Well, this is the end of the line, my friends. I'm not understating it when I say it's been an honor and a privilege. Thank you so much for the encouragement through your comments, favorites and especially recs. Special thank you to my roommate/beta for staying up late to deal with this chapter. Let's go!
Being in Neptune is exhausting. She is proud and not sorry that she has revealed the reason behind the changes in this little slice of hell that continues to surprise her, but she had forgotten how nice it was to be anonymous in New York, to wear black and walk with a tough stride and never have a microphone shoved in her face.
As they expected, the case is big. How could it not be when Neptune's newest residents, now mostly under house arrest, included moguls and movie stars? It's on TV every day, someone talking about "affluenza," the growing class gap, or the menace of immigrants forcing people to close themselves off from the world. It makes for great headlines, too, screaming words about California's Extravagant Experiment and The Final Statement of the First Estate.
Someone didn't earn that A in History class, Logan writes cheekily. I didn't see any clergymen on that list. Nice that they can keep their sterling reputation clear from this.
He's been amazing through the whole thing, probably calmer than she would be if he were taking on a powerful secret network with vast funding or confronting an old enemy with a grudge bearing only a tape recorder and wits. It is a few months before the trial will start, but they have already started discussing testimony and strategy. Grant made the mistake of incorporating his company in Sacramento (Really, it's like he wanted all the dominos to line up so I could just push them on down) so the trial is being held up there, far enough away from Neptune for Veronica to let herself feel just a little more secure in the fairness of the outcome. Logan's emails are the thing that helps her through the flights there and back for prep. They are scraps of his usual self, wry and open and fantastically normal.
The best one, though, comes a few weeks into the whole thing (probably more of an affair, really, Logan writes, and the words read tawdry even through the screen) when she is flying back to Neptune as dusk falls and, turning her phone on as they pull onto the tarmac, finds an untitled email from him. All it has is a date, a few days after he had originally said, but close enough to this minute that she makes a noise that has the man sitting next to her reaching automatically for his rosary.
Part of her wants to play it cool. It would be easy over email. It would be protection. But as strange and terrifying as it is, she doesn't want to be cool with him. She wants to see him, and it's okay for him to know it.
Give me a time and I'll be there.
He's replied by the time she is out of the terminal. It'll be late. I fly myself from the carrier to base, and then there'll probably be debrief. I'll drive down in the morning. You can treat me to breakfast.
That makes sense. She'll get a good night's sleep. He'll get as much sleep as he expects. He'll get to see the apartment that she has recently moved into now that Jeremy Sloane is not in a position to be purchasing real estate.
Mars Investigations has done good business over the past few months while the sheriff's department was not a friend of the common man and even now, as things calm down and an interim sheriff is thoroughly checked out and appointed, continues to be patronized by suspicious citizens. Getting the apartment was still a stretch. But she had needed to move out, had needed her own space. She has started letting herself think of Logan spending time there, coming back from a stakeout with her and eating Chinese food, bickering over movies. She doesn't need the denial of normalcy, not anymore, but there's something unutterably sweet as she thinks of a homier, more everyday version of them than they've ever gotten to have.
She wants that sooner. It's odd, because Logan was always the one who felt that days turned into months when they weren't together, who always leaned in for one more kiss. Nevertheless, she has started to develop this urgency, this desire to spend time, to not pull away.
I'll treat you to breakfast, but let's do it at your place.
She might be imagining it, but he seems tentative when he responds, not sure what exactly she means and not wishing to overstep. We're at the stage where you don't have to drive up in the wee hours with restaurant pancakes in a Tupperware and try to pass them off as your own.
Hey, my pancakes could kick your smart ass, but now you'll never know. I just heard that you've got a pool up there and I figured I'd grab some alone time before I have to start hauling your dead weight around.
Someone's been spreading false rumors about pools, but if you were that eager for the perks of NoCal life, all you had to do was ask. I keep a key with Mrs. Fredrickson, my neighbor across the street. She's a mean old bitch (and according to her grandson in my squadron, before that she was a mean young bitch) but the other option was Mary Kay Implants next door, and she's made a few too many implications about my jet and her runway for me to leave anything with her.
She is squinting at the slightly crooked living room blinds, criminally placed over gorgeously wide windows. She stands before them, trying to decide if she can get them replaced, picturing long white curtains that offer both light and privacy, when her phone vibrates with that one. She leaves off her imagining to read it, laughs and sighs. Of all the people in her life, Logan is the one who has hit her with truths that stung, truths that others so frequently let her deny or quip past. But for once she blesses that ability of his to see through her. She wants to be honest with him, wants to not to hide from him, but she appreciates that he can make it so she does not need to cut herself bare before him in words. Now that he has given her an out, she lets herself go in.
Maybe I just want to see you, beat the rush of fans. So in that line of questioning, is there anything else I need to know? Treats to bribe the dog guarding your house?
She doesn't have a lot of furniture in the new place yet, so she sits on her bed to organize her case files on her laptop. Her trips up to Sacramento have meant that she has to maximize the days that she has in Neptune, planning out the legwork she must do while there. She knows that her father would gladly take any cases off her hands if she asked him to (although at this point not gleefully, and without a ticket to New York at the ready), but she asked to be his partner and that means taking her share of the weight. She is absorbed in a case about a food truck possibly running a credit card scam when she notices that she has new mail, and goes to check it almost absently.
The passcode for the security system is 6277. I have a code word for you to get the key, but try to take off your reading-too-much-into-things glasses and know that this was just a random choice.
Tell Mrs. Fredrickson "bobcat" and she'll give you the key. She's more of a dragon, though.
She laughs at this, but there's a sweetness in it too. She goes for humor anyway.
If you think I need my reading-too-much-into-things glasses for this one, you have seriously underestimated my skills. This one could be cracked with barely my Captain Obvious telescope. Don't worry, though. There will be no snide remarks from me. It's Wallace you have to watch out for. I'm going to gain major best friend points for telling him that you've been pining after me for ten years.
She knows that it isn't true, for her or for Logan. They had each made lives for themselves, lives with jobs and friends and shared beds, lives where weeks could go by without thinking of the other. That doesn't mean that there isn't some truth to his reply.
The pining isn't a secret. He found the box where I keep all your hair clippings, so I think he already knows.
She does not ask for the week off from involvement in the case as much as she informs Tim and Barbara, the prosecutors she is working with, that she will not be available. She has tried to cooperate fully so far, knowing that the sensationalism and the unconventional investigation are already working against them, but it has been a hundred and ninety-six days since she last saw him, she has an inbox full of their version of love letters, and she isn't compromising on this.
The weather is cool as she heads north, so she has the top up, but it's sunny and she hums along with the radio as she drives. It might be her imagination, but Logan's car seems happier, gliding and shifting just a touch more smoothly than usual. She wonders if it has a name, almost begins composing an email in her head to send when she stops to get gas before she remembers that she can just ask him in person.
She begins seeing posters as soon as the exit for the base gains mention on the highway signs, "welcome home" proclaimed in bright colors. They're on bridges and telephone poles, and, as she drives into Logan's neighborhood, beside doorways decorated by balloons. Logan's house, a squat building with a circular driveway, has none of these things, and the blankness makes her glad she came today.
She parks and goes across the street for the key. Mrs. Fredrickson is squinting and elderly with heavy scowl creases around her mouth, but she seems to want to get back to Wheel of Fortune far more than she wants to antagonize Veronica. Even as Veronica says, "He said to tell you 'bobcat,'" she is handing over an envelope containing a slim bump, shuffling back in and closing the door on Veronica's "thank you."
'This is why I avoid people,' she thinks as she steps away. But she had still smelled something baking in the background, and hopes that someone had taken Logan home with them after his last tour. She doesn't want to think of him alone, with fewer people to care about him than if he were living with Grandma Good Times across the way.
As she goes to unlock Logan's door, a curtain flutters on the neighbor's house and Veronica can see a bare sliver of lovely face. She blindly flicks her fingers in a wave as she slides the key in. There's a banner on the porch that reads "Welcome home Daddy!" with paint handprints at the corners. She's not worried about Logan getting too friendly with the girl next door.
She puts her bag down beside the door and goes to look around. Logan's house is full of strange combinations: tile leading into different textured carpet, light wood and dark wood mixed with granite, arched doorways in some places and angular ones in others. But it comes together under his vintage movie posters, tucked away video game equipment, and glossy framed candids of him and his mother. Hanging in the stairway is a shot of herself and Logan with Duncan and Lilly, and further down the hall, one of them alone which Wallace had taken the summer before college. They are smiling and not facing the camera.
She returns from her self-guided tour, standing in the foyer and looking around. It strikes her suddenly: Logan has a house. She has been writing to him the whole time while he flew secret missions in fighter jets, but this is what makes it sink in. Logan has a house. Logan is an adult. He is an adult who is her boyfriend, and he is coming home tonight.
She thinks about takeout, but decides against it. Logan has a cleaning woman who tidies up before he comes home, brushing off dust and buying basics to fill the cupboards and fridge. Veronica finds plates and pans through guesswork, and bread, cheese and butter are fairly intuitive. She eats her grilled cheese and works on a couple of cases. She considers sitting out in the backyard for a while, but with the sun down, it is too chilly, so she curls up on the couch to call her dad. They talk about the work she has done in the apartment and the disappointing no pets policy in the building. Keith is being cagy about it, but she suspects that he is considering getting another dog. They had originally gotten Backup for her, to look menacing on stakeouts and help the Mars family sleep better at night when Keith had to chase down bail jumpers and leave teenaged Veronica alone, but the dog had stayed when Veronica went to Stanford and his absence was sharper there.
Veronica finds herself tired early, but when she goes up to Logan's bedroom she freezes in the doorway. Her mind goes not only into overdrive, but off-roading too. She wants to be Logan's girlfriend. She definitely wants to have sex with him as soon as possible. She has been communicating with him nearly constantly for six months and probably knows him better now than she ever has. But now that it is becoming real, a tangible, purposeful relationship that they are entering with clear heads and easy hearts, she hesitates. She goes downstairs and finds an old movie on cable, something with Myrna Loy and William Powell.
Carrie was an insomniac, often falling asleep downstairs, so Logan's lights and TV are still set on a timer. The movie is off, the room dim around her as Veronica startles hearing the scrape of the door opening.
She can see it from the couch. Logan toes off his shoes and locks the door again. He is wearing jeans and a dark untucked button down rather than the Henley that is now familiar. His uniform is on a hanger and he is putting it in the hall closet as he spots her.
He comes over and crouches before her. "Hey," he says, resting a hand on her leg.
She is still slightly groggy as she looks down at him. "Hey. Welcome home." The clock behind his head reads 2:14. "You weren't kidding about it being late."
"Do you want to go back to sleep?" He keeps his voice low, as if he isn't sure she is entirely awake. It makes her smile.
"You are back on this continent, right?"
He begins to smile back. "Yeah, but you have your priorities."
She doesn't even bother answering, just pulls him up beside her and kisses him, making it clear what her priorities are. It is long minutes later when he pulls away. She has settled in his lap by this point, but she wonders if it is just that that makes him look overcome as he searches for breath. "Wait," he says. "Wait. Are you sure you don't want to just wait until morning? You're still in this time zone. It's the middle of the night for you."
The look she gives him could turn sand into glass. "You've been gone for six months, Logan. I don't care if my body thinks it's in Russia right now. Did you think that we were going to be watching cooking shows and playing Scrabble when you got back?"
"Veronica," Logan says, grinning up at her, "Take me to bed-"
"Shut up," she laughs, half to keep him from completing the eye-roll worthy quote and half because losing him forever is no longer an option. She pulls at his hands, kissing him again as he stumbles into a stand. Her legs are around his waist and she can't help thinking about that night, but she smiles into his mouth because it is about now and them rather than being tangled with past or panic.
When they land on his bed, her heart is thrown a little. He looks cocky without even trying, and in the pause, without pure momentum driving them, she remembers the reasons he has to look cocky.
Veronica needs actions rather than words. She needed a mother who would finish rehab instead of just giving promises and pleas, a father who wouldn't preach morality and then ignore the seventh commandment. She couldn't be totally at ease with a boyfriend who would break his voice calling them epic and then sleep with someone else hours later. Nevertheless, she thought that she would not feel sexually equal to Logan until he looked her in the eye and said, "Veronica, you're the love of my life, you're the best I've ever had, no one else can compare."
Now, though, looking down at him, at the way he is looking up at her like starlight, she relaxes. He has landed first on the bed and she realizes that he often does, often gives her the security of control. He is patient, waiting for her to make the first move. He believes that she will be good enough, and if she trusts him, she has to believe the same.
She leans to kiss him again and he returns it lingeringly. She is murmuring his name over and over against his mouth- Logan, Logan, a solid, heartbeat name- over and over. And that's odd, too, because it was always him who couldn't stop talking, who would whisper filth and prayers and her name as if it wouldn't stay in his chest. He seems to relish the reversal, though, straining against her. Things get very primordial, very quickly after that.
"Veronica. Veronica, wake up."
"Can I get back that offer of sleep?"
"That was a use it or lose it deal. Get up. I want to talk to you."
It is on the tip of her tongue to tell him that the couples' communication retreat is next door before she realizes that they are trying to be a communicating couple. She squeezes her eyes tighter and opens them, rolling to face him. She has had three hours of sleep. "Forget what I said before. Time zones are important." She settles herself on his chest, facing him. "What do you need?"
He brushes a hand over her hair. "Would you want me ask for a discharge when my enlistment is up?"
"They really don't teach you about time in the military, do they? Your enlistment isn't up for another three years."
"I've always been forward-thinking. It was in the special comments section of my kindergarten report card." He says it with an assured head tilt, but there's something underlying it as well, a question about permanence and having people to care about you. Considering six breathless days without a word, she wants to assure him that there is someone who cares. But she also wonders if she could live through that again, if she can live a life where for long, unpredictable periods of time words do have to be enough, and sometimes would not even be available to him.
"What would you do if you left?" she asks instead.
He doesn't even think before he answers, "Something with PTSD. Getting money for research, a service dog program, a shelter with counseling services. Rates are lower for the Navy, but there are a million Army guys still fighting a war even after discharge." Logan had always twitched in his sleep, never waking, just flinching every so often. Veronica had wondered about that idly before. Now she stares him down, evaluating. He catches on right away. "Put away the interrogation lamp. I'm fine."
She tilts her head, but moves on. "So you have something here. What's keeping you there?"
"I love it," he says baldly. "The flying, the squad. Even if it means being stuck on the dark version of the Love Boat for months at a time. And there was a while where knowing that the sarge would be on my ass if I screwed up was the only thing that kept me from doing it. I owe them. I'm in this as a career, not as a placeholder." There's contemplation in his face and his words, in his pause, as he adds, "But I would leave if that's not the kind of relationship you want."
Veronica has never been in a relationship that put its own permanence and possibility forward so clearly. She had taken Piz's word that their moving in together was just convenient for New York real estate and had ignored his gleeful face as he had assumed it meant a step toward something more significant. She tries not to feel scared now, tries to watch Logan's face and focus on his body beneath her, the relaxed solidity of skin and sleek muscle sewn tightly over bone.
"I don't know what kind of relationship I want," she says slowly. He just listens, not reacting. His eyes do not cloud with hurt or confusion. "I don't want one where I force you away from something you love. I don't want one where you get sent away whenever the president decides that everywhere is better with more jets. But we have three years to think about that." She looks directly at him. "You want to figure out what this relationship is? You be Merriam, I'll be Webster. And if we still need help, I do a pretty mean coin toss."
Veronica goes back to sleep for three hours. Logan manages another eight. She rolls her eyes at his poor handling of jet lag, and works until he wakes up. They end up in bed again, eating Chinese out of the cartons while Logan tells funny stories about the new kids on the crew ("you sound like a boy band") and Veronica talks about her latest meeting with the prosecution team. After a while, she makes sure that chopsticks are a comfortable distance from the bed and pushes him down again.
"You're going to make me think you only wanted me back for my body," he informs her.
"Did I give you some other impression?" she retorts, and he laughs, sliding joyous arms around her.
They actually leave the house the next day, going to meet Annie and her husband for brunch. Veronica remembers asking Logan once what the best part of being back on base was. He had replied without hesitation: No one asked me if I did it. Annie and everyone, they apologized about Carrie, but it never occurred to them that I could have. So Veronica has high expectations for Canada Gordon Brendanawicz.
Annie stares at her for a minute, an unsmiling evaluation, before she invites Veronica to sit. Veronica likes that. She likes the sly, lazy way Annie tells a joke, and how can play with her husband's fingers at the same time that she teases him for getting conned into watching the neighbor's kids. She likes the way Annie seems aware of everything that is going on in the diner, and that she yells at the guy in the next booth when he is rude to the waitress. She is still taken aback when Annie gives her a firm hug as they are getting ready to leave.
"You're worth at least half of the times Walker over there mentioned your name," Annie says. "So you exceed expectations." When Logan opens his mouth to protest she points a finger and shuts him down with a glare. "Simmons kept a running tally. You don't want to see the proof."
(Annie also slips her a muffin to go. Veronica likes that too.)
Sometime in the lazy midday after brunch, Veronica receives a text from her father. (Dinner tomorrow night?) and when she reminds him that she is staying with Logan for another couple of days, he says that he was thinking of driving up.
If you promise you're not driving for five hours so you can intimidate Logan, we can do pasta for three.
It ends up being four. Keith brings his girlfriend, Helen, who Veronica has met a couple of times before and found quiet but likeable.
"It's good to have you back," Helen tells Logan as soon as they are introduced. "I know deployment can be grating. My brother was a Marine."
"Jarhead," Logan says automatically, his voice tempered with humor. Veronica suspects that it is an insult and pokes him in the arm with her fork anyway. It is subtle, but Helen is a teacher and has two teenagers at home.
"It's alright. Daniel would probably call him a squid and make fun of his uniform."
"We had some Marines with us this time," Logan puts in. "They were mostly good guys. Knew to keep their comments about the uniform to themselves."
Helen shakes her head. "Daniel never quite learned to keep his smart remarks to himself."
"Invite him along next time," Veronica and Keith say, seeming so in synch that neither can tell who said it first.
Veronica has been trying to read more, to find a hobby that is not cases or law school, so after dinner Helen stands with her outside the restaurant and gives some book recommendations. Out of the corner of her eye, she can see her father and Logan speaking by the curb.
"What were you and my dad talking about before?" she asks Logan, relaxing back in her seat as they drive home. Keith has seemed increasingly supportive over the past few months, but she braces herself for Logan to say "the weather in New York" or "breakthroughs in castration technology."
"He said that next time I was in Neptune, we should all get together again. He wanted to hear more about life onboard." Logan's voice is as casual as the comment, but there's an undercurrent of delight to it as well. She turns her smile out the window and texts her father a thank you without context.
"We've really bonded over the past few months," Veronica says as Logan puts her bag in the trunk a few days later. "It would be a shame for this to end when it's only just begun."
"Do I have to iron a label with my name inside?" Logan asks, swinging himself into the driver's seat. "You can't have my car."
"You're just afraid that she likes me better," Veronica counters. She smoothes a hand over the leather.
Logan points out, "If it's a girl, she definitely likes me better. Girls always like me better," and Veronica pouts until they've reached the highway. Once there, she becomes quickly aware that they are not heading back to Neptune.
"Is this the part where you kidnap me so you never have to clean your own bathroom again?" He rolls his eyes and turns up a long drive with fences on either side. The park beside what looks like a large warehouse.
"There's one more thing I wanted to do before the clock strikes midnight."
She cocks an eyebrow at him. "The movie theater was creative. This is just weird, Logan."
He pulls her toward the building. Inside she sees a snub nosed little plane, white with glossy blue accents. It's vaguely ugly, looking as if it belongs in a cartoon.
"I rent it sometimes," Logan says fondly from behind her. "You'd think I'd get sick of flying when it's my day job, but I like to take this one out when I have the chance." He goes over and starts checking things out. After a moment he comes out and extends a hand to Veronica. "Want to see things from a non-Napoleon perspective?"
"I'm sorry, I only accept historically accurate insults," she says, elbowing him a little as she gets in.
Flying back and forth for the trial has meant that she has needed to accustom herself to air travel. She still isn't entirely comfortable. The plane is small, only two seats, so she thinks that Logan sees the slight clench to her fist as they take off, but she barely notices it herself. As they climb into the sky, Logan has a smile of contained brightness that makes her heart seize just a little in a way unrelated to altitude. As they level out, she relaxes beside him, nodding when he shouts "Isn't it great?" and trusting his hands, his control of metal and air, to carry her safely with him.
I don't have any more planned, but if you want to PM me with prompts to continue any of the plotlines in the story, I'll try to work on those. They definitely won't be started for a few weeks, though. I'm planning on working on The Ninety-Nine Percent, and I also have finals coming up. (Yeah, I have a real life. Sometimes I forget too.)
Anyway, thanks so much for reading!