Rating: R (language and sexual content)
Summary: It's a darker Neptune, a darker Eli Navarro, and Veronica's pretty sure that she's gotten darker too.
Spoilers: Up to Not Pictured.
Veronica discovers that one of Hearst’s many swimming pools is empty late at night. There’s a lifeguard on duty but he or she is usually trying to read at the same time and they learn soon enough that she’s a strong swimmer. No one else comes to this pool; it’s old and shallow, the tiles are chipped, and it’s in the furthest corner of the Physical Education building. She hears that they planning on tearing it down to make room for an indoor soccer field, but that just makes her swim harder.
Water is omnipresent in Neptune. There’s a pool in nearly every backyard and the population grows up with one form of water or another. She may have learned to swim before she learned to walk, but she’d have to ask her father about that one. It’s something she takes for granted now. How to kick her feet, move her arms, come up for a breath and then keep going.
She didn’t realize until college, until she found this pool, that water makes the rest of the world go away. It thunders past her ears; her heart pounds in her chest until she thinks it will break; and all that matters is getting from one end to the other. She stops to change strokes, holding onto the edge and wiping the water out of her eyes just enough to look around. Old habits die hard and she knows too well how to stay aware of her surroundings. The lifeguard is reading a book by Hawthorne; she files away the title for future reference before sliding her goggles back down and resuming her swim.
Life is clear when she’s in the water. It’s boiled down to the simplest of elements and there are none of the complications that she faces on dry land. When she’s swimming, it’s easy to forget the hurt in Logan’s voice that she can’t do anything about and the anger in his eyes because he thinks she just doesn’t want to. But scholarships have to be kept and that means her grades come before boyfriends, no matter how epic they may be.
He wonders if she’s pulling away from him deliberately. Sometimes, she wonders the same thing. Epics are long, epics are boring, and in an entire semester of Classical Literature, every single one that she suffered through ended badly. Still, he says he’s changed and she believes him. Until she stops by and smells Kendall’s perfume on the sofa pillows.
Logan blames it on Dick, saying that he reeks of her whenever he comes to see Logan and escape Casa De Killer. It’s the pot calling the kettle black, but she doesn’t remind him.
There are no tears over the death of Aaron Echolls and only a few over Cassidy Casablancas, most of which were shed by Mac. Veronica stays silent and focuses on the living, because she’s still trying to remember that her father isn’t dead. Still trying to forget the way she felt when the plane exploded and took her world with it.
She swims until all of those thoughts are too tired to keep up with her, leaving them behind to drown in her wake. Only once her mind is quiet does she reach up to the edge and pull herself out. She waves to the lifeguard on the way out, knowing they’re glad to shut off the lights and go home, but knowing isn’t enough to stop her from coming every night and swimming right up until the clock tells her to go home.
In the shower, she lathers up her hair to keep it from turning green and keeps her eyes closed tight. She makes lists in her head of everything she has to do. Assignments, papers to write, chapters to read, errands to run for her father. She tries to keep the list full enough that there isn’t time for idle hands or an idle mind.
Whether or not it’s actually over with Logan, she doesn’t know. Maybe this was their last fight, maybe not. Maybe he was telling her the truth about Dick bringing the smell of Kendall’s perfume on his clothes and his skin. And maybe he really doesn’t grieve for his father. Logan says that being alone is the best thing that ever happened to him. On his own, his own man; he can figure out what he wants from his life now and how he’s going to get it.
Veronica’s pretty sure that what Logan wants with his life isn’t even in the same hemisphere as what she wants, let alone in the same city. He talks of making movies sometimes, when he’s had a few beers, as a producer rather than an actor. He wants to know how it all comes together and all about the people listed in the credits who never see the red carpet. That means Hollywood, that means Los Angeles, and she’s pretty sure she’d rather stay in Neptune, no matter how much she wants out.
She fought it at first. Tried to keep them from tearing apart like two halves of a zipper, but tooth by tooth they slipped and she knows the end is coming, that maybe it’s already come and gone. But she’s not sure how she feels about that, if she wants to try one last time to patch them back together or if it’s come time to let go.
Running is her trademark and she can’t ignore the question that she’s doing it again. That she’s pushing him away from her so he won’t hurt her when he decides to leave. Stop loving him first, that’s the trick. It’s crazy logic that isn’t and she knows it. She just doesn’t know how to stop. Instead, she swims in the old, rundown pool at nights and spends too long shampooing her hair to avoid getting dressed again.
Even once the shampoo is long gone, she wastes time with lotions and blow-drying. Despite all of it, she still catches the smell of chlorine as she leaves the locker room and makes her way through the darkened building. It’s nearly midnight and the lights have all gone out by the time she slings her gym bag over her shoulder and fishes out her car keys. The taser is never far away and her father’s lectures ring in her head for hours afterwards. College campus, Red Zone, rapist who likes to cut off his victim’s hair; she knows each of the horror stories by heart now.
Her mind is still deliciously unoccupied as she gets into the car, locks the doors, and unpacks her camera. Midnight might be time for peace and quite for most people, but for the seedy underbelly of Neptune, the night is young and she’s due for an impromptu photo shoot.
She pretends not to notice, or mind, that her father is giving her fluff cases nowadays. Cheating husbands, unfaithful wives, those are still their bread and butter. She pretends that she doesn’t know there are other, more exciting cases she’s not supposed to know about. Nearly getting herself killed two years running apparently makes her father nervous and he’s keeping her on the sidelines for now. Part of her wishes she could thank him because she’s down two lives and hasn’t even reached her twenty-first birthday.
Neptune seems darker these days. The good die young and the guilty get acquitted. And the law, the authority, and everyone who should be control, can’t even figure out what’s going on soon enough to keep the hand basket from getting left on the expressway to Hell.
Then again, maybe she’s the one who’s gotten darker. The image in the viewfinder blurs a little but she knows it’s not the camera. Picture taken and one more marriage is going to be in shambles as soon as the prenup isn’t an issue. She leaves the camera lens resting against the car door; transfixed by the idea that one tiny piece of film is going to change this man’s life. His affair certainly didn’t make enough of a dent for him to pull his head out of the sand. Blind until forced to see. The human race has survived by putting off the inevitable and she’s no exception.
She’s putting off the final conversation with Logan. The conversation where she asks if it’s over and has to face the words and emotions that will pour from him like the Red Sea crashing back to drown her. She needs a Moses to raise his arms and keep her head above water.
Her father has been conspicuously non-committal about Logan. She knows that he remembers that summer, the broken lamp, and everything that Logan didn’t do right. As much as she tried to patch those old wounds, she knows they never really faded completely. He’s a father first and that means he’ll worry about his daughter until one or both of them are dead and probably afterward. She no longer expects him to get over it any more than she expects Logan to change his spots.
The camera is about to be disassembled and go back into its protective case when she recognizes the paint job on a motorcycle parked across the street. A motorcycle that should be at the bottom of the Pacific right now.
Curiosity wins like it always does and she does a U turn, pulling up behind the bike and leaving the safety of the car behind to get a closer look. It’s the same, she’s sure of it. Sure of the lines and the leather and every inch of its familiarity. Everything’s new and it glistens like a dirty diamond under the streetlights. She trails the tip of her finger against some of the chrome; it comes up clean and warm, which means the bike hasn’t traveled far or sat still for long.
“Admiring my paint job?” The question is familiar but the voice sounds different.
“How’d you find it?” she counters smoothly, surprised that she managed not to jump at the sound of his voice.
Eli Navarro steps out of the shadows; she tries not to wonder why he was in the darkened alley in the first place. He’s darker too. Dark and gritty and a little too noir even for Neptune. All black leather and tattoos etched into dark skin, he’s nearly a shadow himself, moving over the sidewalk and swinging his leg over the bike.
It occurs to her that she should ask how long he’s been out of prison but she doesn’t. There are words better left unsaid and he’s got that look about him that means she needs to heed that rule more than usual tonight.
“You’re out late, V,” he comments casually, ignoring her question as he straddles the bike with confident ease.
“Cheating husband across the street about to get skinned alive by the divorce lawyer.” The words don’t come out as light and funny as she’d intended and she almost wishes she could try again.
“Sheriff’s got you doing kiddie stuff again.”
“It’s not...” That’s as far as she gets because it’s true and she knows it, but she doesn’t want to talk about Aaron Echolls or Cassidy Casablancas or any of the very good reasons for the kiddie assignments. She’s just glad to be back in the business rather than left to wallow in food service.
“Right.” He looks away and his voice is devoid of emotion. The silence is about to become uncomfortable when he turns back to her. “Is it you that smells like chlorine or am I having some sorta flashback?”
“Swimming. There’s this pool,” she apologizes lamely.
“I forgot...you like ‘em with pools and SUVs. It’s all coming back to me now.” There’s an edge in his voice that’s new and now she knows he’s gotten darker and sharper around the edges.
“It’s on campus,” she tells him coldly and hopes he notices the ice in her voice.
He does. There’s wariness in his look and his hand stops, not turning the key to start the engine. “Heard you were back with Echolls.”
“Got tired of clean sheets. A girl needs variety.”
His laughter is low and bitter; he doesn’t believe her or if he does, he simply doesn’t care. “Let me guess, your boy went looking for greener pastures. Something in the Laker Girl category.”
It doesn’t surprise her that he knows about Kendall; Logan’s not exactly low profile, being Neptune’s favored topic of idle conversation. But she catches a note of derision when he says Laker Girl, like it doesn’t quite fit in his mouth without choking him and she wonders what he has against women like Kendall. The words are out before she can stop them and the bitterness is palpable. “Like you would even think twice if she spread her legs.”
His eyebrow goes up. “That a yes?”
“That’s an I don’t care who Logan fucks.” She has every intention of turning around and going back to her car. This conversation isn’t fun or entertaining and she wants it to end before he notices the cracks in her veneer.
“So you don’t know. But you’re going to assume he is because you see shit like this everyday.” He nods toward the hotel where the bastard had his tryst. “Is it all men that you hate or just the ones in Neptune?”
“Are they different once I cross the city limits? Cause if they are, I’m gone.”
“Come on, V. Apples don’t fall too far from the tree. If you wanted to make a go with Echolls, shoulda looked closer at where he came from.”
In the back of her mind, she’s pretty sure she should slap him across the face for that comment. For the insinuation that Logan and Aaron aren’t that different, that all that separates them are years and a name. The future resembles the past and Logan’s destined to follow in that murdering bastard’s footsteps. She doesn’t slap him because those very questions have kept her up at night and she’s not sure which she’s more afraid of, ending up like Lilly or ending up like Lynn.
“Have sex with me.” She doesn’t recognize her own voice and knows that she sounds completely insane.
“Que?” The shock is reflected in his eyes and he’s pulling away from her, waiting for the punch line.
“In the alley, up against the wall, whatever you want. I’ll get down on my knees, you can pull my hair and call me a bitch....anything Just say yes.”
He shakes his head and his hand moves for the ignition again. “You’ve lost your fucking mind.”
Catching his arm, she stops him from starting the engine. “Unless you got plenty of play in prison.”
“Fuck you,” he growls.
“The harder the better.” She ends it at that, her pride is already lowered far enough that it's dragging in the gutter behind her, and leaves him sitting on the bike. The alley is darker than she’d anticipated and her heart is in her throat with each step. There’s room enough for her to stand, back against the wall, where the ground isn’t completely filthy. She waits and wishes that she smoked, because there’s nothing to do with her hands except shove them into her pockets.
She almost changes her mind when the bike doesn’t start and he doesn’t drive away. But it’s too late then because she can see his shoulders outlined by the streetlight and he’s pressing her hard against the rough brick.
“Turn around,” he orders sharply.
Her body is already exhausted from her swim so she doesn’t fight him. Hands up to brace herself, brick cutting into her palms, she tries to breathe as he works the button and zipper of her jeans. It’s tawdry and dirty and she knows she’s in over her head when he tugs her jeans and panties down over her hips. He’s solid against her back, hot breath against her neck. One hand finds its way under her shirt and pulls her bra down to get to her bare breast. Teeth bite down on the flesh at the base of her neck at the same time his hand slide between her legs, feeling every inch of her.
She bites her tongue and closes her eyes as he presses her harder against the wall, simultaneously pulling back against her hips so that she’s arched toward him. His thumb is rough, flicking over her nipple mercilessly, and she can feel that she’s getting wet when his finger dips inside her. More teeth sinking into her skin; his fingers sunk completely into her as the heel of his palm grinds against her.
But this isn’t what she’d expected.
His fingers are moving easily, slick with her desperation to feel something, when he pulls his hand from her breast and braces himself against the wall. There’s no gentleness in his touch, no waiting or hesitating when he pushes into her. He’s breathing hard and nearly slamming her into the wall with each thrust. Spanish words tumble into her ear as his fingers find her clit again, making tiny circles and tipping her world on end.
“Harder,” she manages to get out before she’s pressed against the wall again.
He obliges and she can feel the brick digging deeper into her skin. It’s all that makes sense. Brick against skin and cool air hitting her stomach. His hand and his cock buried inside her don’t make any sense at all. At a basic level, she knows the mechanics of what’s happening but even the reality of that thought is lost when she realizes she’s going to come. Her breathless moan is followed by several thrusts that she can feel through her entire body and then he’s leaning against her, panting and pressing soft kisses against the back of her neck.
“Why?” he asks, barely loud enough to be a whisper.
Because he wouldn’t call her in the morning, because he wouldn’t break when she didn’t call him back, and because there was nothing epic about them. All the answers she has will take too much time. Longer than it takes him to pull his jeans back up and button them, longer than it takes her to reclaim her own clothing and reorient her bra. She’s acutely aware that he never kissed her lips, not even once, and somehow that makes it impersonal.
Even once their clothes are back in place, she keeps her words to herself. He doesn’t need to know that she wanted a clean break, a sharp line between being part of a couple and leaving it. A moment she could point to and say, that was the end. It was the deal-breaker, the single event she could use to make Logan see that they were over. Like a whore, she’d turned around and let Eli Navarro fuck her hard up against a wall in a dirty alley. There was no part of that that wouldn’t make Logan see a hundred shades of red.
He’s watching her when she turns around, not giving up on getting an answer to his question. She keeps her mouth shut and shakes her head just enough to tell him she can’t. Silently, he takes her hand and turns it over to expose her wrist. His lips are warm and soft against the sensitive skin; his thumb brushes bits of brick from her skin. “One of these days, Veronica...let me do you right. No alleys, no getting back at Echolls.”
“I want to see you on your knees.” There’s the edge again. The ferocity that didn’t used to be there and makes her heart beat just a little bit faster.
“As long as you promise to pull my hair,” she says softly and pulls her wrist away from his lips.
“Count on it, chica.” There’s a twinkle in his eyes, just the barest hint of the old Weevil showing through before he turns away.
She stays in the shadows until the sound of the bike is long gone and she’s beginning to shiver. Her car and camera are where she left them, safe and normal. When she gets home, she leaves her camera on the kitchen island to let her father know she got the money shot. Face washed and teeth brushed, she collapses into her bed and buries herself as deep under the covers as she can get. Tomorrow, she’ll have to face Logan and make sure he knows that it’s over. As she drifts off to sleep, pretending those aren't tears on her cheeks, she realizes that it will be easier now.