Word Count: 3,774
Summary: "I finally figured out some things you'll never know."
Spoilers/Warnings: "My Mother, the Fiend"
Sequel to: Caught Out There and Figured You Out
Author's Note: New Veronica/Lamb fic taking place within my V/La universe. Companion piece to "Figured You Out" and you'll want to read that one first, as well as "Caught Out There," to understand what the hell is going on! The tone is very, very different than the first two fics and the rating is lower, but I still think it works. Title and summary courtesy of Better Than Ezra. Hope you enjoy.
~ * ~
You've already gone through your morning workout but even the burn in your calves and pinching ache in your sides doesn't stop you from hitting the beach twice in one day. It's late, nearly midnight, and the sky spreads dark and deserted over the empty stretch of beach. You like this time of day, or night, or whatever it is, when it's just you and your running and your thoughts. You see different faces each time your sneakers slam into the sand, feet connecting with phantom flesh and bone and pain. Sometimes it's your mother and sometimes it's Wayne, but mostly it's yourself, on the day Keith figures out that you're fucking Veronica senseless and has you arrested or beats the crap out of you or makes you look at the fuck up you've made out of his daughter and you see what a monster you really are. You need to stay away from her. She's eighteen and barely legal and should be concentrating on pep squad and Prom and getting back together with her super popular ex-boyfriend and all that high school stuff you hated and couldn't wait to get away from, and instead she spends her time naked in your bed and your car and last week on your desk and ignores the college applications she should be filling out and says things like, "you're my escape" when it should be the Kane scholarship and a one-way ticket to Stanford and a better life. She deserves better than Neptune, and part of you is afraid she'll never leave and you'll screw her up the way your mother and father and Wayne screwed you up, and she'll never get a shot at the life she deserves. But the other part of you, the part your foot flattens each time it hits the sand, is terrified she *will* leave you and Neptune and the bad memories behind and take that shot at glory, because sometimes you think you need her so badly you can't breathe without her.
You pick up the speed, ignore the tight burn in your thighs, almost enjoy how the sand scratches your bare legs and leaves a cold, wet web down the backs of your calves. You wonder if you can keep up the pace, run far enough and long enough, if you'll come down from your high with Veronica Mars out of your system. Maybe, when you can breathe normally again, you won't need to need her and she won't need to need you. Maybe, when you strip out of the sweaty clothes and untie your beat up shoes, she'll have found herself and you'll have learned to love yourself and all the other psychobabble bullshit Will picks up from Dr. Phil and spouts at you over dinner. Maybe, you'll walk into your shower, naked and tight, and when you scrub the steam off the mirror you'll see your old self staring back at you.
Sweat drips down your brow and the moon is getting smaller in the distance, a dim white orb floating in a pitch-black sky, and you squeeze your eyes shut and sprint like Keith Mars is chasing after you with a pitchfork, or knowing him, a Glock25 fully loaded. Veronica swims in front of your eyes, that night in the car, when she put her hand on yours and her lips brushed your cheek for a moment and she looked at you with naked concern in her eyes and told you that you weren't such a bad person, and for the splittest of seconds you had believed her. No one in your life, besides your brother, had ever believed in you or worried about you or thought much of you in the first place. You had ruined her life, on more than one occasion, and she'd still sat beside you and held your hand and told you it would be okay. You open your eyes and the moon has gotten closer and brighter and there are stars gleaming up above, and Veronica Mars sitting three feet away brushing sand off her jeans.
~ * ~
For a moment all you can do is look at each other, because neither of you has any idea what to say. You think backwards, to all the weeks you've spent with her, and try and remember a time you didn't come to her for a favor or she didn't come to you with a demand or you didn't just try and get in her pants and fuck your frustrations away. You came to the beach to get the hell away from whatever it is you have with Veronica, and from the way she's looking at you, all stricken and annoyed - like you ran over Backup and refused to apologize - you know she was thinking the same thing. You run a sweaty hand over your brow, push back the slick hair sticking to your forehead and try and come up with something witty to say. For once in your life, you're fresh out of snark. She opens her mouth, once, twice, and looks as frustrated and confused as you feel. "What are you doing here, Mars?" you finally say, and she lets out a relieved breath that someone has broken the tension. There's a blanket at her feet and she picks up her hoodie, puts it on to keep out the cold. There's an obscene comment on the tip of your tongue, an offer to drop the hoodie because you'll keep her warm as soon as you get her naked against you, but you're sweaty and dirty and somehow you don't think that's what she's interested in tonight, even if her eyes are raw and needy in the moonlight. "Mars?" you say. "I asked you a question. Why are you prowling around all by your lonesome?"
She breaks eye contact, turns her gaze back to the water. "I'm studying," she insists and kicks at a textbook at her feet. You narrow your eyes and make out a title about Western Civ before turning back to her. The words sound hollow and filled with lies and you sigh. There's no way you're gonna get away from her now.
"Mars," you say softly. "It's pitch black. Unless you've suddenly developed a knack for astronomy, you're lying."
There's no accusation in your words, but here eyes still flare as she turns to face you, arms crossed tightly across her chest. "Have you ever hated someone?" she asks. "I mean, really, truly hated someone? Like hated someone so much you're not sure you'd care if she dropped dead at your feet?" You want to say no, that you're not that kind of person, but Wayne's fist connecting with Will's face jumps into your head and you feel your eyes narrowing as your hands tighten at your sides.
"Veronica," you ask. "What's going on?" She's doing her dance again, holding herself as she shakes with anger, and you're glad she brought a blanket because even sweaty and in desperate need of shower you'll throw her down and make the pain go away the only way you know how.
She flops onto the blanket and draws her legs up to her chest, resting her chin on her knees, staring at the water moodily. You have no choice but to follow suit. The wool scratches your bare legs, but you ignore it - because you always ignore the obvious when you're around her - and stretch your legs out in front of you and lean back on your arms, resting your weight on your hands. "I saw Celeste Kane tonight," she says and your interest is instantly piqued. You haven't seen hide or hair of a Kane since you threw the youngest one in the back of your squad car last week, and this is a development you can get behind. For purely professional reasons of course, not because that icy bitch from hell hurt your non-girlfriend. "She hates me," she continues and you turn to look at her, eyes resting on her profile as she stares out at that water like its some kind of escape. "She hates me and I didn't even do anything wrong."
"Where did you see Celeste Kane?"
"At Duncan's," she says and the words come out clipped and bitter. You choose to ignore the pinch in your gut that comes with mention of her ex-boyfriend. Last week you busted them for breaking and entering together; this week his mother apparently terrorized her while they played house in his luxury hotel suite. You know it's pathetic to hate a kid half your age, but you wish you hadn't given into her demands and the Kane spawn was rotting in prison. "We're not back together," she says quickly, and you pretend you don't care either way, even though the ache in your belly disappears as quickly as an 09er prom dress at the after party. "We're working on a school project together. I stopped by and she was there…" her voice trails off and you wonder what you're supposed to do. You thought nothing could scare you more than Veronica angry and losing control, but Veronica sinking inside herself is more terrifying than you ever imagined.
It's not like watching Wayne pummel his only son with his fists, hearing the crunch of bone shattering as you tried to finish your English essay upstairs. Your plan had been easy: join the police force, beat the shit out of Wayne, lock him up forever to make sure he never hurt Will and your worthless excuse of a mother again. A lot of other shit had gone down in between, but the result was the same - Will was under your roof and your mother had found Jesus and your stepfather was out of the picture. You don't know what to do about Veronica. You can't fuck her brains out and send her on her merry way, fixed and focused for the time being. You can't insult her and get her blood boiling and her eyes burning right before she throws herself at you and tells you to make her forget. You've never had to comfort someone before, not even when Carla started sobbing into your shoulder during an involuntary viewing of "Beaches" and you'd wrapped her in your arms and stroked her hair and went through all the motions and it meant nothing. You'd *felt* nothing, not like Veronica reaching across your darkened car and curling her fingers into yours like she'd never let go. Maybe it's time to return the favor.
You reach out and lay a hand on her interlocked fingers and you're surprised when she doesn't jump or try and push you off and scream "What are you doing?" into the moonlight. Instead her fingers twitch a little and her jaw loosens and her hand twists to wrap around yours. "Was my mother a good person?" she asks, and it's your turn to jump.
"What?" you ask because it's been so long since you've heard the name Lianne Mars in decent company that you think you heard wrong.
"My mom," she repeats herself. " Was she a good person?" You pause, unsure of where to go from here. "Come on, deputy," she says and you ignore the urge to bitch back at her because it's underhanded, but familiar and comfortable and what you're used to. Still, her hand doesn't remove itself from yours. "You practically grew up in my house. What was my mom like?"
You wonder if you should be honest and say things like "whore" and "slut" and "boozehound" and "liar" and all the other words that get tossed around the department locker room, the papers, every nook and cranny that makes up Neptune. But she already knows those things, remembers that woman, and it's something else she's looking for. "Do you remember the first Thanksgiving I spent at your house?" you ask and she nods. You remember that Thanksgiving too. She was ten and gawky and you were a first year deputy and the bottom of the totem pole and the last place you wanted to be was home because all your mother did was cry about Wayne and you couldn't bear to spend a minute in that house with Will watching you and the guilt surrounding you. Keith had invited you over and Lianne had cooked a feast and sipped a single glass of red wine while you went through three beers and wondered if someday you'd have the kid and the dog and the white picket fence Keith took for granted. "I didn't have anywhere else to go and she took me in like it was nothing. I'm not just talking extra stuffing and gravy. She'd call every month or so after that, check in, make sure I was doing okay. She was a really good friend." You pause for a moment, look over at Lianne's daughter, and she's watching you like she needs this story to live. "Everyone makes mistakes, Veronica" you say and realize your thumb is circling her palm in lazy motions and her shoulders are relaxing with each wider circle. "Everyone does things they regret."
You would know. Two years ago a younger, paler, victimized version of Lianne had walked into your office and begged for help and instead of an innocent girl in need of your avenging, you'd just seen your anger at Keith for being a fraud and a joke and your anger at Lianne for lying and cheating and fulfilling your belief that all people let you down in the end, and you'd taken it all out on their daughter, sitting before you, staring at you with Lianne's water-logged eyes and Keith's chin jutting out of her thin face and all you'd seen was your hate. You'd known then that it was wrong, even as you'd smiled and laughed and felt that smug sense of satisfaction of ruining something named Mars. Now you know how just how wrong it was, sitting on a blanket in the middle of the night with the wreck you've made of Lianne's daughter. You know you should want to go back and change that day, offer to take up Veronica's offer, ask the Wizard for some clues, but part of you, the part you'd still like to trample with your worn-out tennis shoes, likes things the way they are. If you'd listened to Veronica, she wouldn't have gotten tough and smart and learned to see right through you. She wouldn't have shed D'Amato and the Kane kid and the Echolls kid and that kid before them whose last name you couldn't pronounce, like a second skin and emerged new and changing and ready for you. If you hadn't broken her soul, she wouldn't be sitting here with you and needing you. It's wrong, but you kind of like it. Scratch that, you *really* like it.
When you look at her again her eyes are watery but she's smiling and she cuts you down just like old times. "Wow, deputy," she teases. "That was awful deep. You're just a regular Dr. Phil these days." You think of Will and his daily lessons about self-worth and have to laugh and she laughs along with you, fingers squeezing yours.
You want to kiss her. Not because you want to fuck her so hard that coarse blanket leaves scratches on her back, and not because you're desperate and it's the only thing you know to do, but because you just want to kiss her. You tangle a hand through her hair and it's soft against your skin and, and you cup her head and it fits perfectly in your hand as you bend your head and press your mouth tenderly against hers.
It's soft and gentle and full of everything but sex and escape. You don't open your mouth, don't tongue her, just hold for a second and take in her smell and her feel and the realization that this is way more than just sex and there's no possible way to avoid it. You deepen the angle, tilt her head a little to the right…and a loud cry pierces the air.
~ * ~
She jerks away laughing, giggling even, and reaches down for a blanket clad body you didn't realize existed. It's small and dressed all in pink and even after you blink for a full thirty seconds, realize it's a baby. She's making cooing sounds and rubbing a hand down its back, frantically reaching for something behind her. You're too stunned to do much of anything and wonder what the hell is going on and how you missed Veronica knocked up for the better part of a year.
"Is that a baby?" you manage and she laughs harder at what must be a look of horror on your face.
"Not exactly," she says, frowning now, still reaching behind her. "This is the school project I was telling you about. For health class," she clarifies. "It's a animatronic parental lifestyle simulator." You look at her like she's lost her mind. "That's what Duncan calls her," she insists and her voice sounds almost guilty, manipulative. "I call her Hope."
You wonder what the hell is going on at Neptune High. When you were in health class you were putting condoms on bananas and babysitting eggs, not playing mommy and daddy to a piece of plastic named after a member of the cast of characters always appearing on Dr. Phil. The crying gets louder and Veronica sighs in frustration. "The bottle's in my bag," she says. "But I can't reach it if I'm holding her. Can you take her for a minute?" You don't have time to protest as she drops the baby into your hands and she starts rummaging through the messenger bag always hanging off one over-worked shoulder. The baby fits neatly in your palms and you can barely make out the tips of your fingers around the soft curve of her head and the sharp peaks of her heels. "You're doing it wrong," she says with a gentle smile and shakes her head at you, eyes glazed with something like maternal compassion. She wraps one hand around your bicep, tucking the baby's head into the hollow of your elbow, curving your other arm underneath her body. The bottle slips into the baby's mouth with an audible pop and the crying stops instantly, the air hanging silent and static between you, punctuated every now and then with some kind of simulated sucking sound.
You fix your eyes on the ocean, watching the moonlight play over the water, how it glows silver and shiny and new in the distance. You can't look at her. You *won't* look at her. A few weeks ago you were terrified to let her in your house, see your piles of dirty laundry and filthy dishes, afraid letting her in to where you lived would be like giving her a key to unlock you. And you'd thought that was stupid, careless, irresponsible, because nothing is more reckless than sitting with her on a beach and holding her baby while she watches you with an expression you're not brave enough to read.
"Kid's hungry, Mars," you say and lower your eyes to her breasts. "Been holding out on her?" It's lewd and inappropriate, but it's the closest thing you know to normal. You expect a barely veiled barb thrown back in your direction but when she doesn't say anything you make the mistake of looking at her and can't miss the relaxed affection spreading across her face.
"You're good at this," she says and her voice is loose and liquid.
"She's plastic, Mars," you say. "It's not like I'm doing anything."
"Still," she says. "I figured you'd throw her in the ocean or something and tell her to ask the Wizard for swimming lessons." There's humor in her voice and it amazes you that you've come this far, that you can joke about things like that and it doesn't hurt anymore.
You close your eyes and see those fantasies you buried long ago, the dog and the house and the little girl dunking Oreos in her milk while you curse under your breath at the sports section and her mother hums at the stove. When you open your eyes the moonlight is still painting visions over the water and Veronica is pulling the baby out of your arms and burping her against her shoulder and in the screwed up reality that is your life it's like your dream coming true.
Veronica holds out a hand and you wrap yours around it, pulling her and the baby up and into the night. She reaches up on her tiptoes and throws her spare arm around your neck and you feel the baby clasped between you, her weight pressing against your heart. "Thank you," she says and pulls back to look deep into your eyes so you know she means it.
You walk her to her car, the blanket clasped under your arm and even though you didn't get to roll around on it you don't care because everything feels so right. She's leaning over the side of the LeBaron, strapping the baby into her car seat, and there's something so normal about the picture that makes you look away. She'll never be your wife; you'll never be her husband; that plastic thing she's humming to will never be your baby. Still, as she climbs in the front seat and guns the engine, you lean down and press an aching kiss to her forehead. "See ya around?" she asks and her voice sounds like it's breaking and you can't bring yourself to say the words so you just nod and step back from the car as she speeds out of the parking lot, and you have a funny feeling it's so you don't have to see her crying.
~ * ~
Your return home is a slow, steady jog and you look for yourself each time your foot hits the pavement, but all you see is shiny black asphalt. When you step out of the shower you don't look in the mirror because you're not sure who'll be there staring back at you. You're not sure of anything anymore. When you slide in bed your legs hurt and your back aches and you can still feel the weight of Veronica's baby in your arms, the soft, gentle look in her eyes as you held her and fed her and kept her safe, and you think maybe it's time to stop running.
~ * ~
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