TITLE: Only Hope, Chapter One
RATING: PG13 thus far; will be R later
CHARACTER/PAIRING: Logan/Veronica with appearances from others
SPOILERS: Diverges from canon near the end of 1x15, but has some spoilers through the teaser of 1x18. As a head's-up to all, this fic differs from canon in many ways, so be prepared.
WORD COUNT: 3750
SUMMARY: When one thinks that they've lost their way, hope will be there to lead them home. General note: this is a future fic that is pretty AU from current canon in a lot of ways ... Most of the differences should be clear by the end of this chapter. :)
AUTHOR'S NOTES: I've had this idea in my head since probably the hiatus after S1, if not earlier, and I'm finally getting it written (woo!) for the current loveathons Epic challenge on LJ.
THANKS TO: Super-mega-awesome thanks to Sarah P who is my kickass beta, even though she doesn't kick my ass for using certain words or phrases repetatively, or for making flashbacks complicated by just switching tenses instead of italicizing. )

CHAPTER ONE

The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds. - Will Durant

As Veronica checks her reflection in the mirror one last time, she can't believe that this day has finally arrived. Her blonde hair has been neatly curled into soft tendrils that brush lightly upon her almost-bare shoulders. She glances at a nearby mirror and smiles widely at the sight she sees.

It had taken more than a little convincing to avoid having to walk down the aisle in a big floofy princess dress. But that sort of dress wasn't her style, not anymore. After a number of persuasive arguments, her mother and Duncan finally yielded, allowing her to wear an A-line dress instead.

A loud knock on the door interrupts her train of thought. "You ready in there?" her father calls.

Veronica reaches for her bouquet and glances around the room towards the other bridesmaids who are carefully placing the veil on Angela's head, making sure not to disturb her makeup and hairstyle. Veronica hurries over and rearranges one of Angela's stray curls, certain that Duncan will be content with the woman he'll be marrying momentarily.

Duncan Kane and Angela Kennedy met in college and hit it off immediately. Angela, while brown-haired, is remarkably similar to Veronica's former self – innocent, obedient, easy-going – so it's easy for the now-jaded blonde to understand what her half-brother sees in the short brunette.

Veronica sees her brother for what he is – a good man who doesn't want to have to work and fight every day to be happy with the one he loves. She sometimes wonders how much his childhood affected his nature in that way. After all, Lilly was always the outgoing one, the one who had to have her way, everything and everyone else be damned. Duncan, however, was used to indulging his older sister and was accustomed to being the one that his father and mother could depend on to do the right thing.

Still, after Keith learned that Celeste killed Lilly in a fit of rage, all because her errant daughter discovered the one secret she was most desperate to keep hidden, Abel Koontz was released from death row, and Veronica watched her brother draw further into himself. He was once the leader of their high school class; he was once outgoing and socialized with their classmates. After the reveal, however, something inside him changed. He went through the motions, sure enough, still writing for the Neptune Navigator after yielding up the editorship to her, earning high grades in all of his classes, and retaining his starting spot on the Varsity soccer team.

To the rest of the world, it seemed as if little had changed. However, Logan and Veronica knew him best, and to them, it was clear that very little had stayed the same.

As the trial against his mother proceeded, it wasn't long before all of Neptune found out the truth about Celeste and the lengths to which she would go to ensure she would have Jake Kane, until death do them part. Duncan could scarcely believe that his mother could be so desperate to bear Jake's child – the unfortunate Lilly – that she was implanted with sperm from Donor #232, a Caucasian man with physical features very similar to that of Jake Kane.

After Celeste was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison, it wasn't long before the Kane divorce was finalized. And that gave Duncan and Veronica and Logan a common ground that none of them would ever have wished for – they each had lost their mothers.

Veronica knows that despite how strong-willed Duncan may seem, he is ultimately fragile, as he was never thrown into the fire, like she was after Lilly died, and forced to find a way to survive. She understands that it's probably because of his own history that he so desperately sought a woman such as Angela – beautiful, biddable, and damnably innocent. Veronica doesn't doubt for a second that the traditional symbolism of her white wedding gown is one-hundred percent accurate.

And there was nothing wrong with that. Veronica likes Angela well enough, from what little she knows of her, and she knows that Angela makes Duncan happy – and, really, that's all that matters.

The bridal party finally emerges from the chamber, and Veronica sees her mother working carefully to organize the wedding party in the church's narthex so that nothing will go wrong for her step-son's wedding.

After her mother returned from … wherever it was that she spent the past twenty-odd months, she had approached Keith about getting a divorce. Apparently, she was dating Jake Kane again, and there had been talk of wedding bells between them. Keith agreed, as he was dating Alicia again at that point, and within twelve months, both of her parents had remarried and appeared to be truly happy in their new relationships.

Veronica moves swiftly towards the end of the processional line, still finding it hard to believe – even after so many months have passed since Duncan's proposal – that she, of all people, was selected as Angela's Maid of Honor. She can understand the train of thought well enough, she supposes. After all, Angela doesn't have any sisters, and Duncan wanted her to be the Maid of Honor. However, Veronica's life is in New York City now, and she rarely has the free time to visit her family in California, let alone see them frequently enough to help plan a wedding.

Her mother had, luckily enough, been willing to help out with that role, in part, Veronica suspects, because she herself is not planning to marry. At least this way, her mother got to plan a wedding for one of her children.

Other than ensuring that she wouldn't be wearing a poofy skirt on this gorgeous California day, Veronica has had minimal interest in organizing Duncan's big day. She was happy to help out and offer opinions as needed, but honestly, all that really matters to her was that her younger brother is happy. And, if the size of his smile at last night's rehearsal dinner was any indication, he absolutely is.

Veronica hears her mother instruct a man – presumably the Best Man – to come stand beside her, and she's somewhat curious as to whom she'll be walking down the aisle with. After all, whoever he was, he hadn't been at the rehearsal dinner the night before. She'd almost asked Duncan who he'd chosen, but she knew that more than likely, it was someone that her brother had talked about ad nauseum during his college days – in short, someone that she would remember little to nothing about.

"Hello, Veronica," she hears a very familiar voice greet her, and she looks over in surprise to see the one and only Logan Echolls standing beside her. She does a double-take - she certainly didn't expect to see him in the wedding party.

Veronica wants to hug him tightly, tell him how must she's missed him, and catch up on everything that's happened in their lives over the past seven years. This is hardly the time or place for that, though, and given the fact that I he /i was the reason they lost touch in the first place, she really doesn't want to get all sentimental anyhow. So instead, she flashes him a wide smile and greets him happily.

The opening chords of the Wedding March fill the air, causing Logan to offer her his arm so they can proceed down the aisle to take their places beside Duncan and his bride-to-be.

As they enter into the church, Veronica notes how the sunlight pours through the stained glass windows that line the walls. It's such a beautiful day – a perfect day for a wedding.

Twenty minutes later, Veronica has reevaluated her opinion of the church and of the wedding itself. This is one of the many reasons why she never wants to get married. It's far too much ceremony for her tastes, and she finds her mind drifting as Father John drones on and on about love and fidelity and honor.

Her eyes fix on the man standing at Duncan's side, and she assesses the changes in Logan – or the superficial ones, at least – since she saw him last. He's maybe an inch or two taller than he was before they all left for college, and he doesn't have any highlights in his hair as he did then. But, really, the biggest change that Veronica can see in him now is that he looks happy in a way that she never thought she'd see.

In high school, Logan had never been lucky, at least not in any way that mattered. He bore up well enough under all the adversity that he faced, so much so that few knew the depth of the grief he felt most days. Everything changed between them once Logan enlisted her help in finding his mother, so Veronica knew the cold reality Logan lived with better than most.

True enough, she had never been able to actually find his mother's body for him, but she had helped him accept the truth that his mother was, in fact, dead. And sometimes, that can be the hardest step to take.

It was later that night, after he'd broken down in her arms in the lobby of the Sunset Regent, when things had changed between them for good, for better. With Leo's help, Veronica drove Logan, who had probably downed at least one bottle of whiskey by that point, back to his house, with plans to enlist the help of someone in his family to make sure he didn't do something absolutely stupid before he sobered up. However, no one was home, and after a bit of prodding, Logan informed her that his dad was "rediscovering life" at one of the family cabins, probably with a naked floozy at his side, and his sister had flown to New York to audition for a role as Julia Roberts's ass double in an upcoming film.

Faced with two options – to either leave a very wasted and very alone Logan to fend for himself all night or to spend the night nearby and hopefully prevent any of his more foolish actions – she chose the latter, thanking Leo for his help but sending him home.

Needless to say, Logan didn't make things easy for her. He never did, always fighting and pushing and doing whatever was necessary to make her life just a little more difficult. And that night? Was no exception.

It all started when she tried to persuade him that it was time for bed and that he should put on his pajamas. He didn't want to cooperate, insisting that he wasn't tired and wanted to dance the night away. Before Veronica knew what was going on, rock music was playing loudly, and Logan was grooving to the beat. It wasn't too long before he tried to get her dancing as well, with a none-too-subtle hand placed on her hip and another grasping for her arm.

She put a stop to that, naturally. Dancing with a very drunk and half-naked Logan couldn't have possibly ended up anywhere good. Veronica instead returned her attention to the matter at hand – convincing Logan that, no, she really didn't want to dance with him, and that, yes, he really should get some sleep.

Victorious - finally - Veronica left to rummage around in the Echolls' kitchen for some food, to allow Logan privacy while he changed out of his costume and into pajama pants. Or at least something other than his 80s wear.

When she returned ten minutes later, she half-hoped – but didn't really expect – Logan to be fast asleep in the pool house. What she discovered, however, was the last thing she expected to see.

Logan. All but naked, clad only in the pair of tighty-whities he wore underneath his Risky Business-themed costume.

Now, she doesn't even remember what she said, but she knows she was totally thrown by his undressed state, and figures that she probably stammered something unintelligible. Because the one thing that she does remember is Logan asking her, half-teasing and half-flirting, "Echolls got your tongue?"

While she was tongue-tied by the sight of his appearance – particularly the definition of his chest muscles, something Lilly had always admired, but also something Veronica hadn't seen in years – she was hardly going to admit it to him. After all, this was Logan Echolls who, until his mother jumped off a bridge a few weeks earlier, had been the bane of her existence. There was nothing to keep him from reverting back to his old self, and damned if she was going to give him ammunition to use against her.

Her returning shot was some biting remark about how surprised she was by his flabby chest, and she still recalls just how sexy - and totally disbelieving – he looked when he smirked in response. She also recalls with some amusement – and only a tinge of regret – that she declined his invitation to join him on the bed to test out just how flabby he really was.

She'd known exactly where that would have taken her, them. While it may have opened up a whole new world to her, filled with excitement and pleasure, it could quite possibly have been the greatest mistake she ever could have made.

A part of her regrets not sleeping with Logan when the opportunity arose, but she quickly dismisses it. She's happy now, with a man who loves her in a way that Logan wasn't capable of then. Nicholas Elliott is complete where Logan was broken, is trusting where Logan was betrayed, is everything Veronica needs where Logan … Logan wasn't.

Still, despite any and all of the failings Logan may have had as a potential boyfriend, he was a great friend to her throughout the last year and a half of high school. She can't deny that, she won't deny that. And it was all because of that day and night she spent with him, staying by his side as he was forced to face his grief, saving him from himself after he drank to forget everything that was wrong with his life.

She'd never thought that she would be able to reclaim the close foursome that Logan, Lilly, and Duncan had given her, but with the addition of Wallace to the remaining three, they came close. The dynamic was different, of course, as this time they all knew just how fleeting both life and happiness could be. At the same time, they were there for each other in a way that she had never dreamed possible.

Wallace had been the only one she could truly trust until she reclaimed the friendships with Duncan and Logan that she'd thought had been lost for good. And it was great. Whether she needed to talk, needed to cry, or just needed to be distracted from … whatever it was that was going on in her life, they were there to help. And, likewise, she did the same for them.

She still doesn't understand why things had to change between them when they all left Neptune and headed off to college. Or, rather, she understands that the distance made it more difficult for them to stay in touch, but she wonders why one particular member of the group hadn't seemed quite as willing to reciprocate the efforts.

Obviously, she is still on excellent terms with Wallace, who has since added the title of "step-brother" to his ever expanding BFF résumé. And with their newfound blood ties, she and Duncan are just as close as they'd been in high school, if not closer.

But with Logan, things aren't anywhere near the same as how they used to be. Logan had left each of her initial emails and phone calls unanswered as they started classes in the utterly new worlds that they found themselves in. She'd called him three times from NYU – and sent a few tentative emails as well – making sure to ask questions about his life at Northwestern, wanting him to know that she cared about how he was doing, trying everything she could to elicit some sort of response.

And what did she get?

Nothing, nada, zip, zilch.

At the time, she'd chalked it up to him being busy, being finally able to enjoy life without living in the constant shadow of the paparazzi, but a part of her wondered if he was just glad to finally be able to leave Neptune – and all the bad memories that it represented – behind.

Up until that afternoon, the last time she saw him was at her nineteenth birthday party. It had been an odd mixture of adults – Dad, Mom, Alicia, and Jake, the man who was her father in everything but her heart – and a few of her close friends. They'd had fun dancing on the beach, splashing in the waves, and playing ultimate frisbee along the shoreline.

Later that night, Logan had pulled her away from the crowd and walked with her along the shoreline. He'd talked about things that he'd never told her before – about how sometimes he wished he wasn't Logan Nathaniel Echolls, how sometimes he wished that he could trade places with one of the poor 02'ers, how he wondered if he'd ever be able to escape the shadow that his dead ex-girlfriend cast over his life.

They never talked about Lilly. Ever. For one, it was a topic on which Wallace knew only what he'd heard from others, so it was hardly something for their foursome to bring up in everyday conversation. More importantly though, thoughts of Lilly were still far too painful for Veronica and Duncan. She'd thought the same was true for Logan, but given that tentative topic of conversation, she was clearly mistaken.

After stunning her into silence with the mention of Lilly, Logan halted their progress down the beach and reached into the pocket of his swim trunks for a small, rectangular box that was encased within a protective Ziploc bag. He couldn't have risked getting her present wet, he'd joked.

If she was stunned at the earlier reference to Lilly, she was in absolute disbelief by this point. After all, Logan had already given her a birthday gift – the Kanye West CD she'd wanted. He shook his head and gave her a small, tentative smile. That was only a part of her gift. This was her real gift.

Her fingers shook with an uncertainty that she despised as she tentatively lifted the cover of the box to find a small locket attached to a gold chain. It was too much, she had protested. He shouldn't have gotten her something so expensive. He returned that he had more money than he knew what to do with, and he wanted to give her something to remember him and their friends by.

At this point, he carefully opened the ovular locket to reveal the two photographs that he had carefully tucked inside. The first was of their original foursome – Lilly, Duncan, Logan, and Veronica – at the last Homecoming they'd shared together before everything had changed forever. The second was of their latest group – Wallace, Duncan, Logan, and Veronica – at Prom a few months earlier. She'd forgotten that Logan had insisted on a picture of the four of them together – sans dates – and she idly wondered if he'd had this in mind, even then.

She'd felt tears well in her eyes for the first time in a long time. After all, she prided herself on being a tough girl, and tough girls didn't cry.

Logan gingerly fastened the locket around her neck before gently gathering her into his arms.

"I'm going to miss you, Veronica," he'd whispered, his mouth pressed softly to her temple.

She hadn't known what to say in return, other than the obvious, and she I hated /I to be obvious. But it fit, it was right, and so she went with it, and said the obvious.

"I'll miss you too, Logan."

They stood like that for a few moments – because it was easy, comfortable – and then before she knew what was happening, Logan was kissing her, full-on, no holds barred. She had to give him credit - the boy knew how to kiss.

But, somehow, even after all of that, after crossing the line from platonic friends into possibly something more, Logan couldn't seem to find the time in Chicago to stay in touch. And that hurt.

Focusing her attention back on the present day, Veronica notices that Logan has a quizzical look on his face. Oh, God, was her inattention to the wedding at hand that obvious? Sure, she's bored by the seemingly endless ceremony but that doesn't mean that she wants Duncan or Logan or anyone, really, to know that she couldn't focus her attention on her brother and his practically-wife for ninety-or-so minutes.

Could she ask Logan now why he intentionally cut her out of his life without a thought? Probably. After all, she was Veronica Mars. If anyone could find a way to work that neatly and organically into conversation, it was her.

But did she really I want /i to know? Some things are better left unsaid, and she's happy now, happy with Nick, and maybe this is something that she would rather not know.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife," the pastor says, and Veronica exhales a sigh of relief. Finally, the ceremony is over. "You may kiss the bride."

Duncan leans over to kiss his new wife, and Veronica averts her eyes. Yes, they're there on public display, but with her own twisted history as the ex-girlfriend of her half-brother, she prefers to leave thoughts of her brother kissing other women to her imagination.

Instead she looks towards Logan, and as the recessional hymns play, she takes his arm and they walk out the church together.

"One question," he begins softly, whispering in her ear. "What was it that had you so distracted during the ceremony?"

She looks at him, wondering if this is God's strange way of telling her that she should just ask Logan why he never responded to any of her attempts at contact, even though all of that was seven years ago and well in the past.

To ask him, or not to ask him, that was most definitely the question du jour.

TO BE CONTINUED