AN: Thank you for the kind words, readers! Since so many of you were keen to see how things unfolded for Veronica, I've decided to mirror the passing years from her point of view.
Light movie spoilers, ahoy (mateys); if you've seen the trailer and clips, you already know it all. I own not a damn thing, aside from my groovy Kickstarter t-shirt and all the seasons... in duplicate, because I've worn discs out. You'll see some music along the way - songs listed at the end.
And yes, The Claw exists. You'll understand soon enough.
The first time she thinks of him, it's week three of her internship at Quantico.
Internships are essentially unpaid grunt labour under the guise of learning, as a rule. She knew this coming in the door, but didn't care. Between the dirty looks from Parker on her last day of classes, the looming threat of the mob and her father's indictment, the one thing she's clung to as a reprieve is the damn internship. She's photocopied and coffee retrieved and supply organized with a smile her Pep Squad years begat, and she's not said a damn thing when people have assumed she lacks intelligence on the basis of her hair colour.
But then, there's a case that piques her interest: sexual abuse in a group home. One of her supervisors, Special Agent Leah Campogna, draws the lead on it, and calls her into her office.
"You're a Private Investigator, Ms. Mars."
"I am," Veronica affirms, working to keep her expression neutral.
"Ever done undercover work?"
Veronica nods. "Many times."
Leah stares at her, mulling over something, while Veronica hopes this isn't the part where the intern gets asked to sexually service her superior. At last, Leah nods slowly.
"You're not a Field Agent. I want this clear. You are here to learn and develop skill sets that will guide you in your future career. But this case... I really want to catch the bastard. But none of the young men and women still inside are talking, and our most youthful looking Agent is on mat leave."
Veronica's eyes widen. "You want me to go inside the group home?"
Leah nods. "It will take special approval from the Bureau and your father, but your Investigator credentials offer us a unique legal situation. I don't want you to feel any pressure to accept, but if you're interested - "
"Yes." Veronica nods firmly. "I'm so in."
The adrenaline begins to surge immediately, that old, familiar rush. But this time, it'll be sanctioned. It'll be for a greater good, not her own selfish choices. Gather the intel, the Feds move in and take down the bad guys. Her father sees it as a great opportunity to make inroads with a respectable future employer.
Not all of the Agents take the intrusion onto their turf kindly. While doling out coffees after the team meeting, Veronica overhears Lewis, a macho ass who likely spends his weekends fist pumping with his Jersey Shore fan club, muttering to another guy.
"Don't know why they're risking the whole goddamn op with Intern Blondie," he gripes. "This ain't a pornography sting. She's gonna have to do more than lie on her back and look pretty."
For a moment, her worst fears are realized: someone found out about the video. Her breath catches in her throat as the discussion continues, but it's soon clear that they don't actually know. It's just sexist bullshit.
It still hurts like hell.
She calls Piz that night, but he doesn't get it. He doesn't understand the anger, the annoying shame she feels even though she did nothing wrong. She makes excuses, hangs up and throws her phone on the bed. For Piz, it's never been more than an embarrassment at best, a shrug-and-move-on moment of college life. He doesn't understand the violation she feels, so he can't fathom how deeply Lewis' stupid remark cuts her.
It was why he'd gone after Piz and Gorey, right? Because he knew it would hurt her. He knew what the repercussions would be.
That doesn't make calling him a good idea. We're over. He's out of my life for... for a long time. Forever, maybe.
But he would understand. He would know what to say. Hell, he'd have some inspirational message on the subject. He'd know how to get the silent tears spitefully streaking her cheeks to stop falling.
He'd understand, all right. And then he'd fly out here and kick Lewis' ass and that would be the end of this internship and probably my career.
He has no control and she's ruined enough lives lately. Bloodshed is overrated.
But she needs him. Logan. Today, she needs him and she hates that she needs him, hates that she can't just... be normal. Be calm. Be a typical college student.
She's halfway through the email before she's conscious of writing it, several paragraphs deep into a free association of isolation and regret, of guilt over her father taking another hit in life at her expense, of being tired of her body being this thing that people can hurt and mistreat and exploit for their own pleasure. She tells him that she misses his friendship, that even if they suck as a couple, his utter loyalty to those he calls friend redeems him in the end. She tells him about Lewis, about how she managed to make a crack about how if she were in a porn with him, she would be too busy laughing at his steroid-shrunken testicles to fake the obligatory orgasm.
She tells him that she misses him, and then she deletes the draft.
But she does send an email that night... to Piz. And yes, it's cowardly, but she has nothing left to give either of the men in her life. She ends their sorta-on-break-for-summer relationship that night. And then, she turns to the paperwork Leah offered her for financial aid for Stanford.
The first time he tries to call her is the end of summer. She's surprised it's taken this long.
Stanford has opened its door to her, offering a partial scholarship that will cover a good 70% of her tuition. Begrudgingly, she accepts student loans for the rest of her expenses. Her father is deeply upset about her decision, although he hides it well with praise for her school of choice.
He pretends it isn't at least partially about her last investigation into Jake Kane, and she pretends it really is all about switching majors after shadowing a criminal profiler at Quantico for a week and falling in love with Psychology. Yep, it's all about the mentor of a mentor professor and has nothing to do with a sex tape her father mercifully seems oblivious to, nor does it have a damn thing to do with avoiding Logan and Piz.
She's not her mother. She's not.
She keeps telling herself this as she turns up the music. She's made a playlist for her big life change, like a twelve year-old girl. Lilly used to laugh at her for it, but a loving laugh. Wistfully, Veronica recalls her staged break-up with Duncan and how she'd longed to blast something more this isn't fair but chose music that conveyed dumped and in despair.
Beth Hart's bluesy vocals fill her room as she carefully folds a blouse and she sings along. It's one of the most fitting songs she's stumbled onto for her theme.
"She hangs around the boulevard
She's a local girl with local scars
She got home late, she got home late
She drank so hard the bottle ached..."
The phone rings beside her and she rolls her eyes. Dad, come on! I'll be home in a week. Her hand reaches for it, freezing at the name on the display.
A second ring. A third. She's paralyzed. Does he know? Is that why he's calling her now? The ringing stops, the missed call alert lingering. Why is he calling her now?
I am not my mother's daughter. We're not even together anymore. I'm not abandoning him.
But she is. She's the only constant who remains from his youth aside from Dick, who's never really been there for Logan so much as Logan has looked after him.
"She left a note right by the phone
Don't leave a message 'cause this ain't no home
And she cried and she cried, and she cried and she cried
She cried so long her tears ran dry
Then she laughed and she laughed, she laughed and she laughed
'Cause she knew she was never comin' back..."
She debates calling him back as she realizes he's hung up before going to her voice mail. He could be in trouble. He could be angry with her for leaving Neptune, or upset, or... Or nothing. Maybe he wants to thank her for staying away, for ridding their lives of the complication of what was once... epic.
At this, she curses herself silently, because she wonders if he called to ask her to come home, to come back to him. She knows he hasn't been with anyone else since Parker; Mac is useful for hometown updates, particularly as she's nursing her own wounds from her split with Max. Maybe he misses her like she misses him, despite all of her best efforts to let go and move on forever. Maybe he's changed.
You could call hm back, Veronica. It's not exactly rocket science. It's a button on a phone.
No, it's a terrible idea and she shoves the phone away in frustration. It doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if he's changed, or if she's finally letting go of the Madison thing, thanks to Dick telling Mac that it's possible Madison used a little chemical help to get Logan into her bed. It doesn't matter because she hasn't changed, not one damn bit.
She's still distrustful and angry and headstrong. She's still the woman who feels the need to pick a fight, to dig deeper into things than she should. She's still the person who can't resist jamming her hand on the self-destruct button.
It still won't work, so why torture herself? Why hurt him again? She's going to Stanford to make a fresh start, to shake off the creeping vine clutches of Neptune. It will be a better place without her for all of them.
"It's all I love, it's all I hate
It's all too much for me to take
I can't be sure where it begins
Or if the good life lies within..."
She clears the missed call from her history and stretches out on her bed with a sigh. Whatever his reasons for calling, she won't respond. It's the kindest thing she can do for both of them.
At least, that's what she tells herself.
October 3rd. For her classmates and roommate, it's just another day.
It's strange to live in a world now where everyone in her daily sphere isn't keenly aware of an anniversary as painful as this. Veronica fastens Lilly's necklace around her neck and begins the day with a walk down a photographic memory lane. Prom. Silly moments, caught on film in poorly framed and often blurry shots. Dim lighting doesn't matter: Lilly's smile always lit up the world. She had that star quality, that indescribable 'It Factor'.
She misses her, more than ever. There will be no trip to her grave, no trip to the memorial fountain. There will be no one to hold her today when the unbidden tears begin to fall, as they always do.
It's just another Wednesday at Stanford. No quizzes, no tests, no assignments due. She blows off classes with her professors' blessings.
She tries to stay busy: she buys a new top, one Lilly would enthusiastically endorse for her. She swings by a quiet coffee shop she knows and reads over an organic mocha latte. She tries, so hard, to make it through, but it all goes to shit when she makes her way back to campus and passes The Claw. A water fountain. One of many on campus and home to countless fountain-hopping incidents. It's practically in the Admissions booklet: Welcome to Stanford, home of hopping fountains. The way the water catches on the structure... something in it reminds her of last year, of a cascade of droplets tumbling from a hand.
Fighting back tears, she slams into a bathroom near the bookstore and is relieved to find it empty. Maybe this is a bad idea - no maybe about it, it's a lousy idea, Veronica - but as alone as she is today, Logan is also alone and maybe... Maybe they shouldn't be alone. Her phone practically dials itself.
"Neptune Grand," the voice on the other end announces.
The line begins to ring and she is suddenly acutely aware of how terrible an idea this is, how unfair of her to ask for his help. Because this isn't about him, not really; it's about her, and how the gaping hole in her heart is just five sizes bigger than usual because he's not there to reassure her, to get it as so few people ever could. But before she can will herself to disconnect, there's a voice on the other end.
Dick Casablancas. Crap. "Is Logan around?" she asks, disguising her voice with a twist of Valley Girl.
"Nah, he's out maxin' and relaxin'. Wanna leave a message?"
"No... No, never mind."
She hangs up quickly, crumpling inside a stall and hugging her knees to her chest. Dick is clueless if he thinks Logan could ever relax on this day. Logan's clearly off on his own somewhere, avoiding his friend. And she... she is not his friend. Not anymore. She's just the ex-girlfriend, the one he left because she couldn't stop pursuing cases that grew more dangerous by the year.
She finds a way to suppress the tears and get back to her dorm, where Jenny is mercifully leaving to spend the night with her boyfriend. Exhausted, she flips through her CD binder and chooses an old mix given to her by Lilly to listen to in bed.
"It's dark in here, visions are flashing into my head
as I reminisce my reoccurring dreams and you said,
'I'm falling, falling for you babe
my feelings are getting stronger'..."
In her mind, she remembers a conversation, lost in the ether of time.
"I know Lilly loved you."
"Yeah, just not like I loved her. It's okay. No, uh, you know, it kinda lets me off the hook, you know. I-I don't know, I don't have to feel guilty anymore."
"Feel guilty about what?"
And they had become something. Something special and turbulent and wild, so very much like Logan and Lilly, only different. Because there was so much pain when it ended each time, more pain than Lilly had ever experienced. And while losing Duncan was shattering each time, she'd never known true devastation until Logan had left her last year, his gentle kiss farewell burned into her flesh.
"You know I'm no stranger in your dreams... "
And what would Lilly say, about this? About her decision to shed the Veronica born in the wake of a murder and return to... to what? To innocence feigned?
It doesn't take her long to find out. The weariness and grief sedate her and she is soon tumbling into a rabbit hole of a dreamscape.
She is standing in front of the memorial fountain, snorting in laughter as she examines the dedication. "This is so like Celeste, isn't it? To immortalize her daughter to ensure her own infamy?"
She turns and she is mercifully smiling - no bloody head wounds, no strange, glazed look. "Hey you! It's been a while."
The embrace is warm, but frail. Ghosts do not carry a significant body mass, even in dreams.
"Four years," Veronica reminds her.
"I would have dropped out by now," Lilly muses. "School was never my thing. How much you wanna bet Daddy Dearest would have given me a job just to make sure he could sell me to some rich asshole like a cow?"
"Lilly, I miss you. So much."
Lilly sighs. "I know, Veronica. But I'm gone. I'm history. Just some scribbled message in a bunch of yearbooks. Oh, and a tacky fountain." She jerks her thumb to her left. "Next life, I leave careful instructions for my memorial shrine."
"Or you could not die next time," Veronica suggests.
"Not a choice we get to make. We can choose our friends, our lovers, our clothes. But death? It comes when it wants. Knock-knock-knocking on heaven's door."
Her hand reaches for Veronica's as she blinks and suddenly, they're at Stanford. The Claw looms behind her.
"What are you doing here, Veronica?"
"I... I always dreamed of Stanford, Lilly. You know that."
"Bullshit. You loved Hearst. And Psychology? What a waste of your talent!"
"Profiling is -"
"An excuse to run from everyone. It's you trying to get back into that stupid yellow, cotton dress." Lilly rolls her eyes and grips her shoulders, shaking her gently. "Is this what you really want, Veronica Mars?"
She nods slowly. "Yes. Yes, I do."
"Then, I guess you go and be the best cotton dress ever." Lilly turns and walks away, pausing before the fountain. "Just remember this: he fell for you in cotton."
Veronica awakens in a cold sweat, music quietly droning in the background. Her hand palms the tiny charm suspended from her neck as she focuses on her breathing. Steady as she goes.
She knows what Lilly wants her to do. She can't give her that. But she can give her another gesture.
Her bikini is red beneath the trench coat drawn tightly around her frame as she stands admiring it. The Claw. It's one tradition she evaded, transferring in her sophomore year. Shrugging out of her coat, she knows that today is the right day.
"For Lilly," she whispers as she races across the water, wincing as the cool stream trickles down her legs.
She should have seen the signs, she realizes later on her flight to Neptune.
One day before the call, the radio she routinely blasts as she makes breakfast and showers happens to play "I Hear The Bells". She finds herself frozen for several long seconds, the butter on her knife poised to slip free and tumble to the crowded counter top. Behind her, Piz slips up, kissing the side of her neck.
"Something wrong? Aside from this musical travesty, I mean?"
"I love this song..." she replies softly.
"Mike Doughty can slag on Soul Coughing as much as he wants, but his best years were tainted in drug addiction and polished by his band. Although, the acoustic solo work wasn't too bad." Piz opens the fridge beside her as she resumes buttering her toast. "Any interviews today?"
"Truman-Mann," she replies, her mind awash in memories of a hotel room turned Prom venue. "Corporate law, highly ranked. Getting an interview is almost harder than acing it, I'm told."
"Then you should start celebrating, because once they've met Veronica Mars, their search will be over," Piz replies, beaming at her over his retrieved lunch bag. "Come by the office later, let me know how it goes."
He rushes out the door and she abandons her breakfast, turning instead to her closet to select her armor for the day's meeting. A blazer, of course, Slacks. No white blouse, she decides. Too expected, too... submissive, somehow.
"And I'm seeking girls in sales and marketing
Let's go make out up in the balcony
Your business dress, so business-like and I'm
Tossing the blouse over a chair-back..."
"I love this song," she mumbles to no one in particular.
The interview goes well, all sex tape talk aside, but her victory is short-lived as she watches the news story play out on the monitors at the station. Bonnie Deville, dead. No, Carrie Bishop, dead. And the media is frothing at the mouth to accuse her ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls.
Piz is upset at her silence. She's not sure she cares.
What she does care about is whether he's guilty this time and a cursory review of the so-called evidence confirms her instincts: it's a set-up, just like Toombs. And what luck: another Lamb baa-baa'ed his way into the Sheriff's Office in Neptune. Logan is unequivocally screwed. There's no justice in a town like Neptune, even when you have enough money to make doors open. If you're the easiest scapegoat to round up, the law will lead you to the slaughter. Actual detective work is not a job requirement.
She spends a restless night in Piz's embrace, remembering another murder investigation in another time.
Her next morning begins the same as the last: shower, dress, take the subway to the mighty offices of Truman-Mann. No musical memories of the misty persuasion, but his name is everywhere: Logan Echolls. Killer. Jilted boyfriend. The video hadn't played that way in her eyes, but she possessed a deeper understanding of the orphaned son of a murderous movie star than most. She knew that for all of his violent outbursts, he couldn't - wouldn't - kill anyone. Striking a woman was off the list of possible acts Logan might undertake.
Her phone rings. She knew it would. The only image she was able to find quickly last night was an old yearbook shot and now it's Veronica facing a ghost. A ghost of her life, but also the ghost of her life itself. The Veronica that hasn't existed in a very, very long time. She silences it. She'll call him back after the interview.
He calls again. Another candidate looks irritated. Those eyes are unrelenting, even on a screen.
She slips outside into the elevator lobby and takes the call, hesitating briefly before opting to keep it light. "So... what's new with you?"
"I need your help, Veronica."
Famous last words. Even as she tells him she doesn't do that anymore, her mind immediately begins racing through the facts she dug up on the internet last night. Lamb's stupid brother and his stupid face. The way he'll never give Logan a fair trial.
"Look, can you just hear me out?" he pleads over the line.
She could. But will she? Of course you will, Veronica. Because you've been waiting for this call since yesterday afternoon.
"I have an interview right now... a job interview," she clarifies. "But we can talk in an hour."
"Promise you'll call back." It's an order, not a question.
"Of course I will, Logan," she tells him gently, glancing at the receptionist who's waving through the glass. "I promise you."
There is a bell, ringing in the background, as he replies. "Thank you, Veronica. For picking up."
"Anytime," she tells him, and means it.
And she does. She no longer needs time or space to forgive. None of that matters now. This - this mess he's in, and her mind spinning the possibilities - this is just who they are. He is her friend. He needs her help.
How can she refuse?
Songs (in order)
L.A. Song - Beth Hart
Come Here Boys - Imogen Heap
I Hear The Bells - Mike Doughty
Feedback is always lovely and welcome...