Title: Back in the Game
Author: Karen T
Classification: Spec fic for how the S2 premiere could begin, Gen
Spoilers: Everything in S1. Nothing for S2.


It's becoming her new mystery for the school year, and she's not particularly happy about it.

Where in the world is Logan Echolls?

It's a good question and damned if Veronica knows the answer. She's called his cell repeatedly since that night -- 'that night' being the euphemism she and her dad use to refer to, well, that night -- and can't decide which bothers her more: the fact his outgoing message hasn't changed in three months or the angry bitterness that ekes from his 'inspirational message'. She knows that angry bitterness is directed at her and doesn't try to rationalize her way out of it. When it came to being a healthy couple, she and Logan wrote the book on how not to go about doing it.

Duncan doesn't ask if she's heard from Logan, and she's reciprocated that courtesy. It's not that they can't discuss him, but more that neither of them wants to. There's enough baggage between them to sort through without adding one that could single-handedly sink the Titanic.

Unfortunately the other 09ers at Neptune High still seem to believe she and Logan are the golden couple. You would think the way in which his father tried to burn her father alive would dissuade them of that notion, but apparently subtlety's lost on them.

So when she's asked, for the fifth time before first period on the first day of school, where Logan is, Veronica loses her cool.

"God, do I have to make an announcement over the PA?" she asks as she spins the faceplate on her lock. "'Veronica Mars does not and probably will not ever know where Logan Echolls is. Rinse and repeat. Thank you.'"

"They're just curious."

This neutral response causes her to turn and gawk. "No, not you too."

"People saw you kissing and holding hands. You two might as well have gotten hitched Britney-style."

"Wallace." With her hands on her hips, Veronica attempts to look aggrieved.

"I'm just saying."

She rolls her eyes and returns to her lock. "Maybe I should wear a sign."

"Ooh, one of those sandwich boards? Those are pretty cool."

Smirking, she swings her locker door open. Even though her lips are turned upwards, she can't help shooting a worried glance in Wallace's direction. Despite her 'full disclosure' to him about her almost rape and her investigation into Lilly's murder, they both knew she hadn't revealed all her secrets. And that was something that always made Veronica worry about their BFF status.

"Listen, Wallace, you know I wouldn't keep--"

"Don't worry about, V. Whatever." He shrugs his shoulders and smiles, but she's learned he only does that when he's particularly bothered.

"No, really," she presses, the knuckles on her right hand turning white as she clenches the side of her locker door a little too tightly. "If I knew where Logan was, I wouldn't tell you I didn't."

"Okay." He's still smiling when he slams his locker shut, but his eyes are blank, unreadable. She taught him over the summer how to keep his eyes emotionless and she was clearly a very good teacher. Damn. "You should get going. Ms. Kirkpatrick's a stickler for promptness."

"Ah, but I have friend in the Attendance Office who knows how to make tardy slips vanish."

"And this friend's hot like a young Denzel, right?"

"Oh, you know it."

Humor finally reaches Wallace's eyes as he laughs and slings a backpack strap over his shoulder. "You and your sweet talk," he says with a disapproving shake of his head. But as he passes her, he murmurs, "It's okay, Veronica. Really."

His comment sends a whoosh of relief through her body. It's her senior year and she's determined to avoid any semblance of teen angst. There will be no fractured friendships or murder mysteries or any more questions about a certain missing blond.

"Hey, Veronica." She lifts her head to see Dick beckoning her, Beaver by his side. "You seen Logan?"

No doubt about it. Her senior year's off to a rough start.

-----

It still amazes Veronica how deftly she and Duncan have managed to avoid discussing what they did at Shelley's party. The topic's no longer taboo since she knows she's as much a Kane as Wallace is, but she and Duncan still pretend the night never happened. Then again, they've also done a pretty admirable job pretending like her short-lived relationship with Logan never occurred, so maybe she shouldn't be all that amazed.

Despite all the things they can't discuss, she's glad Duncan's back in her life. Yes, he never completely disappeared from it (except for those couple of months following Lilly's death when he walked around town like a zombie), but there's a comfort only he provides, something akin to snuggling up in a warm blanket on a cold day. Lilly would so mock her for that if she was still alive.

So when he showed up on her doorstep 'that night', she honestly had been hoping it would be him. They began not speaking about Logan then. Instead they remembered Lilly -- memorialized her, really -- in the way they'd needed to when she died but hadn't been able to because, well, life could be a real bitch. So they laughed and cried (just a little) and helped bring each other peace.

But they aren't friends. At least not the way they'd been before, and that's okay. They chatted some over the summer and he'd even said, "Talk to you in school tomorrow" when they parted ways at the senior barbeque yesterday. She'd nodded and said, genuinely, "Yeah, definitely." But they both know they're not friends.

Except there's Duncan, sitting at her and Wallace's lunch table like that's where he's always been. Maybe she misread the whole 'not friends' thing.

"You know that table has cooties, right?" she says in greeting as she draws near.

He grins and motions to the empty seats around him. "I'll risk it." Once she's settled in opposite him, he leans across the table and whispers, "I know we've kind of made a silent pact not to talk about this, but ... have you heard from Logan?"

"I, uh ..." There's an iceberg right ahead and she's trying like hell to avoid hitting it.

"It's fine if you two have been keeping in touch. I don't care. Not that I need to know the details," he quickly adds. "I just want to know he's okay."

"We haven't spoken since ... you know."

Duncan nods, concern evident on his face. "That was the last time I talked to him too. I wasn't surprised when he disappeared, especially considering how things went down. But no one in his family knows where he is and--"

Holding up a hand in surprise, Veronica asks, "You've talked to his family?"

"Yeah. Trina's back in Australia, and he has a set of grandparents in Florida and an aunt in Arizona. None of them have heard from him."

Veronica mulls over this information in silence.

"I know things between me and Logan are weird, but he's been my best friend since we were kids. Do you think you could ... I mean, if it wouldn't be too weird for you, maybe you could use your investigative skills to ..."

Even though their unspoken treaty to steer clear of this topic is now in shambles, she finds it adorable that Duncan still can't come right out and ask her to help him locate Logan.

"Consider it done," she declares. Then, before Duncan has a chance to express his thanks in some incredibly stilted and awkward manner, she says, "Now, let's discuss your payment for sitting at this esteemed table. Me? I'm pretty easy. A pair of Jimmy Choo slingbacks and you'll always have a seat here. But Wallace? That boy takes seating privileges very seriously. Maybe you should see if your Kane Software stock options are transferable."

-----

It doesn't take her long to confirm that Logan has seemingly vanished off the face of the earth.

All credit cards in his name haven't been used since 'that night'. He also hasn't paid off any of the outstanding balances on the cards in over three months. The Echolls's family lawyer hasn't heard from him. Neither have the family accountant, the family gardener, or -- and this worries her the most -- the family housekeeper. Veronica knows Logan was as close to Rosanna as he was to his mom; he would definitely not remain in communicado with her for so many months unless something was extremely wrong.

No hospitals in the greater Los Angeles area report any John Does brought in with Logan's general description, and no jails have booked a Logan Echolls since his last run-in with Neptune's finest. Veronica knows she hasn't turned over every stone, but it's as far as she can go without some 'expert' help.

This is why she's sitting in her dad's office when he returns from his physical therapy session. After a month's stay in the hospital, a series of painful skin grafts, and a whole lot of TLC, her dad can almost walk without a cane. Almost.

"Hey, honey," he says when he sees her stationed on the client side of his office. "Is everything okay?"

"How was PT?" she asks, purposely ignoring his question.

"Good. They think I can ditch the cane soon."

"Really? That's great."

"Yeah. I promised Alicia I'd take her dancing for our six-month anniversary. Looks like I'll get to keep my word after all."

"Wow, dancing? Did you have anywhere in particular in mind? Wallace and I could--"

"Veronica?"

"Yeah?"

"What are doing in my office and why are you stalling?"

With her heart pounding away in her chest, she reads his eyes, just like how he'd taught her and how she'd taught Wallace.

Her dad will say no. He'll ask her if she has a death wish and then confirm that they both overdosed on Echolls-centered excitement months ago. This she knows. But she also knows how important it is that she changes his mind.

"You have a new client, Dad."

"Okay, I'll bite. Who?"

"Me."

Yes, it's her senior year and she should be out living up the good life without a care in the world. But, dammit, she's Veronica Mars and life just isn't the same if it doesn't involve some sort of potentially dangerous mystery.

-the end-