"This is even more boring than the last stakeout," Logan griped. "You said we'd be done in an hour."
"Last week, they left her office together at 5:30 and they were here by 6," Veronica explained, watching for the blue Taurus as other cars occasionally pulled into the secluded lot. "If I hadn't killed my camera battery, I would have been out of there with the money shot by 6:15."
Logan glanced at the clock on Veronica's dashboard. "Well, it's 7:26 and they're not here yet. Maybe since it's Valentine's Day, they decided to go somewhere a little nicer than Rest Stop 15 for their regular Thursday Night Special."
She blushed at the mention of the holiday.
"Hey, Supafly, did you get someone to take my place on Thursday?" Wallace had asked earlier in the week.
"Yeah, I asked Logan."
"What?" she asked. "We're friends now. It's no big deal."
"Yeah, it's no big deal that you invited Logan to a makeout spot on Valentine's Day."
"Thursday is freaking Valentine's Day?!" Veronica screeched. Her palm went to her forehead with a loud smack.
"Duh. I thought you knew," Wallace said dryly. "That's why I have plans. I can't spend the most romantic holiday of the year with you when I've got a new girl to impress."
Veronica dropped her hand and sighed. "You know what? It's fine. We're friends, and we've been that way for a while now. We'll go, we'll get the photo, and we'll come back. No big deal."
"Okaaaay…" Wallace singsonged. Veronica punched him in the arm.
"Stop that. I told you, Logan and I are friends and that's it."
"Sure, whatever you say."
"What?" he asked. "I'm agreeing with you."
Veronica growled in frustration as she stomped off.
"Happy Valentine's Day!" he yelled after her with a grin.
"I, uh, didn't really realize that today was Valentine's Day when I asked you to do this," Veronica explained. "We don't have to wait around anymore if you, y'know, had plans."
"Other than a Pi Sig party featuring Dick dressed as Cupid?" Logan rolled his eyes. "No."
Veronica snorted. "I think we all saw enough of Dick in a diaper when he played Baby New Year."
"Seeing that sober once was enough—the image is still burned into my retinas."
Veronica still sometimes found Logan's sobriety hard to believe. She'd first heard about it from Mac, during one of their frequent phone calls while Veronica was in Washington interning for the FBI.
"How's the web site going?"
"Better every day," Mac replied. "I'm not going to be able to retire before graduation, but I think my student loans will get paid off sooner than I thought."
"No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public," Veronica said wryly.
Mac giggled. "The mission statement of Echolls-Mackenzie, Ltd."
"You have a name now?"
"We were contacted by a few parties that want to license the 'Grade My Ass' design module, so we thought we should make it all official-like," Mac explained. "Cliff found us a corporate lawyer to do the paperwork and register the name and everything. We're the real deal."
"How is it that the name of the guy who writes the checks comes before the name of the girl who does all the work?" Veronica asked, a little more snidely than she intended.
Mac was silent for a moment before speaking. "First of all, the issue was settled via Mario Kart. Second of all, Logan isn't just the guy who writes the checks." Her tone was uncharacteristically snippy. "He does all the business and marketing stuff for the site. I'm doing the programming and design, but he's the reason we're making money."
"I was just kidding," Veronica huffed.
"No, you weren't," Mac said. "And I'm tired of listening to your little backhanded insults about him."
"Wow," Veronica replied. "I had no idea…"
"Look, I'm sorry I flew off the handle"—Veronica smirked at Mac's idea of "flying off the handle"—"but Logan's my business partner and my friend. I wouldn't let anyone talk that way about you, and I'm not going to let you talk that way about him. I'm not sure if you really don't like him or you're just trying to convince yourself that you don't, but I don't want to hear it anymore."
"So he's actually taking this web site thing seriously, hmm?" Veronica asked, ignoring the implied question in Mac's last sentence.
"'Grade My Ass' is serious business, missy," Mac said, back to her usual cheerful demeanor. "Logan's taking a marketing course in summer school to keep up." She brought her voice down to a stage whisper. "I've even heard him turn down party invitations because he needed to stay in and study!"
Veronica gasped exaggeratedly.
"I know! And…"
Mac sighed. "This is really none of your business, but…."
"Mac…" Veronica said warningly. Her friend was quiet for a moment and Veronica knew she was fidgeting with a strand of hair while she thought.
"If you repeat this to anyone," Mac finally said, "I will hack into the Hearst system again and switch your class schedule with Dick's."
Veronica shuddered. "Agreed. Now what happened?"
"Logan quit drinking," Mac said simply.
"I've been meaning to tell you," Veronica said, staring straight ahead into the darkness, pointedly not looking at the occupants of the other cars nearby. "I think it's really great that you stopped drinking on your own. I'm really proud of you."
Logan rolled his eyes. "Don't patronize me," he mumbled, looking out the side window.
"'Well done!'" he said mockingly. "'I'm so glad you're not such a drunken screw-up anymore, Logan. Here's a cookie.'"
"Damn it, Logan, I didn't mean it like that." She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. "God, you're frustrating sometimes."
He looked over at her and raised an eyebrow.
Her voice was slow and controlled as she tried not to yell at him. "I'm just saying—you and I know better than most people about how alcohol can mess things up, for yourself and everyone around you. And I'm just impressed that you were strong enough to counteract your family history to make sure that wouldn't happen to you. That's all."
"Sure, and you weren't just waiting with bated breath until I picked up the bottle again so you could be right about me," Logan spat.
"So you just held on to that speech for six months because…?"
"Because, Logan," she said, trying hard to be patient, "this is the first time we've been alone since I got back from DC."
He looked down for a moment. "Oh…yeah, you're right." He pulled at his sleeves, and she was glad to see that habit hadn't disappeared since she always found it kind of adorable. "Sorry, it's still sort of a touchy subject with some of my old friends. Dick still hasn't made peace with it."
Veronica smirked. "Well, the Red Bull problem you're cultivating is going to stop your heart someday, so you've got that."
The corner of his mouth turned up a little bit and he glanced briefly at her. "I had to replace one drinking problem with another one." He shrugged. "At least the caffeine won't make me wrap my car around a tree."
Veronica scoffed. "That remains to be seen. You drive too fast as it is."
"All part of my bad-boy charm."
"Yeah, the bad boy who made the dean's list last semester," Veronica said. "You hard-core, vato." She thumped her chest with her fist and flashed a PCH gang sign.
Logan laughed. "Hey, I can still slack with the best of them. I'm not that evolved yet. Besides, I'm not the only one growing."
"I stopped growing in the ninth grade." She patted the top of her head. 'It looks like five-foot-one is as good as it's gonna get."
"You know what I mean, Veronica," he said with a straight face. "You've been different since last summer. You're…I don't know, more relaxed or something."
"Less controlling, maybe?" she asked. "More willing to actually listen to what other people have to say?"
He nodded slightly.
"Thanks for noticing," she joked. "I've been working on that."
"What brought this on?" Logan asked sincerely.
Veronica looked down at her fingers, which were entangled in her camera strap. "At the FBI, the interns spent a week or two in each department, learning about what they do and helping out with special projects, and at the end of each session, the department head would give us a little review." She glanced up at him and saw he was listening intently, and she looked back at her hands. "Every supervisor said something like 'Ms. Mars has good investigative skills, blah, blah, blah, but has an intense need to control every situation.' 'Needs to trust her team members more.' Et cetera, et cetera."
Logan pursed his lips. "Too bad no one's ever told you that before."
She narrowed her eyes at him and tried not to get angry, because she knew he was right. "I know. And you weren't the only one—my dad, Wallace, Duncan… But I guess it was different to see it in black and white like that, from people who didn't have any history with me."
"I can see that," Logan conceded.
"Then when I came home, and saw how you and Mac and Max and Wallace were hanging out and having so much fun…I mean, Wallace wasn't even here most of the summer and he slipped right into the group without a beat. I wanted that too. I didn't want to come in and disrupt everything. I just—" She stopped and took a deep breath. "I just wanted to be with my friends. I…missed you guys."
Logan tilted his head down to force her to meet his eyes. "We missed you too," he said with a little smile. "I still see your inner control freak rear its ugly head once in a while, but since it's usually directed at a professor or a class project and not me, it's kind of cute now."
She just smiled and didn't say anything in response.
Sometime after she returned from Washington, Veronica discovered one day that she was happier. She didn't know exactly when it had happened, but she knew why: Trying to control everything and everyone all the time was exhausting and stressful, and letting go of that wasn't as hard as she thought it would be. In fact, it was a pretty huge relief.
As a result, she was really enjoying her friends a lot more—especially Logan. She rediscovered how much she just liked being around him. The problem was that being around Logan was only serving to remind her of how much she liked being under him…and on top of him…Veronica tried not to think of him that way, to think of him as just a friend, but it wasn't working.
When they were all hanging out together, playing video games in Logan's suite or eating at the food court at school, Veronica sometimes found herself staring at him—watching his hands fly animatedly as he told a story or noticing how his face grew serious when he and Mac talked shop. Wallace had already caught Veronica staring, and teased her relentlessly about it when they were alone. Logan actually saw her watching him once, and he gave her a shy little wave and a smile. Mac unintentionally saved her by announcing that it was her turn to battle the digital aliens.
Logan leaned back and stretched. Veronica forced herself not to stare at the skin that was bared when his shirt hiked up. "You know, the LeBaron had her charms," he said, dropping his arms to his sides, "but there is something to be said for the legroom in this Saturn. If I had to sit in your old car for this long, I'd need to see a chiropractor."
"Sorry it's taking so much time," Veronica said. "Thanks for doing this."
"Well, when you said you needed someone to be your pretend car-makeout partner, it sounded like a role I was uniquely well-prepared for."
Veronica's stomach flipped and her cheeks grew hot.
"And it's a lame holiday anyway," he added.
"Really?" she asked, a little surprised.
"Really. You haven't heard my anti-Valentine's Day rant yet?"
"We've, um, never been together for Valentine's Day," Veronica said. Logan furrowed his brow in thought. "Remember last year? When I was in lockup?" she added.
"Ah, yes. Good times." He nodded knowingly. "Anyway, it goes something like this: Valentine's Day is designed to sell flowers and cards and make people feel like crap." Seeing Veronica's questioning look, he continued. "See, if you're with somebody, you expect to have this perfect day of love and romance, and expectations are so high, it's bound to be a letdown. Thus, you feel like crap. If you're not with somebody, you feel like crap because you think everyone else is having a perfect day of love and romance. And this tirade is usually accompanied by some impassioned hand waving." He fluttered his hands about to demonstrate.
"I had no idea you felt that way," Veronica giggled.
"The whole forced romance thing isn't for me. I prefer the spontaneous approach," Logan said with a shrug.
"I remember," she replied softly. Her thoughts drifted to the top shelf of her bedroom closet, which held a box of little notes she'd received from Logan over the years.
They'd been slipped between the pages of her textbooks, left under the windshield wiper of her car, and laid on her pillow. They were sweet ("You're going to kick ass on your exam—I love you") and a little dirty ("I can't think of anything except what you did to me last night—come over again tonight and I'll do it to you"), and every one of them was quirkily romantic and uniquely Logan ("By the way, I took your panties").
Veronica had come across the box when she was unpacking after her internship, and as she re-read them, she grew sad as she realized how much she'd taken Logan for granted, choosing to instead focus on his flaws.
"There's another car coming," he interrupted. "It looks like a blue Taurus."
She looked over her shoulder. "That's the one."
Logan turned his palms up and waggled his fingers. "Come on, gimme some sugar."
As she scooted toward him, she tried to convince herself that this was just a job. I just did this with Wallace last week, she thought. It's the same thing. But as Logan put his arms around her, her body automatically relaxed into his embrace. Oh, this is not the same thing. She breathed deeply, burying her face in his neck as the Taurus' headlights briefly illuminated the interior of her car.
"I think they've passed us," Logan whispered in her ear. Her spine tingled.
She opened her eyes, her cheek still on his shoulder, and looked out his window. "Yeah, we're good." They both sat back in their seats, and she immediately missed his warmth. "But they parked on your side—we have to switch places. Scooch."
"We can't get out of the car or we'll draw attention to ourselves," Veronica explained. "I'm going to climb over you, and you can move over to the driver's seat."
She stood as best as she could, bracing her hands against the dashboard and the headrest, while Logan tried to slide underneath her. His knee rubbed up against her thigh, and she closed her eyes as she resisted the urge to press her body against his.
"Wait, don't move," he said suddenly. Veronica looked behind her to see that he was straddling the gear shift. "One bad move now and it's going to be the end of the illustrious Echolls lineage. Let me get my leg over to this side before you do anything else."
Logan folded up his long leg and pulled it onto the driver's side. "OK," he said. She let go of the dash and fell into the passenger seat with a thump. "Very graceful," he said, raising an eyebrow.
Veronica ignored him as she pointed her camera out the window, trying to get a clear shot of the cheating wife and her boyfriend. "Damn it, the car is at a bad angle. I'm going to have to get closer."
"I thought you said we couldn't get out of the car," Logan said.
"I have to or I'm going to be here again next week," Veronica said. "I'll just sneak over there, get a few shots off, then we'll go."
Logan rubbed his hair. "I don't like this."
"It's going to be fine. I've done this before. Just keep the engine running." Before he could protest, she slid out of the car, closed the door quietly, and started creeping over to the Taurus.
Logan squinted against the darkness as he watched her move closer to the other car. Veronica clicked the shutter a few times, then began slinking back toward him. He looked down to turn the key in the ignition, and when he looked back up, he saw the cheating wife's boyfriend emerging from his car.
"Veronica!" Logan yelled. He panicked as he realized she didn't hear him through the closed door, nor did she hear the boyfriend closing in on her. Logan reached across the seat and flung the car door open. "Behind you!"
When she turned and saw the man coming after her, Veronica broke into a dead run. She slipped on the gravel as she scrambled into the car, slamming the door and yelling, "Go go go!" Logan threw the car into gear and spun the tires as he peeled out of the lot.
Veronica watched out the back window. "They're following us!" Logan heard the squeal of tires behind them. "Turn right!" she yelled, and he followed orders.
He sped up the PCH, gripping the steering wheel so tightly his hands ached as he maneuvered Veronica's car around the road's dangerous twists and turns.
"Keep going!" Veronica cried as she continued watching their pursuers. She looked ahead and saw that they were coming up on a familiar turn. "When you go around that next turn, turn off the headlights and then make another quick left."
"Turn off the headlights? Are you insane?" he shouted.
"Trust me," she said, putting a hand on his shoulder.
After he made the turn, Logan turned off the headlights as instructed, casting them into almost total darkness.
"The next left is right here," she said, patting his shoulder agitatedly. He made the turn and realized they were heading up a short path into a little clearing that would be barely visible from the road. "Now just follow around to the right there, that's it. OK, kill the engine."
They sat quietly for a moment, holding their breath. Then, through the trees, they saw the blue Taurus fly past them, still in pursuit.
She slumped against her seat and closed her eyes. Logan sat up quickly and grabbed her shoulders. "Are you OK? Did you get hurt? Veronica!"
Her eyes flew open. "I'm fine! I'm fine!" She looked into his widened eyes and saw how truly scared he was for her. She put a hand on his cheek and said softly, "Hey, I'm OK."
Logan exhaled loudly. "Jesus, Veronica." He dropped his forehead onto her shoulder and she stroked his hair.
"I'm sorry," she said. "That really wasn't supposed to go that way. And I will never complain about your lead foot again."
Logan chuckled, the sound muffled against her jacket. As he pulled back, his cheek brushed lightly against hers. He paused, still looking down, but his face was just a few inches from hers. They were both still breathing hard, and Veronica realized her hands were still resting on the back of his head. She ran her fingers softly down the back of his neck to see how he'd react.
He looked up into her eyes, and she saw the corners of his mouth turn up ever-so-slightly. It was all the encouragement Veronica needed—she pulled Logan toward her, pressing her mouth to his. He responded by clasping her face in his hands and deepening the kiss, and she sighed against his lips.
Veronica wrapped her arms around his back and pulled him closer to her. It had been far too long, and she wanted to savor the way he felt against her body, the way he tasted against her lips. Then she put her hands against his shoulders and pushed him back. "Wait!"
"Are you serious?" Logan was still out of breath.
"Yes. I…we…before this goes any further, I need to know—is this just a hopped-up-on-adrenaline, heat-of-the-moment thing, or…" She bit her lower lip.
"V'ronica," he began and she wanted to cry. He was the only one who said her name like that, and he only did it during quiet, intimate moments. She hadn't heard it in such a long time that the simple mashing together of those first two syllables made a tear run down her face. Logan saw it and wiped it away with his thumb. "I still love you. I never stopped, even though I thought we were over. And with the way things have been between us lately, I was starting to think that there might be some hope for us. I was just waiting for a chance to be alone and, y'know, talk—and see where things stood."
"So you picked Valentine's Day?" she laughed, blinking back the last of her tears. "Isn't that a little cliché, Mr. Spontaneity?"
"Not when it includes car chases and death-defying stunts," Logan said with an eye-roll. "Welcome to a romantic holiday with Veronica Mars."
"Get used to it," Veronica said, pulling him toward her again. She kissed him hungrily, clutching the lapels of his jacket in her fists as if he might disappear if she let go. Logan moved his mouth away from hers, to the sensitive spot just below her ear.
"Oh God, Logan, I've wanted you to do that for so long," she moaned. "Oh, I love that."
"I love doing it to you," he murmured against her neck, making her gasp in pleasure. She tried to pull him closer to her.
"Ow!" Logan yelled as his knee collided with the gear shift. "Damn it, this thing is out to get me."
Veronica ran her hand up his thigh. "You know, this car does have a lot of room in the back seat."
Logan kissed her on the mouth, then whispered, "It's been more than a year, V'ronica. Our first time back is not going to be in your car." He kissed her left temple and her eyes fluttered shut. "We are going back to my place, so I can take my time making love to you…" He kissed her right temple. "…licking…and sucking…and kissing…and making you come over and over until you're screaming my name…" He kissed her nose. "…and we finally fall asleep naked in each other's arms." He kissed her forehead. "Then we're going to start our day tomorrow with me soaping you up and then pressing your back up against the tile in my shower, followed by a big breakfast." He kissed her on the mouth again.
She let out a little sigh and opened her eyes. "Let's move then! What are you waiting for, Speed Racer?"
Veronica and Logan both fell back into their seats, hastily adjusting themselves and fumbling with their seatbelts. Logan put his hand on the gear shift handle.
She put her hand over his. "Wait! Not yet."
"You have got to be kidding me with this."
Veronica slipped her hand under his, and brought it up to her face. She closed her eyes tight and rested her forehead against their clasped hands. "I love you," she said, unable to look at him. "I was too terrified to say it before—and admittedly, it still scares me a little—but I do love you. So much." She kissed Logan's hand, then lowered it as she opened her eyes and found his intense stare fixed on her.
Then he grinned and looked over his shoulder. "You're right—that back seat is really roomy."
"No way. Your plan was much better." She leaned in to kiss him, and she pressed her tongue into his mouth. Logan groaned and she pulled away. "Come on! Go go go!"
Logan threw the car into drive and hit the gas, and they were off.