It started with hope. The cruelest of all the emotions, in Logan’s experience.
Veronica, let me do this part.
And she actually let him go, to track down the lead they had on the Hearst rapist. Stayed at the party, safe with all those people.
His first clue of what an idiot he had been came when they got to the apartment and the allegedly roofied girl was there in sweatpants, trying to rip off a Bioré nose strip while dealing with a stuttering Wallace and throwing nervous, chagrined smiles at Logan. Clearly not having been to a party that night.
The second clue of his suddenly diminished level of intelligence was when he called Veronica to tell her the cheese was gone but the rapist trap was empty. It went straight to voicemail. On a high alert night like tonight? The only reason she’d turn her phone off was if she was deep undercover somewhere for the case. He didn’t wait for Wallace, just left him at Nose Strip Girl’s room and took off so hard his tires left the better part of themselves behind on the pavement in front of her building.
He broke into one of the campus security golf carts and swiped a radio, which is how he found out how it all went down. He’d stayed there, panting alone in the middle of the night, the imprint of that radio aching all the way into the bones of his fingers as he tried to figure out what to do.
Veronica wouldn’t need him. She’d be sharp and in charge, giving the deputies a whole raft of crap and drinking all their coffee as she basically wrote out their reports for them. She’d cry alone, in her shower, when she got home. He’d heard her in there, on some of the worst nights they’d had, when she thought he was asleep. She’d never called out for him.
No, Veronica wouldn’t want his help. But he knew where he was going. Even before he knew where to find those assholes, he knew exactly where he was going.
They’d gone after Veronica. Laid hands on her. And her body would be the last fucking thing they touched with those hands still whole.
It took the better part of the night before Mercer and Moe got dragged in by one Keith Mars, sadly unperforated by bullet holes, which just proved the whole Mars family had the self-control an Echolls could only dream of.
Fortunately, Logan had a lot of experience with the criminal justice system. He sat in his stolen golf cart, listening to the updates from campus security, and he did math in his head, swiftly.
Time for fingerprinting, giving statements. Lawyers to be called. For them to be booked into the holding cell until the county jail’s office opened in the morning. They should make it to a cell right around the time the first pot of coffee got brewed in the sheriff’s office.
Logan had plenty of time to go to Walmart and get a bat. He purchased two, just in case the first gave out before he was done. He found a cop car on his drive to the police station, and parked immediately. The sooner the better.
Muscles stretched all through his back when he took his first swing at the windshield, and fuck it felt good. To know Veronica wouldn’t approve. To know it was a black mark on his permanent record dividing him from her. Like dumping poison on a cake so you can’t eat it. Survivable pain now.
He knew breaking it off with her was the right thing, maybe the first right thing he’d done in a while. He’d never be the kind of man good enough for her. Goddamn, did it feel great to break the law right now.
Well, the law and that short cop’s windshield. He was not in the mood to color inside the lines and he was so wild when they came out he almost forgot to drop the bat before they shot him. Instead, he was spinning and laughing up at the sky because GOD what came next was going to feel even better.
An interminable amount of paperwork later, he was in the cell, flexing his ink-stained fingertips to shake the tension out of the muscles so he could curl his fists tighter.
He still remembered when she’d opened the door of her apartment to him that day, long ago. Wearing a white robe, her skin scrubbed red. Telling him she’d been raped.
It was the only time he’d ever seen Veronica Mars look small.
The guard took him to the cell and made himself scarce, pointedly fast enough that Logan had a pretty good idea the deputy knew what was coming. It was a small town, and all the deputies knew Veronica Mars and her frequently-incarcerated movie-star-adjacent ex-boyfriend.
Mercer looked up from his bunk and Logan held off for long enough that he could watch the moment when his former friend knew. When he could remember what woman he’d laid hands on tonight. When he could remember that Logan had asked her, once, to clear Mercer’s name.
“Oh, fuck,” Mercer whispered. “Guar—”
He didn’t get the whole word out before Logan’s fist smashed it back into his mouth. Logan grabbed him by the collar and took out the whole bottom row of his molars with one hit. Mercer screamed, but none of the teeth came flying out. Logan hit him again. He wanted that sweet tinkle of enamel against concrete to lull him to sleep at night. He wanted Mercer to be so ugly that if he ever got out of prison, any woman who saw him would already be running in the right direction.
“Logan! Hey, man, you can’t—” Moe sputtered weakly. He grabbed for Logan, his hand sliding limply off his arm. Logan whirled and threw him against the bunk bed anyway, the metal banging against the wall with a sharp sound that almost disappeared under his shriek of pain.
There was a scrabble of noise from the front room. Fuck. Clock was ticking. Logan seized Mercer, who was diving for the locked cell door as if he could run. He gave him a kick that hurled him face-first into the bars with the momentum he already had going. Then chose his next targets. Kidneys, for short-term pain.
“Stop! Arhhhh we didn’t fuck her! Didn’t even shave—”
Logan flipped him over and broke his ribs, for long-term pain. The ones right on top of his lungs, so they’d hurt with every breath. Then he went after Mercer’s face. He wanted a crater. Every fucking tooth gone, both cheekbones mangled. That ugly tongue that dared speak her name spitting blood and—
The campus security radio had said she’d stabbed him. He could see the bandage on Mercer’s leg and Logan stomped down on the wound until blood welled through the gauze again. According to the radio, she’d had to tase him, and stab him, and go after the pair with a hammer. If he hadn’t dropped when she’d tased him, she must have missed. How afraid must Veronica have been to miss? How frightened must she have been when the fight went on and on and all her gambits were failing?
He picked Mercer up off the floor and battered him down into the concrete, wanting the bruises to darken every part of the other man’s body, then drew back his fist again and hammered it down.
The muscles in his back felt good. Warmed up and strong like he could punch all night. But then the door scraped open and he remembered he still hadn’t dealt with Moe. He ducked around the slow-moving deputy, pushing him onto Mercer. There was another shriek of pain that Logan ignored. Moe saw him coming, and his eyes bulged.
“No! Please, I didn’t do anything, I just brought the girls home for him, I never—”
“You”—he hit him—“drugged”—a rib gave way—“her.” Those hands had held the clippers that had started shaving Veronica’s head, that night. Logan threw him forward and broke his arm over the edge of the sink. “All those girls trusted you. To be their safe ride home.” He only had time for one more shot, so he kneed Moe in the balls, just to be mean.
Then he turned, hands up in the air, and grinned. “Easy, deputies,” he said to the three cops who’d crowded into the cell, night sticks, tasers, and one pistol raised. “I think we’re almost to bygones here. We’ve got almost every last cockroach…” He looked down, where Mercer was sprawled, weeping, on the floor. He lifted his boot and brought it down on top of Mercer’s knuckles with the crunch of bone. “Oops, missed one.”
The deputies missed his excellently timed punchline, though. Probably because of the screaming.
Veronica’s heart was fluttering like a pre-teen hummingbird. Its wings all jerky and awkward. It was the after-effects of the roofies, she told herself. Or all the coffee she’d drunk to counteract them. But then she pulled back the curtain in the E.R. and she knew it was just Logan.
He was cuffed to a hospital bed, still wearing that soft grey shirt that had almost had her melting into his chest right there in the middle of the party. Because she could remember all too well how good it had felt to be held by him.
“Listen, deputy, I’m starting to think you’re trying to catch me without my shirt—” All the sharpness fell out of his voice when he saw her and his eyes echoed with pain, went soft and dark in that way that took her to pieces.
She was too shaky for him to look at her like that. Not today. She gripped her messenger bag for strength and hid behind a smile.
He just stared, his eyes sweeping over her, then coming back to her face and the bruises there.
She’d expected his face to be a bloody, swollen ruin, but in her fear, she’d forgotten that when Logan fought, it was always the other guy who ended up looking worse. Even when it was two on one, apparently. His shirt was streaked with blood, but the only bandages were on his knuckles.
She crossed to the bed, hitching a hip up on the bed and lifting his hands to examine them.
“They put you in the ER for a set of scuffed knuckles? Pfft. Clearly they don’t know you.” She raised her voice. “He likes the Snoopy Band Aids. On the house for the hero.”
The ghost of a smile lifted his lips and she thought, this is him. The first man I ever loved. Who could have guessed the one that stuck would be a movie’s star son with a sharp tongue and soft eyes and perpetually tattered knuckles.
Who could have guessed that so soon after she admitted it to him, he’d break up with her.
She looked down, grasping for words to distract her from the stab of pain. “I owe Parker one. Those rape whistles work. Guess I spoke too soon on the whole faith in humanity thing.”
“You were supposed to stay at the party.”
She glanced up, but she couldn’t hold his gaze. Those eyes, those eyes of his. The way he looked at her. How could she not touch him when she knew he’d let her? When she knew it’d hurt him and he’d asked her not to.
She let go of his hands, with an effort, feeling every last bit of his familiar skin as it slid away from hers. “Yeah. About that…”
She was here.
Logan couldn’t quite believe it was real, even though he hadn’t let them give him any painkillers. But how could she have known he was in the hospital. Why would she have thought to even check? They weren’t even together anymore.
In the morning light, she was blonde, and beautiful, and smiling with only the hint of a shadow in her eyes, the hint of a shake to her hands. She wasn’t okay. What if she’d needed him? Last night, when he’d been getting his bat and gauging how long it took to book criminals, and calling in a warning to Dick not to bail him out. He felt suddenly ill and his wrecked hands started to throb. He should have gone to her, just in case. But that need to break them into pieces, to make them pay for what they’d done…it had taken over his whole mind.
“I meant to stay at the party,” she said. “But then I heard Mercer’s radio show and realized it was pre-taped, and I remembered his alibi and knew it wasn’t real after all. Then, they told me the girl whose cup had been roofied had given her ID to her cousin. There wasn’t time to get you all back from where you’d gone, so I went myself. I tracked her to his dorm, but I missed with the taser. Stabbed him with…something.”
“I heard.” He grinned grimly. “I ripped the stitches out myself.”
She huffed a gentle little laugh through her nose and almost smiled. “Of course you did.”
He swallowed, because he knew her, and he knew she wouldn’t have told anybody if she could avoid it. “Veronica, did he—did they—”
“Never got a single button open.”
He almost threw up. Just at those words, coming out of her mouth. The image. Before the relief of her meaning hit him. She looked down and her hair swung forward across the dark smudge on her cheek. He reached up and brushed his fingers carefully across the spot, gauging the swelling with an expert touch. “He hit you. Nobody told me that.” He shook his head. An eye for an eye. He would have crushed Mercer’s cheekbone on that side first, if he’d known.
“Well, good thing they didn’t,” she interrupted lightly. “They don’t give out Snoopy Band-Aids in the state pen, Echolls.”
“Ah, you know an Echolls never goes to prison. Our lawyers are too good.” He gave her a crooked smile, but when she met his eyes, there was something…
“I tried, Logan.” Her face crumbled and her little body slumped.
“Tried what, sweetheart? Hey, don’t…” He reached for her and his handcuffs clanked as he hit the end of his short tether. He pulled her into his chest one-handed, widening his knees to draw her closer to the hospital bed.
“I tried so hard to do the smart thing this time.” Her voice was wrenched, coming out in shudders against his neck. “I didn’t stay and try to fight him after I stabbed him. I ran for Wallace’s room, but they weren’t back yet. And when Moe came and got me, I wanted to go back and save the girl—she was still passed out in the closet and Mercer was hurt but he’s such a psycho I wasn’t sure if he’d…”
“So you went back.” God, of course she had. Alone, after running away in a panic. Jesus Christ, the girl was brave.
“No! Moe said he’d get a group together and go down there, and I…” She pulled back and looked him straight on, like she was begging him to believe her. “I let him, Logan. I did. You can ask him.”
“He was crying too hard to answer many questions, the last time I saw him.”
“I stayed in his room and drank my tea but it was drugged.” She shook her head. “I tried, Logan. I tried to be that girl. The one who steps back and accepts help and stays safe. I even wanted to be. I was so scared, when I was in the closet, and the hair started falling from the shelves onto me and I knew…” Her voice broke.
“Don’t.” He held her as tightly as he could with one arm, straining against the handcuff because it was torture not to be able to reach her with both when she was crying. Out here in the open miles from her shower, in public with her tears streaking his neck and fuck it hurt to see her like this. “Hey. You kicked ass. You locked them both up—took a hammer to them, everybody said. And that girl’s okay.” Nobody could have done better than Veronica Mars. The cops sure fucking hadn’t.
Had even taken their sweet time getting to the cell when they’d heard a fight, though now that he thought about it, he probably owed Deputy Sacks a year or two worth of donuts for that.
“I thought I could be that girl,” Veronica sobbed. “The one you wanted. And then I thought, this is how hard it is. For him. Every time I ask you to change and you just can’t.”
“Shh.” He pulled her closer so his handcuffed hand could at least grip her waist. She was shuddering with the force of her sobs, her voice all twisted. “Shh. Please don’t cry.”
The curtain rattled back and he fought the urge to leap off the bed at whoever it was.
“Well, Mr. Echolls, the deputies are ready—” The ER nurse paused, her teddy bear scrubs bright against her deep brown skin.
“We need a minute,” he bit off.
She glanced at his handcuff. “I’m not sure I’m allowed to—"
“She was nearly raped, do you understand that? Do you know who those guys were? The ones they brought in before me.”
“With the Ziploc baggie full of teeth?”
“Those are the ones.”
The nurse’s face changed. “You call me when you’re ready, sugar. Take as long as she needs.” She pulled the curtain closed.
Veronica pulled back, wiping hastily at her face and throwing a belated smile back toward the still-swishing curtain. “I’m fine!”
“Yeah, well I’m shitty,” Logan said. “Hold me?”
She looked like she started to laugh, but it came out as a sob. He curled her back into his arms and kissed her hair.
“I love you,” he whispered roughly. “I love you so fucking much. I love that you would never leave a passed-out girl you never even met alone in a closet. And it drives me out of my mind because I don’t know what to do about it. How to protect you while you protect the whole damn world.”
“I know.” Her voice is small.
He nuzzled her temple a little, because she let him. “How’d you know I was here?”
“I…” She shook her head a little, tucking it lower against him. “The drugs wore off. I couldn’t sleep. My phone was in evidence because Mercer took it from me, so I drove to the Grand.”
“You came looking for me?”
She pulled back, picking at one of the bloodstains on his shirt. “I…I know you said we had to break up now while it was a survivable amount of pain…but it was a really hard night, Logan. I couldn’t stop shaking. It had been hours and I could feel that hair all over my skin. The hair he shaved off all those girls.”
The fabric of his shirt was trembling against his skin, transmitting the movement of her hand, and he caught her fingers, stilled them and brought them to his mouth.
“You don’t have to explain. You can always come to me. Always.”
“But when Dick woke up and came to the door, he said you’d been arrested, said you forbade him to bail you out. I was suspicious, so I called Inga down at the sheriff’s office and she said you were here. Oh, Logan…” She cupped his hands, fussing over the wrapped gauze of the bandages.
“I had to.” The words rumbled in his chest, they came from so deep inside him. He knew she wouldn’t understand. Hell, he didn’t even totally understand the thought process behind it, because there was no process to follow. It just was. They’d scared her, hurt her, and there would be blood and screaming and broken teeth and nothing would quench him until he’d seen that.
That, and sunny golden hair, walking into the Emergency Room and straight to him.
“But a cop car? That could be a felony, Logan.”
“Veronica. Please hear me when I say there is nothing to me that matters less than that.” He’d pay the fine, do the time, smile at his probation officer and bring him marshmallow-shaped Peeps at Easter time. The thought of serving his time for this particular crime made him positively cheerful.
“Well, I’m getting you off the charges.” She sighed, drying her eyes. “I owe you that much.”
“You don’t owe me anything.” He couldn’t stop watching her. She’d come after him. She’d tried to change for him. She’d tried to be safe, for him. Even when she wouldn’t do it for herself.
She smoothed the gauze, resetting the catch holding the end until it was more centered, her thumb skimming gently along the edge of his palm, leaving his skin tingling. “And maybe a skin graft. Your poor knuckles.”
“Never felt better. Veronica?”
“Mmm?” Her voice was a little squeaky, but her long lashes shielded her eyes and she wouldn’t look up.
He brushed her hair back. “If I’d been there, at the Grand? What would you have done?”
She shook her head, not looking at him.
“Well, you know what I would have done?”
She shook her head again, but her lashes quivered like she’d almost looked up at him.
“I’d have kissed you, just like this,” he murmured, laying his lips against her forehead. “And I would have picked you up, if you’d let me. Would you let me, sweetheart?”
She nodded, and he curled his free arm around her waist and lifted her, tipping back and rolling her over the top of him so they were both lying on the hospital bed.
“And I’d have tucked you in with me.” He pulled the thin hospital blankets out from under himself and wrapped them over her, shifting her until his shoulder could support her head and he could dip his lips down close to her ear. “And I’d have told you that you’re worth an un-survivable amount of pain.”
He felt her tears spill over into his shirt even before her shoulders tensed and started to shake.
She tried to say something and it just came out as a squeak, a garbled try at words. On her second try, she managed, “—broke up with me. I told you I loved you and you left.”
Ah. It made sense, all made sense now. She’d cried like this then, too. And all she’d been able to squeak out in answer to him asking if she loved him was, “Yeah.” Like it was so obvious she couldn’t believe she had to say it.
“I called,” he told her. “Right after that. And you didn’t answer for me. I saw you ignore it. I…couldn’t.” Not after his dad, who’d never come home for his birthday and he thought Aaron had been mad at him for so many years until he realized his dad had never even known his birthday. Not after Lily, and all the times she cheated, and Duncan, who had been his best friend since before their voices had changed and had never even said goodbye. He couldn’t take another person not caring enough to answer, not when it was Veronica.
“I’ve never said that to anyone.” She was swiping at her eyes, trying to dry them as fast as new tears were coming. “Not since my mom…”
“I thought you didn’t want to talk to me.”
“I…I didn’t know if I could be a girl that wouldn’t hurt you. I wanted to be.”
“You did?” His voice wavered a little on that one, and his eyes started to sting.
She nodded against his shoulder. He bent his head and nudged her until she looked up, then he kissed her. Her lips were swollen and wet with salt tears, and she kissed him back fervently, clutching at him. It felt so, so good to know she was safe, and that she’d come looking for him when she couldn’t sleep. Tracked him down when she knew he was in the hospital. She’d come after him.
“C’mere.” He snuggled her closer on his chest, rearranged her blanket and nudged her messenger bag away so it wasn’t between them. “Rest. You didn’t get to sleep last night. We’ve got plenty of time. You can get me off my felony charges this afternoon, okay?”
She laughed, a little stuffy. “Oh can I? Can I please?”
“If you’re good,” he said primly.
“Well, what are the chances of that?”
“Low, I hope,” he growled, and kissed her hair.
When the nurse finally came back, Veronica was sleeping on his shoulder and he flicked a pleading look up at the nurse. Veronica’s little hand was cupped over his wrist, over the handcuffs. The nurse closed the curtain with a little smile and let them be.