Title: Bright (Chapter Six)
Author: Lois Fogg (utsusemia on LJ)
Pairing/Character: Logan/Veronica, ensemble
Word Count: about 5000
Warnings: I like to curse. And you wouldn't believe how slowly I update.
Brief A/N: No, you're not dreaming.
More notes at the bottom.
Chapter Six: A Spy in the House of Love
The bed was familiar, its smell a vividly-remembered dream. She snuggled against the thousand thread-count sheets and groped blindly, expectantly for the familiar warmth. But it wasn't there. He wasn't there. She groaned slightly, still more asleep than awake, and buried her head between their pillows, wondering if he would come back soon, or if she would have to get him, because she had that certain itch and he was never less than enthusiastic about scratching it.
"Logan," she called, in that voice, with its unmistakable throatiness and hints of arousal, and suddenly she recalled not where she was, but the more crucial when.
She sat up, opened her eyes fully, and saw Logan sitting on the chair by the door, a curious expression on his face—desire and pain, like she'd punched him in the gut while giving him a hand job.
"I take it that's not a request." His voice was light, with just a hint of strain. His face was still pale, but a little less haggard than it had been yesterday, when—
She didn't want to think about that.
"I'm fine, Veronica," Logan said quietly, as though her thoughts were captioned on her forehead. "You collapsed outside the courthouse, I brought you here. No shenanigans ensued."
That made her smile. It was easy to miss those odd Logan-words. "So you're out of shenanigans, but I'll give you twenty for some hanky panky." She paused. "That didn't come out right."
"I'll pretend I didn't hear it," he said, but tempered with a smile. He stood, and the slight lethargy of his movements could easily be early morning fatigue, or just stiffness at not sleeping in a bed all night. It could be, but she knew it wasn't.
"No, he never did any of those things. He never beat me, he never abused me, he was a model father."
The words rang so clearly in her ears that for a moment she wondered if Logan had repeated them aloud, in the sort of mean-spirited taunt that she thought they'd finally left behind them. But he merely stood by the door, his eyes watching her: concerned, yet oddly patient. It made her want to hit him, to grab the nearest hard object and hurl it straight at his disarmingly tousled head. Why had he done it? Why had he destroyed everything she and Cliff had spent so much time working for? How could he have just ruined his life and still give her that stupid fucking look, that post-coital, post-laughter, just-left-the-ladies-room look that erased every barrier they'd ever erected between them, every reason they'd ever had to hate and just-fuck each other? That look wasn't 'just' anything—it was too open, too vulnerable, too astonished and too fucking happy. It looked like love, and there had been too many revelations in that courtroom yesterday for Veronica to want any part of it.
"So you must be happy," she said, flicking each of the words from her tongue like poisoned darts.
He paused, wary. "You forget I've seen you sleep before, Veronica."
Well, that made her breath catch. "Regret you didn't get more out of your investment?"
The look vanished, replaced by something equally familiar, but more congenial to her present mood. "The previous user didn't exactly give rave reviews."
The previous user didn't exactly get them. But she was not about to give Logan the pleasure of hearing that. She shook her head and tossed off the covers. Fully clothed, thank God. "Funny, the last time you slept with a woman she ran all the way across the country to get away from you. Classic Echolls. Between father and son, you could teach Freud a thing or two about projection."
He winced—just the slightest tightening of his already tight eyes, but she noticed it and was surprised by the hollowness of her victory. She had meant to hurt him, hadn't she?
"I'm leaving," she said abruptly.
He let her pass as she stalked to the living room. She found her shoes upside down by the couch. Had they fallen off, or had he removed them?
She looked up, startled. His eyes were shuttered, but they weren't cruel, and she found that even she couldn't retreat into superficial sniping this time.
"You just killed yourself, Logan. Hey, it's on delay, but Aaron doesn't want you to testify. You're a lot more useful to him dead than alive. And now he can make medical decisions for you."
Logan had bunched the corner of his tee-shirt in his right hand and was twisting it over and over in a gesture he didn't seem to be aware of at all. He looked...anguished, the way he had right before he testified.
"What is going on, Logan?" she said, walking up to him before she could stop herself. "Why wouldn't you admit—"
"Why the fuck didn't you warn me?"
Because you wouldn't have agreed. Because I couldn't bear to face you. "I...I mean, we—"
But he was furious now, gesticulating wildly, his voice so loud she winced. "Mrs. Navarro, the staircase...all of it in front of those jackals, and my father just smiling. And I still had to do it."
"What do you mean you had to?"
His eyes focused on her again. He took a shuddering breath and dropped onto the couch. His face was even paler now than it had been a few minutes before. She wanted to touch him. Oh fuck, it hurt her how much she wanted to. But they moved as though separated by a pane of bullet-proof glass.
"You should leave, Veronica," he said softly.
Her hands were shaking. So were his. For once in her life, she listened to Logan Echolls.
"I'm not safe to be around," she thought she heard him say, very softly, as she shut the door behind her. But she pretended not to hear.
It took him a long time to get up off the couch, to pull the old tee-shirt over his head and decide he'd better make sure housekeeping changed the sheets today. Either that or fall asleep with Veronica's smell on his pillow, and he wasn't in the mood for any reminders of the promises she wouldn't keep. He took a shower; the pressure from the designer head made it feel like his skin was being flayed. Or maybe that was just the dialysis. Everything seemed to hurt a little more, these days. Classic Echolls, she had said. He laughed, and even that sound seemed to scrape against his throat. "Classic Mars," he said aloud. Hurting everyone else to pretend she wasn't hurt.
Weevil called him when he was toweling off. "Man, I can't believe you're making me do this. That girl's gonna hand me my balls on a platter if she finds out."
"Consolation prize: put it on YouTube."
"Nah, they're too busy looking at you. Heard the video of Vee's Perry Mason impression hit twenty thousand last night."
Logan scowled. "Dude, do you even own a computer?"
"You are so lucky I'm too busy spying on your ex in her underwear to fuck you up, man."
"Also, that I'm a sickly cripple far beneath your manhood."
"Whatever. I'd make an exception."
Logan paused in front of the mirror and forced himself to stare. "Jesus. I look like shit," he muttered.
"Acceptance is the first step along the path to recovery, Echolls."
Pale as a sheet, except for the bruises beneath his eyes. And he thought he was doing better. Guess that's what he got for barely sleeping in a chair all night while Veronica sprawled across the bed.
Wait. "Underwear? I swear to God, Weevs—"
"Hey, hey, she's fine, calm down campadre. Not like I can tell her what to wear since you've made me hide out here Ted Bundy."
"No, you're protecting her from Ted Bundy. Well, Ethan Lavoie. Even worse."
"Gotta tell you, doesn't feel like that. It feels like creepy stalker. It feels like superwoman is going to get a whiff of this in one more second and drive a stake through my heart."
Logan pulled on his most comfortable pair of jeans. "That before or after she makes you kung pao testicle?"
"No judgment. She's your fucked up girlfriend."
"Ex-girlfriend," he said, with a drunk's overemphasis. And looking like it's going to stay that way. He pulled on his second-best green tee-shirt, a supple piece of distressed fabric that looked like he'd plucked it off a homeless hippie in Haight-Asbury. That sort of carefully crafted poverty was worth a hundred dollars at Abercrombie. Maybe he'd find a casual way to drop the price tag in conversation and she'd yell at him for being a typical over privileged 09er. Strange that the prospect seemed so enjoyable.
"So you haven't seen any sign of him?"
"The only threatening male I've seen is papa Mars."
"Who has an abiding interest in testicles himself."
"If I die, you had better take care of my grandmother, or I swear I'll haunt—wait, I think I see..."
Logan's heart started to pound, which in turn made his head swim and he had to sit back down again before he fainted. "What is it? No, never mind, I'm coming—"
"Hey, I know you're an 09er but attempt to curb the ego." Weevil had lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper. "I can do this a lot better without having to look after your sorry ass. There's some guy at the front door."
"No. No, it looks like one of the micks...what the fuck would they be doing—"
"Take some goddamn pictures!"
Logan bit his lip as he listened to the muffled sounds of Weevil fumbling with the camera Logan had bought for last night. State of the art digital, tiny enough to fit in a pocket, and he was thinking that maybe he should have stuck with some fucking Polaroids. After the proverbial eternity, Weevil picked up the phone.
"Think I got a few. Stupid camera—I mean, do I look like a photojournalist to you? I've seen him before, but not much. Probably one of the Fitzpatricks' new recruits."
"What was he doing?"
"Just slipped something under the door and left. And something tells me Vee won't buy it if I say I was just in the neighborhood."
Logan groaned, tension leaving his body like water breaching a dam. He'd stashed the photos in his glove compartment, but the deceptively innocent images had haunted him throughout his fitful sleep. Someone was threatening her to get to him. Lavoie was the most obvious choice, but he didn't see how even Slimy Lavoie could seriously get involved with the Fitzpatricks. None of this made any fucking sense. It was like a Rubik's cube or a crossword puzzle or one of those stupid drawings where he was supposed to see a parrot but all he could see was a pineapple. Puzzles made him want to gnash his teeth and hit something. They made him want to hunt down Veronica at her locker and wait for her to put the "Out of Order" sign on the girl's bathroom door.
But he didn't dare ask for her help now. If there was one skill Veronica had never learned, it was how to protect herself.
"Echolls? Hey, are you all right? You need me to call...oh, fuck."
Logan had sprinted to the door under an impressive burst of adrenaline before the sounds of distant cursing and crunching gravel gave way. Someone had picked up the phone again. But it wasn't Weevil.
"What are you doing with him?"
"Does Abelard and Heloise mean anything to you? Think Abelard."
He heard Weevil cursing in the background. "Huh?" Logan said.
Veronica sighed. "History, Logan, will get you into college. But in the meantime why don't you come over before I tell Leticia what I caught her grandson doing."
"Show it to me," said Veronica in the booth of El Corazon, a local Tex-Mex joint.
Logan and Weevil glanced at each other warily before regarding her with expressions they so endearingly believed to be impassive.
She sighed. "Whatever the fuck it was that made you forget how you broke your arm three times, Logan."
If it was possible, Logan seemed to turn even paler. "Veronica, I—"
"He don't know nothing, Vee," Weevil said. "Neither do I." He leaned back in the seat and crossed his hands over his chest, the smirk on his face positively sphinx-like. "We plead the fifth."
Logan broke into a wry smile and briefly met her eyes. "I appreciate the support, Weevs," he said. "But I think Veronica prefers enhanced interrogation techniques."
Veronica dimpled, aware of the blush radiating from her cheeks but determined to ignore it. "We FBI types don't really like that pesky constitution. Hand it over, boys."
"Or what? Sleep deprivation and Bon Jovi?"
"Stress positions and Sleater Kinney."
Logan's sudden grin was so dazzling she wished she'd worn sunglasses. "Mercy, lady. Here."
He slid a few shots over the counter—banal photos of some girls on a ski trip, grinning at the camera while draping their arms around each other in the sort of displays of girlish solidarity Veronica herself had once found, well, obligatory if not precisely uplifting. Only one of them had taken off her ski goggles, and Veronica vaguely recognized her as a current Sophomore at Neptune High. An 09er. The others might as well have been sock puppets, for all she could see them through their expensive parkas and fur-lined hats. Only that one on the end looked a bit different—rail thin and her jacket was Lands End, not Burberry. The rest snapped into place a second later, and she shoved the photo angrily back in Logan's direction.
"Poor Hannah. Still blaming your exes for all your fuck-ups? Nice work if you can get it."
"It isn't always about you, Veronica." His voice was intense; his eyes locked hers like a tractor beam.
No, she thought and didn't have the breath to say. But sometimes even that hurts.
He bumped her knee. She felt the brief contact like electricity, and even her fingers seemed to tingle with it.
No, wait, that was paper.
He'd passed her something beneath the table. Carefully, because now she thought she understood the meaning of that over-intense gaze, his manufactured argument, she glowered at him and then contrived to look under the table as though searching for her purse.
A photograph, and a piece of paper. She read the note first, since it was easier to make out in the shadows, and then contrived to pull the photo into light for just a moment while she palmed her wallet. More than enough time, after all, to piece what must have happened to Logan moments before he appeared in the court room. No wonder he looked so terrible. She was aware of a disastrous impulse to touch his hand, perhaps insist that he sleep. She shook it away and stood up.
"I think I've seen enough. And you know what's funny, Logan? I don't want to help you with it."
He shrugged and pocketed the decoy photo of Hannah and her friends. Veronica walked slowly from the restaurant, and though she knew it was impossible, she felt his eyes following her out like a caress, like a promise.
Logan found the disposable cell in his glove compartment—where he went to get his insurance information after discovering the slashed tires.
"Girl knows how to make a point," Weevil said, eyeing the damage. "Looks like a beached duck."
"Dude, ducks walk."
"I guess we do to, now."
Logan pocketed the disposable and phoned the insurance company on his own cell. Mars was nothing if not thorough. No need to screw up her plans by showing whoever might be watching them that she'd left him a present in the car. So they walked to the nearest bar, and Logan ducked into the toilet.
"I hope you enjoyed that," he said, when she picked up.
"My God it was cathartic." She paused. "Where did you get those Hannah photos, anyway?"
Logan tried not to take her thinly-veiled curiosity as encouragement. Veronica's control issues could land a lunar probe. "She must have dropped them in the car while...a while ago. I found them under the seat this morning."
"From anyone but you, that would almost be poignant."
"From anyone but you, that would almost be jealous."
She sighed. "So, funny you didn't mention yesterday that I was getting threats."
"What with you accusing my dad of child abuse, there wasn't much time. What do you make of it, anyway?"
"Telephoto lens, probably on a digital SLR. The image looks like it's been printed on a home machine. But it's all very expensive. I guess the Fitzpatricks could afford it..."
"If they could tell one end of the machine from the other. And that leaves—"
"There's a chance it could be someone else."
"How many enemies do you think I have?"
She let out a puff of muffled laughter. "You don't," she said, as he leaned against the graffiti-covered tiles, "want to know that. Listen, I need some cash. A bunch of it. I want to test the cookie crumbs I salvaged from your back seat, and the lab costs more money than this teenage sleuth has at the moment."
"I wish that surprised me."
"Get some sleep, okay? In the bed this time."
It was a measure of how tired Logan was that he forgot to ask her what the Fitzpatrick had delivered under her door that morning. Which was just as well, since she didn't know what to make of it herself. A simple note, but different paper and handwriting than the threatening letter left in Logan's car. That didn't necessarily rule out the Fitzpatricks, but it certainly complicated matters. This one had been written on thick off-white stationary with a watermark she didn't recognize, which probably meant it was too expensive to sell in the mall. The message was simple, in loopy handwriting from what she guessed was a blue fountain pen. Which really was a mystery in and of itself—the Fitzpatrick clan seemed like ballpoint types to her. Or maybe crayons.
"What the hell?"
"You know, sweetie, I've always found 'heck' more satisfying, myself."
Veronica looked up at her Dad and grinned. "Would you rather I say f—"
"Depends on the situation. Cliff just called. He made closing arguments this morning. The judge is set to rule in a few hours."
Her dad grimaced and sat next to her on the bed, which wobbled comfortingly beneath them. He put his arm around her shoulders, and the smell of his aftershave—the cheap kind you get at the drug store, with that distinct hint of paint remover—helped her relax.
"How are you holding up?"
"I've been better."
"Listen, I know how hard you and Cliff worked to help Logan, but...if he doesn't want to help himself, there's nothing you can do about it. He's had a hard life, Veronica. It's screwed him up. And you have a big heart, but I don't want you to think you can solve all his problems."
Veronica pulled away from him, furious and struggling not to be. "Someone poisoned him!"
He sighed and put his hands on her shoulders, forcing her to meet his eyes. "Here's something I learned the hard way, sweetie: addicts lie. Doesn't matter if it's drugs or alcohol."
"Yeah, Logan's screwed up. But he's not an addict. Someone planted those drugs. Someone tried to kill him with antifreeze."
"How can you be so sure?"
Veronica bit her tongue, hard, to keep from crying. Because of what she'd realized yesterday in the courtroom. Because she loved him too much to take the chance that he might just be telling the truth.
But be rational. Give him something he'll understand. "The pieces just don't add up. There's something else going on." He opened his mouth to object, and she hurried. "Just like with Lily," she said, and then hated herself for the look on his face.
She stood up quickly and slipped on her shoes. "I'm going to find Wallace."
"Oh, you mean at that institution of higher education I've heard about?"
She coughed, delicately. "This spring flu's a killer."
"Ah. And honey?"
"Why is Eli Navarro parked a block away from our house?"
Busted. "Just in case Slimy Lavoie tries to do something before the trial, you know. Just...pretend you don't notice him. He thinks he's being inconspicuous."
Verdict in an hour. Logan's car was still beached in the parking lot of El Corazon, and Weevil was once again staked out in front of Veronica's place. Which meant he needed to get a ride. He was getting funny looks here, anyway. There was something painfully ironic about sitting in a bar and being unable to even drink water. Things got ugly if he didn't ration his liquid intake. So he called Dick.
"Dude, I so thought you were dead."
"If wishes were horses...or maybe just sports utility vehicles."
"Anyway, you wanna give me a ride to the courthouse? It'll be fun. Like the end of Empire Strikes Back."
"You're freezing your body for medical science? Dude, that's even more awesome than sharks."
"No, more like the triumph of ultimate evil."
"Dad's going to win, huh?"
"At least it's familiar."
Dick squealed to a stop in front of the bar fifteen minutes later, surfboard on top and a half-smoked blunt squashed in the ashtray. All the comforts of home.
"You look..." Dick said, as Logan climbed into the passenger side.
"Like you need to get stoned."
Logan took the proffered blunt and inhaled deeply. "You have hidden depths, my friend."
"Don't hog the weed."
They were both happily blitzed by the time he made it to the courthouse—with barely five minutes to spare, since Dick didn't know where it was and Logan was too high to remember.
"Wait a sec," Dick said, as they got out of the car. "I want to stash this." He yanked a bag of at least five ounces of grade-A Sour Diesel from off the dashboard and popped the trunk.
It was the usual disaster inside, which made it a good place to hide illegal goods. A few boogie boards, beach chairs, at least four stiff towels and dozens of unopened schoolbooks. Dick was straightforward about his priorities. But Logan noticed even more junk than normal, including a few opened boxes with biohazard warnings and loose brown bottles with labels that had long chemical names. Even through the pot-induced haze, the sight vaguely alarmed him. After all, he hadn't had much luck with chemicals lately.
"What's all this?" he asked.
Dick slipped the pot under some towels and glanced to where Logan pointed. "Oh, that's the Beavs. Science experiment or some shit." He shrugged.
Weird, Logan thought, as they walked into the packed courtroom. Those chemicals looked pretty hardcore for a high school science experiment. But then he saw Veronica, leaning against the back wall with Wallace and everything vanished from his mind like smoke in a breeze.
Logan was staring at her as though he didn't give a shit who noticed. Like he was stripping her naked in the courtroom, or at least watching her do it. And she could barely look away, even after she noticed the surreptitious glances of reporters eager for even more sordid angles. He was with Dick, and she hoped his dilated pupils and slightly flushed cheeks weren't as obvious to the press as they were to her. Trust Logan to get stoned while charged with crystal meth possession.
"What do you make of this?" she said, handing Wallace the weird Fitzpatrick letter. A useful distraction.
He frowned. "Well, the first one's easy. Minimum sentence for possession with intent to deal Schedule II drugs."
Veronica stared at him.
"Oh, don't look at me like that. Two of my best friends in middle school are in jail now for this shit. Knowledge is power."
"Okay, Straight Outta Compton, what about the second one?"
He shrugged. "Do I look like a lawyer? Beats me. Maybe it's a measurement? Some amount of drugs? Looks like a shitload."
"Whatever an 'E' is...wait, hold on."
The courtroom was settling in, so of course someone had chosen that exact moment to call her. "Unknown" according to the caller ID. She nearly let it run to voice mail, but picked up at the last moment.
"Veronica?" said the voice on the other end, muffled and hoarse.
"Who is this?"
The woman repeated her name again, followed by a burst of sobs, and Veronica recognized those, if not her voice.
"Gia? Where are you? Are you all right?"
"I just wanted to tell you I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. I should have known, I mean, I didn't really know, but I should have, I mean, he was my Dad and I'd always wondered, but I never would have done it if she hadn't forced me, I swear. But you have to protect Logan, you promise? Because she hates him, she won't tell me why, but she wants him gone, Veronica—"
"Gia, tell me where you are. Anything you know. The state, the town, what the house looks like—"
"I have to go. He doesn't know I'm doing this. I..."
The line went dead. Veronica stared at her phone, battling back the sort of helpless dread that made her want to run back home and binge on ice cream and snickerdoodles. Or grab Logan and hide him somewhere safe, since it seemed like eventually, sooner or later, one of his many enemies was going to manage to kill him.
"Veronica?" Wallace said, touching her elbow. "What was that?"
She shrugged, but didn't respond. The judge was calling the court to order.
"Well," the judge said, looking between the plaintiff and defendant's tables. "I have heard your arguments. This has certainly been one of the more colorful trials of my career. But, in the end, a decision must be made. I found this choice easier than I expected, though no choice is without its pitfalls. The fact is, Logan Echolls is a very troubled young man, with a history of violence and substance abuse, and a credible case pending against him for possession and use of hard drugs."
Logan's expression was flinty, but Veronica was sure she looked as sick as she felt. She'd known this was going to happen. She'd known. But preparation didn't seem to help.
"However, Aaron Echolls has, by his actions, proven himself to be a dramatically unfit father. As a mother myself, I can hardly imagine what would possess a parent to so regularly inflict such suffering on their innocent child. Yes, Mr. Lavoie, I'm aware the plaintiff has denied his own counsel's accusations. And I do not believe him. If for no other reason that nothing else explains this young man's medical records. And so my verdict is to approve the plaintiff's petition for parental divorce, and to encourage him to seek the counseling he so clearly needs."
Veronica slumped in her chair as the rest of the courtroom erupted in a frenzy of talking and jostling so loud no one could even hear the judge's gavel. They'd done it. Despite Logan's best efforts, they'd done it. She felt relief like a slow rush of pleasure through her belly. Maybe she would still kidnap Logan, but not just to keep him safe.
His bellow was loud enough to cut through the hubbub. He sounded...terrified. Quickly she stood up, and saw him shoving his way through the crowd, Cliff close on his heels.
"Get out!" he said, when he was close enough to speak. "You have to leave now."
It was strange, she thought, how easily she could follow the direction of his thoughts. "Weevil?" she said.
"He just texted me. Someone was on the roof of a building across the street from you, and now they're gone."
And this verdict was going to make some people very, very unhappy. Cliff looked between the two of them, frowning. "Logan, there's nothing anyone can do, now. It's over."
Wallace shook his head. "Yeah, maybe you should, I don't know, thank them."
Logan rounded on Wallace, hands flying and eyes flashing the way they always did when his put-downs were about to get operatic. She almost smiled, but that would have been disloyal.
"Friendly advice, when you have no fucking clue—"
She never knew what else he would have said. The spray of his blood splashed across her face before she even recognized the muffled sound of a silenced gun, fired a few feet away.
Logan collapsed on top of Cliff.
END Chapter Six
More from me: I find it sort of amusing that it has taken me a year and a half real time to write about twenty-four hours of story time. I know that no one thought I was going to finish it, and let's be honest, I still might not finish it, but I found myself thinking about this little thing the other day suddenly wanted to write it. Also, a few people have been semi-regularly emailing me and wondering if they might get to see how this story ends.
Basically I just sold a novel series to St. Martin's press and my enthusiasm for it (Vampires! Roaring twenties! Romance and funny dialogue!) has crossed into other things. Like the first serious attempt I made at a mystery plot—Bright. And I have to write the sequel to my first novel, Racing the Dark, which always makes me happy to procrastinate doing something else. If anyone at all is still reading this or cares, please comment! I need some encouragement while I write what I'm supposed to. And if it seems like I can get the inspiration again, I'll try to write chapter seven. But no promises.
Thanks for reading! And if you haven't, visit my website and check out my first novel. I'd appreciate it :)