A/N: Don't own, just for fun.
A/N2: Canon for Pilot only. AU off of Credit Where Credit's Due. What if Logan was the one assigned to cover the surfing competition in Gold Coast?
Chapter One: Give Him a Little Credit
Murphy's Law states that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. I've found it useful to remember that bit of wisdom, because it keeps me from being surprised every time my life gets even suckier.
Veronica wandered into the journalism classroom and looked around. She knew Duncan was in this class – he was the editor of the Navigator, after all – and wasn't surprised to see Logan, either. She was a little surprised to see his current girlfriend, the oh-so-pleasant Caitlin Ford. When Veronica walked in, Caitlin was sitting on Logan's lap, and they were looking at something on a computer screen.
Seeing them made Veronica's stomach twist. Since Lilly's death, Logan had dated many girls, always ditzy and rich, never for long. She wasn't sure what it was that turned the boy who had been her good friend, an arrogant but surprisingly caring kid who worshipped one girl for years – Lilly – into "love 'em and leave 'em" Logan. Was it just Lilly's death? Somehow, she didn't think so. Since they weren't friends anymore, she'd probably never find out.
The journalism teacher, Ms. Dent, spotted her and moved towards her.
"Can I help you with something?" Ms. Dent asked with a smile, pulling Veronica's attention away from Caitlin and Logan.
"Yeah. The counselor stuck me in here." Veronica held out a slip of paper, and Ms. Dent took it and looked it over. "She says I'm disconnected and passionless."
Ms. Dent smiled at Veronica's sarcastic tone. Caitlin Ford called out from across the room, her voice bored.
"I'm gonna go down to the gym to talk to people about the student poll." She popped her hip to one side, tilted her head to the other. Veronica wondered how she didn't just teeter over.
Ms. Dent looked at her watch. "Okay, be back by the end of the period. And remember, we are a multicultural school with a diverse population of students from a wide range of socio-economic backgrounds."
Caitlin wrinkled her nose. "Meaning?"
"Meaning don't just interview your friends."
Veronica smiled a little at that, seeing the teacher with a smidgen of respect, while Caitlin rolled her eyes and flounced out the door. Ms. Dent turned back to Veronica with a grin.
"Well, Veronica, welcome to newspaper class."
"I was thinking maybe I could just take pictures?"
Ms. Dent frowned. "Well, I'm not sure if you can just do that, but we can start you there. Do you have any experience with a camera?"
Veronica nodded. "Yeah. Some."
Ms. Dent led her to a supply cabinet and removed a standard camera. She started to explain to Veronica how to use it, but Veronica interrupted, pulling out her own state-of-the-art camera with custom lens and babbling about swivel LCDs and optical zooms and raw files until Ms. Dent sheepishly put the old camera away.
"I have your first assignment. Are you free after school tomorrow?" Ms. Dent asked hopefully.
"I guess." Veronica had been intending to spend some non-work time with Wallace and Backup on the beach, but she could always reschedule. Anything to get the counselor off her back.
"We're doing a feature on Bodie Chang, you know him?"
"Surfer. Up until twenty minutes ago, I was in study hall with him." Veronica smiled wryly.
"That's the guy. So he's winning all these competitions. He's got another one up at Gold Coast. Let me introduce you to the guy who's doing the story." Ms. Dent led Veronica across the room. As she realized where Ms. Dent was leading her, her shoulders tensed.
Not him. Oh please, not him.
"Logan Echolls, this is Veronica."
Logan looked up from his computer, the surprise in his eyes slipping behind a mask of indifference almost too quickly to notice. He smirked at her.
"Hello, Veronica. Mars, isn't it? I think I've heard of you. Something about…ankles and ears."
The implications in his words and in his tone were obvious to Veronica, but not to Ms. Dent, who continued talking.
"Veronica's going to be taking pictures tomorrow and I arranged for you to ride with Bodie's parents."
"No, I'll drive." Logan kept his eyes trained on Veronica. She wondered if that was a challenge she saw in them or not. If it was, it was one she just wasn't up for today. No way was she in the mood to spend an hour in a car with Logan Echolls, obligatory psychotic jackass and the guy who had made it his personal mission to make her life hell for the last year. No way.
"I can drive too." She didn't back down from his stare. His eyebrow twitched upward when she declined the ride.
Beside her, Ms. Dent shrugged. "Okay," she says. "Oil crisis be damned."
Logan strolled through the courtyard, telling himself he was glad she was taking her own damned car to the surfing competition. He always intended to drive his own car, but when the opportunity arose, he wondered if she'd accept a ride from him.
He couldn't really blame her. Would he have wanted to ride with her if she offered?
That was the frustrating part. For the better part of a year, he had focused his acid tongue and haughty glares with laser-like precision on the one and only Veronica Mars. She had deserved it, or so he had thought at first. He wasn't entirely sure that was true anymore. She deserved something for turning on him, and Duncan, and the Kanes, when they were all already in agony over Lilly's death. But maybe she didn't deserve quite so much of it.
What had he been waiting for? For her to stop acting like she deserved his anger? For her to fight to keep their friendship? She hadn't done that. She had simply accepted that it was all over, and the ease at which she gave up on them killed the last little piece of him that hadn't died with Lilly.
Logan guessed he had also been waiting for Duncan to step in and stop the madness, the way Duncan had always done with everything.
Duncan never stepped in. Not to do more than half-heartedly stop an attack in progress. He had never said, Hey Logan, cut it out and leave her alone, for good now. Logan assumed that was because whatever had made Duncan break up with Veronica had gotten him good and angry with her, and his half-hearted "leave her alone" comments were just the residual effects of having been the golden boy, Prince Kane.
The real trouble was, just when Logan had come to his own conclusion that it was time to ease off, give Veronica a chance to slide back into the group, punishment delivered and endured, she suddenly seemed to stop caring. Instead of running from his taunts in tears, hiding in the bathroom, letting her long hair fall in front of her face, she stood tall.
She showed up at school one day with her new short hair and a pair of combat boots that she must have gotten from an army/navy store. She still sat alone at lunch, but now she met his gaze and that of the other 09ers when they stared. She kept her shoulders back and her chin high and either listened to the jibes and insults with a bored look on her face, or she delivered a zinger back.
He couldn't help but smile a little at how tough she'd gotten. But then, it seemed to be too late. He had tried to talk to her once, that week, but she had just slammed her locker and walked away while he was in the middle of a sentence. Since then, every time he said anything to her, it started out normal and turned into an insult as soon as that bored mask fell across her features.
He slid into his seat at the 09er table and glanced at "her" table. She and that new kid who seemed to be around her lately were just arriving, and they were talking intensely and peering at a sheaf of papers. What was she up to?
Trapping her in a car with him for an afternoon might be the only way he'd ever really get to talk to her. Maybe he'd have to find a way to get her to ride with him after all.
After school, Veronica drove to the office, anxious to talk to her Dad about the Nevarro case. The case itself was a little personal, but then, most were. It seemed that someone had taken out credit cards in Logan's mother's name and charged up a storm. Sheriff Lamb, in all his infinite idiocy, had arrested Letitia Nevarro, Weevil's grandmother, who – up until her arrest, anyhow – had been the Echolls' housekeeper for years. Veronica could begrudgingly admit that the circumstantial evidence was bad: Mrs. Nevarro was wearing a necklace that had been purchased with the cards, and the items ordered online were shipped to a post office box in her name.
Cliff, her Dad, and even Lamb thought Weevil was the real culprit, however. The fact that the charges on the card were by and large things a teenage member of a motorcycle gang might want made it even more likely, and Cliff had hired them to pin it on Weevil or at the very least find evidence to clear Mrs. Nevarro. Veronica had agreed to sniff around at school, though it made her a little uncomfortable. Her recent interactions with Weevil suggested he might not be the tried and true criminal her Dad thought he was.
Now, however, she had information which made it look like the real culprit wasn't Weevil after all. Thanks to Wallace's new job in the school office, he had managed to snag Weevil's course schedule. The charges to the credit card in the Echolls' name included a lot of online orders that were all placed during fourth period. Weevil, however, had been in auto-shop nearly every day that purchases were made. Since there wasn't a computer in auto-shop, she just couldn't see how he could have snuck out of there seven times to make purchases.
When she came through the door, she saw her Dad and Cliff talking. She told them what she found out, but they just looked at her. Finally, she said, "What?"
Cliff shrugged. "They released Lettie Nevarro a couple of hours ago. Weevil confessed to the crime."
Veronica stared at them both. That couldn't be right.
Okay, Weevil. You're being noble, I get that. But what kind of a sort-of-friend or maybe just a not-enemy-who-trades-favors would I be if I didn't try to clear you by finding out who actually committed the fraud? It's not your grandmother, and it's not you. Who else could it be?
As the thoughts churned in her head, she smiled. She did know someone who would take out a credit card in the Echolls' name and have no trouble watching someone else – especially if that someone else was Weevil – take the fall.
The next day in newspaper class, Veronica watched out of the corner of her eye as Logan slouched in a chair nearby, talking to Caitlin. He was speaking semi-loudly, like he wanted her to hear.
"No, seriously, how difficult is it to find good help these days?" Logan asked, rolling his eyes.
Caitlin simpered at him. Her haughty tone matched his. "What are you going to do about your housekeeper situation?"
Logan smirked. "We had to let her go. If you can't trust your domestics, you don't feel safe in your own home."
Veronica frowned slightly. What he was saying sounded just like what an 09er would say, but his tone was a little over-the-top arrogant. Besides, from what she remembered, Logan really liked Lettie Nevarro. She was always making them food and giving them hugs when they were kids. Had he really changed so much that he had forgotten about that and now only saw her as a "domestic?"
Caitlin giggled. "I won't miss her. She was totally rude to me every time I was over there."
Veronica's smile came back. She could just picture Mrs. Nevarro's disdain of the plastic-y blonde. She turned to the two of them and dangled her theory like bait.
"Did you guys know that 90% of all identity theft is committed by relatives of the victim? That's an interesting fact. At least I think so."
"But you know what? No one cares what you think, Veronica Mars. Not any more. Not since you stabbed all your friends in the back," Caitlin sneered.
Veronica didn't back down. "You seem to care a bit what I think."
"Tell the truth, Veronica. Did you just sign up for newspaper so you could be around Duncan?" Logan's taunt was a familiar one, poking her about her lingering feelings for the ex who had dumped her with no explanation. She smiled at him.
"No. I'm here so I can be closer to you."
He made an "ooh" face at her, but he seemed to be enjoying himself. She waited for the next volley, but it didn't come, so she got back to business.
"In fact, they're thinking of putting me in your fourth period government class."
Caitlin rolled her eyes. "We've got computer lab fourth period."
Veronica turned back to her computer, satisfied. "Oh, shoot. My loss."
Remember Murphy's law? Well, Veronica's law states that anything that the 09ers can do to make my life difficult, they will do.
After school, Veronica hurried through the halls and out the front door. She had a little time to spare before she had to be at Gold Coast, but not much. What she had learned from Logan's browser history was that (a) he really really liked Alyssa Milano, which was weird because she seemed to go against type for him, and (b) that there was no record that matched any of the online orders. However, he had visited the Neptune Grand Hotel website, and there was a charge from the Grand on the stolen card. It was worth looking into, at any rate.
She approached the LeBaron after school, noticed that it was listing to the side, and hurried around to spot the flat tire. This was the second this week, and it was only Tuesday. It looked flat, but not slashed, which was good – when all they did was let the air out she could swap it for her spare and then re-inflate it later. When they slashed it, it cost money. Money she didn't have.
Resignedly she opened her trunk, dropped her sweater and bag inside, and pulled out the jack and the tire iron. As she stooped next to the tire and wrestled with the lug nuts, she heard someone approach.
Veronica looked up and squinted into the sun, surprised to see the cute boy from the office that morning. She smirked.
"Just as God made me."
The boy crouched down beside her, his forearms resting on his knees. He shot her a lopsided grin. He really was cute.
"Are you always this persnickety?"
"Sometimes I'm even persnicketier." She couldn't help but smile back at him. She gestured to the tire and shrugged. She explained her situation. He offered to help, and after hesitating, she handed him the tire iron.
He introduced himself as Troy Vandergraff, and when she told him her name, he feigned surprise.
"Really? Veronica. Okay, yeah, that makes more sense," he said.
"Makes more sense how?"
"Ah, it's nothing. I just should never listen to those guys." Troy glanced over his shoulder at where Logan was standing near his XTerra, watching them. Logan munched on an apple and was surrounded by a bunch of 09er boys. Troy looked back at Veronica and shrugged. "I mean, really, who names their daughter Trampy McBitch?"
Veronica let out an involuntary laugh, and Troy smiled at her genuinely.
"Hm. A flat. Bummer."
Veronica looked up in surprise to see Logan standing over them, looking down at her tire with an exaggerated look of sympathy that matched the utter insincerity of his tone. She narrowed her eyes at him.
"Looks like you need a ride," he said, meeting her glare with a smirk. "You know, if we don't go now, we're going to miss it."
Troy looked back and forth between the two, then smiled at Veronica. "You go. I'll finish up here, leave the tools in the trunk."
Veronica hesitated. She absolutely did not want to be stuck in a car with Logan. Absolutely did not. On the other hand, having time alone with Logan would give her the opportunity she needed to interrogate him about the credit card fraud.
Her decision made, Veronica stood and brushed her hands off on her jeans. "Thanks," she said to Troy, grabbing her sweater and bag from the trunk. He gave her a salute, and she hurried after Logan, who was striding towards his yellow SUV without a backwards glance. As she approached, the 09ers crowded around the car shot her looks of disdain, but she plowed through them, carefully ignoring the whispers and snickers.
As she pulled herself into the passenger seat, she caught a glimpse of Duncan. He was standing by her car, talking to Troy, and looked up. His expression was unreadable. She looked away.
"Buckle your seatbelt," said Logan, before planting his foot on the gas.
The ride to Gold Coast was filled with the loudest silence Logan had ever heard. Only one other person he had ever met could be so expressive by saying nothing at all, and that was Lilly. Her silences could be sweet and romantic, or demanding, or punishing. He had gotten used to reading them as if she was actually speaking her thoughts. Veronica, however, could always give Lilly a run for her money in the saying something by saying nothing department, and she was speaking volumes now.
After fifteen minutes of nothing, Logan reached out and turned on the radio just to drown out the condemnation and hatred vibrating off of the petite blonde in the passenger seat. He immediately regretted his action, because he recognized the song currently playing as one of Lilly's favorites. From the uncomfortable shift in the seat beside him, he knew Veronica recognized it too.
"Lilly loved this song," he said softly, almost to himself.
Veronica glanced at him, her lips pressed together. He glanced back, and their eyes met for a second. Just for a second, he dropped his mask and let her see inside, and was rewarded by a softening of her features, the ghost of a smile on her lips.
"Yeah," she whispered. She stared out the window, looking off into the distance, no doubt lost in her own memory of her best friend. He let her have the moment, didn't press. Suddenly, he heard her gasp.
"What?" he asked, trying to find out what she was looking at.
"Slow down," she commanded, and he let his foot off of the gas.
The car slowed slightly as it passed by a group of boys in orange jumpsuits picking up litter by the side of the highway. He caught sight of one boy in particular, who was looking up at them.
Logan couldn't help the smirk that twisted one side of his mouth up at the sight of the gang leader in prison garb. It was about time someone locked him up, after all. Before the smirk disappeared, Veronica looked at him and let out a huff of breath.
"Well, that must make your day," she said, her tone dark. When he didn't reply, she continued. "Seeing your number one enemy in prison orange, I mean. How long did it take you to come up with this scheme to get him blamed for the credit card fraud? That fight on dog beach was just last week, so I guess I should be impressed."
"Hang on a second," he said. "You've got it all wrong."
"Yes." He grinned at her, then turned his attention back at the road. "You've been my number one enemy for the better part of a year now, Mars. That title was hard won, and you of all people know I'm not fickle with my contempt. It would take a lot more than a couple of punches to dislodge you from top billing."
He thought he heard a snicker, and decided to press his luck.
"Seriously, though. Seeing Weevil picking up trash does make my heart sing, but you're giving me credit where it's not due." He looked at her, his face serious, hoping she could see that he was being genuine.
She looked back at him with narrowed eyes. "You're telling me point blank that you did not set Weevil up?"
"Veronica, I did not set Weevil up. I also had nothing to do with this credit card thing."
"I don't believe you," she said.
"Big surprise. Okay, let me ask you a question. The fight with Weevil was a week ago. The charges on those cards go back a month. In order to have intended to set Weevil up, I would also have to be clairvoyant, and know ahead of time that our…feelings for each other…would escalate."
She was quiet beside him. Finally, she snorted. "You and your flunkies have never liked Weevil. This doesn't have to be triggered by last week's fight."
"Fair enough. Another question. If I was targeting Weevil, why would I take out a post office box in Mrs. Nevarro's name?"
"Because even Weevil isn't dumb enough to put his own name on it, so it would look like a set-up."
"But Mrs. Nevarro? Come on, Veronica. I know you haven't been around lately –"
"Since I was excommunicated, you mean?"
"—but you know that Mrs. Nevarro is like family. Why would I put her through getting arrested?"
Veronica didn't know exactly how much like family Mrs. Nevarro was, but Logan wasn't interested in getting into that particular discussion. Not now, anyway. Beside him, Veronica laughed, a hard, bitter laugh.
"What?" he asked.
"I thought she was a 'domestic.' Isn't that what you said earlier today? Logan, if anyone knows how much you've changed, I do. Whatever I knew about you back then doesn't apply to today."
Logan cringed, remembering the conversation in newspaper class. He had just been trying to get Veronica's attention, but it was backfiring. She kept talking.
"Anyway, maybe your primary purpose wasn't to frame Weevil, it was just a side benefit. Maybe you stole the credit cards and bought stuff Weevil would like just in case you got caught, to throw suspicion off of you."
"One last question, then. Why would I need to steal money from my parents? They give me whatever I want."
Silence again. Logan could almost hear Veronica grinding her teeth in the seat next to him. Impatience and irritation flared up in his chest and he shook his head. She didn't believe him. She wasn't going to believe him. She really thought he was capable of…well, he probably was capable of this sort of thing. But he didn't do it, and if he had any chance of getting her to listen to any of the other things he wanted to say, he had to convince her of that.
Which meant finding out who did do it. Even if that meant clearing Weevil.
Veronica snapped one last picture of the sun starting to set over the ocean, and lowered her camera. She looked around, and saw Logan shaking hands with Bodie and sticking a small notebook in his back pocket, which meant he was probably ready to leave.
When they had pulled into Gold Coast a few hours earlier, she had dared a glance at him and was surprised by the look on his face. His jaw was tense, his eyes were dark, and he was looking everywhere but at her. As soon as the car was in park, he jumped out, slamming the door and striding down to the beach without sparing her a backwards glance.
She guessed she deserved it, having accused him of credit card fraud and framing someone, but she couldn't drop her suspicion that he was guilty. He had to be, he made the most sense, especially since she was positive Weevil hadn't done it. That didn't explain his anger, unless he was angry he was going to get caught because of her.
Then again, when has Logan ever needed a reason to be angry with me? He creates reasons out of thin air, making up rumors about my non-existent sex life and then acting offended and angry as if the rumors are true and he's hurt by them. I will never understand him again, so I should stop trying. What's that saying about getting blood from a stone?
Now, she took off across the sand. She wouldn't put it past him to leave without her out of spite. Maybe that had been his goal all along, let the air out of her tire so she had to ride with him, torment her in the car – although he really hadn't done that – and then leave her stranded twenty miles from home.
She reached the car and leaned against the passenger door, trying to appear casual. She watched him stroll through the sand, but he stopped just before reaching the parking lot. He turned and looked around, shading his eyes against the setting sun. Finally, he turned back to the car and, seeing her, smiled.
"Waiting for me, love?" he asked sarcastically, hitting the button to unlock the doors. Without replying, she opened the passenger door and hoisted herself into the seat. After a moment, he was sitting beside her. He made no move to start the car, and she looked at him with a question.
"Get everything you need?" he asked.
"Enough." He inserted the key into the ignition but didn't turn it on. "Why were you waiting up here? Did you think I was going to take off without you or something?"
She didn't understand the tone in his voice. It wasn't sarcastic, or mean. It almost sounded… offended. She shrugged.
"I wouldn't have cared if you did," she said.
"Oh, yeah? What would you have done?"
"I would have called…" not Dad, he's chasing a bail jumper and won't be home until Thursday. Weevil, except he's in jail. "Wallace," she finished. Though the chances Wallace could get his Mom's car to come rescue her son's ne'er do well trampy friend are slim, Logan doesn't know that.
"Wallace?" Logan frowned. "Is that the new kid you've been hanging around with?"
"Yeah. Don't worry, though, he's nobody you need to know. He doesn't fall into your income bracket."
Logan laughed. "Fine. So, where to now?"
"Um…back to school so I can get my car?" Veronica wondered what Logan could possibly have meant by that question.
"You aren't hungry? I seem to remember that you're always hungry. We could stop at Luigi's."
Veronica stared at him, mouth agape, and when he turned to look at her he jumped slightly, as if surprised by her expression. Finally, she closed her mouth and glared at him.
"What are you planning, Echolls? You have a bunch of your lackeys lying in wait somewhere, ready to throw lasagna at me?"
He chuckled and shook his head. "Wow, you really give me too much credit, Veronica. I just don't spend that much time plotting against you. Not like you do, that is. That bong trick, for example. That takes serious forethought, dedication. I admit I was surprised to still be so much in the center of your existence. Usually, you look right through me as if I don't exist."
Veronica tried not to gape at him again. "Oh, you exist," she said. "You're like a cockroach. No matter how many times I step on you or poison you, you just scurry into a dark corner and come back stronger."
He grinned at her, and she glared at him, which made him grin harder. Perplexed, she let out a huff and folded her arms over her chest, turning to face out the front window. She'd just wait him out. He'd have to drive back to Neptune eventually.
"What makes you so sure Weevil didn't steal my parents' credit?" he asked after they sat in silence for a few minutes. "He confessed, I thought."
She sighed. "He's nowhere near a computer when most of the online purchases were made. It would have been impossible for him to do it. He confessed to get his grandmother out of prison. Not everyone who –"
She stopped, amazed at what she was about to say.
"Not everyone who what? Finish your thought."
Without thinking, she responded to the command. "Not everyone who confesses is actually guilty. Sometimes there's another reason they confess."
Beside her, Logan froze. Softly, he asked, "and what other reason did Abel Koontz have?"
Logan was smart, Veronica had to give him that. He knew exactly what she was thinking when she made the comment. He also had a point. What other reason did Koontz have?
"I don't know," she said. "But there is one."
She ignored the snort of disgust beside her. "You can never let anything go, can you?"
"Pot, meet kettle."
More silence. Finally, he turned the key in the ignition, and the engine roared to life. The sun had almost completely set at that point, and the parking lot had emptied out. Instead of pulling out of the parking space, Logan ran his hands through his hair.
"You're sure that Weevil had nothing to do with the credit card thing?"
"Okay then, let's prove it."
"Hey, I could care less if that pool boy rots in prison for a crime he didn't commit. By helping you, I'm proving my innocence, ergo I am helping myself. Having to deal with our esteemed Sheriff Loser if you accuse me for real is going to interrupt my busy schedule of hanging around and loafing."
Veronica stared at Logan.
"So, Nancy Drew, what's our next move?"
Before she could change her mind, she blurted out, "the Neptune Grand."
He looked at her, smirked, wiggled his eyebrows. "Well, honey, if you beg hard enough, that can be arranged. I didn't think you cared. Or has it just been so long – like 48 hours – since you've had a man between your legs you can't take it any longer?"
Veronica clenched her teeth together and forced her features to go blank. She tried to ignore the pang in her stomach. For a second – and just a second – she had started to believe that maybe their relationship was shifting, heading towards a truce, and for the first time in months she allowed herself a whisper of hope that there was something left of her old friend in there. It was a mistake.
"Take me home, Logan."
Logan punched the gear shift and hit the gas with a little more force than necessary, sending the XTerra rocketing out of the parking space. He hit the brake with just as much force. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Veronica clench her hand around the edges of her seat.
He had to go and screw things up, just when they were going so well. Okay, maybe not well but not terrible. She was going to let him in, let him work on this case with her. He would be able to find out what this new Veronica was about, what she was like. Maybe even…be friends with her again.
But no, he had to fall back on an old habit and insult her. What the hell was wrong with him, anyway?
After a few minutes, he sighed.
"Hey," he said, careful to keep his tone light, even though he felt like shouting. "I'm sorry I said that."
She didn't look at him, didn't answer.
"Shut. Up. Logan."
He decided to follow her instructions. To a point.
Fifteen minutes later, he pulled the car into the parking lot of the Neptune Grand. He saw her sit up straight, look around.
"What are we—"
"You wanted to come here, I brought you here."
"I thought I told you to take me home."
"I decided to ignore our conversation after the words 'Neptune Grand' left your mouth. The rest of it is better just forgotten."
She looked at him, and finally she pushed open her door and climbed out of the car. He hurriedly followed suit, and jogged to catch up with her as she strode toward the entrance to the hotel. She could move fast for someone with such short legs.
Just before they reached the revolving doors, he reached out and grabbed her arm. She jumped to the side, yanking her arm out of his grasp, looking like she had been burned. His stomach clenched, but swallowed the apology.
"What are we looking for here?" he asked. "What's the plan?"
She crossed her arms over her chest. "One of the charges on the stolen account was a hefty fee for a night at this hotel. I'd like to see if the security tapes from that night show anyone familiar coming in who might be the guilty party."
"Smart," he said, chuckling when his comment caused her to glare again. "I'm serious, Mars. So what do you want me to do?"
She licked her lips. "Well…"
Veronica marched up to the reception desk, Logan trailing several yards behind, and placed both her hands flat on the marble surface, a frown on her face.
"Can I help you?" asked the brunette behind the counter.
"I certainly hope so," said Veronica sharply. "Some genius here let someone who isn't me use my credit card and charge twelve hundred dollars for one measly night."
"I'm sorry, miss," began the clerk, a worried look crossing her face.
"Don't be sorry, fix it. I'd like to know who is stealing from me, so scurry yourself into the back office and dig up the surveillance video so I can see who came in that night." Veronica snapped out the date several weeks ago. The clerk hesitated. "Well? What are you waiting—"
Logan caught up with Veronica. He put his hands on her shoulders, and she stiffened, then tried to dislodge them. He only clamped down harder.
"Okay, calm down. No need to be nasty to the nice woman." He aimed a charming smile at the clerk. "I'm sorry," he said, sounding embarrassed. "My sister is just upset, she knows that none of this is your fault." He massaged Veronica's shoulders slightly, and she froze under his touch.
"Look," Veronica started, but he rolled his eyes at the clerk and talked over her.
"We think our cousin might have taken the card for a joyride. Do you think we could look at the surveillance tape for that night, see if she shows up?" He grinned at the clerk, and she visibly relaxed, grinning back. Veronica gritted her teeth.
Right, because Logan Echolls can charm the banana peel off of the banana with nothing more than a wink. I knew this already, why am I surprised he's gotten even better at it?
"Let me go ask my manager," said the clerk, backing away and hurrying behind a door.
Veronica ducked out from Logan's hands and spun around to face him. He raised his eyebrows at her, spread his hands as if to ask how he had done. After a moment, she was grinning at him and shaking her head.
"Nice job, Echolls. Perfect entrance."
"You had it going on too, Mars. I almost believed you were royally pissed and going to jump the counter any second. You can certainly put on 09er airs when it's called for."
"Yeah? I wasn't too over the top?"
He held up his hand, thumb and forefinger close together, smirked. "Maybe just a little."
"It's harder to play bad cop," she said, her hands on her hips, feigning indignation. She could feel the corners of her mouth fighting to turn up. "We can't all be children of successful actors, you know. It's in your blood, not mine."
She watched as the delighted grin on his face faded instantly.
Before Veronica could finish the question, the clerk came back.
"I'm sorry," she said, a little breathlessly, glancing at Veronica warily and then turning back to Logan. "We only keep surveillance for two weeks. But I got your detailed bill summary. Maybe that will help?" She held out a piece of paper hopefully.
Veronica reached out a hand and snatched it. "Thanks," she said, and then turned and walked out of the lobby.
Logan caught up with her just outside the front doors. "So? Does it help?" he asked, trying to see over her shoulder.
She held the paper to her chest and turned around. "Yeah, I think it does," she said. She raised an eyebrow at him. "Guess who signed the room service bill? Any guesses? No? Well, no need to keep you in suspense: it was your one and only darling of the week, Caitlin Ford."
His mouth dropped open. He stared at her a moment, and then off somewhere over her left shoulder. Finally, he reached out a hand. "Let me see," he said.
Watching him carefully, she held the paper out, pointing to the reproduction of the signature. He looked at it, and then whirled around and slammed his fist into the concrete wall of the hotel.
"Logan!" She jumped forward and grabbed at his hand, which he was now cradling against his stomach, doubled over in pain. "Give me your hand." He let her pull his hand toward her. His knuckles were red and scraped, but his hand didn't look broken.
He snatched it back. "It's fine," he snapped. He took off towards the SUV, and she ran after him. Instead of getting in the car, however, he leaned against the trunk and buried his head in his hands. She approached slowly, but didn't get too close. After a minute, he looked up at her, his eyes snapping with anger and disgust.
"So?" he said, the sarcasm making the word bigger, brighter between them. "I guess you have the proof you need that I did it, right? My own girlfriend signed the room service receipt. Case closed."
She held his challenging gaze. After a minute, she sighed. "I don't think you did it."
She saw surprise cross his features, and then his mask hardened again. "Why not? You didn't believe me before when I told you I didn't do it."
"I believe you now."
He laughed, bitterly.
"Logan, the look on your face…okay, you can lie with the best of them, when you're prepared, but when you're not, your emotions are all over you. You didn't fake that. You forget, I could once read you better than anyone else in the world. Better than your parents, better than Duncan, better than…" she trailed off, not wanting to bring Lilly into this discussion when they were being too honest with each other for comfort.
He was silent for a minute, and then his shoulders slumped.
"So you believe me now, but what good does that do? If Caitlin was here with someone the night the card was used, and I wasn't the one using the card, that means Caitlin is cheating on me. Great, because that's so much better than you thinking I'm guilty of something, again."
Veronica didn't know what to say, so she just stood there. Time was, she would have put her arms around him, but she didn't feel comfortable doing that now. To be honest, she didn't feel comfortable feeling like she wanted to comfort him at all.
Time ticked by, and finally, Logan stood up.
"Come on," he said. "I'll take you to your car."
She got into the passenger seat, and as he started the car and turned onto the road in the direction of the school, she watched him carefully.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
He shrugged. "Nothing, for now. It doesn't matter that much. Caitlin is a piece of ass, and I was going to toss her aside soon anyhow. I just don't like to be fooled. When I find out who the bastard is who's sneaking around with my girlfriend, I'll kill him. And then I'll kill her. But I can't catch them if I break up with her or let on that I know she's cheating on me. And I'd appreciate it if you kept this to yourself in the meantime."
Veronica shivered when he said the word kill, and when he repeated it. He sounded sincere.
"You're going to pretend everything is fine?"
He snorted. "I have some experience with that. Don't you?" He sneered at her.
She clenched her teeth together. Yes, that she did.
At lunch the next day, Logan watched. He watched Veronica flirt with Troy. That Wallace kid seemed to be acting as a wing man – for which of the two, he didn't know, but after a minute Veronica was laughing. Real laughter, and Logan had to take a few deep breaths at the surge of emotion he felt seeing her genuinely happy and then the equally forceful surge of disappointment that it was Troy – a kid he didn't really like, but couldn't decide why – who gave her that happiness.
Then he watched Troy leave the table and cross the quad to take a seat near Caitlin and some of the other 09er girls. His eyes narrowed as he watched the two of them flirt as well. What was it with this Troy character? Veronica wasn't enough for him? Was Troy the one Caitlin was cheating with? He didn't forget that Caitlin knew Troy before he started at Neptune, and had hung out with him at the Marina all summer.
"Hey, DK," he said. Duncan looked up. "How long have you known this kid Troy?"
"I don't know, a few years," said Duncan with a shrug. "His family has the slip next to ours. They usually come August, stay the month. They move around a lot. I'm going to go get a burrito, you want something?" Duncan stood up.
Logan shook his head, and Duncan dropped a little pink purse in Logan's lap. "Then you get to guard your girlfriend's purse." He walked away.
Logan glanced back at Veronica, and their eyes met. He looked away immediately, and when he dared a glance back, he saw that she had gotten up from the table and was striding into the school, cell phone in hand.
Looking down at Caitlin's purse, Logan noted that her cell phone was sticking out of a pocket. He glanced at where she was still engrossed in conversation with Troy, and picked up the phone. He scrolled through the call log, noticed a number that she had called repeatedly very late at night. He pressed the redial button.
Five minutes later, Logan stalked through the halls, flanked on either side by Dick and Enbom, trailing Chardo Nevarro. Weevil's stupider and uglier – if that were possible – cousin was the one to answer Logan's call from Caitlin's phone, and the one-sided conversation made it clear that Chardo was the one Caitlin was fooling around with. It all fit, after that…the post office box, the motorcycle gang items purchased, the necklace for Mrs. Nevarro.
As he was about to make his move forward to tackle Chardo and punch him until his bones resembled sawdust, a small object hit him from the right side and sent him flying through the door to the girl's bathroom. He heard Dick and Enbom's exclamations of surprise as he hit the wall of the stall. He regained his balance and whirled around, fists clenched, and stopped in surprise.
"What the hell?" he snarled. Veronica was stuffing a doorstop under the door and yelling at Dick and Enbom to get lost. The door rattled but didn't budge. Confident they were locked in, she turned on him, her expression stern.
"Do not, I repeat, do not be such an idiot, Logan. It doesn't suit you," she snapped.
"And I repeat, what the hell?"
"You can't beat up Chardo in school, you'll get suspended, and then you'll get in trouble with your parents, and you'll never have any proof, and Chardo will get away with it. Or everyone in school will know what happened and you'll look like a fool who can't keep his girlfriend satisfied."
They both winced at her last few words. He was sure she knew that Lilly had cheated on him, too. The thought just made the rage inside him bubble ever higher.
"You can't keep me from beating the shit out of him," he growled.
"I know. And I don't much care if you do. Can you just wait, though? I'm going to go talk to Mrs. Nevarro after school. She has to know it's Chardo, he gave her the necklace. I don't understand why she would let Weevil take the fall."
He paused. "Then what?"
"Well, I'll try to convince her to tell Lamb what she knows. Then Chardo can get what he deserves. If you need to use him as a punching bag to get your justice before he gets arrested, have at it. But just give me a chance to do something before he turns tail and disappears."
"You're going to see Mrs. Nevarro today?" he asked, lowering his fists to his sides and standing up straight.
"Yes. After school."
"I'll go with you."
She laughed. "No, you won't."
"Yes, I will."
"I'm not arguing with you about this. I know where she lives. I'll just go now, by myself, unless you agree."
Veronica let out a frustrated sigh.
Veronica walked up the front steps of the Nevarro house, Logan close behind her. She shook her head. She knew he wanted justice, but she didn't understand why he had insisted on coming with her. She dared a glance at him, and his jaw was set, his mouth in a thin line. Shaking her head, she rang the doorbell.
"Can you do me a favor and refrain from yelling at your 'domestic'?" She asked, seeing him flinch. "Let me do the talking."
After a moment, the door opened. Lettie Nevarro peered suspiciously at Veronica, but when she saw Logan, her face broke into a big smile. She opened the door wide.
"Mi hijo," she cried, stepping through the door and enveloping Logan in a warm hug. Veronica stepped back, her mouth dropping. And had Mrs. Nevarro called Logan her son?
"Hi, Lettie," he said, grinning. "You remember Veronica?"
"Of course I do, you look so grown up now!" She hugged Veronica too, then stepped back and gestured into the house. "Come in, come in. Would you like some tea?"
Veronica glanced at Logan. He nodded, so she said, "That would be great."
Fifteen minutes later, the trio sat at the kitchen table, steaming cups of tea in front of them. Logan was chattering with Mrs. Nevarro about school and surfing, as if Veronica wasn't even there.
"And your parents?" Mrs. Nevarro raised an eyebrow. "Are things going smoothly?"
Logan shrugged. "No different than usual." He glanced at Veronica, and then back at Mrs. Nevarro. Veronica thought she saw Logan shake his head slightly.
Finally, Veronica jumped in. "Mrs. Nevarro, we actually came here to talk about Weevil…and Chardo."
Immediately, the woman's broad smile disappeared. "That nasty business with the credit cards?" she asked. "I was so sorry when I found out that Weevil had done this to your family, Logan. I am very sorry."
He reached out, put a hand on her shoulder. "It's not your fault," he said.
"Except that Weevil didn't do it. Chardo did. And you know it. What I can't figure out is why you're letting Weevil take the fall." Veronica interrupted again, wanting to cut to the chase already.
Mrs. Nevarro shot her a sharp glance. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, I think you do. Chardo gave you that necklace. You must at least suspect…"
"Eli is seventeen," Mrs. Nevarro snapped. "Chardo is eighteen, with a record. Eli can do a couple of months in juvie, but Chardo would get real jail time."
Veronica leaned back in shock. She opened her mouth to argue, but suddenly Logan's hand was on hers. He squeezed tightly. She froze and shot a look at him.
"Lettie," he said, "that's fine in theory, except that I think Lamb is going to pin it on me instead of Weevil."
Mrs. Nevarro gaped at him. "But why?"
"There's proof Weevil couldn't have made the online purchases, so they're going to look elsewhere. And it turns out that whoever did do it—"
"Chardo," Veronica reminded them, earning a look from Logan.
"It turns out whoever did do it spent the night at the Neptune Grand with my girlfriend, Caitlin Ford. So even though I didn't do it, it looks an awful lot like I did."
Mrs. Nevarro gaped wider, and then her face crumpled in disgust. "Not her," she said. "She doesn't like her ice cubes made with tap water, the little princess." She shook her head at Logan. "You, mi hijo, can do much better."
He smiled. "Yeah, you're right. But what's worse than Caitlin cheating on me with Chardo is that…once Lamb charges me, my dad will find out, and you know he won't believe that I didn't do it."
Mrs. Nevarro leaned forward, put a hand on Logan's cheek. After a moment, she seemed to make a decision. She nodded. "Well, we can't have that. Who's going to drive me to the Sheriff's station?"
"So are you going to explain to me why Mrs. Nevarro changed her mind?"
Logan glanced to his right. Veronica was seated in the passenger seat of his SUV, her eyes locked on him, searching for truth. He shook his head.
He saw Veronica narrow her eyes and nearly laughed. The girl hated not knowing something. If there was a secret, a mystery, she just had to get to the bottom of it, no matter who she hurt on the way. And he had no doubt this would hurt, a lot, if she succeeded. Best not to say anything at all.
He pulled into the Neptune High parking lot and came to a stop near her car. They had driven Mrs. Nevarro to the station, where Lamb took her statement, as well as Logan's and Veronica's, and accepted the Neptune Grand bill summary and Weevil's course schedule as evidence. To Lamb's credit, he seemed to believe them, and promised to issue a warrant for Chardo and have Weevil released. They had driven Mrs. Nevarro home after that. She had given them both a tight hug, then went inside to start preparing Weevil's favorite dinner for when the Sheriff's Department delivered him home.
"Mars. Let it go." She opened her mouth. "Please," he said.
She stared at him. "Fine," she said, after a moment.
He rolled his eyes, but he was grinning. He was hoping she'd forget about it. He knew that when Lettie Nevarro thought he'd be in danger of a particularly severe beating from his father, she'd stop protecting Chardo. Or, at least, he had been banking on it. She had seen firsthand what Aaron Echolls could do to his son over small or imagined infractions. Something like this, and without her there to provide damage control after the fact…he knew she couldn't let that happen.
Now, however, he intended to round up his friends and find the biker before the gang could protect him or before he skipped town. He had an idea of how to do it, too. He would go to Caitlin, make her call Chardo, and when the asshole showed up, game on.
"Hey," he said suddenly, narrowing his eyes at Veronica, who had made no move to get out of the car. "How did you find out it was Chardo?"
She shrugged. "There was a list of numbers on the hotel bill. I had my Dad run them. When I heard Chardo's name, it clicked into place. How did you know?"
"I swiped Caitlin's phone and called a number that showed up in the call log repeatedly at weird hours. Chardo picked up. It…clicked into place."
She grinned at his repetition of her phrase. "Not bad, Echolls. Not bad at all. There might be a future for you in the biz yet."
Her cell phone buzzed, and she pulled it out and looked at the display, then pushed open the car door and hopped out. "Oh," she said, over her shoulder. "Don't go looking for Chardo. Weevil's on it already."
"How do you know that?" Logan asked. "And what do you mean, 'on it'?"
She waved her phone in the air. "He sent me a message. The PCHers caught up with him standing under Caitlin's window, shouting something about getting her things. Weevil said when they're done with him they'll dump him at Lamb's doorstep. He's out of the gang."
She went to close the door, caught his expression. "Seriously, Logan. You don't want to get in the middle of that. Let Weevil clean up his own backyard. Keep your nose clean. Avoid your dad's wrath."
He blinked at her. She tilted her head to one side, watching him carefully. "Thanks for the help," she said.
He snapped out of his stunned silence. "Whatever, Mars. I did it to clear my own name, remember?"
She rolled her eyes. "I know. Doesn't mean you didn't help. Is our truce over then? Back to normal tomorrow? Should I bring extra cleaning supplies to wipe the unsavory graffiti off of my locker?"
He smirked at her. "How about this? I won't throw the first punch if you don't. You plant another bong in my locker, then all bets are off."
Something that he couldn't read flashed across her face. Hurt? Disappointment? Resignation? After a moment, she nodded. Then she slammed the door, got into the LeBaron, and sped away.
A truce, he thought. That could work. For now.
A/N3: So this is my first fanfic ever. I've never felt the urge to create them before discovering VM. I loved the buildup to LoVe in Season One, and wish there was more of it. This might be a long one, or it might last as long as I have interest in it and there is interest from readers. I don't have a clear path or end point in mind, though it's likely not every chapter will follow the show so closely. It'll veer off more drastically as time goes on, I just decided to change one little thing early go with it. Let's just see what happens and make the journey together, shall we? I can't promise a particular frequency of posting, or the regularity of length. I will try to stay a few chapters ahead so if life gets in the way (like it does), I won't make you wait too long.
I've read some excellent Season One AUs on here, and if anything is unintentionally similar to someone else's, PM me and we can talk. Keep in mind, of course, that since none of us own these characters and this is all for fun, it doesn't really matter. Enjoy!