A/N: This chapter explains more about the MaDi side of things. T.J.'s birthday stuff all kicks off next time around ;)

(For disclaimer, etc. - see chapter 1)

Chapter 20

Mac always thought she was pretty brave in her own way. She stood up for what she believed in and didn't back down even if she was the only one. She embraced her inner geek, she fought her way into good jobs, past guys with rich fathers and family connections. She did not stick to society rules if she didn't agree with them. It was all pretty brave, pretty ballsy for a woman like her to do. Mac was no stereotype, she wasn't going to bag a rich husband and squeeze out a litter just because people expected her to do that. One day, family life would be fine with the right guy and everything, but damn it, if she wasn't going to do things her way.

Of course, Cindy Mackenzie knew she was a stereotype in at least one way now, and not half so brave as she ought to be on that exact same topic. Dick Casablancas. He just had to go ahead and be an exception to every rule she thought she had. Somehow over the past twenty years they had moved through so many stages of a relationship, she kind of lost count. In High School, he was kind of a bully, more so to her geek friends than to her, but she never liked him. Then there was Cassidy.

Dating the boy they called Beaver put Mac firmly in Dick's line of fire. They snarked at each other, but nothing truly nasty ever got said. The blows traded were never meant to wound, just to glance off at angles. Niggling and annoying, that was what they were to each other, never true enemies, not until after Cassidy died.

It added a new twist to the Mac and Dick dynamic, that was for damn sure. He was such a jerk after the event, and yet, she couldn't find a way to blame him. He tried to blame her, and it had taken months for them to both realise that they were turning on each other because it was easier than allowing themselves to feel guilty.

The truth of it was, they probably both could've done more for Cassidy. Dick could definitely have been nicer when they were growing up, but Mac couldn't judge. She was pretty heinous to her own little brother sometimes. Maybe she ought to have been a better girlfriend to Cassidy, but by then it was all too late, the damage was done.

It was their second year in college when things had shifted. Shortly before Freshman year ended, Dick had sucked it up and apologised to Mac for his behaviour, only to turn around and try to kiss her. She had been mostly disgusted then, and just a tiny bit flattered, though the shock meant she never let it show. They really hadn't become friends until after, when Logan skipped town and Veronica found herself pregnant.

Mac and Dick were the loose ends, so to speak, especially as time wore on and Wallace made a life for himself too, leaving town to be a big shot engineer with a wife and a son. Everybody grew up and moved on, even Dick as he suddenly found himself over twenty-one and master of all he surveyed. He and Mac spent time together here and there, mostly because it was a familiar face and somebody who understood. Close wouldn't be the right word for their friendship. Sometimes months would pass without them seeing each other at all, and yet in a moment of crisis, he would call, she would email. They were a support for each other in an odd way. She was there when some chick screwed him over. He was there when her job stressed her out to the point of walking. It was an odd kind of a friendship. Almost like a sponsor that stopped you from falling off the wagon. When things got rough and there was nowhere else to turn, they had each other to say it was all going to be okay.

Mac still thought she was pretty brave when she walked out on Kane Software. She had landed that job right out of college and worked her way up three levels in the first eight years or so. Then things came to a juddering halt. No more pay rises, no chance to get any higher, and even in today's enlightened world, colleagues and bosses that liked to make dirty jokes at the I.T. girl's expense. She had to get out, she just had to, and when they brought in a new level of management over her head, a real idiot who only got the position because his Daddy knew Jake Kane so well, Mac packed up her desk and literally walked away.

Landing a job at Casablancas Enterprises, that was strange. She accused Dick of only doing her a favour and not actually hiring her for her credentials. How he abstained from making a dirty comment at that line, she never did figure out, but he promised so sincerely that he only hired smart people, she couldn't doubt him. Working there got her the management position she deserved, the corner office, and most of all respect. Mac saw it as a good career move, a pretty brave move, and then last week, six months into her new job, she became a walking cliché.

Sleeping with the boss. Oh, Mac loathed herself for being so dumb, and yet she couldn't quite find a way to feel bad about the actual 'sex with Dick' part. Somehow it was almost as if it had been a long time coming, like she knew one day they would be more than friends. Not that she thought he would see them that way. He probably just thought they were bed buddies now, friends with benefits as people called it. The brave thing to do now would be to face him, ask him, but today was where Mac's never-ending nerve finally failed her.

It had been a work thing, an anniversary type celebration, and Mac only attended because she felt obligated. She and Dick had been closer lately, it was true. It wasn't exactly like dating since they hadn't actually gone out on what one might call a date, but they were definitely closer. He bought her lunch a few times and she returned the favour, even though he kept on reminding her she shouldn't because he was 'a gazzillionaire' as he put it. Then there was that time they stayed late so she could show him how to work the PowerPoint presentation he was struggling with. Kissing Dick had been strange but nice, better than nice. In fact, Mac had spent the rest of night trying to uncurl her toes and get the dumb grin off her face.

Dating was still too strong a word, but Mac certainly wouldn't have accepted the chance to go out with anybody else after that. Dick was different, awkward at first, probably thinking she was going to slap him for daring to push it with her after all this time. They didn't really talk about what was happening, they just carried on like the snarky but caring friends they had been for years now, with the added bonus of some really good making out once in a while. He had said he wanted her there for the anniversary party, as his date if she wanted, and though she agreed to go she declined the couple part. Nobody at work could know they were getting closer. It would be way too unprofessional and complicated, but at the party they had at least dared to dance together. Dick danced with most of the women that night, some of his employees wives and a couple of waitresses when he'd had a few drinks. He saved the slow dance for Mac, out on the terrace where no-one could see, so he could kiss her without worrying about the consequences.

Mac got a ride home with Dick that night, and somehow they ended up making out in the back seat like a couple of kids. The driver went straight to the Casablancas home, having been given no instruction to go elsewhere by his oblivious passengers. That was the first and only night the couple spent together.

Now it was Monday, not literally the morning after the night before, but the first in which Mac and Dick might actually have to face each other. Bravery would be great right about now, but Cindy Mackenzie could not find it in herself today. She ducked Dick's calls, she literally hid when she saw him coming into her department, and as the clock struck four she was all but under her desk in an attempt to keep out of his eyeline.

Some day she was going to have to face Dick and the fact of the sex she had with him the other night, but that day wasn't today, she was going to make sure of that.

Veronica looked up from her work when she heard the door open and smiled as her daughter came into the office.

"Hey, sweetheart," she greeted T.J. "How was school?"

"Big building, lots of kids, a few teachers. Y'know?" she shrugged easily, a smirk on her lips that was pure Echolls - Veronica tried not to react to it.

"Hilarious. You really should be a comedian some day," she rolled her eyes at her daughter's joke. "Maybe I shouldn't tell you the good news about your birthday party if you're going to be that way..." she considered as she got up from her desk with papers in her hands to file.

"What? What about my party? Did you talk to Logan?" asked T.J., all of a flutter when it came to her sweet sixteen.

She wasn't the most girly girl in the world, but she had her moments. Teresa Jane was a lot like Veronica that way, and it made the blonde smile to realise it. Equal parts her and Logan in one package. Right now it was hard to see how everybody hadn't called her on it when she proclaimed Leo to be the father of her little girl. Anyone with eyes ought to be able to see the truth.

"Yes, I talked to Logan," she said, putting paperwork away into carefully alphabetised folders at her filing cabinet, whilst T.J. continued to bounce a little on her heels. "We worked things out, made all the arrangements. Looks like you're having the big houseparty bash that you wanted, Teresa," she smiled then, closing the drawer and turning to face her properly.

"Did I mention that you're the best Mom ever sometimes?" T.J. grinned, hugging her mother.

Veronica resisted asking 'Only sometimes?' as she might've done before. She knew her failings in parenthood well enough, thank you very much. Now would be a very bad time to bring it up again. T.J. looked so happy when she flung her arms around Veronica, and yet when they parted a moment later, there was a troubled look in her eyes.

"What's wrong, T.J.?" she asked with genuine concern.

"I just... Is it weird?" she checked then, having to explain when Veronica continued to look baffled. "I mean, it's completely freaky to me still that I have this other father, but it's gotta be weird for you too, right? Spending time with Logan?"

Veronica let out a breath she hardly knew she'd been holding. Honestly, for a moment there, she thought T.J. was worried about something far worse. Her feelings couldn't matter as much as her daughter's own, they just couldn't.

"It is odd, to say the least," Veronica admitted, sitting down on the front edge of the desk. "Especially in that house. Lot of mixed up memories," she said with a sigh. "Plus I'm not sure if his being reasonable about all this actually makes me feel more or less guilty..." she stopped talking when she realised she was now off on a tangent and only making T.J. uncomfortable. "It's worth it," she smiled then. "It's worth spending time with Logan, no matter how weird it feels, if it makes you happy, Teresa. It's all I really want," she shrugged her shoulders then, fighting tears she didn't want to shed, not again.

"You know I love you, right?" said T.J. with a look only a daughter could give her mother in such a moment.

"I love you too," she replied just the same way, the sappy moment broken when there was a tap on the already open door and Leo walked in.

"Hey, Dad," his daughter greeted him as she ordinarily would, not even considering the fact she had just been talking about her real father. "How'd you know I was here?" she frowned suddenly.

"Actually, that's just a nice surprise," the Sheriff smiled at her. "I actually came to talk to Veronica. Work stuff." he admitted with an apologetic look and a file of papers in his hand for his ex-wife.

"Don't be sorry," she told him ushering him further into the office. "Work is money and money pays the rent. I don't complain about that."

"Money pays for parties too," T.J. grinned. "Oh, I have to go call Sam and tell her it's totally on at the Echolls house!" she realised all of a sudden. "See you guys later," she called to both her parents, before rushing out of the room.

"Don't slam the... door," Veronica's sentence became both disjointed and pointless as the office door clanged shut behind her daughter. "Seriously? How is the glass still in that thing?" she asked, mostly rhetorically and with a shake of her head.

Leo handed over the file to her without really thinking and stared back over his shoulder at the closed door through which T.J has just passed. He was so confused right now, and though he hated to ask the question, he just had to.

"Did she really just say she was having a party at the Echolls house?" he checked with Veronica.

Over the top of the glasses she had recently had to start wearing for reading, Veronica glanced up at Leo. She knew it would hurt him hearing this, but she had to explain. As usual, timing had just wrecked a carefully constructed plan. If he had arrived just five minutes later, he would not have had T.J. practically skipping the dance of joy over her party and revealing the one detail Veronica had hoped to break to him gently.

"Yeah," she said awkwardly, taking off her glasses then. "Logan offered and... and I couldn't refuse, Leo, I just couldn't," she explained. "T.J. wanted it so much and Logan..."

"No, it's fine. I get it," he waved away her awkwardness and his own pain with a vague hand gesture. "I had sixteen years of being her father, Logan should have his turn," he said, ever the adult.

Veronica couldn't help the smile that came to her lips as she explained those were just the words Logan himself had used, albeit in a nastier tone. They were both just as right as each other though. If Logan wanted to be a father to his daughter, they couldn't stand in his way. They had done so for long enough, as unfair as that had been. It would be beyond wrong to keep it up now.

"Are you really okay?" she asked, getting up from her seat and coming around the desk to his side.

Leo looked and felt anything but fine and they both knew it. Trouble was he had brought this on himself in many ways, they both had. Living with consequences was a bitch but it was the rules of the world that they knew all too well. Do the crime, do the time, it was as true for them as for any criminal. They had kept a father and daughter apart for sixteen years, and now any pain they suffered was their own fault. They must bear it as best they could and not complain - they had no right to do anything else.

"We really screwed up, didn't we?" he asked, with a brave smile despite the words he said.

"I don't know," Veronica shrugged her shoulders, moving in to share a hug with the ex she still loved on some level and always would. "I think we did okay, considering the circumstances," she smiled as much as she could manage.

Leo hugged her close a few moments and dropped a kiss on the top of her head. He never would stop loving this woman for as long as he lived, even if he was pretty sure she would be back in Logan Echolls' arms before too long. Some things were just destined to be, and that relationship seemed to be one of them.

To Be Continued...