Part 12

When Veronica opened her eyes, she felt the throbbing pain emanating from her head. She squinted at first to see if she would find herself lying on the foot of the staircase beside the poor, likely dead, Mrs Gant. Instead she found, as soon as she could breathe through the steady ache that was urging her to throw up, that she was outside. She smelt the scent of grass and dew in the air. The night darkness was not heavy around her. Veronica squeezed her eyes tightly shut as pain shot through her spine and radiated towards her temples. Then, she saw the night sky in the distance and knew that she was no longer in the vicinity of the Gant home.

She took several moments to assess her surroundings and position. Veronica could tell by the clearing that she was not in the town proper. The stars and the moon shone too bright to be anywhere close to any artificial light. She turned her head, fought so hard to ignore the pain, and saw an old darkened clump of ash and wood on the ground a few yards away. She was sitting on a hard wooden bench inside an open hut, with the roof made of long dried coconut leaves held up by four distinct wooden foundations. It was the cottage that was erected by the Mooncalves to gather in before their functions. Her heart slowed. At least now she knew where she was.

Her head was leaning against something warm. Veronica carefully raised her head and bit her lower lip at the throbbing that intensified. A small mewling sound escape her lips, and the warm pillow holding her head up moved. She stifled any other noise and glanced up at the pillow that had not been a pillow at all but was Casey's shoulder. Tears blurred her vision. She wiped at them hastily and assessed the environment. A cold breeze blew and she shivered, only then glancing down to see her own shoulders bare. Veronica pulled up her top to cover herself.

She froze when he moved again. Veronica crossed her fingers wishing he would fall back into his peaceful sleep so that she could slip away. It was not that easy for her. Casey must have felt the loss of weight on his shoulder because he straightened and opened his eyes, and he was looking directly at her.

Veronica expected him to reach for her and finish off what he had begun. Instead, he cupped her face with cold hands. "Are you okay?" he asked in concern.

Veronica closed her hands around his wrists and tried to pry them away, but he held firm. "Casey, your fingers are too cold," she said softly, not wanting to anger him but anxious to get rid of the chilling sensation.

"I'm sorry." He took his hands away and breathed warm air on them, then he rubbed his hands together. When he felt he had warmed them enough, he gently wrapped them around her throat. "How's this?"

Veronica held her breath. She waited for the feeling of his hands tightening, cutting off her air supply. He did not strangle her. After she nodded, he smiled in satisfaction and pulled her flush towards him. "Casey," she choked out. "Maybe we should head back."

He nibbled on her earlobe, then kissed his way down her neck, pausing to push back her top to reveal her shoulders. She was paralyzed, unable to say no or push him away. Veronica knew she was stronger than someone who could have this done to her twice, by men she had believed herself to have loved once. But Casey's searching kisses, as they traveled over her collarbone and burned a way down her throat, took control. The only other source of heat were the hot trails of the tears that created slicing lines of liquid down her face. "Don't," she whispered.

For a moment her brain screamed in that piercing way she had physically once done when Duncan raped her and she called and called for Logan and he had never come. While her body lay pliant to Casey's touch, her mind begged for Logan to come, or even her father to lift Casey off and throw him to the ground.

"You always find something to complicate us," he said tenderly. Casey shook his head against her flesh. "If you would leave it alone, we can have everything we planned for."

Veronica's throat closed. Again, he was luring her into the web. Had she not been with Logan Echolls only several hours ago, she would have fallen back into her desperate need to be with someone. This was not Veronica Mars. Veronica Mars was the woman who could take control. Logan had given her back the reins and she had relished it. Casey would never take back her control over herself. She forced herself to move her limbs and with one hand pushed firmly on his chest.

Once upon a time she would have waited for anyone to save her. But she remembered that even longer before that, she would have taken care of it himself. Logan reminded her of that person and she wanted to be that person again.

Casey stared at her in horror and disgust. "You pushed me?"

She stood on shaky legs. "I said don't," she repeat coldly.

His eyebrows furrowed. "This isn't you."

Her lips curved. "For someone who'd been watching me since we were in high school, you have a very bad idea about what kind of person I am, Casey."

"You need me, Veronica. You know you do," he reminded her. Casey stood as well and stepped closer to her, running his once more cold fingers down her cheeks, tracing the line of her tears. "I took you away from these. Without me, you would never have stopped crying."

Veronica tried to keep the sneer away from her face. "I don't want you anymore."

Casey nodded, but did not step away. "I know you and you have to accept yourself. Listen to yourself. You may not want me, but what will always be true if you need me. You need me to take you away from the pain. You know as well as I do that I took off all your worries. The moment you were with me, I answered all the pain inside you."

There was a split second in which she faltered. It was true. She had been broken and unnecessary after Logan left, and Casey made her feel needed and loved. Where Logan had done his best to avoid her, Casey had always been there, ever present, always eager to lend his shoulder to cry on.

"You killed Duncan!" she spat out.

"He raped you," came his calm answer. "I even dumped him somewhere else so he would never be tied to you. I did Echolls a favor."

Finally, with all the energy she had left, Veronica pushed him away, sending him hard onto the ground. "You controlled everything about us."

"I had to," he yelled back. "You were nothing when you were with me. You couldn't even decide what you wanted to eat."

And that disgusted her, not at him, but at herself. She had been at a bad place, and he had caught her there.

Veronica ran. In the darkness, with only the stars to light her way, she could not tell what direction to run to. She knew any direction which would not lead to Casey was a desired direction.

"I took care of you!" she heard him shout behind her.

Then she heard him start running after her. Veronica pumped her legs as she ran as hard and as fast as she could in the other direction. She flew past the old barn that she had once tried to break into. And that was when she saw the cemented road in the distance. She was so close. Then arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her against a hard body behind her. She started screaming. A hand closed over her mouth.

"It's okay, Ronnie," the voice murmured into her ear.

The moment she recognized Logan's presence, her entire body slackened and she gasped to regain her breath. He held her firmly against him in the space of seconds that seemed like hours. Then, when she had started breathing normally, he turned her around and held her only as far as he needed to look down at her. Tenderly, he pulled up the neckline that Casey had pushed down to care her shoulders. Logan's touches were much rougher than Casey's as he cupped her face, but Veronica eagerly stood on tiptoes to meet his kiss. Logan lacked finesse in that kiss; he was anxious and relieved and did not gain any point for style. But she wrapped her arms around his neck and drew him down to her.

When they pulled away, she said, "You found me."

He nodded. "I wanted to save you this time. But you saved yourself."

She nodded, blinking back the tears of relief. "I think it's better this way. I need to save myself sometime."

Again, he crushed her to him. She wondered if she should remind him of her issues with being controlled, and that his tight embrace left her no room to struggle. Oddly enough, she did not seem to want to struggle so she stayed silent. "Your father's out there," he rumbled after a while. "Lamb arrived a few minutes after we did. They were supposed to arrest me back because your dad broke me out." The vibration of his voice on his chest soothed her.

"My dad broke you out of jail?"

"Yeah," Logan answered. "If I didn't know better, I'd say he's forgiven me for—"

"Don't get your hopes up," she murmured, laying her head against his chest. Tried hard not to think of how Casey wanted this.

Logan chuckled softly. "Well, Lamb finally caved. Apart from your father's convincing him, I think Lamb knew he had no choice when the Mooncalf Collective came to the sheriff's office shortly after we left. Apparently, they noticed a lot of changes in Casey after his grandmother died. Recently he'd exhibited morbidity and violence. Patrol found Mrs Gant barely breathing in the house. That's what I understood from the brief skirmish your dad had with Lamb before they headed out."

When he received no response, Logan glanced down and saw that she had fallen asleep on her feet, with her head against his chest. He swore he would give her her control back, and that he would respect her decisions and never treat her the way Casey and Duncan did. That did not mean that he would not take care of her the way he had always wanted to do. He lifted her into his arms and walked with her towards Keith's car. On the backseat they waited. He could be a hero and run off where Keith and the police were hunting down Casey, or he could be a bigger hero and screw masculine pride so he could stay with Veronica and assure her in case she woke up disoriented.

About half an hour later, when he was almost falling asleep as well, Logan saw the movement towards them. He squinted at the people coming. When he recognized it, he turned Veronica, sleeping against him. "Veronica. Veronica, I think you need to see this."

With a soft moan, she blinked open her eyes and first looked up into Logan's. She smiled and received a quick kiss.

"Over there."

She turned and saw as Casey, in handcuffs, was led to the squad car by the sheriff and his deputies. Behind them walked Keith Mars. As one of the deputies pushed Casey' head down so he would not hit it on the car roof, Casey turned and as if he always knew where she was, he looked straight at her.

She heard his voice in her mind, repeating the statement he kept on telling her over their relationship. i "I wish you appreciated everything I did for you."/i

"They're locking him up," she said.

Logan squeezed her arm. "He's never going to touch you again."

She smiled, not because she was happy that Casey was going to jail, but because it was over. Veronica would never completely hate him. Casey had been too complex. It had been easy for her to hate Duncan in the aftermath because he had violated her so completely. Casey believed fully that all he did, including the murder, was for her. She did not want what issue he had, and given how much she had changed, Veronica was certain she would not go breaking into Casey's shrink's office to take his file. That file could save him from jail and lock him up in an institution instead. Jake Kane, of course, would do everything in his power to make sure his son's murderer was locked up for good.

"I hope he gets better." And that, to Veronica, was that. She leaned against Logan and closed her eyes.

Epilogue

"No! That goes over there next to the minister," Mac called out. "Have the doves arrived?" she asked one of the attendants as she picked up the hem of her dress." She stood on tiptoes and saw Meg Manning walking towards her looking calm and Mac hated her for it. "Meg, did you get a hold of Jennifer?"

Meg shook her head and handed a bouquet to Mac. "I am not going to call Jen and tell her that her designs suck just because you don't think you can pull it off."

"Who designs a full length dress for a beach wedding?" Mac demanded.

"Come on," Meg urged. "We're about to start."

Mac sighed and started walking, stumbling over the hem again. "I swear to God, if I fall flat on my face later I am taking Jen out of our designer list."

"Ssshhh." Meg placed a finger over her lips and pointed at Logan. Mac glanced over at him. Logan had settled on the first pew and had his elbows on his knees, with his hands clasped in front of him, head down and eyes closed.

Mac narrowed her eyes. "Is he muttering something?"

"He's praying," Meg whispered.

Mac's features softened. Once she had told him that what he wanted to get back was long buried in the sand. She thanked God Logan was stubborn enough to bring a shovel and dig deep to retrieve it.

iWhen Veronica had invited her and Meg to dinner about eight months after Casey Gant was sent to jail for the murders of Duncan, his own father and a Gant employee rumored to have been Casey's deprogrammer, and the attempted murder of his own mother, Meg had been shocked when she held up her hand to show them the tasteful blue diamond surrounded by small amethysts. While Meg blubbered with excitement and asked Veronica thousand questions, Mac's gaze rose and rested on the car parked up front and the driver waiting behind the wheel. Mac congratulated Veronica sincerely, because she knew even after all those years, it had always been Logan Echolls. Afterwards, she excused herself to go to the bathroom.

Mac made her way out into the street and stood outside the car. "You're not following her around, are you? She's had enough of that."

Logan smiled and shook his head. "She asked me to drive her here. She was nervous that you guys would freak out." Mac arched her eyebrows. "All right. She was nervous that you would freak out on her."

"And she figured if you were physically on hand I'd freak out less?"

"I don't question it when she has a request like that," Logan answered truthfully. "I'm just thankful that I have the chance to come with her."

Mac winced. She was not prepared for Logan Echolls making comments like that. "Well come on. If you're going to hang around, you should at least be useful and foot the bill. I'll give you guys a discount on the wedding expenses."

Logan grinned and walked with Mac back into the restaurant. The moment Veronica saw who had arrived, she broke into a bright smile and initiated the kiss in greeting, and Mac was convinced. /i

"Is it safe to leave him there?" Meg continued. "He looks so shaky. He might bolt."

Mac shook her head. "I doubt it."

When they started down the aisle on rose petals scattered by Meg's niece, Mac watched Logan closely. His nerves still seemed to be wound tightly, as was expected. Beside him stood his best man Dick. Mac's eyes rested on one of the groomsmen, Cassidy. Cass reached forward and patted Logan on the back.

After Mac had taken her place across from the groomsmen, she turned her attention to the end of the aisle. That was when Veronica took her place, swathed completely in the full white lace veil. Mac watched affectionately as Keith proudly walked her daughter down the aisle towards his future son-in-law.

When they reached Logan, Logan gave Keith a tight embrace. From the distance Mac read Logan's lips when he whispered into Keith's ear, "Thanks, Mr Mars."

Keith slapped Logan on the back. "She was always going to want to be with you. Strong woman like her… I didn't have a choice. You can call me dad." He missed the shock and elation on Logan's open face because he then turned to his daughter and kissed her. He then handed her to Logan.

"I love you," Logan told her.

In response, she raised his hand to her lips under the veil. Always, ever since he returned, the profession had always come from his lips. He had never once heard her say it, and he never blamed her. She had said it to him too often, too long, unreturned, since Duncan died. After three years she had been burned too often that Logan may have hurt that she didn't return the words, but he knew she felt it. He gave her a small smile to show her he did not mind her silence. He turned to the minister.

He felt her squeeze his hand and heard her say the words. "I love you, Logan." Logan turned to her and swallowed the lump in his throat. "I never stopped even when I couldn't say it."

"I know," he rasped.

Logan cupped her cheek over the veil. He heard someone clear his throat. He leaned to kiss her and the guests laughed. A hand closed over his shoulder. He turned and saw Keith shaking his head.

"We're starting," Keith told him.

Veronica flushed.

"If you don't mind," the minister said.

Logan nodded and tightened his hand around Veronica's.

fin