Title: Unsuccessfully Coping
Author: Neko Kuroban (blueinkedlines on LiveJournal)
Pairing/Character: Veronica, Duncan, Lilly, and Logan, and all the lovely permutations thereof. Chiefly Duncan/Veronica and Duncan/Logan, however.
Word Count: Four thousand.
Rating: PG-13.
Summary: "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation." Logan, Duncan, and the art of just getting by.
Spoilers: Nothing the first handful of episodes doesn't tell you.
Warnings: Some language. A bit of slash and het in equal parts, stirred well. Nothing that will corrupt the kids, I shouldn't think.
Disclaimer: I am in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of Veronica Mars. No copyright infringement is intended.
Notes: Feedback is greatly appreciated.


Unsuccessfully Coping


The problem is not that the house is too big. It's that it's too empty. The tasteful rooms brim with things -- artfully arranged or cleverly hidden -- but they still feel cavernous, far too large to ever be comfortable. Every sound reverberates off the wooden floors and arched ceilings, bouncing until it twists into something quite unlike itself. Ever the tinny chirrup of the security alarm is victim to this, morphing into a painfully high whine.

It is starting to grate against your nerves.

A year ago, your family never bothered to set the alarm. Lilly perpetually forgot to punch in the numbers, and neither you nor Dad had ever seen the point in setting it if someone was home. Your mother did, though; it is still the first thing Mom checks when she arrives home, laden with bags of shopping or file folders from her latest pet project sticking out of her bag, and the last step of her routine before she goes upstairs to bed.

She never offers a reason. She thinks her actions to be above that. You are far from stupid, however, and you know: she used to do it to ascertain that Lilly could not sneak out. Now, though, you suspect -- believe -- Mom's caution stems from her fear. Abel Koontz is in prison, but she still acts as if what happened to Lilly could happen again, with just as little warning.

You are sitting on the plaid couch in the den she always hated, with its tough, masculine furnishings and dark mahogany paneling. Ugly, Mom calls it, but her ideas of replacing it have never gone past the initial meeting with a well-coiffed designer, and you hope they never do.

This was the room where you and your sister wasted time as children, where you and Lilly would construct elaborate fortresses of blankets and chairs and sofa cushions; where you and Logan wasted countless hours on rounds of Mario Kart and episodes of Pokemon long after you started pretending to be too cool for it; where you watched old movies with Mom on rainy Sundays and pretended not to notice the tears that gathered in her eyes at the end of Steel Magnolias; where you garnered the nerve to kiss Veronica Mars for the first time.

You can see your mother through the wide arch of the doorway: glimpses of navy silk, somber and dignified even in nightclothes, and newly shorn russet hair as she moves to and fro, going through the motions of checking the lights that march a straight path to the pool, the controls to the mounted cameras, the dining room windows that stretch from the plush carpet to the high ceiling. Her movements remain audible, even when she is out of sight. You listen to the transition of her slipper-shod footfalls from wood to tile and know she has moved to the kitchen.

One of the maids bids her a goodnight in soft, Spanish-accented English. From the low, tentative murmur it is clear to you that the girl is purposely trying to keep her voice muted, trying to avoid attention. You can only catch fragments of her words: "…Leaving now… if that's … thank you …"

You count the seconds from the click of the door closing behind her to the sound of the old, tired car engine shudder to life.

Tonight, even your thoughts seem obscenely loud.

"Duncan?" Mom is standing in the doorway.

Despite the books and papers scattered across the couch, you don't bother to look as if you had been actually editing the latest mock-up of the Neptune Navigator.

"Duncan?" She repeats when you glance up. "I'm going up."

Another time you would have risen to greet her, would have perfunctorily kissed the powdered cheek she turns towards you. As it is, it is all you can do to force your gaze to raise from the floor.

Your doctor had warned you that sluggishness was a side effect that often accompanied Zarontin, but this is more than mere lethargy: it is as if pure exhaustion has burrowed deep inside of you. You couldn't remember a time when you weren't tired. You had skipped your pill this morning in the hope of restoring some kind of energy. The weariness had not left, though you felt wired. Earlier today you slept through A.P. World History, concealing your hands so that Meg, sitting beside you, would not notice your trembling.

"Is there anything you need?" Mom presses.

God, part of you thinks, leave me alone. It's the part that sounds suspiciously like Lilly. "No." The word feels alien on your tongue. You swallow and try again: "No." You clasp your hands in your lap until your knuckles blanch white. "I'll be up soon."

When Mom smiles, slow and brittle, the corners of her eyes crinkle. Watching her leave, you realize suddenly that she looks as tired as you feel. The realization does not come entirely as a surprise. You have heard her crying at night, always the same muffled sobbing, always on nights when Dad is away.

On the blaring television, there is a commercial for some brand of cleanser that promises to not only help a supermodel masquerading as a housewife clear build-up from her drain but somehow also make her thinner, tanner, blonder. It is too loud and the model's shrill voice scrapes at something inside you. You pick up the remote to mute the volume, but the device falls from your trembling fingers.

You don't have the willpower to retrieve it.

A picture of you and Lilly as children, both in Purim costumes, hangs on the wall over the mantle. The photograph was taken at twilight; the shape of the synagogue is silhouetted against the pink-orange sky. That was the year Lilly had worn the gold circlet and violet gown of Esther; she had beamed with pride when your mother placed the tiara on her bouncy ringlets and, once Mom was out of earshot, bragged to all the other little girls that getting the best part meant she was prettiest. You had not wanted to be in it, had cried when Dad and the Hebrew school teacher tried to coax you into it. You ended up on stage dressed as a shepherd all the same, drawing in shallow breaths at the sight of the filled hall. In the photograph, an agitated frown is etched upon your face, but Lilly's gap-toothed smile is absolutely radiant, and is it better for someone to die when they were happy and loved or when they were absolutely miserable?

You exhale a breath you hadn't realized you were holding and get to your feet, immediately reaching for the sofa arm to brace yourself against the wave of dizziness that…does not come. You wipe your brow with the sleeve of your sweater and stumble rather than walk into the kitchen, where you fill a glass of water. You drain it quickly; the simple action of swallowing is somehow calming. You cast a glance to the cabinet above the sink, where small orange bottles are kept -- not just your Zarontin, but the Oxycotine painkillers from your recent concussion. Your doctor had given you Vicodin, too, just in case the pain worsened. If that didn't put you to sleep, at least you wouldn't be able to drum up the emotion required to give a…

What the hell am I thinking? You berate yourself. You will just have to slog through tonight and tomorrow you'll take the Zarontin for your epilepsy and everything would look better in the morning.

You force yourself to return to the den, undoing the lock on the door on your way -- just, for once in your life, to be contrary.

When you return, an episode of Angel has started up. A girl with dark curls stumbles on a cobble-stone street. She falls, twists around to look at the man who will be her murderer. He snaps her neck, murmuring: there, now; isn't that better?

So much for a distraction.

You turn off the TV.

You wish you could just as easily silence the grandfather clock in the corner. The cupboard in the base used to be big enough to conceal a giggling five-year-old during a game of Hide and Seek, but now it just holds hand-knitted blankets (the ones your grandmother made, quietly tucked away after her death) and a dusty, locked box of cash beneath a false bottom. Lilly had stolen the key a few years back; she had a locksmith make two copies before returning the original to whatever forgotten drawer she found it in. After it became apparent it was abandoned, the box became a repository for all manner of treasures. It was the stuff your sister took when she was thrill-stealing, mostly: bullshit trinkets she pocketed for the excitement it provided.

You had found a plastic shopping bag shoved down inside the week after she died. You had thrown out the cheap mall products but kept the bag and its contents: a joint and a cheap plastic lighter inside a Ziploc bag and a ring -- showy yellow-gold like Mom hated and a diamond that managed to be both small and ostentatious. You thought it was something Lilly would have bought for herself until you noticed the tarnish of age along the band. The three items were hidden easily enough, in the end. You had simply shoved them into the toe of your unused soccer cleats, the ones Dad bought two sizes too small for your last birthday, the ones you hadn't had the heart to tell him didn't fit.

The clock's mechanical heart ticks out an erratic rhythm, almost in time with the sound of Mom's footsteps on the next floor. It is perhaps imagination; the carpet lining your parents' suite is thick enough to muffle any noise. You are trying to determine which when the cordless phone on the coffee table rings.

You jerk back to awareness.

KANE SOFTWARE, the digital display screams in glowing yellow and black. You turn off the ringer, but the shrill sound carries on in the hallway, repeating over and over until the answering machine picks up the call.

"Celeste? It's Jake. Just wanted to let you know I'm pulling an all-nighter here." There is no goodbye, no admission of love, but there is a moment where Dad pauses as if he is waiting for Mom to pick up. "I'll… I'll try your cell."

You close your eyes and wish for nothingness.

The monotony of this thought lulls you to the edge of sleep, and you are nearly under the veil of slumber when the front door bangs open, making the alarm shriek in response.

"Shit!" It's Logan, because who else would it be but Logan?

You throw your head back and let your eyes close, reassured, until a crash in the hallway jerks you awake once more and lures you to the door. Leaning against the frame, you survey the damage. The chair is on the floor. So are the remnants of a shattered vase, as well as the orchids and the leaf-strewn water it once contained. So is Logan, who is not even attempting to pick himself up off the dark marble tile.

He tilts his face up at you as you approach. Vulnerability and something akin to confusion are written across his fine-boned features. Tonight his eyes are more of a muddy jade than the usual indistinguishable blur of green and brown and gray. They're bloodshot. He has been partying and he has been crying and it is (once again) up to you to figure out in which order.

"Why's the alarm set?"

You ignore the question, stepping over the kid -- you always feel like you are much more than a year Logan's senior -- to the wall-mounted panel. The whining klaxon dies immediately under your touch. The small colored bulbs switch from activated green to hiatus yellow. "It's Lilly's birthday," you tell Logan.

"No, it's not." Logan is far enough gone for his words to bleed together. What the hell did he take? You wonder. "Her birthday… 's Christmas." The phrase it's Christmas comes out as tangle of consonants.

"The alarm code," You remind him patiently, like you are once again the noble knight in white armor to drunken (sisters girlfriends best friends) comrades. "She was the one to set it when we moved in." The other half – that no one wanted to be the one to change it – hangs suspended in the air between you. You hold out your hand, as if Logan is no more than a clumsy child.

Your fingers are shaking.

Logan smacks away the offered hand and rises in a manner that seems to be far too nimble for his current state, and you understands instinctively that he is trying to hard for the void. You don't need to try at all. The void is given to you. You try to fill it, try to tame it, try to feel anything. You thought it was the medication that made you so numb, but p'raps you're wrong. Perhaps this hellish blankness is all you.

"Are you spending the night?"

"Well, I'm not here for a booty call." Logan is neither smiling nor flashing his habitual smirk. Brushing past you -- insinuatingly? Surely it is intentional -- Logan stalks up the graceful curve of the stairs, movements silent as the cat you never had. "Don't worry about hiding your disappointment." It is clear that he expects you to follow.

You have always been good at doing what's expected of you. "In a second," you promise.

Logan stops suddenly, fingers tightening on the banister. What a fucking drama queen, you think uncharitably, though the emptiness is not enough to assuage the feelings of guilt that follow. What right do you have to think that? You demand of yourself as you right the chair, as you mop up the spilled water on the floor of the foyer, as you throw the sopping flowers in the bin.

By the time you're upstairs, Logan is throwing up in the bathroom. Light spills from the ajar door onto the dark hall carpet. "You better not wake my mother," you caution. You close your eyes and lean against the wall beside the door, intent on waiting until Logan's finished.

Finally, the sound of retching ceases, only to be replaced with something that sounds suspiciously like a ragged sob.

Something crumbles inside of you. "I'm coming in, okay?"

You palm the door open, pausing just a moment to take in the sight of your best friend crumpled on the floor, half-slumped over the toilet, his face hidden in the curve of his elbow. Pathetic, the thought jumps to your mind almost immediately, and you hate yourself for it. More than that, though, you hate this, hate what you and Logan have turned into.

You cross the threshold.

Logan has always had a toothbrush at your house, ever since you were stupid little kids who kept duplicates of everything -- pajamas, bathing suits, roller blades -- at one another's homes by nature. You fish it out of the cabinet and squeeze a cyan line of Crest over the stiff bristles. When you hand it to Logan, handle-end first (because you suspect that he might really be that far gone), you get a mumbled response that might have been a curse, might have been gratitude.

You twist the shower taps. Logan never feels temperature in water; you've seen him surf in the ides of March. All the same, you stick your hand under the water to test the temperature. "Here," you say when you think its sufficient, somewhere between lukewarm and warm. "This is good enough." You suspect that you sound like your mother. "I'll be in my room."

You receive that same unclear reply that could have been fuck you as easily as it could have been thank you.

You are in your bedroom, taking off your sweater, when you remember that Logan does not have a towel. With a sigh, you pull the garment the rest of the way off and don a loose-fitting t-shirt. You replace your jeans with tattered sweats you've had forever, then finally pad into the hallway to grab a towel from the linen closet. You open the bathroom door, intending to just toss it onto the floor, but the sight of Logan undressing gives you pause. You think Logan is gorgeous, always have, but it is the thick crimson welts that stripe his pale back that draws your breath now. This is far from being the first time you have seen it, but the evidence of Logan's abuse is so far removed from the reality that you know that it always catches you off guard.

He tenses under your gaze but does not turn around. His movements are tighter and jerkier as he undoes his belt and his jeans, but he never turns around. It's okay for you to know simply because you have always known, but Logan sure as hell does not have to face you.

Knowing Logan and, perhaps more importantly, knowing Logan's pride, you set the towel on the edge of the sink, turn, and leave -- all without comment.

Do normal people have to deal with this? You wonder when you reach your room, throwing yourself into the uncaring arms of your four-poster. Does everyone feel like this? Or are they like Logan -- angry, cut, off bitter? Or do they just assign no value to people, things, memories? The people you know from school -- these days more acquaintances than friends -- seem to flit through their trials. Something bad happens, they're sad, then they move on.

You wish you were like Meg. You know she has a rough life. You have seen the evidence: finger-shaped bruises on the inside of her wrist. After a lifetime of knowing Logan, your mind immediately filled with suspicions, all of them horrible and none of them at all your business. And yet Meg is content and strong, strong in a way you never before thought worthy of appreciation.

Hell, even Dick, who is perpetually sliding between drunk and hung over, has to be better off. No ghosts race through the Casablanca estate, no if I had only clamors in his mind, just Halo and stupid Owen Wilson movies and 09er parties and raves in the desert. Dick had laughed -- laughed! -- when he and Madison called it quits and yelled oral sex won't fix your daddy issues, whore at her retreating back.

Dick had not stared at his ex-girlfriend at every honors' society meeting until she had finally quit. Dick hadn't driven his dead sister's car to the fringes of the 90909 zip code, staring up at the austere brick house, unable to ring the bell. Dick had not watched his ex-girlfriend sleep in the guest room at a party until she woke, rumpled and disoriented from tequila, and smiled at him in a way that made him forget what his mother told him, that she might be (was was was had to be) his…

"I'm so fucked up."

Somehow the sound of your own voice comforts you. Perhaps that's why other people, people like

(Logan)

Shelley ran their mouths all the time, filling the silence with their aimless, insipid chatter. It creates a shield, however flimsy.

Hearing your bedroom door swing open, you open one eye. "Hey. Better?"

Logan's bare footsteps are silent. They do not echo. They are swallowed up in the dark quiet. They are not much, but they are enough to fill the void.

You love Logan for that.

"The water pressure in your shower sucks. It's like -- " Logan flicks a bead of water from his fingertip. It lands -- cold! -- on your cheek. "There. You're clean."

Your eyes had not needed to adjust to the faint illumination; when Logan flops down beside you, you can see all the vital parts of him: the whites of his long-lashed eyes, the blonde-bleached tips of his mahogany hair, the flash of his even teeth when he smiles. The moon makes the play of light and dark over his sun-gilded skin fascinating, and suddenly you are very aware of him indeed.

Logan can't stand it if he feels someone isn't giving him enough attention. You know this; Lilly knew this; Veronica knew this; and you suspect even Logan realizes it. He collects what attention and scraps of affection that were flung his way, and, in return, regarded the giver with a fierce sense of attachment that bordered on love or possession or obsession or hatred -- and vacillates from extreme to extreme with such ease that the lines blur.

Logan falls silent after awhile, and from the way his eyelashes lower to half-mast, from the way he stirs as if burdened by restlessness, you know he's thinking of your sister. Logan used to talk about her endlessly, used to mention her so frequently it was as if nothing had ever happened. Lilly would hate this. Lilly would think... over and over until you snapped one night and demanded that he stop talking about her altogether. When we both get quiet, you had gone on in calm, reasonable (patronizing, you know now) tones, you'd both know who the other was thinking about.

Studying him like this, it is easy for you to see the shift in Logan's expression. He looks as if he wants to ask a question, then his eyes darken. His mouth draws up into a smirk that contained a hint of the mischief that had once underscored his every question. You open your mouth to question this, but anything you might have thought about saying is cut off, because a pair of warm lips have claimed yours in a searing kiss.

Logan doesn't kiss a thing like Veronica: He's needy and insistent and desperate and (oh, God) did Lilly teach him how to do that? Your hand moves to the back of Logan's neck, but whether it is to bring him closer or shove him away even you don't know. Logan's fingers graze over your skin, though his hand hesitates at the point where your hipbone meets your femur and travels no further.

You dare to kiss back. You are tempted to give in; in that moment, you want nothing more than to give into your desires and drown yourself in Logan, to fill your lungs in him until they threaten to burst, to bury yourself inside him until you could finally feel--

Logan pulls away, looking so damned self-satisfied that it aches, and you release your hold on Logan's neck as if scalded.

You scramble for something to say and blurt the first thing that comes to mind: "Have you gone retarded? What the hell did Dick give you?"

"I don't know. E? Maybe?"

You reach out and remove his hand from your leg. The rounded curve of your thumbnail bites into the underside of his wrist. His hiss of pain is delayed enough to let you know that he is not altogether sober, and he is laughing.

"What are you laughing at?"

His answer is simple and anticipated: "You." The amendment? Not so much. "You kiss like she does, you know."

And there it is, that flooding sense of overwhelming guilt. "Baby--" You begin awkwardly (because that had always been what you called your girl) and reach out.

Logan's mouth once more seeks and finds yours, his fingers tightening around the thin cotton of your shirt, and this time you let him.

Sometimes it's all you can do.