invida_fic: (bah)
[personal profile] invida_fic
Title: Damn, Damn the Circumstance (16/?)
Author: invida
Characters: Veronica, Logan, Ensemble
Word Count: 6284
Rating: R
Spoilers: knowledge up to 2x22
Timeline: goes AU from the Pomroy party, and a few liberties are taken with the timing of certain events. See Author's Notes for more details.
Disclaimer: I know the law, and the law would win.
Summary: if Logan hadn't left with the easy freshman that night.

Acknowledgements: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] maybe_amanda, [livejournal.com profile] afrocurl, [livejournal.com profile] aud_woman_in for the encouragement over the last 2 and a half years (ack!). Will need more of that stuff for the next part!

Previous Parts



The brightly coloured diner didn't suit Veronica's mood. She couldn't understand why her father liked this place so much. It had to be something more than the $2.99 early bird special, judging from the greasy mess on her plate. The neon, surfboards, loud posters -- none of it corresponded to anything she knew about her dad.

Keith had been taking her to this diner for breakfast long before Lianne had left them. He'd tell Veronica it was "Daddy-Daughter Time", but she knew it was so Lianne could sleep off another hangover and not have to face her family with a breakfast of excuses and hollow apologies. The fact that they were still going to this diner made Veronica wonder if her father was still trying to keep up the pretence or if it was simply a habit now.

But the more pressing issue on her mind was the front-page article that bobbed in and out of her sight as her dad flipped through the newspaper. "BARELY LEGAL?" blared the headline. She didn't have to read the rest of the article to know who it was about. The photos told the story: Aaron Echolls in sunglasses, covering his face as he pushed past the paparazzi into Neptune General, the ambulance loading Lynn's stretcher, grainy still images from video tape footage of the bed in the Echollses' pool house. Today's scandal was whether the girl he was caught with was of age.

Veronica's eyes followed the article as Keith folded his paper and placed it by his plate. When she looked up, she found her father watching her glumly. She quickly picked up her napkin and comically wiped at the corners of her mouth. "What? Do I have some yuck on my face?"

Keith grinned, picked up his own napkin and bopped her lightly on the nose with it. "Got it. Nothing left but the cute."

Veronica rolled her eyes. Her dad's attempts at keeping her his baby were getting annoyingly more obvious lately.

"How's Logan?"

There was a question she was hoping to avoid, but before Veronica could answer, someone had stepped up to their table.

"Wow, Keith! First, wreck the kid's family, then care about how he's doing? Kinda backwards thinking, isn't it?" Lamb practically sat on Veronica as he pushed his way into the booth. He jerked his thumb towards her. "Or is that just the way you deal with your daughter's boyfriend of the week? You've got a lot of work cut out for you if --"

"Watch it." Keith warned.

"Really, Deputy?" Veronica said. "What did I tell you about using the high school rumour mill as your source? Next thing you know, you'll start believing the stories about you in the gym locker room."

"Now, now, Veronica," Keith chastised. "What did I tell you about picking fights?"

Veronica sighed. "Pick on someone my own intellectual level."

"That's right. Otherwise you just look smug." Keith turned to Lamb. "Don, I'm trying to have breakfast with my daughter. How about you find something worthwhile to do, like -- oh, I don't know -- catching criminals."

"Oh really? Who caught Lilly Kane's murderer?"

Keith snorted. "You mean the man who practically handed himself over to you after an anonymous tip? Ever ask yourself why your confessed murderer confessed so readily, Sheriff?"

"Still grasping at conspiracy straws, huh Keith? Ever think he had nothing to lose?"

"Did you? You're still refusing to see when things don't add up." Keith shot back. Veronica gave her father a questioning look. Did he know that Abel Koontz was sick?

"Doesn't matter. The town elected me. And I haven't been kicked out of office lately. So they must think I'm doing a good enough job."

"Considering the elite of this town think that liberal amounts of animal print makes them look classy, that kinda makes sense," Veronica said.

Lamb stood. "Insult me all you want. I'm still Sheriff and your pop here is just a lowly dick."

"A better dick than you'll ever be!" Veronica yelled back. Lamb laughed and left.

Veronica turned to her father, blushing. "That didn't come out right."

Keith raised his mug to her. "Nice try, honey. Finish your eggs."

Veronica took a stab at her plate. "Soooo. Why do you think Abel Koontz has nothing to lose?"

Keith eyed Veronica suspiciously as she took a bite. "What do you think you know?"

Veronica swallowed her food. "I was at the police department the other day and Cliff was trying to get Lamb to let Koontz see a doctor."

"Ah. Okay. Abel Koontz is sick, Veronica. Dying, in fact. He's got Stage IV stomach cancer. Not much to live for when your time's so short."

"How do you know that?" Veronica asked.

"Koontz told me when I questioned him about Lilly's murder. He said that he had better things to do with his time than get revenge on the Kanes now that he knew he was dying."

"None of this makes any sense. Why confess just because he's dying?"

"Money and love are people's biggest motivators. I'm betting this is a combination of the two."

Veronica pieced together what Keith was saying. "So someone Koontz loves is getting money for Koontz taking the fall? But who?"

Keith shrugged. "Find that person and you blow this whole cover-up out of the water."

Veronica's mind began to race. "Well, we've got to talk to his ex-wife, go through his family records, find out about any affairs --"

"No, Veronica. We don't. It's not our job."

"It's got nothing to do with a job, Dad! This is about Lilly!" Veronica cried.

Keith's face softened. "That's not how I meant it. I'm sorry, honey. But you know what this whole mess with the Kanes cost us. I don't think we should go down that road again."

"Even if it means Lilly never gets justice?"

Keith shook his head. "Not if it's at the expense of your well being."

He always played the Dad Card when he wanted to win an argument. Veronica looked at her plate sullenly. Keith stood up. "C'mon. You'd better get to school."

They walked over to the counter to pay their bill. "I might be late tonight, Dad. We're putting out the first edition of the school paper this term."

"There's my intrepid reporter!" Keith pinched his daughter's cheek and she rolled her eyes. But secretly she loved his pride in her.

"I'm glad to see you're enjoying school again," he added.

"I wouldn't go that far, Dad. The kids and teachers still suck." Veronica shrugged. "But journalism is cool. I get to apply a lot of my mad PI skills to lunchroom scandals and water fountain gossip. Logan convinced me to take the class."

Keith nodded, looking impressed. "So, you didn't say. He's doing better then?"

"Yeah, he's fine," Veronica said, not meeting her father's eyes.

Just fine, as far as she knew.

----------

If Veronica had been in Logan's position, she would want some time to deal. She wasn't avoiding him. She was giving him space. At least, that's what she told herself.

Lynn Echolls had ODed on pills and booze. The night she was found, Aaron was in transit, returning to filming on location. Trina, as always, was unreachable. No one had bothered to call Logan who was with Veronica at the time. So naturally, Keith took responsibility for Logan, and escorted him to the hospital.

They arrived to find out that Lynn was in a coma and nothing could be done. As Logan railed against the medical staff, Keith felt obligated to take charge of Logan for the night before security threw him out and banned him from coming back. They took him back to their apartment for the night.

To say Logan didn't make it easy for Keith was an understatement. First, he laid the blame at Keith's feet, leaving Veronica in the middle, hurt and confused. When Logan turned his attention to Veronica, knowing he could get a response out of her, Keith pulled him back, saying, "Hey, son, you're mad at me here, not Veronica." And Keith took everything Logan had and never flinched.

As Logan grew weary of attacking Keith, he started to pin the blame on his own father. At one point, in his sleep-deprived state, he begged the Marses to help him prove that Aaron had tried to kill Lynn and make it look like a suicide. Keith tried to reason with Logan, which only made him more adamant and erratic.

They stayed up with him all night until there was a knock at the door early in the morning. Aaron's driver had come to retrieve Logan.

"You don't have to go," Veronica pleaded with Logan.

But Keith said, "Yes, he does, honey." He tugged Veronica away from Logan. "He needs to be there for his mom."

Logan followed the driver away as Keith pulled Veronica into a hug.

During the next few days, Veronica wrote her exams and followed the news that seemed to only revolve around the Echolls family and their scandals and tragedies. She figured Logan would need at least a few days to cool off and adjust to life between the hospital, dodging the paparazzi, and being at home with his dad, who'd been released from the film.

Lynn's suicide attempt and the leaked sex tapes of Aaron and various conquests were the perfect storm for Aaron. To make matters worse, according to the suicide note Lynn left on her BlackBerry, Lynn was the one who sent the tapes to the media. Veronica just hoped that Logan wasn't taking the brunt of Aaron's reaction to the blow to his career and personal life.

Yes, Logan definitely needed time. Besides she wasn't entirely sure that Logan wasn't still mad at her and her dad. So it was a surprise when Veronica got a text from Logan, asking her to come over. Logan answered the door looking dishevelled, eyes bloodshot.

He pulled Veronica inside quickly, saying, "You have to help me."

Veronica stopped. "Wait. Are you all right? Is your dad home?"

Logan paused and looked around with unfocused eyes. "No -- I don't know -- Does it matter?"

Veronica crossed her arms. "Kinda. My dad found the tapes your mom leaked to the 'bloids. I can't imagine he'd be particularly pleased to see me in his house."

Logan walked into the living room and flopped down on the couch. "He's usually at the hospital at this time of day. Gotta make his appearance to satisfy the paparazzi that he's the dutiful husband."

Veronica deposited her bag and coat before joining him on the couch. "Is there any change with your mom?"

Logan shook his head. "Not yet. But that's what I need your help with. I heard my dad making arrangements to have my mom committed when she wakes up."

"Committed? How Nurse Ratched of him."

"You've got to help me stop him."

Veronica could see he was serious. "I don't even know how we begin to do that. I mean, he probably has power of attorney --"

Logan interrupted her. "Did your dad find out anything else when my mom hired him?"

Veronica was surprised to hear Logan talk about her dad and his work with anything but contempt. "Why?"

"My dad seems to be pretty scared of your dad."

"Scared? Your dad? Action Hero Extraordinaire?" Veronica asked.

"Harvey, Dad's agent, suggested he sue your dad for wrongful whatever. And my dad almost freaked out on him, saying no one was going to do or say anything to Keith Mars. I think he's worried your dad might've found out something else when he was -- you know -- snooping."

Veronica tried not to take that little dig personally. "Dad didn't mention anything else, but he also didn't want me involved in your mom's case in the first place because we're, um, close."

That actually got a smile from Logan, but he pressed on. "Can you ask him?"

"It might be better if you did. He might be more inclined to actually tell you something if he knows how much you need to help your mom."

Logan sat back and blew out a loud sigh. "Even after the other night? After the hospital?"

"Dad doesn't hold grudges."

Logan laughed. "That's not what he told me."

Veronica remembered how pale Logan looked when he left Keith's office after their talk. "Okay, I'll ask. But even if there's something else, there's nothing we can do legally if your dad does want to commit your mom. She'd have to have her own attorney and a shrink who could certify she's not crazy."

Logan looked impressed. "How the hell do you know all this? Not that it isn't hot."

"My only other friend besides my dog is a court-appointed attorney."

"Would he help us?"

Veronica laughed, thinking of Cliff. "I believe his ad on the bus stop bench says: 'If you've got cash, then you're his favourite client!'"

"Gimme his number. My dad is the reason my mom is in the hospital. He shouldn't be able to control her."

Veronica took his hand and squeezed. "Do the doctors think she'll wake up soon?"

Logan shrugged. "They say it's up to her. She has to want to wake up. What reason does she have?"

How about her son? Of course, by that token, Veronica should've been enough reason for her own mom to stay. She squeezed Logan's hand again. "I'll talk to Cliff."

"Good. I think I'm gonna need a lawyer anyway."

"What? Why? Logan, you're not going to --"

"Relax. I'm not going to do anything stupid. Not yet, at least." He stood up and tugged her up along with him. "C'mon, I've gotta show you something."

----------

"Hey, Big Mac!"

Mac popped her head out of her locker and gave Veronica a scowl. "Hey, Mars Bar!" Mac replied with false sweetness.

Veronica held her hands up in surrender. "I deserved that."

"That you did." Mac shut her locker and the two girls walked towards the quad to catch up over lunch.

"Look Mac, I know I said I'd do some digging on your parents, but—"

"Hey, no worries. I've read the papers. I can guess where your mind has been lately and everyone's been talking about Lo --"

Veronica blushed. "There's nothing going on with between us anymore --"

"Give me some credit, Veronica," Mac interrupted. "I've seen how you are when 'the one who will not be named' is around. And before last term ended, he was suddenly buddy-buddy with me, sitting beside me in our classes, trying to hit me up for any little tidbits on you."

Veronica started to explain, but Mac stopped her, putting her hand on her arm. "Don't worry, you've got the idiotic masses here fooled, but please don't lump me in with them."

"Fine, my perceptive friend," Veronica conceded as she tossed her lunch bag onto her usual table and sat down. "Then you know that I've been pretty preoccupied."

"Like I said, no biggie. But while I understand, I can't say that I've been the model of patience." Mac sat down across from her.

"What do you mean?" Veronica asked.

Mac sighed. "I mean I couldn't wait anymore. I asked my parents."

Veronica's jaw dropped. "What? You just asked them?!"

"Yep. I straight up told them that I knew the truth that they weren't my biological parents and I wanted them to be straight with me and tell me why," Mac said, while pulling her own lunch out of her bag.

"And that worked?"

"Not really. They were really upset at first. But they figured out that they couldn't hide it anymore and they finally told me what happened."

"And?" Veronica asked in awe.

"I was switched at birth with another baby girl born the next day at Neptune Hospital," Mac said, matter-of-factly. She was shining an apple on her sleeve.

"That actually happens outside soap operas?"

"Apparently," Mac said before finally biting into the apple.

Veronica paused to let Mac's incredible story soak in. What was more troubling to Veronica though was how well Mac seemed to be taking it. "Are you okay with this? I mean, you seem really calm about it."

"Well, I figure I've got to be zen about it. It's not like my parents have been awful to me. And I know they really love me or they would've switched us back. So even if I’m not their biological kid, I'm more their kid than that other girl is."

Veronica nodded. "So can I ask whose kid are you?"

"Yeah. That's the 'not really' part. They won't tell me. They said they had a deal with the other parents – my real parents – not to tell us until we're 18."

"Two more years? Bummer."

Mac snorted. "I said I was zen, not patient!"

Veronica nodded with comprehension. "Ah. This, I assume, is where I come in."

"Hey, you've got to bust out that magnifying glass and deerstalker for me sometime!"

"But I thought that you are okay with your parents being your parents."

"I am. I just need to know. I mean, I've always known that I didn't really belong with them. They were good to me, but I just never fit. I need to know where I should've fit even if I don't get to live it. Think about it, Veronica. If you were in the same situation, wouldn't you feel the same?"

Veronica didn't have to think about it. She already knew she didn't feel the same at all. She'd fit perfectly with Keith and Lianne Mars when they were a family. She'd never had any doubts that she belonged with them. And when she was presented with questions about her paternity, she couldn't ever imagine fitting in with Jake Kane's family even if Lilly was still alive. Veronica may have been dazzled by their wealth at times, but she really never envied Lilly's family.

No, even knowing what she knew to be the facts about who she really was, Veronica couldn't feel the same as Mac, but instead she answered with, "I don't know."

----------

Logan led her upstairs to his bedroom, which was a little more than a mess. Clothing had been strewn everywhere with no way of telling if it was clean or dirty. An empty liquor bottle poked out from under the bed -- haphazardly hidden, but begging to be found. Veronica wondered if this was an old bottle or a fresh one.

Logan had grabbed a screwdriver from his desk and dragged the chair across the room. He stood up on the chair under the air vent and began to unscrew the cover.

"Lilly used to have the same hiding spot," Veronica noted.

"Where do you think she got the idea?" Logan bragged.

"You crazy kids. Ever heard of a safe?"

"Safes have keys, which snooping parents can find."

"And they can't find a screwdriver?"

Logan laughed mirthlessly. "Not unless you're talking about the drink. My parents don't even allow toolboxes to be kept on the estate for fear they might actually come into contact with manual labour. I had to steal this trusty Phillips head from the guy who installed the new sound system in Dad's theatre room."

Veronica sat on the bed and waited. Logan reached into the vent and scooped out a bundle of papers. He jumped down and tossed the papers next to Veronica.

Veronica picked up the hand written note that was on top of official looking documents. Logan snatched it from her before she could start to read it.

"It's a note from my mom," he explained before she could feel hurt. "It goes on about a lot of personal stuff. But the gist is that she sold the tapes of my dad to the highest bidder and she put the money in a trust for me that my dad can't touch."

Veronica pointed to the documents. "That's what all this is?"

"Yeah. Check out who the trustee is."

Veronica scanned the papers until she came to the section about the trustee. "My dad?!"

"Guess I have to be nice to him now, eh?"

"Wait. It says he doesn't have to accept."

"But he has to name a trustee if he doesn't. It's okay, Veronica. I get why Mom wanted your dad named. She wanted someone who was responsible, someone she could trust. Someone who couldn't be influenced by my dad."

She had to agree with Lynn there. Keith Mars was never afraid to take on the elite and celebrities in that stupid town. If it came down to a showdown between her dad and Aaron Echolls, she didn't have a doubt that Keith would do the right thing by Logan.

She passed the documents back to Logan and an envelope fell out from the stack. She recognized it right away -- the DNA test results she'd sent away for. She picked up the envelope and noticed it had been slashed open.

She looked up at Logan. "So you know, then."

Logan nodded. "Do you want to know yet?"

Veronica shook her head, but it was more reflexive than certainty. "I don't know."

"Well, what do you want the results to be?"

"What do you think?" Veronica asked sardonically.

Logan shrugged. "I'm not the best person to ask. If I had the chance to find out my dad wasn't my dad, I'd be all over it and throwing it in his face."

Veronica's heart felt like it had stopped. "So you're saying my dad's not --" She couldn't finish the sentence.

"I didn't say that. Jesus, Veronica, you look like you're going to pass out," Logan said, grabbing her hands to steady her. "I just meant that if it was me, I'd hope that my father wasn't my father. But I don't have a dad like you do."

Veronica exhaled with relief. She looked at Logan guiltily. "I'm sorry. God. I'm supposed to be here for you."

"Would I be an asshole if I said my misery loves your company?"

Veronica squeezed his hands and said, "Only if that's the only reason you love my company."

"You're lucky, you know," he said, looking at their entwined hands.

"I'm lucky?" Veronica asked with a laugh. "Did you miss the last few months of my life?"

Logan stood and started pacing, running a hand roughly through his hair. "At least you can count on your dad. He's a real parent. If he didn't hate me so much, I might even say he's, like, the ideal dad. So yeah, I think you're lucky. Look at what I've been stuck with: the philanderer who sees me as an accessory and the suicidal vegetable!" He slammed his fist down on his dresser, then picked up a photo of his mother and himself and flung it at the wall. Then he swept the rest of the stuff off.

Veronica jumped up and grabbed Logan's arms, not knowing what else to do. "Don't!"

He pulled away. "It's my fucking stuff! If I wanna smash it all, I will!"

She grabbed hold of him again. "And what's it going to solve? You're just going to break everything and piss off your dad! Is that what you want?"

"Maybe!" he yelled, seething into her face. The unmistakeable smell of whiskey hit her then and it was clear where his erratic moods were coming from.

"Do you think that's what your mom would want?" she asked calmly.

Logan's face dropped and all the fight in him seemed to dissolve. He turned away from her, and sat on the bed, his head in his hands. Veronica sat down with him and wrapped her arms around him as his shoulders began to shake. His arms circled around her waist as she held onto him.

She took his face in her hands. His eyes were puffy and his cheeks were damp. She reached to wipe his face dry with her fingers.

His hand brushed her cheek. His hand moved through her hair until it rested on the back of her neck again. He pulled her to him. She felt his nose brush under hers. She could feel him breathing in her breath as he pressed his mouth to hers again. She was tentative in responding to him at first, unsure this was a good idea considering Logan's agitated state of mind. But as he tried to deepen the kiss, her own desire took over her reason.

She locked her hands around the back of his neck and pulled him down to the mattress with her, kissing him back urgently. She hadn't realized how much she'd been missing him over the last few days until this moment.

She felt his lips and tongue against her neck and she arched into him, immediately feeling the effects their actions were having on him. It shocked her, but she didn't feel frightened and she took that as a sign.

She could feel him start to pull away, gasping and saying, "We'd better –-"

"You don't have to stop," she interrupted, trying to keep him against her, "you know. If -- if you don't want to."

He looked down at her like she'd just slapped him. "What?" He sat back and stared at her dumbfounded.

She sat up. "I just mean that if you want to -- you know –- I want to, too."

"And that's what you really want?"

"What do you mean?"

"You think this is what I want for you?" Logan looked at her coldly.

"I don't understand. Did I do something wrong?" Veronica asked, trying not to sound hurt.

"You're just willing to give it up that easily?"

"I just -- that wasn't what I was trying to do. I was trying to tell you -- to show you -- that I really care about you."

Logan stood up and pointed at her angrily. "And so you think a pity fuck will show me that?"

Veronica sat on the edge of the bed to face him. "This wasn't about pity. It was about wanting to be with you. It was about feeling better, feeling something else."

"So distracting me with sex is better?"

"You don't have to make me sound like a whore. I'm supposed to be your girlfriend."

"And as my girlfriend, do you really think I want your first time to be like this? After what you went through at Shelly's party?"

"Don't you --" Veronica flustered, unable to choke out her admonishment. She slammed her fists down on the mattress as she stood up. "Fuck you!"

She stalked over to the door and swung it open violently. She turned back to Logan who still glared at her. "You want to know what Shelly's party taught me? That my first time doesn't have to be perfect. It doesn't even have to be good. It just has to be with someone I said yes to."

She started out the door and down the hall to the stairs but Logan was following her. "So what? You gonna go tell your perfect Daddy now?"

She turned around about to tell him exactly how he could fuck himself but stopped when she saw that he was holding the envelope with her paternity test results.

"Better make sure you're telling the right one," he said with a malice she hadn't seen since before Shelly's party. He tossed the envelope so that it slid and stopped at her feet. She stared at it as though it might suddenly leap up and attack her. A tear slipped down her cheek unbidden.

Logan sniffed dramatically. "Oh, I think Duncan is going to be heartbroken all over again!"

Veronica glared at him. "He isn't the only one." She turned and flew down the stairs.

----

Veronica excused herself, telling Mac she had to do some stuff before journalism class. She suddenly couldn't breathe after talking about Mac's situation.

She went to her locker, her mind lost in trying to convince herself that Logan was just lashing out because of his mother. But whether he was telling the truth or not, she couldn't be sure. If he wasn't, then he was the worst kind of jackass, but at least she could deal with that. If he was, well, then she couldn't deal with that.

Problem was, she didn't take the proof with her. She thought by leaving the results where Logan threw them that she was making a point, but she doubted it made any difference to Logan compared to the turmoil she'd been going through since. Should she -- could she tell her Dad? Did he deserve to know or --

"I saw you, you know."

Veronica shut her locker and turned around to find Beaver Cassablancas, trying to look intimidating. Veronica was well versed in bravado, having to stand up to bullies in the last few months, and Beaver was broadcasting his anxiety loudly.

"Well, I'm not invisible, no matter how hard the 09ers wish it, so it's pretty likely."

She began to walk down the abandoned hallway towards the journalism classroom.

Beaver caught up to her. "I mean, at the garage. You were with Logan."

Veronica had a momentary gulp of panic but shrugged it off. "I liked the work they did on my car last time I was there. It's not my fault Logan uses the same garage. It's a small town."

"And then Curly tells me and Jamie not to come back." Beaver was getting agitated.

"Might have been a condition of his parole, you know. Stay away from impressionable minors."

"What--" Beaver had stopped walking. "What are you saying? 'Cause he -- Curly never touched me!"

"What?!" Veronica stopped walking and turned around. Beaver was pale and wouldn't meet her eye. How the heck did he jump to that conclusion?

Beaver looked around wildly and repeated, "He never touched me!"

"I didn't mean – I was kidding!"

"Okay, okay. Fine." Beaver recovered himself. "The point is – I mean -- I know you and Curly both went to the police station the next day. And now the paper says that the investigation into Logan's carjacking has taken an abrupt turn. Is that just a coincidence?"

This kid had a lot of time on his hands to be following her around town so much. But she was more upset with herself that she hadn't noticed she was being followed.

Veronica stepped up to Beaver. "Look, I don't know what your problem is -- with me, with Logan - but you oughta know that I can make that carjacking investigation take an abrupt 180 turn. Got it?"

Beaver's mouth twisted into a grimace. "You think you can threaten me?"

Veronica laughed boldly. "There's no thinking about it. I just did."

Beaver's eyes narrowed. "I know things --"

"So do I."

Beaver started. "I --"

"No," Veronica interrupted him and shoved a finger in his face. "You don't seem to get it. Leave me alone. Leave Logan alone. Then we leave you alone. If I don't have a reason to start blabbing about what I know, then what's the point in me having any leverage? Got it?"

Beaver eyed her for a moment. "You're bluffing. You don't know anything."

"Do you really want to try me, Beaver?"

"This rosy little picture that you've built up around you and Logan? I can completely destroy it." Beaver waved his hand with a flourish.

"And this tenuous little world where you seem to think you're in charge? I can make it explode. Ka--" Veronica tilted her head and looked at Beaver pointedly. "Boom. Get it now?"

Beaver glared at her. "Loud and clear." He turned and walked off.

As soon as he rounded the corner, Veronica closed her eyes, exhaled loudly and entered the journalism room. Beaver Casablancas was now on her list. Right up there with Aaron Echolls.

-------

As Veronica gathered up her things, she heard Logan slam the door to his room. She couldn't hide her disappointment that he didn't follow her and at least try to make things right with her.

She swung open the front door and ran straight into Aaron Echolls' chest. Her bag slipped off her shoulder and the contents toppled out across the front step.

"I'm so sorry, Mr. Echolls," she said as she crouched down to pick up her belongings. "I was just leaving and -- and--"

Aaron got down to help her, passing her books back to her. "No worries, Veronica. I'm sorry if I startled you."

"You shouldn't be apologizing. I mean, this is your house. I shouldn't even be intruding during your -- um -- family crisis." Veronica stood up again.

"Nonsense. You're here to see Logan and he needs all the support he can get right now." Aaron stood as well and passed her compact to her, which Veronica stuffed into her bag, blushing.

"All the same, I'm sure there are other friends of Logan's you'd rather be seeing right now, considering how my dad was, you know, involved. I'm very sorry about what happened with Mrs. Echolls, by the way."

Aaron waved a hand. "You don't have to feel nervous or awkward with me, Veronica. I understand that Keith was doing his job. Frankly, I'm the one who put everyone in this uncomfortable position and I have to own it. I'm just glad you haven't let my misfortunes keep you away from helping my son."

Uncomfortable? Misfortune? Way to spin it.

"Yeah. Well, Logan's not in a good place right now. I don't think I'm being much help to him at all."

"Is Logan being difficult again? Would you like me to speak to him?"

"NO!" she yelled impulsively and Aaron regarded her quizzically. "I just don't want to get him into any trouble," she explained.

"Veronica," Aaron started as he put a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure Logan doesn't describe me as Dad of the Year. But I'm really not the bad guy he tries to tell people I am. I'm human and I make mistakes. But I do love him and want what's best for him."

He began to guide her towards her car, sliding his arm around her shoulder as he turned to walk with her. "But I want you to know that if you're having problems with him or if you think I can help, you can come and talk to me."

"Uh --" Veronica started, taken aback. This was getting weird and creepy.

"Oh, I get it. You think I'm too old to understand you kids today. But many of Logan's friends find me easy to talk to. You know, Lilly used to confide in me quite often."

Wait. What the hell would Lilly have to talk to Aaron Echolls about? Veronica stopped walking, causing Aaron to take his arm away and turn and face her. "Lilly was my best friend. She never mentioned that she talked to you. Not like that."

Aaron chuckled. "Well, I guess you could say it was our little secret. It could be ours too."

I've got a secret. A good one.

"Veronica? Are you all right? Veronica?"

Aaron was reaching out to put his hand back on her shoulder, but Veronica swatted it away. "I'm fine. I'm sorry. I just -- I just realized what time it was. My dad's expecting me."

Veronica hurried to her car, leaving Aaron standing perplexed in his driveway. She drove away, with her mind spinning around her last conversations with Lilly.

----------

Veronica nearly jumped out of her seat when Meg Manning flopped down beside her. Veronica had been staring at a photo of Lilly on her monitor. It was going to accompany her article in the Navigator, requesting ideas for a memorial for Lilly.

Meg laughed at Veronica's surprise. "Boo."

"Sorry. I wasn't paying attention."

Meg saw what Veronica was working on. "Oh. Yeah. I see why."

Veronica blushed and closed the photo editor. She tried to change the subject. "So? What's our next story?"

Meg held up a small newspaper clipping. "Missing girl story. Possible runaway. She used to go here until this term. She transferred to a private school."

Veronica frowned and skimmed the article. "A freshman. Weird. Why hasn't this been front page news?"

Meg shrugged. "Probably because the Echolls scandal is the only thing people want to report these days."

Meg realized what she'd just blurted out and stole a guilty glace at Veronica. Veronica tried to look nonplussed and said, "Paparazzi. Can't wait to get to that unit of the journalism course."

Relieved, Meg continued. "But besides that, I think her family has been trying to keep it on the down low."

"How come?"

Meg's eyes glinted with delight at knowing something Veronica didn't know. She leaned in and whispered. "Well, I heard that her dad has connections to the LA mafia. And her mom was a Fitzpatrick -- you know, Neptune's Irish crime family? -- that is, until they disowned her for marrying her dad."

Veronica had heard enough stories about the Fitzpatricks to know that disowned or not, they'd never let anyone get away with harming one of their own. Whoever took this girl was a dead man.

Veronica picked up the school photo that Meg had brought and gasped. Lucinda 'Cindy' Tomassini. It was the girl who had approached her in the quad, asking her about Shelly's party. She finally made the connection. She was the Cindy who was with Logan. She was the Cindy who saw what happened to Veronica the night of Shelly's party.

Part 17
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