AN: It's been a hot minute.

Happy Holidays! I want to give a special shout out to Jmazzy. You have kept this story on my radar and are the world's best cheerleader! This chapter is ready today because of you

Duncan waved, trying to get Veronica's attention, but she looked right through him.

He turned, continuing to follow her progress. She seemed distracted. Maybe that was why she hadn't noticed him. But then she walked into the outstretched arms of Logan Echolls.


She rested her head on his chest. Nodded a few times, then stepped away. He couldn't hear what she said, but Logan looked worried.

His Veronica, the real Veronica, she didn't do scary things. She was sweet and naïve.

This Veronica she went to scary places and stayed out too late. If Logan looked worried, then Duncan was worried. This might be a chance to regain her affections without Logan's interference. He wasn't going to completely ignore Beaver's warning. He would stay in the shadows and just make sure she was okay. Only stepping in if the time was right.

He quick stepped back to his SUV, all while keeping an eye on her progress. He would be in his car before she reached hers and then he could follow her.

She pulled out of the school and headed downtown. She must be heading to her dad's office. It was in a terrible neighborhood. His car definitely wouldn't blend in there and might even get stolen. But then she took a different turn.

After several blocks, she pulled into a parking lot behind one of the many plain office buildings. Duncan slowed down and read the sign: Balboa County Health Clinic & Planned Parenthood.

What was she doing there? That clinic was for people who couldn't afford to see a regular doctor. Even with Keith's fall from grace, could they not afford health insurance?

He couldn't sit in front of the building without attracting attention. An alert sounded on his phone. That would be Celeste, wondering why he wasn't home.

Taking the next turn, he headed back toward his end of town and let himself consider what Veronica was up to. A health clinic rather than a regular doctor. That meant not submitting it to her insurance, assuming she had any.

The industrial grays turned to sprawling green lawns with tidy landscaping as Duncan crossed the not-so invisible boundary into the '09er zip code.

Why wouldn't she want to submit to health insurance? She wanted to keep it from her dad? What would she want to keep from her dad? Or if she didn't have insurance, what was wrong?

"Get a clue, Donut." Lilly appeared in the passenger seat. "Everyone goes to that clinic to get free birth control. Things must be heating up with her and Logan."

"What? No!"

It didn't make sense. None if it did. He'd done everything just right. He deserved Veronica. Not Logan.

But it hadn't made a difference. Veronica hadn't even seen him earlier because her focus was completely on Logan. And yesterday, she'd been smiling after they got back from lunch. Like a dreamy smile. Like his Veronica's smile after he'd kiss her.

He slammed his fist into the steering wheel. She was not supposed to smile like that about Logan.

Then today, they had been inseparable. He couldn't be certain, but it had looked like they might have been holding hands during lunch.

"Donut, are you delusional? Wait, you're seeing me, so you definitely are!" Blood slowly seeped from her temple. Just like when he'd come to with her head held to his chest and her blood sticky on his fingers.

His chest tightened, and he took a deep breath, trying to push Lilly back where she belonged, but her presence was persistent today.

"No, Lilly. I'm not delusional. I am perhaps hallucinating, but they are not necessarily mutually exclusive." He paused. "At least I don't think they are." He really needed to set up an appointment with Dr. Levine.

He took several slow breaths before finally making the turn down his driveway.

"Whatever. The more important point is that you think Veronica Mars is going to pick you over Logan. Never. Going. To. Happen. I would know." She winked at him.

Duncan parked and turned to Lilly. "Go away, Lilly. You're not helping."

Then he climbed out of the car, hoping she'd stay there. But no such luck. She appeared by his side and followed him into the house.

"Oh, come on, Donut. I'm teasing you. I mean, I'm right. But don't worry, I'd still choose you over, Logan. Not for the sex. Because gross. Though I guess that didn't stop you with our sister."

"Stop!" He held his breath and listened closely. No sound came from further into the house. He lowered his voice. "Please stop."

"I'll stop when you finally do something about this. You need to talk to her."

"And say what, Lils? 'Hi Veronica, did you know you're my half-sister? So sorry I made love to you that one time. Bygones?'"

Lilly shrugged, inspecting her nails. "That's a good start. Try that."

Duncan groaned. "And how am I supposed to do that, huh?"

"Do what?"

Nearly jumping out of his skin, Duncan turned to see his father standing in the opening that led to the kitchen.


"Who are you talking to?" Jake looked around, his eyebrows rising at the lack of potential conversation partners.

He swallowed. "No one. Well, myself."

His father nodded, a look of concern still on his face. "Duncan, are you all right? You're taking all of your meds?"

"Of course. Of course."

He nodded, but didn't look convinced. "You did just have a concussion." He pulled out his mobile phone. "Let's schedule a follow up with Dr. Levine. Just to be sure."

"Oh, um… Okay. That's not a bad idea. But maybe for next week. I have a lot going on today. Class president and all that."

"Mmmm. Sure. Your mother's looking for you." He pointed at the kitchen and then turned away, his focus leaving Duncan. "Hi, yes, this is Jake Kane. I'm calling to schedule…" his words trailed away as he moved down the hall.

"Good job, Donut. Now Daddy is going to have your meds changed. I'll get lonely."

Duncan ignored her. He'd be lonely without her too, but she also drove him crazy. Or was he driving himself crazy? It was getting harder to tell. That probably wasn't a good sign.

He got up off the couch and went back upstairs to his room. He needed to grab his backpack and laptop.

His laptop sat open on the desk. The background image on his laptop cycled to a zoomed in photo of him with Veronica, Lilly, and Logan from Homecoming just before Lilly's death.

He turned to Lilly, but she'd disappeared back into the ether.

She was gone—at least most of the time. But Veronica was still here, and he wanted her. He was going to do something about this. She had to see that Logan was all wrong for her. And soon! Before he corrupted her. Before he ruined her.

The clock was ticking, and he was running out of time to protect her.

Several quick clicks and Duncan was on The Smoking Guns' submission portal. Maybe a few more incriminating photos would help.

The day was a blur. Logan had been supportive, staying by her side, trying to make her laugh. Even Wallace seemed to know something was wrong. But what was she supposed to do? She'd spent a lot of time hiding her feelings, plastering them away behind anger and sarcasm. Now that plaster was failing.

Was it Logan? Was it her decision to figure out what really happened to her, finally? And more, would she have been ready to ask the hard questions without one of her oldest friends there to support her?

She loved Wallace. He put the best in BFF. But he wasn't Logan. There were things he didn't know. Things she didn't want him to know. Like Lianne and her drinking. Like how sometimes when she thought back on who she was before Lilly died, she didn't always like that person.

Some truths hurt, Veronica.

She pulled the LeBaron into a spot along the backside of the large nondescript office building that housed the county's free health clinic.

It looked the same. Just as it had when Inga had driven her here almost a year ago.

"Verhonica, please let me call your father," Inga had said, a quiver in her voice, her hands twisting in her lap. Veronica had resisted, shaking her head that pounded from the cocktail of drugs and alcohol she'd consumed, while Inga sniffled from beside her.

Just like that day, Veronica let the morning her world burned play through her mind. Car vandalized. Inga's concerned face as she entered the Sheriff's department. Lamb laughing at her, telling her to go see the wizard.

When she'd run from Lamb's office, Inga had followed her. She didn't ask questions, just guided Veronica to her older Volvo station wagon. A family car. A mother's car. Veronica really wanted her mother.

She still wanted her mother. She also hated her mother for leaving her to deal with this all on her own.

What had she been thinking? Was she really ready to deal with this?

Veronica got out of her car, keys trembling in her hand as she locked the car.

Now that it was literally in front of her, she wasn't sure she had the nerve. Maybe she should have taken Logan up on his offer to come with her. Except, she needed to do this. She wanted to face it head on.

Her text to Logan the night before had foolishly said she was looking forward to today. And last night she had been. It had felt like freedom. She was exerting control over her life.

She was moving on.

Yes! She could do this!

Veronica walked through the double glass doors and followed the signs to the OB/GYN offices. It was like her blood had filled with ice and her feet were cast in concrete as she entered the waiting room. The same light peach wallpaper with a small flower print. The slightly antiseptic smell. The deep burgundy chairs that her feet couldn't quite reach the floor from.

She had no memory of what happened to her at Shelly's party, but she could describe this waiting room in vivid detail. It was the scene of some of her worst nightmares.

She signed in at the reception counter and took a seat nearby.

Against her will, she glanced at her chair.

It sat there in the back corner of the well-lit room, innocent looking. A chair just like any other you might see in a doctor's waiting room. Except this chair had seen her torn white dress. This chair still had a smudge of black where she'd wiped her hand when the small cleansing wipe Inga had given her could take no more of her smeared makeup.

Veronica had dug her bare toes into the rough industrial carpet, letting the scratchy pile burn the pads of her toes. Her shoes had sat in her lap.

"These are party shoes, Veronica Mars." She could still hear the ghost of Lilly's voice, insisting she buy the cute strappy shoes.

Despite Inga's attempts, Veronica couldn't bring herself to put them back on her feet. They were for having fun, and making happy memories. Not this. Anything but this.

She'd thrown them in a dumpster after leaving the clinic that day.

"Veronica Mars."

A small nurse in Donald Duck scrubs stood in the open doorway and waved her forward.

This part was straightforward. Weight. Blood pressure. Pee in a cup. Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts.

"Just wait in here," the nurse said, opening a door into an examination room.

Her breath hitched in her throat, and her heart thundered in her ears. Adrenaline. Fight or flight.

No, she could handle this. She knew the breathing techniques now. Veronica took a slow breath. In for three. Out for four.

"You okay, hun?"

"Yeah. Yeah, of course. I'll just—" She pointed at the room.

Good thing the nurse had checked her pulse and blood pressure before taking her to this room, because now her heart absolutely raced. She did not want to go into that room, but she would.

"And change into the gown."

She nodded. She could do this. It was just a room. Not even the same room as last time.

The door closed behind her and she set to changing quickly, and then sat on the table and went over her to-do lists.

She'd just finished her 'homework to be done before the party' list when there was a light knock on the door. It cracked open. "Veronica?"

"That's me, half naked and ready to be prodded for my health." When in doubt, reach for the jokes.

A familiar woman appeared past the drawn curtain. It was the same doctor that had seen her that day. Her gray hair was in the same tidy bun, and her deep brown eyes were still kind. The face of someone you could trust. Tears stung the corner of her eyes.

"I'm Dr. Morales, in case you don't remember. I'm really glad you came back"—she glanced at her clipboard—"even if it's been ten months. We never got to repeat the full STD panel."

Veronica a tremor run up her spine. Dr. Morales had begged her to let them submit the PERK they'd collected. She'd also tried to talk Veronica into letting them contact her parents.

"No, we didn't. I…I realize that was really stupid on my part. I was just so"—Veronica shrugged—"relieved when I got my period. I've tried not to think about it since."

The doctor nodded, her expression soft and encouraging. "What brought you back?"

"Google. I read that things like chlamydia sometimes don't show up for a few weeks on some tests."

"That's right. What made you look? Have you been okay? Have you talked to anyone about what happened?" Dr. Morales asked, taking a seat on the rolling stool.

Veronica tensed. This wasn't a conversation she wanted to have. It should be enough that she was looking after her physical health. The rest wasn't anyone else's business.

"Can we just get this over with? It's freezing in here."

Frown lines formed around the doctor's mouth. She had thoughts, but apparently she was going to keep them to herself. Much to Veronica's relief.

"Of course." Dr. Morales pushed back, grabbed a pair of gloves. "Go ahead and lay back, and then scoot as close to the edge of the table as possible."

Mac's room exuded a dim ambiance, the soft glow from the computer screen casting a bluish hue across the room. Her parents complained it wasn't good for her eyes, but it was just the way she liked it. So she'd have to get contacts eventually. She could live with that.

With her dad's help, she'd covered the walls with bookcases jammed with books and CD. In the few free spots, she stuck up posters of her favorite indie bands and quirky tech inspirational quotes that her dad would find randomly. Like "Technology: just because you use it, does not mean you understand it."

On her desk, surrounded by a jungle of cables and a stack of reference books, sat her spare laptop. Multiple browser tabs were open, each representing a different facet of Mac's digital world. Her online friends, scattered across various online forums, chimed in with messages, code snippets, and the occasional internet meme.

She'd been going back and forth between chatting and working on her English lit project when an unexpected alert filled her screen.

She clicked the alert and The Smoking Gun's latest expose appeared.

Excitement surged through her as she downloaded the first image. More data meant a higher probability of finding the guilty party and therefore pleasing the client. She suspected Logan Echolls would pay her handsomely if she could solve this mystery.

Fingers dancing across the keyboard, she navigated to the metadata. Like the first set of images, these also had metadata. Whoever it was, they were using a digital camera. But this time, there was an additional set of data. It had the same broad GPS coordinates, indicating Balboa County. But it also included more numbers. The geotagged details and information about the camera used sparked recognition. Or rather, a lack of it. This wasn't the same camera.

Mac clicked over to her browser and viewed the images. The first was of Logan hugging Veronica in front of a warehouse type building. They were standing near Logan's SUV and just out of the frame there must have been traffic lights, because the image had a slight red cast to it. The photos also had the same almost artistic framing as the original set did. It had to be the same person.

The same person using a different digital camera. Maybe they had been wrong. It made more sense that a paparazzo was the culprit if they were dealing with someone with multiple digital cameras. Or if it were multiple people.

She shifted back to the metadata from the file. The date read: October 24, 2004.

That wasn't even a week ago. But the bum fights had been Tuesday, October 19th.

Yet, they'd waited days to release them. And TSG didn't pay. What kind of pap would go to all this trouble for free?

Just as she contemplated the potential breakthrough, a chat alert drew her focus. She'd put out a request after talking to Veronica the day before. Looked like someone had come through.

6LU770N4CPU says: Device isn't released to the public yet. Prototype.

MacAttack says: Whose?

6LU770N4CPU says: Kane Software owns the patent

That piece of information sent a chill down her spine.

She went back to the original images and aligned them across her screen. Something had been bothering her about them from the beginning.

The previous summer, her parents had gifted her a weekend art camp put on by the San Diego Museum of Art. One workshop had been all about photography composition and appreciation.

As she considered each image, she realized what most of them had in common. It was the way Veronica was framed.

Veronica was the subject of these images. Not Logan.

And who did the entire school know was obsessed with Veronica Mars and had access to Kane Software prototypes?

"Oh, no."

Veronica and Logan might have a very different problem than they thought. Duncan Kane was probably stalking them, or more specifically, stalking Veronica.


Mac groaned, but stepped away from the digital disaster she'd just uncovered.

"What's up, Mom?" she asked, and then realized her mom was completely decked out in orange and black plaid camping gear. "No. No. You didn't mention anything about a weekend trip." Mac started backing away.

"Cindy, have some holiday spirit. You used to love it when we'd camp for Halloween. We'd tell ghost stories and roast marshmallows. Don't you want that for your little brother?"

"Way to play the 'love of your sibling' card, Mom." She liked to say Ryan was a monster, but she did, in fact, love that little monster. "When are we headed out?"

"In fifteen minutes," she chirped.

"You did this on purpose." Natalie Mackenzie was a Slytherin disguised as a Hufflepuff.

"I did. Now go pack your bag." She kissed Mac on the forehead. "We just want to spend time with you."

Mac wrapped her arms around her mom's waist. "I love you too."

"Such a sweet girl. Now pack." Her mom disappeared down the hall, humming as she went.

It wasn't much, but it was enough to send off a message to Veronica.

From Mac to VMars, 4:13pm: have lead - need to double check

She sent off a series of requests to her less savory contacts, hoping one could nail this to Duncan Kane.

She checked for a message back from Veronica until the last moment, then sent one last message.

From Mac to VMars, 4:16pm: camping til Sunday, no phone, catchup when back

Dick sat staring at the pool. His hangover was one for the records. He had no idea how much he'd drank when he got home or how late he'd stayed up. But he hadn't woken up until three o'clock in the afternoon. So much for school. It was probably for the best. Logan was bound to have more questions, and he did not want to answer them.

He'd told Logan part of what he remembered about Veronica from the night of Shelly's party. But there were other parts. Hazier, less solid memories, that were much worse.

"Oh, I'd hurt her…you not so much…"

He hadn't thought about that night since the day after, when he'd woken up hungover as fuck and being slapped by Madison.

All he wanted that night was to get laid. And Madison had been a real bitch for like a week. She wanted some new purse and was dragging him around by his dick to get him to cave. Talking Luke into giving him his liquid-X had been a Hail Mary for his teenage libido. Yeah, he knew that word. He preened a bit, then sagged. This was not the moment. He'd taken half the liquid-X and then dumped the rest into a drink for Madison.

Madison, who had been distinctly not hungover the next day. Some stupid fucking diet. She was fucking skinny enough.

If Madison didn't drink the X… did that mean Ronnie had ended up with it?


"What's wrong with you?" Beaver startled Dick from his breakdown.

"I did something bad."

"Ditching school isn't that bad. I covered for you, by the way."

Dick buried his face in his hands. "I did something really bad. I think."

"What's new? You do something idiotic at least once a day." The lounger next to Dick creaked and Beaver's shoes came into view.

"Fuck you. I mean, I think I did something really bad."

"You said that."

Dick looked up at his brother and was surprised to see a look of disgust on his face. It disappeared and was replaced by concern, but a moment too late. Had Dick seen that look on anyone else's face, it would have scared him. But not Beaver. He was soft. Sensitive.

"Want to talk about it?" Beaver asked.

"Do you remember Shelly's party last year?"

Beaver looked out at the pool and leaned back on the lounger. "Sure. Why are you thinking about that?"

"I tried to drug Madison that night."

Beaver shrugged. "Yeah, I know."

"Don't you think that was horrible of me?"

"She was a bitch."

"Yeah, I mean…yes, I know, but fuck. It was a shitty thing to do."

"Give me a break, Dick. It's not like the two of you don't have sex. She was just withholding because you didn't get her what she wanted for Christmas. It wasn't that bad. Besides, you didn't get to fuck her, anyway. You tried to steal a base and struck out."

Beaver leaned his head back and closed his eyes, like they were talking about nothing.

Dick stared at his brother, and it was like seeing a stranger. He'd thought plenty of the things Beaver had just said, but hearing them when sober, in the light of day, while thinking about what Logan had said about Veronica. It didn't sit right. It made him feel sick inside. Sick with himself, but also…

"Right, I didn't. Beaver…"

"I prefer to be called Cassidy."

"Sorry, right. Cass, did you fuck Veronica that night?"

A strange gleam appeared in Beaver's narrowed eyes. Then he smiled and laughed. "Of course not! That was all just a bad joke. You and Sean were wasted. No, I pulled the blanket over her and puked on Carrie Bishop's shoes from all the shots we took. She seemed…"

An almost smile pulled at Beaver's lips, his gaze unfocused. It was like he was imagining it. No, he was remembering. Bile soured in Dick's mouth.

Beaver shook his head. "Well, she was messed up. We all were. But she was totally fine."

Dick nodded. He wanted to believe his brother, but something was wrong. Off. "Okay, well, I'm glad. I guess it's just all this stuff with Logan. I'm wondering if the way we've been this last year was wrong."

"Look at my two sons! Are you two ready for tomorrow?" Big Dick's voice boomed across the lanai.

"Oh hey, Dad. Yeah, it's going to be great," Dick said, trying to muster some enthusiasm past the sick feeling in his mouth.

"When will the Marses be coming?"

"Shhh… can't have your evil stepmother hearing, can we? Tomorrow, while she's out having her makeup done. I sure am glad I had that infidelity clause added." Big Dick winked at them. "Now, I thought we'd get some family bonding in. How about we all head to the shooting range?"

Dick nodded and followed Beaver and his father back into the house. He needed to talk to Veronica. She was going to tase his balls, but he needed to talk to her.

Skin still crawling, Veronica slid into the LeBaron. She desperately wanted to go home and shower. Scrub her skin raw. But she was already running late for the surprise costume fitting Lynn had set up.

A month ago, she would have blown it off. Then maybe sent Logan a text later saying something had come up. But things were so different now.

She had more than a few unresolved feelings about Lynn Echolls. But this had been a very thoughtful gesture, and Veronica wanted to keep a close eye on Logan's home situation. Would Lynn be an ally? Could they count on her? Her gut said no, but her heart, that part of it that had been thawing, hoped the answer was yes.

If she also was feeling like she needed some motherly attention, well, she was definitely ignoring that.

It'll be fine, Veronica. Just another day. You can deal with it later.

She cranked the radio and let Dashboard Confessional take her back to the Echolls' mansion.

Wanting to avoid the tour bus blocking the front gate, Veronica drove around to the side entrance and parked next to Mrs. Navarro's old sedan. A few of her famous cookies were exactly what Veronica needed.

The itch of being foreign in her own body had faded somewhat and a lightness after sing-screaming along with Chris Carrabba helped too. But some cookies, that would be just the thing.

She stepped into the kitchen through the side entrance and there sat a plate piled high.

Veronica carefully lifted one to her lips, breathed in the magical scent of buttery chocolate cookie, and took a bite. Heaven.

She was finishing her second when the clack of high heels announced Lynn's arrival. A quick rinse of her hands and she was ready.

"Veronica! You made it," Lynn said, opening her arms wide, just like her son had that afternoon. And just like with Logan, she let Lynn wrap her in a much needed hug.

Veronica rarely noticed the resemblance between mother and son. But that's because it was here, in a gesture, and in the graceful way they both moved. He looked like Aaron, but he was much more like Lynn..

"I'm sorry to be running late, Mrs. Echolls. I had an appointment that ran long," Veronica said, stepping back. "And there was a tour bus, so I snuck in the back."

"Think nothing of it. And call me Lynn, dear. There's no need for formality." She reached for Veronica's hand and squeezed it. "I'm just so pleased you came to play dress-up with me."

"Thank you for having me."

"Oh, darling, look at how you've grown. I just"—a tear leaked from Lynn's eye—"I've missed having you here. I know Logan has missed you, too. This past year…"

"It's been hard on all of us," Veronica said, her voice barely above a whisper.

Did she not remember that they had spoken just the previous week? Or had the gin taken care of that? Leanne often forgot their conversations when she'd been drinking.

With a tissue that appeared as if by magic, Lynn dabbed at the corner of her eyes. "Enough of that! Let's have some fun."

Veronica stepped back and realized something important. Something different from their last interaction. Lynn's eyes were clear and her voice steady. She was sober.

Heat radiated out from Veronica's chest. Logan would be thrilled. She hoped it would last.

"Logan tells me you might have a good costume for me?"

Lynn smiled her movie-star smile, and it lightened Veronica's heart even further. This was the perfect distraction from her day.

"I think I have just the thing." She slipped her arm through Veronica's and guided them out of the kitchen. "Did you know I did a failed pilot for a Marvel action series where I played Agent 13?"

"No! How cool. Wait, are you saying what I think you're saying?"

"I am." Lynn squealed. "I still have the costume. I keep everything, so I called my assistant and had her pull it out of storage. We can go up to my dressing room and see how it fits. My tailor is waiting for us, so she'll alter it while you're here."

Veronica pulled away. "Lynn, that's too much!"

Lynn re-entwined their arms, patting Veronica's hand. "Not at all. I'm thrilled to have you wear it. Now, if it doesn't fit or we can't make it work, don't you worry. I may have had Alexandra pull a few other things just in case."

"You didn't need—"

"I know, dear, but honestly, this is as much for my fun as yours. I had her grab my white Gucci that was designed by Tom Ford back before he jumped to Yves Saint Laurent. It's not much of a costume, but I can promise everyone there will recognize it."

"Thank you. This is all so…"

Lynn pulled Veronica closer as they entered her closet. "Now this is just between us girls. Tommy is going to be starting his own line next year. He's making Aaron and Logan matching tuxes for that Christmas monstrosity Aaron made over the summer."

A wave of emotion crested and crashed over Veronica.


"Are you done yet?" Logan asked, clearly exasperated.

They had been in Lynn's closet for over an hour, but it was so fun. She was getting ready for the Oscars and had the most amazing white halter vest with wide leg slacks that somehow looked like a tuxedo but definitely was not.

"Veronica Mars! Look at this!"

Lilly pranced around from the other end of the closet, which was actually a room bigger than Veronica's living room. At first Veronica thought she had a boa over her shoulders, but as Lilly got closer, she realized it was a huge fur stole.

"Those poor animals." Veronica's heart broke.

Logan's arm landed heavily across her shoulders. "Don't worry Ronica. It's not real. My mom can't stand to think of all the dead bunnies or whatever. It's some new line—"

"Ethical fur," Lynn announced, striding to Lilly. "And even Celeste can't get samples."

"Seriously?" Lilly asked, wrapping it around her dramatically.

"Seriously. It's one of my options for tonight, but"—Lynn gently unwound it from Lilly, and dropped it across her own shoulders—"I don't think it's quite right with this."

Logan stepped forward, shifted a few hangers, and lifted one that looked empty, but then Veronica saw the wraps of brown leather with a metal and turquoise pendant.

"You don't want to detract from the vest."

Lynn handed the stole back to Lilly and gingerly unwrapped the necklace from the hanger.

"Such a good eye. Yes, this is just the thing, isn't it?"

The bedroom door clicked shut, and Logan's dad's footsteps were barely audible as he moved into the closet.

"Hello, Veronica," he said, smiling down at her. "Are you girls having fun?"

"So much, Mr. Echolls." Lilly struck a pose and confidently walked across the room.

Aaron applauded. "Your parents better not let my agent see you do that, or they'll be offering you a contract."

"Do you really think so?" Lilly flounced and bounced against Veronica.

"I do. You could be the next Tyra Banks." Aaron's gaze lingered on her friend's chest.

It was a familiar sight, unfortunately, as many men objectified Lilly. But Veronica had never expected Logan's own father to be one of them.

Veronica wanted to leave, to put distance between herself and Mr. Echolls. But it was like when you drove past an accident, she couldn't look away from his exchange with her best friend. The smile on his face seemed genuine, but his eyes betrayed something else—heat, a flicker of desire that made Veronica's skin crawl.

Lilly, on the other hand, was soaking it up. Her attention solely focused on Aaron, she preened and glowed from the attention.

"We're having the best time." Lilly peered up at him through her thick eyelashes.

For a moment, Aaron seemed captivated by Lilly's gaze, his eyes locked with hers. Completely disregarding everyone else in the room.

Unease shivered down Veronica's spine. She glanced around the dressing room, but Lynn and Logan were adjusting her necklace and hadn't noticed the flirtation passing between Mr. Echolls and Lilly.

But just as quickly as the moment had come, it was gone. Aaron returned to his affable dad persona, clapping his hands and breaking the tension in the air. Veronica exhaled a breath she hadn't realized she was holding, relieved that the uncomfortable moment had passed.

"Good. Good. I have something special for Lynn." He brought a garment box out from under his arm and popped it open. Inside was a deep red fur something. Veronica wasn't sure what it was, but it wasn't like the one Lilly wore. This looked like the real thing.

"Aaron, there you are. Milo will be here any minute. Did you have something you want added to the options?"

He pulled the red bundle out of the box and held it up. Lynn walked over and turned to let him settle it over her shoulders. Then Aaron patted her shoulders and kissed her cheek.

Lynn's fingers grazed the soft texture of the real fur. Her brows furrowed with distress, and her fingers trembled. Her expressive eyes, once filled with warmth and excitement, now turned cold and guarded. The corners of her lips tightened, as if suppressing an urge to voice her objections.

Turning towards Aaron, Lynn's gaze met his with a faint smile.

"Thank you," she said, her voice lacking the enthusiasm she'd had all afternoon.

"Perfection." He grinned. "Time for you kids to get going. The Kane's driver is waiting."

Logan grabbed Veronica's hand, and wrapped his other arms around Lilly, leading them out of the closet. He then rushed them through the house with a speed that left Veronica bewildered.

As they drove to the Kane's, Veronica couldn't shake the unsettled feeling that lingered in the back of her mind. She had witnessed something significant, something that hinted at a deeper connection between Mr. Echolls and Lilly. But he was Logan's father. That was just weird. No way would Lilly play games with him…

They'd settled into the car when Logan leaned over. "Be careful around my dad, Lilly. His agents are sharks."

Lilly flipped her hair. "Like Celeste would ever let me do something as gauche as modeling."

"Really?" Veronica asked. Celeste frequently went on high end fashion shopping trips. She'd taken Lilly to New York Fashion Week at the beginning of the month.

"If I could do couture, sure… but this body doesn't fit into a sample size." She pressed her chest against Logan's side. "Now a Victoria's Secret Angel, that I could do."

Logan's face lit up and his eyes sparkled with mischief. "You can do that for me in private anytime you'd like," he whispered, not quietly enough.

At least they were almost to the Kane's, where Duncan was waiting for her. She didn't know what was going on with Lilly and Mr. Echolls. But she knew exactly what was about to happen between Lilly and Logan, and she had no interest in being a witness.


The memory surprised Veronica. It wasn't the first time she and Lilly had gotten to play in Lynn's closet. But it was the only time it had been before a big awards show.

Veronica looked around and saw the red fur hanging alongside several other capes and stoles.

Now that she knew what a monster Aaron truly was, the memory had a darkness to it. The sadness that had over taken Lynn, and the strange way Aaron had looked at Lilly, left her uneasy. Veronica knew that look now, because she'd been on the receiving end several times now.

She ran her fingers down the fur. "You didn't wear this that day."

"No. I didn't. Milo lost his mind. 'My Lynnie doesn't wear animals!' It was my last look he styled." Lynn's shoulders slumped. "There's something I want to say to you, Veronica."

"Is everything okay?" What a stupid question!

"I just wanted to thank you for being kind. I know you know. And well, I try, but the situation…" She straightened, settling back into the effortless poise Veronica had always admired. "Things were better for a while. Right after we lost Lilly. But now…"

What had changed after Lilly died? Logan's behavior certainly hadn't improved. If anything, he'd acted out more.

"Why not leave?" Veronica asked, instead.

"I wouldn't get custody. Aaron has kept records of my issues. I won't leave Logan alone with him."

Veronica rolled it over in her head. What had Cliff said they would need?

"Do you have evidence? Medical records?"

"A few photographs. But he paid private physicians. I don't think I can access the records without him finding out." Lynn patted away the moisture under her eyes. "Look at me. I'm a blubbering mess. I'm sorry, Veronica, I wish there was more I could do. You seem to be more effective at protecting him than I have been."

"I'll do whatever I can. My dad gave Logan permission to stay with us anytime."

Lynn's eyes brightened and shined with more unshed tears. "Did he? That's incredibly kind. I know your father and Logan haven't always seen eye to eye. Does he know…"

"About what's been happening with Aaron? No, though I think he suspects."

"Oh. Well, that too, I suppose. But I meant about what's happening between you and my son. A mother knows these things. Logan cares for you very much."

"It's a new development."

"Not as new as you seem to believe."

Heat flooded Veronica's cheeks, and she cleared her throat. "I still need to tell my dad. It was part of our agreement. I'm just not sure what to say."

"Tell him the truth. It's hard to watch your child grow up, but worse to see them lie." Lynn's chin wobbled and then she straightened she shoulders, pushing back the emotions. Veronica recognized the gesture all too well.

"Logan and I haven't really discussed it, either."

"Then that's where you should start. After we're done, I need to discuss a few things about tomorrow with Alexandra. That'll give you two some privacy." Lynn grinned. "I have to tell you, this is one of my favorite parties of the year. I just love costumes."

Veronica smiled, pleased to see Lynn's good mood recovered, even if it seemed a bit forced. "What will you be going as?"

"Come over and I'll show you."

Dropped over a mannequin was a sheer fabric in green tropical print and hanging from the neck were a pair of teal satin boy shorts. It took a moment for Veronica to place it.

"Is that J. Lo's dress?" She stepped forward to touch the fabric, but stopped just short.

"Not the dress, but a very similar dress. You can touch."

Veronica let her fingers run along the flowing pattern. It was coarser than she expected. She carefully grasped the hem.

"Oh! It's thicker than it looks. I thought it was sheer."

"Illusion, darling. Like all of this."

More than people even realized…

Logan had been strongly encouraged to make himself scarce while his mom did the costume fitting with Veronica.

He'd considered going to one of the costume shops closer in to San Diego. He still needed something, but as goofy as it was, he kind of wanted to coordinate with Veronica.

The problem was, his mother had flat out refused to tell him what they had pulled from storage. It was to be some great surprise. She'd also promised a complementary costume for him, if he wanted.

So, costume shopping had been ruled out.

To kill time, he'd made a run to Amy's and had them put several flavors into one of their freezer bags so it wouldn't melt.

Now he sat at the beach, watching the waves.

It was a nice day, though getting colder as the sun sunk lower in the sky. The swells were beautiful, but he didn't have the time or his gear with him. A foolish oversight, really. It was the end of October and the forecast called for warm waters and highs in the seventies. Perfect.

He hadn't surfed since Aaron's last lesson. Going a week without the release of being on the water had left him jittery, like his insides were vibrating. With Veronica a more constant presence in his life again, at least his mind felt steady. She gave him something else to focus on.

His phone vibrated in his pocket.

From Nancy Drew to Logan Echolls, 5:31pm: Having fun. Done in 30. Mac has a new lead

Logan was glad to hear it, because whoever was releasing those photos was fucking up his life. But he was more interested in hearing how things had gone with her doctor. He'd have to wait on her for that, though.

Logan brushed the sand off his jeans and headed home. They were expecting his dad back later that night, so he wanted to get in and out quickly. Assuming Veronica was still fine with him staying at her house.

He zipped out of the parking lot and went on mental autopilot for the rest of the drive.

Keith had given Logan an open invitation. But that probably wouldn't last once he found out that Logan and Veronica's friendship now included kissing.

Or did it?

She hadn't kissed him again. Though she had let him hold her hand while they ate lunch. Under the table, where no one could see, per their agreement the day before. But she had agreed to a date and he needed to make it a good one. He had a lot to make up for, though it was more than that, he wanted to see Veronica enjoying herself. He wanted to be the cause for her happiness.

He couldn't take her on a traditional dinner and movie type of date. Not if they were going to keep this quiet. The level of complicated they were dealing with was ridiculous. And what about when everyone found out, as was bound to happen. He'd add it to the ever-growing list of things they should discuss, but both were afraid to bring up.

That was what they needed! Before they could really start something, they needed to talk. Really talk. But Logan knew Veronica, and if things got too intense, too close to her marshmallow center, she would almost certainly shut down, maybe even run away.

So they needed a place where they couldn't leave easily and wouldn't be interrupted. Then, he needed a plan in place for any outcome. A date-scenario that could double as an apology meal if necessary.

The road curved around and the marina came into view. Yahtzee!

He ran through all the calls he'd need to make to set up what he had in mind. He was pretty sure he could pull it off for Sunday.

He pulled up the driveway, parked, and with pep in his step, headed straight for his mom's dressing room.

"Are you two about done?" Logan called from the entrance.

"Yes. We'll be right out," his mom replied. She sounded happy.

She'd been sober when he'd left that afternoon. The lack of drink in her hand as she and Veronica joined him in the hall was a welcome sight.

Lynn kissed his cheek. "Oh, darling, you're cold. Where were you all this time?"

"Just running some errands. Then watched the waves for a while."

"Are you healed enough to surf?" Veronica asked. The words were soft, but the steel in her eyes reminded him how she'd heard him receive that punishment.

"Yeah. I should be. What do you say? We can grab boards and stuff on our way out and you can come with me tomorrow morning."

Veronica's mouth had opened to reply, when the chimes for the front gate rang through the house.

"Your father's early." Lynn looked around, frantic. "To the pool house, you two. Logan, where did you park?"

"Out front."

She nodded and paced for a moment. Worry visible even through her Botox smoothed face.

Veronica moved them out of view of the large windows that had a partial view of the front circle drive. She was shifting into protector mode, and he couldn't help but find it hot.

"I'm in the back, where your staff usually park," Veronica said, grabbing her bag.

"Slip out the back. Go now."

"But Dad?" Aaron rarely went after Lynn physically, but emotionally was a whole other problem. He didn't want to leave her to him in a potentially bad mood.

"Don't you worry about him. I'll say you're out with friends and that we'll see you at the party."

"What about the costumes?" He hadn't seen whatever she had planned for him.

"I'll have them sent by messenger to your apartment. Is that okay, Veronica?"

She nodded and met Logan's eyes. "Let's skedaddle."

The sounds of doors opening and closing startled them.

His mom walked them to the back staircase. "Go now. Quickly."

Veronica's small hand wrapped around his and tugged him down the stairs. They were out of the house and in her car so fast he didn't remember the ice cream until they were pulling out onto the road.

Logan released his held breath and reached for Veronica's hand. He'd prefer to wrap his arms around her, but when she folded her fingers into his, it was almost as good.

"My hero," he said, pulling her hand to his lips. He placed a light kiss across her knuckles and set their joined hand on her thigh. "I'm sorry about that."

She smirked and side-eyed him. "Molesting my hand?"

"I'm never sorry about that." He squeezed her fingers. "I meant about our death-defying escape."

She frowned. "You shouldn't joke about that. I've read the statistics."

"What statistics?"

"Domestic violence." Her fingers gripped tighter. "It's… not good. You're not safe in that house."

"Less than a year and a half to go. I've made it this long. I can make it through this final stretch." He rubbed her knuckles, hoping to soothe her concerns, and his too.

She nodded, looking anything but in agreement with him .

Logan knew she wanted to say more, but was holding it in. Just as well, for the moment. There wasn't anything they could do on that front. So why bother about it? They'd just take it as it came. With any luck, Aaron would get signed on for some big film and be gone for six to nine months after the holidays and award season.

Wanting to change the subject, Logan asked about the thing that had been on his mind most of the day.

"How did it go with your doctor?"

Veronica dropped his hand and gripped the steering wheel, hard.

"It was fine."

"Fine?" She didn't look fine.

"I'd rather not discuss it."

"You don't have to tell me anything. I just need to know. Are you okay?"

The car was silent for several long beats, and then her shoulders dropped, and her hands loosened their choke hold on the steering wheel.

"I don't know."

It was more than he'd expected her to say, and a good start on their improving communication.

"It's okay if you don't want to talk to me about it. But maybe they have someone—"

"No, I mean I. Don't. Know. Not like existentially. But literally. They did a bunch of tests. They won't be back until next week."

"Oh. So that's physically. How about up here?" He took a risk and tucked a loose strand of her hair behind her ear, gently caressing her temple as he did.

"Honestly, I rather not discuss it right now. We're going to see my dad and we have a lot going on tomorrow. Plenty of distractions. I'll deal with it later."

"Like on Sunday?"


She pulled into the apartment parking lot and parked in her usual spot. Logan waited until she'd turned off the car and then reached for her.

"I have things I want… I need to say." He squeezed her hands.

She looked away, her eyes unfocused. "What if I don't want to hear them?"

He flinched and dropped her hands.

Crushed. She'd grabbed his heart and pulverized it. Of course, she didn't want to hear anything he had to say. She'd had time to think over all the horrid ways he'd been involved, not just in her assault, but in her descent into friendlessness and pariah-dome. It was what he deserved.


He blinked back the sting in his eyes. "I should go. Um… maybe you can drop me at Dick's."


Her hand gripped his arm with a strength that surprised him. He didn't pull away, but he couldn't look at her. So much for his thoughts earlier about Veronica keeping his mind calm. He was a mess.

She sighed. "Logan, I just mean… I know what you want to say, and I'm just not sure I'm ready to hear it." Her hand slid down his arm and tangled with his. She tugged him toward her.

"I like this." She gripped his hand.

They'd been doing that a lot.

She leaned across the center console and kissed his cheek. "And this. But I'm not ready to discuss more."

He nodded. This had to be on her timeline. He got that. But he was pretty sure what she thought he wanted to say, and what he actually needed to say, were not the same thing.

"What about your dad? You promised him we'd be honest if things changed between us." She probably regretted having shared that little nugget with him.

"Your mom said as much, too. I don't know what to tell him. I don't know what this is."

"You agreed to a date. So, it's dating. Can we call it that?"

She squirmed, released his hands, and got out of the car. He quickly followed her, worried that he'd pushed too far. He met her on the sidewalk, a smile brightening her face.

"Yes. Dating. Like in the '50s. We hold hands"—she grabbed his hand and swung it between them—"and you can take me for milkshakes."

"Oh, Veronica." He lifted their joined hands and used his other hand to send her into a twirl. "I'm no Archie, but I would love nothing more than to take you out for a milkshake." He pulled her in close and she returned to his side.

"How do you make everything sound dirty?" She slapped his arm, but didn't step away.

"It's a gift. But seriously, I know you said you wanted to keep this between us. We can just tell your dad. I have a day planned for us, if you're comfortable with that. It would be like a combination fun friend day and a date."

"The party—"

"No, that's a job." They'd reached her front door. Logan turned to face her. "How about on Sunday?"

"So soon?" she asked, still playing with his fingers.

"Yes." The sooner the better. They had a lot to sort through and he very much wanted to get to the other side. The side where they were a couple and not hiding it from anyone.

"Okay, I accept."

Before he could do something romantic like sweep her in for a kiss, she opened the front door.

"Daughter of mine!" Keith pushed his chef's hat back. A gag gift from Cliff that he hoped would get a laugh from Veronica. She'd been so tense. Stressed.

She didn't close the door behind her and the tall form of her erstwhile friend darkened his doorstep.

"And Logan. What a pleasant surprise?"

"Is it, sir?"

He remembered Rebecca's suggestion. Build trust. "Of course it is. I'm making my special recipe lasagna. Jussa like Mama Mars usta make."

"Don't let him fool you—"

"He doubles the cheese." Logan smiled, the tension across his shoulders visibly relaxing. "That sounds great. I'm not normally a big cheese fan"—he held a hand to the side of his mouth—"you've seen my dad's movies. Or hopefully, you haven't. But for a Mars culinary creation, I'll put those feelings aside."

"So noble," Veronica said, hip checking him.

They seemed… different with each other. Rebecca had been right about that too. There was more happening between them. It made him uncomfortable. Logan wasn't like Duncan, pliable, easily intimidated. No, Logan was made of much sterner stuff than Duncan Kane.

"You have perfect timing. I'm about to pull this baby outta the oven. You kids are sticking around, right?"

"You bet," Veronica said, her voice filled with cheer he was starting to recognize as forced. How had he been so blind the past year?

Veronica led Logan over to the small table they had and he helped her pull out everything to set it. Comfortable, practiced movements. Logan was no longer a stranger to this home.

Rebecca was right. He had a choice to make here. Push Logan away, potentially damaging his relationship with Veronica. Or, keep them close, and work to better understand Logan. The father in him wanted to pull out a gun and a warning, but the astute detective won over. If he found something unacceptable, there was always time to change tacks.

He brought the piping hot pan out of the oven. Divine. Just the right blend of spices, tomatoes, and cheese. Oh, the cheese…

"Careful, Dad. You'll burn your sinuses doing that. And just think, then you won't be able to smell or taste it."

"What?" Logan asked.

"Remember from biology. Flavor perception. It's why when you're sick, nothing tastes very good."

That was his daughter. God, but she was so smart. The brain of hers held on to everything. Always had… If he was seriously going to consider continuing Lilly's case… She would make be an excellent resource both as someone who knew Lilly and also for her research skills.

No. He would not do that to his daughter. At least, not yet.

She and Logan had continued talking during his thoughts, but now they all stood staring at the food, silent. What had he missed?

"So, we ready to dig in?" Keith asked, taking his seat. He served himself and offered Logan the spatula. "Best to take what you want before the empty leg gets started."

"Hardy har har. I'm not that bad," Veronica grumbled.

Keith met Logan's eyes for a shared moment of humor. He didn't have experience raising a son, but shared humor was always a good thing when building rapport.

Once all their plates were served and they'd settled into eating, Keith asked, "What was the outcome of the great costume fitting?"

"Yeah, Lynn pulled a bunch of cool things for me to try. It was amazing." This time, her cheer seemed genuine.

"It meant a lot to my mom." They shared a soft smile.

"What will you both be attending as? Wait, let me guess… Batgirl and Robin!"

Logan raised his brows. "Well?"

Keith turned to the young man. "You don't know?"

"Nope. They did not include me in the decision. I was informed mine will be sent over with Veronica's tomorrow."

"It's a surprise," she said, and finished her last bite of lasagna. "I'm stuffed. Look at this food baby."

"The only acceptable kind of baby in this household."

The kids glanced at each other. So that's where they were at… He didn't miss Lianne often, but the bird and the bees conversations were not his forte.

"Anything you kids want to tell me?"

"Not particularly."

"Veronica." "Ronnie."

Keith turned to Logan. "Perhaps you'd like to tell me?"

Logan glanced at Veronica. "It's not that big of a deal."

"Fine. Logan and I are"—she held up her fingers—"'dating.'"

"Don't act too excited." Logan smirked at her.

"Logan, do you mind giving my daughter and I a moment?"

"Sure. I'll just be…" He rose from the table, squeezed her shoulder as he walked by, and thumbed toward Veronica's room.

Once the door had shut, Keith turned back to her and waited.

"Like Logan said. It's not that big of a deal. We've decided we're dating."

"So, he's your boyfriend now?" He'd hoped to have a little more time before this became a reality.

"No. Dating. Like we'll go on some dates and see how it goes."

Keith stifled a groan. "And all the rest of the time you spend together?"

"We'll be friends." She fidgeted with her napkin. "Who also hold hands."

"I'm not sure—" he cut himself off and raised his hand. "Let me try that again. I want you to promise to be careful. Logan is…" A lot of things he didn't want for his daughter.

"I know who Logan is. I'll be careful." She walked around that table and hugged him. "I know it goes against your instinct, so I appreciate that. Nothing's really changed."

"I have a few more conversations for us to have soon. But for tonight, I'll just say I'm happy if you're happy."

"Happier than I've been in a long time. Thanks Daddy-O. We'll be in my room doing homework." She walked to her room.

"On a Friday?" Keith asked, picking up plates. He'd wash them later.

She turned back to him, halfway through her door. "We have a mini project due on Monday. Better tonight than when we're tired on Sunday. Plus, Logan's taking me for a milkshake."

And so it begins.

"With the door open, Veronica."

Logan snickered from behind her and she elbowed him.

"Yes, with the door open."

Keith grabbed his laptop and did his best to give them a reasonable amount of privacy while he went back over his notes for the next day. This wasn't his favorite sort of operation, and something about it felt hinky. But the check had cleared, and they needed the payday.

After going back through all the plans and adding additional notes for contingencies, the nine o'clock news flashed across the TV. He headed for Veronica's room, lightly rapping on the open door.

"So, Logan, when are you headed home? It's getting late." Keith pointed at his watch.


It was never good when Veronica started a sentence that way.

"Yes, daughter."

"I thought Logan could stay the night. We're all headed to the same place tomorrow, anyway."

"We are?" He wasn't aware of Logan assisting with setup.

Though maybe it made sense. He needed someone on the inside to keep an eye on Veronica. It also accounted for a few of his notes about her needing backup.

Keith nodded. "You up for the job, Logan? I'm sorry to say it doesn't pay well. As in, you just ate your payment."

"Then you overpaid. No way I'd let"—he held up his hands—"leave Veronica without backup. Can't have eyes on the back of your head and all that jazz."

"Too right you are."

Veronica harrumphed and grumbled under her breath, "Patriarchy. Always trying to keep me down."

"I'm going to take a shower and then hit the hay. Don't stay up too late. And I'm trusting you two to behave like the mature young adults I know you are capable of being."

Logan nodded, and Veronica rolled her eyes.

"We'll keep a bible between us for Jesus."

"See that you do. I'll make breakfast in the morning. Gotta fuel up."

He left them, wondering if he was making a mistake. He really hoped not.

AN: Thank you so much for sticking with this story for so long! I posted the first chapter 9 years ago (technically 8 years and 11 months lol). I almost can't believe it! I wish I could give you a specific update timeline, but I don't have one. Just know that I'm still working on it and your comments and encouragement keep me coming back 💜💜💜

Also, please forgive my fast and loose use of metadata as a means for Mac to track our mystery photographer 😂