Wallace wandered slowly across the lawn that stretched in front of the blackened shell of a building. It was normally a tranquil place, with a few students sunbathing or reading books. There were a number of picnic benches scattered across the lawn that were popular at lunch.
Tonight however, there wasn't a spare bit of grass that didn't have someone sitting, lying or even crying on it. Many of them were in skimpy party outfits, shivering in the cool night air.
Each face was unfamiliar as he scanned them, panic growing in the pit of his stomach. He winced as someone a girl was led past him, sporting burns on her bare arms and dark soot covering her face.
It was hard to hear anything over the firemen as they shouted to one another – trying to secure the building as much as they could. He pulled out his cell phone and called Veronica again. It rang and rang, but no one answered.
He turned at the desperate voice that rose above the background noise and felt a flicker of relief as he saw Mac standing there, until he realised her face was tearstained. His heart leapt up to his throat again as he walked around a girl to meet her.
"Are you okay?" he asked, putting his hands on her arms.
"I'm so glad you're here," she said, fresh tears streaking down her face. He pulled her into his arms, hushing her. Over his shoulder, he saw a police officer walk over to stand by a roped-off area. He squinted into the darkness and realised the area roped-off contained three body bags. Another officer bent over and yanked the silver zip up over a burnt face, as Wallace's mouth dropped open in horror.
Three Days Earlier.
"I just need to know," Logan pleaded. Veronica stared at him, unable to form a response.
She sighed, leaning her chin into the palms of her hands.
"We always hurt each other," Veronica said quietly. That was the end result, in Veronica's opinion, of their problem. They seemed to have a competition on who could inflict the most pain on the other.
Logan looked surprised, before he dropped down in the seat next to her. He took her hand gently, rubbing his finger across her knuckles. "Only because we know each other so well. Only because we've been too messed up in the past. We're not now."
"What if you leave me?" she asked honestly. She shook her head. "I couldn't do it again."
"I won't leave you. And you have to promise to stop running from me, too," he said.
She glanced up at him. "I can't help it!" she protested. "Sometimes – I just need space."
"I know that," Logan replied. "But sometimes I don't know if you'll come back."
"I'm sorry," she said softly. "It's just hard, you know?"
"I don't want us to be like… you know, you and Lilly," Veronica pointed out. "On again, off again."
"We won't," Logan said firmly.
"You broke my heart," Veronica said softly.
Logan paused, squeezing her hand softly. "Maybe we should call it even."
Veronica nodded after thinking for a second. "Yeah, I think we could do that."
They both leaned back into the sofa, their arms pressed together. Veronica could feel the warmth coming from his body through the thin material of her shirt. She bit her lip.
She couldn't keep running.
Veronica reached towards him and gently turned his face so he was facing her. She licked her lips that had gone suddenly dry as she leaned forward, nerves battling away in her stomach. She swallowed hard before she pressed her lips against his.
A desperate sigh left him as the kiss deepened, his tongue slipping into her mouth. Her stomach twisted, desire for him strengthening. It quickly intensified, as her arms snaked around his neck. His hands grasped her hips, drawing her close. His tongue slid across her lips as their mouths moulded together.
They pulled apart, and she could feel his hot breath on her skin as they gasped for oxygen. He gave her one of his nervous half-smiles – the one where her insides usually turned into liquid.
"Let's try again," he whispered.
"Try the kissing again?" she joked. "Okay..." she moved nearer until he laughed and caught her arms gently.
"Us," he clarified. "Go on a date with me?"
She froze, looking down at the floor.
"It will be okay," he assured.
She looked up. "When?"
As soon as she reached the parking lot, she saw Weevil on the other side. She frowned, drawing her jacket around herself tighter. She hadn't expected him to continue with the job. She reached her car, unlocked it and opened the door.
The smell hit her immediately. The chemicals used at car dealers to clean car interiors. She narrowed her eyes, surveying the insides. Everything was sparkling.
Veronica walked around the car to put her bag in the trunk. She lifted it up and looked towards the new black bag that had appeared. She unzipped it and looked curiously at its contents. A shiny car jack took up the left hand side, while various cleaning accessories filled the rest. She noticed a tyre pressure gauge and a flashlight in addition. She closed the trunk and turned, catching Weevil's eye.
She smiled at him gratefully, and he nodded back. She climbed into the car and started the engine smoothly. An engine tune-up too. He must have been feeling guilty for his harsh comments.
She sighed, thinking of his sweet little niece as she pulled out of the lot. It was one time she hated being right.
With difficulty, Veronica shifted her bag, books and cup of coffee into her left hand, as she quickly knocked on the door with her right. She bit down on her set of keys, holding it with her teeth as she swapped the coffee back before she dropped it. She winced as a little trickled out and burnt her fingers. Classes started in half an hour, and she'd agreed the night before to walk with Mac.
Having to be on campus before nine in the morning should be illegal.
The door swung open and Mac stood there in a fluffy robe. "Want any help?" her friend greeted, pulling a few books out of her arm. Veronica took the keys out of her mouth, pulling a face at the metallic tang they left as she followed Mac into her room.
"Thank you," Veronica said gratefully.
"Take a seat," Mac offered. "Just gotta get changed." She disappeared into the en-suite bathroom as Veronica relaxed into Mac's computer chair.
"I heard a rumour about you," Veronica called through the door.
"Oh?" Mac replied, her voice slightly muffled.
"That you have a date tomorrow and didn't tell me."
Mac laughed through the door. "Well, I was trying to keep it on the down-low. See how it went. How did you find out?"
"Ran in to Matt," Veronica said with a smile. "He was about to burst with joy."
There was a pause before Mac asked, "So, I take it you heard the news?"
"What news?" Veronica asked back, flicking through her text book. Silence greeted her and she lost track of the conversation as she scanned the words. The door opened and Mac stood there in jeans and a t-shirt.
"The news," Mac said in confusion. "They arrested the Hearst rapist."
"What?" Veronica spluttered, spitting out a mouthful of coffee.
"You haven't heard?" Mac queried in shock. "I know something before Veronica Mars?"
"Mac," Veronica warned. "Who?"
"Wallace's roommate – Ross Smith."
"Dad?" Veronica called as she hurried into her apartment. She put her bag down on the counter top. "Dad!" she called again in exasperation.
His bedroom door opened and Keith walked out, still tucking his shirt in. "Honey? What's wrong?"
"Wallace's roommate was arrested," she said breathlessly.
"I know, honey. They called me this morning." Off her look he quickly clarified, "After you left."
"Has he admitted anything?" Veronica asked.
Keith shook his head. "So far, he's not saying anything – but he's refusing to give a DNA sample."
Veronica's eyebrows raised. "Guilty as charged."
Keith gave her a small smile. "Let's hope so. And let's also hope he gives us leads to the other two."
Veronica gave him a shaky smile in return.
"What makes them think it was him?"
"He was seen talking to one of the victims the night she was assaulted, and then more people stepped forward to say they'd seen him at other parties."
Veronica frowned as she grabbed a glass out of the cupboard and filled it with water. She took a sip of the cool liquid before she said carefully, "I'm going on a date tonight."
"Oh?" Keith said, flicking through some paperwork.
"Yeah. With Logan."
He looked up quickly, a startled expression on his face before he let out a puff of air.
"I don't even know why I'm surprised," he said. "Are you sure?"
She nodded firmly. "Yeah, I am."
"Got any lipgloss?"
Veronica looked down and was surprised to find she was holding a purse she'd used in eighth grade. It had been her favourite – denim with different size buttons along the edge. She'd used it no matter which outfit she was wearing, until it had eventually worn apart. She spotted the plastic tube in the top compartment, and pulled it out.
"Thanks," Lilly said breezily, taking it from her and opening the top. She slid the tube across her full lips, before she turned to Veronica. "What do you think?"
"Of all the places to visit me..." Veronica said, giving the bathroom a look of distaste. "Neptune High?"
Lilly laughed, her nose wrinkling as she smoothed down the slightly too-tight red party dress she was wearing. "I don't really know what I was thinking," she admitted. "Old times sake?" She lifted her hand and smoothed down a stray strand of hair and gave herself an appraising look. "Let's get out of here."
Veronica glanced back at her own reflection, her long hair was wavy – the style she preferred to wear it recently. She was dressed simply in jeans and a blue t-shirt.
"Come on!" Lilly called and Veronica hurried after her, stepping through the open door. She expected to find the hallway with rows of lockers lining it that she had walked down a million times before, but instead she found herself in her old back garden.
The swimming pool was glinting in the bright sunshine, highlighting the array of colours. Aqua and cerulean hues, bleeding into one another. Slivers of silver flashed where the rays hit the surface, like oil, unable to sink or mix with the tempting cool liquid.
Veronica realised her outfit had changed into a yellow sundress, and her hair was straight down like a curtain framing her face. It felt foreign - a completely different identity.
She turned to look at Lilly, who had sprawled out on the white sun lounger and was busy applying lotion to her pale legs.
"Sit down," Lilly commanded, and just like the shy girl that followed Lilly's lead so long ago, Veronica did as she was told.
The back door opened and her mother, father and herself stepped out. Keith was dressed in his Sheriff's uniform and Lianne turned to her family with a smile. "Why don't you two go and get in the car? I forgot my purse."
Veronica gave her family a longing look, fighting the urge to look away. She drank in the way her mom brushed her hand over her younger self's arm sweetly, and the way her dad looked at Lianne with love shining in his eyes.
Lianne stepped back into the kitchen as the other two disappeared towards the garage. Through the window, Veronica saw her walk over to the fridge.
"Thought you were happy then, didn't you?" Lilly said quietly. "Things aren't always what they seem."
Veronica gave her a curious look. "Why can't you ever just tell me what you mean?"
Lilly shot her a dazzling smile. "Where would the fun be in that?" She stood up and walked over to the pool, dipping her toe in which casting shimmering ripples across the surface. "This Ross dude – total loner, right?"
Veronica nodded. "Seems like it."
"So where did he get his other two friends from?"
Veronica was about to reply when she realised the swimming pool had gained some people while she hadn't been looking. She spotted Stacy and Dawn swimming at the other end, as well as Fiona and Anna splashing each other. Veronica looked away, the weight that had lifted when she heard Ross had been arrested feeling heavy again.
"Make the connections," a familiar voice said, and her head snapped back to see Meg sitting in the seat Lilly had been in. She was slender again, unlike the last time she had seen her, pale in a hospital bed with an enlarged stomach. She looked incandescent, her blonde hair shining and her face alight with a healthy glow.
Meg leaned forward and put her hand on Veronica's arm. "Money always belongs to the wealthy."
"Oh and Veronica?" Lilly called. "Have fun on your date."
Veronica jerked awake, breathing heavily. She glanced at her alarm clock and realised with a start she only had twenty minutes left before Logan arrived. She jumped out of bed and rushed headed towards the shower, yawning. She hadn't even meant to fall asleep – just lay down for a minute or two.
She showered in a record two minutes and just about managed to be ready on time, wearing the dress she'd bought for graduation.
The doorbell rang just as she was shoving her keys, phone and other essentials into a purse. She opened her bedroom door. Keith had almost reached the door.
"Dad, stop," she said, walking up to him.
Keith turned to look at her, and smiled. "Honey, you look beautiful," he said.
She gave him a smile back before she put her hand on his arm. "Let me answer the door, okay?"
Keith stepped back. "Have fun, Veronica."
Veronica opened the door and a smile flitted across her face. He was studying his shoes intently, brown eyes shy, before he glanced up. For a moment, his gaze was electric and she shivered at the intensity. The moment passed and she held back a snicker as he began to nervously pull at the sleeves of his dark green shirt.
"Hey," he said.
She stepped out the doorway and closed it firmly behind her.
"You look stunning, Veronica," he complimented. He held out his hand to her. She hesitated for a second, before she wrapped her fingers around his, giving his hand a gentle squeeze.
"So where exactly are we headed?" Veronica asked as they walked towards the X-Terra parked outside the complex.
"I thought we could get some dinner at Garfunkles, which I do believe is your favourite restaurant. And then after… well, there's a party that pretty much everyone on campus is going to. A celebration that the sick freak is finally behind bars." He paused. "We don't have to go if you don't want to…"
"No," Veronica said. "It sounds good."
The students were all in high spirits, using the opportunity to get as wasted as possible. The make-shift dance floor was packed. Veronica laughed as Logan twirled her around to the loud music playing. Logan's eyes were sparking and his mood infectious. He dipped her, and she almost collided with someone else dancing.
"Sorry!" he called.
"Let's stop for a drink," Veronica suggested. He nodded, and she led the way into the kitchen. She glanced around the worktop that was overflowing with all different kinds of drinks.
"Having fun?" he asked. She stepped closer to him, and leaned up on her tiptoes. His hands closed around her waist as they kissed, the drinks forgotten,
"Break it up, kids," a voice called and Veronica looked up.
"Oh, hi, Beth... I mean, Veronica…" Michael greeted.
Veronica nodded in greeting. "Lost any games of poker recently?" she asked glibly.
His chest puffed in annoyance. "Not likely. I still think you were cheating, Princess."
Veronica rolled her eyes. "Right. Lose to a girl and they have to be cheating."
"Want a rematch?"
Veronica glanced up at Logan, the desperate need to prove the guy wrong gnawing at her insides. Logan opened his mouth and she shook her head.
"I don't need to prove anything to you," she said firmly.
Just then a girl stumbled into the kitchen, swaying on her four inch Jimmy Choos. She stepped forward and tripped over a case of beer and slamming into Michael. The drink in her hand was flung forward, splattering across the front of his jacket.
"Ugh!" he exclaimed. "Thanks a lot."
Logan grabbed hold of the girl, steadying her.
"Are you okay?" Veronica asked. The girl frowned at her unsteadily.
"Charlotte! I can't take you anywhere!" another girl laughed, following her into the kitchen. She grabbed Charlotte's hand. "Let's get you home."
She dragged the drunken girl out the kitchen. Veronica turned back to Michael who had taken his jacket off and was shaking the excess liquid off of it.
"Great," he groused angrily.
He stalked out of the kitchen, his face like thunder.
Logan smirked at Veronica. "Nice guy."
Veronica nodded. "Real charmer." She glanced down and caught sight of something lying on the floor. She bent down and scooped it up.
"What's this?" she asked, holding the small vial up.
Logan grimaced, looking ill. "GHB."
Veronica's mouth dropped open as she glanced in the direction Michael left. Her stomach twisted with panic. What if he was planning on hurting someone that night?
"Logan…" she began.
He nodded. "I'm with you."
They rushed back into the main room and scanned the students for Michael. Veronica glanced at Logan with a worried look. Logan nodded towards a doorway on the other side of the room. They both began to weave through the crowd towards it. Logan managed to reach it first and peeked in. He turned back to her and nodded.
Veronica reached him and they walked away from the door, so he couldn't hear them.
"He's playing poker," Logan said.
Veronica pursed her lips. "We don't have any proof at the moment," she said. "If we could look around his room…"
"What if he leaves the party?" Logan pointed out.
"You stay here," Veronica said. "Play cards with him – stall him. I'll go to the frat, have a look around. Call me if he leaves."
"How will you know room is his?" Logan asked.
"I'll call Mac, get her to look it up on the Pi Sigma housing database. I have a copy of it at home, but I don't have time…"
Logan shook his head looking tense. "It's too dangerous for you to go alone."
"I'll call Wallace, he can come with me." Logan continued to look worried. "I have my taser too. I'll call at the first sign of trouble." She pulled out her phone and shot a text message off to Wallace asking him if he could meet her there. "Go on," she said to Logan, gesturing towards the poker room. He put his hand on the door handle and was just about to go in when Veronica said, "Logan?"
"You better win." She gave him a small smile and hurried off.
"Number six? You sure?" Veronica queried. She spotted Wallace leaning against the wall, his hands in his pockets and a bored expression on his face. She waved and he stood up straight with a grin in her direction.
"Totally sure," Mac replied on the cell phone.
"Thanks, Mac. I owe you one." Veronica hung up just as she reached Wallace.
"So what's the big scandal this time?" Wallace asked. "And will I be getting paid?"
"Paid? No. Scandal – huge. Remember when we were at that party with everyone and you left when we went to play poker?" They walked around to the back of the house as they talked, looking for a way in.
Wallace nodded. "Yeah…"
"Well, we bumped into one of the guys we were playing with today. A girl spilled a drink on his jacket, and when he shook it – he dropped a vial of GHB." Wallace's eyes widened as she continued, "Logan's stalling him at the party now. We're gonna break in and see what we find in his room."
They reached the back door and Veronica twisted the handle. The door didn't budge. She dropped down to her knee, pulled out a pair of gloves, a screwdriver and a paperclip from her bag. She began to pick the lock as Wallace kept a watch out. The lock turned and Veronica stood up, dusting her knees down.
"Can you go in first? If they see you, you can say you're looking for someone… They know me."
Wallace nodded walked through the door quietly. After thirty seconds, he poked his head back round the door. "All clear."
Veronica followed him through as they walked quickly through the hallway. They found Michael's room and Veronica picked the lock again. The door once again gave way and they quickly went in the room. The room smelled musty, like damp clothes that hadn't dried properly. Veronica walked over to the open curtains and drew them, before she flicked the table lamp on.
The room was generally tidy, with the exception of a few piles of books on his desk and a large pile of clothes in one corner. A large sound system sat on the long desk, as well as a TV and a computer. Rows of DVDs and CDs lined the bookshelves. An array of video game consoles lay on the floor in front of the computer.
Wallace whistled under his breath. "Why are the evil always rich?" he asked.
Veronica shrugged. "Because they just take what they want. Don't touch anything," she warned. "I don't have any more gloves with me. Don't want our fingerprints anywhere."
She bent down and began to make her way through his drawers. Wallace wandered towards the computer than was on the desk. The screen was lit and the soft whirl of the fans spinning filled the room. Using his sleeve to cover his hand, he moved the mouse.
"Nice computer," Wallace commented.
Veronica's phone buzzed and she read the text message.
'Couldn't keep him. He left. Sorry. On my way.'
"Shit," Veronica swore. "He might be on his way home now."
Wallace looked uneasily towards the door as Veronica quickened her search, rifling his sock drawer, grimacing at his underwear drawer and flicking through the piles of computer equipment.
"Come on, Vee."
"Wait," Veronica said under her breath. "There has to be something."
The sound of a door slamming made them both jump and Veronica jumped up. They listened with their hearts hammering in their chests as footsteps approached the door. Veronica bit down on her lip as they got closer, then could have cried with relief as they carried on down the hallway and they heard a door further along clicking shut.
"That's it, we're out of here," Wallace said, walking towards the door.
"One more minute," Veronica begged, opening the final drawer.
"Veronica…" Wallace said, in his warning voice until she stood up straight with a triumphant expression and a clear plastic bag in her hand.
"Electric shaver," she said, holding the bag further up to inspect it. "What looks like locks of hair and some more vials of GHB."
"Thank god," Wallace said as Veronica pulled out her camera phone and took pictures of the evidence. "Let's go."
The police station was quiet until Veronica, Wallace and Logan burst in. Cliff stood up immediately from where he was waiting on the hard chairs, his briefcase in hand. Deputy Sacks looked up with interest as the amount of people suddenly arriving.
"This better be good, Veronica," Cliff greeted. "I was at the Seventh…"
"Don't need to know what you do your spare time, Cliff," Veronica grimaced. "And yeah, it's pretty good. We've got evidence to get your court-appointed client Ross Smith off the hook."
Cliff's eyebrows raised. "The DNA test is scheduled for tomorrow…"
"Don't need it." Veronica placed her phone down on the counter. "Is Lamb here, Sacks?" she asked.
Sacks nodded. "He's in his office." He walked off towards the door as they waited for him to return.
"Veronica Mars," Lamb said, strolling out of his office. "Saviour of kittens, defender of losers, pain in my ass. What do you want?"
"Oh, you know. Just doing your job for you again," Veronica responded, like she was talking to a small child.
Lamb frowned as he glanced down at the phone.
"Gonna show me your dirty pictures?" he asked with a smirk.
Veronica picked up the phone and opened up the pictures, before handing it to Lamb. "What you see belongs to Michael Withers. He lives at number six, the Pi Sigma frat house on Hearst campus. Have you got that, or do you want me to write it down for you?" She made a scribbling gesture with her hand and Logan smirked.
"And how exactly did you get these pictures?"
"Um… I plead the fifth?" Veronica said with a shrug. "They can be deleted," she warned, snatching the phone back from him. "Come on, Lamb! You can have all that glory you so desperately desire. Think of the headlines – 'diligent town sheriff cracks Hearst rape case'."
Lamb sighed painfully, looking like he was weighing his options. "Sacks?" he called. "Get a warrant, go down to the fraternity, collect the bag with the shaver in and get it to the lab for fingerprinting, DNA test the hair and get another warrant out for Michael Withers arrest."
"And about my client…" Cliff began.
"We'll start on the paperwork now for bail," Lamb promised with an exasperated look at having to actually do something. "He'll have to be back tomorrow for the DNA test to clear him officially."
Lamb stalked off, the door to his office slamming behind him.
Wallace lifted his hand up and Veronica high-fived it. "It can't ever get old, getting one over on Lamb," Wallace commented.
"Never," Veronica replied with a grin.
Cliff began to sort the paperwork out with one of the deputies as Sacks led Ross out of the cells.
"Can we go before I have to talk to him?" Wallace murmured to Veronica.
"Go ahead," she said. "I just wanna ask him something."
"I'll wait," Logan put in. Wallace nodded and headed out to the car.
"Ross?" Veronica asked, as Ross signed a form. He looked up, looking startlingly different after he'd shaved his own hair to send to Courtney Love. He still looked like he needed a good wash, Veronica decided. "I was just wondering… why did you refuse to give the DNA test?"
Ross pushed the papers back towards the deputy and motioned for her to come closer, after the deputy walked off to the process the paperwork.
His eyes were wide as he said quietly, "I didn't want them to find, you know…"
Veronica's nose wrinkled as she accidentally breathed in a lungful of Ross's halitosis.
I hope his first stop is to go and find a bottle of Listerine.
"Find what?" Veronica asked.
That you're a grade A weirdo?
"The blow, the acid…"
Veronica blinked in surprise at him. "You do know drugs wouldn't show up on a DNA test?" she pointed out.
Ross frowned, as he shook his head. "Awesome." He saluted her as he followed Cliff out the door.
"Find out what you needed to know?" Logan asked, from where he was waiting by the door.
"Yeah. Some people should have never made it into college," Veronica replied.
Logan nervously smoothed down his shirt and then checked his watch. Two minutes to go. He walked over to the stove, grabbed some oven mitts and pulled the door open. The warm smell of the pasta evaded his senses as he pulled it out. He'd gone with a pasta bake, which was simple to cook and looked flashier than it actually was. He placed it on the table he'd set up, with a white table cloth and a vase of flowers in the middle. Yes, he was a secret romantic. Yes, she'd probably laugh in his face. Yes, he felt like an idiot.
The doorbell rang and he jumped, his stomach twisting uncontrollably. He hit himself in the forehead as he walked towards the door.
"When did I turn into a twelve year old girl?" he murmured to himself.
He took a deep breath and opened the door. Veronica stood there holding a dish. Her hair was softly curled around her face and she was dressed in a silken camisole top and jeans. He longed to reach out and yank her into his arms, but he doubted she'd appreciate it.
"I made banoffee pie," she said brightly. "No one ever knows what it is, but it's seriously the best thing ever."
"So what exactly i is /i it?" Logan asked with a smile, backing up to let her in.
"It's got a crumbly base, and then toffee and banana filling, with cream on top," Veronica explained.
Her eyes widened as she glanced over the table. She turned back towards him and he swallowed thickly as she walked slowly towards him, pushing the forgotten pie on the table. She reached him and cupped his face with her warm hands, leaned up and kissed him soundly.
His hands closed around her slender stomach, as his tongue slid across her soft slips. She groaned, and it was the sweetest thing he'd ever heard.
"Let's skip the main course," she whispered, breaking away from him, "and get right to the good stuff."
"Can't argue with that," he said, bending down and swinging her up into his arms. She laughed before their lips met again, as Logan hurried towards his bedroom as if his life depended on it. He swayed, the anticipation getting to him, and knocked her foot against the doorway.
"Sorry," he mumbled. He lay her down on the bed, and standing, he yanked his shirt over his head and threw it over his shoulder. Veronica got up on her knees, and began to pull at his belt. His hands joined hers and she giggled as they fumbled over the clasp until it came loose. She leaned back and he playfully slapped her hands away, wanting to take his time removing her jeans, shuddering as his fingers slipped off her black lace panties. Logan crawled onto the bed, up and over her until they were face to face once more, smiling softly as he gently kissed her.
He ran his finger across her cheekbones, marvelling that he finally got the girl. That she was wrapped around him, smelling of mango and melon, from some girly shampoo she used. After picturing the scene a million times in his mind, it seemed too good to be true. Logan's mind leapt back to the present as he felt her hand wrap around his biceps, impatiently trying to draw him closer. He gave her a languorous smile and started a slow slide down her body, his hand trailing over her camisole. Pushing up the thin cotton, Logan swept his tongue across her hip bone. She jerked in response and the hot breath of his quiet laughter warmed her skin as he continued further down, slowly sliding her legs apart.
He kissed her silken inner-thigh, tracing patterns across the sensitive skin as she moaned, her hand coming to rest on his shoulder.
"Logan, please," she said, her breath hitching. "I need you now." He reached out and pulled the drawer to the bedside cabinet open. He rummaged blindly around for a long moment, before finally producing a condom with a grateful look. He quickly tore it open and moved back up her body.
Her eyes widened as he cautiously moved into her. Her fingernails dug briefly into his arm as his gaze locked with hers. It was something he'd never experienced, but something he'd always strived to find in his life – that moment where the world melted away and just for a moment, in her curve of Veronica's arms, he felt peace.
"You okay?" he whispered, brushing a damp strand of hair off of her forehead.
She nodded as they slowly began to meet each other thrust for thrust. The pressure started low in his belly as he ran his thumb across her sensitive nub. He watched the emotions play across her face as she began to tense, moaning as she came, eyes unfocusing. Her muscles clamped around him, and his eyes closed as the sensation pushed him over the edge with her.
After a moment, Logan slowly rolled over, pulling her on top of him, worrying he was crushing her. She lay her head down on his chest as his fingers gently ran through her glossy hair.
Veronica had just finished carefully arranging the aerosol cream around the cake, and was about to add the sprinkles when there was a knock at the door. She pouted, looking at her dinner longingly. The knock sounded again, so she dropped the sprinkles in a huff and walked over to the door. She unlocked it, and Backup slowly padded towards it, looking curious.
"Hey, Veronica," Sarah said. "I hope you don't mind me dropping by."
"No, not at all," Veronica said, stepping back to let her through. "What brings you to this part of the neighbourhood?"
"Well… it's kind of embarrassing, really," Sarah said. Veronica motioned to the couch and Sarah sat down, smoothing down her skirt.
Veronica sat opposite her and smirked. "Do tell."
"I was at Nick's, but then the professor called him and asked him to go to a meeting at the college." Veronica nodded. "He'd been on his laptop, and I noticed he hadn't logged off. I just wanted to check my email before I left. There was this bank account open. Normally, I'd just close it… I don't care about stuff like that. But there was a lot of money in there. I'm talking over a million dollars."
Veronica's eyes widened. Sarah held out a piece of paper and Veronica took it from her.
"I googled the name of the bank, and it's not an American bank. It's in the Cayman Islands. I wrote down the bank account number. I was just wondering…"
"Why your boyfriend's so rich but has a job?"
Sarah nodded. "Right."
Veronica stood up and walked over to her laptop that was on the kitchen counter. "Just give me a sec." She logged into the Private Eyez website and typed in the bank details. The page loaded and she scanned the page, frowning.
"What?" Sarah asked, getting up and walking towards her.
"The bank account. It's registered in the name of Edison Dismas."
She continued typing as Sarah paced the floor behind her. "Edison Dismas is a name connected to the charities commission at the i mayor's /i office," Veronica said in surprise. "Running a background check, he works in the accountancy department. I've got his number here."
She stood up and picked up her phone. She dialled the number in and waited for someone to pick up.
"Hello, can I speak to Edison Dismas please?" Veronica asked. She paused, waiting for the reply. "Oh, really? I must have the wrong number. Sorry to bother you." She hung up the phone. "No such person."
"This is so weird," Sarah said. "Do false names normally have a background available?"
Veronica nodded. "If they do it right. The purpose of them is so the banks have someone to check on. No background available wouldn't work."
Veronica sat back down on the kitchen stool and began to look up the charities commission. After a moment she said, "Okay, the charities commission has a webpage. They have about seven different charities set up. Afterschool activities, a housing project, hospices, a medical program among others… They all seem to check out." She scanned the screen, before she stopped. "Well, well. What do we have here?"
"Did you know?" Veronica snapped, as soon as he opened the door that she knocked furiously on. Backup perched at her feet, growling furiously.
"Know what?" Toby asked, blinking blearily at her.
"So that's why you were working at the mayor's office. For access."
"I don't know what you're talking about, Veronica," Toby replied, scratching his head sleepily. "Now if you don't mind…"
"It's clever, really. Must have taken a lot of work and computer knowledge. You set up other accounts amongst the charity ones. When someone gives you a cheque to deposit, sure, sometimes you put it in one of the real accounts – that way no one notices. But then you often slipped it into one of the fake ones, right? One of the two accounts set up in the name of Edison Dismas. Nice guy. Married for six years, with two children. A house on Pleasant Valley. A job at the town hall. Oh! And doesn't exist."
Veronica scowled, folding her arms over her chest as Toby looked at her in stunned shock. "Then you went a little wrong… You left trails. My friend Mac? Can hack anything. And a peek into those bank accounts served interesting. Transfers from the fake charity account to you, Joshua Carson, Nicolas Blake and Michael Withers. Who, by the way, has just been arrested for the rape of four women."
Toby's mouth dropped open. "Veronica, I swear, I didn't know about that." He looked sheepish and uncomfortable as he added, "We weren't hurting anyone…."
"Not hurting anyone?" Veronica replied shrilly. "What about all the charities you conned out of money?"
"It's Neptune. There are lines of rich people waiting to drop a few hundred thousand to get what they want."
Veronica shook her head in righteous anger. "Not anymore there aren't. My dad put a stop to it when he fired the head's of departments, but it seems your transfers haven't." She pulled on Backup's leash to leave, but at the last second turned around. "You know what? I trusted you. I'm so fucking stupid sometimes."
"Nothing about us was fake, Veronica," he said, looking wounded. "I swear, I loved you. But you were in love with Logan and how could I compete with that?"
Veronica shook her head, and stormed off.
"Are you sure you're up for this?" Veronica asked, as she and Sarah walked up the stairs to the second floor.
"Yes," Sarah bit out angrily. "I'm never dating again."
Veronica shot her a sympathetic look as she handed her an electronic bug. "I'll wait in the storage cupboard," she said, motioning towards the closed door nearby Nick's bedroom.
"Alright," Sarah replied, fixing the bug under her shirt. "I'll suggest we see a movie after the coffee, to try and buy more time."
Veronica gave her a smile as she opened the cupboard door. "Good luck!"
The cupboard smelled like cleaning products, and the slightly rancid odour of dirty mops that had just been shoved away after use. Veronica dusted off a box that had been left there, and sat down on it carefully. She turned the handheld receiver on to a low volume and listened as Sarah knocked on the door. She frowned when she heard Sarah greet Nick i and /i Josh. They hadn't expected him to be there. A low feeling started in her gut, one of worry and trepidation. Had Toby told them what she knew? She'd known it was a bad idea going there, but anger and her need to confront him had won out.
She heard Sarah's voice rise, as she protested that she didn't know where Veronica was. Veronica bit her lip, turned the listening devise off and shoved it in her bag as she opened the door. She wasn't going to let her face the music alone. Her phone began to ring as soon as she reached Nick's door and she glanced down. Toby's name showed on the screen. She hit the reject button and knocked on the door.
"If it isn't Veronica Mars," Josh said, as he opened the door. His expression remained neutral, which seemed odd on someone who was normally joking or laughing about something.
"Is Sarah here?" she asked carefully. "I was supposed to be meeting her."
"Why don't you come in?" he said, stepping to the side. He still held the door in such a way she couldn't see in.
Veronica paused. "Well, I don't want to disturb you all."
Josh just remained looking at her, as she stood there. She slid her hand in her pocket and hit the speed dial to Logan's number as she stepped through the doorway. Her eyes went straight to Sarah who was standing on the other side of the room with a fearful expression. Nick was kneeling by her, stacking paper into a trash can, before he stood up. He reached to the side board and grabbed a can of gasoline.
"What are you doing?" Sarah asked, her voice sounding thick. "Do you know how dangerous that is?"
Veronica watched him apprehensively. All the evidence was going to go up in flames in a few seconds if she didn't do something.
Nick reached into his pocket and pulled out a lighter. ""Why couldn't you have just minded your own business and stayed away from Toby like we wanted you to?" he said, glaring at Veronica. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Josh was standing directly in front of the door, his arms folded. "He was even going to go back to you, until we gave him a little warning."
Veronica looked back at Nick as an image of the bruises on Toby's face flickered through her mind. Something in Nick's icy expression clicked in her mind. "Oh god, it was you!" she exclaimed. Her heart was pounding as she involuntarily took a step backwards. "You attacked me."
Sarah gasped. "No – they wouldn't!"
"And the third person was Michael?" Veronica questioned. Her fingers wrapped around her taser in her bag.
"You can't take a bloody hint though, can you, Mars?" Josh said.
"All that just in case I found out about the charity theft?" Veronica spat out. "Ever heard of a post-it note? An email? Not almost bashing my skull in!"
Nick's thumb hovered over the button on the lighter.
"Nick, don't! Please!" Sarah begged, reaching up for the lighter. He pushed her out the way, and she landed on the bed as he dropped the lighter into the trashcan. It ignited instantly and Veronica put her arm up to her face to protect herself from the heat. Nick rushed across the room as Josh opened the door. He grabbed the large case that was by the door, that Veronica hadn't noticed until then. She stepped towards the door, until Josh grabbed her arm.
"Let us out of here," she said, trying to get past, as Sarah scrambled to her feet.
Nick had left as Josh smirked and shoved her backwards. She fell heavily against the trashcan, spilling the contents as the door slammed. The flames immediately began to spread as Veronica scrambled out the way, groaning at the pain in her hip. Sarah gripped the door handle and twisted it hurriedly.
"It's locked," she shrieked, hammering on the wood ineffectually.
Veronica coughed heavily as the black smoke rose in the room. The flames rose, catching onto the fabric curtains. Within a few seconds they were ablaze.
She limped across the room next to Sarah, wiping the moisture off her forehead that was gathering from the intense heat. Sarah continued to bang on the door, shouting for help. Veronica took a deep breath, choking on the hot smoke as she reached into her pocket and hung up the phone from Logan's call. She wanted to check if he was there or not, but at the same time was deeply terrified that he was. She quickly stabbed 911 in and held it to her ear.
"Sarah, get on the floor," she shouted, pulling the red-head next to her as they crouched by the thin strip under the door that was letting a minute amount of oxygen through. She rummaged through her bag for something to pick the lock, but came up with nothing.
She heard the operator's voice as the call connected, and over the loud roar of the fire she shouted the address. She looked towards Sarah who was shaking, tears streaming down her face. Looking over her shoulder, she winced at the bright flames that were engulfing everything in the room. The heat was unbearable, like standing in a full size oven waiting to be cooked to death. Her eyes were stinging, and streaming painfully.
"Veronica?" she heard Toby's voice shout.
"In here – it's locked!" Veronica yelled back, grabbing Sarah's arm. They both heard the lock twist. "Stand back," Veronica warned. The door slowly opened, as the two girls shielded themselves from a possible back draft. The curtain rail dropped onto the floor with a loud clatter as they both shot out the room, taking relief in the lungfuls of oxygen they gasped in.
"Come on," Toby said, helping them both to keep standing as best he could. "We have to get out of here. Are you okay?"
Veronica threw him a dark look as they began to hurry down the labyrinth of hallways. The fire alarm began, wailing incessantly. The sound made her ears ache in protest as she pressed her hands to her eyes, trying to alleviate the burning sensation.
"Wait," Sarah wheezed, "this way's blocked – it's a dead end. I got lost here before." She fell down to her knees suddenly, coughing violently. "I don't think I can walk back," she managed to say, her face resting in her hands.
"Come on," Veronica tried to motivate, leaning against the wall as Toby ran back to the end of the corridor. "Not much further."
"Where is everyone?" Sarah asked, looking at the closed dorm room doors, before breaking into another coughing fit.
Toby reached them again. "There's a party on the first floor, I saw it when I got here. Most people probably got out safely from there when the alarm went off." He motioned back the way he came, "We can't go back that way."
Veronica sighed. "It's spread already?" She could still smell the thick, burning odour of the smoke drifting towards her.
"There must be fire exits," Toby insisted. "Let's keep on this way." He reached down and hefted Sarah to her feet.
Veronica pushed herself forward, limping after them. "Toby?" she said, and he turned to look at her as they continued slowly on. "Did you know they attacked me? Have you known all along?"
His expression registered shock as he shook his head. "Those bastards," he said through gritted teeth. "If I see them again."
"But you told them I knew about the thefts!" Veronica protested.
"I just… I just wanted them to get rid of the evidence," he said. "I didn't want this."
They reached the end of the hallway and turned the corner. They stopped suddenly and stared at the wall blocking them.
"I told you," Sarah cried. "Now we're fucking well trapped!"
Toby walked over to the wall, to where a fire extinguisher was mounted and pulled it off.
"Yeah, we are really gonna get back through those flames with that!" Sarah pointed out, angrily wiping her tears away with a black hand that smudged across her face.
"It's a start," he said defensively.
Veronica slowly slid down the wall as she emptied the contents of her bag onto the floor.
"Now is not the time to be looking for lipgloss," Sarah snapped.
"Sarah – shut up!" Veronica bit out as she looked through for something metal she could use. "Do you have a hair pin on you?" she asked hopefully. Sarah shook her head. "Oh, why did I bring the bag without my screwdriver with me?" she moaned out loud.
"Veronica," Toby said urgently, "it's reached the end of the next hallway."
"If we get into one of the rooms, we can smash the window – draw attention to ourselves," Veronica pointed out.
"I can try kicking it in," Toby suggested, walking over to the nearest door. He began pounding on it as Veronica picked up her phone and dialled 911 again. She alerted them to the fact they were trapped on the second floor.
The door opened with a bang and Toby held out his hand to Veronica.
"I'm fine," she grumbled, staggering to her feet.
They closed the door when they'd all made it through with relief. Veronica and Sarah sunk down on the bed, struggling to keep breathing through their raw throats. Toby rushed to the window and opened it, only to find a safety catch on it, only letting it open a few centimetres.
"Fucking colleges, with their fucking health and safety bullshit," he yelled, while kicking the wall in protest. He grabbed a book lying discarded on the desk and threw it at the window.
"Fuck," he exclaimed again, when the book dropped uselessly to the floor.
"Reinforced," Veronica pointed out groggily, her head feeling fuzzy and light. She longed to lie down and just let herself slip away into the grey fog clouding her mind, even though the loud thuds coming from the window as Toby threw everything in the room at the window. He finally spotted the TV, and yanked the cord out the socket. He picked it up, and with all his strength threw it at the window. The window cracked and he began to work at using the book to clear the shards away from the edges.
"Help," he yelled out the window, towards the people gathered on the front lawn. Fire engines were parked, and firemen were preparing to go in the building. Thick black smoke filtered in under the door, and the room was getting hotter and hotter. The scent of the smoke was so overwhelming, Veronica could taste it, and she swallowed convulsively.
She glanced over to Sarah who had given in and lay down on the bed. She realised with a jolt her eyes were closed and she couldn't hear her breathing any more. The skin that wasn't dirty from the smoke had an almost wax-like quality to it.
"Sarah," she hissed, shaking her shoulder. "Sarah!"
Toby had managed to attract the attention of the onlookers and turned around.
"She's not breathing," Veronica said hopelessly. She broke into a coughing fit as she tried to check Sarah's pulse. Toby leaned across her as he took over.
"I can't feel anything," he said, panic clear in his voice. "What should we do?" They heard a clattering of a ladder being leaned against the wall by the window. He rushed over. "We need help!" he shouted. "They're motioning for us to climb down. Logan's down there as well."
Veronica's heart jumped at his name as she tried to get to her feet. "Go down there, tell them she needs a paramedic," she said.
"Veronica," he said, gently taking her arm and steering her to the window. "You need to go down there now and get out the smoke. You were in the same room she was. You need medical attention."
"Toby…" she protested.
"Go on, I'll be fine." He helped her over to the window, and practically lifted her onto the ladder. "Just hold on tightly. If you think you're going to fall, carry on gripping the rungs and let yourself slide down."
With shaking hands, she began to slowly step down the ladder. She glanced over her shoulder and spotted Logan who was being held back by two police officers. Her hands ached and her hip throbbed where she'd hit the floor. Her lungs felt like they'd been dipped in acid. The voices shouting support blurred out as she took one step at a time, trying desperately not to fall. She couldn't even remember reaching the ground, just Logan's arms being around her as she coughed, trying to tell them about Sarah.
"They'll get help," a fireman promised her. She pulled away from Logan as she spotted Lamb striding across the grass.
"Wait," she said weakly, and he turned towards her.
"Not looking so hot, Mars," he greeted.
"It was Joshua Carson and Nicolas Blake. They started the fire, trying to hide evidence they were stealing from the charities commission at the mayor's office. You need to stop them…" She broke into another hacking cough as Logan put his arm around her, and she let herself fold into his arms.
"Veronica?" she heard, the second she opened her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak but found an oxygen mask covering her mouth. She could feel his strong hand wrapped around her own.
"Shh, it's okay. Don't speak," Logan said. "We're at the hospital."
She reached up and pulled her mask off, wincing as her sore skin pulled on her hands. "Sarah? Is she okay?"
Logan looked down, giving Veronica the answer she wanted.
"Oh no," she murmured, her eyes burning with unshed tears. "Where's Toby?"
Logan continued to look uncertain, his grip around her hand tightening ever so slightly.
"Logan?" she prompted.
"He didn't make it. By the time they got a lift over to the window, the fire had spread and the smoke inhalation was too bad. I'm so sorry."
Her eyes closed again.
She was woken later as Wallace and Mac arrived. She kept her eyes shut as they greeted each other, a dark atmosphere hanging over them like a cloud. She listened as he updated them on her condition.
"One other person was trapped in the fire. They think he had his headphones in while he slept and didn't hear the alarm," Wallace told Logan.
"Apparently Nick and Josh tried to use fake IDs at the airport, and were held in security, luckily. I'm going to the station from here to try and prove what they were doing, without getting myself in a lot of hot water," Mac said with a small laugh. She sighed, leaning forward. "Why does something horrible have to happen every year?"
Wallace patted her back awkwardly. "It's Neptune?" he offered.
There was awkward silence before Veronica asked "Where's my dad?" She winced as she discovered just how sore her throat really was.
Logan leaned towards her, gently stroking her face. "He's on his way," he assured.
Just then, the door opened hurriedly. Veronica started in surprise as she looked up. "What are you doing here?" she gasped.
Anyway, thank you so so much to everyone that has stuck around from the first chapter. Especially those that gave me feedback, as it's what kept me going half the time. I'd so love to hear your thoughts on the ending. And you can't all lynch me for the L/V ending this time, after people weren't too thrilled with Kaleidoscopic's ending! So, if you've never left me a comment before to say you've been reading - I'd love to hear from you now. Pretty please?