~~Sixteen Months Earlier~~
"Hey, this joint is classy. Check out that wine list- $36 a bottle." His low whistle was barely audible in the crowded restaurant, but he lowered his menu to sneak a glimpse of her reaction. Nothing. The grin fell away from his face, but he was ready to try again. "What do you say we splurge tonight? Maybe I'll even let you have a glass."
She was still sullen as she perused the entrées. "I've been legal for over two years," she sighed, and it lacked the teasing spark that usually accompanied their banter. Now Keith was starting to get concerned. It was bad enough when she ignored the dessert cart on the way to their table, but to not put up any fight at all when he tried to play the dad card? And on the eve of her big day?
"What's wrong, Veronica?"
She lowered the menu and shook her head, doing her best to force a smile. "Nothing. I'm just tired."
"Veronica," he repeated warningly.
She pursed her lips thoughtfully, her eyes meeting his for the first time since they were seated. "Can I…talk to you about something?"
"That's why I'm here," he said, relaxing a little and picking up his menu again.
"It's about Logan."
He repressed a groan, deciding instead to play the part of an attentive and loving father who wasn't going to ridicule his daughter's choice in men, no matter how tempting it might be.
So what was it this time? Were they back together again? Were they breaking up again? Keith had stopped trying to keep track a while ago. Dammit, he knew this was coming the minute Veronica told him that Logan had an internship in D.C.
"What about Logan?"
"I don't know what to do anymore! He got accepted into three really great graduate programs already and then today he tells me that he's not going."
"That's really his decision, honey. You can't control his life." There it was, his sage fatherly advice. They could move on now, maybe discuss what to order as an appetizer.
But the look on Veronica's face stopped him cold. He hated to see her looking so sad, especially the night before her graduation. He'd be damned if he was going to let Logan ruin that moment for her.
"He was doing so well, you know? I really thought he found something to make him happy."
Keith sighed, not appreciating the part of him that could empathize with Logan. "It's not easy, Veronica. Seeing those kinds of things, being helpless to really do anything about it most of the time…it's not for everyone."
"But it's better than doing nothing!"
He shook his head, memories from his years as a cop all coming back to him. A pang of regret hit him suddenly when he realized that Veronica was setting herself up for a life just like that. Sure, she would have more authority than Keith ever did, but she would be exposed to the worst sides of people, much worse than anything in Neptune, and she'd have to play by the rules this time or risk losing it all. And those rules weren't always so easy to follow, especially for someone as headstrong as his daughter.
"He's young. Not everyone knows what they want to do with the rest of their lives when they're 23."
Veronica slumped down in her seat, clearly annoyed, and Keith could tell that he wasn't saying what she wanted to hear.
"What do you want him to do? Work at a job where he's miserable for the rest of his life?"
"No," she pouted. "But he could at least go to school. Anything's better than bumming around at the beach all day."
Keith studied her with a raised brow. She certainly seemed invested in Logan's future, and he wondered if that was because she pictured herself as being a large part of it. He thought about those graduate programs Logan was accepted to already. Veronica hadn't been assigned to a city yet, but Keith was willing to bet that Logan had applied to enough schools to cover his bases.
"We got into a fight about it," she admitted with a slight shrug. "I told him not to come tomorrow, and he said he was going to fly back to Neptune then."
She wanted him there, Keith realized. Probably as much as he wanted to be there. "Why don't you call him? Tell him you can talk about everything else later, but that he should be at the ceremony."
"Do you want me to call him?" He smiled at the look of horror on Veronica's face at the mere suggestion. Part of him wanted to make a joke about how he had better learn how to deal with Logan now because it didn't seem like the kid would be gone for long, but that would probably upset Veronica in at least three different ways. Besides, her foot was within kicking distance of his shin.
"How about the fried ravioli?" she suggested, retreating first.
Keith nodded and glanced up to look at his little girl, who was by no means a little girl anymore. "You know I'll always be there, though, right?" he asked her seriously. She might not be able to depend on any other man in her life, but she needed to know she would always have her father.
"I know," she said, and she smiled genuinely for the first time that night.
"You're looking bright-eyed and bushy-tailed this morning," Cliff said, taking in her exhausted appearance. "Weren't you wearing that yesterday?"
Veronica glowered at his amusement. "Don't."
"Hey, I'm a lawyer, not a judge." He turned away from her, heading toward the conference room, and she followed alongside him. "Speaking of judges, we're not meeting with one today. This is a one-on-one with the prosecuting attorney, so you can explore your options. I recommend that exploring."
"How'd you manage that?" she asked, taking a seat in the office chair next to his.
"I took him out last night. I wined him, dined him, and regaled him with some of my stories. After all that, he was very receptive."
"Ah," she nodded. "So did you also buy him a lap dance while you were at The Body Shop?"
"Skin's, kid. You're in a lot of trouble."
They both shut up as Greg Burgess, the other attorney, entered the room. He acknowledged Veronica with a curt nod and then smiled brightly at Cliff before taking his seat.
"So shall we play Let's Make a Deal?" he asked, grinning.
Veronica looked over at Cliff, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. He threw a look of warning her way so she settled in and smiled politely, much to her chagrin.
"It's a good one, Veronica. All we want is a guilty plea and your resignation, and we can make all of this go away."
"Probation?" she questioned, and he nodded.
"For how long?"
"A year, which is nothing when you consider the circumstances, and fines, but not anything too excessive."
She looked over at Cliff, who was jotting something down on a yellow legal pad. "Could I go back to PI work?" she asked.
The prosecutor shook his head. "Your license would be revoked, along with your resignation. But I think that's pretty reasonable."
"So what am I supposed to do with the rest of my life, then?"
He smiled, flipping through a stack of papers in front of him. "Enjoy it. And just be thankful you're not in prison."
"So the most serious charges would be dropped, and the personal use charges are misdemeanors?" Cliff asked as he looked over his notes.
"Right, but she wouldn't receive any jail time, and the fines would be, at the most, $5,000 for each count."
"And how many counts are we talking about here?"
Burgess laughed heartily before adjusting his glasses on the bridge of his nose. "Who even knows? Veronica's electronic fingerprint is all over the place. Now let's see…" He flipped through a couple of papers in front of him. "Just last week she was trying to access her supervisor's computer for information on some colleagues. That's a big no-no. And a few days before that she used her computer to try and track down credit card and bank information on one…Logan Echolls." Cliff looked over to Veronica but she kept her head down even as she felt the heat from embarrassment spread across her face. But Burgess just kept reading over the evidence. "And right before that she was reading through files from a 2007 drug bust in Neptune, and then-"
"I think we've got it, Greg. The answer is…a lot." Cliff shook his head in disapproval while he looked Veronica over. She slid lower in her seat, shamed.
"Well we'll just say three and call it a day," he grinned.
"But the conspiracy allegation?" Cliff pressed.
"They don't have anything on that," Veronica said, speaking up. "Carter's dead, on their dime. They're not going to drag his name in the mud."
"What's it about?" Cliff asked, looking back and forth between the other attorney and his mischievous client.
"Not important," she bit, staring straight at Burgess. He sighed, looking down once more at the papers in front of him. "I think it's something we'd all like to move on from," he said.
"Fine," Cliff replied. "I'm just the defendant's attorney, what do I need to know? Veronica?" He turned in his seat to face her. "Do you want to take this deal or do you want a trial?"
She sighed softly. She did it, all of those things they said and other things they probably didn't even know about. There was no way she would be able to get off completely. "I'll take the plea bargain."
Cliff exhaled in relief as Burgess stood, offering his hand. They all shook on it and made arrangements to meet with the judge the following week. "See," Burgess asked, holding the door open for them on his way out, "this didn't have to get too messy."
"Speaking of messy," Veronica told him as they walked down the long hallway to exit the building, "I want you to thank everyone for trashing my apartment. I know you don't have to be neat with a warrant, but that was ridiculous."
"What are you talking about?" he asked with a furrowed brow. "We got everything we needed from your office. We didn't even bother with a warrant."
Logan needed to get in and out of her apartment as quickly as possible. He didn't know how long the meeting would be, but he wanted to make sure he was back at the hotel by the time she arrived.
He slung the carry-on bag over his shoulder and locked the door behind him. He was slipping the keys into the pocket of his jeans when he heard someone loudly clearing their throat in a bid to grab his attention. "You a friend of Veronica's?" someone asked. Logan turned around to find an elderly woman standing at the other end of the hall.
"You could say that."
"Can you tell her that her other friend never returned the key. I need it back soon; it was my only copy."
"What other friend?" he asked, moving toward her.
"Oh...I didn't get his name. But he came by yesterday and said that he needed to pick up some things for Veronica while she was out." The woman stage-whispered that last word, obviously referring to Veronica's legal troubles. "He said he forgot her key, so I thought it was okay.
"He had a badge, too," she added at the look of concern on Logan's face.
"Describe him," he said, a bit terse.
"He was about your age, but a little shorter. Dark blond hair and-"
Logan spun around and away, effectively cutting her off, but he was intent on getting back to Veronica as fast as he could.
"Hey," she called out after him, her voice no longer meek. "I want that key back! You let her know!"
"Where are you?" His voice was a crackle over the phone line.
"Logan?" she asked, cradling her cell in the crook of her neck as she struggled to open her wallet to pay the cab driver.
"Where. Are. You?"
"Right outside of your hotel. Where are you?"
"Stay put. I'll be there in two minutes."
His rental car pulled next to the curb ninety seconds later, and he motioned for her to get in. She rolled her eyes but slid into the passenger seat. "What's wrong with you?"
He tightly gripped the steering wheel as he drove and she watched him with concern. "There wasn't a warrant, Veronica."
"How'd you know that?" she asked, surprised.
"Because if someone has a warrant, they don't need to make up some lame excuse to your landlord so they can try and get into your apartment, right?" At her look of confusion, he elaborated. She didn't respond after he finished, so he glanced over at her expectantly. "Well?"
"It had to have been that Seth guy, right?"
"I don't know," she muttered, rubbing at her temple. It sounded like Seth, but what reason would he have for it?
Unless he wanted to dig up more dirt on her in an effort to suck up at work, she realized. God that would be just like him to do something like that. People might judge her for what she did, but Veronica knew from her year with the FBI that there were plenty of crooked agents who would throw anyone under the bus.
Shit, she thought, suddenly remembering a certain box that she kept hidden underneath her bed. "Logan, we have to go back to my apartment. Now."
She reached under the dust ruffle, feeling for cardboard. Nothing. "Dammit!" she yelled, standing and pushing the bed with all of her strength. Logan moved from his spot in her doorway to help her, and with his muscle it moved with ease. But there was nothing but dust bunnies underneath, and she collapsed in a heap on her mattress, panting with frustration.
"What did he take?"
She wiped at her nose, sniffling now. Everything was catching up with her and she didn't know how she would find the strength to handle it all. She was hopeless and scared and alone and-
She looked up to see Logan kneeling in front of her, eyeing her with concern. "It was a box," she whispered, out of options. "From Carter."
He looked off to the side, and even in her current state she didn't miss the hint of jealousy flash across his face.
"It's nothing like that," she said, brushing away her tears with the sleeve of her blazer. She didn't owe Logan any explanation, but for once she was tired of keeping everything in. "It was a box of files that his sister gave to me after he was taken off life support a few weeks ago."
"Files on what?"
"It's a long, complicated story."
"I'm not going anywhere," he said as he looked up into her eyes. "Are you?"
She rose from the bed and brushed past him on her way to the living room, and he moved to follow her. "Liam's never served real time. Maybe a couple of years here and there, but nothing like what he deserved. His brothers and cousins weren't always so fortunate. Do you remember that huge bust in Neptune a few years ago? When we were sophomores at Hearst?"
He smiled, nodding. "That was what put the Sorokins away." One less thing Logan had to worry about back then.
She shrugged, pointing her thumbs toward herself.
"Well it was my anonymous tip. It put the Sorokins away and it landed ten out of the eleven Fitzpatricks in the clink. I'm sure you can imagine which one managed to escape scot-free." She flopped down on her couch as Logan took a seat in a nearby chair.
"How?" he asked, his elbows resting on his knees as he leaned forward, watching her.
"I have no idea. After I got back from my internship that summer, I spent almost all of my free time tracking both families. I got the names of people who worked for them, a list of businesses that were used as fronts, everything. And Liam was all over it, too. I mean if they only locked up one person, it should have been him. But by the time of the bust, he was gone. And so was any evidence linking him to all of it."
Logan had stopped processing her words sometime after that part about her tracking both families. "What the fuck were you thinking, Veronica?"
Her head jerked up at the sound of his dangerously low voice. "What?"
"You could have gotten yourself killed. Do you realize that? Do you have any idea how dangerous that was?"
"Spare me the lecture, okay? I'm fine. I'm perfectly healthy. It's my dad who's buried in the Neptune cemetery."
Logan shook his head, unable to get the images from the what ifs out of his mind. How the hell did he miss it when she spent months tailing the two most dangerous families in Neptune?
"You know what? Never mind. This was a mistake. You should go now." She stood and headed toward her door, ready to see him out, but Logan didn't budge. He watched her as she waited expectantly, her foot tapping against her hardwood floor.
Like he was actually going anywhere.
"I'll never apologize for worrying about you," he told her, wringing his hands together anxiously. "But please just let me know what's going on now, okay? Because I still couldn't take it if anything happened to you." She didn't say anything, just stood there with her arms crossed and her head down, so he moved to approach her. Slowly and tentatively, as if she were a frightened animal and he was afraid she'd run off. His hand encircled her wrist, and it was the first time in nearly a year that he had actually touched her.
"Please?" he asked as she looked up and into his eyes.
"One of the bartenders at the River Styx testified," she said, staring straight at him. "He testified against all of them, including Liam. But I guess that wasn't enough to put him away. Liam walked."
He nodded softly, his thumb rubbing against her skin. "Go on."
"Everyone knew he was guilty too, but they couldn't do anything about it. The bartender entered witness protection. I…I lied to Carter. He had some friends at the US Marshals Service and I used him to track the bartender down. I thought maybe I could…" She pulled away from Logan, shaking her head in disgust. "I thought I could go to him and convince him to come out of hiding. I thought if I could catch Liam going after him, then maybe I could at least get him on attempted murder charges."
"Jesus," Logan breathed. "You wanted to use him as bait?"
Shamed, she diverted her eyes from his, moving out of his reach and back into the living room. "To make things even worse," she admitted, once again taking a seat on the couch, "my supervisor found out about it when they were clearing out Carter's office. LA worked with San Diego for that bust, and he remembered the case. I think he knew what I was up to, but he thought Carter was in on it, too."
"Definitely not," she scoffed, shaking her head. "He never would have gone along with it if he knew what I was planning. At one point I was barely able to keep track of all my lies. But I had him believing I needed the info for a case we closed on awhile ago, and his friend got the bartender's new name and location."
"Did you do anything about it?" he asked, dreading her answer. He knew she was desperate, but even he hadn't expected this.
"I called him a couple weeks ago, after Carter died and I got the information in those files. I didn't ask anything of him, I just told him I was checking in. He got skittish and alerted the Marshals Service, and they traced it back to me. When Hendricks found out about it, I was investigated. And here we are."
She exhaled slowly, a weight lifted. Logan was the only person she had told. But he made his fair share of mistakes, too, and she knew he wouldn't judge her. It was comforting.
"Okay, so what happened today with the attorney? How serious are the charges?" They had been so wrapped up in the break-in that she hadn't thought to discuss the plea bargain with him, and he hadn't even asked. But now he was in full on Logan mode, ready to be there for her and take whatever action was needed. It was almost hard to believe that there was ever a time when she didn't appreciate that.
She explained the deal and the consequences. He was still concerned that the conspiracy charge would rear its head again, but she assured him that was one thing she wasn't worried about. Nobody wanted the details to leak, not when it would reflect poorly on both the FBI and the security of the WP program. And Carter had been hailed a fallen hero after he was shot. They would want to keep it that way. The plea bargain protected everyone. A trial would have been a disaster for all.
He reached over to rub her back, his hand gently tangling in her hair, and she closed her eyes at the feel of his touch. Logan's caresses either completely relaxed her or sent her heart racing. There were never any in-betweens there. Now she felt like she could curl against his side and fall asleep.
"Were you there, when Carter was shot?" he asked, still working out the knot between her shoulders.
"No. I've spent most of my time on light duty, since Dad..." she trailed off, and Logan gave her arm an encouraging squeeze. She looked over at him with a soft smile, which he returned. "Everyone thought I should be treated with kid gloves after he died. I didn't get to see much action."
"That probably drove you crazy, huh?" he grinned teasingly.
Veronica looked away, lost in thought. "I really screwed up, Logan," she said, bringing her hands to her face. "If Seth does have those files, and he puts two and two together and then it gets out?" She shook her head, growing more and more worried.
"I don't know, Veronica, that sounds like a big "if." Seth didn't strike me as somebody very good at math." He sighed, troubled by her troubles. He wished he could ease the tension for her. "How the hell did he make it through the Academy, anyway?"
She snorted in laughter. "How the hell did I make it?"
"Oh, I don't know, I'm not surprised you did well there. You were always a good student. Now the background check…"
She lightly elbowed him in the ribs, but he was undeterred. "Especially after they asked me about you. I thought for sure that'd kill any chance you had."
Veronica opened her mouth in surprise, her eyes wide. "They did not interview you."
"Sure they did. Toward the end of senior year." He relaxed against the arm of the couch, his long legs stretched out before him, crossed at his ankles. "I was in the library, actually studying, and this guy came up to me and flashed his badge-"
"A typical day in the life of-"
"-and he asked me what I knew about you."
She smiled and settled in her seat at the opposite end of the sofa, her feet up on the cushions now, and waited for his story. "Well, what'd you say?"
"I told him about that little strawberry shaped birthmark on your left hip, and that you had a tendency to scratch-"
She bit her bottom lip and kicked at his thigh, and he chuckled as he grabbed her foot, holding it hostage in his lap. "Be serious."
"I'm not going to tell you what I told him. It was confidential." She tilted her head to the side, blinking innocently, but he refused to give in. "C'mon, it couldn't have been that bad. You made it, right?" He massaged her bare heel and waited expectantly for her to continue pestering about his conversation with the FBI recruiter. But she stayed quiet, her mind elsewhere.
"So what should we do next?"
"About what?" she asked absently.
"Seth. Liam. Everything."
She leaned back against the cushions and closed her eyes thoughtfully. "I think I really need to get that box of files back."
"How do we do that?"
She had to admit that his insistent use of "we" versus her "I" made her feel better.
"Don't worry. I've got a plan."
"So are you going to tell me your plan now?" he asked as they walked down the hallway to Seth's apartment. Veronica had been pretty tight-lipped on the short drive over to Seth's building, but he recognized the look on her face, that set expression of determination.
"C'mon," he persisted. "What's our story for the landlord? We role-playing?"
She ignored his questions as she crouched to examine the lock. "Keep watch for anyone," she commanded, reaching for one of the bobby pins that secured her bangs away from her face.
Logan had to tear his eyes away from her as she worked quickly at the doorknob. He peered down the hall, listening for anyone, but all he heard was the sound of the lock disengaging.
"We're in," she announced proudly, holding the door open for him. He entered first, smiling as he shook his head at her ability to still impress the hell out of him.
"Well that wasn't very fun," he said, pretending to pout.
"But it was efficient." She stopped suddenly, her eyes on the coffee table in front of her where the files were stacked in different piles; the worn cardboard box they had been delivered in was on the floor.
"See?" Logan said, coming to stand beside her. "I told you he did it."
"Okay, let's get my stuff and get out of here." She started to pack everything back in the box, but Logan continued to linger around the room, his hands in his pockets as he casually explored. "Maybe we should do some digging," he suggested, opening a table drawer. "You know, try to find something on him. As insurance."
"I think we should just get out of here before I'm also charged with breaking and entering."
"What about these files of his?" he asked, pointing to the manila envelopes and expandable folders spread out on the computer desk.
"Logan, let's go."
"Briefcase?" he asked petulantly, holding it up for her to see.
"Now," she said, closing up her box.
He ignored her command and sat the briefcase on the desk to open it, and Veronica rolled her eyes at him but continued to gather her things. "Um, Veronica? Exactly how well does the FBI pay?"
Veronica stopped fretting with her stuff, curious enough to come stand by Logan to see what he was talking about. Her eyes widened at the sight: the briefcase was filled with wads of one hundred dollar bills, all stacked on top of each other. Thousands and thousands of dollars…
"All right, fine," she breathed, her eyes glued to the money. "Grab all of his folders."
Neither felt safe returning to her apartment, so they went straight to his hotel room, where they pored over Seth's papers to search for any information that might explain the money. Most of the material was case related, though, and Veronica was growing restless.
"Do you know who Kyle Van Kirk is?" Logan asked her, his eyes roaming over a page in the weekly planner they had also confiscated.
She moved to sit next to him on the couch, leaning in close so she could read it, too. "Why?"
"He's meeting him pretty regularly. His name is down for every Friday night, seven o'clock."
"I don't know. It sounds familiar, but I don't think so."
"Are you having any luck?"
"Not yet. Most of it seems to be regular paperwork, nothing too suspicious. But there's still a lot to go through."
Logan sighed, reaching for another folder. "I don't even know what I'm looking for."
"You'll know it if you see it," she replied, sliding from the couch to the floor so she could dig through more files. They were both reading over some papers when something clicked for Veronica. "Wait a second," she said, reaching for her box. She dug through the folders from Carter for the envelope of copies she had made and kept hidden at her apartment. She had a stack of papers on information from the Neptune drug bust in December 2007, the one she had helped tip off.
"I knew the name sounded familiar," she told Logan as she leafed through the documents. "Yeah. There was a Carl Van Kirk who worked with the Fitzpatricks. He was busted then, too, and is still in prison."
"You sure there's any relation?" he asked, moving to sit next to her. "It's not exactly an uncommon last name, and there's plenty of miles between LA and Neptune."
"I don't know," she admitted. She could have sworn there was more information there, so either Seth took it and hid it elsewhere or he messed up all of the files and it was mixed in with the folders from Carter. She grabbed another stack from the pile to search.
Veronica found some of the copies she was looking for in another folder, lost between some of the papers from Carter that she had never really gone through, sure it was just subsidiary information from him on cases they had worked on before. She recognized Carter's handwriting in the margins, sloppily written question marks or names she was unfamiliar with. One name did stand out, though. Jonathan Wright. He had been Seth's partner before he retired a few months before.
"What?" Logan asked her, noticing Veronica getting lost in her thoughts.
"I told Carter I was going to see if I could find any links between past drug and weapon busts and ones they were working on now. It was just an excuse to get the name of that bartender, though. But I think Carter was working on that, too." She held up the paper for Logan to see. "This isn't one of my copies. It's his."
"And this name, Wright? He has it written all over some of these papers, along with some other names I think might be from the Bureau."
Logan was growing a bit frustrated with the trail of bread crumbs she was throwing out for him. "So they were working on these busts too? What are you thinking?"
She shook her head, the wheels still turning. "Seth was originally assigned to Miami, not LA. Then he transferred. Since he was one of the last ones put on our team, Wright was made his partner for awhile. Wright had been with the Bureau for years and he was near retirement. Which he did, a few months ago. I think he's living in Europe now or something."
"What are you getting to, Veronica?"
"You know how I said Liam always managed to get away with everything? What if it's because he had someone on the inside to warn him? Someone he paid to help him out?"
Logan took the papers from her so he could examine them himself. "You think that's where Seth got the money from? Now he's getting the payoff?"
"Couldn't it be?' she asked listlessly, digging through more files, not even sure what she was looking for. "Maybe there's a few Feds in on it, and not just for the Fitzpatricks, but for any of the organized crime families. They keep certain people out of hot water and they get a cut of their money."
"Heh," Logan said, staring at her with an admiring smile. "Sounds just devious enough to work."
She grinned back at him, absolutely beatific. "Maybe that's why my dad didn't come to me for help! Maybe he and Vinnie knew that there was someone working on the inside and he didn't want me to get involved if it might compromise a case against Liam."
Logan nodded gently, his eyes still on hers. There was another piece of the Veronica puzzle. Not only did she have to deal with losing her father, the most important person in her life, but she had been wrestling with the idea that maybe she could have prevented his death if he worked with her. God, that must have been killing her.
Suddenly the smile was wiped from Veronica's face, and Logan stared at her in confusion. "What's wrong?"
"Carter must have been on to it." She looked down at the papers clutched in her hand. "Since Wright had retired and I was on light duty, Carter and Seth were partnered up a lot. Seth was there the night he was shot."
"You think Seth might have had something to do with that?" he asked, his voice hushed.
"I don't know. Maybe? Carter might not have suspected Seth and let him in on what he knew. Or Seth could have realized that Carter was on to them. But who knows what Seth's capable of?"
"Yeah," Logan agreed, his jaw tensing. "And now he knows that you're on to them, too."
The danger wasn't something she was willing to acknowledge now. "It's Friday," she said. "We could follow Seth, let him take us to this Van Kirk guy." She stood and stretched her legs, trying to shake off the prickling sensation running down to her toes. Logan watched her as she retreated to the bedroom.
"You do realize that we have all of his papers here, right? He knows someone took them and I wouldn't be surprised if he already suspected you."
"We'll follow him and see if we can't figure more of this out." She came back into view then, walking into the main room, and Logan froze when he saw the gun in her hand.
"Veronica," he said, slowly rising to his feet.
"Relax," she told him as she loaded the chamber with bullets. "They'll take this away from me when I officially resign."
And that was really comforting now, he thought. "You've had that on you the entire time?"
She clicked on the safety. "It was in the makeup bag I asked you to grab for me."
Of course it was. "I feel the need to reiterate, again, just how dangerous this is."
"You don't have to come if you don't want to." She looked up at him then, her eyes surprisingly soft. "But I'd really like it if you did."
The pull she always had on him was as powerful as ever, so he turned his head away from hers in an effort to stay strong, if only for her sake. "Is this…" he trailed off, choosing his words carefully. "Do you think this is what your dad would want you to do?"
"No," she admitted without missing a beat. "But if I were the one who was killed, he'd do the same. It wouldn't matter what I wanted." She stood in front of him, forcing him to look at her. "You told me once that somebody always had to pay. That that was the rule we lived by. I never realized before how true that is." He opened his mouth to say something but he didn't know what. "Logan," she pleaded, staring into his eyes. "I need to do something. I can't live the rest of my life knowing that the people responsible for my father's death are off living theirs."
"What are you going to do?" he asked, his eyes on her gun.
"I…I don't want to use this. Not if I don't have to. But…they need to pay."
He looked back at her, saw the raw desperation and need. He thought about what she said, about if it had been her who was killed. Keith wouldn't have been the only one out there searching for retribution. "All right," he told her, their eyes locked. "Then we'll make them pay."
"This is definitely what I would call the seedy part of town." It felt like they had been driving forever, carefully tailing Seth as he left Los Angeles, presumably to meet with Van Kirk. Veronica was at the wheel, Logan complaining half-heartedly from the passenger seat.
"It's already well after seven," she told him, glimpsing at the clock on the dashboard.
He didn't ask her if she wanted to turn around. It wasn't an option.
She kept her distance from Seth's car, which was now pulling into another back alley. There seemed to be a lot of back alleys, wherever they were.
Veronica followed, guiding the rented Hyundai through the narrow crevasse between the long stretches of seemingly abandoned buildings. She seemed more reluctant now, maybe even a little scared. The sun was starting to set. It'd be dark soon.
"Shit," she whispered, and Logan looked over to see the large black SUV pulling in and parking in front of them. He turned in his seat to check the back, and sure enough another vehicle was blocking them from behind. They drove right into the trap.
They were both holding their breaths as a group of men emerged from both cars, Seth joining them. Veronica's hand slid from the steering wheel, and Logan was about to plead with her not to go for her gun, that they were too outnumbered, but she only reached for his hand, gripping it in hers.
One of the men, dressed in a dark suit, knocked on the driver's side window and then motioned for them both to get out of the car. Logan and Veronica shared one more look before doing what they were told, her hand slipping out of his as they separated.
"Veronica Mars, I presume," the man said, guiding her to the front of the car where Logan now stood, another man at his side.
"Not smart, Veronica," Seth told her, and if looks could kill he would have already been on the ground.
"Did she go to anyone?" the man asked Seth.
"No," he answered confidently. "Not a surprise, actually. Veronica always preferred to work alone."
"She's not alone," Logan spoke up, staring Seth down.
He chuckled, looking back and forth between the two before settling on Veronica. "This is the asshole you dumped me for, right? Bad call, Veronica. You could be coming with me to my new villa in Italy. But now?" His eyes went to one of the doors they were parked near. "Well, you're not."
Seth turned to acknowledge the other men, backing away from them with a large grin. "I did my part, gentlemen, and now I've got a plane to catch. Please send my best, and let everyone know that nothing's been compromised." He waved goodbye happily, his eyes still on Veronica and Logan, and then returned to his car. Veronica watched in disbelief as he drove away.
"All right, you two. Come along. There's someone who wants to see you." They were both grabbed securely by other men and led through the door Seth had referred to before. Veronica could feel her heart beating hard against her chest, and she wondered if anyone else heard it.
Her eyes shot straight to Liam Fitzpatrick, who was leaning casually against a support beam in the middle of the large, mostly bare room. Some part of Veronica registered that it must have been another old bar, considering the run down serving area in one corner, but her thoughts were still hazy. All she could do was stare at him, her teeth gritted in anguish at his simpering and casualness.
"Ah," he grinned, straightening. "Veronica Mars, as I live and breathe. What took you so long?" He didn't give her a chance to answer, his eyes going to Logan. "And a bonus! Must be my lucky day."
"Blondie's got a gun," the man told him, pushing Veronica forward forcefully, her hands behind her back, trapped in his. He glanced over at Logan. "Someone will have to pat him down."
Logan had every reason to be scared and sure that this was the end, but he didn't feel that yet. So he slipped into jackass mode, smirking smartly as several men approached him to do the job. "Now, now, fellas, don't fight. There's plenty of me to go around." He tried to hide his grimace as the man holding on to him tightened his grip painfully, the small bones in Logan's wrists protesting the pressure. He stayed quiet as he was patted down, but he didn't give him the pleasure of removing his smile.
"Nothing," another guy said, stepping away.
"Have you figured out what you're going to do with them?" the man holding Veronica asked Liam.
"Well let me make a suggestion- shoot them. And then we go. C'mon, we've got a lot of business to attend to."
"It's not that simple. She's still a Fed, and pretty boy here is a name. People will be looking for them."
"Then figure something out later. We gotta go."
The man passed Veronica over to another one of his brutes, then turned to leave. Liam looked them over once more, contemplating his options. "Lock them in the back room," he told the other guys. "I'll figure it out later."
"Wait," Veronica spoke up desperately, stopping them from moving forward. "I just need to know. Did you do it? Did you kill my dad and Vinnie?"
Liam laughed at her, his twisted grin sending her closer to the edge. "Fine, fine. I confess. I shot the sheriff." He stepped forward, leaning in close to her face, his hot breath tickling her cheek. "But I didn't shoot no deputy." He pulled back, still smiling. "I did get your father, though. Right in the eye. Don't worry, he didn't see it coming."
Veronica tried to hold back her sob, her face crumpling, and Logan's blood boiled as he watched Liam walk away after sending that final blow to her. He'd kill him. Honest to God he'd kill him.
They were both led to a large storage room in the back. Logan was pushed through the door hard, and he nearly tripped over his own feet as he stumbled forward. One of the men pulled the gun from Veronica's waistband and then propelled her with equal force. They locked the door behind them, leaving her and Logan alone in the dark.
"Are you okay?" he panted, feeling for her.
He could hear her soft cries, and he reached out to touch her. He pulled her against him, cradling her to his chest as he rocked them back and forth. "Shh," he whispered, running his hand through her hair.
She started chanting, "I'm sorry," and Logan shook his head. "What? Why?"
"You shouldn't be here," she said as she slowly gathered herself together. She pushed away from him, wiping at her eyes. "I dragged you into this with me and now we're both going to die. You shouldn't be here."
"Is there anywhere else you think I would rather be?"
Her eyes were adjusting to the darkness, but she still couldn't quite make out his face. "I'm sorry," she repeated.
"Hey, this is one thing you don't have to apologize for."
"I tried looking for you," she admitted, finding solace in the black. "I couldn't do it alone anymore and I tried to track you down." She remembered poring over his bank and credit card statements for any trace of his whereabouts, but Logan did a good job disappearing when he wanted to. "Where did you go?" she finally asked.
He was still trying to wrap his head around the idea of her looking for him, after everything. She must have really been desperate, he thought. But who else did she have? Mac had called after the funeral, but they weren't still close enough for her to justify traveling across the country to be there for Veronica. Wallace had visited, but only for the ceremony. It didn't seem like she was close with anyone in the FBI. After her father's death, Veronica really was alone.
"Uh, around. Everywhere, I guess. I just did a lot of traveling." Almost ten months of vacation, hitting any beach he could think of, touring countries he hadn't visited since those miserable summers with his parents. Basically doing anything to run away from the image of Veronica that always seemed to follow him wherever he went.
"Please stop saying that," he begged with a hint of anguish.
"I shouldn't have broken up with you before graduation," she confessed. "I shouldn't have sent you away then."
Logan decided to stand, to try and fumble around in the dark to see if there was a light switch or maybe another way out. Anything. "Don't worry about it."
"How can you say that? We were doing really good then!"
He stopped to lean against the wall, his head back. "No were weren't, Veronica. At least I wasn't. You were so wrapped up in the Academy and I was miserable at my internship. We were on two totally different tracks."
"I thought you were happy," she said softly, her hands clasped together in her lap.
"I wanted to be. But I thought things would be different across the country and they weren't, and I couldn't take that."
"What do you mean?" She remembered their tentative friendship toward the end of college, and how Logan seemed to thrive after he started an internship with a group of social workers. She never would have put together the idea of Logan and kids, but for the first time he seemed to really have something going for him there. Something outside of surfing and booze and sex.
Logan straightened, pacing the room nervously. He stopped to feel for the door, and then he shoved his shoulder against it forcefully, but it didn't budge.
"Stop!" she called out, scared. "They might have someone out there. They wouldn't think much of coming in here and just shooting us, so we have a better chance if we stay put."
Logan sighed and moved away. Fine, she could be the brains of the operation and he would be the brawn when she needed it.
"What happened in D.C?" she pressed.
He shoved his hands into his jean pockets, his shoulders sagging forward. "There was a little boy, about six. His mother was a drug addict and he was in and out of foster care, but his grandmother moved to the area so she could take him. Then the mom said she got clean and wanted him back." He moved to sit near her on the floor, careful to not actually step on her. "She was clean for two months, right? After being on drugs for over ten years, two months and the courts were satisfied. So they put him back with the mom. A month later and she's back on anything you could imagine, and she's got a new guy living with her, too. One night he's high as hell and he shoots and kills them both."
"I was interning with the social worker on the case," he said with a bitter smile. "She was so jaded by that point. Told me it wasn't the first time it happened and it wouldn't be the last, but that there's only so much they can do to help. But the grandma, she begged me to help her, said that she knew she couldn't trust her daughter." He shook his head. "But I didn't. I was actually trying to play by the rules so I didn't mess up my internship. And it killed him."
"You couldn't have done anything to prevent that."
"I could have listened to my instincts," he said, turning to her in the dark. "I mean, I know that it's a system and that it helps some people, and that you have to work with it for that. But it wasn't for me. All I could think about were the kids that had to pay the price because the rules didn't help them."
She nodded in understanding. "I started to think that way when I was in the FBI, too. I started to question why I was doing it." She took a deep breath and then exhaled slowly. "I thought because I was good at it, that it's what I should be doing. But…it never should have been about that. It should have been about helping the people who didn't have anyone else. That's what it was like in high school. That's what I really loved."
He watched her, barely able to make out her profile in the dark. "If we get out of this, maybe we should team up. Fight crime." He grinned when she laughed, tossing her head back. "I really am sorry, Veronica," he said, growing serious. "About leaving you. I thought Carter would be there for you. I didn't realize there wasn't anyone else."
Veronica shifted to her knees, tentatively reaching for him. "I didn't want just anyone to be there, Logan," she admitted carefully, scared by her confession but sure she didn't have anything to lose at this point. "I wanted you." She wrapped her hand around his, pulling him closer. He felt for her and rested his free hand at her waist, his fingers clutching the fabric of her blazer. "I still do," she whispered, and his lips met hers halfway.
Their noses bumped together in the dark, and he laughed against her mouth just as the tip of her tongue traced the seam of his lips. He snaked his arm around her, holding her to him as they kissed. Veronica broke away long enough to reach for the hem of his shirt, sure that if they were going to die that day, then this was something she needed to do now. He let her take it off of him, and then he fumbled for the buttons on her blouse, pulling at them clumsily just so he could feel her warm skin against his.
They didn't have enough time to go slow, but neither cared. He yanked down her pants and underwear as she worked at his zipper, and then she scrambled in his lap, her hands at his shoulders as they positioned themselves. She sank down onto him, hissing with pleasure as she wrapped her legs around his hips.
Logan searched out her mouth, kissing her blindly as he thrust upward. The adrenaline rush and the tension after such a long separation had them both almost there immediately, and Veronica dug her nails into his skin as they moved against each other.
She came first, her moans muffled against his mouth. As she sagged against him, breathless, he pumped harder, gritting his teeth before following her over the edge. She kissed him as he climaxed, her lips caressing his lazily as they both relaxed.
Veronica wanted to curl next to him and fall asleep, but they searched out their clothes in the dark and dressed, not sure when Liam would return. The initial frenzy now seemed awkward, and she didn't know what to say or do. But when Logan pulled her to him again, she realized they were fine.
They sat in silence, holding on to one another, just waiting. About twenty minutes later the lights in the room came on, and Veronica squinted at the brightness until her eyes adjusted. The sudden sound of gunshots made them both jump, and she clung to him wordlessly as they waited. Her grip on him tightened as the doorknob turned.
"Change of plans, kiddies," Liam announced, standing in the doorway as he pointed the gun at them. "Get out here." He motioned to the hallway with his pistol, and so they both stood slowly. Logan pushed Veronica in front of him when he realized that Liam would be behind them with the gun, and he tried to soothe her with a comforting arm squeeze.
The bodies of the four men from earlier were sprawled across the floor. Veronica stared down at them with an open mouth and wide eyes.
"Seems there was a Mexican standoff here, and everyone lost," Liam said. "But maybe you'll both be remembered as heroes when everyone finds out you took care of a couple mob-"
Logan spun around quickly, using the element of surprise and every ounce of his strength to knock Liam off balance. His fist connected with Liam's jaw, and he staggered backwards, the gun in his hand falling to the floor.
Veronica reached for it, but Liam coming at Logan blocked her from it. They tussled together, fists flying back and forth. She looked down at the bodies, saw that her gun was still in the hand of the man who took it from her, and she grabbed at it. She had it fully loaded before they left, but she didn't know if the man had gotten any shots off. Probably not, she reasoned. Sharpshooter Liam had likely surprised them all.
She held it out in front of her and aimed, and suddenly it felt as if everyone was moving in slow motion. Her thoughts had to have been racing at a million miles per hour, but it was like she was moving through a dream, and all she could think about was her first week as a Fed, to that first and last time she had discharged her weapon anywhere but the range. She remembered that day, with Callie Farmer staring back at her with terrified eyes as the blade dug into her skin. Veronica had tried to think of everything she had learned, but it all went out the window at the moment. As the knife slid across Callie's throat, Veronica fired.
The killer was dead, but she wasn't able to save Callie. She wasn't going to let anything happen to Logan now though.
She watched as Logan hunched over, driving at Liam's midsection to try and pin him against the wall. She didn't have time to waste. Two quick shots at Liam's head, one right in his eye. Logan fell back on the floor, panting and bloodied from the fight. He looked over at her, slack jawed. All she could think was, "Eye for an eye," and she bent over, laughing and crying and shaking.
~~Two Weeks Later~~
Cliff parked in the spot next to Veronica's car, tilting his head as he watched Logan load some boxes into the backseat. "Leaving already?" he called, emerging from his vehicle. Veronica moved around the back of her Saturn, smiling brightly.
"Hey, thanks for coming by. I know it was on short notice."
"Where are you two going?" he asked, examining the luggage at their feet.
"We're taking off for awhile," Logan answered as he shut the door. "Maybe we'll visit some beaches, or go to Paris."
"Or tour some Italian villas," Veronica broke in, and then the two shared another look that Cliff was helpless to understand. But at least Veronica was smiling again.
"Well, I guess you'll be happy to hear that I got them to drop all of the charges against you," Cliff told her. "Considering the circumstances and all. So at least you won't be violating your probation."
"I just wanted to thank you," she said, standing before him. "For everything."
"Are you going to be gone for long?"
"Maybe. But we'll be back eventually." She reached up to hug him, and Cliff froze for a moment before returning the embrace. "Thanks," she whispered against him, and dammit if Cliff didn't feel his throat tightening.
"Your dad would be real proud of you, Veronica," he told her, forcing away any hint of emotion. "I know that for sure."
She stepped back, nodding. "Thanks."
"So Europe, huh?" he asked, leaning against her car as Logan put away the last of their bags in the back. "I'm a tropical island guy, myself. But c'est la vie." He looked over at Veronica with a raised brow. "That's French, kid. You'll need to know that if you're going to Paris."
She grinned at him as Logan finished up. "We have to head out now, Veronica," he told her, and she said goodbye to Cliff one last time before getting in the car. Logan offered the lawyer his hand, which Cliff stared down at for a minute before accepting.
"Everyone deserves a vacation, Cliff," he said with a smirk, and then pulled an envelope out of his back pocket. "Really, thanks. For everything."
Cliff watched as Logan climbed into the driver's seat, and both waved as they pulled away, riding off together in the sunset.
He looked down at the envelope in his hand, and he tore it open once they were out of sight. A nice amount of cash and a ticket to the Caribbean. All expenses paid, the card noted, with "For services rendered" written underneath. Cliff smiled to himself, slapping the card against his hand as he walked back to his car.
Maybe he would ride off into the sunset, too.