lavender, noise protection headphones were on Wyatt's ears and the back of her white cotton sundress was rucked up over Veronica's arm. The baby tilted her head back and pointed to the sky.

Veronica didn't answer. Her gaze had moved past Wyatt's shoulder and locked with his. She rushed to close the distance between them and Logan met her halfway. The baby craned her neck to see where they were going. "Daddy!" She immediately released her hold on Cuddles and Veronica, twisting her body, and holding her arms out for him.

Logan caught her before she could fall. "Jellybean."

The baby grabbed his face between her palms and started to cry. Big, heart-wrenching sobs racked her tiny body as she wound her arms around his neck and put her head on his shoulder. Logan squeezed her to him, rubbing her back, and kissing her hair. Tears burned his eyes as he looked at Veronica for explanation.

"I think she's overwhelmed," she said as she tucked Cuddles into the crook of his arm next to the baby.

He nodded. Taking off her headphones, he handed them to Veronica and pressed his lips to Wyatt's ear. "Ssh, it's okay, baby." Logan gently stroked her hair, keeping up a steady stream of soothing words.

The sobbing lessened and Wyatt pulled in a deep shuddering breath. She started patting his back as if she was comforting him and he did the same for her. Wrapping an arm around Veronica, he hugged her to his side and squeezed her shoulder. "Has she been like this—" Logan shook his head. "Don't tell me; I don't want to know."

Veronica cupped his cheek and stood on her tiptoes to kiss his jaw. Ducking his head, he gave her a proper kiss and then pressed his forehead to hers, closing his eyes. "I missed you both so much."

There was a slight tremor in her touch as she caressed his cheek. "Wyatt drew you a welcome home picture."

At the use of her name, the baby dragged her face across Logan's shoulder, turning to see Veronica. Using her thumb to wipe the tears from Wyatt's face, Veronica gave her an encouraging smile. "Do you want to show Daddy your picture?"

A slow nod. While Veronica put the headphones in her messenger bag and searched for the drawing, Logan angled his head to see the baby's face. Even tear-streaked and puffy, she was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen besides her mother. He buried his nose in her hair, replacing the smell of jet fuel and salt air with the clean, fresh scent of sunshine and Wyatt. "I love you, Jellybean." She patted his back again.

Jerking her head up, she stared at him. "Bay buh?" Her head tilted and she bit the corner of her mouth. It was an exact replica of Veronica. Logan tossed his head back and laughed.

"Yes, I have baby bunny with me; she's taking a nap in my bag."

A scowl crossed Wyatt's face. "Me no nap."

"No nap," he readily agreed. Veronica had told him in her letters and he'd even heard it on the video, but hearing Wyatt talk in person was an entirely different experience. It wasn't random babbling. He didn't have to guess from one word what she wanted. They were having an actual conversation. Albeit limited to the small scope of her world, but still amazing. I missed so much.

"Hey" —Veronica pushed at his arm— "No sad face from you, too. This is a happy face occasion. See?" She pointed to her lips as they spread in a wide smile.

"Ting," Wyatt instructed and Veronica hung her head.

"I swear there's a kids song for everything," she muttered under her breath. Lifting her head, she started to sing. "Can you make a happy face, happy face, happy face?"

Logan didn't even bother trying to hide his grin. Veronica's eyes glared at him while she maintained a smile and continued singing the silly song to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down. Bouncing her head, Wyatt clapped along, completely out of rhythm. "Can you make a happy face, jack-o-lantern?"

He arched an eyebrow. "It's a little early for Halloween, no?"

Veronica shrugged. "I needed another happy face song." Logan didn't want to think about why, so he didn't. "Needless to say, your daughter now wants to be a C.A.T. for Halloween." At his blank expression, she elaborated. "I had to explain what a jack-o-lantern was and she requires visual aids."

Logan was positive Veronica mumbled like her father, but she was already opening the folded 12x12 square of white card stock. In crayon were the words, 'These Hands Can't Wait to Hug You- Welcome Home, Daddy and at the bottom were Wyatt's tiny hand prints in pink fingerpaint.

The baby was studying his face waiting for a reaction. "I love it," he declared, punctuating each word with kisses to her nose. Satisfied with his answer, Wyatt dropped her head back on his chest and sighed. Logan smirked at Veronica. "I thought you weren't the sign-carrying, flag-waving kind of girl?"

"I'm not. What part of folded and hidden in my bag did you miss?"

"Whew, what a relief. I thought I was going to have to change my plans for two weeks from Saturday."

"Saturday?" Her brow wrinkled and she tilted her head. "The sixth?"

Throwing his arm around her waist, he hauled her body flush against his, lifting her off her feet. A surprised 'oh' was all she had time to say before his mouth closed over hers. Thoughts of red bikinis and their big bed and too many months without her fueled the kiss with an intense longing and inexplicable joy.

Veronica cradled his face between her hands. Her leg inched up the back of his thighs in an attempt to wrap itself around his waist as she pressed her body closer.

Wyatt kicked his hipbone with the hard sole of her sandal as she grew restless and started to squirm. "Me eat?"

Logan and Veronica smiled at the exact same moment. She pulled back with the promise of later in her eyes and he reluctantly loosened his hold, letting her slide down the length of his body until her feet were back on the ground.