Title: Symmetry 3a: When It's All Unraveling

Pairings/Characters: Lianne/Jake, Lianne/Keith, Jake/Celeste, mentions of Logan/Lilly and Duncan/Veronica (eventually Logan/Veronica)

Rating: PG-13 (for mention of sexual situations and adultery)

Spoilers/Warnings: Everything to 3.17 (Debasement Tapes), especially Season 1


Disclaimer: None of it's mine, and if it was it would all be going different right now. So don't sue, because I have nothing and it'd be a waste of both our time. The Song is i In the End /i by Linkin Park



When It's All Unraveling

One thing, I don't know why
It doesn't even matter how hard you try
Keep that in mind, I designed this rhyme to explain in due time
All I know is time is a valuable time
Watch it fly by as the pendulum swings
Watch it count down until the end of the day
The clock ticks life away, it's so unreal

Her daughter is fifteen now, and all Lianne can do is look back and regret. She'd always known that there were some things in her life that she shouldn't have done. She just didn't think that they'd haunt her for this long.

Veronica looked like her. Which normally would have made her happy, because who didn't want their child to look like them. Small, petite, with soft blonde hair and beautiful blue eyes. A California dream girl. Unfortunately that gave no clue as to who her father was. She had kept hoping that Veronica would develop Keith's rounder face. That she would be able to see the similarities in her and Lilly when they hung out at the house. But Veronica was all her. Her personality resembled Keith's but that could just be a case of nurture instead of nature. After all, she seemed to share Lilly's personality as well, although to a lesser degree in the rebellion arena… thank god.

Lianne never thought that she would regret not getting the paternity test done when her daughter was born. She was wrong. As the years went on the curiosity of it all drove her mad. Sometimes she found herself staring at old photos of Veronica and Lilly. Looking for more than the fact that they both had blonde hair and blue eyes. But she could never make it past the irony that her daughter had chosen Lilly Kane as her best friend. Veronica and Lilly always said that they were close like sisters, but Lianne didn't think either would really be too pleased to find out that they might actually be sisters.

Now she considered getting a test done immediately

Shortly after Lilly's sixteenth birthday party Veronica had announced that she was officially Duncan Kane's girlfriend. It had happened during dinner, and Lianne had nearly choked on her chicken as a result. Veronica had been concerned for a moment before going into detail about how it had happened. They had been sitting by the pool while Lilly and Logan were making out on a chair. Duncan had leaned forward and kissed her cheek. They had talked for a while before he asked if she wanted to go to a movie, then pizza afterwards. It was something the four of them had done as a group often enough to be normal, but instead it would just be the two of them this time. Lianne had visibly paled while she listened to the story. Thank god Keith wasn't home that night. It would've caused a fight for sure.

She hadn't really thought much about the conversation they had a month earlier. The one where Veronica had informed her of the fact that she like Duncan Kane as more than just the friend he already was. She had been hoping that Duncan had more sense than to date his sister's best friend. But no luck.

Lianne still marveled at the tangled web that those four kids created. Lilly and Logan had been dating since Lilly's fifteenth birthday, and had broken up over a half dozen times since. According to the snippets she caught of Veronica's phone conversations the break ups took place mainly in public. And Veronica didn't have a clue why Lilly felt the need to embarrass him like that. And when Logan came over to ask for Veronica's help, they sat on the porch. Lianne could always hear him asking her to talk to Lilly. The way the two of them joked around seemed so comfortable, so carefree. He teased her lightly and he was the only person she'd ever seen actually get away with calling her Ronnie. For a while Lianne had held out hope that Veronica would date Logan. While Veronica would never betray her best friend like that, she's pretty sure Lilly would get over it.

Then there had come the Duncan nightmare. Six months and counting and they were still stuck on each other. She overheard Lilly scold her enough times to know that Veronica hadn't allowed the relationship to move beyond an occasional make-out. That they were sugary-sweet and innocent little virgins. Lianne only prayed it stayed that way. She didn't know what she was going to do when she overheard a different kind of conversation. One that involved Veronica asking Lilly for advice.

Lilly would encourage it for sure, and she would push them at each other with a vengeance. Lilly was enamored with the idea of her best friend and brother hooking up. Adored the idea that the two of them might get married and live happily ever after someday. Lilly teased Veronica for her "silly little fantasy", but Lianne could hear the thrill in her voice. The very idea that Duncan might make the girl she thought of as a sister her real sister excited her. No matter how much Lilly wanted to play the grown up, the worldly woman, she was still a little girl with little girl dreams of her best friend becoming her sister.

The summer months had been the hardest for Lianne to handle. The four of them—Veronica, Lilly, Logan and Duncan—had been inseparable for three long months. It was somewhat hard to keep track of them. The were at the beach, Lilly's house, Logan's house, the mall, a party, the movies, Java the Hut, driving up to LA for a concert. Always together, always the four of them. And Lianne had no idea how far away her baby was getting. She was more distant lately, totally preoccupied with her first real relationship and her friends. Too distant for Lianne to get a decent feel on the situation, for her to read her face and see if what was going on in her mind. Veronica had always been an open book, she just needed to stand still long enough for Lianne to see.

When September came they were about nine months into their relationship and Lianne had heard Veronica tell that boy she loved him over the phone. Which meant she had done it in person.

Which meant that she'd let this go way too far.

Didn't look out below, watch the time go right out the window
Trying to hold on, didn't even know I wasted it all, just to watch you go
I kept everything inside, and even though I tried it all fell apart
What it meant to me will eventually be a memory
Of a time that…

Homecoming was tonight, and Veronica had found what she called "the perfect dress" a week ago. Now she was complaining that it was too pink, too pastel, too much. She wanted red satin. This had to be Lilly's doing. Lilly was always the instigator and always made her daughter want to be sexier. The limo had pulled up a few minutes ago and Logan had followed Duncan inside.

After they had posed for pictures the three of them had walked to the limo to head back to the Kane house. Duncan complained that Lilly hadn't been ready when they had left to come get Veronica. Logan made a joke about it and leaned forward to tickle Veronica. Veronica in turn slapped his hands away with a smile but defended Lilly on her next breath.

"You know Lilly needs an entrance, and she can't have one if we're not all there." Veronica defended as her hand caught Logan's. "Besides, she promised that I'd be there for the reveal of her dress. Since I didn't get to see it first, nobody gets to see it before me."

"Whatever Ronnie, you know she just wants to show off and make us wait for her. Time restraints be damned. Lilly Kane hurries for no one and if time doesn't like it, than it can just stand still. Right?" Logan said in his loud boisterous voice, pulling the limo door open and waiting for Veronica and Duncan to slide in first.

Whatever Veronica's reply to that was lost as Logan slid into the luxury car and slammed the door shut. Slowly the black limo pulled out into the street and in the direction of the Kane home.

It was 3am and Keith was pacing, going out of his mind. Veronica wasn't due to come home, having arranged to stay with Lilly after the dance. But a call from Celeste had alerted him to their daughter's trick.

According to Keith Jake and Celeste had told the four of them to be back at the estate by one, extending the normal curfew by an hour for the dance. But when one thirty had rolled on by and they were still four teenagers short Celeste had panicked. She'd called Lynn and Aaron who had turned out to be out of town, and then she had called Keith. She wouldn't talk to Lianne.

Lianne opted to stay at the house in case Veronica showed up. Keith put on his uniform and picked up a squad car from the station. He'd go looking for the kids first, then head over to the Kanes'. He'd call as soon as he heard something.

It was 6am when she finally got a call. They were alright, rumpled and sleepy from staying up all night. According to Keith they hadn't gone to the dance, instead they had drove around, parked at the beach and drank champagne all night. Lilly and Duncan were being punished, Lilly more harshly than Duncan. The way Veronica told it Lilly was always punished more. Celeste played favorites with her children, as did Jake. Lianne couldn't help but wonder who would be the favorite if Veronica turned out to be his.

Keith had dropped Logan off at his empty home, sorry to leave the boy to his own devices and allow him to go unpunished. Keith thought that Logan needed more discipline, more guidance. He was trouble. Keith assured Lianne he'd be making a trip back to the Echolls when the boy's parents returned in a week and a half.

Lianne wondered who was even watching the boy. He was still only fifteen, the youngest of the group. A little over a year younger than his girlfriend, five months younger than Veronica, and a little over three months younger than his own best friend. Still, no matter how immature he seemed, there was a maturity that made him a little more dangerous than most boys his age. She hoped that if Veronica went through a bad boy phase it would be with this one. At least Lianne knew his parents, was friends with them.

Every girl had her bad boy and rebellious stage. Lianne's bad boy had been Kurt Meyers and she'd broken up with Jake for him the summer before senior year. It lasted a week. Maybe she should have pushed it longer, tried to be with him after Jake had broken her heart after her own homecoming. There was no way of knowing how things would've turned out then.

Now though, now Veronica had hit a rebellious stage… finally. Lianne had started to wonder if she had gotten the wrong daughter altogether. She'd read about that baby switch back in 92 and sometimes wondered if she'd gotten the wrong baby. After all she was never this well behaved in high school. It didn't matter if she were Jake or Keith's daughter either. Keith had told her stories about his wild teenage years. And she'd experienced Jake's right along with him.

When Keith arrived home with Veronica in tow he announced that since it was her first and only offense he'd be lenient. She was only grounded until Friday, but a strict grounding until then. No phone, no television and absolutely no Lilly outside of school.

Monday Veronica informed her mother of a new friend, Yolanda Hamilton. The girl was—according to Veronica—African-American and beautiful. She lived in the 09er district as well and Veronica had saved her from humiliation on her first day. Something about almost going into the teacher's lounge for first period. Veronica was proud of herself for finding her before Lilly. For bringing her into the fold of their clique—the popular kids. She praised herself on her "good eye" because everyone seemed to like Yolanda already.

Tuesday she had been late after school. When she'd rushed through the door, apologizing with darting eyes, looking for an excuse. Lianne waved it off, not really caring. She didn't have the energy to. She'd just gotten her own kind of punishment of Jake yelling at her over the phone for the kids staying out all night. Yelling at her for allowing this thing with Veronica and Duncan to get so far. Lianne had just pointed out that he had allowed it too.

By Wednesday Keith had let her off grounding, not being able to keep her in the house any longer. He had told her during breakfast and by lunch she had called to inform her mother she'd be at Yolanda's with Lilly after school. The two girls seemed to have chosen a third but chances were they ditch her before too long. Lianne had watched them do it before. Madison Sinclair had followed them like a puppy for a couple weeks before Lilly had grown tired of her and Veronica couldn't handle her anymore. Caitlyn Ford hadn't lasted any longer, ditched after only one sleepover. Lilly had told Veronica that she couldn't stand how utterly fake Caitlyn was, orange tan and everything. Veronica had called her insipid and had been done with it. Lianne could go through a list of girls: Shelley, Susan, Carrie, Rachel, Sara… the list went on.

Thursday was some party at Logan's. Duncan came to pick her up and been rather annoyed to find that his girlfriend was going to lie to Logan about his girlfriend. The story was that Lilly was ill, when in fact she was playing hooky. Some sort of game that Lilly played with Logan. Veronica was home well before her curfew, still on good behavior since her post-homecoming grounding. She had been withdrawn though, came in and kissed her goodnight then directly to bed. Veronica was usually so chipper after parties, especially Logan's. Even though it was Logan's party, Veronica played a VIP role, getting special treatment and whatever she wanted.

Friday she returned from school only to grab her pre-packed duffel. Lilly had to run Shelley home to grab some stuff so she had some time. Lianne could have sworn that Veronica had said that Yolanda was going to LA with them on Wednesday.

"I thought Yolanda was doing this Fleet Week weekend thing with you and Lilly." She had asked while leaning against the doorframe to Veronica's room.

"Yeah, well Lilly broke up with Logan this afternoon. Yolanda no longer exists now because I saw her kissing him at the party last night." Veronica replies, holding up a top for further consideration before shoving it into her pack.

Lianne pushed off the door and made her way to her daughter. Running her hand over her hair she asked, "You okay? You seemed to have really like Yolanda."

"Yeah, well I did. But who does that to a girl that made such an effort to be her friend? Who kisses another girls' boyfriend?" Veronica responds, pushing away from her mother's hands and towards the door as she hears Lilly's honking.

Veronica is out the front door and running to Lilly's SUV before Lianne realizes she was right about Yolanda. She didn't last

Veronica returned home late Monday night, with just enough time to do her weekend. She barely acknowledged Lianne's question of whether or not she had fun. Lianne supposed she really didn't want to know. What three teenage girls were doing in Los Angeles during Fleet Week gave her enough of a visual without getting details.

Veronica seemed happy Monday morning, talking excitedly about seeing Duncan. She hadn't seen him since early Friday. Rushing out of the house when Lilly pulled up, she had yelled something about not being home. Plans to do something with Duncan.

So Lianne was a little shocked when Veronica burst into the house after school. No, looking at the clock she seemed to be home a little bit early. And if the sound coming from the foyer was any clue, she was crying. Before Lianne could make it out from the kitchen she had already ran to her room, slamming the door behind her.

Tapping lightly on her door, Lianne let herself in. Veronica had her face pressed to her pillow and was sobbing. Lifting her head up, she looked at her mother.

"What's wrong baby?" Lianne asked, sitting down on the bed beside her, running her hand over her hair.

"He just ignored me. He just ignored me, mom." Veronica cried out, burying her face into her pillow again.

"Who just ignored you? I thought you were going out with Duncan after school." Lianne asked, confused as to what was going on.

"Duncan, mom. Duncan just ignored me, like I didn't even exist. I tried to talk to him this morning before class and he just walked away." Veronica's voice was muffled, but Lianne heard it clearly. "Like I didn't even exist."

So it was done. Duncan and Veronica were over and Lianne didn't have to worry anymore.

I tried so hard and got so far
But in the end it doesn't even matter
I had to fall to lose it all
But in the end it doesn't even matter

It's the first of October when she hears the message. She was in the closet trying to decide if she wanted to go with Veronica's color-coded system she seemed to have going on or just hang the clothes and get out. The phone had rang a couple of times but Lianne ignored it, she was getting tired of the laundry and wanted to move on to something else. The machine picked up.

"Veronica, it's Celeste Kane. It's important that I speak with you. I have some information you need to know… concerning your mother and my husband." Celeste's cold voice came over the speaker, sounding just as pernickety when recorded as she did live.

Lianne walked over and dropped onto her daughter's bed. Now she really didn't want to finish putting up the laundry. But watching a movie didn't look like so much fun anymore either. All she wanted now was a drink, a shot of something strong to make the pain of this go away.

It was finally over. The perfect little life she had cultivated after the affair. She had thrown herself into being the perfect mother. And the perfect wife, making up for the four months she had spent being a bad one. And the one moment it took to make her a bad mother. But now it seemed it had all been for nothing. Celeste knew the truth, probably had always known, and had finally decided to share it with Veronica.

And Duncan and Lilly. It would certainly explain why Duncan had suddenly stopped speaking to Veronica. It would also explain why Tuesday night Veronica was sure Lilly would make it all better and today Lilly had apparently told her to give it up. That's why Keith had taken her out for ice cream after dinner. "Get her out of the house and her mind off that family." Is what he had said.

Lianne had her hand on the knob to the liquor cabinet before she realized she had another option. A "Plan B", if you will. She rushed back to Veronica's room and deleted the message off the machine. Digging her cell phone out of her purse she found the number to Jake's office.

"Jake Kane's office, how may I help you?" An older woman's voice came over the line. It was still the same secretary that Jake had 17 years ago, the one that didn't particularly care for Celeste. The one that liked her.

"Hello, it's Lianne Mars. I'm looking for Jake." She tried to give her best "concerned mother" voice, hoping that she could play off that she was looking for Veronica.

"Just a moment." The woman said, sounding a bit surprised to hear from her at the office. But moments later Jake's voice came over the line.

"Lianne? What is it? Something wrong with the kids?" His voice was concerned, but she could hear the hope in it. He had called her several times over the years, asking to see her. She had always refused, she felt guilty enough. But his voice always made her long to say she would.

"We need to meet. Soon." Her voice was insistent, leaving no room for him to refuse her.

"I can't tonight, I have to get home to talk to Lilly about her behavior. And I'm completely booked with meetings tomorrow. Friday? I'll call and reserve our room at the Grand?" His voice was so hopeful at the end it almost broke her heart. She steeled herself against it. She wouldn't give in.

"Friday is good. Early afternoon?" She waited him to agree before she hung up. Two days. All she needed was to hold off on killing Celeste for two more days.

Friday had been a good choice for her meeting with Jake. Veronica had a pep squad car wash fundraiser thing this afternoon. She seemed excited to do it even though she'd be giving up her afternoon to wash people's cars. It didn't matter one way or the other to Lianne if she wanted to do it or not, as long as she was out of the house and not wondering where her mother was.

Lianne walked into the bar of the Neptune Grand, settled on a stool and ordered a Chardonnay. Some things never changed. Checking her watch she moved towards the elevator. 3:25pm. Jake had told her to meet him at 3:30. Five more minutes and she could straighten this mess out, protect her baby.

The ride up to the room seemed longer than usual, the dread building in her. She couldn't believe she was here again. Meeting Jake in hotel rooms.

She knocked on the door this time, she hadn't tapped in years. Age had made her bolder, less scared of what was behind the door. And her mission strengthened her, her goal fortified her resolve. She would get Celeste to back off.

Jake swung the door open widely, a small smile on his face.

"I was scared you weren't going to come." He says as he steps back to allow her entrance.

"It was my idea, remember?" Lianne's voice is clipped, curt. He notices.

"Your idea. Your idea to come here and fight?" His mood has plummeted abruptly, and the realization that what she came her for and what he came here for were two different things made him turn angry. "Because if that was your goal, you've succeeded."

Lianne gasped at the sight of finger-like bruises on his neck. Like someone had tried to choke him. "Jake! What happened to you neck?"

Jake pulled his head away from her questing fingers. He rolled his eyes at her attempt at concern for his well-being. The bruises had faded since Duncan had put them there. They had been quite ugly last night too, but thankfully they'd turned a pale yellow color. They'd be gone completely in the morning.

"Nothing, Lianne. Just fell asleep at my desk and at the wrong angle." The lie was weak, and didn't really make any sense, but she didn't question it.

"You need to talk to your wife." Lianne's voice was back to being cold again, all concern for him gone.

"About what? There's nothing I need to speak with her about." Jake's voice had gone icy as well. He wasn't going to budge an inch today, instead opting to be hard and stubborn.

"She called Veronica two days ago. Said she had information about us that she should know. You need to control her." Lianne's voice was rising, and despite it crisp tone she was panicked.

"Control her how? What do you suggest I do? Short of telling her my affair is and was none of her business and to stay out of it." Jake's voice had risen too, and the sarcasm came off as mean and spiteful.

"I don't care what you say to her." Lianne was yelling now, and her hands flew into the air in an angry gesture.

"Yeah, well I'm going to need some suggestions. Because Celeste is not that easy to control." He drug out the last word, almost making it sound like it was obscene.

"Here's a suggestion. Tell her to back off or I'll have a paternity test and take you for millions." It was out of her mouth before she had thought it through. He looked stricken and she was taken aback by her own suggestion.

In the awkward silence they heard a key-card swipe, then the door swung open. Celeste stood there, rage evident on her face.

She was screaming. Celeste was screaming about the two of them meeting in secret, again. Sex and lies and cheating. She was calling Lianne a whore and Jake a bastard. A torrent of insults rolled off her tongue.

Lianne walked quickly to the exit, ignoring Celeste's comments as she passed. Before the door slammed she could hear Celeste turn her insults on Jake. Once in the elevator she released a breath. It was done. She'd threatened Jake and escaped without sleeping with him. And they would have slept together. The fire, the spark, was still there.

She detoured to the bathroom to splash some water on her face. Maybe it would help calm her down. Doubtful, but worth a try. When she came out she saw Celeste storm out of the lobby. Her heals clicking at her swift pace. Jake wasn't far behind her.

A/N: This will be the last chapter for a few days