A/N: Post-1x18 fic that goes AU thereafter. Characters of Veronica Mars are the property of Rob Thomas and UPN. Some lines from within this piece are adapted from Black Cadillac - more specifics are given at the end of this fic.


"Well, if it isn't the future Pulitzer winner of Neptune High," Wallace greets Veronica, as she approached her locker after classes.

"More like the future call girl of Neptune, California," she hears Dick remark nastily, before cackling at his own immense hilarity. While she had almost come to expect that sort of snide comment from the 09'ers, she was well beyond the point of taking their abuse without complaint.

She turns to reply with a snark of her own, when she hears a voice say, "God, man, don't you have a mind of your own? That bit about Veronica is so old and overdone. Show some originality for once, Dick."

It sounds like Logan's voice, and she sees that he's the one staring at Dick with a look of utter disdain, but Veronica still couldn't help but wonder if her senses were deceiving her.

Had Logan Echolls – her primary tormentor for the past year – just defended her?

Their eyes lock, and he offers a weak smile before continuing on his way down the hallway.

Amazing. All she had to do to get the 09'ers off her back was to make out with head 09'er Logan and act as if she had a serious crush on him. Which she didn't.

She couldn't.

As she remembers the feel of his lips on her own, of his arms wrapped around her, of the chemistry that sparked between them, she knows that she's only lying to herself.

But that doesn't matter. After all, Logan was Lilly's boyfriend and Duncan's best friend. Even if she suspends reality enough to presume that he liked her like that, it would still be beyond weird. And awkward. And wrong.

Even though those kisses they'd shared had felt oh so right.

"So what are you up to tonight, Miss Super-Sleuth?"

"Not much. I have some cases I need to catch up on, and I'll probably listen to that new CD that I bought last week." She unlatches her locker, as she turns to look at her best friend. "What are you up to?"

"Babysitting while our 'rents go out on that dinner date my mom has been talking about since Monday. So I'll be entertaining my bro, while trying not to think of how our parents are keeping each other entertained."

"Ugh, I did not need that mental picture," Veronica gripes, as she reaches for her bookbag. "I think I'll need to add 'bleaching my mind' to my to-do list for the night."

"Just be glad that you only have your overactive imagination to deal with and that you don't have to see any of that – " Wallace's voice trails off, for a moment, before he clears his throat and continues, "Stuff first hand."

Veronica wasn't so sure. True, when she didn't have visual proof of an event, she could live in denial, pretending that something wasn't true, that she was simply letting her imagination run away with her.

But she was very good – almost too good – at visualizing various situations and she feared that her mental images of what could be happening between her dad and Alicia would be enough to haunt her anyhow.

Her vivid memory and imagination might be helpful when she was working on a case, but when it came to her personal life, it was more of a detriment than a benefit.

Take Logan, for example. When she walked into journalism that morning, after her exposé on Ben had run, she saw the look that he shot in her direction. It was the same look that she'd seen on his face when she drove away from the Camelot. It was a look of "What happens next?"

She knew that Logan would have followed her lead – especially after Miss Stafford mentioned that she was being replaced by yet another teacher. A substitute for a substitute teacher is hardly likely to have a firm grasp on a class, and Veronica was tempted to excuse herself, in hopes that he would follow and they could have a sun-kissed afternoon together.

Instead, she told herself that with Duncan gone, it was important to make sure that the Navigator stayed on track, so she took on a leadership role by assigning pieces for the next issue and doing whatever she could to stop her memory of Logan's kiss from replaying in her mind.

As much as she tried to tell herself that her decision to be a good journalist that afternoon was because of the responsibility she felt towards the school paper, she knew it was a lie.

In reality, she was afraid. Not afraid of Logan, no. She knew that despite all the shit he'd put her through over the past year, he wouldn't do anything to physically harm her. Why, back in September, he'd damaged her car, yes, but he had never actually broken any part of her.

Except for her spirit, all those months ago, when she made the choice to stand by her father rather than with her friends. And now, she was afraid that he would end up breaking her heart.

Her reaction to Logan was electric, and she feared that spending more time with him would change her, would change everything.

She meant what she'd told Meg a few weeks ago – she wasn't programmed to just forgive and forget. Logan's transgressions since Lilly's murder had been amongst the worst, and yet here she was, entertaining thoughts of starting a fling or a relationship (or, more likely, a mistake) with him.

For all she knew, this was some elaborate plot of his. Get pitiful Veronica Mars to fall for the wonderful Logan Echolls, as he romances her. Then, after she's head over heels, madly in love and willing to do anything anywhere, reveal his evil plot to further humiliate her, embarrass her, and destroy her.

She wants to trust him, to see where this could go. After all, the Logan she once knew would never do anything like that to her, or to anyhow.

Then again, the Logan she once knew wouldn't vandalize her car or call her a slut.

"What's that?" Wallace asks, pulling her away from her internal musings. He's pointing at a compact disc that's poking out of her purse. She quickly reaches for the disc, examining it herself It's simply labeled in black Sharpie as "a clue."

"A clue?" she questions rhetorically. "A clue to what?"

Wallace shrugs. "Go play it in your car when you're on your way home, or wherever you're going."

"Come on, Wallace," Veronica begins. "You're the only one in this school who knows my combination. Just tell me what it is already."

"Hey, now, I wouldn't break into your locker!"

She looks at him skeptically, evaluating his posture and eye movement. He's telling the truth.

"Besides, if I did, it would be for a much better reason than to leave behind what's most likely nothing more than a shitty mix tape." He pauses for moment before breaking out into song. "Secret Agent Man! Secret Agent Man! Giving you a number and taking away your name."

"Seriously, Wallace," Veronica began, cutting him off before he got too into his poor rendition of the Johnny Rivers song, "Swear on your top-bunk-to-be, it wasn't you?"

Wallace mockingly holds up his right hand and responds, "I Wallace Fennell, do hereby solemnly swear on my top-bunk-to-be that I did not place said CD in the locker of one Veronica Mars."

"Okay," Veronica accedes with a nod. "Do you need a ride home?"

"Nope," he replies, jangling his own keys before her face. "I need to head directly to the elementary school and let the babysitting begin!"

With a grin, Veronica watches him head towards the parking lot, leaving her alone with the mysterious CD.

If Wallace hadn't placed it in her locker, then who did? And why?

"Veronica Mars!" a deep James Earl Jones-esque voice booms over her low-tech car speakers, as she pulls out of the Neptune High parking lot. "Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to follow the given clues until you reach the end result and your just reward."

Veronica wonders what the hell the voice is talking about. End result? Just reward? How was she supposed to know that Weidman wasn't behind this whole thing anyhow?

"Your first clue should lead you to the location where streaming video technology combined with the beginning of your social downfall," the bass voice continues. "Good luck."

Now she's really confused. How could streaming video be combined to the ruination of her reputation and her loss of status at Neptune High?

Sure, if it hadn't been for the streaming video that made half the town into millionaires overnight, Lilly's murder wouldn't have been such a devastating blow to the community, and the Kanes wouldn't be the town royalty. But there was hardly a single location that could possibly represent all of that.

What if someone had video footage of her rape? Shelly's house couldn't possibly be the location the clue was pointing her towards, right?

No, if there was video of her roofied sex-capades at Shelly's party on the internet, she would have heard about it by now. Besides, her social ostracism began well before she was roofied at the life-changing end of the year party.

In fact, it all started shortly after Mark and Jordan found the footage of the murder scene online, when Logan accused her and her father of destroying the Kane family.

The library? Could the mysterious voice really be sending her to the school library?

Veronica quickly pulls a U-turn at the next stop sign and starts heading back in the opposite direction. She might not know what the end result would be – and, if she were honest, she'd admit to more than a slight fear of her "just reward." Still, these clues appeared to have some connection to the very same murder that had driven her life for these past few months.

When she enters the library, Veronica quickly makes a beeline for the computers, where she encountered Jordan and Mark over a year ago.

She searches on the desks, behind the monitors, around the hard drives, and beneath the chairs in the library for any sort of clue. No luck. She knows it would be much easier if she had any idea as to the appearance of her hidden clue.

Along the back of a nearby bookshelf, she finally finds a plain manila envelope on a nearby table. It's simply labeled with her full name. Clearly the person behind this whole arrangement wasn't a fan of being overly verbose.

Inside the envelope, she finds another CD – which is again labeled "a clue" – along with an 8x10 photograph with a thick white border around the edge of the image.

The photo is a blurry shot of her and Lilly laughing in the halls of Neptune High. Scrawled around the edges with a black felt tip pen are the words, Her laugh used to echo down the halls after class.

Reading those words confirms what she's suspected from the beginning – this is definitely about Lilly. However, if the mastermind of this fucked-up "treasure hunt" thinks that a few blurry photographs can be used as evidence in a murder investigation, he is sorely mistaken.

As she idly twirls the newest CD on her index finger, Veronica heads back to her car, wondering where this next clue will be sending her.

"Veronica Mars!" the same sonorous voice sounds, as she starts her engine. "Congratulations on completing your first task. Your next destination is the location where you are still owed an apology."

An apology? She wonders who the hell is prying into her personal life, for the sole purpose of providing her with these inane clues. There are dozens of people in Neptune who probably owe her an apology for their behavior over the past year.

Wait a second – the voice had mentioned a particular location, and she'd already determined that this whole mystery scavenger hunt was related to Lilly somehow.

Could Dog Beach be the intended destination? A bit of a reach, yes, but both Weevil and Logan were important men in Lilly's life. The conflict between them now, after her death, could be representative of the same clash that had occurred during her too-short life.

Additionally, it was there that Weevil had informed her that Logan owed her an apology, months ago. But if Weevil had found something out about Lilly's murder, someone would probably be in the hospital right now, as Weevil sat in jail cooling his often too-hot head.

While Weevil was likely not the one orchestrating this whole thing, Veronica didn't have a clue as to where else she should head. Dog Beach it would be. And if she couldn't find any clues there, she'd just have to evaluate her other options.

"So now your cases are leading you to the beach?" Wallace asks teasingly, as she approaches. "Tough job you have there, Miss PI. If only the Sac'N'Pak would send me to the beach."

Veronica rolls her eyes. "It's that CD that you saw in my locker. It sent me here. Well, not directly here, but yeah."

She pauses to shove her hands in her pockets and looks at Wallace expectantly. "Have you seen my next clue? Or do you have any idea where it might be?"

"Awww, isn't that sweet? The same person who put the mix tape in your locker is sending you on a treasure hunt. How adorable!"

"Yeah, he's an absolute doll," Veronica replies sarcastically. "Any help?"

Wallace glances around the beach, making a big show of checking every possible location. He looks on the on the sides of the palm trees, underneath nearby trashcans, inside his book bag …

Wait. Wallace is pulling a very familiar looking manila envelope from his bag – one that looks very similar to the one that she found in the high school library.

"And it looks like the top bunk is mine," Veronica crows, as she reaches to snatch the envelope from his grasp.

"Not so fast, missy," he scolds her, pulling the envelope out of her reach. "I didn't put that damn CD in your locker."

"Oh, really now?" Veronica asks skeptically. "Then how did my next clue get into your backpack?"

"Never said I didn't help someone else put that stuff in your locker, did I?" he replies. "And before you waste your breath, I'm not gonna tell you who did put it there. Use that overactive brain of yours and figure it out for yourself."

With that, Wallace hands over the envelope, to which Veronica responds, "You're infuriating."

"You love me anyway," Wallace responds with a glib grin, as she pulls another 8x10 photograph from within the envelope.

This image is a black and white photograph, with a much sharper contrast than the previous photo. It appeared to show a couple kissing, although Veronica couldn't be sure since she could only just make out the top of the man's head. The back of the long-haired woman was facing the camera.

She tries to examine the few visible features that she has to work with, determined to find something to distinguish the pair so that she can identify them.

She reads the same jagged scrawl that frames the photo, hoping that the words will again give her a clue as to the purpose of the photograph. The last one had hinted at the fact that Lilly's death was involved with these obscure clues she was getting. Maybe this one would allude to the supposed guilty party.

I can almost see her face.

"No, you really can't," Wallace voices, verbalizing Veronica's own thoughts.

"Who do you think it is?" Veronica queries.

"Hi, I've lived in Neptune for a grand total of five months. You know these much better than I do. How the hell should I know?"

"You know the student body better than I do," Veronica begins, before Wallace interrupts her with a snort. "Appearance-wise, anyhow. Pretty much everyone has reason to be in the office at some point."

"Point granted," Wallace acknowledges. "But how do you know that this is a photo of a high school student?"

"I don't," she concedes. "But it seems like a logical place to start anyhow."

He nods silently, as he takes a corner of the photograph in his hands. The pair searches the unconcealed portions of the man's face, as if the answers to everything and anything could be found there.

"He didn't tell you about these clues?" Veronica asks, as her frustration builds.

"He who?" Wallace returns innocently. "Never told you a guy was behind this, did I?"

"No," she grumbles, annoyed that Wallace wouldn't let any clues as slip so easily.

"I'm sorry, but the individual didn't reveal the master plan to me. And that's all I'm sayin'." He pauses before adding, "You say this stuff has to do with Lilly?"

"Again, it seems like a logical conclusion. Everything else has more or less had a connection so far. It's the only thing that really makes sense."

"Could the guy in the photo be Logan?"

"Well, I suppose that the words could be referring to Lilly. Like, they 'can almost see her face' in their memories." She brings the photo closer to her fast and squints, as she examines it further. "I really wish this photograph wasn't in black and white."

"Now what fun would that be?" Wallace teases.

Veronica sighs aloud in response. "Lot of help you are."

"Hey, no!" he objects. "I figured out the Logan connection, thank you very much. Sheesh, see if I ever help you again!"

"Aw, come on. You know I was just kidding. Thanks, Wallace." She peeks into the envelope again before adding, "Any chance you have a CD hiding anywhere?"

"Everything I got was in that envelope."

"Hey, Veronica!"

She turns to see Darrell running towards them, Wallace's remote-control airplane in hand.

"Hey, Darrell," she greets him affectionately. "Having fun?"

"Yeah, Wallace is letting me fly his plane – all by myself!"

"Is that so?" she asks indulgently. "He's a great brother, isn't he?"

"The best!" he enthuses, as Veronica sneaks a glance at her best friend. If there was one good thing about her dad dating Alicia, it was that she's become closer to Wallace and Darrell. It's almost as if they're the surrogate siblings she never had.

"Veronica?" Darrell asks hesitantly.

"Yeah, sport?" she replies, crouching down to look him in the eyes.

"Your car … "

Veronica feels a chill at the younger Fennell's words. Déjà vu. She turns to look, half-afraid that Logan would be reclining on the hood of her car with a crowbar once again.

Instead, she sees five brightly-colored latex balloons attached to her mirrors, blowing in the breeze. Curious as to their sudden appearance, Veronica cautiously approaches the vehicle, with Wallace and Darrell following in her footsteps.

Underneath her windshield wipers, she finds an off-white envelope that bears only her name in the same print that she found on the clue-containing packages earlier that afternoon. She examines it carefully, feeling the square edges of whatever is contained within it.

"Ya think it's a letter bomb or something?" Wallace asks incredulously. "Just open it, girl!"

With a roll of her eyes, Veronica, carefully untucks the flap and pulls out a four-by-six inch card. The words Happy Birthday are printed on the front in a delicate script with gold embossing. The letters "un" are scrawled in black magic marker, making the final message Happy Un-Birthday.

Happy Un-Birthday? But to whom? And why?

She fingers the edges of the card carefully before she lifts the cover to find six simple words in a flowing calligraphic script.

Please join me in celebration tonight.

Veronica's mind floods with questions after she reads the short phrase. Who would she be joining? Where? When?

Her eyes fly towards Wallace, as if he holds the answers to her questions.

"Don't look at me like that. I don't know any more details than you do."

She tilts her head to the side and wonders what she'd have to say or do to get her best friend to disclose at the very least the name of the mastermind behind this whole plot.

"Miss Mars?" an accented British voice queries, interrupting her train of thought.

"Y – yes?" she replies, turning to see a graying man dressed in a tuxedo.

"I have been instructed to be your escort, should you wish to attend the celebration."

She pauses before replying, uncertain if going on this mystery date is in her best interests. She looks at Wallace for a signal of some nature, sees him nod slightly with a tiny smile on his lips, and then nods herself in affirmation.

"I'd like that," Veronica accepts.

"Very good, miss," the chauffer accedes, ushering her towards the limousine parked just across the lot.

She takes her seat in the big car wordlessly, trying to make sense of the latest sequence of events. She had been so certain that the clues she had been following pertained to Lilly. They seemed to speak of her life, of her spirit, and of her absence.

But the invitation had thrown everything askew.

She spies a manila envelope on the other side of the limo, and again the envelope bears her name. She reaches for it quickly, wondering if another photo or clue might lie within that would give her any indication about what she should expect from the upcoming "celebration."

Inside the envelope, she finds another photograph – the clear, bright colors make the subject of the image much more obvious.

It's her, standing at her locker with a brilliant smile upon her face. There's nothing extraordinary about her – it's an everyday picture of an everyday girl.

Except in this photograph, she's an everyday girl who looks absolutely beautiful.

She's always thought of herself as the smart one, or the sassy one. She has never thought of herself as being the pretty one.

But in this photograph, maybe she is.

She pushes that thought from her mind, instead focusing on the words that are scribbled around the edge of the photograph.

I was hoping that maybe by the time I graduated, there would be this girl.

Could it really be that her afternoon had been spent pursing a series of clues that were not related to Lilly at all? Was the day's intrigue actually about her?

Before she could fully analyze what that could mean, and who would be willing to spend the time to organize the series of clues for nothing more than an entertaining diversion, the limo pulls to a stop.

She looks out the window and is more than a little surprised at what she sees. The tall mansion rising before her and the perfectly manicured lawn around the car are standard characteristics of any home in the 09'er zip.

But, as with anything, it's the little details that make all the difference. Veronica recognizes a second-story window from which she had dropped water balloons during an all-out water war four summers earlier. She sees the tall and sturdy oak tree against which she first learned to do a handstand.

And, as the door of the limousine opens before her, she sees the face of the last person she would have suspected as being behind the mystery that had kept her on the run all day.

"I'm glad you're here, Veronica," he greets her, extending his arm to help her out of the car, as if she were all dolled up in a swank evening gown rather than her faded blue jeans and tee-shirt. She rolls her eyes at his attempt at chivalry and easily steps out of the car without any assistance from him.

"I suppose I should thank you for the invitation," she begins, as he escorts her towards his house. "Still, I have to admit that I'm more curious about why I'm here."

"I think that dinner would be a good place to start, right? Tonight we have fettuccine alfredo with grilled chicken, since that was always one of your favorites."

He ushers her inside the pool house, and she notices that the poker table that stood in the middle of the room upon her last visit has been replaced with a smaller-sized dinner table. The lights are dimmed, and candles are lit around the room, giving it more of a romantic feel.

"Logan, what's going on?" she asks quietly, as she gazes around the room. She wonders if this is some odd variation on a date but bites back the words before they cross her lips.

"Veronica, I was hoping that maybe by the time I graduated, there would be this girl. This girl who would love me, without me having to say a thing. Her laugh would echo down the hall, after class."

She recognizes some of his words from the clues that were scrawled around the edges of the photographs. Was this whole mystery really about her? And, if so, why her? What made her so special?

Before she can ask those questions, he continues, "I used to think that maybe Lilly could be my everything. She was flighty and free-spirited, and I thought that she loved me. And maybe she did, in her own way. But when we broke up before … " He trails off for a moment, unable to say the words. "Just before, I really felt like maybe that was finally it. Maybe we were finally done, over – for good."

"So you brought me here to talk about Lilly?" Veronica questions, her skepticism clear.

"Shit," he mutters, more to himself than to her. "No, that wasn't the point. I just – I know that I've been a flaming asshole to you these past months, and I'm so goddamn sorry for everything that I did to you. You were one of my best friends, and then I turn around and treat you like shit when life gets tough.

"But you, you're different from me. Better, even. When I showed up at your place a few months ago, you should have told me to get the fuck away from you, to just leave you the hell alone. Instead, you offered to help me with my problems when I had done nothing but cause problems for you. You were a true friend to me, Veronica, offering me what I didn't – and still don't deserve."

"You've been through a lot recently," she begins gently, before he cuts her off.

"That's no excuse. But at least this whole experience has made me realize what I want."

"And what's that?"

"I want you in my life. When I'm around you, things don't seem quite so fucked-up or quite so hopeless. With you, I'm not the son of Aaron Echolls. I'm just Logan, the guy that you've known for years. It's nice to just be Logan sometimes."

"I can understand that," she responds. "Still, why did you orchestrate this whole scavenger hunt for me?"

"I know that you've been spending a lot of time investigating Lilly's murder. I know that it's important for you to do that, but I wanted you to deal with a more light-hearted mystery for once. So I put all this together – my shot at telling you I'm sorry."

"You're forgiven." She's touched by the fact that Logan put in all this effort, just to give her a day off, of sorts. While she may have spent the vast majority of her afternoon chasing after clues that had little large scale importance, it was a nice change of pace.

And, if she was honest with herself, she had fun.

He flashes her a dazzling smile and takes her hand in his. "Will you dance with me, Veronica Mars?"

Just as she's about the protest that there's no music, strains of classical piano fill the room. She nods, and he pulls her to him, as they dance slowly around the room.

His eyes lock on hers, and suddenly she's unable to look away. His gaze is seductive and hypnotizing, and she's amazed by what expressive eyes he has.

"I didn't know you could dance," she says inanely, wanting to break the spell that has her captivated.

"Come on, Veronica. Any son of the stars of Hollywood needs to know how to dance for all the ever-important social occasions I was dragged to over the years. Just because I don't dance all over campus doesn't mean that I can't dance at all."

As if to prove a point, he chooses that moment release her left hand and twirl her into a spin. His move catches her off-guard, and she fights to regain her bearings once she is back in his arms again.

She watches in anticipation as his mouth slowly descends down to meet her own before they erupt in a sizzling explosion, reminiscent of the kiss they shared at the Camelot. Before long, her body is flush up against his own, and her arms are wrapped around his neck, pulling him closer, holding him tighter, unwilling to let him go.

Ultimately, the scorching kiss comes to an end, and Logan gently tucks a wayward stand of hair behind her ear.

"I'm not Lilly," she says softly, as she looks into his eyes.

"No, you're most definitely not," he agrees. "You're one of a kind – and I wouldn't have it any other way."


A/N Part 2 - In Black Cadillac, Robby (Jason Dohring) says, "I was hoping that maybe by the time I graduated, there would be this girl. I can almost see her face. This girl who would love me, without me having to say anything. Her laugh would echo down the hall, after math." I didn't use that exact quote within this piece, but I did use pieces of it and adapted other parts of it. That's clearly not mine either, and I wanted to be sure to denote it as such.