Counting Up, Counting Down
Veronica. Logan. Lilly. Duncan. From one to four and back again. Preseries
A/N: Oh, yes. Now is the perfect time to become a Veronica Mars addict. Oh, well. At least we still have fanfiction.
Disclaimer: They belong to Rob. And, incidentally and completely unfairly, the CW, who completely don't deserve them.
It's a vicious cycle, and he isn't sure whether the chicken or the egg came first. Did he gain a reputation as a trouble maker and goof-off because of the bruises and busted lips and broken noses, or did he develop that personality to hide them? He's not sure it matters: all he knows is that teachers shake their heads whenever he walks into the room, the other kids either stare or avoid his sullen gaze, and he gets sent to the principal's office more than all the other students in his class combined.
The principal is a woman, who likes to call Dad in for the smallest reasons, saying that it's "school policy" to consult with parents over "problem children." Dad saunters into the office, charms the secretaries and the teachers before basking in the fawning principal's adoration.
But afternoons always mean belts and cigarettes and one of Mom's hard-toothed hairbrushes to the back of his legs.
The other students see what the teachers tell them to see: a little boy with a tendency to "get into everything," "starved for attention," "trying to fight his way out of his parents' shadows." The teachers themselves have no idea what to do with an elementary school child with the sarcasm of a teenager and the mischievousness of a class clown. He doesn't try to help them see the truth.
None of Mom and Dad's friends have kids—they're all too obsessed with plastic surgery and buying private islands and keeping their figures and getting the right roles—so Mom makes playdates with kids from his private school. They're always disastrous. Either Logan refuses to talk to his new "friend" or he destroys the other kid's toys or, even worse, their delusions. Mom doesn't get mad at him very often—there's always a detached pity in her eyes when she looks at him that sometimes makes him hate her more than Dad's anger but also makes him feels just as sorry for her—but she's livid when she finds out that he told Matt Patterson that there is no Santa Clause. Idiot. They're nine. No kid should still believe in Santa Clause at nine.
Logan never believed in Santa Clause.
Last year, when they were visiting his mom's parents—his taciturn grandpa with his slow smile was the only person in his family that he ever loved without any other complicated feelings like guilt or resentment or jealousy or hate messing it up, and he died six months ago—he was so fed up with everything that he announced during dinner that he didn't believe in God. Grandma was appalled and gave Mom a lecture about how she wasn't raising her children right—but then, what did she expect, trying to bring him up in the shadow of Hollywood and all it stood for?—and he felt a little bit sorry about it, but not enough to apologize. Aunt Lisa sniffed at Mom and Uncle Ron poured himself another drink. His cousins didn't want to play with him, but he didn't care.
He went outside and pulled the bag of firecrackers out of his pocket.
He got double the beating that night, and he kind of wished that he had a friend he could call.
But he knew that was stupid, because what would he say? He's learned a lot from watching his parents, but there's only one thing he thinks they've got right: there are no such things as friends, just enemies and convenient allies.
Any other boy would be mocked for hanging out with his big sister as much as Duncan does. But he's different and Lilly's different and nobody seems to care that they've got things backwards.
His friends beg him to bring Lilly along whenever they get together—Lilly makes everything more fun. Lilly comes up with the best pranks, the best new games to play. Lilly knows things about everyone's parents—things no other nine-year-old could possibly know—and Lilly likes to share. I've got a secret, are her favorite words, whispered while leaning in conspiratorially with shining eyes. A good one.
Duncan doesn't really mind that Lilly always is—and has to be—the center of attention. He's always gotten far more attention than he wants, anyways—he's willing for her to soak some of that limelight away from him. After all, everyone still likes him, and they certainly don't forget about him just because of Lilly.
People like Duncan, but they worship Lilly, and he's always been just fine with that.
They're good partners. Duncan has no real imagination or initiative, but he's more than willing to go along with whatever fantastic plot Lilly's concocted today. Lilly has no sense of proportion and couldn't be practical if her life depended on it, so it's up to Duncan to point out the impossible bits of her plan.
The only time they fight is when their parents get angry. Lilly always gets blamed, receiving punishment not only for breaking whatever rule she broke but also for "dragging her brother along with her." It isn't fair! She howls and launches herself at him with pounding fists and hands that grab at his hair. She may be older, but he's taller and stronger, and he could easily fend off an attack. He could fight back, hurt her badly, but she's right, it isn't fair, and he knows a way to calm her down: say so.
The fights are forgotten within moments because you simply can't stay made at your sister, best friend, partner-in-crime, only playmate. Neither of them is too blind to recognize how boring and lonely their lives would be without each other.
Because their other friends aren't nearly as good—not as smart or funny or mature as they are. And their parents really don't care, as long as they don't get into trouble. They make do on their own.
After all, it's Duncan who calms down his sister after she has an explosive fight with Mom. And it's Lilly who holds his hand and tells him quiet stories—just amusing enough to make him smile but not funny enough to make him laugh—when he's suffering from the headaches that come after the "episodes." It's Duncan who convinces Dad what the Kane kids really need is a new computer or a trampoline or whatever Lilly wants this week. And it's Lilly who, in careful print, makes lists at Christmas and birthdays of the things Duncan wants and hands them to Mom.
They've always been enough for each other.
Lilly's never needed anyone to stick around—except for Duncan and Veronica. Other friends with their giggles and their cootie catchers and their MASH sheets come and go, a friend for a week or a month or even a day—Lilly's fickle, and she doesn't care. Shelley, Wanda, Madison, Caitlin—all of them have had brief moments in Lilly's favor.
And there are boys, too. Lilly was the first one in her grade to be the slightest bit interested in boys. And long before the boys lost their belief in cooties and girls being gross, they were fascinated by Lilly. But they never lasted long, either: J.D. and Luke and Caz and Dick and Michael all got to call themselves "Lilly's boyfriend" for a time.
But there are two constants in the whirlwind that is Lilly's life, standing close enough to her eye-of-the-storm not to get blown away. She doesn't remember a time before Duncan—he's always been there and always will be.
And Veronica's been her official best friend since the day last year when the fourth and fifth graders had shared an art class. Veronica—sweet, quiet, innocent little Veronica Mars who all the other kids like and all the teachers adore—raised her hand and spoke back to Mrs. Chase. Their teacher blinked, stared, then stuttered as she continued with what she was saying as though she couldn't believe that Veronica could have meant it—she must have misunderstood.
But Lilly had turned a friendly smirk on Veronica, recognizing someone who was worthy of her. Veronica had flushed with pleasure and at lunch Lilly had asked her to sit with her and Duncan, pushing Susan out of the seat beside her to let Veronica sit in the place of honor.
They spend every possible moment together. Classes are a waste of time without Veronica to giggle with and Duncan to help with her schoolwork—she hates being older. Sleeping is a necessary evil, and so is "family time." The only times Lilly feels alive are after school and weekends when Veronica lives at the Kane house or the Kane kids take over the Mars' home. The three do homework together and scrounge for snacks and swim in the pool and play board games while consolidating all the gossip they've collected that week. They plan vast epic stories involving the Barbies and My Little Ponies and Hot Wheel Cars and G.I. Joes they really outgrew long ago—stories that would horrify Celeste Kane if she knew. They plan Lilly's new conquests and watch TV and talk about what high school will be like and what kind of cars they'll get when they turn sixteen and all the places they'll go together.
They're a mismatched trio, walking through the halls at school: Veronica, all knees and pigtails and quiet smiles in her soccer uniform; Duncan, looking more like a neatly-pressed future-president-in-training than a schoolboy; and Lilly, color and laughter and limelight walking between them.
They walk through the hallways with Duncan's arm slung around her waist and Logan's hand intertwined with Lilly's, laughing and joking and planning, and they're unstoppable.
And maybe she's been best friends with Lilly since fourth grade and known Logan since sixth and been dating Duncan for four whole months now, but this is still so new for an only child, a quiet girl who'd always been in someone else's shadow. Now she's walking down the hall and it's like there's a spotlight on them and she isn't the type of girl to luxuriate in other people's jealousy, but it still sends warmth through her veins to know that all the other girls want to be her.
But despite what people say, this isn't about popularity. This is about feeling completely comfortable with three other people. About being a part of something. About being extensions of each other till they don't think "I" but "we." They're watercolors, not oils, and they bleed into each other and create new colors and it's useless to wonder where one ends and the other begins.
There's always at least two of them in any class, except for the few that Lilly has to take alone. In geometry, they're all together, sitting in the back right corner, laughing and goofing off. The teacher almost never complains because Veronica and both of the Kanes make nearly perfect grades and no one expects anything more than adequate from Logan.
They don't need 09er parties—though they sometimes put in appearances when they're bored. If Logan and Duncan (and sometimes Lilly, but don't tell Celeste) want to get drunk, Logan appears in the pool house that night with a giant bottle of vodka or Jack Daniel's that he swiped from his dad. They turn the lights down and the music up and dance and sing off key, and who needs a hundred people they may or may not like to do that?
They have an arrangement Lilly calls their "four year plan," because Lilly's the one who started it (later Veronica understands this; Lilly's always been too desperately scared of being alone). For the next two years they'll look over college brochures and decide which one looks best—at the moment Duncan says Columbia and Logan's saying UCLA and Veronica's thinking Stanford and Lilly doesn't really care. When she graduates, Lilly will go there, check it out, find out all the good teachers and the easiest majors and the best groups and the next year, the other three will join her and they will rule the college campus with the same ease with which they dominate Neptune High.
After that, things are a bit hazy, but though she would never admit it, Veronica has an idea lurking in the back of her mind—of two houses right next to each other, here in Neptune (because she can't leave Dad and Mom to fend for themselves completely), not even separated by a fence and of kids running back and forth between the two—little blonde cousins who adore each other. It's trite and not likely to happen—life doesn't really happen that way.
But she doesn't like to think about the future too much. Because this moment is perfect—absolutely perfect—and she's scared that if she thinks about it too much, it will all dissolve in the rain.
She has no idea how right she is.
For exactly three days, things are like they used to be.
That's a lie. Things will never be the same again.
But for three days, the three who are left pull close together again, the two halves of ripped fabric sewn together again, maybe closer than they were before, one entity: DuncanVeronicaLogan. Only now, instead of just jagged edges left on the two halves where they had once been united, like a ripped seam, there's a gaping wound, a whole fourth of them missing.
He's never been so thankful for Veronica's forgiving nature—that girl has never held a grudge in her life. It used to bother Lilly, but Duncan thinks that if his sister could see the wreckage she's left behind, she would be thankful for Veronica. She's pale and broken and quiet on the surface, but she's strong.
She walks right up to him at the funeral, ignoring Mom's icy glare, and takes his hand. Logan stands on the other side of her, and she slips her hand into his as well. Duncan stares straight ahead, trying to figure out how all of this happened—and how he doesn't remember any of it. Lilly, beautiful, bright Lilly, bursting with life and fun and a lust for danger, couldn't possibly be in that cold, smooth wooden box being lowered into the ground. He wishes he could cry, but he feels like he's wrapped in cotton—he can barely breathe through the thickness, let alone think.
Logan is sobbing so hard that Duncan suspects he can't breathe either, and that's scarier than anything. After all the nights when Logan would show up at the Kane house in the middle of the night, climbing through Duncan's bedroom window, shirtless because his back was far too raw to handle the brush of cotton, dry-eyed and sarcastic, Duncan never ever expected to see his best friend shattered and weak in front of so many.
Veronica stands tiny and straight with a lifted chin between them. There's a steady river of tears coursing down her cheeks, but she makes no sound.
She doesn't make a sound later, either, as the three of them barricade themselves into Logan's pool house—their secret hideout for years—and Logan breaks down again, this time with a violence that would be frightening to those who don't know him. He hurls chairs and whiskey bottles and shatters windows and jars of candy and it's a full twenty minutes before his anger peters out and he collapses onto the couch and Veronica wraps him in her arms and Duncan puts a reassuring hand on his shoulder—we're still here, both he and Veronica are trying to communicate to Logan. We're still here, and we won't leave.
For three days, they don't leave the pool house. They order a couple of pizzas and some Chinese takeout, and Duncan and Logan live on beer. They don't talk almost at all, and when they do, it's about inane things like the weather and the new car Dick Casablancas got last week for his birthday. They don't watch TV, because a news flash could cut through at any moment with new information about the "Lilly Kane murder investigation." Instead, they watch Logan's impressive collection of gross-out comedies that Veronica used to find distasteful and immature but she now watches as though they're the only thing keeping her sane. They ignore their cell phones, though Veronica answers a few calls from a surprisingly understanding Keith. None of them want to acknowledge the rest of the world.
They all three cram onto the couch between the big pillows, as close together as they can get, as though reminding each other they're alive. Veronica sits between the boys, her head on Duncan's shoulder, her feet in Logan's lap. Sometimes one of them sleeps or gets up to go to the bathroom or grab a beer or pay the pizza guy. But for three days, they live on that couch, drawing strength from each other.
It's an accident. On the night of the third day, the closing credits for Dumb and Dumberer roll down the screen and Logan hops up to change the DVD. While he's trying to decide between Bottle Rocket and Happy Gilmore—they've watched them both twice since they've been here—Duncan idly flips the channel to see if Best Week Ever is on.
When he lands on the ten o'clock news, his thumb freezes and he can't change the channel. They all three stare at the screen with a sort of sick fascination as, once again, they show a picture of Lilly, laying in a pool of blood by the pool, eyes staring into nowhere, lips twisted into a mockery of a smirk.
When he hears the words "accused" "father, Jake Kane" and "Sheriff Keith Mars," he feels the anger bubbling up and then his world goes black.
They don't know how to talk to each other.
They never needed to talk before, and so they simply never learned how. For every important memory, every triumph or defeat or first, Duncan had been there right alongside him—well, except for getting laid for the first time, but you just don't let your best friend know that you slept with his sister. Besides, somehow, Duncan just knew, and he looked the other way.
He'd never had to tell Duncan about Mom's Valium and vodka problem—Duncan would have had to be blind not to notice that. He'd never had to tell him about Dad and the belts and the cigarette burns—Duncan would have had to be brain-dead not to figure out where all those scars came from. He'd never had to tell him about how crazy he was about Lilly—anyone could tell. He'd never had to tell him that he was lonely and angry and scared, because Duncan just knew.
So they talked about video games and hot chicks and how Logan was failing chemistry and what they were planning on Friday night, and that was it. Logan had never understood how Lilly and Veronica, who spent almost every waking moment together anyways, could have so much to talk about—could lock themselves in Lilly's bedroom with nail polish and Avril Lavigne albums and a bowl of popcorn and talk and talk and talk for hours and hours and hours.
He never really wanted to talk to anyone, but now he sees that there's a chasm between him and his best friend, and he doesn't have enough practice to know how to find the words to bridge it. They're still friends, they still spend time together, and it's better than being alone, but somehow, though they're feeling the exact same loss, they can't understand each other anymore.
He misses Lilly so much that sometimes he can't even breathe, and he finds himself hunched over in the hallway at school or at the dinner table with Mom, gasping for breath but not shedding a tear. He catches glimpses of her hair glinting in the sunlight, hears her laugh underneath the pounding of the surf on the beach, feels her curled up warm and alive against him at night—though when he wakes his arms are empty. He's so eaten up by the pain that there almost isn't room for anything else.
Pain for Lilly is understandable—cruel and crippling and wrongwrongwrong, but understandable—death is the universal law, after all. She's gone far too soon, but death is a part of life, and at least it makes a strange sort of sense.
But hurting because of Veronica is not something he'd ever expected, and betrayal is bitter. This pain is twisted. He and Veronica always got along, teasing each other and watching a lot of the same movies, appreciating the same jokes. They both adored Lilly and were looked down on by Celeste, and so they had a strange sort of bond. Even when Duncan decided to dump her and not tell her or anyone else why—except, apparently, Lilly—Ronica was still all right with him. They sat together in chemistry and talked about anything and everything but Duncan; he'd been surprised that when she didn't feel as though she had to go along with whatever Lilly said or impress Duncan, she actually had a rather snarky sense of humor that appealed to him. He'd genuinely thought of her as a friend and an ally of sorts.
That's what makes this betrayal so difficult.
For those three days in the pool house, he'd been able to forget. But now he can't. She told Lilly about Yolanda. Backed her dad in the investigation into Jake Kane. Refused to come back to him and Duncan, penitent and full of regret.
And so all he has is Duncan. They go to parties together and get wasted together and play video games together and surf together and eat lunch together…
But they never talk.
They don't know how.
She always knew she'd end up like this.
It isn't enough that her best friend is dead, her mom abandoned her, she's been raped, she had to sell half of her possession to move all the way across town, and her dad is now as much of an outcast as she is.
Now she has to sit alone at lunch.
It's silly and petty and she knows it, but this is the thing that tips her over the edge, and she finds herself in the bathroom, curled up in the corner and sobbing so hard she has to crawl into a stall and loose her three bites of apple and half a sandwich into the toilet.
She'd always had friends in elementary school—she was a sweet, forgiving, generous little girl, and she had no trouble making friends instantly. But after she met Lilly, though she was friendly with everyone, there just wasn't room for anyone but Lilly, Duncan, and Logan.
It's coming back to haunt her now. If she'd invested in someone other than those three—one dead, one nearly catatonic, one betrayed and lashing out—she would have someone on her side now, someone who would at least say hi to her in the halls, someone who would know her well enough to know that all those rumors going around couldn't possibly be true.
That isn't fair. None of it's fair. It isn't fair that school, which was always merely a distraction from her real life of Dad and Mom and Lilly and Duncan and Logan, is now creeping in to fill every corner of her consciousness that isn't haunted by Lilly and Mom.
It isn't fair that, when she's zoned out, numbed by pain, her legs automatically lead her to Lilly's locker between classes. It isn't fair that at lunch she finds herself heading to the 09ers' enclave of tables. It isn't fair that it's still her first impulse when Adult Swim is on to call Logan and have him come over. It isn't fair that Duncan won't look at her anymore when she feels like a smile from him could keep her from shattering into a million pieces. It isn't fair that when she cries herself to sleep at night, she's half wishing she was lying beside Lilly in that coffin—it was pure white and lined in gold-trimmed satin and it looked so plush and inviting, like a bed or a cradle for a baby, not a place for a corpse to slowly rot away.
She just wants to curl up in a ball on a mountain of pillows and never get up again. She never wants to look anyone in the eye or speak to them, but she forces herself to walk down the hall with her head held high because that's what Lilly—and Duncan and Logan, back when they were still themselves and her friends—would have wanted.
She half suspects that Logan learned the art of press conferences from his movie star dad—how else would everyone find out she's a social pariah so quickly? But this is high school, and even if she's long been sheltered from it by Lilly's protective glow, it's all hierarchy and backstabbing and dog-eat-dog. She knows that. She just wasn't prepared to deal with it.
She's always been a quick learner, though, and she knows that the transformation is shockingly quick—no slow metamorphosis for her. One day she's pep squad-pink cashmere and Uggs-long blonde locks-never-been-in-trouble-Ronnie and the next she's combat boots-wise assed-sitting-alone-at-lunch-Veronica.
And maybe, just maybe, her subconscious has been preparing her for this all along, and that's how she transforms so quickly—she's been storing up survival tactics in the back of her mind for years.
Because it was too perfect to last. And she always knew she'd end up like this.