Pairing/Character: Veronica, Logan, minor Mac, Wallace, Piz
Rating: R for adult language
Disclaimer: Veronica Mars is not mine, of course.

Author's note: Takes place at the tail end of 3.09. I'm hoping that if I exorcize the 3.09 ghosts, maybe I can get back to what I've been trying to write for the last week. As always, lots of thanks to vagajammer for reading this through.

Fanning the Flames

"Has Logan been by?"

"I haven't seen him." Veronica is careful to answer Mac's question with the truth, but guesses both she and Wallace will see behind the careful phrasing. Piz, oblivious to the subtle nuances perceptible to those who bonded in the foxhole inside the war zone named Neptune High, doesn't notice the things she is not saying. There is a certain comfort in that, in people who cannot read her silences as easily as they hear her words, but at least Wallace doesn't often call her on the things she doesn't say, and Mac never has. Unlike a certain boyfriend--before she corrects herself, she has to pause at the stab of pain through her heart--ex-boyfriend, who can not only read the words and silences, but can, with unnerving accuracy, define the reasons for the tiniest flicker in her expression or lack thereof and assign meaning to the slightest fluctuation in her breathing.

Logan may have been nowhere near the apartment in the last twelve hours, but his phone call at an ungodly early hour had roused her from a fitful sleep full of pursuing monsters and consuming fire.

Still groggy, she reached for the phone, knowing who would be calling that early. "Logan?" she asked, not even looking at the screen. The previous night, still loopy from the tail end of her third unwanted GHB experience, she'd insisted her father call Logan to tell him and Wallace the rapist had been caught and she'd escaped relatively unscathed, but she'd known Logan wouldn't be satisfied until he heard her voice.

"Veronica?" The precarious equilibrium between fury and tears in those four syllables brought her back to the days after Lilly's death, to the heartbroken, angry boy who had wanted someone to pay, but didn't quite know or care who. "Are you . . ." He swallowed, paused, and in the hitch of his breathing she heard him trying to find the right words. She knew he had been about to ask 'Are you all right' or 'Are you okay', but they both knew how utterly inappropriate the question was. Physically she might be fine, but the physical was the least of his worries.

Veronica lay back on the bed and listened to his breath rattle through the phone, the sound reaching through the disconnecting remnants of drugged fog to comfort and steady her. After a few minutes Logan settled on asking, "How are you dealing?"

"I'm . . . " She stopped, trying to define exactly how she was at that moment. To anyone else she would have given the pat answer, brushing off any implication that being drugged and hunted by a sociopathic rapist and his brainwashed patsy could have an impact beyond the most minor of repercussions, but she knew Logan would see through the facade. He protected too many of her secrets to believe the bullshit tale she could have spun for the rest of the world. And more, he deserved the truth. "I'm dealing as best I can," she said finally. "Nightmares. Flashbacks to Shelly's party."

"I should have--"

She interrupted him firmly, closing her eyes at the anguish in his voice. "Logan, you did everything you could. You threw my behavior in my face, and then you tried to put yourself in danger instead of me. I'm the one who decided saving a girl from rape was more important than my own skin, ran off without telling anyone I'd identified the rapist, and ended up nearly getting myself killed, again." Even through the phone, she felt the balance of his emotions shift to fury at her bald assessment of Mercer's plan to deal with her interference. "You did everything you could to protect me."

"I told you he was fucking innocent." She found a strange comfort in the coldly constrained rage that vibrated against her ear. "I gave that fucking bastard an alibi and handed you to him to clear his name, all while he was fucking planning on clearing himself by getting his fucking accomplice to attack you." She didn't ask how he'd put the pieces together; no matter what asinine barbs she might fling his way in the heat of the moment, given all the information his quick mind would assemble it in the correct order.

"You were trying to help a friend."

The sound Logan made was more snarl than laugh. "The cocksucker fucking used me, and you paid the price."

This was point at which she should have soothed him, convinced him not to go off half-cocked and do something stupid. Even hours later, Veronica doesn't know if it had been the last shreds of the drugs still clearing her system, the rawness and lingering burn of her own impotent rage and terror the night before, or the pleasure that Logan still cared enough to be pissed off in her name, but she hadn't wanted to ease his temper. She'd wanted to bask in the flames.

"He used you," she agreed vehemently, not trying to hide her own pain and anger. "The bastard used both of us. He played us for his own amusement so he could go out and rape more girls. The fucker deserves to be crucified."

Veronica listened to the startled silence as Logan processed both what she had said and what she hadn't. "He does," Logan growled slowly, relishing the words.

"Logan?" He didn't respond, but she could feel him listening, wondering if he was reading her right. She allowed herself a small smile. "Be careful."

He expelled a long breath in a half laugh. "I love you."

As she heard the phone disconnect, she murmured, "I hope so." Long after he had hung up, Veronica held the phone in her hands, warmed by the heat of his passion and comforted by his innate need to protect.

Now, sitting with Mac, Wallace, and Piz, Veronica smiles to herself. She may not have seen Logan that morning, but she has a pretty good idea where he is. And, despite every rational reason she has not to be, she is content.