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"This is Logan, with today's inspirational message: 'A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.' Ingrid Berg--"
Nice one, Logan, she thinks, caught between being perversely amused, exceedingly annoyed, and perhaps even slightly mortified. Ass.
Veronica snaps her phone shut before the telltale beep! can sound; before she can lose whatever shreds of dignity she has left. Eight attempts at a single phone call, all ending in a hasty hang up, is plenty embarrassing, thanks. No need to put something even more awkward on an actual recording.
"Honey, what are you doing?" Keith's voice cuts into her frenzied thoughts, and she nearly drops her phone.
"Nothing," she says, much too quickly. She knows it, and so does he. Shit. "Nervous habit." She adds a halfhearted shrug, hoping her little affectation of casual indifference is passing, though when she turns to meet her father's gaze, she sees right away he isn't buying it for a second.
"No, your nervous habits entail cooking too much food and constantly trying to get your hair to stay behind your ears." Veronica turns away, more frustrated than ever. Just because her father can always read her so well doesn’t mean she will ever stop resenting him for it. "Who are you obsessing over calling, anyway?" Ever.
She turns to glare, but is saved from making any kind of reply, waspish or otherwise, by the ringing of the phone in his office. He picks it up, speaks to the person on the other end for a few minutes, and closes temporarily with, "That’s fine, I'll hold." He looks over at her again, as though he's determined to will the truth out of her with the power of his stare alone. Veronica, already more than annoyed enough for her liking, holds back a snort. You wish, Dad.
"It's nothing, just," she starts, which, she realizes, is how she starts a lot of her excuses these days. He must see right through that, too, but she's beyond caring at this point. "When I get restless, I fidget a lot." Keith raises his eyebrows skeptically, but she's saved from further interrogation by his return to his phone call.
Veronica purses her lips, notes that same damn flash of gold just above her eye line, tucks her hair behind her ears -- it's not her fault it's still in the process of growing out from a haphazard, practically weed whacked style, dammit -- and stands to stalk out of the office, keys in hand and bag slung purposefully over her shoulder, before he can finish the call and say anything more.
She gets into the LeBaron in the same brisk manner she always adopts these days; it's only when she's buckled in, locked her doors, turned the key and lowered the top that she realizes she's not sure where she was planning to go.
She's got Logan's number on speed dial, which is somehow comforting, even with everything between them hanging in tense limbo like this. It's currently filling the rotating last slot she ever fills (number seven these days; it used to be a larger number, but she chooses not to dwell on silly little things like that anymore), and she takes that as the small consolation she can at the moment. She just keeps telling herself it'd be easy to take him off that precious little list of her closest contacts; she wouldn't even have to screw up the rest of the order. That's always nice.
She sits there for a long while, still fiddling nervously with her phone; open, shut, open, shut, start dialing, lose nerve before it fully connects (7, send, hang up, Jesus, get a grip); lather, rinse, repeat, I must be losing my mind.
It feels like ages since Logan's been on that exclusive list, and she's only recently added him back for the sake of quick, convenient contact during his mother's (now sadly defunct) case. She's only considered finally erasing him from it again a few hundred times since that night in the hotel lobby, and with her finger hovering over the keypad, she can't quite bring herself to do it now.
Erase contact? 1. Yes, 2. No, stares back at her from her phone, not for the first time, and she's sure it won't be the last, either.
She still has her phone in her one hand, steering with the other, when she heads out onto the road, no particular destination in mind. She resolutely punches the '2' before she can waste any more time obsessing over something so inconsequential.
She drives for a good ten miles; not quite in circles, but she's certainly not getting anywhere, either. She flips her phone open again before she can stop herself. As long as we're way past a couple of missed calls, one more couldn't hurt. Not like I've got an ounce of dignity left at this point, besides. It's not the most comforting thought ever, but she dials '7' next, anyway.
She pulls back out onto the main drag, glancing at the intersection up ahead before looking down again to stare at the 'send' button. Apparently, she's no better at willing a call out of her phone than her father is at willing the truth out of her.
Next thing she knows, some woman -- who apparently suffers from tunnel vision and severe inability to steer a minivan -- nearly swerves into her lane, and she pulls hard to the left to avoid getting sideswiped clear off the road into the meridian. Her tires thunder over the Bott's dots, and she realizes her mind has been made up for her when she feels her thumb hit the keypad; hears the telltale tinny ring of her phone connecting the call. Thanks, road safety markers. When I end up royally regretting this, so help me, I'm going to get a sledgehammer, and--
"Hey." Logan's voice snaps her out of that ridiculous train of thought, and her mind comes to a screeching halt.
"Um," she starts, flustered far beyond her comfort level. He makes no mention of the eight (nearly nine, oh, God.) missed calls his screen must have alerted him to the moment he opened his phone. She's so relieved, she thinks if he were in front of her at that very moment, she might kiss him for it. Then again, that's what started all of this trouble in the first place, so…
Take a damn pill, Veronica. Circular logic never got anyone anywhere. She takes a deep breath, unsure whether she'd rather he hang up on her before she can speak.
"Veronica?" he queries, softer than she'd been expecting. She takes another breath, trying to loosen her throat and get an actual greeting of some kind out of her mouth. She doesn't have enough experience with this Logan anymore to draw upon; the one who speaks gently and may or may not sound concerned. And maybe a little breathless? You're really reaching now, Veronica. She can't decide whether she'd enjoy hearing that from him or not.
"…That back gate still open, by any chance?" She can't take another breath until he answers, and it frightens her a little.
"As always." She can hear the smile in his voice even now, over the phone. She finds herself coupling it with a mental image before she can stop herself, and ends up running a red light halfway through an intersection. One where she's almost sure she saw the telltale black box that signifies she may be receiving some mail from her favourite Sheriff in the weeks to come.
Clearly, driving right now? Not one of my better ideas.
She turns back, and yeah, it's definitely a red light camera perched atop the pole. "Oh, fuck me!" It slips out before she can think to end the call. She thinks she might hear him laugh, but she can't be sure over the road noise.
"Well…" he trails off playfully, and she's mortified all over again. Funny how quickly she can go from (maybe, possibly) wanting to kiss him, to (oh, most definitely) wanting to bean him in the face with a sock full of quarters. That's the Echolls charm for you.
"Oh, God." She definitely hears the laugh this time from his end, and the sound of it washes over her, despite her humiliation. It's not the snide laugh she's grown so accustomed to over the past year; it's the laugh of the boy she used to know, who helped make her feel more at home in a social circle she never thought she could've, in a school where the income of one's family seemed to matter above all else.
"Freudian Slip or otherwise, I was kidding, Mars. Relax."
She shakes her head, smiling like a bit of an idiot, and feeling like a much bigger one. "I'll be there in ten."
There are two back gates to the Echolls estate, and only one the paparazzi aren't aware of. It's buried beneath tacky California palm fronds and a whole lot of flowering shrubbery.
Logan had showed it to her along with Duncan and Lilly once, years and years before. Like a tree house or a fort under blankets in the back yard, there had been a sort of childish, secret door feel to it, in that they were the only ones who could visit him by way of it.
The bigger secret of course was the one he'd never chosen to share with the siblings Kane.
It had started one night, during the spring break of their eighth grade school year. Duncan had been involved in something after school, though Veronica couldn't recall what it had been now; most likely yet another glowing extracurricular activity for the dream resumé his father had planned out for him. Lilly, of course, was currently living it up in her first year at Neptune High, and enjoyed lording it over the three of them whenever possible, which usually involved socializing with the elite of her new school at every opportunity.
Logan had called Veronica at home, and simply said, "The back gate's open," before hanging up.
She'd had no clue what he'd intended with something so abrupt and open-ended, but she'd asked her father to drop her off at the end of the driveway to his house all the same.
She'd taken the back way, and found him out by the pool, dangling his bare feet in the water.
She'd called out his name, but he wouldn't look at her at first, until she sat down beside him, pulling her shoes off and slipping her toes into the water beside him.
They'd talked that night about so many things; her head swam even now to think of it. Since then, any time Lynn or Lianne were too far gone for either of their liking, any time their parents were having a particularly upsetting fight, or when one of them just needed some good, quiet company, the same old routine would kick in. One would call the other, and they'd sit there alone together until they felt better.
Remembering it now, Veronica can't help but smile.
Logan had a twisted sense of loyalty, that was certain. Though he'd lobbed insult after sharp insult directly into her face over the past year, he'd never once used a thing against her that she'd confided in him back then.
Just as she expects, that's where she finds him tonight.
It's an odd, yet comforting sight; he's taller, lankier now, but he somehow looks the same. The gate still catches a little on the branches that cover it, and he turns when he hears her close it behind her.
She doesn't say hello, and neither does he; old habits die hard, apparently. She tugs her boots off, and sits next to him once again, and despite everything that's happened -- or maybe because of it -- she's glad that some things never seem to change.
They're quiet for a long time, both watching the water and the ghostly colors the pool lights cast across the stretch of cement and blades of grass that surround it.
"I'm sorry." It comes out sounding like he hasn't spoken once since they talked on the phone; almost hoarse, and on the quieter side of the manner in which he usually speaks to her.
"For?" She could make a snide remark about her mind literally reeling from all the options he's got to choose from, but she's not about to break the little sanctum they still have here. They've always been honest in this one place they have left, and she won't be the one to snuff that last little flame out.
"Clearly, I made the wrong choice," he elaborates, carefully not looking at her. "I'm sorry."
Like that clears anything up, she thinks, some of her agitation from before rearing its head again, but she manages to hold her tongue. There's a minefield occupying the scant inches between them now, and she won't be the one to misstep, she won't. "In what, exactly?"
"I think it's pretty safe to say I stood by the wrong friend," he says, turning to look at her at last, and though she hasn't forgotten what this used to be like, the honesty in his gaze still shocks her.
"Maybe," she says after a long while, but there's no bitterness in it, and it must be surprising him just as much as she's surprising herself. "But I understand why you did it."
They could wax nostalgic for a while here, or get much nastier and angrier about it, but she just doesn't have the energy for that anymore. She doesn't like to admit it to herself, but she still feels safe here; there's a shaky truce in this territory, and she'll take what she can get.
"What happened, between you two?" he asks after another long bout of silence that somehow isn't uncomfortable.
She looks at him, her gaze sharp, but her voice calm and level. "And here I was, hoping you could tell me."
He looks down at his knees, shifting his feet in the water, and laughs a little, but it comes out sounding defeated. "I thought he had to have a reason. I just--"
"Yeah," she says, stopping him before he digs himself too deep a hole for her liking. "I figured."
"I should've stuck by you. I really am sorry." It sounds so genuine, Veronica forces herself to look away. It's easier to hear if she doesn't have to see his face as he says it. "I'm sure it doesn't mean a damn thing now, but--"
"It does." The unwavering certainty in her voice is a relief, somehow.
He smiles, barely, but it reaches his eyes for the first time in a long while; clearly it's something reassuring to him, too.
Veronica rolls her shoulders, and though she couldn't explain it if she tried, she feels something akin to a huge weight lifting from them.
Still, being so close to him, she can't seem to stop the blush that's been building within her from the memory of the day before from reaching her cheeks at last, bright and warm and appropriately embarrassing. She fidgets a little with the fabric at the edge of her skirt, pulls at that obnoxious section of hair; of course it's fallen back into her eyes.
Logan turns again, still smiling that little secret smile he used to have just for her. It's still a little unsettling to see it on his face again after all this time, but it startles her more when he reaches out with his free hand toward her. She surprises herself when she doesn't pull away, just watches those clear brown eyes flicker from right to left across her face. He tucks the stubborn strands carefully behind her ear, and maybe his hand lingers a moment longer than necessary against her cheek before he pulls back again.
Her hair stays put this time, miraculously. Logan seems to sense what she's thinking, and his smile widens almost imperceptibly.
She smiles shakily back at him, ducks her head and turns away. Not that she's remembering the last time he touched her face like that or anything.
"So, why'd you do it?"
Veronica tenses all over. She's sure he must feel it, they're so close to sitting shoulder to shoulder now, but she plays dumb all the same.
"Why did I do what?" She can sense it when he turns his head to look at her, but she won't meet his eyes, not now. The easy rapport from before didn't last long, apparently; she can almost feel the change in his demeanor coming off him in waves.
"Oh, I dunno," he grates out, and apparently sarcasm is allowed now, because it's back in his voice, full force. "I'm swimming in possibilities here. Why the fuck don't you lock your car doors when pulling your little Super Sleuth after school shenanigans? Why did you call eight times before actually saying anything? Why the hell--"
"--did I kiss you?" she finishes, turning at last to rise to the challenge he's leveling against her.
"Oh well, sure, we can go with that one." His tone is beginning to take on the embittered edge he's been hiding behind since grief had gotten the better of all of them, and coupled with the harsh sarcasm, she's beginning to feel more than a little overwhelmed. "If you insist."
She makes a noncommittal noise in her throat, and looks away again. Ah, avoidance. So nice to see you again. "Seemed like a good idea at the time."
"Hmm," is his only response, but he somehow manages to inflect it with a healthy dose of derision. It doesn't surprise her; that is, after all, one of his special talents. Logan has always been very eloquent with very little, sometimes without even saying a word. His frame is still tense all over; she can feel it without broaching the distance that's still between them.
She has no idea what to do. She can handle Logan taking a tire iron to the LeBaron, that's easy. Retribution; eye for an eye, that's all she knows anymore. She can handle vicious sniping, the push and pull they keep engaging in on a near daily basis. What she can't handle is everything that's between them now.
She can't keep her mind blank; she's never been capable of that. If she closes her eyes, she'll see the look on his face when she'd opened them once before, on the balcony of the Camelot, all adrenaline and passion and confusion and so, so many other alarming things. If she lets the silence settle, she'll hear his heart beating, she'll focus too long on how it felt to have his arms crushing her to him, one hand gently running down the side of her face.
She won't, she won't, dwell on the feel of his lips on hers, the way he tasted, the exact sensation of sharing the same oxygen for a few precious seconds. She won't, but if she stays still too long, it's all she can do to think of anything else. He's sitting right here now, and she can feel the warmth of him through his jacket, can hear him breathing, can judge just how much motion on her part it would take to reach out and touch him again.
She has to, needs to think of something else. Something else, something else, oh God, I really am losing my mind. Logan lets out a little huff of air, looking back down at the dancing blue sheen of the water again. Something, anything, um.
She's grasping at straws now, and she suddenly remembers she'd had a Physics quiz on Newton's Laws that morning. They're still fresh in her mind, and it's going to have to do.
Every object persists in its state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line until it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed on it.
He shifts his weight slightly, and one of his fingers brushes against hers, and it's like an electrical shock, shooting from the base of her spine straight up to the back of her neck. She's sure he must feel it, too; she sees him jump a little in her peripheral vision.
Force is equal to the change in momentum per change in time.
Even as she's mentally drilling herself, she knows it's not working. She can feel Logan's eyes boring a hole into her cheek, and it's just too much. She feels suddenly tired; almost exhausted from holding all these barriers up between them for so long, and she's shifting her position too, before she can stop herself.
For a constant mass, force equals mass times acceleration.
She leans all to one side and lets her weight carry her the rest of the way. Logan notices, but doesn't budge, and a second later, she's resting her head on his shoulder.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
He leans over without warning, turning his head towards hers, and presses a soft kiss against her temple. She closes her eyes; just concentrates on the feeling of his lips on her skin.
They sit like that until she stops trying to count the seconds, and the temperature of her whole right side has likely risen a good five degrees just from leaning against him.
"What was that for?" she finally asks, turning her face upward to look at him, and though it puts her neck at an awkward and slightly uncomfortable angle (it's not her fault his being so much taller puts his shoulder so high next to her), it's worth the strain, just to see how the shimmering blue lines of light stretch across his face and spark the little flecks of brightness in his eyes.
"Seemed like a good idea at the time." The laugh is in his voice again, and she feels a heady rush of relief.
Maybe the flush that's burning through her veins and across her skin is due to becoming hyper-aware of all the places they're touching all over again. Maybe that smile really is saved just for her. Maybe it's not.
"Touché," she chuckles softly. She could really get used to pulling that answering laugh out of him.
Maybe it is.
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