Logan flexed his fingers, over and over, trying to release some nervous energy. Then he took a few slow, deep breaths, but they didn't seem to help much. Worried that waiting any longer would only make him more jumpy, he reached out and knocked. Aaron answered almost immediately, throwing open the door in welcome.
"Logan!" he said, a little too loudly. "Come on in, son."
He closed the door behind Logan, and took a slight step toward the younger man, opening his arms as if to hug him. At Logan's look, Aaron pulled back and settled for awkwardly clapping him on the shoulder.
"How are you?" he began. "Is everything OK with you?"
"Yeah," Logan replied, looking down at the carpet and gently kicking at it.
"Hey, how's the leg? I read about what happened in the paper, but… uh… I didn't know if I should call. It wasn't really a shark, was it?"
"You believed that?" Logan cackled. "Come on, you know the press always makes things sound more exciting than they are."
Aaron looked sheepish.
"It was just a sharp rock or some coral or something, I don't know," Logan continued. "I lost a lot of blood at first, but they were able stitch me up. At least a surfing accident sounds cool when people ask me about the scar."
He hiked up his pant leg to show the ragged red line snaking up from his sock.
"But it itches," Logan whined.
"I know it does, but if you keep scratching like that, you're going to make the scarring worse."
"I think scars kind of come with the territory. After 43 stitches, I think I'm lucky to still have a leg at all."
"Ugh." Veronica shuddered. "I don't even like thinking about it."
"I, for one, think that nearly bleeding to death was the best thing that ever happened to me." Glad for the interruption in his studying, Logan dropped his textbook on the floor and rolled off the Mars Investigations couch. He strode over to her desk with a sly grin. "I knew you couldn't resist a dude in distress."
"Don't act like you planned that." She reached up patted him on the cheek. "You just never got around to updating the emergency contact information in your wallet."
"And my laziness paid off." He leaned across the desk and gave her a quick smooch. "What are you working on so intently? New case?" Logan tilted her laptop screen back toward himself and peered at it upside-down. A few key phrases caught his eye and he frowned. "Veronica…"
"I know." She pressed her fists against her forehead with a groan and slumped forward in her chair. "It's just that I don't have any major cases to work on right now, and I keep thinking that I must have missed something. We know he did it, so there has to be some piece of evidence that would be incontrovertible—something that can't be explained away and that would get him the justice he deserves."
Logan walked around behind Veronica's chair and wrapped his arms around her shoulders. "It's been more than three years since they acquitted him," he said gently. "If you—of all people—weren't able to find anything else, then it's just not there."
"But what if—"
"Veronica, please don't torture yourself anymore. You did everything you could. All we can do now is move on."
She sighed and rested her head against his. "OK, let's put this stuff away and get out of here. I want to do something fun."
Logan gave her one last squeeze and stood up straight. "Ha! That's more like it. What do you want to do?" He jogged over to the couch and stuffed his books into his backpack before she could change her mind.
Veronica began stacking up the files that were spread out on her desk. "Maybe we could catch a movie, or get an early—" She paused and picked up a sheet of paper.
She shook her head. "It's nothing," she said, shoving the page into a manila folder. "We're moving on…"
"I was glad to finally hear from you," Aaron said.
"Yeah?" Logan raised an eyebrow in his direction and leaned back on the wall.
"Of course! I know we've had our differences, but I was hoping we could get back on track. We're the only family we've got, since your sister hardly ever gets in touch." Aaron rested against the back of the couch, facing his son.
"Don't hold your breath for that." Logan's voice rose as he took on a sarcastic tone. "She's a busy girl. She's just got too many clubs to appear at, designer dresses to buy, bass players to fu—"
"Logan!" Aaron said sternly. "Don't talk about your sister that way."
Logan rolled his eyes. After a long pause, he began to speak. "So I—"
"How are you doing in school?" Aaron interrupted. "You're still at Hearst, right?"
"Yeah, it's going OK," Logan said, twirling his keys around his fingers. The friendly small talk was making him anxious and fidgety. "I have a journalism class now that I really like. And I'm doing pretty well in my business courses too."
"That's great, son, just great," Aaron exclaimed. "I always knew you were smarter than you thought you were."
Logan snorted in reply.
"Hey, do you want something to drink?" Aaron asked, moving toward the kitchen. "Have a seat. I'll get you something."
"No, I can't stay long," Logan answered as he put his keys back in his pocket and stood up straight.
"Oh—is there a reason you stopped by then? Do you need something? What's going on?"
Logan flung the door open before Veronica could knock.
"What's wrong?" he asked, concern written all over his face. "What's so serious that you couldn't tell me on the phone?"
"I'm sorry, I just thought I needed to tell you this in person," she said, stepping in and taking him by the hand. "Come here—we should sit down."
"Veronica, you're freaking me out. Are you OK?" They sat on the couch, facing each other.
"I'm fine—it's nothing like that." She gave a slight smile to reassure him, then took a deep breath. "Remember a few weeks ago, when I was going through Lilly's case file?"
"Yeah…" he replied warily.
"Well, I did see something that day, something I never noticed before, but I wanted to be sure before I told you."
"Told me what? Veronica, I thought we said we were moving on from that."
"We are! But… I had to… your dad…" She stopped and dug into her messenger bag, pulling out a folder and holding it out toward Logan. "Just look at this."
Logan couldn't suppress a smile. "Well, I need to tell you something, and I wanted to do it in person."
"Well, what is it? It sounds like good news."
"It is, actually," Logan said with a smirk. "It turns out that… well, you're not really my father."
Aaron scoffed. "What are you talking about?"
"Veronica was looking over the case file for Lilly's murder—you recall that little incident, right? Of course you do. You were there." Logan grew more animated, pacing as he explained. "Anyway, after you tried to kill another one of my girlfriends, the police took samples of your blood from her car and her father's. Remember when their pit bull tried to rip your arm off? Good times."
"Logan..." Aaron began walking slowly toward him.
"The evidence report said that your blood type was AB. And Veronica already knew I was O, because she donated blood herself when I got hurt. We have the same blood type," Logan said, wrinkling his nose with sarcasm. "Isn't that adorable?"
"Of course Veronica Mars would be involved in this nonsense," Aaron said, throwing his hands in the air. "So what does the little girl detective think all of this means?"
"What it means, Mr. 'I Didn't Need to Finish High School Because I Graduated From the School of Life,' is that it is biologically impossible for you to have fathered me."
"Th-this has to be a mistake. A typo or something," Logan said as he held the evidence form in shaking hands. "This can't—"
"It's not." Veronica dipped into her bag again and retrieved an envelope. "I… I sent out your samples for a DNA test. I had them compare his blood to your hair and…." He stared in disbelief as she slid a small stack of paper from the envelope and handed them to him. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. I wasn't trying to go behind your back, I promise. I just… didn't want to get your hopes up, in case I was wrong."
The words on the top page blurred as Logan's eyes filled with tears. He blinked hard to see more clearly, afraid that the red, bold letters would disappear if he lost his focus on them.
"You're not mad, are you?" He finally tore his gaze away from the test results and saw Veronica gnawing nervously on her thumbnail, her forehead crinkled with worry. "I'm sorry, I thought you would—"
Veronica stopped as she saw his face begin to crumple. Her bag fell off her lap onto the floor and she climbed into Logan's lap, wrapping her arms around him as tightly as she could.
"See?" Logan held the results out so Aaron could see them. "The DNA test showed a zero percent chance that we could be related. Zero."
"This can't be right." The paper fluttered slightly as Aaron's hands trembled. "There has to be a mistake."
"Nope." Logan plowed on with the new information. "I talked to Aunt Janet, and she said Mom did have an affair, but she never told her who the guy was. Somebody from one of her movies—director, key grip, caterer, doesn't matter. She said mom always hoped that I was yours, but she never knew for sure. I guess now we do." Logan raised his eyebrows triumphantly.
"Wow…" Aaron covered his mouth with his hand as he stared at the page.
"Aaron Echolls has nothing to say? That's new," Logan snarked.
"Actually, I do have something to say, Logan. I don't give a damn what this paper says." Aaron crushed it in his fist and threw it across the room. "You're still my son."
"But—" Logan began.
"No," Aaron said emphatically. "To hell with biology. I raised you, and you are my family."
Logan blinked, taken aback as Aaron continued.
"I'm the one who taught you how to swim. I went to your school plays and I took you to get your driver's license. I got you your first surfboard. I dressed up as Santa for your first Christmas."
Logan pictured Aaron in the ridiculous red suit and snickered. "You did it a lot longer than that."
"Yeah, you believed in Santa for a long time. I think your mother had me in that costume every year until you were 9 or 10."
"Actually, um…" Logan looked up at Aaron tentatively. "I realized it was you when I was 5."
"What? You never said anything! I hated wearing that fake beard."
"I know, but it was always so funny to see Trina try to pretend." Logan clapped stiffly in imitation of her. "'Hi, D—er, Santa!'" he said in an exaggeratedly cheerful voice. "'Merry. Christmas. How. Are things. At the. North. Pole?' Damn, that was the worst acting ever. I looked forward to that almost as much as the presents."
"You know what? So did I," Aaron chuckled. "God, she was awful!"
The two men looked up at the same time and saw the other trying not to laugh. When neither of them could contain it anymore, they both doubled over. It was just the tension reliever that Logan needed—he realized he hadn't laughed with Aaron in years.
"Whoo!" Aaron caught his breath with a loud sigh, and Logan dabbed at the corners of his eyes with his sleeve.
"Man, I haven't thought about that in a long time," Logan huffed, still a bit winded.
"Me either. We did have some good memories, didn't we?"
Logan shoved his hands back in his pockets. "Um, yeah, I guess…"
The room grew uncomfortably quiet for a moment before Aaron spoke again.
"Are you sure you can't stay? Just for a little while?" he asked. "I'd really like to catch up."
The soft scuffing of Logan's shoes against the floor seemed loud in the otherwise silent room.
"You said Janet told you that your mom hoped you were mine," Aaron added. "Don't you think Mom would have wanted us to keep being a family?"
Logan's mind flashed on his mother's many failed attempts to create a happy family—the Santa costume, the 4th of July barbeques, the summer vacations at the beach—and all the times he'd seen her cry when his battles with Aaron ruined her plans.
"I-I-I don't know."
"Can't you stay for just one drink?"
Logan glanced at the clock. "Um, yeah, OK…"
"Great!" Aaron clapped his hands together and headed toward the kitchen once again. "How do you take your scotch these days?"
"Actually, a soda's fine," Logan responded, following Aaron slowly.
Aaron pulled a can out of the refrigerator and handed it to Logan.
"It's not like you to be this quiet, son. What are you thinking?"
Logan chuckled to himself. "I'm just thinking about some of the other holiday stuff that Mom used to do for us, like the 4th of July bash every year."
"Yeah, the fireworks display was always pretty impressive." Aaron got a mischievous twinkle in his eye. "I saved your ass at one of those parties, by the way."
"It was the summer before you started high school. At some point during the party, your mom walked by the laundry room and saw Lilly kneeling in front of you and—"
"Oh my God!" Logan exclaimed, his eyes wide.
"Ah, so you remember that day." The older man laughed. "I guess that would have been pretty memorable since you were only 13. Anyway, your mom nearly had a heart attack. She came running back out to the pool and pulled me aside, just freaking out about it. She wanted me to go in and stop you, and have a talk with you about it."
Logan blushed and looked down at his soda can. "Well, I guess I should thank you for not doing that."
Aaron shrugged. "I figured you were old enough." Logan raised an eyebrow at that. "So I just lied and said we had a big heart-to-heart about the whole thing and that you were going to keep it in your pants until you were older."
"I can't believe Mom saw that." Logan ran his hand through his hair. "If I'd known, I would have been scarred for life. I still might be now."
Still laughing, Aaron shook his head. "I can't believe she made such a big deal about that, after what she did."
Logan put his soda can down hard and it clanked against the granite countertop. "Don't start that," he said, shaking his head.
Aaron rolled his eyes. "You hated me all that time for being unfaithful, but when your mom sleeps around all over town, it's OK?"
Logan straightened up to his full height and faced Aaron. "I said not to start that. Don't you dare talk about her that way."
Feigning a look of innocence, Aaron pushed on. "I just think that given what we've just learned, your mother's infidelities were a much bigger deal than mine. She probably hoped you were mine just so we wouldn't find out what a slut she really was."
"SHUT! UP!" Logan shouted, his face inches from Aaron's.
Aaron took a step back, and Logan saw the man's hand clench into a fist. For the first time in his life, Logan raised his arm not in defense, but to pull back a fist of his own.
In that instant, Logan realized that he was now taller, stronger, and faster than Aaron, and if he threw that punch, he could easily hurt him. He could cause him real pain, as bad as any he had caused him. He could give Aaron what he deserved.
Logan unclenched his hand and lowered his arm.
Aaron became filled with false bravado. "What's wrong? Afraid you still can't take on the old man?"
"No, I just know I'm better than you," Logan said. "Because I'm not your son."
He backed up toward the door, and when he was a safe distance from Aaron, he turned his back on him.
As Logan returned to his car and drove back to the Neptune Grand, he was barely aware of his movements. His mind was blank and his heart numb as he made the stops and turns that would take him back to the hotel. He stared straight ahead as he walked through the lobby and took the elevator up to the 12th floor.
He opened the door to the suite to find Veronica curled up on the couch with her thumbnail between her teeth, lost in thought. When she saw him, she jumped to her feet.
"How did it go?" she asked softly, her eyes full of love and worry.
An uncontrollable laugh suddenly bubbled up from Logan's chest, and with a whoop, he charged at his girlfriend. He wrapped his arms around her waist and lifted her high into the air, spinning her with such force that she screamed in surprise and grabbed his shirt to keep her balance. When he finally stopped twirling, he looked up into her face and saw an enormous smile on it.
"I'll take the exuberance as a good sign, then?"
"It was awesome," Logan breathed. "I didn't know how I really felt at first, but it just hit me now. It's just… amazing."
Veronica's smile faded a bit, and she held his face in her hands. "What did he say? He didn't try to hurt you, did he?"
"He can't—not anymore." Logan loosened his grip, allowing Veronica to slide down his body until they were face to face. "And I have you to thank for that."
As he expected, Veronica tried to wave off his thanks. "I just—" He stopped her by pressing his lips to hers. "I'm happy for you," she said when they broke apart, looking at him warmly. "And I'm glad I could help."
"Didn't I tell you that being attacked by that rock was the best thing that ever happened to me?" Logan replied with an impish smile. He put her down so her feet were back on the floor and she socked him lightly in the arm. "Really—for the price of a little lost blood, I got back the best person in my life and got rid of the worst one. That's a pretty sweet trade."
"It was more than a little lost blood, Logan," she scolded. He shrugged in response. "Well, are you going to share details? How did it all go down?"
Logan was amused by her inquisition and smiled fondly. "I'll tell you in the car—we should probably get out of here as soon as possible, because I'm going to be a lot poorer as soon as Aaron presses his lawyer's number on the speed-dial."
"All righty then," Veronica said. She picked up her bag and one of the smaller boxes from the stack behind the couch. "I double-checked in all the cabinets and under the beds. Let's start loading up."
"Don't bother," Logan said, taking the box from her and putting it back. "The hotel said they'd have them delivered to the apartment. I think they're so glad to be rid of me that they'll do whatever they can to make sure I'm gone. Let's just go."
He picked up an overstuffed duffel bag as she eyed the rest of his things.
"Are you sure?" Veronica asked.
"Yeah, I have everything I need right here." Logan held up his bag and tugged on her ponytail playfully.
"Then let's get outa this hell hole," Veronica said. They headed for the door, hand in hand.
Logan came to a sudden halt. "Hold on, I did forget something."
He dropped his bag at her feet and hurried back into the suite. Finding the box that Veronica had labeled "Bedroom," he pulled open the flaps and rifled through it. His fingers found the silver lighter that had once belonged to his grandfather and then his mother.
Logan took his hand out of the box and flipped the lighter over in his palm to see the worn inscription: FREE AT LAST.
Slipping the lighter into his pocket, he jogged to where Veronica was waiting for him, and they slammed the door behind them as they left.