Pairing/Characters: Logan, Veronica, Logan/Veronica, Logan/Lilly, some Logan/Caitlin
Rating: R for sex, language, and dark themes
Spoilers/Timeline: AU set a few months after Lilly's death. Season 1 spoilers.

Disclaimer: Characters not mine.

Author's Note: Written for the vmlibrary Anonymous Challenge. Huge thanks to the wonderful takenwithyou for the beta! And, as always, love and thanks to the ever-patient vagajammer for handholding and pep talks.

Dancing from Darkness into the Light

The first time he sees her, it's a few days before Christmas. When he stumbles out of Enbom's into the blindingly bright morning, head throbbing and stomach roiling from trying to lose himself in too much expensive liquor and too many cheap girls, she's there, watching him. Dazzled by the dramatic backlighting of the rising sun, he squints through watering eyes to identify the small figure leaning against the hood of the Xterra. He knows the shape of her and the amused grin, but her hair is short and spiky and clothes more punk than pink. For a moment he's delighted even though he knows there's something seriously wrong with the hair, with the clothes, and, most of all, with her being here waiting for him. Veronica Mars, protector of drunk friends, here to drag his sorry ass home. It's like things used to be. Like things should be.

Like things will never be again.

Everything he spent the entire evening trying to obliterate comes rushing back. Lilly's death, Veronica's betrayal, everything. He hesitates, running one hand along the back of his neck and through his hair while the other flexes with the almost irrepressible urge to hit something and keep hitting until he and his target are broken and bloody. He shouldn't be feeling this urge to apologize. There is no fucking reason she should be here. None.

There can't be.

He gathers his hangover-impaired wits about him and delivers as scathing a glare as he can manage, squashing the thread of uneasiness that whispers he should ignore her and get in the car. "So to what do I owe the pleasure of this... visitation? Your new home not doing it for you, come back to revisit the days when you were tolerated in this part of town?"

He's surprised when she speaks. He expected she'd just stand and stare, leaving him talking to himself with half-assed snark that's barely worthy of the word.

"Why, Logan, I missed you. I just had to come and see how much you missed me." She simpers and flutters her eyelashes, but the closest the expression comes to her eyes is the deliberate movement of her eyelids. Her eyes are cold and accusing, blue ice that rakes him to the bone.

He struggles to find his balance and deliver appropriately scathing verbal evisceration. "Interesting new look for you." He gestures contemptuously up and down her body, from the hacked-off gilded honey of her hair on top to the big black leather combat boots on her feet. "What is that, leftovers from some seventies punk rocker?"

"I thought it was time to update and change." She gives a bright, sharp smile. "Considering."

"Finally showing your true colors?"

"Just exploring what you all made of me."

The disquiet he'd suppressed pulls free to coil in his stomach, but he swallows and brazens it out. "We made you look like a fashion reject? Huh. I guess style really is one of those things that can't be taught."

She thumps her palm against the hood of his car. "Which must be why you thought bright yellow was a good color for your status symbol."

"Hey, it makes a statement about what I am."

"An asshole?"

"Someone who deserves to be seen."

"But do they really see you?" She gives that superior, knowing smile, the one she always wore when she realized she knew the answers someone else didn't. It never unsettled him more than it does now. "Or do they see the son of Aaron Echolls? Are they after the reality or the careless façade?"

He tires of the game, especially since he has the distinct impression he stopped winning several rounds before. "Who gives a fuck?" he growls. "At least they want me around. Only a fucking lunatic would want you."

"Which, of course, explains why you're standing here chatting with me." The small, almost flirtatious, grin sends a shudder down his spine. "Maybe you're crazy, Logan. Is that why we're having this conversation?"

He never should have opened his mouth, never should have acknowledged her existence. He strides by, throws open the driver's side door, and jumps onto the black leather seat. With a gunning of the engine and a squeal of tires, he's down the street.

He watches her in the rearview mirror, dwindling smaller and smaller, until he tears around the hairpin curve and she's lost at last.

---------------------------

The next time he sees her, the alcohol blurs the knot in his stomach into a bearable ache. Water washes over the shore and the moon, a slice away from full, sinks low over the water and spreads slivers of silver across the ripples. Wind off the slowly incoming tide carries the tang of salt and decaying seaweed, mixing with the stench of alcohol from the bottles lined up behind him. His only companions are the echoes of four teenagers unaware this was their last chance for happiness untainted by tragedy, and it is only appropriate when one of those phantoms is transported into the brutal and bitter present.

"Drinking yourself to death?" She appears at his left elbow, a wisp of a girl grayed out by the soft moonlight, and drops to the sand at his side. Although she addresses him, she stares out over the water, arms hugging her knees to her chest and the ends of her pale hair lifting and tangling in the breeze.

Sand crumbles over his bare feet as he digs his toes into the beach. "Celebrating an anniversary." He hoists the champagne, waggling it at her. "Three months ago today, my girlfriend's skull was bashed open."

"Yesterday, actually," she sighs. "It's well after midnight."

"Today, yesterday, it doesn't fucking matter. Lilly's still dead." He tilts the bottle and lets the soft fizz burn down his throat. "Duncan's still a fucking zombie. You're still..." His throat closes and he grinds the bottle into the sand, hand twisting around the smooth neck in imagined violence.

"A bitch?" she offers, a little too helpfully.

"Yeah." He's too drunk, too entwined in grief and memories, to be having this conversation. "That, too."

"Three months since the world fell apart."

She sounds wistful and sad, more like the girl who was his friend than the girl she became. He wants to submerge himself in the memory, but he forces himself to face the reality. "Three months since you betrayed Lilly."

She hardens and sharpens, banishing the ghosts of the girl who was. "Three months since I made a choice."

"And look where it got you. Happy?"

Her harsh laughter answers him. "Doing the right thing isn't supposed to make you happy," she murmurs. "It just means you're right."

"You're deluded. You, of all people, should know that by now."

"Or me, of all people, should know that I'm right." She springs to her feet and paces back and forth, finally stopping with her back to him, facing the water. "And what I don't know, I'll find out. About Lilly's death, and about everything that came after." She turns, and her blue eyes pierce his soul. "There are too many secrets in Neptune, and they can't stay buried forever."

He can't breathe through the tightness in his chest. "Leave it alone, Veronica. Let it go."

She stares up at the star-peppered sky, silent. After a few minutes she glances back at him with shadowed eyes. "You know I can't do that, Logan."

She walks north, following the line between sand and ocean; the incoming waves wipe away any trace she might have left behind. Feeling oddly bereft, he sits until the moon falls into the ocean and the sun stretches his shadow across the sand, but she doesn't return.

---------------------------

The spring semester begins, and little has changed from how things were left in the fall. Few of the students talk about Veronica, not out loud. Hushed whispers, occasional sniggers that stop when a teacher enters the room, these are the only ways the subject is addressed. On the 09er front it's a public shunning, a joint pact to pretend the girl they once allowed within their hallowed ranks never existed. The rabble follow suit, like the good little sheep they are. The teachers encourage it because the relative quiet soothes them after the disruptive chaos the violent hazing engendered.

The others are able to forget about Veronica, but he doesn't have that luxury. Soon after their beachside rendezvous and the unwelcome return to classes, he starts to see her everywhere. Every time he turns around, it's bitchy blue-eyed blonde. Lurking, staring, walking away, in his face, providing acid edged commentary, whatever the fuck she's doing, she's always there. His own personal stalker, making his life a fucking misery. He pays as little attention as possible to his feisty little shadow, but her constant presence grates at his nerves.

When he slouches out of detention late one grey afternoon, she's perched on the hood of the Xterra, the second time she's been there this week. Suddenly he's had enough. He strides across the nearly empty parking lot, slaps hands down on the hot metal on either side of her hips, and leans in, not touching her, but close enough for the energy arcing between them to prickle his skin. "You do know this is called stalking," he growls.

"Following. Stalking." She shrugs. "Call it whatever you want."

"I should have known, from the way you always hung around Lilly," he says nastily. "Can't get enough of being around people who are actually worth something?"

"Worth something only in the financial sense." She stares back coolly. "As human beings, you lack some important components. Compassion, for one. Or a moral compass."

"Fine." He shifts closer, until only inches separate them. She smells of honey and vanilla, and he hates that he noticed, but refuses to back down. "You don't fucking like me. I don't fucking like you. Why the hell are you following me around?"

She smiles brightly and tilts her head. "Pissing you off isn't reason enough?"

"Not for you." There had to be something else in it for Veronica to be spending so much time on his tail. Something she thought she could get out of him. Something he would never give. "I know you, Veronica. You don't do things like that."

"Oh, Logan," she says, and she almost looked disappointed. "You don't know me at all."

"I know everything I need to about you."

"Not even close." She widens the distance between them by slithering backward, almost to the windshield, then hops off the SUV. "You don't know anything about me."

He stays braced against the hood, just turns his head to stare at her. "Stop following me."

"Do you really think you can keep me away?"

"Keep pushing and we'll see." His patience has run out, and the threat comes out low, serious, and deadly. "What you are and what I am? Who do you think has the upper hand in this situation?"

She doesn't deny it, although her expression says she wants to.

The Xterra bounces as he pushes back, shoving himself upright. He shakes his head and unlocks the doors, refusing to check if she's watching or walking away.

---------------------------

He begins to study her, to figure out the differences between the old Veronica and version 2.0. She's changed from the pretty little innocent he once knew, even more than his previous encounters had suggested. Back then she was warm and sunny, a vivid contrast to the coolly cynical and jaded poseurs of 09erdom. After Lilly's brains were spilled, Veronica had slowly heated with the fires of righteous indignation, blazing into fury at her former friends. Now she is all cold composure, overlain by a glacier of determination nothing seems to penetrate. He can still see the fires flickering deep within, distorted by the ice, but no warmth escapes.

As fucked up as it is, he misses warming himself against her ragged heat. The passionate Veronica he could rile up, slip barbs through to affect the girl beneath. Verbal taunts slide off of this new Veronica, or catch against her shields to leave him exposed. The old Veronica was rapidly becoming his match, an equal against whom he could sharpen his wit and watch hers sharpened in turn. Veronica 2.0 may very well surpass him.

His threats in the parking lot have done nothing but urge her on. Where before she idly tossed snide barbs, she now targets and rips him to shreds. Whether it's public or private doesn't matter; she doesn't seem to care who's there for the show. It's worst when she accosts him in the hallway at school. He ignores her, but he can still see her arrogant, knowing smirk. He refuses to respond to her taunts, but she occasionally, expertly, peels back his layers of control until he can't help but lash out. The rest of the students turn to watch and mutter, but they don't say anything to his face.

Logan is allowed these eccentric outbursts with little diminishment of his vaunted 09er status. Fear and awe are excellent motivators.

He remembers with vicious glee the singing in his blood and the cracking of bone from the last moron who called him out. He looks forward to the next one. Given the sidelong looks he's been catching, he's almost certain it'll be one of Weevil's little biker buddies. At least the spics will provide more challenge than the rich pussies who flinch from a real fight.

---------------------------

It is a spic biker who finally takes him on, the one his cheering gangbanger buddies call Chardo. The confrontation follows the usual route, progressing from trash talking to shoves to an all out bloody brawl that spills out of the locker room and into the hall.

The handle of a locker slams into his kidneys, and the coppery taste of blood fills his mouth when his head hits the metal of the door. He punches out wildly, clipping the side of his opponent's jaw, but not blocking Chardo's fists. With a heave, Logan shoves off the lockers and uses body weight and rage to drive the other boy off balance, then pushes him to the floor. He's still on top, taking out his issues on his human punching bag while ignoring the damage his target is returning, when he's dragged away.

He automatically struggles against the arm pulling at his throat, kicking and shouting threats and rebelling against the need to put the muzzle and choke chain back on the anger he had eagerly freed. He only comes down when he sees a flash of blond hair and blue eyes in the crowd. She stares at him, not with the amusement or fear of the rest of the masses, but with disdain. By the time he demonstrates civility and shrugs out of Coach Preppernau's grasp, she has disappeared.

Logan gets three days free from school and a lecture from Rebecca James about displacing grief and proper ways to channel the pain. He stops himself from giving his own lecture on the many uses of pain to displace grief and guilt, although the temptation to transform her condescending pity into horror seethes underneath his grudgingly repentant façade.

As expected, the school's notification that his son has been suspended for three days displeases his father. Aaron doesn't bother with lectures to get his point across, but goes straight to belts and blows. Logan submerges his black-edged grief and red-edged anger in the white static of pain.

Some time later, he staggers down the hall to his bedroom. He falls facedown onto the bed, pain pulling across his shoulders and back. He aches for something, anything, other than this perpetual agony.

Unconsciousness brings its own bliss.

---------------------------

"C'mere, lover." Lilly crawls across the red satin duvet, look less 'come hither' and more 'get your ass here right now and fuck me'. He complies, he always does with her. He always wants to grab at her capricious fire, uncertain if he'll end up warming himself or being burned, and not giving a shit either way. With Lilly, part of the pleasure is the pain.

Her hot mouth tastes like cherry lip gloss and sex, and she fights for control of the kiss. She battles him into submission and pushes him back on the bed, trailing wet kisses and sharp bites along his throat and down his chest, her nails alternately tracing feather-light paths along his sides and digging in deep. She slinks down his body, leaving long licks on his belly, circling the bones of his hips, deliberately avoiding any contact with his aching cock. True to form, always a fucking tease.

"What do you want, lover?" she asks, her breath warming his inner thigh. It's a rhetorical question. She'll push and prod until he desires exactly what she wants to give.

"I want you to suck me off, Lilly. I want to see my cock between your red li—" His hips buck and he swallows the rest of his sentence when she takes the tip of his erection between her lips, never breaking eye contact as she taunts him with tongue and teeth. After several torturous minutes her head lowers and she engulfs him. He wants to drop his head back and lose himself in the sensation, but he knows the game. He watches her revel in the power she has over him, her green eyes glowing in triumph. She sets up a rhythm that drives him ever closer to the edge.

He doesn't realize his eyes are closed until something hot and wet splatters onto his stomach. His eyes flutter open and he sees crimson flowing from his belly to the duvet, pooling red against red. His gaze snaps to Lilly. She still bobs up and down, but blood from rent flesh and shattered bone runs down her chin to wreath his cock. He scrambles back, out of her grip.

"Have a problem with dead girls, Logan?" she murmurs throatily, lips pulled back in a sharp grin. "If you don't want me, I have someone else who might be more to your taste."

He can't move as she straddles his body and reaches for his face. She cradles his jaw, thumbnails driving into the flesh along his chin, and turns his head.

Lying beside him, looking impossibly young and innocent in her thin white dress, is Veronica Mars.

"You want her, Logan," Lilly whispers in his ear. "You've always wanted her. There she is; yours for the taking."

Lilly grabs Veronica's arm and drags her unresponsive body to his side. Against his will, he loops his arm around her shoulders and pulls her to rest on his chest. The bloody dead girl moves from him to straddle Veronica, smiling down at the younger girl and running hands up her legs. Blood drips down, the bright red splotches staining the white skirt. Shades of crimson wick through the fabric until the original color is all but lost.

"So sweet and so innocent." Lilly fondly combs her fingers though Veronica's long blond hair, nails reaching through the soft strands to scratch him. "And so much promise. Whatever are we going to make of her?"

He struggles to find his voice. "This is wrong, Lilly," he rasps, tearing his eyes from the girl nestled trustingly on top of him. "She's not one of your games."

"Nope. She's a player, the ultimate player, and my oh-so-worthy successor in all things." She runs a gentle hand over Veronica's shoulder and down her arm, then laces their fingers together.

He follows Lilly's gaze back to the girl he cradles in his arms. Veronica's eyes are now open, staring glassily at nothing. She is too cold, a freezing burn against his skin that nothing will ever be able to warm again.

"Of course, we know what happens to players, now, don't we?" Lilly's trilling laugh shudders through him. "Someone always decides they need to be taught a lesson and takes them down."

He shoots upright when he wakes, twisting the welcome cotton of his sheets between his hands and sucking air into his lungs in an effort to breath. His heart pounds and his body shakes. His eyes dart around the darkness, lit only by the luminous green digits of the clock next to his bed, but no new shadows have crept in while he slept. The only phantoms with him are the ones in his head. Falling back onto the pillow, he concentrates on the lingering sting of his back and ache of his ribs in a vain hope of ridding himself of the nightmare.

Lilly haunts his dreams too many nights, but this is the first time Veronica has made an appearance. He hopes it will be the last.

Oh, god, he hopes Veronica never stalks his dreams again.

Fucking bitch. Two of them, actually, who never leave him alone. One blonde is a constant presence during his waking hours, while another takes over his dreams the way she used to take over his life. He feels guilty when, some days, he wishes he could be rid of the one; other days, he feels guilty when he thinks he's well rid of the other.

He doesn't chance sleeping again, just grabs an Xbox controller and focuses on beating down imaginary opponents in as many gruesome and bloody ways as possible. Although he would rather drink away the pain, the first day back after his forced hiatus from supposed scholarly pursuits is not the time to do so, especially when he knows Aaron will be in the house all day. Facing his father requires all his senses intact.

The hours pass, but the images of blood and death etched into his mind persist. School comes as an almost welcome diversion, and paying attention in his classes lets him forget for minutes at a time.

His number one stalker puts on an appearance just as he's on his way to lunch. "Not sleeping well?" she says, coming out of nowhere to walk beside him. "Guilt giving you bad dreams, or are you off committing more grievous sins?"

He spins around at her snide question and snarls. Lack of sleep and the memory of her starring role in his early morning snuff film reduce his tolerance for her normal antics to nil. The halls are almost deserted, but the few stragglers still roaming are a few more witnesses than he wants. Careful not to touch her, he herds the tiny nuisance into the girl's bathroom and uses his foot to wedge the doorstop under the door.

"What the fuck is your problem?" he grinds out, stalking to the middle of the room where she nonchalantly stands. "I've been staying the fuck out of your way, so why don't you go back to doing whatever the fuck it is you're supposed to be doing? Not here. I'm sure someone, somewhere else, needs your presence. Not me."

"Maybe you are what I'm supposed to be doing. Ever think of that?"

He had, but he hopes it's not true. If he is her mission, he will never get rid of her. "Why? Why the fuck would I be your target?"

"Are you an idiot?" she asks incredulously. "Among other things, you made my life a living hell, Logan. Every damned day after Lilly died, and you got on this whole 'Veronica betrayed us' kick."

He clings stubbornly to his justification. "Well, Ronnie, you fucking did," he spits out. "You chose your fucking father and his fucked up theories of cover-ups over protecting an innocent man, the father of your supposed best friend."

She tilts her head and stares at him with cold consideration. "You do have an interesting concept of the word innocence, don't you?"

"He loved Lilly, Veronica! He never would have done that to her."

"It's strange what people you thought you knew can do," she says flatly. "I never thought you'd be doing body shots off of an unconscious girl who used to be your friend. Guess I never really knew you."

He stares at her, wide eyed, backing up until he can feel the cold of the blue, green, and white tiled wall rubbing against his raw shoulders. It's the first time she's brought up Shelly Pomroy's party. If she knows about the body shots, how much more does she know?

The sense memory swamps him, and he can taste the salt and lime against the silken smoothness of her skin, smell the vanilla of her perfume mixing with the citrus and her own musk to spin his head more than the alcohol or Liquid X. A virginal offering to the Gods of debauchery, a repository for the sins of her classmates and one-time friends.

The image of Veronica stretched out on the lounge chair blurs into Veronica stretched out on a bed, too unresponsive and too pale, and Veronica blood-soaked and cold, curled up dead against his chest. He grinds his fists against his eyes, willing the pictures to go away.

When he looks up, she's still standing there, defiant. A hot little avenging angel, needing only a sword and wings to complete the picture.

"It was just body shots," he says, voice cracking.

"Was it, Logan? Or is there more that you aren't telling me?"

He swallows and digs blunt nails into his palms, refusing to answer the question. She stares him down, and he finally drops his head because he can't bear to look into those accusing blue eyes any longer.

There is a whisper of noise when she sweeps out of the room. He sinks to the floor.

This is hell. It's finally catching up with him.

He always knew it would.

---------------------------

Logan spends the next two weeks avoiding her in every way he can. He can feel her watching, but he doesn't allow her to goad him into conversation or confrontation. He knows she'll eventually back him into a corner, but he hopes by then he'll figure out how to face her. Not giving in and lashing out is like a maddening itch that he has to force himself not to scratch, but he can't think of another way to deal.

He embraces passivity too often of late.

He sits in the bleaches, watching the twilight fade to night over the sports fields, when Veronica finally runs him to ground. The rest of the boys have already abandoned their weekly afternoon 'happy hour' of indulging in copious amounts of alcohol while heckling whatever seasonal sports team—currently lacrosse—that is using the field for practice. He had stayed, lounging back against the corrugated backboard at the top of the stands with his feet propped up on the discolored white wood of the bench in front of him.

He feels the cold prickle at the back of his neck that betrays her watching, and he takes a hefty gulp from his flask before allowing his gaze to drift down to her. She leans back against the green metal rails at the bottom of the bleachers, arms crossed against her chest, pale skin and hair standing out in the fast fading light.

"Veronica Mars!" he calls, sweeping his hands wide in mock cheer. "How delightful of you to grace us with your presence. Now do us all a favor and go back to wherever it is you came from."

Between the distance and the darkness, he can't make out her expression, but her voice is resolute. "I'm not going away."

He idly picks at the flakes of white paint peeling off the painted metal behind him. "You always were a fucking stubborn little thing," he says almost affectionately, remembering the sweet and innocent creature he had called his friend. "A tiny little bulldog, who bit down and wouldn't fucking let go."

"You're gonna talk to me."

"I'm going to ignore you and pretend you don't exist," he snorts.

"I have all the time in the world." He thinks she smiles, if the amusement of her tone is any indication. "You'll crack."

"Maybe I already have," he murmurs softly.

Despite the distance, she hears him and responds. "Do you really believe that?"

He smirks. "That is the question, isn't it?"

"You do know if you're actually ignoring me, you shouldn't be, y'know, talking in response to what I'm saying."

"Y'know, I shouldn't." He closes his eyes and leans his head back. He hears her climb the steps to the top of the bleachers and settle nearby.

"Logan, we can't keep doing this," she says, and he's surprised and disturbed by the compassion in her voice. "You have to tell me what you know."

"Will it change anything?" he asks with a sigh. "Really?"

"How can you ask that question?"

He doesn't open his eyes because he doesn't want to face the accusation he is sure to find, the accusation he hears underlying her words. "Why can't you?"

"Can you live like that?" In his mind's eye he can see her leaning forward, intent on convincing him of the error of his evildoing ways. "With that voice in the back of your head always asking what you could have done differently? If finding out the truth might have made things better?"

"That assumes I have enough of a conscience to give a shit. I've had lots of practice ignoring the truth." He mulls over all the things he does know, and the chaos he could spread, the people he could hurt, if he were to scatter his secrets to the wind. "Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the truth does not, actually, set you free. Sometimes the truth just muddies things up and makes them more difficult to deal with."

"And sometimes letting it stay bottled up eats you from the inside until all that's left is an empty shell," she says gently.

He opens his eyes to glare at her, unaccountably pissed that the girl who's stalking him would try to claim this it all for his own good, or that the cold unfeeling bitch she had become would show him this measure of kindness. "Are you trying to make some sort of point here? That I should talk to you to save my soul? 'Cause I gotta tell you, putting your faith in the goodness of my heart? Not going to get you anywhere."

"You give yourself too much credit, Logan." She edges closer, hands gripping the sides of the bench as she confronts him. "Bitter and jaded? Yeah, you got that one down cold. But buried somewhere underneath the layers of cynicism and anger and pain, is a guy I used to know, and even used to like."

"You mean, the guy that died when Lilly did?"

"The guy who liked to play drama queen and pretend that it all revolved around him, yeah," she says dryly.

"If you think—"

"We all lost Lilly, Logan," she interrupts. "You can't let it kill the part of you that still cares. If you do, then whoever killed her wins everything."

"You really think this is just about Lilly?"

"It started with Lilly. And it ended with me." She stands, looking down at him. "You need to talk to me. For both our sakes."

He considers what she said, wonders if she's right, long after she leaves.

---------------------------

In the middle of March, his parents leave on their semiannual trip to be 'alone' in the middle of nowhere, a bevy of press and personal assistants at their beck and call. His father imparts dire warnings about not behaving in ways that would smear his all-important image, all of which Logan dismisses with a smirk. If Logan truly wants to sully his father's so-called honor, there are hundreds of stories he could tell. The party he intends to throw rates nothing more than normal teenage impropriety, albeit on a grand scale.

He plans for his semiannual bash, determined that, once again, this would be the party everyone would be talking about for months to come. He orders up music, food, drink, drugs, and as many bodies as he can fit into his parents' mansion. He is determined to forget that Lilly should be spinning plans next to him, goading him into even higher levels of debauchery and decadence. That Duncan should be playing the voice of moderation, keeping him out of trouble and acting like something more than an empty-eyed zombie pumped too full of anti-depressants to care. That Veronica should be providing a running commentary, alternately offering dire warnings that he's going to get caught and snarking about pictures and years worth of blackmail material.

Instead of forgetting, the memories threaten to consume him.

The day of the party dawns gray, rain spitting and winds blowing. By evening, the weather devolves into a storm the like of which rarely hits sunny Neptune. Thunder, lightning, and a deluge of rain, however, deter none of the 09ers from the blowout of the year. Three hours in, and it's certain this night will be the talk of the town for months to come, another coup cementing Logan's position at the top of the always exclusive heap.

Three hours, countless beers, and endless schmoozing and flirting in, and Logan has yet to care about anything other than getting shitfaced and blotting out everyone and everything.

The music blares and the crowd drinks, and the petty games of bragging, backbiting, and seduction play out as they always do. Logan restlessly circuits the crowded house, looking for something to distract him. Bikers crashing the party, cops called in to break up the underage drinking and steal the kegs, anything other than privileged brats fawning and drooling. There's nothing to distinguish this party or pique his interest; it's just a typical 09er bash on a grander scale.

Lilly would have been fucking pissed, had she bothered to show up at all.

He's lost count of how many times he's prowled through the teeming masses when he catches a glimpse of a girl who looks like Veronica. He can only see her back, but something about the slender curve of her hip, the pink of her dress, and the sassy cut of her blond hair reminds him of both the girl he cut out of his life and the girl who haunts his every step. He doesn't know why she would crash this party, and he doesn't care.

She has no business being here. She has no business being anywhere.

He pushes through the crowd and reaches her when she turns. As soon as she moves, he knows it's not Veronica. Rather than effortless grace, this is skanky seduction. This blonde is too tall, too bony, too artificial, too much of everything Veronica is not.

Caitlin Ford smiles as soon as she recognizes him, putting a hand on his chest and pressing herself against him. "Logan," she says in a pathetic attempt at breathy amusement. "The party rocks."

He chokes at the cloyingly sweet and fruity scent of her perfume and steps back. "Of course it does, Caitlin," he says, not bothering to hide the condescension. "It is the party event of the season."

"I'm here all alone." She fiddles with the buttons of his shirt. "Maybe you want to keep me company?"

The bedroom eyes and tongue wetting her lips demonstrate the sort of company she desires is more physical than verbal. She's just the type he should be all over but wants nothing to do with, not tonight. "Maybe later, when I've drowned my brain cells in alcohol." He removes her hands from his shirt.

"Later, then."

Forgoing the beer, he goes straight for a bottle of vodka. He barely bothers to swallow as he tosses it back. The liquid burns its way to his stomach, scouring away the scent lingering in his lungs. He allows himself a minute at the edges of the crowd to breathe before he pastes his arrogant smirk back in place and continues weaving through the crush.

His path takes him back to Dick, the master of simple distractions. His blond friend offers up some illegal party favors acquired south of the border. Logan grabs a healthy share and downs them, not bothering to inquire closely as to what they are, nor to consider proper dosage or how they might mix with each other and the alcohol he continues to drink.

He doesn't give a fuck. If it works to blurs the world, all is good.

If it works to end it, it might be better.

He deliberately never examines the path he's barreling down, but he knows where the overindulgences of drugs and alcohol are leading. He just doesn't care. Everything he had to hold on to has slipped away, and it's all his fault.

Soon the edges of his vision waver, and his surroundings are painted in vivid Technicolor. The world is brighter, more intoxicating, than it should be. It's not forgetting, but it's transforming, and he won't complain about anything that makes the world shimmer and dance and lose cohesion.

Lightning flashes and his vision focuses on a figure illuminated at the edge of the party, nearly hidden in the shadows of the long, heavy curtains. She stands with her back to the room, hands flat against the glass doors as she stares into the storm raging outside. Golden hair piled on the top of her head leaves her face free and exposes her neck. Black encircles her throat and hugs her chest, then flares at her hips and falls to her knees. Her shoulders and back are bare, her wrists ringed with silver.

This is Veronica, full of grace and beauty and power. Seeing her here, more real than anyone else in the room, he can't figure out how he could have mistaken another for her.

From a distance he always forgets how tiny she is. It's not until he's at her side—and he's not even sure how he got there—that he remembers how much taller he is. She's small, delicate, and easily broken. Intellectually, he knows all these things, but the edgy clothing, the bitchy take-no-prisoners attitude, and the sheer force of her personality override such trivial matters as size.

"Moving up from stalking to party crashing, are we?" he asks, leaning against the glass next to her, staring down at the blond tendrils and pale skin and inky blackness of her dress.

She glances up, eyes of crystalline blue threatening to strip away the barriers protecting all the secrets he ever wished to hide. "It's not a night for man or beast to be outside." Her voice thrums through him.

"So which are you?" He grins, adding before she can do more than open her mouth, "Oh, wait. You're a bitch. Question answered."

She smiles back, a slow smile of genuine amusement. "How clever. Really, Logan, I'm proud of you. Mastering the juvenile insult is quite an accomplishment."

"There's nothing juvenile about my accomplishments." He wonders if this is teetering on the edge of subjects best left untouched, but he's had enough of the balancing act. He inclines his head toward hers and puts the full force of his charm into his amused drawl even as he braces for the inevitable scathing takedown. "I'd be glad to provide you with a list of references. Many girls would be delighted to attest to the fact, if you have any doubts."

Instead of the cold fury he expected and deserves, she watches him through lowered lashes, amused. "And I'd have reason to care, why?"

If he didn't know better, didn't know her, he'd think she's flirting with him. He edges closer, stopping himself from trying to tuck a loose curl back behind her ear. "Maybe, despite everything, you want me, Mars. Maybe that's the real reason you're stalking me." He wishes it were true.

"No," she murmurs, and swears he hears regret in her voice. "That's not what I need from you. I can't—" The words that had tumbled out halt, and she turns back to the darkness and the rain, fists clenched and forehead touching the glass as she examines the invisible sky.

"Veronica...?" He hesitates to touch her, but his hand hovers near her shoulder.

She whirls back to him, something wild and feral in her eyes. "Make me forget, Logan," she whispers, lightly placing a single hand on his chest. Electricity pulses between them, centered at that touch, a circuit he never expected would be completed. "For one night, make me forget all of it. Give me the memories I should have had, instead of the ones I got."

This isn't the shyly-innocent Veronica who was, or the bitterly-assured Veronica who is, but a strange new creature who fascinates and terrifies him. The icy shell she has worn since December has shattered and all that is left are the flames. "You hate me," he breathes, as much question as statement.

"Hate and love are incestuously close." The depth of her eyes, the intensity of her voice, hold him captive. "And you owe me. You owe me this much."

He fights to breathe. "Why me?"

"Lilly always said you were the best."

Something akin to disappointment grips his chest. "So it's all about Lilly?"

Veronica shakes her head solemnly. "What we've become may be all about Lilly, but this is about us."

"Where the fuck is this coming from?" He wants to touch her, but doesn't yet dare. "Last week you were demanding that I bare my soul, now you want me to bare my body? What, is this your new plot to try and make me talk?"

She glances out into the night, at their reflections in the glass, then back at him, not quite meeting his eyes. "I'm tired. I'm tired of pushing for answers. I want something for me. I... I need something for me, something that I can hold on to. Something to remind me what it means to be alive."

He reaches out to stroke her face, afraid she will dissolve like smoke under his fingers. She is smooth and warm and vibrant against his hands, and crackles of energy tingle along his palm where skin meets skin. Something in her expression tells him she's as caught as he, entangled in a web neither thought could exist.

Lightning flares when his lips touch hers, spearing throughout his body and grounding in his groin. He fights to give the kiss skill and finesse, but is lost to the aching need of her mouth angling on his, her tongue dueling with his own, her body pressing against him and igniting a chaotic obliteration of thought and reason. Raw silk catches at his palms and the pads of his fingers as he runs his hands down her hips and curls them under her ass, lifting her up and pushing her against the door for better access to her lips, to her neck, to any and every bit of skin he can get his mouth on.

He breaks free, panting against her ear. "Tell me you want this," he demands. "I'm not waking in the morning to you crying wolf, saying it was all a misunderstanding. Tell me you want me to fuck you."

She arches against him, legs wrapped around his hips. "I want to have sex with you."

"So fucking clinical." He nips at her earlobe. "So fucking unemotional." He kisses his way down her neck. "Do you really think you can be detached, get through this without leaving any of yourself behind?"

She bites back a groan and retorts, "Men do it."

"Men try to." He works back up to her face, placing a kiss beside her mouth. "If it's an unemotional transaction you're after, why me?" He whispers into her mouth, tasting her lips after each phrase. "Chose a virtual stranger, not a friend. Enemy, target, whatever the fuck we are to each other. Why choose the emotional entanglements?"

"Because I trust you won't hurt me. Not in this, anyway."

He stops and stares, startled, the words hanging between them.

"Why?" he asks. "After—" he is unable to complete the thought, switching to ask again, "Why do you trust me?"

"Because I remember the boy you were, even if I hate the boy you've become." She leans in to kiss him, hands buried in his hair, dragging him to her.

He decides to take what he can, to consider this a space apart from the reality of who they are to each other, a temporary truce he'll hold on to as long as he can. A momentary insanity where the possible becomes probable, and a dream is awakened and breathed into life.

"Not here," he mutters suddenly, remembering that an entire party rages behind him. He pulls open the door and pushes her out into the storm. Within seconds, the rain soaks them both. Irregular flashes of lightning illuminate the way as Logan sweeps Veronica across the patio, herding her with hands, lips, and body in a twirling path to the pool house. He pushes open the door and draws her inside, twisting to fall backward on the bed and pulling her down on top of him.

"You're getting the bed all wet," she laughs, propping herself on his chest and combing limp tendrils of hair out of her eyes.

"Soon you'll be getting the bed wet," he promises, freeing her hair from the combs and pins that hold it in place. "And if you're concerned about the rain, maybe we should take off all our clothes, dry off and warm up."

She shakes her hair loose, spraying him with droplets of water, then wraps her arms around his shoulders and presses her lips to his. Clothes disappear between bouts of touching and tasting, but not before the down comforter becomes soaked. He abandons himself to her explorations even as he proceeds with his own.

Her touch is absolution; her kiss, redemption. Lowering his head between her thighs, swirling his tongue around her clit, twisting his fingers inside her pussy, watching amazed ecstasy overtake and override the cool control she attempts to maintain, all become steps in a dance of forgiveness he never believed possible. Her nod, her smile, her gleaming, laughing eyes and taunting teasing voice when he asks if she is really, truly ready for him to proceed, are blessings. Finally sinking inside her tight heat is heaven, closer to paradise than he ever expected to reach. Moments stretch for days as he thrusts and finds rhythm and flips them to give her control. In her uninhibited moans, in the arching of her back and bucking of her hips, in her walls tightening and spasming against his cock, he is more utterly lost than he has ever been in his life. He is wrung out and shattered and put back together complete.

He stays inside her until he catches his breath and regains the ability to move, withdrawing only when she shivers. The sheets beneath the damp comforter remain dry, and he relocates them without moving her from the circle of his arms. He pulls the sheet around them and curls himself protectively around her, skimming fingers along her jaw, down her shoulder, along her arm, anywhere he can easily touch without letting go.

He never wants to let go of her again.

"It can't be like this forever," Veronica murmurs wistfully. "Reality will reassert itself. The issues... they aren't gone, just temporarily set aside."

"I know." He swallows, clutching her closer. "Just... just give me tonight. Tomorrow we can talk, go back to... to whatever the fuck it is that needs to be said. But let me hold you tonight."

"I'm yours until the sun rises." She rubs her cheek against his shoulder, then kisses him. "And no matter what happens next... thank you. Thank you for giving this to me."

He nods against her hair. "We should make the best of the time we have left."

---------------------------

He emerges from restless dreams slowly, head throbbing and mouth dry, the sun filtering though the curtains bright against his closed eyelids. The warmth of a body is stretched at his side, and, still half-asleep, he wonders if the dream could have been real. The pounding of his heart at the sight of blonde seizes when he recognizes it as the too bright, too coarse, blond-from-a-bottle and identifies the familiar, cloying perfume.

Forgiveness is a lie, a drug induced mishmash of hopes and dreams imbued with a clarity greater than any true memory he possesses. The reality lies beside him, sluts with promises of empty sex that fill none of the aching holes in his soul.

Caitlin stirs, opening her eyes and giving him a sleepy grin. "Hey, there. Last night was, like, phenomenal."

It's easy to smirk, agree, and throw out meaningless quips to mask his underlying distaste. He's been practicing the role for years.

He half-heartedly responds to her seduction, driving into her mechanically as he tries to fuck the delusion out of his system, pushing her over the edge as a rote exercise of honed skill more than from any care for her enjoyment. She moans like a porn star, and acts like she's performing for the cameras. In the end it's just another meaningless physical release, serving only to highlight the inadequacies of the real world rather than shatter the illusion of the imaginary one.

He lays back afterward, staring at the wood of the ugly, overly elaborate fan slowly spinning above him and wondering if he has anything left to lose. There is not enough alcohol to blot this out. Neither is there comfort in sex, not with that damned hallucination embedded in his brain, and he's lost his taste for the drugs that caused it.

He's fed up with blondes, alive or dead, dogging his steps and haunting his dreams. It's far past time to put a stop to it.

However painful it may be, it's time to admit to the truth.

He realizes Caitlin has been blathering on about dates and parties and Prom and crap he doesn't give a fuck about. This is one blonde who will be easy—and fun—to get rid of. "Get your bony ass out of here," he snaps.

She stutters and gapes at him, the flow of babble ceasing. "But... I thought after this you'd want to hook up. I mean, the sex was so great and everything and I felt like we really made a connection—"

"Yeah, about that." He raises his eyebrows and pins her with a supercilious glare. "I'd rather fuck a blowup doll. There'd be less plastic, and it'd be a better experience."

The opening and closing of her mouth greatly resembles a fish. He watches, darkly amused, as she throws on her clothing and leaves in a huff.

---------------------------

For the first time, he actively seeks Veronica out. He tries the beach, the school, her father's place, Mars Investigations, everywhere in Neptune to which she has ties. He keeps a close eye on his surroundings, expecting a small blonde to jump out at every turn. Of course, the one time he actually wants her to appear, she's not there.

She might not even be around. She could be off doing... whatever. Whatever it is Veronica Mars does these days when she's not stalking him.

Finally, he goes to the last place he can think of, the only place he hasn't gone. The one place he didn't want to go.

Even with leaves, branches, and other detritus of the evening's storm strewn about, Neptune Memorial Cemetery is beautiful. The storm has washed the entire place clean, and the bright sun of early afternoon sparkles on pools of water and droplets clinging to the grass. He doesn't hesitate when he walks down the carefully-manicured paths. He knows where the grave was placed.

There is newly growing grass rather than bare ground, and a headstone now graces the plot. He runs a hand lightly along the top arc of the cold white marble. He hasn't been to the cemetery since the funeral, hasn't been back to see what sort of memorial was put in place to honor the dead. Hasn't been able to bear the reality that she's not really around anymore, that the only parts of her that remain to him are his fractured memories of who she was and who she might have become. He traces the letters of her name, digging the pads of his fingers into the grooves and trying to feel that she really is gone.

"Feeling guilty?"

And, of course, this is where he would find Veronica. Although she would deny it if confronted, she always did have a bit of a flair for the dramatic.

"Feeling regretful." He stares down at the stone, desperately wishing he had acted differently, somehow changed the inevitable, tragic outcome.

Her voice is soft, kind, and implacable, like she knows the final moments are at hand. "What happened at Shelly Pomroy's party, Logan?"

"You shouldn't have gone, Veronica," he murmurs, still not turning to face her. "Nobody wanted you there."

"So what happened? Did you and all your buddies decide to teach the little bitch a lesson she wouldn't forget?" She shouldn't be asking that question in such an even, reasonable tone. There should be anger, pain, regret, anything other than that detached curiosity.

It's over, he knows. He can't keep his silence. "No one decided anything."

"So how did the GHB get into my drink?"

"I don't know." No one talked in the aftermath, all retreating into their personal bubbles of 'it's not my fault'. The 09ers were nothing if not masters of causing fault without claiming responsibility.

"The body shots."

"My idea." And he had been too drunk, too wasted, and too pissed off to consider possible consequences of his actions, to think about anything but punishing the bitch on whom he heaped blame. "But it didn't go any further than that."

"Yeah, 'cause turning a girl into an object wasn't going to feed the frenzy."

"It wasn't..." It wasn't, but that's what it became. "I didn't think." He never thought. And never expected to pay the price. "I didn't expect anyone would ever—"

"And pouring shots down my throat to keep me sedated?" she asks, overriding his fumbling attempt at an explanation.

"I don't know." He should. "Probably Dick, some of the other guys." A reasonable assumption, but of course none of them would be coming forward anytime soon. "I was... otherwise involved at the time." Chasing a piece of tail who wasn't worth the trouble.

"Who decided to have a bit of fun with the unconscious girl?"

He closes his eyes. "It wasn't supposed to happen, Veronica."

"You stood by, and you opened me up to savaging by the jackals. You gave your tacit permission for them to use me any way they saw fit."

He nods jerkily. "Yeah. Yeah, I did. The whole thing was my fucking fault." He's confessed to the first half of his culpability, but the next part is even harder for him to admit. "The drugs were my idea. I drove the fucking car to Mexico. I supplied the asshole who raped you. It," his voice catches and he swallows, but he forces the words out. "It was the Liquid X I brought to the party that killed you. It was my urging everyone to make you a target that allowed it to happen. If I hadn't been such a stupid fucking bastard, you never would have died."

He can still see her lying on the bed, dress hiked up around her hips, bruising dark against skin too pale to be hers. She hadn't looked like she was sleeping, but like a broken doll contemptuously cast aside by her destructive abusers. He remembers rushing to her side to find her cold, and the dread that coiled and tightened as he slowly understood he'd failed another girl who was supposed to be his to protect. "I killed you, Veronica," he says miserably. "Happy? Does it bring your vengeful spirit rest? Now will you leave me the fuck alone to wallow in my own misery?"

"Did you give me the GHB?" she asks, voice quiet and unemotional.

"No!" He didn't, but if he had thought about it, he might have. He had certainly dosed Duncan's drink; he can't tell himself he wouldn't have done the same to Veronica. He slumps back and says more softly, "No."

She examines him with that focused intensity of a sighthound spotting prey she always gets—got—when she is about to solve a problem. "Do you know who did?"

"Do you think they'd be alive if I did?" Her expression is doubtful. Of course she wouldn't believe him. After the way he'd treated her, she had no reason to. "Fuck, Veronica, I hated you for betraying Lilly's memory, for being the one who broke Lilly and me up that last time. But you were mine. Mine to destroy, mine to protect."

"Protect?" She shakes her head in denial. "After Lilly died, it looked like you were happy throwing me to the wolves."

He hangs his head, staring at the damp ground at her feet. "I needed you to blame," he says, his voice thick with regret. "If I blamed you, I didn't blame myself. And because I blamed you, you ended up fucking dead, too." He swallows and meets her eyes, putting the full force of his guilt, his sorrow, and his pain into his words. "I didn't want you dead. I wanted you alive. Alive, so you could eventually see the error of your ways, realize you needed us as much as we... as I needed you. Alive, so you'd eventually come back."

That he caused another member of his family to be ripped away tears him apart. It shouldn't have mattered that Veronica had stood with her father and not with him. Logan never should have abandoned her. Fuck, they'd been friends for years; he should have understood her loyalty to her father wasn't a repudiation of her loyalty to him.

If only he hadn't been too selfish to look past his own pain and understand.

He drops to his knees in front of the headstone, ignoring the wet soaking into his jeans. He traces over her name, over the dates. Veronica Elizabeth Mars. Born, August 14, 1987. Died, December 7, 2003. Only sixteen years old, just as Lilly had been, but even more innocent of any crime. With all his strength, he slams his fist into the damning date of her death, an offering of bone and blood as silent apology for all his sins. The skin splits open on his knuckles; experience tells him the bones beneath have cracked. The pain is trivial, a dull ache he is conditioned to ignore.

Veronica settles to her knees beside him, and tilts her head, her expression considering. "I'm only gonna say this once, Logan, so listen closely. You fucked up big time, yeah. You were a fucking bastard, and how you treated me hurt, and was wrong, and I'd've been pissed at you for it even if Shelley's party had never happened. But it took a lot of people to put me in that bed at Shelley's party. You can't shoulder the entire burden, not when there's so much of it to go around.

"You didn't rape me. You didn't feed me alcohol to stop me from waking up. You had the drugs, but you didn't use them on me. You can't blame yourself for everything, and slowly willing yourself to die won't solve anything."

He expels a long breath, fidgeting with the sleeves of his shirt. "What's so great about living?"

"Redemption."

"How?" he asks incredulously. "One thousand and one good deeds, and I can get into heaven with a clean slate? What the fuck does that make up for?" His voice slowly rises, ending on a shout.

She ignores his rant. "Find out the truth. Figure out who dosed me. Figure out who raped me. Figure out who was behind covering it all up."

He laughs, bitter and broken. "What's the point? You're still dead. It won't make it not have happened. It won't magically bring you back."

"You've been drowning yourself in that emo moping drama queen act long enough." Her smirk is sharp and more than a little mean. "As I am intimately aware, the Logan I knew was hell on anyone who wronged him and his, not this pathetically passive wreck you've become." She wrinkles her nose in distaste, and snaps out, "You claim guilt, you didn't intend this, I was yours, and all that crap? Prove it." Her eyes narrow, gleaming blue fire. "Prove that those rich pigs can't just brush me off and forget about me like I was nothing. Prove that, unlike all the others, somewhere underneath your cynicism and debauchery is the makings of a worthwhile human being. Prove that once upon a time, long ago, you actually gave a shit what happened to me. Prove that I mattered."

"Of course you mattered," he murmurs. "Even when I didn't want you to, you mattered more than I could ever say."

She rolls her eyes. "Then act like it. Get your head out of your ass and make them remember me. More, make them pay for daring to forget."

He nods. This he can do for her. This he should have been doing for her long ago, instead of wallowing in his own guilt and regret. It is only appropriate that it took the girl herself—whether hallucination or ghost—to wake him up.

Sometimes an undeserving jackass gets a shot at redemption. After all, even an avenging angel needs a mortal vessel.

She returns his nod and straightens. "Then my work here is done."

"Veronica, please...," he calls out before she can leave, "is this a delusion or not? Am I crazy? Or are you... real?"

"Does it matter?" She leans forward and brushes a kiss against his hair, a cool tremor of electricity vibrating all the way down to his toes. Her grin is a lopsided, whimsical smile that brightens her face and warms her eyes. As she fades, he sees the flutter of wings and the glimmer of a sword.

He leans back against the headstone, staring up into the blinding sun and the vividly blue sky. Real or not, she's right. It's time to shake things up.