A/N - Remember me? Cannot apologize enough for the delay, but I've been overrun with a bunch of kid stuff and unable to get time away to write much.
I really appreciate all of your comments and encouragement. I definitely plan to complete the fic, and they're always nice inspiration for me to get moving along.
Thanks, as always, to mysilverlining2k6 for being such a great beta.
Previously: Gory offered Mac a job. Mac and Dick finally did the deed. Veronica successfully closed Connor's case. Keith went to question Molly and came face to face with Cormac, who is still looking for Kendall's money. Keith lets Molly believe Weevil was just using her for access to Connor's phone, figuring that she would assume Weevil told him all of her secrets and then talk freely about them to him. Cormac gave Keith 24 hours to tell him where he put the cash and
threatened to kill Veronica if he didn't, then had Molly knock him unconscious with the butt of a gun in order to transport him somewhere. Logan left the house to get food, and when Veronica went upstairs, she discovered Liam in her bedroom with a gun trained on Lilly. Through a diversion, Lilly escaped with Veronica's phone, and Veronica was later able to escape by clocking Liam in the head with a free weight. Logan found her in the driveway and they took off in his car. Lilly was able to contact Wallace (who called Veronica on Logan's phone) and the four of them decide to meet up at Lynn's house, since it's the last place anybody would look for them.
"I told you never to call me on this number."
"No," Liam said, switching the phone to his other ear as he searched through an underwear drawer he assumed belonged to Veronica Mars, unless the Echolls kid liked it kinky. "You told me not to call this number unless it was an emergency."
A heavy sigh carried over the line. "If I wanted emergencies, I would have hired your mentally compromised kin instead."
Liam pulled several items of clothing out and held each of them up for inspection, before discarding them over his shoulder onto the floor. He finally settle on an ivory silk chemise, which he balled up and pressed against his still bleeding wound, immediately turning the fabric a garish red.
Maybe I'll make her wear this one for me later when I catch up to her.
"Yeah? Well, you're welcome to head on over to the prison for a pow-wow if you think Danny can do any better." Liam chucked the now soaked garment into the nearby trash can and pulled a tawny, gauze scarf from the next drawer down.
"What happened?" the voice asked.
"She's a fucking FBI agent," Liam said, wrapping the scarf around his shaved head like a turban. "That's what happened."
"You said you'd had dealings with her before."
"Well, that's when she was just a nosy brat with a washed up PI for a dad. Now, she's a fed and her pops is the sheriff again." Tucking the edge of the scarf into the the front of the turban, Liam took a moment to duck his head into the bathroom to check his reflection out in the mirror.
"Do we know where the father is?"
Liam rolled his eyes. "You didn't pay me to watch the dad. You paid me to get what you wanted from the little girl."
"I PAID YOU TO GET THE JOB DONE!" the other man shouted, making the little hairs on the back of Liam's neck shoot up. "I don't care how that happens. Just do it."
Collapsing onto the edge of the bed, Liam reached down and grabbed the blood-spattered weight that was dropped there and rolled it between his hands. "You want me to get it done, you got to do a little something for me."
"I'm done bargaining with you."
"Relax comrade," Liam said with a snort. "I'm not trying to bilk you out of any more of your hard-stolen rubles. I just need a wee bit of assistance locating the little bitch."
For a moment, nothing but the sound of fingers clicking against computer keys filled the air. "Which car did they take?"
"Yellow Toyota SUV. I think it's the boyfriend's." He lifted a framed photo of Veronica and Logan from the side table and sneered at it. "Logan Echolls."
Shoulda had those spics take care of you that night on the bridge.
"I know the one. I'll have the live OnStar feed sent to your phone in the next five minutes."
"Much obliged, Mr. Petrenko."
"Don't thank me," Alexei said, his voice growing harder by the second. "Get the girl. Get Veronica Mars. And get it done."
The line went dead.
"Oh, I'm gonna get it done alright." With his blood-stained index finger, Liam drew a thick 'X' over Veronica's face.
"So..." Mac began, having no idea what to say. She'd pretty much fucked up any chance they had of preparing themselves for the cyber attack, so now, instead of being halfway to Mexico, they likely had a 15 minute head start on Petrenko's goon squad.
"We're you planning on finishing that thought?" Dick's hands gripped the wheel of his rental car tensely at ten and two.
"Eventually." She kneaded her fingers in her lap and stared at her cellphone, which vibrated for the fifth time in a row in the central console's cup holder. "Do you hate me? I wouldn't really blame you if you did."
Dick scoffed hard enough to jostle the car. "Dude, you're talking to the king of fuck-ups. If anybody gets bad decision making, it's this guy." He jerked both thumbs towards his chest, releasing the steering wheel altogether for a hot moment.
Mac pursed her lips at him as she leaned over and grabbed the wheel. "Alexei is not even going to have the pleasure of killing us if you keep driving like this."
"Wouldn't want to rob him of that pleasure." Dick took the wheel back with his left hand and rested his right one on her thigh. "You've got to give me a direction, babe. We're like sitting ducks out here on the highway."
Her phone loudly vibrated again but she pointedly ignored it, as if pretending that nobody was calling would make the entire clusterfuck go away.
With her index finger, she traced the circumference of Dick's hand, holding her breath until the buzzing stopped. "Maybe I should...?"
"Answer it?" he asked. "Either do that or toss it out of the window before they trace it. We can pick up some burner phones as soon as we get far enough out."
"I was just hoping to reach Veronica first." Mac let her fingertips glide over the smooth glass panel on the front of her iPhone. "I texted her, but all I got back was a jumble of misspelled words telling me she thought I was 'gud' and to have a 'funy day'."
"Huh. I always figured Ronnie for more of a wordsmith."
Mac snorted hard into her hand. "I think Lilly must've gotten a hold of her phone."
"That little chick is crafty. I mean, Ronnie gave me the evil eye when I even thought about going near her phone. I was gonna change all of her contact photos to pictures of animals humping." He laughed to himself at the memory. "You were going to be one of those giant turtles from the Galápagos Islands getting mounted from behind."
I probably shouldn't read too much into that.
"I was a pair of white Bengal tigers doing it doggie-style," Dick continued, lost in his pornographic reverie. "Or would it be kitty-style?"
Mac lifted her phone from the upholder and stared at it. "Veronica's surgically attached to that phone. I doubt Lilly would be able to get very far with it, so they must be together, right?"
She pulled up Veronica's contact and tapped to dial.
After several rings, a small, chipper voice answered. "Hi."
"Is that Lilly?"
A loud snort nearly blew out Mac's eardrums. "Like, I'm going to tell a total stranger who I am."
Mac smiled into the receiver. "Check your caller ID, sweetie."
After a moment of rustling, Lilly returned to the phone. "Mac!"
"Hi Lilly. I'm looking for your aunt. You didn't happen to take her phone by mistake, did you?"
"No, I took it on purpose. Duh."
Why does she have more confidence at seven than I did at 20?
"Okay. Well, can you please put Veronica on?"
"She's not here."
She practically takes that phone to the bathroom. Something is off.
A low-level current of panic crackled through her body like a plasma lamp. "What happened?"
The sound at the other end of the line faded in and out as muffled voices murmured quietly in the background.
"Mac? It's Wallace."
Normally, the sound of her old friend's voice would have been of great comfort to her, but hearing it now - absent of Veronica's presence - could only mean bad things.
"What happened to Veronica?" she asked.
"She's okay," Wallace said, answering quickly before her mind had a change to go somewhere dark. "She got away."
Mac let out the breath she'd been holding and leaned her head against the cold glass of the window. "Got away from whom?"
His nervous chuckle set Mac's teeth on edge.
"Yeah," Wallace said, in a carefully measured tone, "you're probably not gonna like the answer to that one."
Dick lobbed an inquisitive look in Mac's direction but she shrugged him off. "Probably not, but tell me anyway."
If there was one thing she'd learned from her years of ignoring the sexual tension between herself and Dick, it was that hiding from things wouldn't make them not true. And working for Alexei, she'd been feeling the truth of that lesson more with each passing day.
Did the black software of death manage to dismantle Pandora's Box along with the Alexicon mainframe?
The side of Mac's head pressed so hard into the widow-frame she almost made herself black out. "And here I thought I was having a shitty day."
"Why? Who pissed on your campfire?" Wallace asked.
"Oh, you know…just me…while I was standing in it." Her breathing increased, fogging up the window so much she secretly hoped it would block out the entire world.
He huffed out a small laugh. "That bad? This have to do with that Bond villain you've been making time with?"
"No, Wallace. It has to do with that vegan actuary I was dating last year."
"I hear those vegans can get real ornery when you slip them dairy."
Dick, surreptitiously stealing concerned glances in Mac's direction in the least subtle, most adorable way ever, made her stomach flip. The edges of her mouth curled up as she resisted the urge to reach out and touch him.
"True dat." Wallace made a low sound of disapproval. "So, you need a place to hide out?"
"With my electronic footprint and his scope of access, I'm pretty sure there's nowhere I could go that he couldn't get to me." Mac gingerly rested her hand on Dick's thigh and looked up, as though speaking only to him. "I'm going to have to face the music sometime, I just need some time to think."
Dick covered her hand with his own and ran the pad of his thumb across her knuckles. "I might know a place."
"You'd better not be talking about your bedroom, Dick."
He smirked at her in a way that she shouldn't have found arousing but did anyway.
Wallace coughed out a few protest groans. "Both y'all are nasty. I'm hanging up before you traumatize me further."
"You've grown soft, Wallace," she said, teasing.
A huge grin broke out across Dick's face. "That's what she s-"
Mac cut him off with a sharp look.
"Okay, that's my limit. I'm out. Call me if something happens and...try to stay safe, girl," Wallace said, before disconnecting the call.
Safe? I don't even know what that feels like anymore.
Her head was heavy with thought as hundreds of ideas volleyed around her head like pinballs, always landing slightly off from where she was aiming and refusing to settle.
Mac squeezed Dick's thigh and signaled with a jerk of her chin for him to pull over.
He pulled the car to the nearest shoulder of the road and slowly rolled to stop. "Dude. You look like you're having an aneurism."
Mac scrubbed her face roughly with both hands. "It's a distinct possibility."
"Well, I know something that may take the edge off..." Dick pushed himself off of the seat and began to reached into his back pocket with great difficulty, wincing as he tried to maneuver his injured shoulder into a fresh position.
"Stop. You're going to hurt yourself." She grabbed his arm, holding onto it until he relented and sat down again. "And I'm not getting high with you. Despite what your quack told you, it's not a cure-all for every situation. Besides, one of us needs to stay alert if we're going to come up with a solution."
"Oh. I already came up with a solution," he said, checking out his hair in the sun visor mirror. "Wow. I have major sex hair."
"You what?" Her head snapped up.
"Sex hair," he repeated sluggishly, then waggled his eyebrows.
It took all of her energy not to rip her own hair out at the root. "No. The first part, Dick."
"I've got this shit locked down. No problem." Dick burrowed into the headrest of his seat and closed his eyes, as if settling down for a power nap.
I'm either dating an idiot savant or just a plain old idiot. It really could go either way at this point.
Mouth agape, she willed him to open his eyes again solely on the power of her glare.
He cracked open one eye and immediately shut it again. "You sure about that joint? You're looking hella-tense."
"Asshole." Mac leaned over and punched him in his good arm, sending him into a fit of laughter. "How are you so calm? It's not like I'm the only one he's going to murder, you know. You're pretty high up on his list of kills, too!"
"Babe, it's simple supply-and-demand economics. Like, what do we have that Hans Gruber wants?"
"Our heads?" She twisted a lock of hair around her finger and sighed. "Fine. We have the antidote to the virus I unleashed on his system...but I'm pretty sure he could get that from me simply using the threat of physical torture."
Dick untangled her fingers from her hair and held her hand in his. "Sure, but what would he give to prevent us from torturing somebody that he cares about?"
"The list of people Alexei cares about has one name on it, at most." Mac scrunched her nose at him. "Please tell me you're not talking about Katya, because I'm not remotely on board with that scenario at all."
"We're not actually going to torture her, but he doesn't know that! We just make him think we've got his daughter and then we use her as insurance to make sure he doesn't do anything to us while you and Eurotrash work out your shit. Katya's cool, I'm sure she'll be down with playing the victim."
Definitely going with 'savant', then.
The terror that had been gripping Mac's chest for the last half hour began to abate, but something else, something even scarier took hold in it's place. "Huh. You think she'll agree to it?"
He looked at her like she was nuts. "I know she will. Even if she weren't like, totally gay for Ronnie, she's definitely the kind of chick who would do a guy a solid."
"He's devious and has a nice ass? That settles it. I'm definitely keeping you around." She flashed her dimples at him, smiling genuinely for the first time since the shit hit the fan. "Remind me to thank you properly, later."
Dick slid her hand down the front of his body and rested it on his crotch.
Mac blinked at him and removed her hand. "Later."
"You can't blame a guy for trying," he said, with a wink.
Daylight did nothing to improve the visibility of the dirty windows that lined the entrance to the River Stix Bar. And, after 20 minutes of banging on the front door until his knuckles were raw, Weevil wasn't feeling too shy about bashing some of those bad boys in. Not if it meant catching a glimpse of what was going on inside.
"That bitch was supposed to open this place up an hour ago," slurred a red-nosed fat man in rumpled clothes who was slumped against the side of the building, looking like he'd been there half the night.
"What the fuck you just say to me?" Already keyed up from nerves, Weevil whipped around and dragged the man to his feet by his collar, then quickly checked himself before he decked the guy.
"Fuck!" The scent of vomit and stale booze assaulted his senses, and he released the guy almost immediately. "You sleep out here?"
"Where else am I gonna go?" The drunk shrugged.
Though Weevil had given Molly a short lead, he'd pretty much followed her back to the River Stix as soon as she left his place.
Sure, she was a badass who could hold her own, but she was his basass, and there was no way he'd allow Cormac to lay his hands on her ever again. Not while he still had breath in his body.
But, Molly wasn't answering her phone and the bar was locked during business hours. After risking her safety by bringing him Troy's phone, the things he imagined her dad might do to her for revenge made his knees weak.
Weevil's fingers itched to hit something.
A fight might be just the thing to take the edge off of his anxiety. But this guy? It would be like hitting a sack of potatoes. A sack of potatoes that smelled like somebody had taken a dump in it.
Not risking my PI license over this fuck.
"Hey! You're that guy." The sad sack reached out to grab the sleeve of Weevil's jacket, but missed by about a foot and ended up face-planting into the wall instead. "You wrecked that old man who tried to choke out Molly Fitzpatrick."
Weevil stared the drunk down until the man started to shake. Infamy had its benefits.
"You want a repeat performance?"
The guy raised his hands in surrender. "I didn't know she was your girl, man! I didn't mean nothing by it, just really need a drink. You know how it is."
He did. But what he was jonzing for didn't come in a bottle.
Where the fuck is she?
"You see her come in this morning to unlock the place?" He tried in vain to pry the door open once more.
The guys legs gave out and he fell back against the wall with his eyes closed. "No, man. I was passed out then. The only person I seen this morning come through here was the sheriff."
Weevil's ears pricked up. "Sheriff Mars was here this morning? How long ago?"
The guy shrugged and held his wrist up. "Don't exactly have a watch. Even if I did, prolly too fuckin' drunk to tell the time anyway."
Crouching next to the lush, Weevil held his breath. "What time did the sheriff leave?"
"He didn't," he said, almost unintelligible through particularly loud yawn, and gestured toward a puddle of vomit decorating the front stoop of the bar. "Not through that door at least. I lost about a fifth of Old Grandad down there right after he went in. Pig woulda tracked it all over the lot if he'd come out that way."
Keith is still here? Why the hell did he show up to begin with? I had Molly handled.
Something wasn't sitting right with Weevil. He looked around the parking lot, but nothing immediately stuck him as being 'off'.
Besides his bike, there wasn't much there. Molly's car wasn't out front, but she often parked in the alley. There was a beat up Chevy Cavalier older than his niece, a dry cleaning delivery van, an abandoned children's bike, and low rider el Camino tricked out with hydraulics and undercarriage lights, that idled near the drive-through ATM as some fishy-looking guys did their business.
Just as Weevil's eyes reached the end of the lot he caught sight of a silver Crown Vic - similar to the type Keith used to drive during his stint as a P.I. - in the far right corner, parked behind the dumpster.
At that moment, the entire picture came into focus like one of those plastic Viewfinders Ofelia used to play with.
Keith wasn't there for Molly, he was there for Cormac.
The two men obviously had some kind of unfinished business between them, and if Weevil had to bet, he'd lay odds on it having something to do with the attempts on the sheriff's life.
But where did Molly fit into all of this? And why wasn't she picking up her damn phone?
Weevil stomped across the parking lot like it had personally insulted him, the heels of his boots slamming aggressively into the tarmac with each step until he reached Keith's car.
The first thing to raise a red flag was the unlocked door.
Because cops often leave all of their shit in an unlocked car.
He wrenched the door open and slid into the driver's seat, where his eyes immediately fell to a GPS chip monitor wedged into the console slot under the radio, where Keith normally kept his classic rock CDs.
He'd seen that equipment before - the actual unit - at the bottom of a woman's shoe box in the central closet at Mars Investigations.
It was one of their better models, and part of the first round of purchases Weevil had made the month he'd finally brought the business into the black.
Who are you tailing, Keith?
Weevil flipped the switch, waiting impatiently as the unit slowly hummed to life. The familiar band of green light swept the screen in a clockwise rotation over and over again for several minutes without producing a result.
His fingers rapped rhythmically against the steering wheel in syncopation with the quiet, tinny beeps the monitor emitted with each pass of the scanner.
"Come on!" he said, followed by a frustrated snarl.
Patience was never one of Weevil's strong suits.
He leaned his forehead against the leather steering wheel cover, to rest a moment while he waited. If anything, a few minutes staring at his feet might help him calm the fuck down.
It was then, that Weevil noticed a slip of yellow legal pad paper that had been folded several times peeking out from underneath his shoe.
He lifted it up using the sides of his shoes and groaned as he reached down to retrieve.
I'm getting too damn old for this.
After carefully unfolding the square, Weevil immediately recognized the messy scrawl that filled the lines within.
"What are you up to, boss?"
Outlined in the note, was a detailed account of Keith's last encounter with Cormac Fitzpatrick, followed by the date and time of his meeting today, and an 'If you're reading this, it means I've gone missing' list of instructions to follow in order to help Weevil locate and recover him.
Fearing he'd be captured, Keith had placed the mate to the tracker monitor in his shoe as a back-up plan. Weevil just hoped it wasn't too late, and that the tracker would lead him to a man and not a body.
Weevil punched the ceiling of the car so hard he opened up the barely-healed scabs on his knuckles, leaving a smudge of dark blood on the fabric above his head.
The gnarled skin across the top of his hand brought to mind Molly's soft, open-mouthed kisses this morning trailing across each knuckle.
She had threatened to kiss them twice a day until they disappeared. Part of him hoped they never would.
"Where the hell are you, Keith?"
Right at that moment, the tone of the beep shifted into a higher pitched pinging sound, drawing his attention. A lone dot appeared onscreen, slowly traveling North.
Weevil switched the monitor to map mode.
They were about an hour away up the PCH.
I can't get away from that fucking road.
He reached down with one hand and felt under the seat of the car for the key, while the other searched through every compartment on the dashboard and console.
Coming up empty, Weevil was tempted to let loose with another punch, but the blood on the ceiling warned him off of it.
Figuring he had no choice but to hotwire the car, he flipped the visor down to block out the glare of the morning sun, and a set of car keys dropped neatly into his lap.
"Always a move ahead of me, sheriff."
Weevil placed the monitor on the dash and slotted the key into the ignition, turning until the engine began to purr.
He may be walking into this whole thing blind, but it was worth the risk. Wherever Keith was, Molly was sure to be close by, and he was determined to being them both back safely or die trying.
I'm coming for you, baby.
Heat radiating from a dull ache above his left temple woke Keith with a start, just in time to be gracelessly thrown against the back of the front seat as the car he was riding in lurched to a stop.
Guess the Fitzpatricks aren't too concerned about the possibility of compounded injuries.
As raw as his head felt, Keith was thankful for no permanent damage. He'd been pistol-whipped enough times in the past to recognize the signs of a concussion or skull fracture. He was still sharp enough to think clearly, so it couldn't have been too bad.
He had no doubt that Molly knew her way around a gun, so the fact that he wasn't feeling worse was either a miracle or an act of mercy.
He just wasn't quite sure which, yet.
"I won't be but five minutes," Cormac said, as he slammed the gear shift into park and turned off the engine.
Why is the guy with one eye in charge of driving?
"I expect you both to be here when I get back." Cormac said, somehow managing to make a wink look threatening.
Molly, whose long hair was now clipped into a messy bun on the top of her head, leaned into the worn leather of the seat and shrugged her shoulders in defeat. "Where the hell else would I go?"
"It looks like it's healing." Cormac's calloused hand caught the side of her face and lightly brushed a thumb across the bruise on her cheekbone. "Does it still hurt?"
She shook her head. "I've suffered worse."
"Your mom ran out on me when you were just a kid." His hand slid to Molly's neck and held on with affection. "She tried taking you with her, but I wasn't having any of that. You were my blood, my legacy. I would have gone to the ends of the Earth to get you back. You're a Fitzpatrick."
Molly's throat bobbed as she swallowed thickly.
"Now, I'm still pissed about you giving the phone with all the pictures to that spic, but I guess I kinda had it coming, getting rid of your lover boy the way I did." He rolled his eyes and smirked at her indulgently. "It probably would have been easier to just pay him to go away, but you know me and my temper...and you know how I hate loose ends."
"I could have handled Troy," she said in a quiet voice, averting her eyes.
"Maybe." He nodded and brought his hand up to her jaw again. "I know you're just acting out, trying to prove how adult you are now. And turn-about's fair play, I guess. I'm not going to pretend I'm happy about it, but if I'm gonna get screwed I'm glad it's by my own kid. Least I know you're paying attention, learning the family trade."
"More than you know, daddy."
"You always were the only one I could trust, baby girl." He leaned across the console and pressed a kiss to his daughter's forehead. "I can still trust you, can't I?"
Molly's neck tensed as Cormac tightened the grip on her face. "Of course."
"Atta girl." He ruffled her hair playfully and grinned before opening the door and stepping through it. "Keep the seat warm for me."
The door slammed shut like the lid of a coffin and the car was just as silent within.
"I know you're awake." Molly sighed like it required more effort than she could muster to speak with him.
"Yeah, well, you could have hit me harder if you wanted me out." Keith groaned and angled his head to the side to alleviate some of the pressure.
She leaned over the back of her chair and let her arm dangle low enough to graze his shoulder, like a taunt. "You complaining?"
"Depends on where you're taking me."
"We're headed North to see your daughter."
"Veronica? Are we following her car?" Keith tried to sit up but a brief wave of vertigo kept him down.
"Your daughter likes to keep you in the loop." Molly lifted Keith's phone from her pocket and held it up long enough for him to see a text from Veronica. "Takes a lot of the legwork out of tailing somebody. Look, she even left us an address and everything."
"Molly..." Keith flipped over, managing to avoid aggravating his wound, so he could look directly at her. "Listen to me, I know you're scared-"
Her pretty mouth twisted into a snarl. "Pardon me, Sheriff, but you really don't know shit about me."
Keep her talking. Find a way to connect. She needs your help just as much as you need hers.
"I know you're afraid of your father."
"Name me one person in Neptune who isn't," she spat, before pulling her arm back to her side of the car like she'd been stung.
"He's your dad." Keith inched his way across the cold upholstery toward the rear passenger door and leaned his head on the armrest. "You get that that's not normal, right?"
His vision blurred from the pressure on his injury from the awkward, new angle.
"Normal?" Molly dropped her head back and laughed bitterly. "You think anything about my life is normal?"
"What about Eli?"
Her face shuddered like a storm window and she slid back into her seat with crossed arms. "I don't want to talk about him."
"We could talk about your mom?" he offered, in the most calming voice he could muster.
She huffed at the suggestion and rose up in her seat to face him again.
"You were listening, huh?" Molly's hands tightened around the headrest as she glowered at him so hard she may as well have cold-cocked him again. "She bolted when I was six. Guess my dad isn't as charming as he thinks he is."
Keith nodded at her with understanding. "My wife left us too."
She tilted her head to the side in mock consideration and pressed a long finger to her lips. "Is this the part where I cry on your shoulder and we realize we're not that different after all?"
Not quite. Feels more like we're from different planets.
"No. You're a million times tougher than I was at 25. But you shouldn't have to be."
Ever the cynic, Molly examined him intently, looking for signs of mendacity in his face. Seeming to have found none, the hard lines creasing the center of her brow began to smooth out. "I watched my father bash my boyfriend's skull in with a hammer and then ask me what I was planning on making for dinner. So, yeah, I kind of do have to be. If I want to keep breathing."
It was at that moment that Keith decided he wasn't leaving Molly behind, whether she was game to run or not.
"Your father murdered Troy Vandergraff?" He wasn't surprised Cormac did it, he was only surprised that Molly actually confirmed it for him.
I never liked that kid, but he didn't deserve to go out like that. Nobody does.
"Don't tell me you're surprised. You and I both know what he did to Kendall Casablancas in the desert that night you drove him out to the cabin."
"Your dad told you about that?" His eyes widened with shock.
She picked at a loose thread that bound the leather headrest and cleared her throat. "He says a lot in his sleep, has a lot of waking dreams. I read that it's pretty common for people with his condition...with his brain being the way it is now."
"You've got to get away from him, Molly."
"How?" She leaned her chin over the back of her seat, looking glum. "You heard him. He'd go to the ends of the Earth to find his 'baby girl'."
"Just give me some kind of hard evidence to get him on and I can keep you safe."
"Him getting shot in the face couldn't keep me safe, Sheriff, what do you think you can do?" She unclipped her hair and let it tumble down her back. "Besides, you're not the first man who promised he'd keep me safe. Not even this week. Look how that turned out." She held up her wrist to show off the angry imprint of five, meaty fingers.
Shit. I knew that white lie about Navarro was going to bite me in the ass. Now she doesn't trust him at all.
"What I said before, about Eli, it wasn't true. He cares a great deal about you."
"When it suits him, yeah."
"Molly, the past few days he's been walking around like he won the lottery. When I visited his office the other day, I mentioned your name and he got this goofy look on his face. Eli doesn't do goofy. He's completely gone on you, and I'm not just saying this to make you feel good. You need to know that there are people who care that you stay safe, that you have a reason to fight."
Please let her believe me.
A ghost of a smile crossed her lips, then left as quickly as it appeared. "I want to believe you. I do. It's just, I'm pretty sure I'll end up dead before my boots even hit the pavement."
Keith pushed through the throbbing in his head to bring himself to an upright position. "You're already dead. Help me help you, and there's actually a chance you'll get to live again."
"This is it," Logan said, letting the car idle on the thicket-flanked cement square that served as Lynn Echolls's makeshift driveway. "Shangri-La."
Veronica reached across the car and guided Logan's hand to turn the engine off.
"You didn't tell me your mother became a hedge witch," she said, as she slipped out of her seat onto solid ground.
Logan reluctantly followed her lead, dropping his feet with a crunch onto the bed of wild moss and moldering leaves that had collected in the rarely-used lot.
The overpowering musk of damp lichen hung in the air, disturbed only by the occasion breeze from the West that brought with it the cloying scent of sun-warmed geraniums.
Though was nearly Christmas, this small enclave of his seemed to be mired in a perennial summer, as if it existed separately from the rest of the world.
Only the edges of Lynn's ivy-covered cottage could be seen through the dense brush, but the musical sound of Lilly's laughter tripped over the treetops as clear as always, cutting through everything in its path like a beacon.
"Sounds like her majesty is enjoying herself, at least." Logan's gait slowed to a stop as he stared at the house in front of him like it was the Dark Tower of Mordor.
"Come on." Veronica knocked her shoulder into his lightly. "I'll do the talking. You won't have to do more than fake smile and nod at her."
"Not sure I can manage the first part," he said, continuing to look on blankly at the structure ahead.
Amazing how such an innocent-looking house can inspire such dread.
Veronica tipped her head to the side and penetrated his fog with the weight of her gaze. "You fake-smiled throughout your entire childhood. If anybody has the chops to pull this off it's you, baby."
Logan brought their linked hands up to his lips and grazed them against the inside of her wrist. "It's been a while since I've had to feign happiness. I'd almost forgotten what it felt like."
And it was true. Though he'd only reconnected with Veronica a few short months ago, he almost couldn't remember anything that came before then. It was if he hadn't started living until she'd been returned to him.
Her fingers curled around the back of his neck and pulled him down for a light kiss. "Good."
Logan pressed his forehead to hers and drew a deep, fortifying breath, letting it out slowly before mustering up the nerve to continue walking. His palms were beginning to sweat, despite the pleasantly crisp weather.
"When you feel uncomfortable, just look at me," Veronica said, pulling him alongside her as she approached the front door.
"No complaining then, when my eyes follow you like a creepy Victorian painting."
"So what you're saying is...it'll be just like high school?" She winked, then quickly leaned on the doorbell before he had the chance to object.
You're doing this for Veronica and Lilly, to keep them safe. Remember that.
The door opened slowly, revealing a pleased-looking Freya. "Logan."
He nodded politely in her direction, careful not to make eye contact. "Freya."
"And you must be Veronica," she said, turning her attention toward his girlfriend.
"Guilty," Veronica said, extending her hand to greet Freya properly. "I'm sorry if it's an imposition, taking us in with such short notice."
"You're family," Freya said, looking directly at Logan. "Family doesn't call ahead."
Family also doesn't pretend to be dead.
Veronica followed the woman's eyes toward Logan, who was shifting awkwardly on his feet. "Well, thank you."
Freya's warm eyes snapped back to Veronica. "I've been hearing quite a number of fantastic things about you. It will be interesting to see which of them are true, and which are simply the product of a young girl's fertile imagination."
Veronica gripped Logan's hand a little tighter and pressed it to her chest. "I deny everything, of course."
Freya leveled an appraising gaze at her and smiled broadly before opening the door wider and stepping aside to let them pass. "Something tells me the stories only pale compared to the truth."
"God, I hope not," Veronica said, followed by a nervous laugh as she crossed the hearthstone, dragging Logan closely behind her.
As Logan passed, a soft hand pressed against the center of his back, causing it to tense up.
"I'm glad you decided to return, schatz," Freya said, in a quiet voice. "You are always welcome here."
Logan walked into the foyer, just as he had done a few days earlier, and descended the steps into the sunken living room.
There, they found Lilly, sitting on the plush carpet between Lynn's legs playing with her Barbie's pony tail, as the older woman twisted the little girl's hair into an ornate series of braids.
"Look Uncle Lo! She's turning me into a princess!" Lilly shouted, nearly vibrating on the spot.
"Nobody had to turn you into a princess, kid," he said, finally allowing his muscles to relax at the sight of her safe and sound. "You were born to rule."
Lynn's elegant hands smoothed over the finished product and she slowly raised her eyes to meet her son's. "I'm happy to see you Logan."
Dropping his chin to his chest, Logan turned away.
"You're looking well, Lynn," Veronica piped in, breaking the tension. "For a dead person."
I love this woman.
Lynn's mouth dropped open, but no sound escaped.
"I mean...you look good, regardless of your current legal status." Veronica winced and leaned the heel of her palm between her eyes. "This is more awkward than breaking up with somebody on a long airplane ride."
"Hey!" Wallace - wide-eyed and artificially chipper - waved to them from the couch he was perched on, looking very much like a hostage in a bank robbery. "You made it."
Breaking away from Veronica's grasp, Logan plopped down next to his friend, who wordlessly handed him the beer he was drinking.
"You look like you could use it more than me," Wallace said, in a tone tinged with empathy and yet devoid of pity.
Logan tipped the bottle in Wallace's direction. "Remind me to make you a groomsman at the wedding."
"You're getting married?" Lynn's eyes misted up as she glanced back and forth between Veronica and Logan. "To each other?"
Wallace held his palms up. "I didn't feel it was my place to say anything."
"Probably a wise move." Veronica smiled at her best friend and nodded before turning toward Lynn and holding up her left hand to show off the engagement ring. "And yes. Logan and I are getting married. To each other."
"That's my ring." Lynn's expression crumpled, and Logan couldn't tell what her reaction was supposed to mean.
"We couldn't exactly bury you in it," Logan quipped, finally breaking his silence.
Am I supposed to feel bad about this? You were dead!
"Oh honey, I'm happy you gave Veronica the ring." When Lynn looked up, she had tears of unbridled joy brimming in her eyes. "I - I'd hoped...I always knew you'd be perfect for each other."
"You did?" Logan asked, with a quirked brow. "Would have been nice to have been clued in earlier about that insight. Maybe if I'd been dating Veronica instead of Lilly, it would have saved us all some heartache? Pretty sure she wouldn't have schtupped my dad."
"Pretty sure?" Veronica asked, with an amused smile. "Your confidence in my virtue is overwhelming."
Logan waved her off with a flat look, which she promptly ignored as she sank down into his lap. He draped an arm across her thighs and instinctively cradled her belly with his palm.
Freya approached carrying two fresh beers, passing one to Wallace and pressing the other into Veronica's hand, which Logan promptly plucked from her grip and set on the coffee table.
"I can get you something else, if you'd prefer..." Freya offered Veronica, with a curious expression. "If you're not a fan of beer, we have wine."
"Water is fine for me. I'm not much of a drinker, thank you."
"Auntie Vee can't drink because she has a baby in her," Lilly explained, without looking up from her doll.
"Lilly!" Veronica snapped, frowning at the child. "You don't just blurt something like that out."
"Sorry." Lilly shrugged, unaffected, and continued to play with her Barbie's hair. "You don't want her to think you're just fat, do you?"
"This is going well." Logan's arm tightened around Veronica waist and he buried his face into her back.
Lynn steadied herself as she rose from her chair. "I'm going to be a grandma?"
She has got to be fucking kidding me with this.
Logan shifted Veronica into the couch cushion next to him and stood to meet her level. "You're not going to be anything, Lynn. You're DEAD. Remember?"
With that, he brushed past her and headed toward the back porch.
Veronica shot an apologetic glance toward Lynn as she rose to chase after Logan.
A haphazard arrangement of landscape paintings hung lovingly from a steel laundry line that had been repurposed as a drying rack for Lynn's watercolors. They flapped in the breeze like royal banners, dotting the perimeter of the backyard like a flimsy, final barrier of protection between the cliff-side house and the swelling tide that crashed ominously against the rocks below.
From far away, the surreal positioning of the work against its subject reminded Veronica of 'The Human Condition' - both the Magritte painting as well as the actual concept. The repetition and scope was hypnotic. It was easy to imagine how somebody might be lured - lemming-like - toward the false horizon, unable to stop until the inevitable plummet to their death.
I can't decide whether Lynn is unaware of the irony or reveling in it.
Considering Lynn's penchant for self-involvement, and the fact that every member of the Echolls family was a certified Drama Queen, neither would surprise her.
Logan stood at the precipice of the cliff, peering down into the swirling drink below. In the fading, pink light of Sunset, his hair shimmered the same deep, golden hue it had when Veronica had fallen in love with him the first time. That, along with the lost expression on his face, made him look suddenly and painfully young.
Veronica spoke his name, barely loud enough for her own ears to register. The wind had picked up outside since they'd arrived at the house and it was especially loud by the water, but she couldn't bring herself to disturb him.
It didn't really matter though, because she knew that Logan would feel her presence there before he'd ever hear her calling out his name, anyway.
Wrapping her arms protectively around her torso, she pushed back against the strong gust of wind that threatened to knock her over. She had only made it four steps before Logan 's spine lengthened and he twisted his neck to look at her.
"The Human Condition," he said with an acid-dipped tongue. His arms swept majestically across the backyard, like a game show host presenting a door prize. "I don't know whether to be disappointed that her work is so derivative or impressed by her newfound self-awareness."
This is probably not the time to get turned on by his knowledge of art.
Veronica crossed the grass quickly - stopping only when she'd thoroughly invaded Logan's personal space - and leaned into his chest. She grabbed both of his arms by the wrist and physically moved them to circle her waist. "She has talent though, even if her scope of interest is somewhat limited."
Logan's chest rumbled under hers as he laughed. "It almost seems like she has a thing about deep water, no?"
Veronica lifted up onto her toes and pressed her lips to the underside of his jaw. "I'm proud of you."
"Why? Because I haven't flung myself off of the side of this cliff yet in a pastiche of Lynn's grand exit?"
"Don't. Even. Joke," she said between kisses, working her way up to his ear before nipping hard at the fleshy lobe. "I hate it when you say shit like that."
"Ow. I was kidding, Bobcat. Retract claws."
Before she could pull back, Logan swept Veronica up into a Harlequin embrace and pressed a bruising kiss to her lips.
"What was that for?" she asked, still trying to regain her breath.
"Isn't that what one does while out on the moors with a beautiful woman?" He kissed her again, before setting her back onto her feet. "I feel like Heathcliff."
Only Logan would compare himself to one of literature's most emotionally tortured lovers.
"We're not on the moors," she said, rolling her eyes. "And you are nothing like Heathcliff."
"I could be. He was an orphan, too."
She sighed and muscled herself into his arms to keep warm. "Why aren't you freaking out more? Should I be concerned?"
Logan shrugged and gently circled the bruises on her neck with his thumb. "My main priority is keeping you and Lilly safe. This other crap..." he said, with a ragged exhale, "is just background noise."
"How very Dr. Phil of you." She smiled into the bend of his neck and nuzzled him there.
"Yeah, but...all of those years of therapy had to yield some kind of fruit, right? I certainly paid enough for the sessions."
"Well, if this is the result, then maybe I'm not completely dreading going to couples therapy."
"Yes you are," he said, laughing at her. "Regardless, we have a standing Friday appointment. I booked the sessions last week."
She groaned into his skin. "Of course you did."
A loud bang from the back door slamming against its frame startled Veronica into a momentary panic.
"Shit!" she screamed in a higher pitch than normal, and pushed out the breath that caught in her throat. "I thought for a second..."
"You're safe," Logan said, in a soothing voice, and kissed her forehead. "I've got you."
With the force in which her heart was jackrabbiting against her chest, Veronica didn't even bother pretending she was fine. It was beating so loudly in her ears that it wouldn't have surprised her if Logan could feel the vibrations through their clothes.
She was a trained FBI agent who'd logged over a hundred hours on the firing range, yet the sound of a screened door slamming now had her helplessly ducking for cover. And the worst part about it was that she had no idea when or if she'd even feel normal again.
I get it, universe. You want me in therapy. Badly.
"Come on," he said, walking them toward the house with his arms around her shoulders. "You need a distraction. Let's go back inside and ignore the elephant in the room."
"I'd better not be the elephant," she said, pausing to wince every time the door struck metal.
"Maybe in a few months."
Logan side-stepped Veronica's elbow jab and reached for the door handle.
"Wait." She grabbed him by the sleeve - mid-action - and pulled his arm back. "I didn't leave the door open."
Logan cast a soft look down at her. "Maybe the mechanism is loose? Some doors just do that, Bob."
She pressed her lips into a grim line and glared at the flailing sheet of wood like it was a suspect in an interrogation. "And sometimes people break into houses."
"We're in the middle of nowhere," he said, gesturing to the water. "We could barely find this place ourselves, and we had GPS and a written address. I highly doubt we were tailed the entire way up from Neptune by Liam Fitzpatrick. He may be a relentless prick, but he's not exactly subtle. Don't you think we would have noticed?"
"Yeah. Sure. Of course it's stupid." Veronica caught the door in her hand and forced her features to smooth out. "I guess I'm just a little jumpy."
Logan made sense. The whole scenario was as far-fetched as he'd made it out to be, and yet...She still couldn't shake the unsettled feeling in the pit of her stomach.
"Hey. Where is everybody?" Veronica called out into the nearly barren room. Logan walked sluggishly behind, stopping only when she did.
Lynn looked up from the book she held in her lap and pulled her reading glasses from her face. "Freya took Lilly to the guest bedroom to find something small enough for her to wear to sleep and Wallace is in the kitchen taking a business call."
The air between the three of them was so thick with tension, Veronica thought she might choke on it.
Say something. God knows the Lynn and Logan won't break the ice.
"Thank you, Lynn," Veronica said, with a short nod.
Lynn, still holding her glasses mid-air, shook her head. "For what?"
"Giving us sanctuary," she said, with a self-conscious chuckle. "You've been taking such great care of Lilly. She seems very relaxed and happy, all things considered."
"She's a beautiful child." Lynn folded up her glasses and placed them on the side table on top of her book. "She looks so much like our Lilly, or...I mean-"
"She does," she said, throwing Lynn a life raft. "It must make things a little awkward, huh?"
As if this isn't awkward enough!
"Of course it doesn't, honey." Lynn reached out for Veronica arm and hesitantly touched it. "Little Lilly can't help who she looks like, and honestly, enough time has passed for me to realize that our Lilly was just as much a victim of Aaron's as any of us here."
Logan froze at the mention of his father's name, Lynn reached out to grab his hand, but he jerked it away. "Sure. We were all victims here. Some of us more than others."
Veronica pulled his fingers from where he was worrying the hem of his shirt and threaded them through her own. He relaxed immediately at the contact.
Here we go.
"I'm not going to make excuses for what I've done, Logan. There is no excuse that could ever justify a mother leaving her own child." Lynn glanced sadly at their linked hands and sighed. There were years of pain etched into her still-beautiful face, but there was resolve there now as well. "I was sick, but I know that means nothing to a teenager who is in pain. The only thing I can say is that I wish I were stronger then. I wish I had been strong enough the first night your father laid a hand on you. But I wasn't."
Logan toyed with the ring on Veronica's left hand and smiled to himself. "That was certainly emotional. It should feature nicely as your Oscar clip."
"Logan," Veronica whispered sharply under her breath.
She's trying. That's more than I can say for my own mom.
Lynn lifted her palm to keep Veronica from intervening. "I'm a limited person, Logan, but know that I would trade anything to have those lost years back with you. It's true, I didn't go about it in the best way, but I did try to come for you again when I thought I was healthy enough to be around you. That has to count for something."
"You want points for stalking?"
"You're my only child, my only close living relative. You have every right to hate me, but I have never stopped loving you and I never will. Even if you refuse to speak to me ever again."
"What am I supposed to do with that? Huh?" Logan dropped Veronica's hand and dug his fingers into his hair. "When I found out you'd...died...I was devastated. I didn't want to believe it. I even hired Veronica to prove you were really alive." He turned to Veronica and smirked. "I think I deserve a refund, no?"
She took his hand in hers again and kissed the back of it. "I ripped up your check, remember?"
A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. "That's right. That was your grand declaration of intent, if I'm not mistaken."
Veronica cast Logan a bashful side-eyed look and shrugged. "I didn't realize it at the time, but I supposed you might be right."
"Did you just admit I'm right?" His eyes widened, followed by his jaw. "You know, I did kind of suspect that the stars had aligned tonight."
She playfully shoulder-checked him. "This better not be the start of a lifetime of 'wife jokes' I'm going to be forced to endure, or I might have to call this whole wedding thing off."
"Nice try." He checked her back.
Veronica turned face Logan, but the sight of tears welling in Lynn's eyes caught her attention, pulling her out of the moment. "Are you okay?"
"I'm perfect." Lynn wiped her cheek with the back of her hand and smiled. "I always wanted this for Logan. For both of you, really. But to see it in front of me, to see him truly happy with somebody who deserves him..." She waved her hand in front of her face in lieu of completing her thought.
Veronica leaned forward and tenderly rubbed the older woman's arm. "It's going to be okay."
It had better be okay. You both need it.
"You'll take good care of him. I know I don't have to worry with you around." Lynn buried her face in Veronica's shoulder and wept silently.
From over Lynn's shoulder, Veronica tried to communicate wordlessly with Logan.
Just listen to her. Give her a chance to explain.
More than anybody, Veronica knew what it felt like to have your mother dump you when you needed her most, but their situations were different. The reasons their mothers left them were worlds apart.
Logan's lower lip quivered and he bit down hard on it to stop the motion. "I have a picture of the baby in my wallet. If you want to see it."
Both women pulled back and looked toward his voice.
"It kind of looks like a Lima bean right now," he continued with a scratchy voice, rough from emotion, "but if you want to-"
"I want to!" Lynn said, with a shocked yet hopeful expression pinning her features open. "I would love to see a picture of your baby."
Veronica looked between Lynn and Logan - who had pulled a long strip of scans from his leather billfold - and stepped away to give them privacy. "I'm going to go check on Lilly and make sure she has everything she needs."
Neither of them answered. They were too caught up in trying to decipher the baby blob from a shadow in the pictures.
Looks like this kid might have more than one grandparent in the cards, yet.
Veronica made her way down the corridor that she assumed led to the bedrooms. She still had trouble reconciling this Lynn - the one whose house was filled with hand-spun artwork - with the Lynn she used to know, who would order her staff to seasonally redecorate the inside of her house with whatever was most 'in' at the time.
But she had always liked Logan's mother despite her bourgeois leanings at the time, but liked her even more now that she finally appeared comfortable in her own skin.
As Logan did too.
Where he was once strung as tight as a guitar string, threatening to snap with the slightest provocation he now seemed content and in harmony with his life and the type of person he was. He might never be truly at peace, but maybe having Lynn back in his life would help him get there.
At least one of them should be able to be whole. Veronica already knew she was a lost cause. There was no chance she'd ever get that for herself, but she could be happy knowing Logan had been able to move on from his past.
Veronica's fingertips tripped over the uneven stucco paint on the hallway walls as she passed each vacant bedroom.
Where the hell are they? It's a big house, but it's not like I'm at Versailles.
The farther away she walked from the front of the house, the quieter it became. And that's when that nagging dread returned like a boomerang. She'd been able to push it away earlier, but it was back now, and the force from the rebound was overwhelming.
Last time Lilly was this quiet, she was being threatened with a knife.
Veronica pulled her gun from the back of her jeans. She'd been in too much of a hurry to grab her holster and extra clip, so she would have to do with what she had. Six bullets.
She was a decent shot, nothing tremendous, but she knew if anybody tried to hurt Lilly she'd claw their eyes out with her bare hands if she had to. If anything bad ever happened to Lilly on her watch, she would never be able to live with herself.
Not again. Not after the last time she'd failed to save a girl who depended on her.
As Veronica rounded the next corner in the dark, she noticed a dark figure sprawled out on the floor and her heartbeat picked up dramatically.
She rushed over to the downed woman and checked quickly for a pulse. It was there, and it was steady. The small trickle of blood leaking from her temple out onto the tile floor wasn't enough to cause complications from blood loss. If she left her there until somebody else found her, there probably wouldn't be any repercussions.
Veronica decided to soldier on. From the little she'd seen and heard of Freya, she was the type of woman who would willingly sacrifice her safety for a child.
The door to what was clearly Lynn and Freya's bedroom shook slightly with the wind, pulling her attention.
She slowly approached the room and carefully stepped inside, then followed the source of the breeze to the master bathroom. The back wall was mostly filled by a sliding glass door that was left ajar. It opened up onto the cliffside studio, which could only be accessed through one other door.
This was a setup. She'd been in the field long enough to smell a trap before it was sprung. Everything in her wanted to crash through that door like an 80's action hero and rescue the girl. But her thoughts were sobered by memories of her last rescue mission.
She needed to get backup. She needed Logan. He would never forgive her if she got herself killed, and she wouldn't really blame him.
Veronica took off through the bedroom, back down the hallway, and into the living room. Lynn and Logan had since been joined by Wallace, who had the room erupting in laughter at the increasingly ridiculous baby names he assigned to each ultrasound picture.
Logan looked up with a concerned expression before she'd even made it into the room.
"What's wrong?" He rose abruptly, letting the scan fall to the wayside. "Is somebody here?"
Veronica nodded and pressed her fingers to her lips before motioning to Lynn. "Freya was knocked unconscious. She's going to be okay, but she needs you," she whispered, and then turned to Wallace. "Get to the car and call the police. Leave the motor running in case we need to make a run for it."
Wallace nodded and took off quietly through the front door.
Logan eyed the gun in her hands and heaved a weary breath. "What do you want me to do, chief?"
Veronica smiled encouragingly. "I need you to do what you do best."
He raised an expectant eyebrow at her. "I'm not particularly in the mood for sex right now."
"No, darling," she said, her smile growing wider. "You're going to save the girl."
A/N2 -Hope it was worth the wait! If you have the time, please let me know what you thought of it. Hope it was worth the wait!
BTW - I'm on tumblr as HappilyShanghaied, if you want to stop by and say hi.