A.N. No, I don't own anything. Yes, I'll give them back when I'm done playing with them.
Mac's fingers flew across the keys. Her eyes narrowed as she hit yet another security wall. Without pausing, she knocked it down with the same password as the day before. The adrenaline was swishing through her veins, making her breath come faster and her eyes dilate.
The ringing of her cell phone made her jump, the added adrenaline making her toes and fingers tingle. Breathing hard, she glanced at her timer. Only 15 seconds left until the computer located her anyway. Careful to leave no trace of her activities, she backed out the way she came in, reinstating each security wall as she went.
Why was getting out always so much easier than getting in?
She shut off her computer, ran a shaky hand through her hair and swallowed. Her phone continued to play the sonata she'd had on there for months. It was beautiful, happy and reminded her of a park full of cherry blossoms. But she couldn't be bothered to change it.
She grabbed it off the dresser and pressed send, if only to make the music stop. "Hello?"
"Mac, buddy, pal. You don't call, you don't write."
A reluctant smile teased the corners of her mouth. "Hey, Veronica."
"If you were a bail jumper, where would you go?"
"Hawaii," Mac answered automatically, leaning her chair back onto two legs.
"Planes are a no no to the wanted fugitive. Generally," she amended, before continuing with "And Vegas is out."
"Why's that?" Mac asked, not really caring, but conversations with Veronica were always like this. And she'd quickly learned that resistance was futile.
"That's where he posted bail."
Raising her eyebrow, Mac waited. She couldn't imagine that Veronica really needed her help with this question. She was the computer geek, not the brain stormer. Sure enough, after a few seconds of silence, Veronica's voice came back on.
"I was thinking about going over to Logan's tonight. You wanna come?"
Mac's roommate slammed the door on her way in, barely sparing Mac a glance as she dumped her books on the twin bed and cranked up her music. Sighing, Mac got up, grabbing her sweater off the back of her chair and her key off the desk.
"Hold on a second, Veronica," she muttered.
Rolling her eyes, Mac pushed out the door and through the exit to the fire escape of the dorm building, pulling on her sweater as she went. "Sorry. Roommate."
"Oh the joys of communal habitation." The sigh from the other end sounded almost heartfelt. Mac resisted the urge to smirk.
"Yeah. Joyous. How's your dad?" she asked, settling onto one of the metal stairs.
"Great. He's making lasagna. Come with me to Logan's."
"Because you're my friend, he's my boyfriend. It'd be a very friendly evening."
Mac thought of the previous evenings spent in the living room of the suite Logan shared with Dick. Take out from one of the three restaurants that Veronica and Logan could agree on and actually served vegetarian cuisine. It still amazed her how much meat one very petite blonde could eat. Movies, music. Talk, sometimes even laughter. All in all, Veronica was right, it was very friendly. And then Dick would come home.
"I don't think so."
"Logan rented all three of the Indiana Jones movies. I was thinking marathon."
"Bribery will not work."
"Bribery? Who said anything about bribes? All I did was mention Harrison Ford movies."
"Young, cute Harrison Ford. And it's not going to work."
Veronica was quiet for a moment. "Dick's spending the weekend with his dad."
Controlling a wince at the sound of his name, Mac cleared her throat. "Quality time trading off girls, eh?"
"I believe the proper term these days is chicks, my magenta haired friend. And I think they're meeting some of his father's business associates."
"The point is it'll just be the three of us."
"Where's Wallace?" Mac asked, pulling her knees closer into her chest as she stared into the sunset. She heard Veronica sigh. "He's still looking for Jackie, isn't he?"
"He's not answering his phone. Again." Mac smiled a little at the exasperation in Veronica's voice. She could disappear for days without telling anyone, but if Wallace dared there was hell to pay.
"He was in lecture today," Mac told her. "But I think he had basketball practice until six. Try him on the way to Logan's."
"Can I take that to mean you're coming?" Veronica asked, her voice suddenly so chipper that Mac could almost picture her as a member of the pep squad. Almost.
"My hair is brown. I'll see you in an hour."
Veronica was a liar.
That was all that Mac could think as she stared at the doorway, her forkful of yellow curry and rice weightlessly floating somewhere between her mouth and her plate. Her eyes were glued to Dick's as he let the door swing shut behind him.
"Hey, man," Logan's voice came from the abyss near her left ear. "I thought you weren't coming back until Sunday. We got Thai."
Dick's eyes shifted away from hers and landed on Logan as he pocketed his keys. "I grabbed a burrito on the way."
Shaking his hair out of his face, he glanced briefly at Mac as he shifted the strap of the duffel bag on his shoulder. "Hey, Veronica," he said, moving across the living room towards his door. When he passed Mac, he mumbled, "Ghost World."
Then his door was closing behind him and Mac was wondering why her fork wouldn't move in one direction or the other. It was just stuck in limbo.
"What does Harrison Ford have that I don't?" Logan asked, snatching up the DVD box to stare at the actor.
"Well, he's good looking, rich, talented—"
"And I repeat, what does he have that I don't?"
Mac forced a smile as they continued to chatter on next to her. Suddenly, her hand felt heavy and she was able to move it again. She shoved the curry in her mouth, chewed, swallowed, and repeated. But she didn't taste it.
As Logan finished setting up the movie, Mac surreptitiously glanced at Dick's closed door. The centerfold stretched across the front, pursing her lips at the viewer, made her snap her gaze back to the screen. She felt Veronica's eyes boring into the side of her face, but Mac began mixing her curry and rice together with an industrious expression. Then the movie started and Veronica looked away.
Dick didn't come out for the rest of the night. Mac couldn't help but wonder what he did in there. And why had he come home two days early? Weekends with Dick Sr. were the highlight of Dick's life. Alcohol, women and dirty jokes. This was the stuff of Dick Casablancas's dreams. Probably in that order.
Mac fidgeted in her seat. She could leave, but then Veronica and Logan would give her those looks. They were a milder form of the ones she got from everyone else in Neptune. The ones she avoided by sitting in the back of lectures and shopping at the Safeway two towns over. The looks filled with disdainful pity that asked, "How could you not have known?"
Logan and Veronica weren't that bad. Neither was Wallace. At least theirs were just pitying.
Nevertheless, she forced herself to sit through one of the movies before commencing her stealthy plan. She yawned a bit when Harrison Ford got to the village. She yawned again, with less delicacy, when he first stumbled into the catacombs. At the end, she yawned so loudly that her friends stared at her in surprise.
The blandness of Logan's tone made her think that she might have over done it a bit. She smiled sheepishly. "I was up pretty late last night working on my CS project."
"Classes only started a week ago," Logan said, casually sliding his arm across the back of the couch. "You already have projects?"
Mac smiled at him as she grabbed her hoodie and zipped it up. "All of my classes have homework and or projects already. Don't yours?" Her friends glanced at each other and shrugged. "You don't know? Where have you guys been, making out in the back of lectures?"
When Veronica turned pink, Mac froze in picking up her purse. Glancing at Logan, she saw a smirk lingering on the edges of his mouth. She shook her head. "Forget I asked. I don't want to know. I'll see you crazy kids on Monday."
"Bye Mac," she heard Veronica call after her. Without turning around, she raised her hand and wiggled her fingers as the door swung shut behind her.
A sigh of relief escaped her as she dashed down the stairs and out the front door. Her dorm was only a few buildings away, a fact that Veronica had immediately labeled convenient since it meant that Mac, Logan and Wallace were all within two minutes walking distance of each other. And Dick, but Veronica didn't mention him much.
The thought drew Mac's mind back to his door. Whenever she was there, which, admittedly, wasn't often, the door was closed, the blonde bombshell staring at her lustfully. Logan and Veronica had caught her staring back a couple of times, but neither of them said anything. Logan had even refrained from lewd jokes. But then, everyone knew that those had double meanings these days.
She wondered vaguely what classes Dick was taking this semester as she pulled out her keys and opened the door to her dorm. In front of the elevator, her RA smiled widely, showing off her perfectly straight pearly whites. "Hi, Cindy."
"Hi, Megan." The elevator dinged open and they stepped inside. Mac quickly pressed the button for the sixth floor.
"You're not going out tonight?" she asked, popping her gum and hooking her thumbs into the straps of her backpack.
Mac smiled wanly at the RA. "Just getting back, actually."
Mac wished the elevator would move faster. Or that someone else would get in. "I have a project due next week."
"Yeah," Megan said sympathetically. "CS is supposed to be an intense major."
Mac blinked at her in surprise as the elevator doors slid open on their floor. "Yeah, I guess." Good memory, she thought. She couldn't have spoken to the bubbly RA more than a couple of times over the last three weeks.
"Good luck." Megan grinned and waved before heading off down the hall towards her own single room, her blonde hair bouncing behind her in a perfectly straight pony tail.
Suddenly exhausted, Mac slouched into her room, for once glad that her roommate was as anti-social as she. The lights were off and Crimson—her real name was Amanda—was already in bed.
Sitting at her desk, she let her computer boot up, her mind drifting back to the expression on Dick's face when he saw her there. The frozen neutrality of his eyes.
Pulling the laptop towards her, she opened the password program and began what she'd started the day before. That fifth security wall was going down.
Veronica was not easy to dissuade when she was after something she wanted. Mac sighed and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear as she and Veronica walked back towards Veronica's car. "We're watching Capote."
Mac glanced at her in surprise. "Logan agreed to Capote?"
"No, but he will."
The serene confidence in Veronica's voice made Mac laugh. "So, you'll come?" Veronica pounced with a grin.
"I really can't. Coding takes time, which I don't have much of between my full-schedule and work."
"Mac, it's just one night. You need to get out of that dorm room. I think Crimson is rubbing off on you."
Offended, Mac opened her mouth to protest, but Veronica cut her off. "I mean, look at you, you're positively pasty. Are you sure you haven't joined a vampire cult?"
Mac raised an eyebrow. "Vampire cult?"
"It's been known to happen. You know how it is. You spend all this time alone in your room. Suddenly, anyone seems interesting. Really, I'm just trying to save you from yourself."
"You're really not going to give up, are you?"
"Wallace is coming," Veronica said, ignoring Mac's question. "He said he has practice but he'll get to Logan's around seven."
Her stomach flipped. "Logan's? I thought we were going to your house."
"DVD player's broken. Again. Which means we'll just have to make due with the high-tech bachelor pad rather than my apartment's many luxurious qualities. Damn," she said, snapping her fingers.
"You love Logan for his surround sound, don't you?"
"Among other things."
"Don't want to know," Mac broke in hurriedly, and the girls started laughing. But it was hard to forget with Veronica, and the smile quickly faded. She glanced away with a fake laugh-sigh combination while Veronica pretended not to notice.
They were silent, unusual for Veronica, but all too frequent for Mac these days, until they reached Veronica's car. "So," she said, pulling out her keys and climbing into the convertible. "I'll see you at Logan's, right?"
"Seven o'clock," Mac said with a forced smile.
"Seven o'clock," Veronica repeated firmly and started the car.
Mac walked away before Veronica could reverse. She didn't like watching people leave.
"You can't leave, Wallace," Veronica argued, hopping down from her chair. "You've still got twenty bucks."
"Which I will be keeping, thank you."
Logan threw down his cards and grabbed a red vine from the bucket on the table. Mac did the same and they both leaned back in their chairs as Veronica followed Wallace around the room.
"I love watching her swindle," Logan said, gazing lovingly at his girlfriend.
"But you still have a chance to win back all that money Mac stole from you."
"I think I resent that," Mac muttered to Logan as she reached for another red vine.
"That Mac stole from me?" Wallace repeated incredulously. He turned his eyes back to Mac and Logan and pointed at Veronica as if to say, "Did you hear that?"
Veronica leaned in closer and mock whispered. "I can help you. She does this thing where she taps a card when she has a bad hand."
Mac nearly choked. "Wait a minute."
"And Logan's eyebrow twitches when he gets a card he needs."
"Isn't she just adorable?" Logan said with a grin that bordered on menacing. "Darling, doesn't Wallace have practice in the morning?"
Veronica turned back to face him as he stood from the table. "Point being, sugar plum?"
Mac hid a grin as Wallace took advantage of the shift in Veronica's attention to slip on his jacket and move towards the door.
"Point being that he might want to sleep rather than listen to you catalogue your favorite 80s films."
Rolling her eyes, Veronica turned back to Wallace as he reached the door. "Heathers. No contest. Good night, Wallace."
"Good night, V. I'll call you tomorrow."
"You better," she said, pointing at him as he pulled open the door.
"Bye Logan, Mac," he called, backing over the threshhold.
Mac didn't glance up as she replied, turning her attention instead to the inside of Logan's refrigerator. "Oh, sorry man," she heard Wallace say as she reached resignedly for a Coke.
Turning back to the room, she pulled the tab and sighed. "You have a shocking lack of root beer in that fridge, Echolls."
"Uh, sorry," he said, nervously enough to make her look up.
She blinked at Dick as he let the door slam shut behind him. Their eyes locked for a moment and she was sure that they both stopped breathing. Then, he shifted his eyes away and started to walk across the room. Passing Logan and Veronica, he gave them the requisite head jerk, interpreted as a greeting by guys everywhere.
He hesitated mid-step as he came even with Mac then veered behind her into the kitchen. She didn't turn around as she heard the beer bottles rattle in the fridge as it opened and closed quickly. As he walked past her again, she remained frozen, not even moving when he murmured, "Ghost World."
The door to his room clicked shut and Mac, suddenly able to move again, turned her head to locate the noise. Encountering the naked blonde, she quickly spun away and took a swig of soda.
"So, are you satisfied?" she asked, sending a half smile towards Veronica.
"What?" her friend asked, clearly surprised.
"Have you won enough rounds, or do you need to torture us some more?" Mac asked, gesturing at the table with her Coke can.
Veronica picked up her pile of winnings and fanned herself with the one-dollar bills. "I think I've collected enough gas money to hold me for a week or so."
Mac laughed and took another swig of her soda before setting the can on the table and grabbing her jacket. "That's good because I only have five dollars left to my name."
"That five dollars could be saying my name—"
"Say good night, Bugsy," Logan said, pushing Veronica towards the door as he swept crumbs off of the table into a silver metal trashcan. The kind people called wastebaskets. The kind Mac had only seen in magazines, movies and at Cassidy's house.
Jerking her eyes away, she managed to hold onto her smile until she saw Veronica, meeting her gaze so easily. How can she look at me?
"Whoa there, Kermit. You're looking a little green around the gills. Too much candy?" Veronica asked sympathetically.
Swallowing hard, Mac laughed a bit. "I guess so. Remind me never to try to keep up with Logan's candy eating skills again."
"I'd like to thank a severe lack of parental supervision and a doting Swedish nanny for making this moment possible," he said, hugging the trashcan to his chest and pretending to wipe away a tear.
Ignoring her boyfriend, Veronica led a pale Mac to the front door. "Do you want me to walk you back?"
"No," Mac denied quickly. Veronica blinked and Mac tried to smooth the panic out of her expression. She had to get away. "I'll be okay. I probably just need some air."
"If you're sure. Text me when you get there, okay?"
Nodding quickly, Mac refused to look at Veronica again and called "Bye guys," over her shoulder as she hurried out the door.
She was right. The crisp night air did make her feel a little less ill. So did throwing up in the bushes next to Logan's building.
She didn't go to Logan's suite for three weeks, and then only because Veronica insisted on a movie night to celebrate catching her bail jumper. She picked X-Men, all three volumes.
"Why did we need to include the third one?" Mac asked.
"Because then it would be Movie and Its Sequel Night. Trilogy Night sounds so much cooler, don't you think?" Veronica smiled as she tossed open the top of the pizza box.
"They don't even light Phoenix on fire," Mac muttered to herself, poking her fork into her pasta salad.
Logan sank into the couch as the FBI warning flashed onto the screen. Veronica handed him a plate, which he absently took along with the napkin she shoved at him immediately afterwards.
Mac watched them out of the corner of her eye as they automatically moved into each other on the couch. It was as if they were puzzle pieces; they had to connect. Seeing them apart would make the whole picture incomprehensible.
Sighing inwardly, she looked down at her pasta and squished a noodle with her fork. It suddenly wasn't very appetizing. The rich aroma of the melted cheese and sauce of the pizza assaulted her nose and she dropped the pasta container on the table, feeling nauseous.
Logan and Veronica didn't notice when she stopped eating and sandwiched herself into the corner of the couch. The action played out across the screen, but she couldn't concentrate. Her mind kept wandering from topic to topic, never quite staying with the movie that she could usually recite line by line.
Maybe it was the fact that she hadn't been able to eat all day that made her so tired. Or maybe it was the endless jumping of her mind. Whatever it was, she started feeling sleepy right after Wolverine and Rogue ended up at the mansion. She managed to make it through the first movie, but almost as soon as Bobby turned Wolverine's fingers to ice she was asleep.
When she woke up, she lay there for a moment, trying to remember where she was and why she was sleeping on a couch. She fingered the soft blanket on top of her and sleepily sat up. Rubbing her eyes, she yawned and looked around the darkened room. She could see the outline of the door from the light in the hallway, but there was no light coming from either of the bedrooms.
She considered leaving, but worried it might seem weird to disappear without explanation in the middle of the night. Sighing, she lay back down on the couch and pulled the blanket up to her chin. Squeezing her eyes shut, she willed sleep to return.
"You ever have trouble sleeping?"
She shrugged and turned her head to face him. "Sure, sometimes. Usually when I eat too much sugar."
Cassidy smiled a little and shook his head. "No, I mean, when you just keep thinking and thinking. Like you can't turn your brain off."
"Turn your brain off?" Mac laughed. "Is that even possible?"
Cassidy laughed too. "Probably not."
Sitting bolt upright on the couch, Mac put a hand on her stomach and stood to head for the bathroom. "Ow," she muttered, stumbling and grabbing hold of the couch.
She reached down to find what she'd stepped on and felt the buttons of a video game controller. Slowly, she picked it up and contemplated it. A few minutes later, she was back on the couch with the controller and a muted version of a first person shooter game. She was pretty sure that Logan and Dick only owned it because the character had big boobs, but she chose it anyway.
Engrossed in the game, she didn't hear the key scraping in the lock. She was completely shocked by the blinding light of the hallway as the front door swung open. The dark figure paused there for a moment, then stepped into the room. Mac's heart was beating so loudly that she was sure Dick could hear it. Warily, she watched him quietly ease the door shut and move across the room without glancing at her again.
She returned to her game and tried to ignore him as he moved around in the kitchen. She heard the distinct sound of a beer bottle opening and she frowned. He already smelled like alcohol.
She took aim at one of the spider bots on screen and shot him once, twice. She was going for a third, when Dick spoke up from behind her. "Don't shoot it again. It'll explode."
Quickly dodging around the inert spider, she jogged ahead, glancing around the corridor. "There should be a room to your left."
Swallowing, she turned her spy to the left and saw the doorway. Without questioning it, she jogged inside and quickly took out the guard. The rest of the room seemed empty.
She hesitated, glancing around the room and, again, Dick answered her silent question. "Blow up that crate."
Underneath the crate was a ladder leading to another room below. Climbing down, she didn't dodge fast enough and a guard shot her. "Roll," Dick said, stepping over the back of the couch to sit on the far end. "You gotta dodge, Ghost World," he added when she got hit again and fell off the ladder.
"Where's the shooter?"
"Behind that keg looking thing."
Fingers flying, she turned and shot at the barrel until it exploded. Calmly, she continued through the room and out the door to the new corridor.
"I guess that's one way of doing it."
Mac smiled a bit to herself as Dick leaned into the cushions and took a swig from his bottle.