Summary: Veronica has always had a little more trouble with those three little words than Logan has.

Three Little Words

There was something about pre-dawn that made every louder. Doors creaked, pipes sang, and even the coffee pot sounded like it was being amped up through a megaphone aimed directly into her ear. Veronica groaned loudly and turned over, risking a look at the clock. 5:15. It just wasn't right.

Footsteps - soft, she knew somewhere in the back of her mind, even if somehow the hour magically made it sound like he was stomping through the apartment - drew closer and Logan appeared at the door in just his sleeping pants with a toothbrush still stuck in his mouth. "Hey, did I wake you up?" he asked around it, his voice very quiet and very loud all at once.

Veronica pushed a breath out through her nose and sat up in bed. Something was off. He was further along in his morning routine than he ever should have been at this hour, even if the Navy had somehow managed to train him into being a morning person. He must have already been out on his run down the beach because the pants he was wearing weren't the same ones that he'd worn to bed the night before - those were still crumpled on the floor in the corner - meaning that he'd already had his shower. His hair wasn't wet, though. It took a moment, but realization finally clicked into place. "Your leave's over today."

He gave a brief nod and disappeared back to the bathroom to rinse.

It felt like he'd just gotten back from his six month deployment yesterday. The two weeks had been a blur of excitement over the simple fact that they weren't just on the same continent again, but in the same town. There had been more than one late night while he was away - especially after a long stretch of radio silence from him - that Veronica had laid in bed and wondered if her brain had just cooked everything up. If she would blink her eyes open and she'd be back in New York City with Piz asleep next to her and her nice, normal job waiting for her the next day. Every damn time she'd felt her heart sink at the thought and had reached for her phone. Just in case. Here, now, she could hold onto him. He was living, breathing proof that she'd made the right decision.

While they had held up in the guesthouse that he rented from Dick for the first two days or so, they'd made a conscious effort to get out and do things together. Dinner and a movie, walks on the beach, and he'd helped her move into her new apartment. Ten days had flown by faster than she could have ever predicted, especially on the heels of the longest hundred and eighty days known to man. She wasn't sure she was ready to let him go and start getting used to whatever this new, new normal was. She just wanted to tug him back into bed and ignore the hour.

There was that whole AWOL thing, though. The Navy sure was picky.

"You have some time before you have to go?" she called out, trying to decide if she could steal any time with him at all. Breakfast, maybe.

"First day back after leave is always busy, especially right after deployment," he answered from across the hall and stepped back into her line of sight. "I need to drop by my place and get dressed before getting out there. I was going to just sleep there last night, but you know. Best laid plans and all of that." He gave her an impish smile and she felt her own lips quirk up at the thought of the night before.

"You should probably keep them here so you don't have to leave at an hour that shouldn't even exist," Veronica offered, flopping back against her pillow.

Logan bent to dig through his bag that he'd finally brought over. "You offering me a drawer?"

"Maybe. If you play your cards right."

He straightened, tugging a fresh t-shirt over his head and her own smile faded a little. "No time for breakfast?"

"I'll grab a bagel to eat on the way down to San Diego." He dropped the lightweight pajama pants and exchanged them for a pair of jeans. "Dinner tonight, though?"

"Will you be back in time?"

"Should be. I'll give you a call when I leave out."

"It's a date," she said with a sly grin and a motion for him to come closer. She caught his hand and pulled him in. Logan didn't take much coaxing as he leaned down, his eyes falling closed as his lips brushed hers. She wrapped her fingers around the fabric of his shirt to bring him even closer.

He was the one to break the kiss and as her eyes drifted back open, trying to stop herself from hauling him back into bed if they had time or not, and she found that soft brown gaze fixed on her. "I love you," he whispered and she felt herself freeze at the words. If he noticed, he didn't acknowledge it, but pressed a quick kiss to her forehead. "Gotta go."

And then he was out the door, leaving those three unanswered words hanging heavily in the air.

They stuck with her all day. Through coffee and breakfast, through a morning jog and a shower, and they even worked their way through her often unshakable focus on the case at hand.

I love you.

It wasn't like Logan had never said them before. He had been adamant about it after that first confession in his car all those years ago. At the time she had brushed it off with a quip about the things guys said to get past second base, but he had said it again and again after. Sometimes it was boldly, all the confidence in the world filling the words and sometimes quietly, almost as if he were afraid that she didn't reciprocate. However he said it, she never questioned that he believed it and that he meant it with everything he had had in him.

That had been years ago, though, and this had been the first time he'd let those three little words slip out since they had found their way back to each other. And she hadn't been able to say it back, like so many times before.

Veronica sighed, her gaze directed at the office window but not really focused on anything in particular. It wasn't that she didn't feel it. They had so often been caught up in the next batch of chaos life was churning out at them when they were young, but she had been drawn to him in a way she'd never known with any other guy. He had always been more ready than she had been to put feelings out on the table - to be vulnerable with her - and it looked like no amount of growth had changed that when the moment had called for it.

It wasn't like she didn't know why. Years and maturity didn't erase the fact that she had lost nearly everyone she had been close to. Her mother, gone again and again to finally close the lid on all of Veronica's failed attempts by not only squandering the help her daughter had used her college savings to pay for, but then taking off with the money her father had meant to put towards Stanford. Lilly who had been gone so suddenly and the utter lack of justice that had followed with Aaron's release. Sure, he'd gotten his in the end, but after what he'd done to all of them he deserved to suffer so much more than a bullet to the back of the head. Then there had been Duncan who had been run out of town just to have a chance to raise his own kid and even Logan himself. Looking back, she wondered if her readiness to assume the worst with him had been a subconscious way of protecting herself, just like leaving Neptune and keeping those few that had somehow held on at arm's length had been. People never stayed. They died or they just left. It was the lesson she'd learned and that had been deeply ingrained through repetition, and if you didn't let yourself get too attached it hurt a lot less.

But knowing it in the abstract and doing something to change it we're different beasts entirely. She'd made a start. Coming home had been more of a relief than she ever would have predicted, almost like she'd stopped running and turned to face the fight instead. Adrenaline pumping, purpose set, it had felt right for the first time in years. She'd reconnected with Wallace and Mac, rekindled that close relationship she hadn't realized she'd missed that much with her dad, and she and Logan…. would have to find their stride. She knew she didn't want to live without him, that he had remained - even with nine years of silence between them - one of the most important people to ever move through her life. She wanted him there with her for years and years to come, their lives intertwined. She wanted to continue to learn more about the man that had once been the boy she had…. loved.

And still did. Always did. Always would. She loved him.

"You doin' okay there?"

Veronica jumped at her father's voice. "How long have you been standing there?" she demanded, feeling the blood rush to her face.

"Long enough to wonder if the world's goofiest smile might have something to do with the owner of the way-too-fancy sports car that just pulled up outside," Keith answered with a crooked smile of his own.

The front door to the office chimed and Veronica spotted a familiar figure in his service khakis. If her dad had thought the smile she had been wearing before was goofy it was a wonder what he thought about the one she wore as she stood from her desk and started towards him. "Hey, I thought you were gonna call first."

"I did. Several times," he answered lightly, his own smile tilting into place to match the amusement in his eyes. His gaze flickered over to Keith. "Mr Mars."

"Logan," he greeted back. "And while it's always nice to have been promoted from dude, Keith's fine. You kids have plans tonight?"

"Dinner," Veronica answered, pulling her boyfriend's attention fully back towards her and his eyes narrowed just a little, though they never lost that spark of amusement.

"I was thinking about that new Chinese place at the edge of town if you're interested."

"Very. You good, Dad?"

He waved them off as he shuffled back towards his own office, leaving Veronica to grab her purse and slip her hand into Logan's as they made their way out the door and into the hallway leading out. He tugged a little after the door closed behind them. "You're in a good mood for getting woken up at the crack of dawn."

"Before the crack of dawn," Veronica countered and pulled him a little closer at that to wrap her arms around his neck. Logan's lips twitched up before he ducked down, spinning her a little so that her back was against the wall as he stole a kiss. "I love you too," she breathed as they parted.

"What's that now?"

She let her eyes slide open and she saw hints of all that boyish charm that had always gotten them into trouble. "Just answering you from this morning."

His expression sobered just a little and his words were quiet. "Wasn't sure you were going to."

"I know. It still…. takes me a little while. I'm working on it, but I want you to know that I do. Love you, I mean."

That grin returned. "I love you too."

"Yeah, that was never in question," she laughed and he tilted his head just a little to the side. "You don't exactly have trouble telling me how you feel."

"Sure I do," he answered softly and took the smallest of steps back. She took hold of the front of his uniform and pulled him back in close. His smile returned and he shrugged as if he realized she wasn't letting him go until he explained. "I don't have to tell you that I…. don't always face things head on. That I deflect. I think it was something I learned pretty young."

Veronica frowned a little at that. She could make a relatively safe bet on who and what had taught him the lesson that he had to protect himself emotionally when he couldn't protect himself physically.

"I don't get close to a lot of people, but I made myself a promise a long time ago with you."

"What's that?"

"That you'd know me. That you'd never have to question if you did. Now, after everything, I don't want to hide anything from you, even if…." He ran a hand through his shortly cropped hair. "You don't have to say it just because I do, Veronica. I just want you to know I love you. That doesn't come with strings."

"I know I don't have to, but it's the truth."



He leaned in, his forehead touching hers and it was everything she could do to remember they were outside the Mars Investigation offices with her father inside. "Let's get takeout instead of going out."

"You sure?"

She tipped up on her toes, catching him in a kiss as her hand slipped lower and lower down the front of his shirt. "Oh yeah." Her hand slipped down into his again and he was already moving towards the cars parked on the street outside.

All these years later, all the pain and the mixed bag of good and bad decisions later, she knew it would work this time. Some of it was the growth, sure. They had had to get their lives together separately to make it work together, but it would work. She loved him too much to let it fall apart again.

Notes: I was really sad when I realized that Veronica didn't actually say the words "I love you" until S4 and this is the result. It's not that I think she didn't love him, it's that her walls are tough to break down.