Title: Dust Settles
Author: StarCrossdSparrow
Character / Pairing: Logan/Veronica, ensemble
Rating: NC-17
Warning: Violence, swearing, and smut - booyeah! A trifecta!
Chapter: 1/1
Word Count: 17,000
Disclaimer: I don't own anything... I don't even pwn anything. RT is the master of the Mars-iverse; I just live and die in it.
Spoilers: 3.09 "Spit & Eggs"
Summary: Just after 3.09, Veronica throws herself headlong into a case.
Author's Notes: This would never have been possible without Roz, who polished it up and relocated it with her fabulous beta and ML, who demanded encouraged teh smut. For her, I humbly submitted for the vmlibrary's Alternate Ending Smutathon - and won the Sexiest Smut award. This is the extension of my angsty one-shot of the same title. Extra amounts of love to Erin, just 'cause I can't not mention her in the AN.

XxX

Veronica swiped at her eyes. They were beyond dry. She wanted to pluck them out and stick them in one of those ball washers she'd once seen on a golf course.

Of course, the man across the table probably thought she was wiping away a tear. It killed her that instead of the sneer that such a thought should have elicited from Lamb, he looked ready to offer her a Kleenex. Veronica shifted uncomfortably in the metal chair.

"So, you were in the closet," Lamb prodded. His voice was too soft. He sounded like he was afraid that one hard-edged word would cut her.

She tried to contain the eye roll, but it happened even without the proper lubrication. "Yeah. Closet. Hair. Drugged. Dragged. We've been through it." Veronica took the tone of voice she'd wanted to hear from Lamb and trebled it.

He still didn't react to her anger. "I know. I just want to be clear for when we go to trial." Lamb sat back in his own metal chair and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Hayes' father is an appellate court judge. Did you know that?"

Veronica crossed her arms over her chest. "No. Never came up while he was trying to rape that girl."

Lamb sighed and fixed Veronica with a long look. "What in the Hell, Veronica? Can't you just step down from your thunderhead for a minute and take it easy? I'm trying to be the good cop for once."

"Yeah, 'cause the bad guys are in jail," she snorted. "And, for once, you can't accuse me of the crime."

"No thanks to you, Mars." Lamb's comment lacked it's typical sharpness, but didn't fail to slice through Veronica. He'd just uttered the very thing that was keeping her up at night.

She leaped to her feet. "It's not my fault that you need a nineteen-year-old college girl to do your goddamn job. Maybe if you-"

"Sit down before I put you back in that chair myself." Lamb cut across her tirade with his dangerously quiet order.

Veronica was so dumbfounded when he didn't retaliate with his own shout, she fell back into the seat.

Lamb's tone was hushed, but exasperation was showing around the frayed edges of his stoic act. "I'm not blaming you. But you need to learn to just stay out of things, Veronica. You were lucky this time. Can't you just let me do the whole serve and protect thing? Can't you just be a normal girl?"

Veronica squeezed her eyes shut before opening them and focusing on the wall clock over the sheriff's left shoulder. "You don't act fast enough for me. Every girl that gets raped on your watch, well, we all know how you treat them."

Lamb opened his mouth to protest but she cut across him, "Are we done here?"

He shut his mouth and nodded sharply. "Sacks will take you back to your boyfriend."

Veronica didn't even bother to correct him as she left the grim interrogation room. Deputy Sacks was waiting for her, his blank expression further softened by concern. Veronica wondered if there was some sort of memorandum floating around.

Re: Veronica Mars
Subj: Treat with kid gloves until further notice.

Sacks led her to the holding cell. Logan was leaning against the windowsill, concentrating on looking bored. His left hand was bandaged across the knuckles and his right eye was blackened; he looked dangerous in the shadowy cell. Veronica nearly crumbled when he didn't smile at her.

Logan moved with an arrogant grace, natural only to the very wealthy. "Later, Deputy. It's been a pleasure."

Sacks chuckled and nodded. "As usual."

Logan matched his grin as though he and the deputy shared some private joke. When he looked down at Veronica, his smile faded. "Dick too busy readying the welcome home bash?"

"A simple thanks would have done."

"Thanks."

The word left Veronica cold and wanting as they walked toward the exit. Once outside, Logan blinked dramatically at the bright Neptune sunshine. "Ah, life on the outside. How shall I ever adjust?"

"I could take you to a halfway house. They'll give you five hundred bucks and a gently used suit. You can play the part of the down on his luck, wide-eyed, industrious member of the proletariat. I'm sure someone will take a chance on you."

Logan snorted as he climbed into the Saturn. "Not likely. Besides, I'm really into the wealthy playboy angle. And my newfound freedom is begging to be taken for a test drive."

Veronica nearly choked on her next breath. His comment hit her hard. It was even worse than the one Lamb had lobbed her way.

Logan caught her silence. "I meant from jail," he mumbled. "Why did you come to get me? Cliff posted my bail. I figured-"

"Lamb wanted me for further questioning. He said he wants the case airtight. Apparently Mercer's dad is a judge."

Logan clenched his jaw and nodded. "Yeah."

They rode the rest of the way to the Grand in silence.

As she swung up to the revolving door, Logan unbuckled his seatbelt and laid his hand on the handle of the car door. He was apparently eager for an escape. "So, uh, thanks. I'll see you."

Veronica pressed her lips into a thin line and nodded. "Yeah. See you."

Logan hesitated for the barest of moments. A lesser detective probably wouldn't have noticed. When he shut the door with a gentle snick and disappeared into the hotel, Veronica wished she hadn't noticed.

As she drove back to her apartment, she remembered why her eyes were so dry. She'd shed every tear she had after Logan had kissed her goodbye for the last time.

XxX

The sun was too hot and too bright for a December sky. It was burning through Veronica's sleeves and on her bare neck, even while the chilly breeze danced across her nose and fingertips. Adding to her discomfort, the shadows the sun couldn't chase were made longer and more ominous than they should have been.

One particularly long shadow fell over Veronica's Basic Statistical Methods text, making all the already confounding symbols that much more difficult to read.

"Stalking is a crime in California, you know," Veronica greeted the shadow, a definite edge to her voice. One that was having less and less to do with her impending stats final once she saw the battered motorcycle boots and murky brown pant-clad legs.

"It's not stalkin' if I make myself known," came Weevil's confident riposte.

"They teach you that in the joint?"

"Naw, your buddy Lamb actually imparted that bit of wisdom." Weevil shrugged and dropped onto the bench next to Veronica. "Think he might have a little thing for you."

Veronica covered a fake giggle with her hand and pretended a southern drawl. "Lil' ol' me? Why, I ahm positively flattered. Did he ask you to invite me to the gran' gala tonight?"

"Look, Vee, I need your help."

Veronica rolled her eyes and closed her book a little forcefully. "Look, Weevil, I already old you: I'm not going to pose for your calendar."

Weevil took the opportunity she presented to give her body a once-over. "As much as I'm sure your body could sell just about anything, I need you for your mind."

Veronica snorted. "I've heard that one before. My brain has a date elsewhere, so talk fast."

"There's a girl missing from my neighborhood." Weevil handed Veronica a news clipping. "It's from the La Voz. Kind of a local thing for those of us not so in-tune with the LA Times."

Veronica withdrew the clipping and gave it a cursory glance. "It's in Spanish."

"Oh, really? Hadn't noticed," Weevil answered, sarcasm coloring his words. He tapped the clipped and went on, "It's the only paper that carries something like this. I brought it because of the picture."

Veronica unfolded the clipping to see the picture of a young brunette with braces smiling wide for the camera. Veronica picked out the name Catalina Suarez from the caption. "How long has she been missing?"

"A week. She was last seen with some girl, uh, Sara Jacobs, leaving Neptune High."

"Where'd they go?"

"Girl says they went to some fair down in Escondito and then came home. She dropped Catalina off in front of her house and went back to her own place. She hasn't seen her since."

"Are you sure she hasn't just run away?"

Weevil snorted his disapproval. "Now you're starting to sound like our fine Sheriff. You sure the two of you don't have something going on?"

Veronica had the good sense to look abashed. "I just meant did anyone investigate that? You remember what we were like at fifteen. Scratch that... you remember what you were like at fifteen."

"Mrs. Suarez told my tía Rosa that Catalina was planning on going to some dance at Pan that weekend. Had a dress and the whole deal. And she just applied for a job at a car wash to help pay for Christmas presents. Doesn't sound like someone planning on making a run for it."

Veronica watched Weevil skeptically before glancing at her watch. "Look, I've got to get to my last final. I'll see what I can do, okay? No promises, though. Dad's been keeping me on a pretty tight leash since..."

Weevil nodded his understanding. "I know. I don't want you killing yourself over this, either. I just figured if anyone could help the Suarezes, it would be you."

Veronica gave Weevil a tight-lipped smile and hurried away towards her stats final.

XxX

Veronica pulled up to the Jacobs' residence. It was far away from the barrio but by no means would it be featured on Lifestyles of the Rich and Tawdry. It was a small A-frame with a friendly looking front porch and a wide, well-cared for lawn. A little sign dangled from below the mailbox that read "Welcome, Friends." Veronica took that as an invitation and strolled up the wide brick walk, her best Girl Scout grin on her face.

A young blonde answered the door. Veronica was a little taken aback. She'd somehow expected a Latina girl. She silently berated herself for her sudden burst of racism and plastered her smile back on.

"Hi, I'm a friend of the Suarezes. Is Sara home?"

The girl's curious look became a blank one, and she took a noticeable step back. "I'm Sara."

"Oh good. May I?" Without waiting for the answer, Veronica stepped in, forcing Sara back another few steps. "Thanks." Veronica led the way into a cozy living room and took a seat.

Sara followed and sat on the edge of a facing arm chair. "I, uh, I already told Mrs. Suarez what happened that night."

"Oh, I know. She was just hoping you might have remembered something else. Maybe you took some pictures and got them developed?"

Sara shook her head. "No."

Veronica knew a liar when she saw one. "Well, maybe if we talk about it some. It always helps me to remember things. Where'd you go?"

"We, uh, we went to this carnival on Escondito. My, uh, boyfriend Kyle goes to Pan and some of his friends were going."

"So, Kyle was with you?"

Sara shook her head a little too firmly. "No. We had a fight so I drove myself. He didn't come, so me and Cat didn't stay long."

"Mrs. Suarez said you missed your curfew?" It was pure guesswork as Veronica had yet to talk to Catalina's mother, but she had a hunch and the real story didn't involve Escondito or a carnival.

Sara cut her eyes back up to Veronica's face and for a moment, Veronica was afraid she'd made a mistake. "Yeah, I did. I got into enough trouble with my own parents over that."

"And when Catalina turned up missing? What then?"

Sara's lower lip quivered. "My parents didn't care."

"They didn't like her?" Veronica guessed.

"No. They didn't really know her. They were just mad 'cause..." Sara stopped herself and looked away from Veronica.

"What? Say it. You're only hurting your friend by not telling the truth."

Sara's shoulders slumped. "'Cause I got arrested at the border."

"The border?" Veronica repeated. She hadn't suspected that. "You went to Tijuana?"

Sara nodded, tears shining in her eyes. "I didn't mean for anything to happen, I swear!"

"What happened?" Veronica urged, trying for her best "I'm your friend" voice. She needed to keep her cool, but Good Cop wasn't really her forte.

"Nothing. I mean, we got trashed and then these guys started hitting on us. Cat went off with them, and when I couldn't find her, I freaked." Tears started to slide down her cheeks. "I just ran home, you know? I was scared of being late and getting caught. But the border patrol guy smelled the alcohol on my breath and arrested me. I told them about Cat, and the one said he'd go and find her."

"And then what? You lied to Mrs. Suarez? Why didn't you go to the Sheriff?" Staying cool was obviously no longer on the Playbill.

"My mom and dad told me not to. They said the border would take care of it. I was already in enough trouble. My license is suspended!"

Veronica jumped to her feet, Good Cop completely blown. "Your license? Your friend could be raped and murdered somewhere in Mexico, and you care about having to take the bus?"

The girl was sobbing into her hands now and a tall woman with Sara's sandy hair came into the room. "Sara? What's wrong? Who're you?"

Veronica lifted an eyebrow. "I'm on my way out." She turned on her heel and walked back down the brick path, immediately dialing Weevil.

His voicemail picked up so Veronica left the pertinent facts. "Catalina and Sara went to TJ that night. Meet me at the library as soon as you can."

By the time Weevil showed up at the library, Veronica was already elbow-deep in articles about disappearances in Tijuana. Especially those involving pretty, young brunettes. There were an awful lot of them and only a handful were from English language newspapers.

Weevil tossed another folder on top of her growing pile of information.

Veronica glanced at him, her face a mask of annoyance at being interrupted mingled with relief for the help he'd be able to provide. "What's this?"

"And you call yourself a detective?" At Veronica's glare, Weevil pressed on. "Just open it."

Inside, there were a few dozen articles, at least half from El Paso Tribune. Titles in Times New Roman proclaimed "Who Is Killing the Women of Juárez?" and "No New Leads in Death of Local Girl." The "Local Girl" in question was a young Latina with a bright smile. Veronica leveled a questioning gaze at Weevil.

"My mother's cousin, Mireia," he offered, quietly, taking a seat across from Veronica. "She was found murdered just across the Texas-Mexico border. They found parts of her for three miles."

Veronica swallowed hard. Not one to offer platitudes, she skipped to the questions. "How long ago?"

"Fourteen years. She was fifteen. I never met her, but my mom collected these." He encompassed the folder with a short gesture.

Veronica paused, flicking through the yellowed newsprint. She gathered that Mireia Covarrubias lived in a suburban area of El Paso. She had been captain of the varsity girls' volleyball team and had won accolades as service leader with the National Honor Society. She was found dead outside Juárez two days prior to a speech she was supposed to give at an NHS symposium in Dallas.

"Her murder was never solved?" Veronica asked, unnecessarily.

Weevil shook his head to indicate the negative. "It's considered a cold case, even though most people in El Paso know what happened."

Veronica waited patiently for the pertinent details.

"The maquiladora murders. Heard of 'em?"

"No. But, I'm pretty sure I read that word here somewhere." She began shuffling through the stacks, but Weevil cut across her.

"I'm not surprised. Long story short, maquillas hire border women at the discount rate and work 'em to death. And those that don't die in the factories usually end up like Mireia." He opened the file he'd first thrown her and withdrew an old three by five snapshot. It showed four people, squinting into the harsh sunlight, surrounded by miles of desert. They were wearing fluorescent yellow vests and each held a shovel. No one smiled.

Again, Veronica waited for the explanation.

"When you said that Catalina had been to TJ, I remembered this. This is a picture of Mireia's search party." He pointed to each in turn. "Her mother, her father, her brother, and a neighbor. They were the only ones who ever went looking for her."

Veronica gazed at the picture, momentarily stricken. She thought she'd heard him wrong. "Surely they weren't the only ones."

Weevil shook his head again. "Yeah, they were. See, everyone at the border knew how it went. Brown girls get murdered. And there ain't nothing nobody can do."

"But..."

Weevil cut across her once more. "I thought you'd be able to see this for what it is, Vee. These girls aren't nothin' to nobody 'cept their families. When some pretty white girl goes missing, the country lights candles and cries over the front page. When a brown girl goes missing, she's probably a runaway or a whore."

Veronica opened her mouth to retort but shut it just as quickly. She knew he was speaking the truth. Hadn't they both lost their own 'pretty white girl' not so long ago? Finally, she turned the questions back on. At least she knew she couldn't mess those up. "So, how do you think this connects to Cat? Are there factories in Tijuana?"

"Yeah, a few." Weevil shook his head again, this time as though he were trying to dispel some image lodged there. "And, I dunno if Cat figures in. There ain't been a similar murder reported around here in almost three years. But, that don't mean that they don't happen."

Veronica nodded. "Have any search parties gone for her?"

"Just to Escondito. But, now that I know, I'll try to get some of my friends around the neighborhood to go down closer to TJ. Never too hard. Though, the border patrol ain't too kindly 'bout letting us back in once we're across."

"Well, I'll keep this up. See what I can see. Maybe go talk to Mrs. Suarez. What about Cat's dad?"

"Not in the picture. He died a few years back. But, you might be interested to know that, like most of the barrio, Mrs. Suarez is part of the cleaning crew at Kane Software."

Veronica arched an eyebrow. "You should've told me sooner. I think my suspect list just shrunk. I just need a motive."

Weevil snorted as he stood. "That's never stopped you before."

Veronica smirked in response, already too busy scanning for references to maquilladoras to notice him leaving.

XxX

"Coffee is good for the eyes, you know."

Veronica picked up her head to study the boy standing in the spot that she could have sworn Weevil had just vacated. However, the windows beyond the interruption were dark. A quick peek at her watch told he that she'd been looking through information for close to two hours. And, her eyes did hurt.

Piz cocked his head to the side and shifted his bag nervously. "Okay, did I actually say something aloud? 'Cause from the way you're looking at me, I feel like I might have been trying to communicate telepathically." He stopped and considered before pushing on. "Unless, that is, you're trying telepathy. In which case, I'll need to concentrate harder."

Veronica smiled a tight smile and shook her head. She rubbed her tired eyes before she began shuffling the reams of paper and books in front of her into some order. That made two piles: Stuff about maquilladoras and other stuff. Unfortunate for Veronica, the maquilladora pile was still huge.

Stifling a yawn, she asked, "How do you figure that? Coffee doesn't actually have any properties that I'd consider healthy."

Piz shrugged. "Science of cramming for finals, I guess. What're you studying, anyway?" He made to look at one of the sheets of paper that rested atop a pile of maquilladora information. Veronica pulled it away and started shoving things into her bag. "Oh, it's a little preemptive strike for a Latin American studies class I have next semester. I finished my finals yesterday."

"That's lucky. So, uh, need some coffee anyway? 'Cause I was on my way and I could really use someone who is not going to spout chemical formulae at me."

Veronica was about to decline when her stomach growled angrily. In her fervor to delve into a new case, she'd neglected her belly. She smiled wanly at Piz before nodding her agreement. "I think I could go for some caffeine with an option on an entire pizza."

Piz raised his eyebrows comically as though Veronica's capitulation surprised him. "Oh, uh, great. The Union, then?"

Veronica shouldered her bag and joined him in leaving the library.

XxX

Halfway through her third slice, she watched Piz's face fall. They'd been getting along swimmingly during the hour at the Union, sticking to safe topics like the way Wallace talked in his sleep and the general nonsense about class scheduling and finals. As soon as she saw Piz's change of expression, she felt a familiar twinge between her shoulder blades. Her Logan Sense was tingling.

Sure enough, when Veronica turned to follow Piz's line of vision, Logan was watching them from the doorway. He wasn't even bothering to conceal his gaze. In fact, when he noticed Veronica looking back, he seemed emboldened and approached her table.

"I thought your finals were over," Logan said without preface.

"I don't know how many stalkers one girl can have on her card, but I think mine is reaching capacity."

Logan's eyes registered brief pain before dialing down a few degrees to cold. "You told me a few weeks ago that you only had one. Remember? We were sleeping together then."

Veronica ignored Piz's little cough. She knew that she shouldn't underestimate Logan's sharp tongue, no matter what their circumstances might be. So she gave as good as she got. "No, I don't really. Wasn't much to mark as memorable."

Logan cocked his chin aristocratically and smirked. It was a familiar expression that Veronica knew spelled disaster. "Oh, well, I think I can refresh your memory. Picture this: the Neptune Grand, a silk handkerchief, three cans of shaving cream and..."

Veronica didn't hear whatever Logan said next because Piz erupted into a coughing fit. "Uh, er, this has been fun. But, I've got that, uh, thing in the morning. See ya, Veronica. Logan." Piz gathered his things clumsily and beat a hasty retreat.

To Veronica's further dismay, Logan took Piz's empty chair and picked at the mushrooms on her pizza. "Gee, he wouldn't even stick around to defend you against my world-famous temper. Stand up guy, that Stosh."

Veronica shouldered her bag and made for the door.

Logan leapt up and joined her, matching her short stride easily. "I know what you're doing, and you can just forget it."

Veronica stopped and whirled on him. "I don't know if you received the memo, but here it is, verbatim. You broke up with me and therefore, have absolutely no right to tell me what to do. Not that you had a right before, but at least then, I tolerated it. And, I'm hardly endangering myself. I'm just asking around a little..."

Logan cut her off when he caught her arm. "What are you talking about? Another case, Veronica? Jesus! I was just talking about how you've been avoiding me. What in the Hell are you into now?"

Veronica looked pointedly at his hand on her forearm, and he dropped it. She spun away from him and headed for the double doors.

He caught up to her and kept pace. "What is it? Murder? Drugs? Another rape? What do I have to prepare myself for this time? Does your dad know?"

Veronica stopped and turned on him, throwing her arms out to her sides. "How many times do I have to tell you to leave me alone, Logan?"

"At least once more, and I'm not making any guarantees," he said, rubbing the bridge of his nose.

Veronica turned without another word and pushed out into the night.

XxX

Veronica fell asleep, papers across her bed, on the floor, even clutched in her hand. All through the night, she shifted under her blanket of news clippings and printouts. In her dreams, the smiling faces of girls melted away into grinning skulls. Screaming women were pursued by faceless murderers through the freezing desert, both eluding Veronica's grasp.

She woke with a start at her mobile's insistent jangling.

Blinking groggily at the display, she snapped the phone open and mumbled a sleep slurred, "'Lo?'"

"Vee? Bad news."

Weevil. Of course it was bad news. She cleared her throat, "Yeah?"

"Mrs. Suarez is gone."

XxX

Twenty minutes later, Weevil and Veronica pulled up in front of the Suarez residence.

"I don't know what you think you're going to find in there," Weevil said, his tone a warning as he stowed their helmets.

"Leave the detective stuff to me, kid," she threw over her shoulder. Standing on her toes, Veronica glanced through the half window in the door. The only thing visible was a staircase and a banister. She moved to the window adjacent to the door; through it, she saw an average living room set up. Nothing was out of place, at least, not that she could tell. It looked to be in perfect order, nary a tumbled cushion or unfolded blanket.

When she straightened, she was about to inform Weevil that'd she was going to go around the back. However, he was watching her, hand on the door knob; he'd opened the door.

"How'd you -"

"Leave the criminal stuff to me, kid," he quipped. He gestured for her to follow him.

Inside, the house was as neat as a pin. It was nice, too. While it wasn't a showroom for chic designer decoration, it was comfortable. The cream sofa cushions weren't worn or sagging, the beige carpet was spotless and thick, and there was a gleaming row of silver-framed photos on the mantle over the tidy brick fireplace.

Veronica approached the mantle. There, she saw the same picture that Weevil had shown her: Catalina smiling and happy, a school photograph. The others were of Catalina, as well: her astride a horse, a few candids of her surrounded by smiling people, and one nice professional shot of Cat and an older woman. Veronica assumed the woman to be Cat's mother, and she withdrew her own camera to snap a photo.

"Hey, Vee! C'mere!" Weevil's voice came from another room, and Veronica followed it.

He was standing in the kitchen, in front of a stainless steel refrigerator, and he was holding at a piece of paper.

"What is it?"

He held the paper out to her. "Just a schedule."

Veronica lifted an eyebrow. "An itinerary, more like. Someone took the five fifteen flight from LAX to Bogotá last night." She leveled her gaze on Weevil. "Who takes a trip to Columbia when her daughter is missing?"

"A guilty woman?"

Veronica nodded, "Got it in one, Weevil. You've got a real talent for this. So, uh, know anyone in-"

He fixed her with a glare. "My mom's from Mexico, Veronica. Jus' cause I'm from the barrio don't mean I know every Latino in the world. I mean, how many British people you know?"

Veronica raised her palm, "Fine, calm down with the racism lecture; I feel sufficiently guilty. And I'm Irish and Polish."

He answered with an eye roll. "So, what do we do now?"

Veronica shrugged. "I guess we could involve my dad. He could track down Mrs. Suarez. Or..." She dug into her bag and plucked out her cell. She glanced at the travel plans and dialed her phone. "Hello? I was just wondering if Adela Suarez checked in yet. I'm her neighbor, and she wanted me to water her houseplants. I just can't seem to find the key." She paused as the receptionist answered her. "Yes, I see. No, that's okay. I'll, uh, I'll find it. I'm sure I just missed it. Thanks." She disconnected and looked at Weevil. "Well, she's not checked into her hotel yet."

"What kind of flight is that? Ten hours?"

Veronica glanced at her watch. "Sounds about right. So, at the latest, she should have gotten to Columbia by around seven or eight, and you know, give an hour for airport stuff and travel to the hotel, she should be there by now."

Weevil nodded. "Well, we could ask around, but I don't see what good that would do."

"Right. If she was planning this trip, her neighbors might never have known anyway. If it was sudden, well, they certainly wouldn't. And it doesn't matter; she's gone." Veronica glanced around the kitchen, hoping something would jump out at her. Luck was on her side, and she caught sight of a magnet bearing the Kane Software logo stuck to the microwave. "Well, she would have given notice at work if she was planning to leave, right? Why don't I get in touch with my old friends there, see what I can see, and you get your friends down to TJ to poke around for a missing girl? Plan?"

Weevil nodded his agreement. "Whatever you say, boss."

Veronica grinned. "I like that. Call me that all the time, okay?"

He snorted as he followed her out the door.

XxX

The call to Kane Software was almost a complete bust. The HR supervisor told Veronica that the cleaning crew was a second-party company called KleenCo, and when she called that company, all she got was a voice mailbox. However, she did get the number of the head of the cleaning crew for Kane Software, and from one very eager man, she found out that they'd recently lost the only member of the crew with security clearances required to enter restricted areas, and that if she was interested, she'd simply have to take a few drug tests.

She flopped backwards against Wallace's bed dejectedly. "Need a job, Wallace?"

"We could go do a little undercover investigating," Wallace offered. "We haven't done that in a dog's age."

Veronica rolled onto her stomach, propping her chin on her fists. "Did you really just say 'a dog's age?' What're you, like, ninety-five?"

Wallace pulled a face at her. "Okay, okay. How about, fo' real, dawg! We ain't done nothin' cool since Tupac was alive and Biggie had a thirty-two inch waist. Word."

She laughed and sat up, and pounded fists with her best friend. "Cred restored."

He snorted. "But, really, we could, you know, put handkerchiefs on our heads, carry around a rag and some Windex and blow the lid off this thing."

"What thing? I don't even know what to look for. This girl is missing, Wallace, and I doubt she's hidden somewhere at Kane Software. Fun disguises aren't going to help." Veronica sighed and shook her head. "This is something I've never dealt with."

"Whoa, whoa, what's this? Doubt? Veronica Mars, Super Girl, doesn't think she can do this? Now, what alternate reality did I just step into?"

She laughed softly. "I know. I know. I just... I don't know, really. Ever since... you know... I've just been..."

Wallace moved from his desk chair to sit next to her on the bed. "It's cool, Veronica. I'd be scared to. Hell, I am scared. You don't even know how many times I've been tempted to follow you when you go out and do the crazy-ass shit you do."

Veronica turned to him, opening her mouth to answer. She shut it quickly and just nodded. After a moment, she went on, "I'm always careful, though. You know that, right?"

He hesitated a moment before nodding. "Yeah. Yeah, I know." He squeezed her shoulder, and on impulse, Veronica reached out and pulled him into a tight hug.

"Thanks, Wallace."

He patted her back. "No problem, Veronica."

When the pulled apart, he grinned at her. "So, how we gonna catch the bad guy?"

XxX

"Shhh!" Veronica hissed.

Wallace turned back toward Mac and held a finger up to his lips.

Mac nodded and crept up closer to Veronica, shoving her empty bottle of Mop & Glo into the bucket she was carrying. The halls of Kane Software were very dark after the place closed for business, but it didn't make it any less obvious that three people were sneaking around in the hallways marked 'restricted access.' Even three people dressed like crew members from KleenCo.

"Doesn't matter, Jameson," a loud voice carried on. Mac looked at Veronica questioningly, and Veronica just shrugged but pointed at the placard over the door. It read "Development, RJ Bender."

Again, Veronica shrugged, but she stayed put, listening at the door. The same voice went on; it was obvious that either RJ was crazy and talking to himself, or he was talking on the phone. Veronica inched forward, and through the window, she could see a man, probably in his late forties, pacing back and forth, a Bluetooth headset on one ear. He went on to say, "She had to go. Celeste wanted it that way."

Veronica's eyebrows rocketed up, and she looked pointedly at Mac, swirling her finger in the air. Mac reached into her bucket and flipped on the voice recorder she'd slipped in amongst some rags.

"I don't care, man. Look, I've got to go. The wife's expecting me for dinner." There was a beat, and Bender laughed. "Yeah, she's still buying the ten a.m. tee time bit. Stupid heifer."

Veronica and Mac both wrinkled their noses. Wallace tapped Veronica on the shoulder, and with a pointed look, he inclined his head toward the corridor from which they'd come. Veronica nodded, and the trio crept away from RJ Bender's door.

Once they were outside in the parking lot, Veronica grinned. "Gosh, that was better than Christmas!"

Mac and Wallace were practically jogging to keep up with her.

"What? Who's RJ Bender?" Wallace asked.

Veronica grinned as she remote unlocked her SUV. It chirped from its place in the shadows across the street in the overflow lot. "Robert Bender was Abel Koontz's partner in developing streaming video for Kane Software. Ultimately, he's the one who sold out Koontz, choosing to take a cushy job with the company over the fifteen minutes of fame Koontz wanted."

"Oh," came Wallace's reply. "And that means?"

Mac filled in as they climbed into the vehicle. "Well, Koontz would have been a millionaire overnight, and Bender preferred his cash incrementally. Which, you know, makes sense since Koontz was dying."

Veronica went on, "And, Koontz's own daughter told me that he was working on something else before he was arrested for Lilly's murder. Something big."

"Maybe big enough that if someone with the proper security clearances overheard it, she'd have to be let go?" Wallace guessed.

Veronica smirked, "Let's hope so."

"But what about the daughter? Why would someone kidnap her?" Mac asked.

Veronica glanced at her friend in the rear view mirror. "Maybe she wasn't. Maybe she just went wherever her mother went."

There were a few moments of silence before Wallace put in, "You know, Veronica, just 'cause that guy said something about Celeste and another woman doesn't mean that that's the answer. I mean..."

"No way, Wallace. It's got to have something to do with Celeste Kane; I can feel it."

Mac met Wallace's eyes in the rearview; both remained silent for the drive back to Hearst.

XxX

Veronica had just found out that Bender was a partner in some sort of business called the Triple L Allied Group when she was interrupted by her own personal drum solo. She looked up to see Piz leaning on the Help desk in the empty library, the chained pen poised for another set. She snatched the pen away and shoved it into its holder before he could begin again. "Hello, Piz."

"I've never seen someone study so much when classes are no longer in session," he replied with a grin.

"Well, I could say the same thing about you. I thought you were going home to Oregon for Christmas."

"I am. My family wanted to come down and check out my new digs, though, so I'm waiting for the weekend. So, that gives me and the room a whole week of bonding time. And, let me tell you, the wall between Wallace's room and mine? Laugh. A. Minute."

Veronica chuckled, minimizing the Firefox window she had open since it was clear Piz was intent on hanging around for the duration.

"So, what time you done here?"

Veronica glanced around at the empty room. "Well, as soon as I can get everyone to quiet down and leave, I'm free to go." To make her point, she leaned over the desk and waggled a finger at the non-existent studiers, "Don't make me forcibly remove you."

Piz laughed. "Okay, well, if I help you close up shop, can I interest you in something food-shaped from the cafeteria?"

She glanced back down at the computer. She was sure that with a few more hours, she could find out the reason Celeste Kane should be behind bars. But, her stomach rumbled loudly, and she sighed. "Well, I think that was my answer."

He grinned again, and turned, shooing imaginary patrons toward the doors. "Come on, everybody out. Hungry Veronica on the loose."

XxX

Dinner with Piz had been congenial. Once the kid wasn't fidgeting or talking in circles to fill the silence, he was actually alright. However, time spent with Piz didn't quiet the questions swirling in her brain. And almost worse than the faces from the murder files she'd been digging through and the thought of some little girl kidnapped somewhere was the loud voice in her brain that constantly compared Piz to Logan. It was infuriating, and she just couldn't make it shut up. She wondered if every girl's brain did that when a new guy started becoming something less than a friend. She tried to block out the fact that she knew her brain hadn't parsed the differences between Duncan and Logan when she'd moved on.

So she was relatively happy to escape the situation, leaving Piz outside of his dorm without so much as offering to go inside. Things would only end badly; they always did. There was no need to start dragging some unwitting victim into the Veronica relationship dramathon, not when he hadn't even been there for the first two acts.

The next day, however, Piz was all that was on her friend's minds. She, Wallace, and Mac were sitting in Veronica's living room under the weighty pretense that watching a marathon of Christmas movies was what they were all concentrating on.

It was Wallace that finally brought it up. "So, you and Piz, huh? Did I miss the memo, or have you taken me off the friends-and-family e-mail list?"

Veronica blinked, turning away from Ralphie and his interlude with the despicable mall Santa. "Huh?"

Mac and Wallace were both watching her from their places on the sofa, looking affronted.

"Me and Piz what? Is this like a new knock-knock joke? 'Cause, I've got to tell you, it's kind of lame," Veronica went on.

Mac arched an eyebrow. "You went out last night. You weren't going to mention it?"

Veronica sunk back into the armchair, pulling her blanket more tightly around her legs. "No. I was at work, he stopped by, and we had dinner in the cafeteria. Not exactly wine and roses, so you can stop planning the wedding."

Mac exchanged a look with Wallace, and Veronica burst out, "What? So, suddenly it's illegal for me to do anything without checking in? I'd like to get up now and get a soda from the fridge. Is that okay with everyone?"

Wallace looked pointedly at her. "We were just wondering why you didn't say anything about it. He called me last night and he was pretty much ordering flower arrangements and planning the bachelor party."

Mac chimed in, "Yeah, so we got the impression it was something else."

"Well, it was nothing. Really. You two would be the first, and honestly, the only ones to know if it was, so you can drop the whole hug it out thing." Veronica stood and went to the kitchenette, busying herself with getting more provisions. "And besides, Piz is just a friend. I'm not responsible if he goes all Moonstruck after sharing some pasta."

"Whoa, reign it in there, Your Big Headedness," Wallace began. "You can't be held responsible? You've gone to dinner with him twice, on your own. We of the male persuasion call that a date. And I call what you're doing leading him on."

Veronica turned, shooting a hurt look at Wallace. Before she could offer her defense, he stood. "I've got to go, Veronica. I'm taking Mom shopping. I'll call you later."

"Wallace, wait..."

But he just shook his head and pushed through the door. Veronica returned her pleading gaze to Mac. Mac pulled the blanket more firmly around her legs, a promise that she wouldn't leave. Veronica returned to her chair, passing her friend a S'kist. "What'd I say?

Mac looked down at her can of soda, then back up at Veronica. "Piz is his friend, too. But don't worry about it, I'm sure it's just a guy thing. You really didn't do anything wrong. I just wish..." she trailed off, looking back at the screen.

"What?" Veronica prompted.

Mac shook her head. "Nothing. Just, you know, I wish you would have told me. Wallace probably feels the same way. You two used to be pretty close, but lately..."

There was a pause, and Veronica began, "Well, I've just been so busy between school, you know, and the cases."

Mac nodded, not quite conveying that she agreed that those were valid reasons, but obviously not wishing to continue talking about Veronica Mars, absentee friend. Her discomfort was even plainer when she announced in a too-cheerful voice, "Oh, speaking of cases, I found out more about that bank account number you e-mailed me."

However forced Mac's excitement sounded, Veronica replied with real enthusiasm, "What did you find?"

Mac just leaned down to rifle through her bag. She withdrew a folder and passed it to Veronica. "It's all there; at least, all that I could find."

Veronica almost opened the file, but then thought better of it and slid it beneath her bowl of popcorn on the coffee table.

Mac raised a suspicious eyebrow. "You're not going to read it?"

"Nope, we're watching movies, remember? No business."

"But what about..."

"Weevil's got it tonight. He and some of his cousins went down to TJ. He told me that he didn't want me to get my hands dirty, and that I should stay home and do, and I quote, 'the library thing.'" Veronica shook her head. "I swear, he's been in cahoots with my dad ever since he worked at the office that week."

Mac smiled and cozied herself under the blanket, turning her attention back to the screen. "Oh, look! The leg lamp!" Both laughed and spent the rest of the afternoon pointedly ignoring the file on the table.

XxX

What Mac had found was pretty run-of-the-mill. Triple L was an umbrella company with several different business ventures all under one big roof. Basically, it was some rich guys with too much money, too much free time, and too little talent, so they farmed out their cash to people with genius ideas in hopes of catching a big return on their investment. Of course, that was until Veronica figured out that one of the members of the board of directors for Triple L, Larry Kelley, was dead. Dead and still collecting a tidy monthly salary. Dead and the former spouse of Marianne Lester. Dead and possibly related to Logan's dead mother.

Veronica dropped her head onto her desk in frustration; the name Marianne Lester brought up nothing on the Prying Eyez search besides a few traffic tickets in the 70s and a single name change in 1984, when she changed her name from Lester to Kelley. After that, however, she either dropped off the face of the Earth or she'd changed her name illegally.

She rolled her head to one side to stare at her cell phone, blinking blue and at the ready from her bedside. Should she call Logan? Would he even know Marianne? The last name could be a coincidence, after all. Veronica heaved a sigh and sat up. Nothing was ever a coincidence, not in the almost incestuous pool of sleazy criminals, double-dealing gang members, and the back-stabbing wealthy that was Neptune. She crossed the room and picked up her cell phone. It couldn't hurt to check, could it? She was just following a hunch after all.

She dialed Logan's number – still speed dial number three, after voice mail and her dad. It rang once, twice, and then she pressed the button to disconnect. Veronica swallowed a breath and sat down on the bed, studying the phone in her hand and regretting hanging up. Thanks to the advent of caller ID, he'd know that he'd missed her call. And now, she wouldn't even be able to leave some breezy message, asking him to call her back, "you know, whenever," placing the ball in his court. What if her incomplete call worried him and he and called her back? What if he didn't call her back? What if...?

Her train of thought was derailed as the phone trilled in her palm, startling her. She fumbled the device and dropped it on the floor. Gulping down air, she leaned forward to pick it up. It was Logan.

"Hello?" she answered, hating the trepidation in her tone.

"Veronica? Everything okay?" He sounded relaxed, almost disinterested. But Veronica knew him well enough to know that his hair was probably a mess from his anxious fingers and he was most likely pacing.

"Yeah, I just... you know, call got disconnected. Uh, I have to ask you a question."

"It wasn't me, I don't have it, I never had it, and I don't know."

"Ha ha," she replied dryly. "No, it's nothing really. Just a loose end from a... from something."

He sighed. "Fine. What?"

"Are you related to someone named Marianne Lester?"

She could almost see one his eyebrows arch at the odd question. There was a long pause, and Logan finally expelled a breath. "Uh, yeah. She was, um, my mom's cousin. She died, like, when I was ten or something."

Veronica blinked, surprised by the fact that he actually knew who was talking about and that Logan thought she was dead. If she was indeed dead, no one had bothered to pronounce her as such. "Are you sure?"

"Am I sure she'd dead? Well, my mom said she died. I believed her. So, yeah."

Veronica waited a beat before saying, "Well, her death isn't listed as a matter of public record."

"Yeah, and? What? You're the detective, not me. What do you want me to do?"

His tone had hardened, and Veronica swallowed hard. "I, uh... nothing. I just thought you might, you know. Well, never mind. Thanks."

"Yeah," he grumbled. There was a small click in her ear, and when she looked down at the display, she saw that he'd terminated the call.

It hadn't really been necessary to call Logan after all. It wasn't like it mattered who Larry Kelley was married to. Or that he was dead and still collecting a paycheck. All that it did was establish a loose connection between Triple L and Lynn, and therefore, to Aaron and Logan by proxy. But what did that prove? Where was the actual link to Celeste? To Cat? Did one even exist?

Veronica lay back on her bed, staring up at the ceiling. Was she just creating a bigger problem than existed?

Her phone rang again and Veronica jolted up. Somehow, she'd expected Logan. Instead, Weevil was calling. She answered.

"Vee? We've got some trouble down here. You got any friends on the Border Patrol?"

"What kind of trouble?"

"Trouble of the vertically barred, cement-floored, community soap variety."

"Are you in jail?"

"Yeah, Jeopardy, I am. Can you do something about it? I only get one phone call if memory serves."

"What're the charges?"

"Assaulting an officer."

"Great. Well, I'll see where I can dig up ten grand." She sighed, and went on, "Anyone with you?"

"No, they bolted."

Veronica snorted a laugh. "You've got some great friends, Weevil."

"Can't blame 'em. Look, you coming or what? 'Cause I got Johnny Law watching me like I'm a criminal or something."

"I'll be there."

"With bails on?" he simpered.

Not even giving him the pleasure of a chuckle, she ended the call.

She wasn't two steps from her car, her keys already in her hand, when a familiar Range Rover swung into the lot, effectively blocking her in.

"Where are you going?" Logan demanded, hopping down from the driver's side. His jaw was a firm, and his mouth was set into a grim line; he looked as though he'd never once smiled in his entire life.

"And you have a right to that information how?" she snapped, gripping her key tightly.

"Because you need to stop whatever it is your doing, right now."

Veronica fanned her hands out in a show of irritated innocence. "Why the fuck not, Logan? You just as good as hung up on me! Why should I listen to you?"

"Why are you investigating Triple L?"

The question caught her off guard, and she blinked. "How'd you..."

He cut her off with a wave of his hand. "I asked first. Why? What have they done to the great and powerful Veronica Mars?"

"They might have something to do with a case. Why is it of interest to you?"

"Have you looked into the board of directors yet?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.

"Yeah, there's RJ Bender, who works for Kane Software, and the now-deceased, but still wealthy, Larry Kelley, as well as a silent partner who I haven't been able to figure out just yet. What do you know about Triple L anyway?"

Logan raised his eyebrows and looked at Veronica pointedly.

She knitted her brows together into a question. "You? You're the silent partner? But, the company was formed before you were born."

"My mother was the silent partner, and she held the controlling shares. My mom, Lauren Lynn Lester."

Veronica blinked. "Oh. So that means... she passed it on to you?"

"Right."

"Well, how did I not notice it when I went through your finances?"

Logan waved his hand dismissively. "Because all the profits go into a mutual fund and a money market account. Some of it goes to my stockbroker, and he invests it in whatever he thinks will make more money."

"You have a stockbroker?"

"Yeah, and three lawyers on retainer, two financial advisers, and a partridge in a pear tree. The whole rich guy milieu."

"Well, then, you ought to know that one of your partner's is planning something big. Something that might ruin your company."

"Something that might make lots of money, you mean? Yeah, Bender, at Kane Software. He's got some guy developing some Internet TV thing. They're pushing to get it released before Apple does."

"You know about that?"

Logan nodded. "Yeah, and so would you if you read the newspaper. Him and his guy, uh, Steve something, they've almost got the latest prototype ready."

"Steve Jameson?" Veronica squeaked.

"Yeah, that's it. It's hardly some secret. Other companies have been trying to get the guy away from Kane Software for months."

Veronica shook her head. "Okay, so why did you come here to tell me this?"

"Because my mom's cousin isn't really dead, Veronica."

"I already knew that," she answered, folding her arms across her chest.

"Yeah, but she's sick; she has been for a long time. She's got some kind of cancer, and she moved to Japan where they've started experimental treatments. She collects Larry's share of the profits to pay for the hospitals."

"But how? He's dead."

Logan sighed, obviously exasperated. "Because we let her. Because we can, Veronica."

"This is... when do you even have time to run a company?"

"I don't. I'm a silent partner. I just exist, and I pay people lots of money to make sure my mom's only venture away from my father doesn't crash and burn."

Veronica leaned against her car, trying to process all of the new information. She'd heard Bender tell Jameson that "she had to go" because Celeste had ordered it. Surely that had to mean something. When she looked up, Logan was watching her.

"So, where were you going at," he looked at his watch, "quarter of one in the morning?"

She jolted. "Oh God! Weevil!"

Logan rolled his eyes. "There's a shocker."

"No! He's in jail! In Mexico. I've got to bail him out!"

"I repeat, shock-er. Well, you're not going to a Mexican jail alone. Come on, I'll drive."

"What? No!" Veronica took another step toward her own car.

He spread his hands, looking both frustrated and pleading at the same time. "Why? How proud are you going to be when you get killed on one of these stupid adventures, Veronica? Tell me that, 'cause I've been wondering for a long time."

She had the good sense to duck her head. How many times had her father echoed those exact same sentiments?

"Fine," she mumbled. She raised her head in defiance. "But I'm driving."

"The Hell you are," came his retort as he went around to his driver's side door. "I'm not being subjected to an hour of your choice in music. Come on." On that note, he closed the door and watched her through the passenger side window.

With a disgusted groan, she opened the truck's door and climbed in. It was a small victory, but she could tell that it pleased him. The corners of his mouth twitched, and Logan looked like he knew how to smile again.

The drive through Neptune was a quiet one. Logan fiddled with his stereo for a few miles before finally just reaching down to turn on the iPod in one of the cup holders. Veronica tried to focus her attention on the yellow lines slipping by the fender, but her eyes were drawn to the way his long fingers punched the correct buttons and moved the dial, never looking away from the road. Soon, a moody mix of music filled the SUV, making the large cab intimate and confining. At least the music preempted the need for conversation.

However, after Logan successfully negotiated the crowded four-oh-five and had merged onto interstate five, Veronica spoke up. "Thanks. You know, for this."

He nodded tightly, still not looking her way.

She was more than a little hurt by his coldness, but she'd expected it. After all, did she really deserve better? She swallowed hard; when she spoke, her voice was quiet, "And thanks for what you did to land yourself in jail."

That got his attention, though he barely showed it. Veronica saw by the way the tightness in his jaw eased, and how his fingers let up on their grip on the wheel. He must have been waiting for her to acknowledge his own version of heroism one way or another. "They deserved it."

There was another long silence. Veronica felt his gaze on her, so she returned it. He was glancing her way, and when their eyes met, he asked, "So, are you going to tell me why we're driving to Tijuana at two a.m.?"

Veronica smiled. "I'm going to bail a friend out of jail," she paused, pretending to think. "And you're going because you're a concerned citizen?" she guessed.

His relaxed face split into a smirk. "Right. Concerned," he dragged the word out, like he was tasting it on his tongue. He paused before asking, "What're you working on, anyway?"

She shrugged. "A little girl is missing from Weevil's neighborhood. I'm just helping him with the paperwork. He was doing the leg work. See? Safe."

"I almost believe that. Since you're letting me drive, I'll assume I'm not suspect number one. Unless you're just luring me into a Mexican jail, that is."

Veronica quirked her mouth into a small smile, turning her head to watch out the front window. "You know me oh-so-well," she replied wryly.

"I like to think so," he came back in a quiet tone.

Veronica looked at him, swallowing hard. However, he'd already returned his eyes to the highway before them.

She looked at her watch. Only thirty more minutes to bear the tension-filled SUV, followed by another hour on the way home. And, oooh, lucky Veronica! She got Weevil as an added bonus. She was considering trading herself for Weevil at the jail and sending the boys back to Neptune without her when Logan's voice broke into her thoughts.

"Well, would you look at that." He was watching his rear view mirror, the ghost of a grimace playing around his lips. "We've got an entourage."

Veronica glanced into her side mirror; there were three motorcycle police officers following Logan at a close distance. Their lights were flashing but their sirens were silent. The two on the side pulled up closer, edging toward the rear fenders.

"Logan, I think they want you to pull over."

"Yeah, I got that, girl genius." He frowned. "However, I'm getting an especially malicious tingle in my tummy that these cops aren't just gonna ask me for my license and registration."

"What makes you think that?" Veronica asked as the officer on her side drew up alongside the Rover. She cut her glance back to Logan; beyond him, the other officer was nearly even with the driver's side window. He had just opened his mouth to answer when she grabbed his shoulder and pulled him down. He jerked the wheel hard to the right out of surprise just as the officer slammed his baton into the window.

They both shouted, huddling down on the seat as the glass rained in on them. Logan pushed Veronica down hard against the center console, half-crushing her as he piloted the vehicle with one hand and no eyes. Soon, they both felt the irregular rocking of the vehicle as they left the road and started driving across the barren desert terrain. Logan sat up, still holding Veronica down with one arm.

"They're gone," he choked out, letting Veronica up and stopping the SUV.

Veronica sat up, rubbing her side where she'd slammed into the console.

"You okay?" Logan asked, watching her even as he checked himself for injuries.

Veronica nodded an answer. The side of Logan's face was bleeding from several scratches, and she was sure he was a Hell of a lot worse off than her. "You?"

"I'll live." He blew out a long breath and glanced around. "So d'you think Weevs send us a welcoming party, or is that a new don't-cross-the-border service our government is offering?"

"I don't know." Veronica rubbed her eyes, clearing them of the dust that had wafted into the interior. "But I'm sure they knew someone was coming to get Weevil. What if he's in more trouble than we thought?"

"Well the world may never know; we're going back home." Logan turned the key in the ignition. The engine awoke with a roar, then sputtered, and died. He lifted an eyebrow. "What the... not my Rover!" He turned the key again, and the engine gave a repeat performance. "Fuck!" He looked over at her, his stormy expression amplified by his still-bleeding wounds. "I should have let you drive. At least we could have used the corn oil and batteries that thing you call a car runs on to keep warm."

Veronica snorted. "Yeah, 'cause gasoline doesn't burn."

He rolled his eyes in response and opened the car door.

"What? You're going to be a man and look under the hood now? Like you even know what would be wrong, let alone how to fix it," Veronica mocked, climbing out to follow him. Logan was still looking for the hood latch when she joined him. "It's probably inside the truck," she offered, folding her arms over her chest.

"Yeah, you're a real help, you know? It's all well and good to throw barbs at me when we're stuck out in the middle of nowhere in the freezing fucking cold," he threw back caustically, spreading his arms in a mix of surrender and anger.

Veronica returned his eye roll and went back to the driver's side and unlatched the hood. When Logan lifted it, smoke billowed up from the engine block. Veronica joined him in studying the engine. She located he source of the smoke and pointed it out. "Your intake manifold is cracked. They really don't make eighty thousand dollar vehicles like they used to, huh?"

Logan grimaced. "Can we fix it?"

"Sure, if you've got a blowtorch, or perhaps a soldering iron and some aluminum cans so I can make a new one."

"You can't Macgyver-rig it?" he asked, his eyes pleading where his words wouldn't.

She wrinkled her nose in thought. "Not without a tube sock, eight paper clips, and a rubber duckie, no."

"You're not being helpful."

"I've heard that somewhere before."

They both glared at one another for a long moment before turning their eyes back to the engine. Veronica blew out a frustrated breath and withdrew her phone from her pocket. She dialed her dad, and got his voicemail. She left a message telling him where she was, leaving out the fact that the local border patrol had put her in the position.

When she hung up, she rubbed her arms, chilly despite the wool pea coat she was wearing. She looked up at Logan and asked, "You got anyone you want to call to come and get us?"

He shrugged and looked down at the ground. "Dick went to San Francisco to see his mom this weekend."

Veronica opened her mouth to snark back about his lack of a social network. However, she was still dancing around the thought of calling Wallace or Mac. Did she really want to bother them with this? Was it any good that she was asking herself that question? So, instead of battling it out over who had more friends, she remained silent, stowing her phone in her pocket.

"Well, my dad will come as soon as he gets this. You want to call a tow truck, at least?"

Logan nodded. While he was on the phone with Triple A, Veronica climbed back into the truck, gathering the things that had spilled out of her bag when Logan had jerked the wheel. She shouldered the bag and closed the door.

Logan hung up. "They'll be here anywhere from soon to an hour from now." He appraised her with a single up-and-down glance. "Going somewhere?"

"Yeah, we can probably hit the next town in about a half hour if we start walking. We can wait for my dad there."

"Oh no. We're staying here."

"Afraid of leaving your precious truck all alone in the dark?" she asked, lifting an eyebrow.

"No, I'm afraid of freezing to death under some cactus forty miles from nowhere."

"We're along I-5, Logan. You know how many tourist-trap rest stops there are?"

"Yeah, and I also know that it doesn't take long to get tired when you're walking in the cold night air," he reminded her, opening the rear passenger side door and looking at her pointedly. "We'll just stay in the truck. I've got some blankets. I mean, we're only about an hour from home, it's not like we're camping out here for the weekend or anything."

Veronica wouldn't give him the satisfaction of letting him know that he was right, but she got back into the truck without further comment. He went around to the back and lifted the back gate. He closed it with an unnecessary slam and climbed into the back of the SUV beside her. He handed her a blanket and hunkered his lanky frame down into his seat, dropping his head back against the rest, closing his eyes. "Wake me when your dad gets here or when Starbucks delivers me some coffee."

Veronica unfolded the blanket and huddled under it, silently glad for the temporary reprieve it provided from the cold night air.

She couldn't fall asleep, of course, not when she felt so exposed. Every howl in the distance, every creak or loud whip of the wind put her on edge. A frozen wind blew through the shattered window, wrapping Veronica in its icy grip. Logan was shivering and shifting in his seat, and Veronica knew that he wasn't sleeping either. Before long, she moved closer to him, covering him with some of the blanket. She carefully maintained a good inch between them, though she could feel the small amount of heat his body gave off with every molecule of her body. She felt his eyes on her, and sure enough, when she looked up, she came face to face with Logan.

"Thanks," he murmured, his intense gaze daring her to look away.

She refused to be cowed, meeting his eyes with a similar ferocity. Their faces were only scant inches apart, and Veronica could feel his warm breath on her face, still minty from the gum he'd been chewing before they'd been forced off the highway. Throwing caution to the cold wind, she inclined her head up and invited him in. She saw his eyes darken through her half-lidded gaze, and her breath caught in her throat. She wet her lips in anticipation.

But he didn't drop his mouth to hers. Instead, she watched as his Adam's apple bobbed up and down in a deep swallow. He backed away. "We shouldn't."

Veronica felt her face flush in embarrassment. She was about to ask when that had stopped them before, when her cell trilled from her back pocket. It was her dad, and she answered.

"Okay, Dad. We're probably only about a mile from the road. We'll put the four-ways on," she waited a moment while he answered. "Alright, see you then." After she ended the call, she answered Logan's expectant look. "About a half an hour."

He nodded and looked down at the blanket that was still covering the both of them. "Veronica, I..."

She cut across him. "No. I'd really rather not, okay?"

His jaw tensed again and he looked straight at her. "No, you know what, just no. Listen to me for forty-five seconds without interrupting, all right? Are you capable of that? Can you turn the Veronica Show off for that long and just tune into another station for once?"

Veronica flattened her lips into a thin line, about to retort. He stopped her, "Don't even give me that. You know it's true."

Her shoulders fell at his sharp tone, and for once, she was entirely surprised by Logan. Maybe he did know her well. She remained silent and just waited for him to say whatever it was that he wanted to say.

"I can't keep doing this, okay? I can't keep giving you everything, and never getting any give from you. It's too hard, Veronica. And while nothing worth doing should be easy, nothing should be this hard."

"Well, if I'm so damn difficult, why do you keep coming back?" she asked, her hands curling into tight fists, letting her short, hard fingernails bite into the soft flesh of her palm. At least the sensation let her know that this was really happening, and it tempered the pain of knowing that he wouldn't sweep her up into his arms and tell her everything was going to be okay.

He picked his gaze up, studying her face with such wounded eyes, it made Veronica's heart hurt. "If you don't know the answer to that, then I'm wrong for feeling the way I do about you."

Silence fell thick and oppressive after his statement. Veronica wanted to ask what he meant, to drag it out of him, to make him say it, but she didn't have it in her. She couldn't stand the thought of being responsible for continuing to be the cause of that bruised expression.

"I'm sorry." Veronica apologized simply, quietly, without motivation or agenda. For once, she actually felt it. She was sorry, for everything. For ignoring his requests when all he wanted to do was keep her safe. For never giving an inch in anything. For silently waiting for Duncan to show up and reclaim her when all she really wanted was for him to stay gone. For accusing Logan, for blaming him, for being angry with him over every little thing that went wrong, and for never quite getting over the part he'd played in making the time after Lilly's death a nightmare. In that moment, that moment of realization, Veronica knew that Logan had always been good enough for her; she was the one who wasn't good enough for him.

She choked on a sob and apologized again, "Logan, I'm sorry. I am!" Tears escaped, sliding down her cheeks though she tried to stop them. She saw a bewildered expression cross his face a moment before she felt his strong arms around her. She pushed him away. "No! I mean, no. I'm not crying to make you feel bad, really! I just... I'm so sorry."

He laughed then. Veronica was so startled by the sound, she sat back and looked up at him. He shook his head, a small smile on his lips. He brushed the hair back from her face and wiped away a tear with the pad of his thumb, leaving his fingers resting on her cheek. "I know you wouldn't cry just to get me to forgive you. You don't cry for anything." He continued to lightly stroke her cheek with his thumb, watching her.

She felt her lower lip trembled and she felt the threat of another onslaught of tears work up in her throat. She swallowed hard, willing them away. "I'm just... I don't want to do this anymore. I love you, Logan. I really, really do. I'm sorry that I keep screwing things up, and I'm sorry I keep laying all the blame at your feet. I'm just as fucked up, if not more."

He laughed again, and pulled her close into a tight hug. "No, you can't take that away from me. I'm definitely the most fucked-up person in the car."

She laughed against his shoulder. He grasped her by the shoulders and set her apart from him searching her eyes.

Unable to take the silent scrutiny, she asked with a quavering voice, "Are we okay?"

He shrugged. "It depends on you."

She shook he head. "No. I'm not going to drag you back into my life for a brief cameo if you don't want to be here."

He smiled, the expression brightening his eyes for the first time she'd seen since... well, it had been a long time since she'd seen him look that happy. "I only do starring roles, thanks."

She leaned forward, not giving him room to back out of it, and caught his mouth with hers. His arms tightened around her, dragging her closer to her chest, as his mouth slanted over hers. She tipped her head back, allowing him to take over the kiss. One hand worked into her hair and the other slid up the back of her shirt, and her hands traveled much the same route, her nails scratching the base of his neck and up into his hair and the other hand already working the contrary buttons of his shirt.

She climbed into his lap, dropping her mouth to his earlobe and points south. He panted her name, and his searching fingers popped the clasp of her bra. She groaned as the satin cups skimmed up over her breasts beneath her shirt and were replaced by his warm palms. She let herself fall forward against him, resting her forehead on his shoulder as she struggled to breathe. She tried to work out of her coat, grinding her hips against him as she did so, heating them both up despite the chill in the air.

When she looked up to gauge her effect on him, she was temporarily blinded by headlights bouncing over the desert terrain. She scrambled backwards, almost falling out of Logan's lap into the footwell. "My dad!" she hissed by way of explanation.

His eyes widened, and his fingers worked furiously to rebutton his shirt. Veronica worked similarly, refastening her bra under her top and trying to fix her mussed hair. He looked up at her with a wry grin. "We didn't turn on the four-ways."

"Oh, God. You're right." She clambered out of the back seat, shocked by how cold it was away from Logan. She waved her arms over her head, attracting her dad's bright spotlight. She breathed a sigh of relief when the car started to make its way closer.

But when it was nearly upon her, she saw that it wasn't her fathers navy blue sedan; it was a black-and-white police car. She backed up into Logan and grabbed him by the arm, and screamed for him to run with her. She pulled him toward the back of the SUV and just as she was about to round the corner, she heard the crack of a gunshot and everything exploded in colorful red pain.

XxX

Consciousness came slowly and was accompanied by waves of nausea. Each time the dank room swam into focus, Veronica's stomach rolled and she closed her eyes, battling against the urge to retch. The scent of urine and decay hung in the air, assaulting her already-numbed senses. When she came to the final time, she found that she had vomited at some point; her shirt and jeans were soaked through and the odor was vile. Her arm was throbbing, and when she finally mustered the strength to look down at it, she saw that it was bloody and wrapped in a dirty cloth that barely staunched the flow. She was also handcuffed at the wrist to a pipe on the wall. Since sunlight crept into the room through a crack near the floor, she knew that she'd been there or at least several hours; if she hadn't bled to death in that amount of time, she probably wasn't going to. She wasn't sure if the thought reassured her or not.

She was alone in the dirty room. The room was also bare, save for a rusted metal pan nearby. She tried to move her arm, testing both its strength and the pipe she was bound to. Neither gave very much, and the throbbing only intensified. She was afraid to scream, but more afraid of not knowing where she was, so she called out, "Help! Help me! Is anyone out there? I'm hurt, very badly!"

She wasn't sure what she expected, but it wasn't the sound of someone calling her name back to her. "Veronica?" came the voice through the wall. It sounded like Weevil.

"Weevil! Is that you? Are you okay? Is Logan with you?"

"Yeah, I'm okay. He's in here, but he hasn't woken up yet. He's not dead, though. You alright?"

Veronica almost cried in relief. She wasn't alone wherever she was, and no one was dead yet. "I think I got shot," she called back. "But, I'm able to move my arm, so I guess I'll live. Where are we?"

"In Mexico, I think. I got arrested at the border for no reason, and when they booked me, they said I punched one of the border patrol. I swear I didn't do anything but try to come back into the country." He paused, as if waiting for absolution. Veronica didn't offer any, so he continued. "Then I called you. After I hung up, the guy that arrested me said they were transporting me to a cell in the US, since my ID checked out. However, we didn't cross back over the border, and he brought me here. My best guess is that we're in an old jail, 'cause the room I'm in has bars. You're next door to me, but you don't have bars, do you?"

"No, just a door. Probably a closet or something. I wonder why we're separated."

"Well, I think they went out into the desert to kill you. From what I can tell, the guys the one in charge sent panicked because you weren't alone. I don't even want to think about why they want you in that room by yourself."

Veronica nodded, knowing he couldn't see her. She was too overcome by fear; it sat in a hard lump at the back of her throat. When she regained control of herself, she called out, "Why do you think you were brought here?"

"This border guy had something to do with Cat's disappearance. He must have found out that I was asking around, and he had me arrested before I could get back to the States with the evidence I collected."

"You had evidence?"

There was a beat, and he answered, "Yeah. You woulda been proud, Detective Mars. I took a tape recorder in my pocket. I found out that some guys arranged to kidnap Cat from TJ. That friend of hers, Sara? Well, her boyfriend is Blake Stratford."

Veronica slumped back against the wall, confused. "Stratford? As in StratSoft Incorporated?"

"Yeah. And I guess Cat's real dad is some big name programmer at Kane Software. Johnson or something."

"Jameson?" Veronica guessed, realization dawning. Of course: the nicely furnished house, braces, horseback riding, the trip to Columbia. Hardly something affordable on a maid's salary, even at Kane Software. Steve Jameson, lonely programmer, and Adela Suarez, night maid with access to restricted halls. Mrs. Suarez hadn't overheard anything, but had to be removed from her position as she was at risk because of Jameson's project. Celeste Kane had been helping Jameson.

"Yeah, that's it," Weevil called back. "And, as far as I can tell, they had her, but let her go. Maybe someone paid the ransom."

"Do you know what the ransom was?"

"No, but I'm guessing it had something to do with software?"

"Yeah, it probably did." Had Kane Software sold out to keep a little girl safe? Or had they done it another way? Veronica didn't know, and at the moment, she sure as Hell no longer cared. She was the one captive in some filthy abandoned prison in Mexico, and she didn't know how (or if) she would get out.

Through the wall, she heard the rattle of metal on metal and a cough. "Logan?" she called, her heart leaping into her throat. Not only had she endangered herself, she'd brought him down with her. She'd never forgive herself if he was hurt.

Weevil answered, "Yeah, he's waking up. He don't look too good though."

"What's wrong with him?" she yelled back, her voice sounding strained and panicky to her own ears.

"Looks like someone beat him up pretty bad. But don't worry, I've done worse to him." Somehow, that comforted her slightly.

"'Ronica?" she heard him groan. She winced at the way his voice sounded so broken and raw. She could only imagine the bruises and cuts on top of what the falling glass had done to him.

"Yeah, I'm here. Are you okay? Oh, God, Logan. I'm sorry."

"Don't... 'pologize. I'm... 'kay."

She heard Weevil tell him not to sit up too quickly. That Weevil sounded worried didn't ease Veronica's fears. Logan's ribs were probably broken, if his difficulty speaking was any indication. She wrapped her good arm around herself, feeling pain tighten her sides at the thought.

"How long have we been here?" Veronica asked.

"Probably about four or five hours."

That meant it was already six or so in the morning. Her father ought to have alerted the National Guard by now. He should be there already; her dad could find anyone.

The sound of a door creaking open interrupted her thoughts. A few men entered the outer room, laughing and talking in Spanish. She slumped against the wall when she heard the word "gringa." She'd just play dead for as long as it was necessary and cling to the hope that none of them would want to rape an unconscious girl. Not that that had stopped anyone in the past, she reminded herself bitterly.

She heard her door swing inward, banging with a resounding metal clang against the cement wall. She cringed but resisted the urge to open her eyes to face the attacker. He called something back to the others, and they laughed. He came closer; his aftershave almost made her gag, its pine-needle scent overpowering the foul odors she'd become accustomed to. He unwrapped her arm roughly, and Veronica had to bite back the urge to cry out at the incredible pain of having the dressing pulled away from the wound. She intuitively understood that the bullet could only have grazed her arm, but it did little to dull the agony she felt as the soaking cotton was pulled back and the puncture was exposed to the air.

She felt herself tense, and automatically regretted it. She felt a strong hand seize her around the throat, and the man shook her. "Open your eyes," he hissed. "I know you're awake."

Veronica swallowed hard and opened her eyes. Her face was a scant inch from his, and she could see that his features were twisted into a fierce grin. He said something in Spanish and his friends at the door laughed; all Veronica caught was divertimos. Fun. She cringed, pulling as far away from him as she could without causing herself further injury.

Weevil called out to her, "You okay over there?"

It sounded like someone was struggling in the room over. She heard Logan's labored voice yelling, "Leave her... the fuck... 'lone! 'Ronica!"

Veronica shouted back, "I'm okay. Don't hurt yourself any more!"

The man leered down at her, squeezing her cheeks with his one large, sweaty hand. He picked his head up and called, "We'll treat her real good. Don't you worry." Then he said something else in Spanish and Veronica heard his friends move in the anteroom, followed by the clang of the jail cell being opened.

Their movement away from the door to her prison flooded the small room with sunlight. She could see that her arm was bleeding afresh now that it was unbound. The sight of her blood flowing freely from the channel of slightly burned flesh where the bullet had grazed her made her feel faint again. At lest passing out would mean that she'd be unwitting of what happened to her. Of course, it also meant she'd lose contact with Logan and Weevil. She forced herself to focus.

Her captor let go of her face and stood. He walked out of the room, and Veronica presumed that he went into the neighboring cell. She heard an exchange in Spanish and another man entered her room. He approached her, grinning down at her like she was some prize. He reached behind her and uncuffed her. Veronica knew they hadn't had a sudden change of heart; he was probably just the first to have his fun. The thought turned her stomach and she choked on the bile that rose in her throat. Fortunately, she had nothing left to expel.

He grasped her firmly by her shoulder and gestured for her to stand, commanding her in Spanish all the while. Veronica complied, and he led her to the cell.

The sight before her was awful. There were three men beside the man who'd first accosted her in her room and the man leading her. They were all brandishing guns of various sizes and makes. Weevil was chained to a urinal in one corner. One of his eyes was swollen closed, and his lip was bleeding. He was cradling his uncuffed wrist close to his body; Veronica thought that it was probably broken from the way his hand seemed at an irregular angle to his arm. However, Logan looked much worse: where his face wasn't black and blue, it was bloody. His hair was matted with blood, and he was also holding his left hand at an awkward angle against his chest. He was kneeling in the middle of the cell, his ankles chained together. A large man was holding him up by the neck, and the man who'd spoken English to Veronica in the room next door was holding a handgun against his temple.

Veronica felt the tears flowing down her cheek before she was aware that she was crying. "Please, stop it," she sobbed. "We'll give you whatever you want. Please! We have money! Just... stop. Put the gun down! Please!"

"'Ronica... just... no. They... don't..." With every word, she could see his whole body tense to favor his ribs. Even breathing seemed to be difficult.

"Hernán!" the English speaking man commanded, gesturing with the pistol.

The man who'd led Veronica into the cell shoved her forward, and she stumbled to the ground on her knees. She shuffled herself closer, laying her uninjured hand on his bruised cheek. He was bleeding from several superficial cuts on his face, and several around his eyes, but mostly, all of his pain seemed to stem from whatever was wrong with his ribs. For that reason alone, Veronica resisted throwing her arms around him.

"Touching," the man in charge sniped. He reached down and hauled Veronica up by her shirt collar, irritating her wound once more. She shrieked in pain, kicking her legs and swinging her good arm at him. He merely laughed and passed her along to one of his flunkies, who held her by her arms. She tried to kick both of them, but the man holding her caught trapped her legs against the cot along the wall.

"I just wanted you to be here to watch them die first," the man went on. He cocked the hammer on the pistol and took aim once more, watching Veronica's face the entire time. Veronica screamed.

The door exploded inward.

"Policia! Deje caer sus armas!" a police office shouted, his own weapon trained on the man threatening Logan.

The man smiled, and for a moment, she thought he was going to shoot Logan anyway. However, he dropped the pistol and lifted his arms in surrender. The rest of his crew followed suit and even more officers flooded the room.

She heard her father's voice above the din. "Veronica! Veronica! Are you here? Are you okay? Answer me!"

Veronica sobbed out, "Dad! I'm here. We're here!"

Keith pushed through the crowd and found Veronica on the floor, already checking Logan for more serious wounds. He caught her and pulled her into a hug. "Oh, God. Oh, God! I've been looking for you for hours. Oh God!" He repeated the sentiment again and again, crushing Veronica to his chest. When he finally let her go, he looked down at Logan, who was swaying slightly, his eyelids fluttering. Keith caught him before he fell, laying him down gently. Veronica moved to Weevil.

"Hey, glad you could make it," he remarked.

Veronica couldn't even work up an appropriate answer for her tears. Instead, she did just pull him close for a hug. He hissed his pain, but patted her gently anyway. Paramedics pushed through and tended to Logan first. After they unchained him, the loaded him onto a stretcher and made their way back through the din to the ambulance.

Veronica broke away from the paramedic who was trying to tend to her arm and found the ambulance that Logan was in. She could see that they were already hooking him up to various drips and IVs, and she tried to climb up.

A medic stopped her, and said something to her in Spanish. She shook her head to indicate that she didn't understand, but then touched her good hand to her heart, and looked pointedly back up at Logan's unconscious form.

The medic nodded toward her bleeding arm. "Fine, but you see doctor, too. Okay?"

Veronica smiled, and the paramedic handed her up into the ambulance. She caught her dad's eye before they closed the doors, and she mouthed Weevil's name. He nodded, and then the doors were shut, and they sped toward the nearest hospital.

XxX

When all was said and done, there were forty-eight stitches, three casts, and enough prescriptions for codeine to start a pharmacy between Veronica, Logan, and Weevil. Five people had been arrested in relation to the abduction of Cat Suarez, three of whom were US border patrolmen. Two people from StratSoft had also been taken into custody in connection to patent fraud and criminal conspiracy.

Adela and Cat Suarez, along with Steve Jameson, returned home from Bogotá shortly after the arrests. All three visited Mars Investigations to offer their thanks.

It took over a month for Logan to fully recover from the five fractured ribs, and his sprained wrist would never heal completely. He liked to tease that he'd milk the sick-guy act for as long as it took if it made Veronica attentive. She visited him every day since they'd returned home from the Mexican hospital, sometimes spending the night next to him, afraid to leave him on his own.

It was two months before his doctor cleared him for strenuous activity of any kind, and by that time, he'd politely demanded that Veronica move in with him. While she would ordinarily chafe under such a command, she felt Logan had more than earned it, and besides, it was where she wanted to be. Together they'd picked out a cute little apartment close to campus with a decent master bedroom and a closet-sized spare room that was perfect for her "office."

Due in part to the restrictions on his range of motion and her own haunting nightmares, they had not attempted any sort of sexual intimacy since the aborted grope in the Rover. At some point in the endless duration of the first day of classes that fall, Veronica decided it was time to remedy that.

It had been a very long time since Veronica had let herself believe that romance led to anything but heartache and hurt, but she put her reservations aside to make things as perfect as she could. For Logan. For them.

When Logan came through the bedroom door, the jaunty tune he'd been whistling died on his lips, and it was clear that he wasn't sure just what in the hell to think. The lights were off, the candles were lit, and Veronica was spread on their bed wearing nothing but a rose-colored chemise and a smile.

"Hey there, sailor. Coming my way?" Veronica cooed, flirty.

"Veronica," Logan moaned helplessly, dropping his bag to his feet. "I don't think my doctor cleared me for exercise just so that you could try to kill me." Even so, he was moving towards the bed, kicking off his shoes and hurriedly unbuckling his belt, shucking his pants. He whipped his tee shirt over his head and crawled across the bed towards her on his knees. She rose up to kneel as well, opening her arms to him.

She grinned. "But an extensive...workout does a body good." She batted her lashes, all innocence. He pecked her lips once in agreement, then bent his head for longer, more satisfying contact.

He grasped her shoulders, gently laying her back against the pillows. Veronica sighed as the hard planes of his body contacted with the softer curves of hers, pulling him closer until she could no longer tell where she ended and he began.

He groaned against her lips, the sound running along her neural pathways, arcing hot and electric to her core. Logan teased the hem of her nightie, fluttering his fingertips along her exposed thigh. "Oh, God, babe. This... it's been..." he groaned, pushing the garment up and over her head, casting it aside. He marveled down at her bare before him, expelling a shaky breath. "Too long."

Veronica grinned, cupping his cheeks in her palms. "It's always too long. I'll never have you often enough."

He dropped his mouth to her neck, finding her sweet spot without searching. She gasped as he nipped at her throat, then her earlobe. "Wanna bet," he teased, his voice gravelly with desire.

"I'll take that bet." She pushed her fingers into his hair, scratching her short nails over his scalp. He shuddered against her, returning his lips to hers, and rubbed the pad of his thumb over her nipple until it was a stiff peak, begging for closer attention.

As Logan traveled south, lavishing attention on her breasts, Veronica watched. His eyes never left her face as he licked, and sucked, and teased her with his teeth. Her breath caught in her chest. How had she never noticed his rapt, worshipful gaze? How every gasp, every groan, every little bit of encouragement from her made him smile against her? She was suddenly overcome with the realization that she'd never dared to look before; she'd just tipped her head back, letting the sensation take over, leaving Logan out of it entirely.

She laid her hands on his shoulders and pulled him to her for a kiss. When they broke apart, he searched her gaze. "What? Are you okay? Am I..."

She bit down on her lower lip and shook her head. Once she'd regained control over herself, she stroked her hand over his hair, caressing his cheek with her fingertips. "I've missed you."

"I've been right here the whole time."

"I know." She smiled, and pulled him close.

He rolled onto his side, pulling her with him. When they were laying face to face, he studied her once more. "Veronica? Is everything alright? You're not going to tell me you have an inoperable tumor, and you only have a month to live, right?"

She grinned, "Everything is fine. I just... I..." she swallowed hard. She knew it was the right time to say it, yet her mouth was suddenly dry, and her heart was beating much too loudly. How was it that she could have loved him for so long, but never told him so? She worried her lower lip with her teeth, and when he caught her chin, forcing her gaze to his, she blurted, "I love you, Logan." She laughed at her indelicate delivery.

He smiled. A genuine, beautiful smile that she'd seen countless times, but when it was meant just for her, it was special. She blushed - actually blushed - under the full force of his grin. "I love you, too, Veronica."

She grinned wildly at him for a moment before shoving him playfully. "Okay, now that we got all that girly love stuff out of the way, can we have sex?"

"But, baby," he simpered, rolling her until she straddled his waist, "Why is it always 'sex sex sex' with you? Why can't we ever just cuddle?"

She wrinkled her nose at him and settled herself over his midsection, cradling his cock between her thighs. She ground her hips into his and leaned in to flick her tongue over one peaked nipple. He moaned her name in response, and his hands went straight to her hips.

Without further comment, she rocked forward on her knees and reached down to grasp him in her hand. She guided him into her, panting and hesitating at the tighter-than-usual fit. Logan was having none of it, and he rocked his hips up to bury himself inside her.

She arched against him, crying out as they met. She caught her breath and grinned down at him, bracing her hands on his shoulders as she rolled and twisted her hips, tormenting him with a slow pace. He reached up and pulled her in for a kiss, pressing their bodies flush. His hands roamed her body freely, his fingers kneading her ass in an effort to hold her closer, plucking at her nipples in an attempt to hear her moan.

Finally, his kisses grew more demanding, more amorous, more possessive. He mimicked each hard stroke of his tongue with the thrust of his hips, and punctuated each playful nip with an adamant, "Please, Veronica!"

She pulled away and leaned over him, bracing herself once more. She rocked her hips harder, watching his reaction expectantly. His eyes were dark and glassy with lust, his expression tense with need.

He caught her close once more, and in a single deft movement, tumbled her back against the mattress. He didn't wait before slipping his hand down between them, testing her soft folds with a sure hand. He slid inside of her as he stroked her clit.

In the past she would have closed her eyes, succumbing to the ecstasy Logan's touch induced. However, she'd learned that keeping her eyes open was its own reward. She locked her gaze with his, watching his as love and lust made his eyes liquid black mirrors. As his fingers pushed her over the edge, she felt him tumble with her, their bodies tautening and surging against one another.

As she came down, she was hyper-aware of Logan in a way she was certain she'd never been. His scent mingling with hers, his skin, still dimpled with goose-flesh, against hers, his smiling lips fitting into the curve beneath her jaw - instead of the singular comfort of one body joining with another, she knew the joy of being with someone she loved.

"No more nightmares," Logan commanded drowsily, pulling her close. "We don't need 'em."

Veronica stretched to kiss his forehead. "No more nightmares," she repeated solemnly. And, wrapped up in his arms, for once, she let herself believe it.

XxX