Disclaimer: The characters were created by Rob Thomas and remain the property of Thomas, the CW, and Warner Bros. Television. No infringement is intended, no profit is made.
Author's Note: This fic was originally written for challenge 3 (Thanksgiving) of Round 3 of vmfic_gameon . That didn't work out so well, so now it's written for challenge 4 of Round 4 of vmfic_gameon (word table). All the words are in the fic. I would like to thank the awesome annie_oakley and the lovely love_is_epic for beta-reading.
Charlie Stone had always had a complicated relationship with his father, mainly because he'd never met him. He knew that his father was Aaron Echolls, the great movie star who had met and fallen in love with his mother for a short time. Though had to leave to do great things and make great movies, he had always made sure that his son would have everything he'd need.
Charlie followed the stories about Aaron's other family in the news and strived to become as good as them. He studied the tabloids and tried to figure out how he, too, could earn the privilege of living with his father. His greatest wish was that, someday, he would do great things, like go to the moon, become a great baseball player or design a flying car. Then his father would proudly come out and say, "This is my son." He worked hard at school, did his best in Little League and imagined Aaron, from far away, poring over his school reports to see that his little boy was doing well. His reward for his toil would be recognition, and he dreamt every night of the moment his father would come out of the shadows to tell Charlie how proud he was.
It was only much later, when he saw his half-sister Trina's much publicized acting debut, that he realised how much he had idealised his father's other children. It wasn't just disappointment Charlie felt while watching her butcher her lines, it was shame and embarrassment. And there was a definite feeling of injustice mixed in there. How could his father prefer Trina to Charlie, who was serious at school and made good grades and was studying hard for his SATs? How could he answer interviews claiming how proud he was of her for following in his footsteps? But for that, too, there was an explanation - Trina wasn't his father's real daughter, she'd been adopted. His father had taken her in because he felt pity for the orphaned girl, and Charlie should be understanding and charitable. So he turned a blind eye to the reports of wild partying in the tabloids and studied twice as hard to cheer up his father.
But Logan was the real deal, and Charlie always thought, morosely, that he could never come close to Lynn Echolls's son. The adorable child, who at the age of five had melted America's heart in the documentary An Echolls Family Christmas, always had a charming and unaffected answer to whatever question the media had for him. Logan accompanied his parents on the red carpet. He made his father chuckle and his mother - Aaron's wife - beam with delight. When he turned into a teenager, he didn't join his parents anymore, but Charlie saw pictures of him in a tabloid once, kissing a beautiful girl who was said, in the caption, to be a software billionaire's daughter. He was so perfect that Charlie couldn't help feeling dejected when he thought of him. The small apartment he shared with his mother and the silence they sometimes had could never compare to the glamour of Lynn Echolls and her brilliant, witty, successful son.
That was all over when Logan's girlfriend got herself murdered. Charlie was shocked to find that his first thought was - how could Logan have let that happen? Didn't he know that his father needed to show the world that his family, and especially his son, were worthy of the adoration of the public? That he couldn't afford even the hint of a scandal? Charlie would never choose his girlfriends so carelessly.
Charlie was scared by his own reaction. He managed to bury that nasty impulse, but over the next few weeks, as the media storm raged around Logan, he couldn't help thinking of all the things Logan probably did - skip class, take drugs, forget to brush his teeth - that Charlie would never do. He wanted to ask his father who he now thought was his favourite son.
But the storm passed, and for a long time there was nothing on TV or in the magazines except Aaron's new roles, Trina's partying and Logan's descent into squalid behaviour, which Charlie couldn't contemplate without a little smugness. But then the sharks that had gravitated for so long around the Echolls family, and who had never been able to indulge their jealousy and spite, had enough and decided that Aaron, his wife and his children were fair game.
As the scandals kept piling on Aaron, Charlie watched with mounting horror: the stalking and the stabbing, the allegations of adultery (which he and his mother regarded as contemptible calumny), Lynn Echolls's suicide, and finally Aaron's arrest for the murder of Lilly Kane (something else Charlie couldn't believe his father capable of) and Logan's arrest for killing someone in a gang fight. By that time Charlie had long given up the dream of being accepted by his father, but he still wanted to offer him his support, to show him that no matter how badly Logan had betrayed him, Charlie was still on his side.
"Absolutely not," said Avi Kaufman, his father's accountant, when Charlie called him. "Aaron's illegitimate child coming forward? That's the worst thing that could happen right now! Do you really think your father needs any more scandal?"
He protested, but to no avail.
"Listen, Charlie," said Avi to placate him, "I'll give him the message - he appreciates the support. But you need to understand that you have to stay out of the public eye. Whatever you need, we can arrange it. But you have to stay put."
Charlie was taken aback by Avi's reaction - he'd just wanted to help, to offer some comfort, not hog the spotlight. He was very unhappy to have been misunderstood so badly. But he felt sure that this was the reaction of a man paid to protect his father from those who would harm him. It wasn't Avi's fault if he was a little paranoid. It wasn't Aaron's own reaction, and in the end Charlie readily forgave them both, berating himself for clamouring for attention when Aaron had so many problems to face.
He followed the trial with bated breath. He and Joanne spent their anniversary cheering Aaron's acquittal, and his mother called, in tears, to tell him, once more, that his father was innocent and that he shouldn't believe the jealous people who bad-mouthed him. It was with shock that he turned on the TV, not a week later, to learn that his father had been shot dead in a Neptune hotel room.
Unsure how to mourn this man who had shaped his life without ever being in it, he called Avi again, who was quick to reassure him that he would keep his monthly allowance from the Echolls estate. He asked if he could come to the funeral, and Avi didn't really have any objection, as long as Charlie didn't talk to the press, or to anyone in the Echolls family. Charlie didn't know why it was so essential that Trina and Logan remain in the dark about him, but he agreed to the condition.
So he went and watched the circus unfold, with Trina sobbing in her handkerchief and Logan standing next to her, in a dark suit and sunglasses, his face a mask of anger and contempt. The famously spoilt, obnoxious and heartless teenager walked away as soon as the ceremony was over and passed only a few feet away from Charlie, and his half-brother watched as he shoved the reporters out of his way. He didn't say a word to commemorate his father and he didn't even stay after the coffin was lowered to the ground. For a moment, Charlie felt sure that Logan was responsible for his father's murder - it didn't matter that the Neptune sheriff's department had issued a statement that he had an alibi. By his betrayal, Logan had done nothing less than orchestrate Aaron Echolls's destruction.
It still came as a slap in the face, though, a few months later, when Logan went on Larry King to out and insult Charlie, and to besmirch his father's memory with accusations of child abuse. So destroying the man's life and legacy wasn't enough, he had to drag Charlie into it, too? Furious and gutted that his half-brother was so possessive of his father that he couldn't even handle his existence, Charlie vowed that he would never have anything to do with Logan Echolls ever again. Any residual curiosity he might have still had to know his half-brother was gone, and he deleted the maudlin messages Logan left on his cell phone the next day, nastily thinking to himself that whatever mental issues Logan had - schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder or whatever made him act that way - weren't Charlie's fault.
But that was two years ago, and now he really regretted it, because it would have saved him a lot of time and effort. Now, without Logan's phone number or any other way to contact him, he was reduced to stopping by random students on the campus of Hearst college in order to ask if any of them knew Logan Echolls.
He heard a few confused "Sorry, dunno who you're talking about" replies, but most people seemed to know who Logan was. "He goes to Hearst, right?" was the most common reaction he got. Apparently, even if he had been less and less present in the media, Logan Echolls was still a minor celebrity at Hearst College. Once in a while he found someone who'd been in contact with him, but the reports he got were confusing.
"My friend saw him once and asked him for an autograph, and the guy was a total dick to him," one guy reported.
"Yeah, I met him at a party once, he's cool," said another.
"I see him, like, every once in a while, like, at the Food Court, and he is so hot," a girl gushed. "He really likes pizza. He has it, like, every time I see him. It's almost freaky. You wanna see his picture? I got it on my cell phone."
It was only after walking around like that for several hours under the warm October sun that he finally struck gold. A girl in front of him dropped a pile of books on the ground and he helped her pick them up, taking the opportunity to ask her about Logan.
"Logan Echolls?" she repeated. "Sure I know him. He's in my poli sci class. You should talk to the blond guy over there, that's his roommate."
Charlie walked over to the man she'd pointed out, a surfer type who was probably on the Hearst seven-year track, and stated his business.
"Lemme give him a call," the guy said.
He took out his cell phone and dialled a number.
"Dude, it's me. Listen, there's this guy who wants to talk to you... He says he's your half-brother, or something... Charlie Stone... Dude, I dunno, dark hair, brown eyes... Dude, how should I know?... Look, why don't you just drag your ass over here and look at him yourself?"
The roommate gave an exaggerated eye roll at Logan's last answer and hung up. "He said he's coming over with his girlfriend. In the meantime, you get to hang out with Dick. Wanna beer?"
"No thank you." Charlie was starting to question the wisdom of his actions.
"Well, I'm getting one. Stay put!"
As he walked away to go quench his thirst, Charlie was suddenly seized with the urge to bolt. If this was what Logan's roommate was like, then what kind of person was Logan himself? And how could he ever persuade a lazy, selfish idiot who only cared about where his next beer came from to do what Charlie needed him to do? It seemed to Charlie that his venture was futile, yet he didn't have a choice ; he couldn't leave without even trying.
So he did as Dick had told him, sat down on a bench and waited despondently for his half-brother. Dick soon came back with his beer, sat down next to him and started chatting, under the mistaken impression that Charlie was interested in the girls walking by and how he rated them. He made comments in a loud and clear voice and with such a sense of entitlement that Charlie, although he was certainly seven years older, didn't dare tell him off for it.
"Oh and by the way," Dick said out of nowhere. "Logan's girlfriend? Total bitch. You wanna watch out for her. She's got Logan by the balls, if you know what I mean."
Fortunately, Logan arrived shortly afterwards, relieving Charlie from at least this kind of torture. He was preceded by a short, blonde girl who held out her hand to him.
"Hi Charlie," she greeted him. "I'm Veronica."
"That's her," said Dick in a stage whisper. "Remember what I said."
Veronica's smile froze. "I don't even know what that's about, and yet it makes me want to buy you a subscription to Bitch magazine," she told Dick.
"Bitch magazine? Meeyow!"
"You think it has naked pictures, don't you?" Veronica deadpanned.
"Excuse my friend," said Logan, positioning himself behind his girlfriend, his arms around her waist. "He thinks there are naked pictures in the Wall Street Journal."
"There are naked pictures in the Wall Street Journal?" asked Dick. "Score!" And with that, he walked off, presumably to get a copy of the financial newspaper.
"You know you just gave him a brain aneurysm?" Veronica asked Logan, lifting up her head so she could see him.
Logan just shrugged in response. "I'm Logan, by the way," he told Charlie, hesitatingly lifting his hand in salute.
Charlie nodded in acknowledgement. Regardless of what he was here to do, he wasn't sure he wanted to shake the other man's hand.
"Why are you roommates with him?" he asked, pointing to the direction Dick had taken.
"Because he's my friend," Logan said, looking down at Veronica's shoulder. "He's got... issues, and he needs all the friends he can get."
Charlie nodded again, observing Logan's face. He seemed friendly and a little bit shy now, his expression a far cry from the harsh features Charlie had seen during their father's funeral. Charlie had had time enough to calm down by now, and a couple more years in front of a classroom had taught him that teenagers could react in extreme ways to bullying, divorce, abuse or death. And Logan had barely been eighteen when his father died. Maybe, just maybe, he wouldn't turn out to be a complete psychopath.
"Anyway," said Logan, "Veronica and I were just going to pick up some take out and go over to my place for dinner. Want to join us?"
* * *
They drove over to Logan's apartment after stopping for Thai, which they ate on Logan's ample balcony. The conversation stayed mainly between Charlie and Logan, Veronica remaining in the background in order to allow the two half-brothers to get to know each other. Logan was telling Charlie all about his life in college: the classes he took, the grades he got, the major he was about to declare... As Logan told him all about his law school ambitions, rattling off the ones that would allow him to stay close to Veronica and what their GPA requirements were, Charlie realised with horror that Logan was looking for his approval.
It wasn't that Charlie's students never looked up to him or valued his opinion. But they were students, which meant that his influence on them only lasted for a year before they moved on. Here the person seeking his good opinion was, whether he liked it or not, his half-brother. He was panicking at the idea that their relationship had the potential to be life-long, and that, in a way, Logan's instant trust in him put him in a place of responsibility he wasn't sure he wanted. He'd never thought about how he should act around a younger sibling.
After dinner, Veronica said she had to go home to write an essay and offered Charlie a ride to campus, where his car was still parked. Logan looked a little disappointed to see them leave and told Charlie they'd have to chat again. They exchanged phone numbers and e-mail addresses, and then Logan turned to say goodbye to Veronica.
Charlie pretended to inspect a painting while Logan made affectionate noises and tried to sweet-talk his girlfriend into coming back later. Charlie thought about all the things that he had heard about Logan in the past, and that none of them had prepared him for this. It was hard to reconcile the guy who had knifed someone and who had accused his father of so many awful things with the slightly insecure college student who wanted his brother to like him and who was clearly nuts about his girlfriend. It was weird, and Charlie wasn't sure what to think about it, let alone what to feel.
Veronica negotiated it down to a long phone call when she was done with her essay.
"I'll get a couple of hookers and some blow while I'm waiting for you," Logan answered, as Charlie gawked incredulously.
"Don't say that!" Veronica chided him. "Now your brother is going to think I wouldn't cut you in pieces and throw your remains in the ocean if you did that!"
Charlie smiled nervously, hoping very much they were both joking.
During the drive back to campus, Charlie struggled to find something to say to Veronica. Although she didn't seem bothered by the lack of small-talk, he was, and he was grappling with the various subjects suitable for conversation with near-strangers.
"That's a nice apartment Logan has," he settled on. "How does Dick keep up with the rent? He doesn't look like the kind to get a job."
Veronica gave a short laugh. "Do you remember that real estate fraud scandal from a few years back?"
"That was Dick's dad. Don't worry about Dick. He's got a trust fund."
"Oh." Charlie let it sink in for a second. "So, you have a trust fund too?"
Again, Veronica seemed to think his question was very funny. "Nope," she said. "I'm a scholarship kid. I have a job at the library and I work as a private investigator on the side."
Now it was Charlie's turn to want to chuckle. The idea of Veronica - with her long blonde locks and her indie rock chick style - poring over clues with a trench coat and magnifying glass was almost too funny to contemplate. The note of pride in her voice suggested she probably thought of herself as a detective, but that she was probably just as clumsy about it as Inspector Clouseau. A twenty-year-old co-ed solving crime? That didn't happen.
Yet Charlie had also noticed that Dick's assessment of her hadn't been entirely off - for better or worse, Veronica had clearly established herself as a gateway to Logan, and unless he had her approval, Charlie suspected he wouldn't get anywhere with her boyfriend. He had to humour her.
"Really?" he said. "Maybe you could help me find out who's skimming off the cash box for the Renaissance club, then."
"No problem. Where do you keep it?"
She started rattling off a number of questions to him in a competent voice that took him by surprise. Maybe he'd underestimated her.
"I'll come by your school tomorrow afternoon to install a camera. In the meantime, don't tell anybody. You don't want to tip off the thief."
"Okay," he said, amazed at the simplicity and efficiency of the plan.
"This should be straightforward case," she told him, "and since you're Logan's brother, this one's one the house."
"Thanks, Veronica, I appreciate it."
There was another lull in the conversation as they drove over the Coronado Bridge.
"So how did you and Logan meet?" Charlie asked. "Did you have a class together, or did Logan ask you to find something and you fell in love with your client?"
Veronica gave him a funny sideways glance. "I've known Logan since I was twelve," she said. "I was Lilly Kane's best friend."
Suddenly, the cogwheels in Charlie's brain fit together and he realised who she was - Veronica Mars, the slutty girl who had propositioned his father and then lied about the so-called sex tapes. But the idea of Veronica as a manipulative femme fatale jarred with what he'd seen of her just as badly as the image of Logan as a murderer clashed with that of Logan seeming like an awed little brother.
"Do you believe it, what he says about Lilly Kane and the abuse?" It was out before he'd thought about it, and Charlie cringed at the can of worms he'd just opened. This wasn't going to help his case.
"Listen, about that... It's really not something Logan likes to talk about. When we were in school, it was something he kept very well hidden. I didn't know about it for years, and I only found out by accident. Logan only decided to come forward about it after that reporter impersonated you. He figured he didn't want to hand the guy a scoop. If it was going to become public knowledge anyway, he'd rather it were on his own terms."
"And Lilly Kane?" Charlie pushed. "Do you really think my father killed her?"
"I know beyond a doubt that Aaron Echolls killed Lilly Kane."
She spat it out with such venom, with her jaw set and her hands gripping the steering wheel, that Charlie was suddenly a little scared.
"Sorry," he said. "I didn't mean to..."
She lost her anger almost as soon as it had flared up. "No, it's okay. It's just... I... Aaron Echolls..."
She left the rest unspoken, floating between them as the tension slowly fell.
"I just have trouble accepting him as a villain, that's all," said Charlie.
"How's that so hard to accept?" Veronica bit back. "He abandoned you, didn't he?"
Charlie froze, startled. Never, in his entire life, had he looked at it that way. They drove the rest of the way in silence, as Charlie, pretending to be engrossed by the sunset, still contemplated the idea of parental abandonment and how it could possibly apply to him. He'd never seen himself as one of those children who got endlessly moralised over and who were doomed to failure because their deadbeat dads couldn't be bothered with them. No, Charlie's father was a movie star. He'd simply been too busy to look after his son.
They pulled into the lot where Charlie's car was parked .
"So, tomorrow afternoon, is that okay with you?" Veronica asked cheerfully, as if the subject of Lilly Kane had never come up.
Charlie was relieved he hadn't completely blown it with her. "Sure, it's perfect."
"Remember, " she called to him as he was getting into his car. "Don't tell anyone - even the other teachers!"
He was about to protest, but she drove off with a wave of her hand.