Title: Fire on the Ocean, Lines in the Sand (1/?)
Author: chichuri
Pairing/Character: Veronica, ensemble

Word Count: 4026
Rating: R for mild language
Summary: AU Season 1: What if Duncan had died, not Lilly?

Spoilers: Season 1, although all aired episodes to be safe.

Disclaimer: Characters not mine, of course.

Author's note: Flashbacks are in bold; thoughts in italics. Much thanks to for canon versions of dialogue. Inspiration and some dialogue also taken from the original pilot script, original project notes, and pilot commentary, all available at Rob Thomas's website.

Author's note 2: This project is almost certainly proof of my growing insanity. I've been amusing myself at odd moments by plotting this monstrosity out since July. Thanks as always to my significant other/beta, vagajammer, for allowing me to bounce ideas off of him and for putting up with it all. And no, love, I still will not name this thing "Donut Dies".

Fire on the Ocean, Lines in the Sand

Behind you, hands are tied
Your being, ostracized
Your hell is multiplied
Upending
The fallout has begun
Oppressive damage done
Your many turned to none
To nothing

Metallica-- "The Shortest Straw"

Neptune High School. Two more years and I can graduate and put this lovely little circle of Hell behind me.

But that's two more years of torture I have to endure.

It was with no little reluctance that Veronica pulled into a parking spot and turned the key to shut off her LeBaron. Two joyous months of no contact with her fellow students deeper than the investigation of their parents' infidelities and sordid secrets had spoiled her. She had been able to push the past school year away and remember how to breathe without steeling herself for the next blow.

She remembered she had once had a life in which every day wasn't a constant battle. Once upon a time she had lived in the blissful ignorance of the innocent. She had had a boyfriend, friends, a mother who loved her. Only one of the people she had counted on had not been swept away by the deluge of betrayal and blood that had redefined her life. Now her eyes had been ripped open and innocence was a word that had ceased to have meaning. Now, as she grabbed her messenger bag and opened her car door, she girded herself for war.

The usual streams of vapid teenagers flowed towards the school, blathering on about their summer, their boyfriends, their oh-so-terrible/wonderful/carefree lives. Rich or poor, it didn't matter; the mindless babble was the same. All that differed was the sticker price of the cars in which they drove to school, the labels on the clothes they wore on their backs, and the places where they had spent their endlessly fascinating summers.

My three months in the Mars Investigations office by day and in my car on stakeouts by night were lovely, thank you very much. And no, you probably don't want to know what your father/mother/brother/sister/friends have really been up to, but if you piss me off, I'll gladly enlighten you.

The crowds slowed and knotted around the flagpole. Mutters shifted from the delights of vacation to the latest victim of the PCH bike club. The bikers had mastered the art of securely duct taping their victim to preserve modesty and not much else, but the misspelling of 'snitch' on their victim's chest suggested they had not moved beyond remedial English. The crowd had mastered the finer points of the gapers block, but she knew that no one had considered putting himself in harms way to cut the kid down. Joining in the public shaming, though, that was something they could all get behind. The young black man held up under the jeers and stares with remarkable dignity.

Veronica pushed her way to the front of the crowd and stared up at the boy. For moment she considered walking by and letting the scavengers feast. Help drive in the object lesson that in Neptune, you fought or you fell, and that those people that you could trust at your back were few and far between. The rest would dine on the carnage left behind.

She was acting before she realized she had made a decision. "Move," she growled at some idiot who thought a picture with the victim was the highlight of back to school memories. His posturing ended when her knife came out.

"You're new here, huh?" She sawed through the duct tape with grim determination. "Welcome to Neptune High."

Veronica heard the murmurs spread through the crowd. She caught words like "freak", "bitch", and "crazy" as they continued to watch the show. Well, I'm delighted to know that my reputation has remained intact through the summer. One can only hope that the object lesson of leaving me the fuck alone has also ingrained itself into their psyches.

The bell rang, and the vultures scattered. "Go Pirates," she called after them with a hollow mockery of school spirit. Without another word she finished cutting the boy down and stalked off to her first class. She had done her good deed for the day. Now it was up to him to sink or swim.

I sit alone contemplating
What is missing inside me
I desperately try to remember
A life that's not meant to be
I meditate
And try to recapture
Some sense of reality
In my life
When I look around
I see numb empty faces
The world is waiting to die
Stabbing Westward--"Television"

The main course at lunch was some sort of mystery meat the school was trying to pass off as edible. The neon peas and corn weren't much better, but as limp as they were, they looked less liable to try to scurry off her tray. Veronica stabbed idly at the lump of meat as she stared at the tables commandeered by the scions of the Neptune wealthy and elite.

Contrary to popular speculation, she wasn't stalking them and didn't hope they would accept her back into their ranks. She stared because she didn't trust any of them at her back. That, and they made an intriguing study in group psychology. To the outside world--anyone who wasn't rich, pretty, or useful--the 09ers presented a united front. To anyone in the know the polarization of the elite had not eased over the summer, and the endlessly shifting dynamics made for great drama.

On one side were Logan Echolls and his lieutenant in mayhem, Dick Casablancas. One a psychotic jackass, the other a misogynist asshole, they led the brigade of the obnoxious and elitist with a gleeful disdain towards any rules or regulations that were not to their liking. On the outside they were the typical high school upper crust jacked up to the extreme, harrying anyone who didn't match their standards. Rumors of vandalism, pool burnings, and violence suggested that typical high school antics were just the tip of the iceberg.

On the other side were Lilly Kane and her handmaiden, Madison Sinclair. They were the royalty of those 09ers who took subtle cruelty to an art form. On the surface, they were the leaders of the school, loved by teachers for their roles in activities such as student council, sports, and cheerleading. Within the group snide backbiting and quietly vicious reorganizations of the pecking order were a daily occurrence. These students trained daily for a future in the world of petty and not so petty corruption and periodically used their skills on the school at large.

Most of the 09ers existed in a dynamic equilibrium between the two poles. They fell in and out of favor with the ruling bodies, they fell in and out of lust with members of the opposite sex, they fell in and out of tolerance with the antics of one group or the other. On one issue most of them agreed--the alienation of one Veronica Mars.

On the whole, Veronica preferred the outward antagonism to the snide whisper campaigns. Direct attacks could be countered. Guerrilla warfare was harder to track back to the source.

It was almost unfathomable that these people had once been her friends. She glanced from Lilly to Logan. They had been the people who made high school fun. Of course, that was before everything, when Lilly and Logan were the couple.

"Eew. Please, the whole table does not need to see your tongue down his throat."

Lilly turned to grin at Veronica without moving from Logan's lap. "Hey, I'm, like, teaching all of you how to kiss properly. Educational purposes only. The fact that some perverts are getting off on it," her grin turned wicked as she looked at Dick, "is totally not my fault."

"And I'm sure that Vice Principal Clemmons shares your philosophy of sex education," Veronica said dryly. "No, wait, how many times have the two of you been dragged into his office for inappropriate conduct since the school year began? Six?"

"Hey, its not my fault that he has, like, issues with public displays of affection." Lilly wrapped herself around Logan and nibbled on his neck. Logan bit back a groan. Dick cheered. Veronica dropped her head to the table, her face growing warm. "And I'm very affectionate, now that my younger man has finally made it to high school."

As much as Veronica loved being able hang out with her best friend at school, she was going to miss not being constantly caught up in the tempest that was Lilly and Logan's relationship.

Veronica still didn't know what had driven the final wedge between them.

Logan caught her stare and smirked. He leaned towards Dick and whispered something to him, never breaking her gaze. The comment was evidently hysterical, if the blonde's laughter was any indication, and probably at her expense. Veronica refused to look away even as the pair made gestures that looked vaguely obscene.

"You okay?"

"What?" Veronica wrenched her eyes away and glared. Her charity case from the morning had materialized at her table.

"You look, I don't know, hypnotized."

"Did I say you could sit here?" The verbal swat was reflexive. She wasn't prepared for the mix of irritation, disappointment, and resignation on the boy's face as he started to pack his lunch away and leave.

It wasn't his fault he hadn't yet learned to stay as far from her as possible. "Wait a minute." The boy looked up. He had kind eyes, a kindness she hadn't seen directed towards her by anyone her own age in nearly a year. "Of course you can sit here. Sit wherever you want." He would learn soon enough.

"That- that was cool, what you did, cutting me off of that pole."

"Yeah, well . . ."

"My bitch," a voice came from behind. Veronica braced for the expected attack. "Weren't you supposed to wait for me at the flagpole?" Eli 'Weevil' Navarro sauntered towards the black boy then straddled the bench next to him, deliberately crowding his personal space. "I'm not sure I could have made that any clearer." A half dozen of his thugs surrounded the table to drive the threat home.

"Okay, I get it, a'right. Very funny." It looked like the kid was trying to play peacemaker, to turn his victimization into a harmless prank. "I guess . . . we're even now. Right?"

"You get what boy?" Weevil was not soothed. He was making a point, and the stammering of his victim was not going to deflect it. "You get that you're a dead man walking, is that what you get?"

It felt odd being the one watching rather than experiencing a confrontation, Veronica decided. The new boy dealt with it as well as he could, but was clearly outmatched by the famed leader of the PCH Bike Club. Taking on Weevil would require an expert who was not impressed with the posturing of teenaged boys, no matter how badass they might act or how many of their buddies they brought with them. "Leave him alone."

Weevil glanced over, clearly not amused by either her words or her flat tone. "Sister," he said as he rose and swaggered back towards her, "the only time I care what a woman has to say is when she's riding my big old hog." Weevil seemed to think that looming over her with a leer and spouting off sexual innuendo was intimidating. "But even then it's not so much words as just a bunch of 'oohs' and 'aahs', you know?"

"So it's big, huh?" Veronica asked in mock interest

"Legendary," Weevil replied with a self-satisfied smirk.

"Well let's see it. I mean if it's as big as you say, I'll be your . . . no, wait." Veronica paused and put a finger to her chin, pretending to be thoughtful. "Nevermind." She shook her head. "I'm not particularly interested in Lilly Kane's sloppy seconds."

Weevil's eyes darkened and he took a step forward, hands curling into fists. "What the fuck does that matter to you, girl? I mean, from what I've heard, you've done the entire football team."

"Huh. I've heard the same thing about Lilly. Tell me, after all that experience, is she that good?" Veronica watched as the Hispanic boy become even angrier. There was something more than injured pride in his expression. She wondered if he had fallen under Lilly's spell. Time to probe and find out. "What, you didn't think she cared about you as anything more than her personal sex toy?"

The pain that flashed through Weevil's eyes quickly became anger, and he looked like he wanted to do damage. Huh. The big, bad biker boy really did like Lilly Kane, Veronica thought, not breaking eye contact as she reached for her messenger bag. Just in case she had pushed the biker too far, she wanted her taser at hand.

"Mr. Navarro. What on God's green earth is going on here?" Vice Principal Clemmons, noticing the escalating confrontation, hurried over and grabbed Weevil by the back of his collar. The biker started to resist, then allowed himself to be pulled backwards. "All right gentlemen, move it along." The bikers moved as directed, shooting dirty looks back at Veronica as they left. They looked like they weren't sure who had won the confrontation and weren't happy about it.

Well, it wasn't as though they liked me anyway.

Clemmons stayed long enough to give her a disapproving shake of the head. "Veronica, why does trouble follow you around?"

Because it hasn't yet figured out that pissing me off is a bad idea? Veronica chose not to verbalize the thought. Starting the year with detention seemed a touch inauspicious. She gave an insincere smile as the Vice Principal walked away.

Rescued for the second time that day, the new boy gave her a grin that bordered on hero worship. She looked past him to the 09ers. Lilly Kane was studiously ignoring the scene, although the girls at her table kept glancing at Veronica and whispering. Logan stared in her direction with unnerving intensity; she couldn't tell if he was watching her or the departing bikers. Several of his cronies tried to get his attention, but he ignored them.

By the end of the day, the rumor mill would have her servicing the bikers in full view of the entire lunch crowd. What a lovely start to the new school year. And an interesting new addition to my already stellar reputation.

With a shake of her head, she refocused her attention back to her lunch companion. "So what did you do?" she asked a touch more sharply than she intended. She was involved now, for better or worse. Best to figure out what was really going on.

"What?"

"Why are you a dead man walking?" she clarified. Although if you have any deep dark secrets that I can later use against you, please share . . . she stopped that train of thought. He probably didn't deserve her bitchiness.

"Oh yeah. I work at Sac-n-Pac. Last night I was working by myself," he started, and then paused. "I'm Wallace, by the way, and thanks again."

"Whatever. You're welcome. And you were saying . . .?"

Wallace grinned and shook his head. He became more serious as he continued with his story. "Couple of those guys came in. They just walked right to the back of the store and started stuffing all these forties into their pockets. So," Wallace shrugged, "I hit the silent alarm."

Veronica nodded. The response of the properly trained store clerk--don't confront the problem yourself, but notify the authorities and let them deal with it. Works if you have authorities worth a damn. Not so much when you don't. And since I know we don't . . .

"When they were finished," Wallace continued, "they came to the front, and one of them grabbed a pack of gum like I hadn't been watching them the entire time. I guess the dude thought a one-dollar bill would cover it. That's when the police came."

"We don't have police here," Veronica interrupted. "We have a Sheriff's Department."

"Um . . . yeah. Okay, so they show up . . ."

"Which ones?"

"Huh?"

"Which deputies were at the scene?"

"Uh . . . I think the guy that came into the store was . . . Lamb, maybe? The other one had dark hair, and this mustache, but I didn't catch his name."

"Sacks. The guy with the mustache is Deputy Sacks. And Lamb is Sheriff." Wallace blinked. She guessed he was surprised by her easy identification of the men, although he could simply have been bemused by her repeated interruptions. "Go on."

"So Sheriff Lamb brings me outside, says the bikers told him they paid. The two who came into the store were there, handcuffed, with about fifteen of their closest buddies looking on. I think that all of 'em who were here today were there . . . I know that that bald guy was. I didn't catch his name." Wallace looked to Veronica expectantly.

"Eli Navarro, nickname Weevil. He's leader of the bikers."

"Thanks. So, anyway, in front of all of them . . . I caved. I was afraid of what they'd do to me. Told the cop . . . sheriff that I'd accidentally hit the alarm. But he, uh, went in, grabbed the surveillance video, and dragged the guys off anyway. Told me to grow up and get some balls." Wallace shook his head and sighed.

Veronica gave him a toothy grin. "Congratulations, sport. In your short time here, you've already managed to piss off the motorcycle gang and the local sheriff. Good luck."

The bell rang, ending lunch and saving her from attempting any more small talk. She gave a brief nod and escaped to her next class.

Veronica almost made it through her first day without another incident. She had hoped . . . but no. She knew it was wishful thinking. She was just surprised it had taken this long.

The halls cleared quickly as everyone fled the school. Her own thoughts were focused on going home and taking Backup out for a run as she grabbed the books she needed from her locker. She was distracted enough that she almost missed the significance of the tall, lean body moving into the left edge of her field of vision. Her brain reengaged as soon as her unconscious recognized the silhouette.

Even a summer away couldn't overcome eight months of conditioning.

Six feet away, casually leaning against the lockers at his back, sun-streaked brunette head tilted slightly towards her, was Logan Echolls.

"So, Ronnie, how was your summer?"

Veronica considered the words. They sounded so innocuous, a friendly greeting she had overheard many times today. The meaning was in the layers underneath: a nickname she loathed, a tone of voice that was a touch mean, a mouth twisted into a smirk that showed a few too many teeth, eyes that burned with an intensity that bore no resemblance to friendly. Nope, Logan still hates me. Shocker.

Veronica finished putting the books she needed in her bag, and made sure she had easy access to the front pockets.

"Do anyone interesting?"

Veronica glanced at him, raised an eyebrow, and turned to leave. To be blocked by six feet of blond surfer bimbo. Wow, he'd snuck up on her. She had thought the only way Dick Casablancas could stay silent that long was by gagging him.

"Ronnie, where ya going? We just wanted to be friendly." So, no gag. But a leer that made her stomach turn. Veronica tried to sidestep him, but he moved to block her.

"Move, Dick," Veronica snapped.

Dick pressed closer, well into her personal space. "But Ronnie, it's been two whole months. We just want to, y'know, catch up. Have some . . . fun."

"Catch up. Hmm. Okay, you drank yourself stupid, smoked some pot, played some video games, and pretended you could surf. I did something more interesting and intellectually challenging with my time. All caught up. Wow, that was fun. Now get. Out. Of. My. Way."

Dick edged forward and licked his lips. "Maybe we should catch up more intimate-like. You know you want to."

"Hey Ronnie," Dick slurred, pressing into her, his lips on hers. "You know you wanna . . ."

Oh, God. Veronica fought to suppress the shudders that the hazy memory evoked. She turned towards Logan, who had been uncharacteristically quiet. "Logan, tell your monkey to back off before he gets himself hurt." She forced the sugary sweet tone between gritted teeth and reached into the front pocket of her messenger bag.

Logan still leaned against the lockers with boneless grace, but his jaw was tight and his fingers tapped restlessly against his thigh. He glanced at Dick before turning his attention back to Veronica. "Now, Ronnie, wouldn't want to ruin your fun," he said with a careless drawl.

"Dick," she started to warn as she turned back. The blonde boy leaned forward and grabbed her arm.

He went down as soon as the taser touched his stomach.

"Technically, that could be considered assault," Logan commented idly. "Which would, as I well know, warrant suspension."

Veronica turned to Logan as she put the taser back in her bag. "Extenuating circumstances. I felt threatened. I thought he was attacking me."

"Huh. Wasn't that your excuse last year?" He tilted his head as though deep in thought, then nodded decisively. "Someone could still try to argue the case. Y'know, past behaviors, character witnesses on both sides and everything." Now Logan was just baiting her.

"First little Dicky there," she gestured to the boy sprawled on the floor, "would have to admit that someone ten inches shorter and eighty pounds lighter got the drop on him. And second, he would have to have character for someone to witness."

"Well he is one." Logan stopped and considered. "Nope, that wouldn't help his case much." Veronica was surprised to see something akin to a grin stretch Logan's lips.

"Well, as fun as it hasn't been . . ." Veronica carefully stepped around Dick and started down the hall.

"What, you're just going to shock and run? I thought that was more your mother's shtick." Logan's voice, which had almost been friendly, shifted to cold and biting. Veronica's shoulders stiffened, but she refused to be goaded even as he continued. "Not that, y'know, trailer trash drinking themselves into a public spectacle was really that shocking, but still." A long dramatic pause, as Logan waited for a comment that didn't come. Finally he added slyly, "Could be worse, I suppose. You could be off tormenting the innocent for crimes they didn't commit, like your daddy did."

Veronica stopped, but didn't turn around. "At least he tried to uphold justice. Unlike you, who just gets off on both tormenting the innocent and committing crimes against them. Bet your daddy's proud of that. Although y'think maybe instead of acting the spoiled brat rich kid he'd be happier if you ditched the publicity nightmare?"

She forced herself not to flinch when Logan slapped his hands against the lockers as he pushed off them. Several long, angry strides and he put himself in front of her.

"And your father's doing what now for his sins?" Logan swept his hands wide in a dramatic gesture, his voice growing louder as he continued. "From sheriff to bottom-feeding spy for hire? Looks to me like he just settled down into his natural place in the food chain. Like father, like daughter." His eyes burned into hers. "You both deserve every fucking bit of the crap that you brought down on yourselves."

Veronica's fingernails bit into the palms of her hands as she glared up at Logan. It took all of the self-control she had developed in the last eleven months to keep her fists at her side instead of lashing out at him with all the strength she had. She wanted to tell him to shut the fuck up and that he didn't have a fucking clue what he was talking about, but she knew that if she opened her mouth she would lose her tenuous hold on her temper.

Logan didn't try to stop her when she stalked around him and down the hallway. He didn't say another word, but she could feel the pressure of his fury until she left the building.

Two more years and I graduate. Two more years until this hell and everyone who inhabit it are a distant memory.