Title: Basket Case
Author: Lois Fogg (utsusemia on LJ)
Word Count: 7,127
Rating: R (to be safe)
Summary: Post 2.22 AU fic. What if Keith had actually died in the plane?
Spoilers: Seasons 1 & 2.
Warnings: Some cursing. Angsty.
My second attempt at writing VM fic. I love comments! If you like this, you can check out my other story, Bright (which will have a second chapter very soon, I promise).
This grief seems to be a physical thing. A weight, I've heard it described as, but it didn't feel much like weight when Lilly died, and it doesn't feel like that now. I'd describe it more like...a miasma. That phantom substance the Victorians thought was responsible for all illness and disease, seeping up from rotting corpses and filthy streets like a cartoon fog to strike unwary passersby. It starts at my fingers and toes, an aching, painful tingling that runs like an acid bath along my nerves. It seems to settle somewhere between my heart and my stomach, so I find myself either gasping for air or wondering if I should vomit.
I've done the latter several times now. I couldn't begin to hold it back, even though all traces of food had long since left my stomach.
Logan held my hair back and wiped my mouth. I thought I should maybe be embarrassed that he would see me like this, but all I seem to feel is grateful. Of all the people...who would have thought he's the one I need most?
I'm throwing up now. Or trying to, anyway, but all that comes from my mouth is a series of throat-ripping gags and the barest dribble of stomach acid. My tears have drenched the edge of the toilet and each time one of my sobs catches with a dry heave my stomach flares in pain and I groan. For a moment, I lean against Logan, let him wrap his arms around me. The pain is still there, of course, but somehow the feel of his shirt against my cheek, that indefinable musk of him beneath the scent of detergent, makes it all just bearable. My breathing steadies, my stomach seems a little less likely to hurl itself into the toilet.
So gently it makes me want to weep, Logan releases me, kisses the top of my head, stands up. My skin tingles with even that slight pressure of his lips. Even now, I think, even now. I still seem to have tears to spare.
"Veronica," he says. His voice is rough, whether with pain or exhaustion, I can't tell. I don't think he's slept more than two hours since graduation. How long ago was that? I realize I have no idea...I've been drifting in and out of awareness, sometimes sleeping, for what feels like eternity. And every time I come back to myself, the knowledge hits me in the gut, fresh like I've learned it for the very first time:
He's gone. My father is dead, and he's not coming back.
Oh, now I'm weeping again and I don't know how that happened. Hold yourself together, Mars! But that doesn't seem to be possible. Logan's breath catches in his throat and he makes a noise I can't decipher without looking at him and for some reason I can't bear to do that. I can only imagine what he must think of me, practically pickling myself in my own tears.
He kneels down next to me again, so patient I can hardly stand it, and hands me a tissue. There's mucus running down my chin, and I hadn't even noticed before now.
"God, that's embarrassing," I manage to say as I clean myself up.
I can hear the ghost of a smile in his voice. "Lucky for you I don't have my camera phone."
Despite my better judgment, I look up at him. Oh, his eyes. For a brief moment, I forget everything but him, his smell, his arms.
"I'm glad you're here," I whisper, coming back to myself. "My Dad would—" And with that my stomach heaves and I'm bent over the toilet again. Where the liquid is coming from I have no idea, but my most recent contributions are beginning to look a little pink. The attack is over as suddenly as it came and Logan draws me back in the circle of his arms.
"Maybe I should take you to the hospital," he says, half to himself as he cradles me. "It's too dangerous if you can't keep any food down..."
The hospital...I remember waiting there after Aaron almost killed my father. I remember my terror at the thought of just how close I had come to losing the person I loved most in the world.
"No," I say as forcefully as I can, "I can't go back there. Not now...I'll be okay. I just need to rest."
Logan doesn't ask what "back" means. Instead, he takes a shuddering breath and lifts me from the bathroom floor like I weigh no more than a sack of flour. He takes me to the bed and when he leaves the room—though I know, I know, it's only for a few moments—his absence hits me like a physical chill. I shudder and bite my lip and struggle to empty my mind of any thought. Earlier, I don't know when except that it's dark outside now and it was light then, I woke to find myself alone in the room. Dad was dead. I knew that immediately this time, but suddenly, Logan's absence felt like a knife in my ribs. I thought, irrationally, that he must have died too, and left me here alone. When he came back to the apartment after a quick run to the grocery store he found me sobbing on the floor in the middle of the kitchen. He swore he wouldn't leave after that. Not until I was ready.
In an eternity of two minutes, Logan comes back to the room with a glass of juice and a wet hand towel. My relief must be obvious, because his eyebrows draw together and I can practically hear his worry.
"I'm sorry, Veronica," he says.
I grimace. "Because you can't bilocate? Don't worry about me, I'm just a basket case."
He starts to say something, but then thinks better of it and shakes his head. If I could read his mind, what would I hear? That he thinks I'm weak? That he pities me?
That he loves me?
My breath catches and Logan stills. "Do you need to go back to the bathroom, Veronica?"
I want to laugh, but I'm sure it wouldn't sound healthy either, so I shake my head. "I'm okay," I say.
Logan sits on the side of the bed and gently wipes my forehead and face with the cool, damp towel. The process itself is soothing and I allow myself to close my eyes.
"When I was six," I say, surprising myself as well as Logan, "our neighbor's cat had kittens. My dad and I went over to see them when they were just a week old. Their eyes hadn't even opened up yet—they were just little cute blobs of fur. I remember the mom cat licking them all clean. I wanted one, but we had a dog. I don't think Dad wanted to tell me Lucy might eat our new kitten, so he told me that I'd have to do all the licking myself if I wanted to take the kittens away from their mom. I never asked him about it again. I think I was afraid I would choke on a hairball and die."
"I'm surprised you didn't do it anyway, just to find out," he says. His voice is the closest to our old banter I've heard since he brought me back home. For the first time since, I laugh.
I must have slept, because the next thing I know the sun is coming up and Logan isn't in the room. A blanket is in a tangled mess on the floor and I can tell that he recently left it. I'm surprised that he's left me alone. Again, absurd anxiety seems to fill the air where he should be, pressing down on my throat until I feel the need to hyperventilate. Where is he? Has he left me? I know these thoughts are irrational even as they occur to me, but since when has awareness equaled control?
It takes much too long to realize that the strange, distant buzzing in my ears is the sound of low-pitched voices coming from the other room. Logan I can pick out immediately, and the reassurance I take from even the sound of his voice—like a net keeping me from plunging—would terrify me if I weren't already so exhausted. Who would he be talking to? Gingerly, I crawl out of bed, my body feeling at once heavy and fragile enough to blow apart at a stray wind. I think of my dad and my legs wobble beneath me, but I struggle to stay upright out of some instinctual need for stealth. It seems that some habits don't die even when half of your heart has been ripped out. The voices from inside are too hushed and agitated for casual conversation. Veronica Mars will always want to know. I imagine myself on my death bed, bugging the nurse's lounge while the funeral director discusses floral arrangements.
I stop, suddenly, inches away from the door, and wonder if those are the mystery guests. It's been two days since...since, and of course arrangements would have to be made. How like Logan to quietly take charge, spare me the agony of that final acknowledgement. I stuff my fist in my mouth to stop the sob that threatens to escape, but the tears course unhindered down my cheeks. I know that some of them are for Logan and a distant awareness of what this strength must be costing him.
How much, it turns out, I have guessed only the barest fraction.
Logan is in the kitchen with Lamb and Sacks, who are glaring at him in a way that makes me want to whip out my taser.
"You can either come down now on your own, or we can arrest you and drag you there," Lamb is saying. His horrible, self-satisfied smirk reminds me of the time I saw him after Shelly's party...after...
I brace myself against the doorframe. My breathing sounds like an old woman's wheezing, roaring past my ears, but the others don't seem to notice.
Logan looks desperate. "I can't just leave her here, you don't understand."
Sacks looks uncertain, but Lamb's smirk just deepens into something unreservedly cruel. "Well then, take her down to the station with you."
Logan's fists curl, but his face is parchment white. "No," he says after a momentary struggle, his voice so taut I'm afraid of what might happen if it snaps. "I'll come myself. Give me half an hour, I'll be there." He looks at Sacks. "How long do you think this will take?"
He looks uncomfortable and won't meet Logan's eyes. "We need to confirm your alibi...and you'll need to ID the body, of course. An hour, maybe two."
Logan rolls his eyes. "ID the body? Every person in Neptune could ID the fucking body."
Lamb grins and I swear, if I didn't feel so oddly weak, I would punch him out myself. "Ah well, we know how much you loved Daddy dearest. Besides, it has to be a relative. See you in half an hour. Or, then again, don't—it'd be so much more satisfying to drag you in handcuffs."
Lamb motions and Sacks falls reluctantly behind him as they exit the apartment. The door slams. Logan stands stock still in the kitchen for a moment, his adam's apple bobbing, while the words I just heard unravel themselves in my grief-slowed brain. IDing a body and daddy dearest and alibi...suddenly, it clicks. No, of course they weren't talking about Keith Mars. They were talking about Aaron Echolls.
Somehow, Logan's father is dead.
I must have made a noise, and I seem to have fallen to the ground—my knees ache from the force of the impact. Logan is there moments later, holding me up, whispering things into my hair I can't make out but are comforting regardless.
The irony of Logan comforting me like this, being here for me like this in my grief when he's known for how long that his own father is dead suddenly threatens to choke me. Oh, I know Logan hated his father, that he was a psychopathic, psychotic asshole who made his childhood an ocean of hell, but I still know that it must be affecting him. That any grief he might feel must hurt him a thousand times more, so mixed in with the loathing.
Abruptly, I push him off me, collapse backwards. He lets me go, surprise and confusion etched on his features.
"Logan," I gasp, my voice breaking on his name. "I'm sorry...I'm so sorry. I shouldn't, I mean, you shouldn't let me keep you here like this. Not when your father...God, why didn't you tell me?"
Logan's mouth opens and I can tell he's struggling to speak but for once nothing comes out. He's breathing hard, like he ran up four flights of stairs or he just got in a fight. Suddenly—too suddenly for my deadened reflexes—he smashes his right fist into the floor, leaving behind a smear of blood. His face doesn't even seem to register that pain. Whatever he's feeling, it goes down too deep for that.
Yes, definitely a fight.
"Fuck, what could I say, Veronica? The bastard who fucked up your life and mine finally got what he deserved by someone with more balls than I could ever have?" His lips twist with irony and self-derision. "Oh, comfort me Veronica, the murderous asshole who spawned me has died. After what happened to your father...someone you actually loved...Jesus, Veronica, I may be a jackass, but not like that."
For once, he doesn't intend his words to wound—they've come from too raw a place for that—but they lacerate me regardless. How could I not have noticed something was wrong? How could I have leaned against him so selfishly? Because he was there, because he wanted me to, because he was strong. All the justification in the world, and yet none at all.
"It's okay if you loved him," I say quietly, into that strained silence.
He flinches, as if physically slapped. "I didn't love him," he says, his voice rough. I can tell that he wants to yell at me to shut up, to lash out so I'll put up my defenses and leave him alone, but he won't. I hate that I'm using my vulnerability to crumble his desperately shored-up barriers. Then again, I've always been a manipulative bitch, haven't I? It's my special talent. I remember my Dad's expression when he realized how much I had lied to him after Duncan left. Dear god, some special fucking talent.
"I know what he did to you." At this, Logan's head snaps up. He was there when Trina made her oh-so-casual mentions of broken noses and cigarette burns, but he was so shocked and distraught I doubt he had ever really heard her. I held him then, held him when I wasn't even sure I really liked him.
"What do you think you know?" His voice is far too even, his knuckles still dripping blood on the linoleum.
"Broken bones, cigarette burns, lighters sometimes." Fuck, this hurts me just to say, as though each time he flinches a vise squeezes tighter around my chest. "A pediatrician your dad paid off, maids your mother trained to ignore. Carefully rotated emergency room visits. No one guessed, even though they should have. Lilly didn't know, did she?"
Logan waits nearly a minute before shaking his head, a minute to decide if he should deny what he's denied for so long or just give in.
"I don't think...even Lilly wouldn't have done what she did, if she had known," he says.
Which just adds a whole nother fucked up layer of guilt to the picture.
There's one other thing I have to say, even though it sounds so absurdly trite I can hardly stand to get it out. He needs a counselor, someone better able to help him than I, but I know there's no one else he'd ever admit it to. No one else he'd ever trust. "Most abused children still love their parents, Logan." My voice is shaking, but I press on. "It's a fucked up, sick kind of love, but it's still—"
He cuts me off. I don't blame him. "I'm not a child, Veronica."
His voice begs me to end this conversation, even if his words don't. And I can't bear to drag him through this any longer, not when he can't even fight back. So I smile and hastily wipe the tears that have gathered in my eyes and hold his face gently between my hands.
"You should go," I say. "ID the body, answer their questions. I'll be fine here by myself, I promise."
He gives me a look I'm sure can pierce me straight to my shaking, hollow stomach, my core of senseless grief.
And I know he can tell that I'm not fine, I'm so far from fine I don't even have an idea of where that place is anymore, but he has to leave me anyway. "I hate that asshole," he says, referring to Lamb. For a moment, I'm afraid he's going to punch the linoleum again, but he catches me staring at his hand and relaxes it deliberately. He pushes my hair back and leans forward until our heads are nearly touching.
"I'll be back soon, I promise. If you need anything, call me."
"No matter where you are, no matter how far," I sing. My voice is so terrible I'm surprised he even recognized the song, but he smiles and even laughs a little and for that brief moment I'm happy.
He carries me back to bed and makes sure I take a half-hearted sip of juice before he leaves. At the sound of the door closing, I choke back a sob.
I'm remembering my father—stupid little things, really, like his innocent glee when he bought me a waterbed and the way we'd cover for not having the energy to make real food by having desert for dinner evenings. Even if my mom hadn't left the way she had, even if she had completed her slow fade into alcoholism and absentee parenting, ending with a messy divorce like most couples, I never would have given him up. I never would have had it any other way, "who's your daddy?" and all.
I'm trying not to scream—really, really trying—but the best I can do is a series of high-pitched whimpers, muffled by a damp pillow. Logan, I'm thinking, over and over, some crazy mantra. I need his arms around me, I need his voice or I need some crack, and I need it right fucking now. I look at the clock: three hours ten minutes, since he left. I've tried to be good, not to be needy, but needy is better than raving mad and I know he won't mind. The phone rings four times before he picks up, and God, I don't think I've ever been so happy to hear his voice.
"Veronica? Is something wrong?" He sounds like something happened. I don't know how I can tell—maybe his voice is just a little too breathy, his tone just a bit too even.
I bite back my incoherent flood about desperation and needing him here now before I make the neighbors call the police. "I'm...okay," I say, instead, knowing he won't believe me. "How did things go? Where are you?"
"How did things go?" He sounds agitated. "Okay," he says.
"My kind of okay?"
That gets a laugh. "Probably. I just have to answer a few more questions, then I'll be back. Will you be...can you make it?"
"I'll try," I say. And when we hang up, I realize that he never answered my second question.
Some habits just won't die. I think Dad would be proud.
I'm running on pure adrenaline. I can only imagine how I'll explain this to Logan if I'm wrong, but I'm almost sure I'm not. And if I'm right...of course he would never tell me. I'm almost grateful to have something else to occupy my mind than grief. I wish it didn't have to be this gut-churning worry over what Logan has gotten himself into, but even that's preferable. It couldn't be too bad, I reason. He was feeling well enough to lie to me. That's got to be a good sign.
Outside the emergency room a few paparazzi lounge against the walls, chatting idly while staring at the sliding doors. The sight of them confirms my deduction—unless there's some other media darling currently enjoying Neptune's legendary medical care—and I hurry inside.
Logan isn't in the waiting room, but the triage nurse refuses to let me know where he is.
"Reporters have to wait outside, miss," she says, gesturing to the doors.
Don't sound hysterical. "I'm not a reporter! I'm his...fiancé. If you would just tell him I'm here..."
Her eyes narrow and I wonder if she noticed my hesitation before fiancé. I'm angry with myself for being so careless about something this important.
"Fiancé?" she asks. "I didn't think Logan Echolls had one. At least, that's not what I read in—"
"The goddamn tabloids are not up for discussion here! It was a recent proposal, and if you ask me to show you the ring I'm going to have to see your supervisor."
She glares at me, but sullenly stands and walks through the doors to the treatment area. She returns three minutes later, expression bemused.
"You can come with me," she says.
Logan is lying on a cot in small room with harsh fluorescent lighting. He's holding a blood-soaked towel to his forehead.
"The doctor will be here in a few minutes, Mr. Echolls," the nurse says. She lingers a few moments longer than necessary before my glare sends her slinking away. Logan shakes his head when he sees me and then winces.
"Fiancé?" he asks.
"I wasn't sure they'd let me see you, otherwise."
"How did you know?" he asks.
"Your voice. And I thought I heard someone page a nurse. Not something you usually hear at a police station. Or a morgue, for that matter. How did that go, by the way?"
"I already told you..."
"Well, you obviously missed a part."
I like anger, too, if I can't have his arms around me. The adrenaline has started to taper off, but there's still enough to let me stand there and glare at him like the sight of all that blood isn't a punch to an already damaged gut. I feel light headed and I feel okay.
"The fucking vultures were all outside the station. One of them asked me a question, I shoved him, he hit me with his camera."
"Hit you? Jesus, Logan, it looks like he tried to scalp you."
"Veronica, sit down." His tone is sharp, clearly worried. I must have been wobbling without knowing it, because my legs feel weak when I sink into the nearest chair. "You shouldn't be here," he says.
"What was I supposed to do? Worry all day about why you were in the hospital?"
"It's nothing. Just a few stitches."
"You should have told me."
He tries to raise his eyebrows and then winces again. "Would you have stayed if I did?"
I stare at the edge of the cot. "Point taken."
The doctor comes in a few minutes later, removes Logan's towel and clicks his tongue. He's quick to reassure me that head wounds bleed a lot, so they look worse than they usually are. Logan's is right at his hairline, running down his temple. It will take about twenty stitches, he says. I want to hold Logan's hand while the doctor does it, but I know he won't appreciate the gesture. But as much as I long for his touch, even his presence relaxes me, takes me away from that desperate edge I was nearing alone in the apartment.
Logan has a high tolerance for anesthesia (something else I learned after looking through his old medical files in not-very-casual curiosity), so I doubt he's as numb as the doctor thinks he is, but he bears the stitches without so much as twitching. Maybe he's just used to it, and the thought almost makes me want to weep. The doctor writes him a prescription for codeine, but won't give him any now since he has to drive back home. The stitched gash in his head makes him look like Frankenstein's monster. I wonder if I'm insane for thinking that makes him even more attractive. He swings his legs over the edge of the cot and before I know it I'm hugging him convulsively, like I've longed to do for the past four hours.
"I shouldn't have left you," he says, when my arms have finally relaxed and my breathing grown less frantic.
"You had to," I say. "You can't be with me every minute. I have to...learn to live with it. With myself."
"You don't always have to be strong, Veronica."
"Neither do you."
We're walking down the hospital corridor—slowly, because my legs still feel weak. I grip his hand very tightly, convinced I may somehow drift apart without him near me. I want to be strong, but strong right now seems to mean barely keeping inside my skin. But it's all okay, because Logan understands.
I realize our mistake as soon as we push through the double doors into the waiting room. All heads swivel in our direction, and I'm aware of brief, staccato flashes of light that make me wince. My vision grows fuzzy, the room seems to flatten into hard lines and two dimensions. What is that light? Oh, the paparazzi, of course. They've come into the waiting room, though the staff is trying to send them back outside.
"Logan," one woman asks, her voice too loud, pushy. "Did you propose to your fiancé on the night of your father's murder?"
"Is she pregnant? Will you keep the baby?" A man, this time. I can tell he's close to me, but his voice sounds like a distant buzz in my ear. I'm more aware of his thousand-dollar camera, the telephoto lens, the too-garish red tie.
I turn to Logan, but his face is a mask of barely contained rage and he doesn't notice.
"Get. Away." He bites the words out, and red-tie man blanches and backs away. The woman stays where she is and moves her microphone closer to his face with a provocative smirk. Before I can stop him, his hand leaves mine and I'm left alone against the waves crashing against me. The room is too bright and hazy—I find I can hardly see. Logan does something to the woman's equipment. I can hear her indignation, his rage-filled retort, but the meaning of the words doesn't seem to penetrate. Instead, my gaze falls to my right and there—clear as a picture despite the gauze that surrounds me—I see the back of my father's head.
He looks disheveled, like he just got out of bed, or is coming in from a long stake-out.
"Daddy!" I yell, but he turns around, and of course I'm just a stupid little girl whose daddy is never coming home.
I don't know I'm fainting until Logan catches me. My vision is obscured by a thick gray haze, but Logan's voice still penetrates.
"Veronica..." My name is a whisper, a plea as he cradles me against him. "God..." His breath hitches and then he's laughing and of course I know why, before I sail all the way out.
I come to in the car. Logan worries to himself that he should take me to another hospital—one where hopefully the paparazzi won't find him—but I beg him not to and he finally relents. I haven't eaten anything in two days, he says. If I don't manage to get some food down soon, he'll have to do something. I know he's right, but there's a part of me that wouldn't mind it so much, just wasting away. I don't tell Logan that. I suspect he already knows and it scares him.
At home, Logan sits by the bed and patiently forces me to drink an entire glass of apple juice. I'm exhausted, I want to sleep, but I'm terrified that if I close my eyes Logan will leave me alone again.
His eyes are tender, his lips curved in a slight smile that's at once sweet and pained. There are dark smudges under his eyes, his posture is taut but sagging around the edges and his gash stands out like red sign on his forehead. I want to tell him to go to sleep, to take care of himself, but I have no energy to do anything but will him not to leave me.
"I'm not going anywhere," he says.
And so I sleep.
I know he's with me when I wake again, though he's leaning against the wall opposite the bed. For minutes I lay with my eyes closed, listening to the sound of him breathing, just grateful that he's alive, never mind still here with me. Slowly, I sit up. He's fallen asleep, but I already knew that. His head lolls on his shoulder and his arms are draped around his knees. He's out cold, but his neck will be sore later.
He doesn't stir when I sit next to him. I stare at his unguarded face, mouth slightly open, and feel something like terror and grief but not quite either. My heart is beating very fast.
He starts to shiver slightly and his fingers fidget with his sleeves. Is he having a nightmare? I wonder if I should touch him, if it would make him relax again or just wake him up. But I'm spared the decision, because moments later his body jerks violently. I wince at the hollow smack of his head hitting the wall. For a moment, he lies against the wall, twisted, prone, only labored breathing revealing his agitation.
He turns to look at me. "You should go back to sleep."
"Slept myself out. Your head...are you okay? Did you take the pills?"
He just looks away and shrugs, as though it embarrasses him that I would even think to be concerned.
"You should eat," he says. He scans my face. "Do you think you could keep it down?"
Just the thought of food makes my stomach quiver ominously. Logan divines this in that inexplicable way of his and gives me a wry, tired smile. "Okay, no food."
I want to ask him again about his head, because I can't imagine how it wouldn't be bothering him, but I know he'll just push me away again. So instead I ease him down on the carpet, and rest my head on his chest. Before, I wouldn't have cared how much I annoyed him. Hell, we'd made a blood sport out of poking each other's defenses. Now? I just feel weak.
His arms close around me, his hands gently stroke my back.
His hands pause and I know, with a power that shocks me even now, exactly what I feel for him.
I've started the what-ifs, which I suppose might be a sign of progress but just feels like torture. What if I hadn't told Cassidy my father knew his secret? What if I hadn't believed him when he said he didn't do anything at Shelly's party? What if I hadn't stupidly texted Mac about Beaver in my desperation to get her out of the room?
And then this—for some reason the worst of them all:
What if dad had picked up his phone?
I wouldn't have been able to stop Beaver from blowing up the plane, but just to hear his voice for those last few seconds, to tell him I love him...
"I never told him that enough. I was so afraid of saying it, after mom. Even to him. He was the one that stayed, and I couldn't even say it to him."
My voice is bitter and waterlogged and Logan, who has listened to this litany with almost Buddha-like patience, holds himself very still, as though he's in pain.
"He knew, Veronica. You didn't have to say it. He knew you better than anyone."
But all I can remember are his long looks of disappointment, his betrayed shock all the times he realized how much I lied to him. "He didn't trust me," I say quietly.
"I don't blame him. But he loved you."
I take a moment to truly look at Logan as he says this and suddenly I understand the root of his stillness, the barely suppressed bitterness in his eyes. But I have no way to make it better.
"Logan," I try, "your father..." But I can't get any further than that.
His smile contorts his face. "Oh yes, he was absolutely full of love." The way he pronounces the last word makes me wince.
"Too bad he couldn't spare any for the rest of us. Might have done Lilly some good."
I must look rather devastated by this sudden blast of savagery, because his expression immediately softens to regret and he runs his left hand uselessly through his messy hair.
"It's just my father...there's no point, you know? Alive or dead, he's still the same asshole."
There's nothing I can do to help him. And this realization hits so hard I'm entirely unsurprised to discover myself in the bathroom again, befriending the ceramic bowl.
And then his hand is holding back my hair and I'm sorry, sorry, so fucking sorry.
I've been sitting in front of the television for hours. I could be watching a nose hair clipper infomercial for all I'm aware of it. All I process are the colors and shapes, movement of lights in a box that seems to have nothing to do any coherent picture. The sound turned into meaningless babble hours ago, so I put it on mute. Logan gave me one of his looks, but didn't say anything.
I come out of my stupor at the sound of Logan's voice. At first, I'm not sure what has me on edge, because the phone has rung countless times this evening and Logan has taken every one. Condolences, mostly. And Wallace, who Logan says desperately wants to see me. But I'm not ready to face anyone yet. I drained my strength to the damn emergency ration on that roof and I still haven't gotten it back. I have to wonder if I ever will, but just the thought makes it difficult to breathe.
Something is different about this call, though. Logan's voice is lower, less exhausted and more agitated. Even though I can't hear a word, I know that this call isn't about my father. So I pick up the phone in my room, like I haven't done since I was a little girl, and listen.
"You have to come, Logan." Ah, Trina Echolls. A voice that self-consciously melodramatic is hard to forget.
"And you have to sell your soul to US Weekly. FYI, the devil pays better, Trina."
"How can you claim this is about publicity?"
"For you, breathing is about publicity. Call it a lucky guess."
"He was our father!"
"He was a murderer and a narcissist."
"Oh, that's not like anyone I know..."
A pause. "I never murdered anyone, Trina. The charges were dropped."
"And he was acquitted. If you don't come, the press will hound you for the next year."
"Hmm, and take space away from your tabloid covers? I can see how this would be a problem."
"You hate the press, Logan."
"I'm not going."
"Oh, I see." Trina's voice is honey-coated, but the anger is clear beneath it. "You must not love that girl as much as you think you do, then. I can only imagine what all that negative attention would do to her, after what—"
"Fuck. Off." His voice is so cold I almost miss the edge of desperation.
"Will you go?"
Logan waits almost thirty seconds before answering. "No press statements. No photo ops. No fucking eulogies over his fucking dead body about what a fucking swell person he was. I show up, I leave. And Veronica stays out of it. Understood?"
"Perfectly." The smugness in her voice makes me grind my teeth. "He wasn't a bad person, you know."
"Then he just beat me up and fucked my girlfriend for fun?"
"You're just sort of...hard to love, Logan. I mean, it's not some big secret."
At the sound of Logan's laugh my fingers grip the phone so tightly I can see the clear white outline of my knuckle bones. It's hollow and raw and wrenched from some place no laughter should ever come from.
"Right. Just call me 'Junior.' See you at the funeral, Trina."
I wait for three minutes after quietly hanging up the phone. Three minutes to hear Logan's ragged breathing in the kitchen, to hear Trina's words ricochet in my head, to imagine the hell of a life lived without a single person who truly loved you.
And then I can't stand to wait any longer.
He looks up when I walk into the kitchen, and his expression is vaguely confused and a little afraid.
"I thought you were watching TV," he says.
I'm standing a foot away from his chair, too everything to get any closer. His eyes are so beautiful and so tired.
"I love you."
His head snaps up and he actually stops breathing. Fifteen seconds, I count, before he finally sucks air into his lungs with a choked gasp. I can see him force his expression back to normal, but his hands are shaking when he stands up.
"You must be really tired," he says, with an attempt at a smile.
He doesn't touch me, even when I start to cry.
This isn't how I planned it. I at least planned on him believing me. But that was before and now I'm just desperate to make him understand.
"Did you hear me?"
"Veronica, you don't'—"
"Did you?" I can feel my nose filling with mucus, but I can't stop crying.
He looks angry enough to hit something. "Yes. It was a fucking symphony. Satisfied?"
The mere foot of air between us almost seems to be crackling. "You don't believe me."
"I think you don't know what you're saying."
"Damn it, Logan, you ought to teach classes: how to alienate people 101."
His eyes widen briefly, as though I've slapped him. Stupid, stupid thing to say, but now I can't take it back. "How quickly the charity worker comes to agree with my insensitive sister."
"You don't think I know why you're doing this? Do me a favor, Veronica: forget about it, please. I'm fine."
"This isn't about charity."
"It isn't? Some warped idea you have of saving me? Making me lovable? I'm not, don't bother."
Damn it, this is going all wrong. I put my hands to my temples and lean against the table to stop myself from swaying. "Then why are you still here?" I ask, finally.
He shrugs. "You heard Trina."
"I'd like to hear you say it."
His eyes are getting glassy, and his smile is filled with so much pain only its shape qualifies it. "And for the afternoon, would you prefer the iron maiden or the rack?"
He sighs. "I love you."
"Why should I believe you?"
Almost involuntarily, his hand reaches out to cup my cheek. I take a shuddering breath while he closes his eyes. "You don't have to," he says softly.
Like that, Logan exposes selfish underbellies I had never suspected existed.
"Then you don't have to believe me either," I say. "But I love you. If something ever...I mean, remember I told you. I don't say it often, so remember."
His hands are shaking badly, so I grip them. "Every fucking word," he says.
It's only when he breaks down and his tears are soaking into my shirt that I realize how much it cost him to believe.
"Veronica," he says, coming into my room after another round of telephone calls, "We need to talk."
I look up from the photo I've been staring at for the last thirty minutes: my father and I, the day I graduated from junior high. He's giving me bunny ears and I'm sticking my tongue out. Three seconds after this shot was taken, Lilly handed the camera back to my dad and dragged me off to giggle about some gorgeous "younger man" she'd just made out with.
Who turned out to be Logan.
It's a cliché, I know, that line about my past self, the Veronica sticking out her tongue in the picture, never believing that in four years she would be sitting here with that same younger man. That of the four of us, we would be the only ones left. That after I lost the person I cared more about than anyone else in the world, he would be the only one who could possibly help me.
"What is it?" I ask. His face is too pale and his eyes are still slightly red. He needs to sleep, but I know he won't.
He sits next to me on the floor and I rest my head on his jeans because I can't bear to not touch him.
"It's been three days," he says. I can feel the tension in his muscles—he's worried about saying this to me. "They haven't found any...I mean, there's no body. We need to make arrangements."
The joy of that 'we' blooms in my chest and spreads like a balm.
"If you don't think you can deal, then I'll do it, but I thought..."
I smile up at him, and I realize it's already become an unfamiliar expression. "Yes," I say.
He seems surprised, but he smiles back.
This isn't going to be easy. I'm not stupid enough to think so, and I'm sure there will be many moments that approximate the hell of the past few days, but I'm suddenly not so terrified of the future. Logan might be fucked up, but then again, so am I. Better for us to fuck up together than do it apart, quietly desperate for one another.
"What is it?" Logan asks, running his hand through my tangled hair.
The answer surprises me, and I can't help but laugh.