It's finally here! The story I've had in my head for way, way too long.

It's set up similarly to Falling Slowly (that story was my dark side's reaction to trying to write this fluff!). We have Veronica 1.0 and, to an extent, Logan 1.0. Lilly was never murdered. The whole school never turned against her. Her mom did leave, but Lianne didn't come back and take all Veronica's money. Maybe most importantly, she wasn't raped! Things proceeded how they would have as we saw in canon Veronica's soft-focused flashbacks. The Fab Four stopped dating one another in high school and remained amicable.

This story starts on December 31st, 2015 (about the time I was sure I'd post it. Oops!).

It's also inspired by one of my favorite romcoms from the 90s. If you can guess which one, let me know in a comment!

Chapter 1

December 31, 2015

Lilly Kane restlessly paced back and forth in the lobby of the Neptune Grand Hotel, waiting for her friend. He was later than he usually was, and she was starting to get worried. He hadn't answered when she had tried to call him ten minutes ago and hadn't responded to her texts either. She knew she was acting like a stalker, but she was going to call him again. If she had to endure this evening, then he sure as hell was going to be there with her. After four rings, she finally heard the click of her phone connecting as he picked up on his end. She didn't give him time to talk before she started in on him.

"Where are you, Lover? You're over twenty minutes late. Why am I suffering through this alone? You're supposed to be here holding my hand." She heard a sigh from the other end of the line.

"Lilly, you can't call me 'lover' anymore. We've been through this," Logan replied irritably.

Lilly was a bit taken back by his tone, so she decided to finesse him rather than push. She absolutely couldn't and wouldn't go back in there alone.

"I meant figuratively holding my hand! Look, whatever, you aren't skipping out on me, are you? I can't face all of Duncan and my parents' friends without you. I don't understand anything that they're saying and I haven't even had a drink yet. It's like a who's who of SoCal political up-and-comers in there." Lilly gasped and ducked behind a very large potted plant near the registration desk when she spotted an elderly gentleman who had approached her earlier. "And some very decrepit, flirtatious political old-timers." She shuddered.

"Relax, I'm not skipping out. I'm just parking the car. Traffic sucked," Logan snapped.

Since when did Logan park his own car when there was a perfectly good valet right outside the lobby? There had to be more to his attitude than traffic issues. Snappy and irritable Logan always came out when he was anxious. She couldn't for the life of her figure out why he would be. Working parties was what Logan Echolls did best; it's what he was born to do. Nothing came more naturally to him.

Again, Lilly decided not push the matter right now. She needed him on her side when he did arrive. She'd get to the bottom of things when she saw him in person.

"Okay, don't get mad at me. I'm not the one who's late, here. Just get your cute, Armani-suited ass in here now so that I don't have to hide in the lobby anymore."

"Sorry, Lil. I'll be right there."

Lilly peeked around the plant to make sure the coast was clear before stepping out into the main corridor of the lobby to wait for Logan.

Logan sat in the parking lot outside the posh Neptune hotel. He'd lied to Lilly. Traffic had been fine and he wasn't late to Duncan's party at all. In fact, he had arrived ten minutes early; he just hadn't exactly left his car yet. He kept waiting for the pep talk he had given himself to kick in, but it wasn't happening. He was too nervous to walk into the lobby let alone the actual ballroom for the party. And he was talking to himself in the mirror again; that was never a good sign.

"Pull yourself together, Logan," he said to his reflection. "You've got this."

He tried to hold back his frustration. All this should have taken place weeks ago. Two weeks ago. He'd planned it all out. Everything, and months ahead of his deadline. He'd planned to take her back to the place where it had all started and lay all his cards on the table. Winning her over with words, he'd tell her all the details about his work in London. He'd show her that he'd grown up beyond the spoiled, entitled rich kid he'd always been. She knew a lot of it, but she didn't know how he felt. The hard work had been tough but rewarding, but she needed to know that somewhere along the way he'd come to a realization. The epiphany that had hit him like a ton of bricks one night after weeks of working too long and too hard and too far away from home. The realization that all the hard work and success in the world was meaningless if there wasn't anyone to share it with. For so long he'd seen Neptune's lack of fidelity as a sign that he should keep people from coming too close. Now he realized that the opposite was true. Life was too short. Time was fleeting. Days and nights should be shared with those we love. For him that person was her. Maybe it had always been her.

He'd have told her that after his realization—his eureka moment of perfect clarity—but he'd had to focus on returning to Neptune. It had taken him a few months to get things settled enough in London to turn it over to someone else, but he had.

And she'd bailed. Veronica had canceled their coffee date with some lame excuse about work. So now, here he was, sitting in his car outside the Neptune Grand of all places, at some party he couldn't give a shit about so that he could see her. So that he could try again. It wasn't the coffee date he'd planned, but it was New Year's Eve. It was a little trite perhaps, but if there was a day ripe for new beginnings, this was it.

It was as though everything he'd worked toward had all lead up to this moment—and yet he was too chicken shit to get out of his car. Logan started to laugh despite himself. He checked his watch for the fiftieth time in the past half-hour and then nervously pulled down the car visor to take one last look at himself in the tiny mirror. Logan knew that he looked fine; he was just stalling.

"All this over a blonde you've known forever, Echolls," he mused, snickering at himself again. Now he was here—with a few months to spare, even—and ready to lay his heart bare. He could only hope that she felt the same way. All he had to do was prove it to her.

"Enough, now, Logan. Let's do this," he said with a false confidence as he pushed the visor back into place. It was now or never. Logan forced himself to pull the car keys out of the ignition and open the door. He put one foot in front of the other and made his way toward the hotel. As he approached, a doorman scurried to open the massive door for him. Logan paused one last time and took a deep breath before stepping across the threshold and into Lilly's waiting arms.

Veronica checked her appearance in the suite's full-length mirror for the hundredth time. She was uncomfortable; there was no denying it. Though she often wore suits to work, this fabric was a bit stiff, to say the least. She could get used to it. Eventually. She had to. At least she'd put her foot down about the tweed, First Lady suit. She wasn't a complete pushover.

She nodded to herself. Yes, this look was much less Hillary Clinton than what had been pushed on her. It was a bit youthful and flattering—for the most part. It even gave the illusion of a little cleavage.

This is good, Veronica. You want this. This is the right move; it makes sense.

She straightened the collar and told herself again that she would get used to it. Her phone binged and she reached for it immediately.

Logan: Lilly and I are here. Where are you? Please tell me you aren't ditching.

Veronica smiled. Despite the circumstances—despite her anxiety at coming clean—she was looking forward to seeing Lilly and Logan tonight. Logan. She wasn't looking forward to confession time, but she knew that Logan had news of his own, and she'd put off this discussion long enough. She'd been dodging his calls for a few months—that she couldn't deny—and then she'd canceled their coffee date. She'd been busy at work, it was true, but it had been an excuse. She just couldn't bear to hear his news, and share her news, there of all places. Java the Hut was their place. But she couldn't put this discussion off any longer. It was time. Time to lay it all bare. She missed him. And Lilly. She missed them both a lot.

As she began to shoot off a reply, she heard a knock on her door. She'd begun to respond when Duncan's publicist came bustling through the door.

Thanks for the courtesy knock, at least.

"Veronica, it's time. Everyone's waiting," Gretchen's voice was insistent but kind. "You look wonderful. Absolutely perfect. And it's even red. Did you see?"

Veronica blinked, swallowing back the sarcastic remark that was on the tip of her tongue. Did she notice her dress was red? She'd have to be blind not to. "Yes. Red!" she replied. She was exhausted both physically and emotionally. She was tired of having to think so hard before she spoke. Veronica knew she had a tendency toward snarky remarks, and she'd worked hard lately to curb that. But she also hated that sometimes it left her sounding...well, dumb rather than just polite.

"Well, let's get you downstairs. Everyone is waiting!"

"I hope you told them that beauty takes time," Veronica teased. Gretchen looked at her blankly.

No sense of humor, this one.

"Never mind. Tell them I'm on my way," Veronica continued, deleting the text she'd composed in reply to Logan and tossing the phone in her clutch. Who needed to text when their friends were right downstairs? She threw a lip-gloss in as well and snapped the little purse closed, savoring one last quiet moment before the storm. Despite her pep talks to herself all day, she hesitated just a moment to mentally prepare herself. Gretchen cleared her throat from where she stood and Veronica nodded to her. "I'm coming," she promised, moving to follow the other woman into the hallway.

Okay, Veronica, it'll be fine. You're just going to find Logan and Lilly right away and….and…

Her heart sank. She still didn't know how to tell them, but she would by the time she found them. She would explain everything...somehow.

Logan knew the moment that Veronica entered the room. He couldn't see her yet, but he knew she was there. It was as if every cell in his body suddenly became more aware—more alert. It had always been that way with her. He tried to maintain an air of nonchalance as he looked around the room. His breath stopped the second that he saw her face in the crowd. She must have been aware of him too because her eyes immediately locked on his and a smile spread across her face, which caused his heart to skip a beat. Logan smiled back and raised his free hand up in a small wave. He swallowed back the last sip of champagne and deposited the glass onto a passing tray, his eyes never leaving hers.

This is it, Echolls. Be a man and go for it. The worst that can happen is she doesn't have feelings for you.

He left Lilly's side and began to close the distance between them. Veronica was beautiful. Her hair was perfect and her face glowed. She looked…he almost stopped dead in his tracks at the sight of her outfit. She looked…she looked like a younger, prettier version of…well, Celeste. What the hell?

Keep walking, Logan, keep walking.

His body obeyed, and only a moment later he was standing just a foot away from in such close proximity to her felt amazing. Logan's body hummed a little at how right it felt to be near her. He instantly regretted not taking more time for her these past few years. They'd been in different places—different continents even—but their friendship had lasted, and he should have made time more for her. He'd been so busy in London, working through endless red tape and board meetings punctuated by black tie dinners. She'd been busy at her new firm, buried in work as she fought to prove herself just like he was. But that all seemed insignificant when she was standing just a few feet away from him. He wished he'd included her in everything that had been going on recently—how well things had gone overseas. But that was why he was here now, to tell her. Logan wanted to pull her in for a hug, but she didn't give him the chance.

Veronica reached out for him first, but the hug wasn't like the ones they usually shared. It was stiff and perfunctory, just like her ensemble. She was nervous, he realized. Logan tried to ease her tension.

"I missed you!" he said softly against her ear. He felt her shiver and sink into him a bit. He wondered, again, if he'd been wrong to keep her at arm's length after his epiphany while he lined everything up. Maybe he'd just wasted time—valuable time that they could have been together. But then she stiffened up again.

"Me too," she replied, pulling out of his arms and taking a step backward. Logan missed the contact immediately, and he balled his hand up to resist the urge to take her hand in his. He willed himself to be patient. There would be time for all that soon. "Look, I'm sorry I've been so hard to reach. It's just that…well this new job, the long hours"—she shrugged— "and the commute's a bear. I wanted to get my own place in San Diego, but—well, it doesn't matter now."

"Bygones, Veronica. I shouldn't have stayed away so long. It won't happen again. I…I was hoping that" You're sputtering, Logan. "I'm sorry we didn't get a chance to have coffee. I thought about rescheduling—" but I was frustrated that you messed everything up "—but then Duncan mentioned tonight..." He trailed off and his mind shouted, Say it! And Logan rallied."About tonight….I was wondering—"

"Veronica Mars, there you are!" Lilly's voice squealed through the crowd, cutting Logan off. He groaned and bit the inside of his cheek. "It's been too, too long. Next time I go to Paris for a year, I'm taking you with me."

"Well, you know…some of us have to work, Lilly," Veronica responded with a tight smile. Logan smirked at Veronica standing up to Lilly. "But I'm glad you had fun. I've missed you both."

"Yes, speaking of this job of yours, when are you eligible for a few days off? I feel the need for a few days in New York. I did a lot of shopping in Paris, but—"

At the halt in Lilly's words, Logan turned toward her just in time to see Lilly give Veronica a long once over from head to toe. Lilly's brow furrowed in confusion and then her head cocked to one side slightly as if trying to solve a riddle. Logan was about to break the tension when Lilly tactlessly blurted out, "Veronica Mars, what the hell are you wearing?"

"You don't like it?" Veronica's hand fluttered down the lapel and then tugged at the stiff fabric. "I thought it was very…Kate Middleton visits Canada." Veronica sounded disappointed. Logan turned to Lilly, hoping she'd shed some light on the situation, but Lilly's confused expression mirrored his own. "It's red!" Veronica added hopefully, a slight tremor to her plastered on smile.

"It's New Year's Eve, Veronica. You look…so..." Lilly waved her hand at Veronica, biting on the side of her lip the way she always did when she was searching for a more appropriate word than whatever was on the tip of her tongue. "…lawyerly?"

Veronica seemed to deflate and Logan immediately felt the need to come to her rescue. "You look great!" Logan said, taking Veronica's hand and giving it a brief squeeze. "Lilly's just not used to Veronica Mars, J.D., Esquire." He released her hand and nudged Lilly, shaking his head in a silent command for her to back off since she was clearly hurting Veronica's feelings. "It's just going to take a while to get used to."

"I guess so." Veronica nodded and looked down at her hands, which she was twisting and clasping. Logan could tell that she was disappointed. This wasn't going according to plan at all and again he wished he'd pushed for rescheduling the coffee date. It would be much easier to not start this conversation in a crowd. But it was too late for that now, and she'd left him little choice. It was time to make things right. He started his speech again.

"So how long is this geriatric party supposed to last, anyway? I think we're the only people here under fifty. Can we duck out before midnight? Maybe stir up some New Year's Eve nostalgia in the form of freezing our butts off at the beach with blankets, coats, and champagne...maybe some dancing?" he asked, speaking to them both but looking pointedly at Veronica. She shifted uncomfortably under his gaze.

"I'm in," Lilly spoke up first. "I brought coats and blankets…"

"I have two bottles of champagne in my trunk." Logan nodded his head toward the exit.

"Only two?" Lilly's brow furrowed in confusion. "What are you going to drink?"

"Yeah, I've retired 'party boy Logan' so I've really cut back on the drinking. I figured two was plenty, but we can stop and get more." Logan turned his gaze to Veronica to gauge her reaction to his admission.

"Maybe." Veronica shifted and adjusted her suit again like she was uncomfortable, which was not the response Logan had been expecting. "It's just that it's Duncan's party; I don't know if he can get away," Veronica said noncommittally.

This time it was Logan who cocked his head to the side in an effort to figure her out. She looked uncharacteristically hesitant. Veronica was the nostalgia queen; she lived for reveling in their high school glory days and antics. He narrowed his eyes and opened his mouth to press further, but Lilly beat him to it.

"Yes, where is my darling brother?" Lilly asked, rising to her tiptoes as her gaze flitted about the room.

"Probably out schmoozing some boring old politician." Logan cringed but tried to hide it. He didn't like how smooth-talking Duncan had become. The guy had always been more straight-laced than Logan and Lilly, but he'd still been a lot of fun back in the day. Lately, it was a chore to even get a minute with him on the phone, let alone hit some waves. When he really thought about it, Logan couldn't remember the last time he and Duncan had talked more than over email and the occasional coffee.

It was right then that Duncan seemingly materialized out of thin air. Realistically, Logan knew that anyone could have snuck up on him. He'd been so lost in discerning the jigsaw in front of him. Was he imagining it, or did Duncan's too-tight tie match Veronica's dress? They almost looked like twin tight-asses.

"Hey, guys!" Duncan said warmly, smiling his million-dollar smile at the group. "Lilly! You're home!" He scooped her up and hugged her tightly. Logan was slightly taken aback. That was a lot of emotion from Duncan. "So much has been happening. Did you see Mom and Dad yet? They're looking for you. They're by the head table." Duncan indicated the stage at the front of the room. "Can you please check in with them before dinner?" He held his hands up in prayer to Lilly and pursed his lips.

"Yes, Dad," Lilly replied, setting her jaw and rolling her eyes. "You know, you're getting worse than Celeste. I only got off the plane six hours ago, and no one was at home when I got there. You didn't even answer your phone."

"Sorry, it's been crazy and Mom and Dad got us all suites here for the night." Logan saw Duncan look expectantly at Veronica. His tone was curt, and he reached out and touched her arm. Logan felt his blood boil, but he let out a long, steadying breath to cover his reaction. "Did you tell them yet?"

That got Logan's attention. His eyes snapped to Veronica's. "Tell us what?"

She ignored Logan, but he saw her swallow hard. "Not yet," she said through a sigh. She turned to Duncan. "We were discussing our New Year's Eve beach tradition," she said with a tilt of her head. "Can we all sneak away? It would be fun!"

Logan felt his brows furrow. He couldn't fathom why Veronica was looking at Duncan that way—like she'd looked at her father when they were kids and she'd wanted to see an 'R' rated movie. Back then it had been cute, but now...well, he now didn't like it. Logan looked to Duncan to gauge his response, but Duncan was distracted by something across the room.

"Duncan," Veronica prodded, poking him in the ribs. That got his attention.

"What? Oh, the beach? Yeah, I'm not sure we'll be able to get away tonight. Hey, Logan, will you excuse us? I need to borrow Veronica for a moment," Duncan said, all politeness. How could Logan refuse?

"Yeah, sure. But I want us to all sit together at dinner. See you in a few minutes?"

"The seating was assigned weeks ago. Check with Margaret or one of the other hostesses for your table assignment," Duncan said as he turned and led Veronica away. "I can't believe you didn't tell—" was all that Logan heard as they turned away. Logan saw Duncan's hand on Veronica's lower back and barely stifled a growl. Overbearing bastard.

Logan watched as Veronica stepped ahead of Duncan and disappeared through the crowd toward the front of the room. Logan was disgusted. It was so Duncan. In fact, the whole damn party was so Duncan. Or should he say so Celeste and Jake? There was no distinguishing between the three of them at this point. Duncan was about as interesting as Cream of Wheat these days.

He turned to Lilly whose brow was just as furrowed as his own. Her countenance relieved him a bit. He didn't want to be the only one who was perplexed. "What the hell was that?"

"I'm not sure. Give me a minute," she said and disappeared into the crowd after her brother and Veronica.

Logan had half a mind to follow when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see a familiar face beaming up at him.

"Logan Echolls! Long time no see! I saw that you're at my table tonight. Table seven. Not exactly prime seating for someone as important as me, but it's not Outer Mongolia either. Here, it's this way. Follow me."

"Sheriff Mars! It's been too long." Logan embraced the man who had both busted and saved his ass too many times to count. "I'm sorry I haven't come by the station since I've been back." Logan followed Keith to a table near the front and noticed that other partygoers were finding their seats as well.

"Logan, please, it's Keith now. You're an adult after all." Keith clapped him on the shoulder. "Well, there is such a thing as coming by the station too often." Keith chuckled. "I remember those frequent visits during your adolescence fondly. But, you seem to have cleaned up nicely. I wouldn't mind a visit or two. Sans cuffs of course. I somehow remember you bringing me lunch once a week for almost a year when Veronica was up at Stanford. You know, in my office rather than the interrogation room."

"You busted me so many times—but always fairly—the least I could do was feed you, Sheriff." Logan laughed at his own formality. "Keith," he corrected. "That might take some getting used to. I'm glad you could get the night off. I'm sure the wealthy of Neptune appreciate you being here so they can think they run the city rather than you," Logan joked.

"They run more than I'd like to admit." Keith looked heavenward. "But I'd like to think I hold my own. Have you seen Veronica?"

"Yes, you just missed her. Duncan pulled her away and Lilly went chasing after them. How is she? She seems…" Logan let the sentence trail, not wanting to lead the older man.

"She seems…content," Keith answered diplomatically. "This isn't the life I had planned for her. I guess I always thought..." He gave Logan a long look and then shrugged with a wry smile that seemed to mean more than Logan could decipher. "But it's her life, after all." Keith shook his head.

"Well, lawyers often don't have the same agenda as the sheriff, but I imagine that since she's not a criminal defense attorney that you don't butt heads too often."

Keith squinted his eyes at Logan speculatively and paused for a moment before he started to respond. "What did she say when—"

Lilly came bursting through the crowd, her eyes narrowed and mouth pulled into a tight line. Logan thought she looked exactly like the girl he remembered from high school when she didn't get her way—petulant and likely to be a pain in his ass. Logan saw Keith move to greet Lilly, but she didn't even acknowledge him.

Logan couldn't keep the amusement out of his tone. "I assume you got answers, then? I can't wait to hear this! What did Celeste do now?" He smiled down at her and realized that she was very upset. Her lower lip was quivering and she crossed her arms protectively at her chest. After a moment of some silent showdown between them that Logan didn't understand, he broke and spoke more compassionately. "Lilly?"

"Oh please, Logan. As if you didn't know," Lilly huffed, flicking her fingers at him. "You know, I'd expect that you of all people…" she trailed off, rolling her tear-welled eyes dramatically and then she swallowing hard as one teardrop escaped, tracing a path down her cheek.

She was crying? "Lilly—"

"I know I've been away for a while, but…" she paused, still fuming, "I expect this kind of shit from Celeste—maybe even Duncan—but from Veronica?! From you?!"

A wave of cold gripped Logan, starting in his fingers and toes before quickly spreading throughout his entire body. He grasped Lilly's shoulders and bent down so that their eyes were level. "Wait a minute! I don't have a clue what you're talking about."

Lilly let out a guffaw and stepped out of his grasp before studying him intensely as if trying to unravel an enigma. "Logan Echolls, if you're lying to me, so help me—"

Logan looked back at Keith, whose expression appeared concerned as well, and then turned back to Lilly. "Calm down and start at the beginning."

She laughed mirthlessly. "No time, I'm afraid." She indicated the front of the room where Jake was stepping up onto the podium where the head table was.

"Can I get everyone's attention, please?" Jake Kane's voice boomed over a microphone, filling the room. Everyone turned immediately, including Logan. "As we close out one year and begin another, I'd like to reflect a little on what a wonderful time we live in. Everyone please find a seat and make sure your glasses are full." Jake paused for a moment while a few straggling partygoers found their table and reached for a flute of champagne.

Logan calmed slightly at the sound of Jake's voice. Lilly was always overly dramatic where her parents were concerned. This felt exactly like old times.

"Oh boy!" Logan was monotone. "Are we about to be subjected to yet another Kane speech to the elite masses where they congratulate each other for being the rulers of the universe?" Logan said, keeping his voice down, though apparently not enough if Keith Mars' snort was any indication.

"Oh no, this is much better than that; just you wait!" Lilly sneered.

After what seemed like an eternal moment, Jake continued. "Last year—"

"Then again, if you'd prefer the Cliff Notes version, we could just ditch now and go to the beach."

"It's not even eight-thirty, Lilly. They haven't served dinner yet. I don't want to freeze my ass off for more than an hour at the beach in December." His playful tone didn't mollify Lilly, and he took pity on her. "But if you want to go, let's go," he agreed, despite his confusion. "After Jake's done, we can ditch as soon as we say goodbye to Veronica...tell her to meet us later." Logan looked back up to the stage.

Lilly shook her head and crossed her arms again as she let out a mirthless laugh. "Sure thing. If I had to sit through it, then I guess you should too!" she snapped, turning petulantly to lean against a nearby pillar. "You're going to love this!"

Logan looked back up to the front of the room and saw Veronica and Duncan join Jake and Celeste. Jake's voice became his focus again. "And it's during the holidays that I am thankful for my family. It is in that spirit that Celeste and I are proud to announce the engagement of our wonderful son, Duncan, to the love of his life, Veronica Mars."

Logan's world began to spin as the room erupted into applause, and then there was more speaking. Duncan's voice? Logan couldn't be sure. He was drowning on dry land. Logan began pulling at his collar. Too tight. Everything was too tight. He managed to pull himself together enough to loosen his tie and unfasten his shirt's top button. Still too tight. Too hot. He shrugged off his jacket and let it fall to the floor without sparing it a second thought.

A pair of green eyes appeared before him and he could see Lilly speaking to him. Her words were garbled and he couldn't understand. He wished that she would stop spinning him. He felt her arms grasping at his. An anchor. Good. He grabbed her forearms as well and willed himself to concentrate on Lilly. Her mouth was still moving. He shook his head and blinked once slowly, still trying to connect.

Finally, she came into focus as she snapped her fingers in front of his eyes. "Logan! Snap out of it. What on Earth? I've never seen you like this!"

It took Lilly's voice a moment to register in his mind, as he focused on her green eyes. But he wasn't ready to speak; he couldn't catch his breath.

"Son, are you okay, do you need to sit down?" Keith sounded a mile away, but it helped him find his voice.

He turned to Lilly. "I wanna leave."

"Yeah, okay, but I need you to pull yourself together for a minute. I can't carry you out of here!"

Logan gripped her arms a little tighter and nodded. At least he thought he did. He watched Lilly bend down to retrieve something. His jacket? His eyes looked around again and settled on the stage where Veronica stood, her eyes locked on his. Her mouth opened and closed, hand reaching toward him and then dropping. He let out a maniacal laugh and then he saw Sheriff Mars looking at him; his expression mirrored his daughter's—pity? Regret? That was the last thing he comprehended before Lilly steered him out of the ballroom and through the lobby.

"You knew?" he managed.

Once outside, Lilly shouted to someone—a valet maybe—and then turned back to him. "No!" She shook her head emphatically. "I thought you knew and were keeping it from me. I swear I found out five minutes ago when I talked to Jake and Celeste."

He snorted, and she reached up to touch his face and he glanced at her again. "Logan, I don't understand whatever this reaction you're having is, but I didn't know. Not about this."

He let out another ugly laugh. "But I had months left!" he whispered to Lilly right before she shoved him into her car. He sat back in the seat and looked at Lilly as she climbed into the driver's seat.

"Months left for what, Logan?" she asked as she shifted into drive and pulled away from the hotel.

He ignored her question and instead pressed his forehead against the cool windowpane. It helped. A little. He closed his eyes and let the memory fill him.

**Begin Flashback**

Spring, Freshman year at Hearst

Logan saw her as soon as he entered Java the Hut. The sight of her sitting on a couch in the back of the coffee shop eased the anxiety he'd felt since her frantic phone call an hour ago. God, she was beautiful. Veronica dressed in her typical jeans and a t-shirt—hair haphazardly pulled up into a messy bun—looking amazing. Even moping, she was cuter better than anyone else he'd ever known. Logan took his time on his way to her, enjoying the view as he wound his way past the other tables. Veronica's head popped up when he got closer. It was as if she could sense his presence, too.

"Okay, Mars. What was so important that I had to ditch my date?" Logan asked, flopping down on the couch next to her.

"You left a date? Logan, you didn't tell me you were on a date," she replied, her shoulders sagged as she spoke, causing her to look even more miserable than she had before.

"I told you on Wednesday that I was taking someone out tonight. It's no big deal, Mars. You seemed upset, so here I am. What are friends for?"

"You know Parker…the one who met us all in Aspen last winter during break? She got engaged today," Veronica said, her eyes wide and her eyebrows raised. Logan gave her an expectant look, waiting for the part of the story that caused Veronica to be so upset. "This is California, and we still have three years left of college. We haven't traveled to Florence, or seen the Taj Mahal. We're eighteen, Logan, who gets engaged at eighteen?"

"Apparently Parker does," he replied, confused. "This is what has you so upset? This tragedy of early marriage?"

"No, not her specifically. I like Parker and I'm happy for her. And Leo's a great guy," Veronica relented.

"So what's the problem? Talk to me, V."

"I know I'm being irrational, but I didn't think people would start pairing off yet. I'm not saying that I'm ready to be engaged or married; it's just that this engagement talk has got me thinking about my nonexistent love life. The only guy I ever really dated was Duncan. And for how hot that relationship was he might as well have been my brother."

"Ew, don't even say that. Anyway, you two were just…you and Duncan dated through almost half of high school, Veronica, clearly your feelings for him had to be more exciting than that," Logan said, hoping to allay her concerns. He and Veronica had been best friends since they were twelve; they told each other almost everything. But he hadn't ever been too sure what had motivated Veronica to date such a straight-laced guy as Duncan Kane. He might be biased, but Logan had always felt that Veronica was a much better match for him than she was for Duncan. She had so much more spark in her than Duncan did. Sure, Logan had been interested back then—still was if he were being honest—but he knew how relationships ended. Friendships were forever, and that was more important. "You've gone on dates since we got to Hearst."

"Only some first dates." Veronica nodded in agreement, then glared up at him and continued, "You should know that. You were the one to scare off one or two of those dates if I remember correctly!"

"Oh. Well yeah, but those guys were even bigger automatons than Duncan was." Logan cringed at the memory. Those were some winners.

"Duncan was so easy to be around. We did love each other in our own way, and he wasn't competition for Lilly, so he was an easy choice. It wasn't passionate, but we had fun together. There wasn't excitement; he wouldn't even dance with me, but he was..." Veronica paused, reflecting, "safe." Logan leaned into her and urged her to keep talking with a brief nudge to her knee with his. "Now I feel like I'm doomed to have Duncan be the closest thing to passion that I'll ever experience. I've never even thought seriously about marriage, especially after the train wreck that was my parents'. I have so much baggage: Sheriff father, absent mother," she looked at Logan and grinned affectionately, "overbearingly protective best friends." Veronica groaned and buried her face in her hands. "But now with Parker being engaged, I've started thinking and I just can't see this ending well for me. I'm going to end up old and alone, and I don't even like cats," Veronica moaned miserably.

Logan bit his lip, wondering how best to reassure her. She had baggage but it was nothing compared to the matching set of Samsonites that he was doomed to carry throughout life. It was times like these that he was happy he hadn't ever made a move on her. She was his best friend.

Logan took a breath and tried to let her down easily. "We all have our shit to work through, Veronica. I mean, my situation isn't much better. I already have to practically run background checks on potential dates to make sure that they aren't after my money or the notoriety of dating the son of Aaron Echolls. Imagine when I get married." He knew he didn't need to explain more. She was one of the few people who knew everything about him and loved him in spite of it.

Logan watched as a look of shame took over Veronica's face. "I'm so sorry, Lo. I wasn't thinking." She brought her head down and rested it on his shoulder, leaning into him. Logan adjusted so that his arm wrapped around her, nestling her into his side. "I love you," she whispered. "At least you know you will always have me. I'm not after your money."

"I love you too, Mars," Logan responded, playfully kissing her forehead. "You know you'll always have me, too. So when we end up old and alone we can be that way together."

"Oh, good," Veronica replied in mock relief. "You can take care of the cats! I'll have the pitbull."

"I think we could do better than that, Bobcat. You know you could do a lot worse than marrying me. Didn't Lilly already predict us together in less than twenty years anyway," he added, rolling his eyes for effect.

"I don't think she has much faith in my ability to find my own husband either," Veronica sighed, suddenly somber again after their teasing.

A silence fell over them, but they remained cuddled close together. Logan was enjoying holding her for such an extended period of time. Even though they hugged a lot and cuddled when watching movies, he never got tired of it. Veronica had always seemed to fit perfectly in his arms. Her friendship was more important than anything else in his life. It was real with no strings attached. He was determined to keep it that way. He wanted to freeze this moment.

Maybe someday they'd both be in a headspace for more. Ready to settle down and be ready to deal with the issues from their upbringings about marriage and commitment. Suddenly an idea swept over him and he immediately moved to disentangle her from his arms and swept around to sit in front of her, kneeling on the floor.

He cleared his throat. Slowly, he said, "We could do it, Veronica." What he was suggesting was crazy, wasn't it? But he felt like he had to say it.

Veronica's expression went blank for a moment as she processed what he said. Finally, she replied, "What do you mean? Get married?"

He nodded.

She laughed in response. "You...and me?" She pointed back and forth between them. "I think you've finally taken one too many waves to the face. Lo, we've never even dated."

Logan didn't know why, but he was offended. Even though he was half-playing, he half-wasn't. "I wasn't being funny," he insisted.

She gave him a hard look and then shook her head. "Logan, what would you do when I came home unexpectedly early from work? The other girls would have to—" she made a raspberry sound with her mouth and pointed to the door. He opened his mouth to respond, but she cut him off. "I guess you could do worse. I mean, I'd make an excellent trophy wife, after all. I could get implants and silicone lip injections—"

"And don't insult me. I'm not…" he couldn't bring himself to mention Aaron's name, "him." He thought that she of all people knew that. Knew that he was different. He leaned forward to look into her eyes, willing her to believe him. "I'm not mocking you, Veronica. I wouldn't do that," he said solemnly.

"You want to get married?" Veronica still sounded amused.

"Not now. Not today, but someday maybe," he said, completely earnest.

"I'm not so sure that friendship and flirtation are enough to warrant an arrangement like this," she countered, still grinning.

"Veronica, not that I have much experience with lasting relationships, but I'm pretty sure that's a formula for a good one."

She shook her head, still unconvinced. "Yes, you're not the poster child for monogamy. Technically I'm the longest lasting relationship you've ever had," she chided cynically through chuckles.

"Exactly!" he said, nodding emphatically. "I'm serious, Veronica. We have a lot of years ahead of us and I think we'll both meet someone amazing." He held her eyes with his. "But if we don't…by saaaay…the time we're twenty-eight, then I think you and I should get married. Plus, we would have fun—you're my best friend. I wouldn't have to worry about being married to a gold digger who is secretly sprinkling arsenic on my cookies. And you would get me—someone who knows everything about you…all your quirks and baggage and shit. And our kids—my nose, your smile—cutest kids on the planet."

He was relieved when Veronica suddenly stopped laughing—finally realizing that he was at least half-serious. He watched as a smile crept over her face. He nearly had her.

She swallowed and gave him a once-over as if trying to decide where the punchline was. "So lemme get this straight. Logan Echolls, multi-millionaire, will marry the lowly sheriff's daughter in ten years if we both aren't already hitched by then?"

"That's what I'm saying, " Logan affirmed, smiling from ear to ear.

"You look like you did when we were thirteen years old and you convinced Dick and Duncan to sneak into the girls' locker room at the country club. I think I should be afraid," Veronica teased.

"I assure you that my proficiency has greatly improved since thirteen. I've been told I have mad skills." He held up his right hand. "I once, using only one hand,—"

Veronica cut him off. "No need to elaborate. I've heard about your many...skills," she replied with a shake of her head and a slight blush.

Logan tapped his foot on the floor impatiently, as she sat, apparently silently contemplating his proposal. Finally, she smirked and gave him a brief nod. "Okay, Echolls, if you'll throw in a pony then my answer is 'yes'," she replied, rolling her eyes but smiling along with him. "If we both happen to be unmarried at twenty-eight, I will marry you."

"It's a deal, Mars," Logan said, feeling buoyant. He bounced back onto the couch and they resumed the same position as before. He was happy that she appeared to be mollified. "Now even you can't pretend that didn't cheer you up!"

"Strangely enough, you did cheer me up. Thank you. I'm sure you will make a great husband in a decade, Echolls," Veronica replied as she settled back into the crook of his arm.

**End Flashback**

"And it is in that spirit that Celeste and I are proud to announce the engagement of our wonderful son, Duncan, to the love of his life, Veronica Mars."

Veronica stood frozen on the stage next to Duncan. She'd felt uneasy from the moment Jake and Duncan had called her to join them on the stage. This wasn't the plan. She was supposed to tell her friends first. This was supposed to happen after dinner. Or was it during dessert? Maybe after dessert? Veronica silently cursed herself for not memorizing the stupid itinerary like she'd been instructed. She'd been at work surrounded by a mountain of case files when it'd arrived in her inbox. And who has an itinerary for a New Year's Eve party anyway? Oh right, she did! But even though she'd only perused the itinerary, she was one hundred percent sure that the engagement toast wasn't scheduled for now. She kept a smile on her face and tried to look graciously at the crowd and not give away her true thoughts. On the inside, she was seething.

Lilly had disappeared shortly before Jake had begun talking and was nowhere to be found. Veronica looked over toward table seven, hoping to see Logan again. He was mysteriously absent too. Maybe they hadn't heard it. Was it too much to hope that he and Lilly already snuck out and went to the beach?

She scanned the rest of the table and saw her father. But he wasn't clapping or toasting or even looking in her direction. He was looking off to the side at…Logan! And Lilly. Veronica swallowed hard around the knot in her throat.

She quickly took in Logan. His coat was missing and hands were clawing at his collar. He was staring intently at Lilly who looked like she was shouting in his face. Then Lilly bent over to scoop something off of the ground and Veronica's eyes met Logan's for a brief moment. And the look she saw there…Oh shit! She didn't even know how to describe it. Devastated? Gutted? That seemed a bit extreme. She knew the engagement would be a surprise, but couldn't he be happy for her? He's marrying Philippa!

After the brief glimpse, Lilly spun Logan around and practically shoved him out the side door of the ballroom. Veronica instinctively took a step toward the stage stairs to go after them, but Duncan's grip on her arm was Vulcan.

"Where are you going?" he hissed at her, clearly annoyed by her attempt to escape.

"To speak to our friend and your sister, who obviously just both got the shock of their lives," she responded tightly.

"My father has to conclude his speech," Duncan argued, smiling through clenched teeth.

Veronica knew it wasn't just a suggestion. She'd signed up for this life.

Though she didn't remember being blindsided in public as being part of the deal. "Well tell him to wrap it up!" she said between smiling, clenched teeth.

To her relief, Jake did wrap things up shortly thereafter, and after posing for a few photographs, Duncan ushered her off the stage to their table. Again, she made a move to separate herself, but this time it was Celeste who took her arm. "Veronica, you remember Governor Jerry Brown," she said crisply, nodding sharply through an almost hostile smile. Veronica opened her mouth to excuse herself, but Celeste's grip on her arm only tightened. Celeste gave Veronica a long hard stare. Her look said it all—this was part of the job.

"Indeed, I do. Hello, Governor. It's nice to see you again." Veronica smiled and politely accepted his congratulations on her engagement. At least that's what she thought she did. She really hadn't been listening. A few moments passed before she could excuse herself, and she exited the same door she'd seen Logan and Lilly leave through.

The hallway was empty except for serving staff. "Shit!" she exclaimed, wanting to stomp her foot in frustration. She slipped off her sensible heels and took off at a run down the hall, thoughts of Logan's proposal all those years ago swirling through her head.

Veronica burst into the lobby and out the front door just in time to see Lilly's tail lights disappearing into the night and Logan with her. "Double shit!"

This story will be about ten chapters long, and most of those are already written (some are even betad too!). I will update pretty regularly (once every week or two). I put this chapter out early because it's Lisa's birthday! Happy Birthday, friend! I selfishly made her work for her gift by bugging her for cover art early this morning, so thank you, lisawolfe80, for the image. I absolutely love it!

Special thanks to brittany4824 and kmd0107 for their support, edits and many reads.
And a big thank you to my husband, even though we spent a half-hour arguing about "passed" vs "past". (P.S. I was right!)