Friday, December 12, 2014

"Mars?"

Veronica looks up from her computer, her face falling at the sound of her name. Her supervisor, Sturges, is motioning for her to enter his office, and she sighs softly to herself as she slowly rises from her desk and starts the short walk on the green mile.

"Sir?"

He's signing some documents and he doesn't bother to look up at her as she enters the room. "You can take off now. Use this weekend to catch up on a little paperwork."

"Actually, I was going to stick around. I heard Berry say that there's new information on the Hennessey kidnapping."

"You're not partnered with Berry anymore."

"I know but-"

"And you're not on the Hennessey case, either. I assigned Strocks. She's got more experience with situations like this."

"I've been working this since the beginning!" she argues, her eyes narrowing in anger.

"Veronica," he sighs in exasperation, "I'm not going to go over this again. Now go on, get going. Have a nice weekend." He offers a weak smile before returning to his papers, and Veronica clenches her teeth as she turns away.

"Oh yeah, and Mars?"

She stops, her back to him.

"I signed you up for some self-defense refresher classes at Center. Be there tomorrow morning, 10 a.m."

She rolls her eyes and heads back to her desk.

---

When Veronica was a little girl, she used to dream about New York winters. She would watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade, the lighting of the Christmas tree at Rockefeller, and New Year's Eve at Time Square on television and wish she was there, laughing in the snow and the cold, bundled up with a cup of hot chocolate and cheering with the crowds.

Now Veronica's learned that childhood dreams just lead to disappointed adults.

The frigid air sucks the breath from her lungs, and she pulls her arms around her chest to shield herself from the burning wind. With her chin tucked against her chest and her knit scarf scratching against her face, she begins the slow and arduous walk to her apartment, cursing the cold every step of the way.

The low temperature and added weight from her messenger bag make it even more difficult to trudge through the dirty snow littering the sidewalks. When she finally gets to her building thirty minutes later, she darts across the street and narrowly misses being run down by a taxi. The cab driver slows only to scream obscenities at her, and Veronica damns her mittens for hindering her middle finger.

God, she hates New York. She never would have thought that possible, but her daily life now is a far cry from that of the touristy teenager who drank in every drop of the city.

Her apartment is on the fifth floor and the elevator's still out of order, so she takes her sweet time climbing the stairs. Her back is hurting, her thighs aching, and she wonders yet again why she bothers. Every day she goes in and kills herself at a job she no longer likes in a field she no longer respects, and for what?

She thinks again about quitting, about packing up and heading back to California to reopen Mars Investigations and make it her own. It's a little fantasy that gets her through her days, and she ignores that niggling voice that asks her why she thinks that will be enough. Bail jumpers and cheating wives, day in and day out… Is that all she's going to have? Is that all there is to look forward to?

She's gasping for breath when she reaches her door, and she digs through her bag for her keys. "Dammit," she mutters when she comes up short and then remembers leaving them in her desk drawer. Her added stress has made her uncharacteristically forgetful lately, which only leads to more stress. It's a vicious cycle. She falls back hard against her door in exhaustion, wearily eyeing the stairwell.

Just as she's dreading the trek back to the office, she hears the chain being unlocked from the other side, and she freezes before spinning around to back away.

Logan's head pops out from behind the door, and he smiles when he sees her. "Aw, I was hoping you were my Thai food." He holds the door open wide, waiting expectantly for her, and she sighs in relief even as she feels her annoyance level surging. "What the hell are you doing here?" she asks, entering her apartment.

He shrugs as he walks ahead of her, traipsing through her home as if it were his own. "It's been a few weeks. What, you didn't miss me?" He turns to catch her eye, and she tries but fails to fight her smile.

"I thought you were in London until the 18th."

She follows him into her tiny kitchenette, where he leans against the counter, stretching his long legs out in front of him. His dress shirt is pulled out from his slacks, his tie loose around his collar. "The deal fell through," he says as he rolls up his sleeves. "So I thought I'd come and see you, since you've been off weekends lately." He looks up then, and suddenly he doesn't seem so comfortable. "Is that a problem?"

Veronica shakes her head, chiding herself for taking out her frustrations with work on Logan. She knows now that sometimes the attitude she uses to cope can be even more off-putting than the harshest of words, so it's something she's trying to be aware of. It's too late to help with some colleagues, but she's not going to let it interfere with her relationship with Logan.

"How long do you think you'll stay for?" she asks, removing her scarf and coat.

"I don't know. How long do I have before you're completely annoyed by me?"

She purses her lips thoughtfully. "Hmm, I think you're about fifteen years late on that one."

Maybe she's trying to be flippant, and heaven knows they still take jibes at each other any chance they get, even if their daggers have dulled significantly over the years. But if Logan's perceptive about anything or anyone, it's Veronica, and he can feel frustration emanating from her in waves. "Someone's in a good mood," he says tiredly, and though his words might seem baiting, he's dreading the fight that he's sure is slowly building.

Veronica watches him carefully and then sighs. Years of her disapproval and his antagonism has made him sure that he's always the problem, even when he's just an innocent bystander. "I'm sorry," she mutters, her eyes down. "It's not you."

He studies her for a second, still worried, and then moves behind her to rub her shoulders. "Rough day at work, snookums?"

"Sort of," she admits, her eyes closing as she relaxes into his touch.

"Have they assigned you a new partner yet," he asks casually, his fingertips kneading the knots in her back.

Her eyes open slowly, the topic of work again something she doesn't really want to discuss, ever. And while it might be easier to talk about it over the phone, it's another issue altogether when Logan's right here.

"Uh, there's talk, but nothing definite yet."

He nods even though she can't see him, and his hands drop to his sides. "I wasn't sure when you'd get home, but I ordered for you anyway. Hungry?"

"Always."

He smiles, his eyes crinkling with the effort, and for the first time Veronica realizes how exhausted he looks. "When did you get in?"

"About an hour ago," he says, running his hand over his face. "I've spent most of the last two days on a plane."

"Don't you ever get tired of it?" she asks suddenly. She means his job, maybe even his life. She certainly gets tired of hers.

"I guess," he shrugs. He looks up then, his eyes darting around as he tests the water. "Actually…I've been thinking about getting an apartment in the city. I do a lot of business here anyway, and you're here and-" he stops short when he sees her expression change, hinting of dread at his words. It isn't exactly the reaction he's hoping for.

"You don't want to live in New York," she breathes, moving away from him. "Trust me."

His shoulders sag ever so slightly and Veronica realizes how that probably came across. She's not sure how to make amends, but fortunately she's saved by the bell, or rather the buzzer, and Logan slides past her to answer the door for the food.

"Hey," she says a few minutes later, her smile bright and almost convincing, "I really am glad you're here."

He continues to dig through the bags of takeout. "I should have called."

"I gave you a key for a reason," she tells him, ducking her head to try and meet his eyes. He smiles a little at that, and it's a start. They might have their moments, but Veronica's thankful that Logan's relatively easy to appease these days.

"So what should we do this weekend?" he asks, passing her a container of Pad Thai.

She ignores her food and moves in front of him, running her hands up his chest and resting them on his shoulders. "I can think of a few things," she purrs suggestively, her face flushing ever so slightly as she remembers the steps to their dance and just how much she needs all of this right now.

"Maybe we can take in a show or something," he says, only half teasing.

She stands on her tippy-toes, her hot breath tickling the side of his face. "Or…"

"Ice skating?"

She wraps her arms around his neck and nuzzles her nose against his chin. "I wasn't really planning on leaving the apartment."

Just then she remembers Sturges earlier, warning her to be at the Center bright and early Saturday morning, and she sighs. "Actually, I have a self-defense class they're making me take tomorrow. But that'll only be a few hours."

"Safety first huh?" he grins.

Yeah right, she thinks. More like another thing to keep her out of the office and their hair for most of next week. She knows they're trying to push her out, and she doesn't even care enough any more to fight it. New classes, lecture circuits, out-of-town meetings…anything to keep her away from cases while they figure out what to do with her.

"That doesn't sound like a bad idea, you know?" Logan's voice interrupts her thoughts, and she stares back at him. "Newsflash," he says, grinning. "You're kind of scrawny. You could probably use all the help you can get."

Her mouth twists into a smirk, and she folds her arms across her chest as she steps away from him. "Do you really want to go there?" she challenges.

"I'm just expressing my concern."

"It's nothing I haven't been through before," she tells him, her eyes flashing. "Trust me, I can take care of myself."

He throws his head back, chuckling, and then happily takes the bait. "Most attacks," he says, eyeing her predatorily while he moves in, "happen from behind." God, he can make anything sound dirty.

He walks around her and then pulls her to him, her back flush against his chest. "So I'm a crazed psycho-"

"I believe it."

She can feel his mouth stretch into a smile against her cheek. "And now I've got you. What are you going to do?"

"C'mon, Logan, I don't want to hurt you."

"Not something I'm worried about. Trust me, I can take care of myself." He wraps his left arm around her waist, holding her to him, and then takes both of her wrists in his right hand.

"What, you're not going to use that gun I feel in your pocket?" she teases.

"So what are you going to do now? I don't think most sociopaths are going to want to banter."

"Always worked for you." She tilts her head back, her nose nuzzling against his jaw.

"I really hope you wouldn't talk to an attacker like this," he says before giving her a quick peck on the side of her face. "I'd be so jealous."

"If you were shorter, and considering the situation, I might think about head-butting you from behind," she informs him. "But that's more of a last resort thing." She brings down her foot, stomping his toes, and though she doesn't use nearly the amount of force she would if she were truly in danger, it's enough to stun him, and he loses his grip on her wrists. She twirls out of his arms and then brings up her right hand, her index and middle fingers pointing outward. "And then I'd go for your eyes. When you were bent over from that, I'd knee you in the groin."

"Nice," he says, genuinely impressed, his bright eyes conveying pride.

"I'll let you go, though," she tells him, reaching out for him and wrapping her arms around his neck. "I don't want to hurt anything I might need."

He kisses her softly, his mouth trailing from her lips down to her throat, and so she stretches her neck to accommodate him, moaning when he finds her pulse-point. They've both already forgotten about the Thai food sitting on the table.

She walks him backwards to her bed, pulling at his tie and shirt along the way. He pushes her suit jacket off of her shoulders and then works at the buttons of her blue cotton blouse. When he falls back against the mattress, she climbs on top of him, reaching behind her to unhook her white silk bra. He rushes to sit up, his mouth finding her bare breasts as she throws her head back and runs her hands along his shoulders.

She gets so lonely, so desperate sometimes, and being with Logan like this helps her get through some of the harder days. She doesn't want to need him like that, doesn't want to need anyone like that, but at times like this, when they're together, the idea of needing and wanting someone doesn't seem so bad.

Maybe…maybe he should get an apartment in New York, spend more time in the city. She's not positive about what's going on with her job, not even sure what she wants, but what harm could come from it? It doesn't mean she has to set her watch by him, and there's nothing wrong with needing…companionship.

He flips her over, pulls her trousers and underwear off.

She doesn't really have anyone in this city. She's so different from everyone she works with, so alienated now, and she feels as much an outcast in the office as she did back in high school after Lilly died.

There's nothing wrong with wanting someone.

As his mouth finds her, his tongue at her clit, she threads her fingers through his hair and closes her eyes, going slack against him.

There's nothing wrong with wanting Logan.

It's something they can talk about later, she thinks, desperate for more. She urges him up her body and wraps her legs around his waist. He rests his weight on his forearms as he stares down at her, their eyes locked, and they've now made the silent agreement to go slow.

They watch each other as he moves against her, only breaking that contact when Veronica closes her eyes and arches underneath him. She pants as she recovers, her fingernails digging into Logan's back as she urges him on. He's staring at her again, looking at her like she's all he needs, and then he speeds up, his back bowing. Veronica lifts her head to press her lips against his as he finishes.

"I've really missed you," he admits in a whisper after, and he spoons her from behind, her hand clasped in his and held tightly to her chest.

"Me too."

Later, she wakes up with a start, confused as she waits for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The clock at her nightstand tells her it's almost 6 a.m. and Veronica can't believe how long she's slept.

"Logan?" she asks, wondering why he's no longer next to her in bed. The light from the street lamp outside is filtering through her blinds, illuminating the room enough for her to make out his figure as he hurriedly dresses.

"I have to go," he says, fastening his belt. "Dick called. They picked him up for a DUI and he needs bailed out. There's no one else." He pauses to look at her. "He's a real mess right now."

"You're going back to LA?"

He nods sadly, taking a seat on the edge of the bed so he can tie his shoes. "There's a flight leaving JFK in an hour, and I already called a cab."

She doesn't say anything, and he's surprised by how upset and disappointed she seems. "Do…do you want me to come back?"

She shakes her head and then grabs for the sheet that just fell away from her breast. "You really should take a break from planes."

He forces a smile as he buttons up his shirt. "Right? I'm practically keeping the airline industry in business these days." He sighs, bewildered by her forlorn look. "You're coming back to Neptune in less than two weeks for Christmas. We can see each other then."

She nods, still despondent. "Hey," he says, moving onto the bed and caressing the side of her face. "Remember, I get you for New Year's." He kisses her on the forehead, his fingers running through her hair before he pulls away. "I gotta go. Get some more sleep so you can kick ass at that class."

She closes her eyes when she hears the door shut behind him, and then she falls back against her pillows. His side of the bed is still warm, and she can always smell his cologne even after he leaves, can always feel that ghost of his presence, and it hurts. There's takeout on the counter and he left his watch on the nightstand, and they're little reminders that he was here but now he's not.

Veronica pulls the blankets tight against her to ward off the chill in the room. She's alone again.

-----------

Edwards snaps his phone shut and looks around the station. He's got some backup on the way, and more Feds already heading to Kane's primary residence in LA.

"Sheriff Mars," he calls out, and a harried Keith looks up from behind the computer. "I've got my partner on that. He's going to call me back with the addresses, and we'll get the local offices involved then. But all we can do right now is wait." His eyes scan for Veronica, and he freezes when he comes up short.

He closes his eyes and exhales loudly, sure that she's already gone.

"Agent Mars," her disciplinary reports stated, "has on multiple occasions ignored the directions of her superiors and pursued cases on her own."

"Goddammit, Veronica," he mutters to himself. "Now's not the time."

-----------

"Mac?"

"Where are you?" she asks, panicked and pissed.

Veronica checks her rearview mirror before switching lanes and pulling onto the highway. "Are you at my house?"

She can hear Mac sigh against the phone. "Yes, and you aren't."

"Look, I need you to do me a favor, okay? Go to my closet in the bedroom, and in the very back, on the top shelf, there's a white box. I need you to get it down."

They've been friends for years, and even though Veronica has messed up plenty of relationships, the bond she shares with Mac has endured. When Mac picks up her phone again minutes later and asks, "Now what?" without preamble, Veronica knows why Mac will always be in her life.

It's the Lilly Box, as Veronica thinks of it. She doesn't open it very often, but it's followed her from Neptune to Quantico to Omaha to New York. "There're letters and postcards in there," she says. "Can you find one with a Long Beach return address?"

-----------

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

His summer house was the only place that ever provided him real comfort. Celeste didn't want to be haunted by any memories, so she preferred hotels and rental homes in different locales, and she was often successful in convincing Jake that a change was necessary. But sometimes Jake needed to feel the past. Sometimes it was the only way he could deal with the present.

But nothing was helping now. What could? Jake Kane, not yet 60-years-old, had already outlived both of his children and his only grandchild. Remembering and reminiscing, that was going to do nothing to dull the ache that he would have to live with for the rest of his cursed life. He had so many happy memories from before his world went to hell, but now he had no prospects for ever creating more.

If only he had fought for Duncan, if only he wasn't so damn stubborn, then maybe his son and granddaughter would still be here. But Jake had been so sure that his son was throwing his life away, so positive that Duncan pursuing custody of his daughter would be the end of his future. If only he knew…

It took them years to rebuild a relationship. Meetings were few and far between, but they were the only thing that gave Jake any sense of hope, any will to keep going. Reestablishing a bond with Duncan and watching little Lilly grow had gotten him through the years. Sure, he still had his money, and now Lianne, but he lived for his son.

He was a shell of a man before Weidman put him in touch with Duncan. He became something of a recluse, too unhinged to oversee Kane Software, often too depressed to even leave his house. He spent most days in a drunken haze at his desk, a bottle of his best scotch in his hand and three days worth of stubble on his face.

He had The Castle for awhile, became somewhat obsessed with the secrets and tragedies of others and the power that they held. He even tried to act as a father figure for some of those boys who were as lost as he was.

Jake sighed, his head falling against his arm as he thought of that. God help him, did everything have to end in bloodshed?

His cell buzzed next to him, and he wearily eyed the display. Lianne. His son and granddaughter weren't even cold in the ground yet, but she still insisted on checking up on him, his pleas for privacy falling on deaf ears.

"Yes?" he answered.

She sighed in relief. "How…how are you doing?"

How did she expect him to be doing? It had only been a week since he found out Duncan had died. He needed time.

"I can't do this right now. I'm sorry." And he truly was. This could have been a second chance for them, and they really were happy before he heard the news, but now everything was gone…

"You shouldn't go through this alone, honey."

He stayed on the line but he didn't offer her any words. "I…I heard from Travis again," she said awkwardly. "He said that Keith's starting at Ritchfield this fall. I got some new pictures." She sounded so desperately hopeful. "I emailed them to you. Maybe…maybe I can talk to Veronica and Keith can come and visit us for awhile. You'd like that, right?"

Jake closed his eyes, pained. Did she really expect him to trade one grandchild for another?

"I'm going to go, Lianne. I'll call you later." He disconnected before she could protest.

Keith Echolls could never be anything to him, he thought bitterly, booting up his laptop so he could see the photos. He'd been supportive of Lianne's interest in her grandson, but he wanted left out of it. His resentment toward Veronica was one thing, but that child shared DNA and a name with Logan.

He clicked on the attachment and Keith's picture loaded instantly. Jake stared at him, swallowing back the bile that rose in his throat. The little boy looked so much like his father, and it was hard to not think about little Logan and Duncan, barely six-years-old and happily chasing each other around the swimming pool.

Jake had watched Logan grow up; he had liked him, approved of his relationship with Lilly even as she tried to push every one of Jake's buttons on the matter. Logan was a good kid, a faithful friend to his son and a devoted boyfriend to his daughter. After Lilly's murder, Logan stood by the family when Keith Mars accused him of the worst.

But when Jake found out the truth…

Keith. Echolls. Jesus, this child seemed to represent all of the people who had helped make Jake's life a living hell.

He studied the picture, his mind racing. Veronica and Logan were building a family just as Jake's had completely fallen apart. Keith Mars, now back in uniform and one of Neptune's most respected men, was a doting grandfather, yet Jake had long ago been pushed out of the company he had built and only three days before was forced to pick out the dress in which little Lilly would be buried.

Jake had to really look for Veronica in Keith's features, but he saw her, saw hints of the girl who helped Duncan leave the only life he knew.

He tore his eyes away from the computer screen and tried to force himself to look at anything but Keith's face. The little boy wasn't the problem, and Jake refused to be angry with an innocent child. But he couldn't forget the roles that Logan, Veronica, and Keith Mars had all played in the total destruction of Jake Kane's once magnificent empire.

-----------

After getting the address from Mac and programming it into her navigation system, Veronica turns off her phone again. She had already listened to her voicemails on the ride back from LA, and after that call from Wallace (and even a few frantic messages from a worried Trina), she knows that the only calls she'll be getting now are the ones from her father or Edwards, demanding to know where she's going and what she's thinking.

It's not that she feels like she doesn't need their help; she's not a hardheaded teenager going out on her own anymore (or, she can reluctantly admit now, an equally stubborn FBI agent doing the same). This is about her son, and she won't be foolish about anything when it comes to him. But at the same time she knows how the FBI agents think and work, and they'll want to handle everything while Veronica waits in the background. And Veronica doesn't do anything in the background.

She will be the one to see her son first, and she will be the one to confront Jake Kane. She'll call her dad when she's a little closer to the house, and that way they can be right behind her, but right now, when her gut is telling her that she's only miles away from getting her son back, all she can think about is what she'll do when she sees him again. Before her focus was on getting him back safely, but now she's worried about getting him through this without psychologically scarring him for life. Hell, she and Logan had somehow gotten through four years without doing it and she'll be damned if this marks his childhood.

She's still a little more than an hour away, despite driving at breakneck speeds, and she hopes she can avoid the cops and any high-speed chase, because there's no way she's stopping now.

She sees the sign for one of her exits and her grip on the steering wheel tightens.

Veronica's cell goes straight to voicemail, so Keith dials her home phone and prays that she picks up, that she's there for some reason and not actually crazy enough to be going after her son by herself.

Mac answers after a couple of rings, and she sounds flustered as Keith interrogates her about Veronica. He urges her to tell him what she knows, promises her that it's the best thing for everyone involved if his daughter isn't out there on her own.

A few minutes later, after heavy deliberation on Mac's part, Keith has an address. He hangs up and tells Edwards where Veronica is heading, that she believes Jake has little Keith at his summer home in Long Beach. Edwards's mouth twitches in displeasure, and Keith almost wants to defend her, but he can't.

"We're not even 100% sure it's Jake Kane," the FBI agent shakes his head.

"But it's a start," Keith pleads.

"He has more money and connections than you could ever imagine. If he wanted to disappear with Keith, he could. Just…don't get your hopes up." Edwards leaves then, following the only lead they have, and Keith knows that, in spite of his caution and protests, Edwards will have everyone he can heading to that beach house, too.

With Edwards gone, the station is quiet now; all of Keith's deputies are out searching for anything they can find on Jake Kane or Clarence Weidman, and Jenkins left earlier in a righteous fit.

Keith stares down at the address he scribbled on a notepad and then he tears the sheet of paper away from the ring, clutching it in his hand. He's about to head out to his cruiser when the jail keys glint in the harsh fluorescent lighting, catching his eye, and he stops. Logan is still locked up in the back of the station, probably waiting anxiously for any new news.

Well, it's a start, he thinks, grabbing the keys off of the table and then walking down the long hall to Logan's cell.

---------

"You killed my daughter, and you're gonna pay for it. I'll watch you frying. I'll destroy your family and everyone you ever loved…"

Tuesday, August 6th, 2019

Miranda Kelley hadn't seen or heard from Jake Kane since Gory's funeral over ten years ago. That wasn't surprising; while she was thrilled by the bond her boyfriend shared with the software mogul, and acutely aware of all the opportunities that could mean for them, she wasn't exactly close to the man. Sure she and Gory had dined at his house on occasion, and he did express interest in her pre-med track, but Miranda knew that she was just the girlfriend and Jake's interest lay solely with Gory and whatever it was the two discussed in hushed whispers behind closed doors.

So when Jake called her personally the day before and asked her to meet him for coffee at a tiny café just outside of San Diego, she had room for pause. But Jake Kane was still somewhat of a legend, and she breathlessly accepted the invitation.

He stood to greet her, and Miranda staggered at his gaunt appearance. Though she never knew the Jake Kane who graced the cover of TIME, a dapper and well-kempt man in expensive suits, the Jake she saw now appeared sleep deprived and frantic. His tired eyes were offset by his hollowed cheeks and mostly gray hair, and he could barely manage a smile as he weakly shook her hand.

"How have you been, Miranda?"

"Good," she answered, smoothing the wrinkles of her wool skirt. "And you?"

He looked off to the side and she could see the rise and fall of his Adam's apple as he swallowed. "I…I've had a rough time lately," he admitted, finally meeting her eyes. "We're trying to keep the information extremely private, but…my son, Duncan, and his daughter…they were killed two weeks ago."

Miranda's jaw dropped open in shock and she tentatively reached out to caress Jake's arm. "Oh my God, Mr. Kane, I'm sorry."

He smiled tightly and gently patted her hand. "Thank you."

"Is there anything I can do?" she asked, more out of politeness than anything else. What could she possibly do? Why did he even ask her here?

He shook his head, his thoughts wandering for a minute. "I heard you were the lab supervisor at Neptune General now," he managed eventually. "Congratulations."

She looked down at the linen napkin in her lap and nervously tucked a piece of her blonde hair behind her ear. "Thank you."

"I was sure you were on your way to medical school, though."

"My plans changed after Gory's death," she answered truthfully, and then thought to herself, "Gory's murder."

Jake nodded, his expression still sullen. "Actually, Gory is the reason I asked you here."

Miranda looked up in surprise, her eyes widening, and waited for him to elaborate.

"I know that his murder was never solved, and that some believed that it might have been connected to the Fitzpatricks, but I have reason to believe someone else was involved and I thought you should know."

"Who?" she whispered.

"Do you remember Logan Echolls? He and Gory had a very…antagonistic relationship in college. Gory talked about it with me several times."

Logan Echolls. She hadn't thought about him in years, but yes, she remembered. "You think he did it?"

"I think he arranged it," he admitted. It was something Jake suspected at one point, many years ago, but he was never sure. And by the time Gory was killed, Jake was on the cusp of reestablishing his relationship with Duncan and he couldn't be bothered to seek vengeance. But now, whether his instinct was right or not, he knew that he could use it to his advantage.

"We-we should go to the police! We have to do something!" she said, her face flushed.

"There's no proof, Miranda," he replied sadly. "There's nothing the police can do now."

She looked up at him then with fire in her eyes, her jaw locked in anger. "If he had anything to do with it, then he needs to pay."

Jake studied her for a minute before relaxing back into his seat, confident that he could now count on Miranda Kelley as part of the plan.

-----------

Friday, August 9th, 2019

"Cathy, we're his only hope."

Jake was still well-liked in Neptune and he had history with Ritchfield. Cathy Simpson had started working for the school while Lilly and Duncan were still enrolled, and she remembered their father well. He was a kind man, a true pillar of the community.

She had no reason to not believe anything he said to her.

"I know I'm asking a lot, and I know there are risks for you involved, so I want to pay you. Generously. You'll be able to go wherever you want, and you'll have more money than you could imagine."

Ritchfield paid well, but her husband's medical bills had taken all of their savings, and Isabella's merit scholarship had just fallen through…

"You're really sure? They hurt him?"

"Logan's father had the same problem. You hope that the cycle will break but…"

"I don't know," she said softly, wringing her hands.

"There's no one else to help him," Jake pressed. "Veronica is never there with him, and she won't leave Logan. We can't even go to the police because Keith Mars will cover it up."

Cathy thought about what Jake said earlier, about Veronica's negligence playing a role in her brother's death. For years Cathy tried to not blame anyone but Camille for what transpired, but to find out that Veronica was turning a blind eye to her child's beatings…

"Please?" Jake begged, and his tears and desperation were real, but not for the reasons Cathy thought. "I should have done this for Logan when he was little, but I didn't, and I can't ever forgive myself for that. But it's not too late for Keith."

Cathy covered his hand with her own, offering silent comfort with the gesture, and nodded in agreement.

-----------

Monday, September 2nd, 2019
11 a.m.

Jake and Clarence waited in the backseat of the rented Lexus, Jake's foot tapping nervously against the floor mat. In a few minutes, Brock, one of his employees who, thanks to a newly grown beard, might be able to pass for Logan Echolls from a distance, would be entering the school to pickup Keith.

Clarence eyed his boss wearily. "Everything's going to according to schedule," he announced. "I talked to Miss Kelley earlier and she has Keith's blood sample to run later."

"What if they decide to take the clothes to a crime lab instead of the hospital?" Jake asked anxiously.

"Then we'll hear about it from Carl, and we'll still have a couple of hours before they get the test results back."

"But they won't be able to arrest Logan if they know the blood isn't Keith's," he fretted.

"You'll still have Keith with you," Clarence replied stoically. "To be honest, I think that's enough to destroy them."

Jake shook his head as he thought of everything that could go wrong with the plan. There were so many pieces, and so many people involved, and it could all fall apart at the seams in a number of places.

"Sir, if you have any doubts, we can call this off right now."

He studied Weidman, and though Clarence hardly ever showed his emotions, Jake was sure that he saw a bit of hope and relief in Weidman's eyes. "No," he answered, too much already at stake and the need for revenge far outweighing anything else.

Weidman nodded, and that hope and relief was gone.

Only a few minutes later they heard the crying, and then the car door opened and there was Keith Echolls, his face red and wet with tears. "You're not my daddy!" he screamed, fighting as Brock tried to hand him over to Clarence.

"Shh, shh," Jake told him, reaching out to tousle his hair. The crying and yelling put them right on display, and Jake could only hope there wasn't anyone around and that the little boy's fit wasn't enough to change Cathy's mind. "We're friends of your parents," he said, smiling down at him. "We'll take you to them. Don't cry."

Keith sniffled but stared back at Jake curiously. "Where are they?" he asked loudly, still a hint of a tantrum in his tone.

Brock had already started the engine and they were now pulling away from the school. "They had to go away for awhile, and they asked me to pick you up. We'll see them later." He reached out to slide the school jacket off of Keith's shoulders, telling him that it was too warm out for it and then handing it over to Weidman.

They dropped CW off a few blocks away and then started the drive out of Neptune. At first Jake was eager to leave the country as soon as possible, but Clarence convinced him to stay in California for awhile, assuring him that they would have a significant head start, if they were ever even found.

He distracted Keith further with some coloring books and crayons form his backpack, and then he leaned back in his seat, finally relaxing. This little boy could never fill the void left by his children's deaths, but it was something. And the agony, frustration and humiliation it would cause Logan, Veronica, and Keith Mars? Well, that was everything.

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Logan leans against the passenger side door, his arms folded defensively across his chest and his forehead pressed against the window. He hasn't spoken a word since hearing the update from Keith, and he still can't quite believe that Jake Kane is the one behind it all, that someone could actually hate him enough to do this.

It felt like a betrayal. There was a time when Logan wanted nothing more than Jake's approval, yearned for it almost as much as Lilly and Duncan had, and he had often wished that the man was his own father. Jake loved his children more than anything, and would never even think of raising a hand or belt to them. Celeste might've been a frigid bitch with her own set of problems, but Jake was a picture perfect parent, and Logan never quite understood how Lilly didn't get just how much he loved her, or why Duncan would complain about the high expectations his father held for him.

Logan envied them.

And while he knew that things would never be the same between them after they found out Aaron had killed Lilly, he never could imagine that it would come to this. Logan has made plenty of his own mistakes, but he refuses to be held accountable for the sin's of his father.

The thoughts now racing through his mind scare him. He wants to kill him. He wants to hurt Jake in the worst way imaginable, just as Jake's hurt his family. Despite everything Logan's ever done, he's never felt rage like this before. He's never been foolish enough to doubt what he might be capable of, but for the first time he feels like he might be on the verge of totally losing control over it.

Veronica had called her dad's phone minutes before, and Keith informed her that he was already on his way, Logan in tow. A part of Logan, that logical, sane part of him, is still too stunned to even really comprehend everything that's happened.

Keith keeps looking over at him, opening his mouth to say something but then thinking better of it. He's sure that he's already caused irreparable damage to their relationship, and that the solid truce they had come to over the years is now all shot to hell. He's terrified about it what it could mean for his relationship with Veronica and his grandson, but he's also wracked with guilt. Could there be anything worse than accusing a parent of harming their own child?

He winces at that thought and wonders just how big of a role his previous mistake has played in Jake's motive.

"I'm sorry, Logan," he finally says somewhere along Interstate 5. "For what it's worth now, which I'm sure isn't much, I'm sorry."

He doesn't respond and Keith sighs softly. "Maybe someday you'll understand," he adds.

"I wouldn't hold your breath," Logan returns grimly, his eyes trained straight ahead.

"I know I've made a lot of mistakes," he continues. "Especially with Veronica. And I know she'll probably hate me forever for this. But you have to know I only ever wanted to do right by her."

"And you think throwing my ass in jail was doing right by her?" he asks, finally looking over at Keith.

"I know you don't believe me, but it was right at the moment. It was right for Keith and the investigation. If I had treated you any differently, Jenkins would have made sure I was out of office; he'd try to make everything about me, and that'd take away from what mattered. And…and I wouldn't be able to do anything to help with the search." He glances over at Logan. "I know it doesn't seem like much of an excuse, but it's the truth."

Again, Logan's quiet. Keith wonders if this is something they'll ever get past, if it's something Veronica will ever be able to get past. Their relationship had grown so much stronger over the years, and they were no longer playing that game where they ignored all of their problems because they were too scared of losing each other if they tried to address them. Will they go back to that? At this point, does Keith even care if they do, or will he simply take what he can get, like he had for years?

"It's going to take some time," Logan finally says. It's something.

They're closer to Long Beach now. Veronica might even be there already.

"You're a good father, Logan," Keith tells him, and he really means it.

Logan slouches back down in his seat, his arms still crossed as he continues to stare out the window. He counts down each mile marker as they pass them, and he wishes with everything he has that they're on their way to his son.

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Veronica stares at the beach house, and even though she's so close she can taste it, even though this is all she's thought about for the last two hours, she feels stuck in the sand, like she's physically incapable of taking another step forward.

What if she's wrong? She's been wrong plenty of times before, but there's much more on the line now than her pride. A part of her doesn't know what to do if Keith isn't there, and that piece is much more overwhelming than the part that doesn't know what she'll do if he is.

Is it really going to be as simple as walking up to the main entrance and demanding her son from whoever opens the door? She tries to compose herself as the waves crash and the ocean mist sprays her from behind.

She takes a deep breath and one step at a time.

The lights are on inside, and right now she'll take what she can get, savor every second that she has hope. The French doors off of the living room allow her to see inside, but nobody's there. Still, she pounds on the glass, waiting, wishing.

As Weidman approaches, all of the anger that Veronica needs to function returns to her instantly. She doesn't know if she'll scream or she'll hit, but when he unlocks the door and greets her with, "It's about time you got here," Veronica can only stand there speechless.

"Where…where is he?" she manages, and she hates how weak she sounds.

"In the study, with Mr. Kane."

A part of her wants to push past Weidman and run to her son, but she has to stay cautious, if only for Keith. "He won't hurt you," CW says, sensing her hesitation. "He's not capable of hurting anyone right now."

"Really?" she asks angrily. "Because I think he's doing a hell of a job."

He doesn't reply, and Veronica slides past him to enter the house. She freezes when she feels him behind her, and she readies herself for anything just as she wonders if she walked right into a trap. But then he's next to her, walking alongside her, leading her someplace.

"Don't you ever think for yourself?" she can't help but ask, shaking her head in disgust. "Don't you ever get tired of doing exactly what he asks of you?"

"If I were you," he says after a moment, "I would be grateful that my son is so close."

"Yeah, I guess I really owe you one," she scoffs. They stop in front of a door at the end of the hallway, and Veronica inhales sharply, wonders if it's really going to be this easy. "You're not going to get away with this, you know," she says. "The cops, the Feds…they're on their way. I even have a witness who can place you in my back yard the day before Keith disappeared," she adds, thinking of Wallace's voicemail.

He looks at her for a moment, his black eyes resigned, and then he opens the door. "Mr. Kane," he announces. "It's time for Keith to go home."

Her mouth falls open when she spots her little boy sitting on Jake's desk. He's dressed in new pajamas and clutching a toy car in his hand, which he's showing to Jake. She makes some choked sound in the back of her throat, and Keith looks up as Jake stares straight ahead at her, jaw-slacked.

"Mommy!" he yells happily, grinning as he hurries off the desk and runs to her. She falls to her knees, her arms stretched out to him, and he tackles her with such force she nearly falls back. It takes everything she has to not burst into tears of joy and relief as she holds him to her.

"I missed you so much," she whimpers against his hair, gently rocking him back and forth, and Jake rises from his chair just as Weidman turns and leaves the room.

She stands, lifting Keith into her arms. He buries his face against her neck and she runs a soothing hand up and down his back, but her eyes remain locked with Jake's.

"What do you think you can do to me?" he laughs, tears glistening in his eyes. "What could you possibly do to hurt me more than I hurt now?"

Her throat constricts painfully as she wraps her arms tighter around Keith. She can hear the sirens, the loud patter of footsteps as they move into the house.

"I'm not going to do anything to you," she tells him as they filter into the room, their guns out. "I'm going home."

She turns away, her hand on the back of Keith's head, holding him against her so he can't look up to see Jake's arrest. She walks out of the room, out of the house. More cops and agents rush past her but she never looks back.

The red and blue lights flash brightly behind the beach house, and Veronica trudges through the sand, Keith's arms still wrapped tightly around her neck. Edwards is waiting for her near her car, and he exhales in relief when he spots her approaching him. "Nice work, Veronica," he tells her, reaching out to pat Keith on the back. "But if you were still with the Bureau, this would probably get you fired."

She laughs softly, her tears running freely down her face. "Then it's a good thing I'm no longer a Fed, huh?"

As Jake and Clarence are walked to squad cars in handcuffs, Keith and Logan pull up in the cruiser. Logan spots Veronica immediately and runs to her, but at the sight of Jake Kane, he slows, his eyes narrowing in anger.

But he never stops, and soon he has Veronica and their son engulfed in a hug. They all hold each other, little Keith moving from his mother's arms to his father's.

Keith Mars stays back, watching the reunion from a safe distance. But when he spots Jake, he takes off running. "You son of a bitch!" he growls as he closes in, his fist up. He knows he'll only get one punch in before he's pulled off of him, so he makes it count, and Jake stumbles back against the cop car, blood dripping from his now broken nose.

"Jesus, Keith," Edwards says, yanking him back. "What do you think Jenkins is going to say about this?"

Keith shakes his hand, his knuckles throbbing now. "I don't give a damn what he says," he answers, moving back to his car, his shoulders a little straighter. "I'm retiring."

Chaos surrounds them on the beach, but Veronica and Logan are oblivious, their focus solely on each other and the little boy sandwiched between them. Logan leans down to kiss her, his eyes meeting hers before their lips meet, and the adoration she finds there is nearly enough to take her breath away.

Sirens blare and lights flash, but they don't even notice…

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Later that night, at home and in their bed, they both watch the rise and fall of Keith's chest as he sleeps.

"Do you think he's okay?" she asks, propping herself up on her elbow. Logan's resting with his hands behind his head, and he sits up, shifting against the headboard.

"Yeah," he says, grinning. "He's fine."

She returns his smile, the relief of it all settling in now. But then her face falls, and Logan watches her with concern.

"I'm sorry," she whispers, confusing him.

"What the hell do you possibly have to be sorry about?" he asks. He looks down at Keith nestled between them. "You did exactly what you said you would. You got him back."

"I'm sorry for what you had to go through," she clarifies.

"What we had to go through. The only thing I'm sorry about is that you had to go through it alone."

She thinks about Mac, Wallace and Weevil, about the group of people, some she never even met, who spent hours searching on her behalf. "You know," she says thoughtfully, "I really wasn't alone."

He reaches out to her, his fingers grazing her cheek. "My dad, though," she starts to say, but he shakes his head to cut her off.

"We worked it out already," he tells her. "I just want to put it behind us now."

She licks her lips, suddenly exhausted as the culmination of the last two days hits her. "Do you really think we can do that?"

He smiles softly as slides under the covers and then rolls over on his side to face her. "Well, we did it before. So why not?"

"God, we've been through almost everything, haven't we?" she asks, quietly laughing. "Do you think we'll get a break now?"

"Doubtful," he teases. "But that's okay, because whatever happens, you'll fix it."

"No pressure, right?" she smirks.

"Eh, I'll be beside you. You'll keep saving the world, and I'll be standing next to you looking good while you do it."

She closes her eyes, ready to finally fall asleep. "So that's the plan, huh?"

Logan watches her quietly as she drifts off. "Yeah," he whispers. "That's the plan."

-The End…Finally