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Epilogue: Un-Lucky Charms...

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This story is No. 5 in the series "Between Seacrest and Revello". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: ...a.k.a., "What B Gave V, For Her Last Vendetta." And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make. Capper to "Between Seacrest and Revello."

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Television > Veronica Mars > Buffy-CenteredPatKFR1316,2542102,1158 Dec 078 Dec 07Yes
Disclaimer: Joss and Rob, FOX and Warner Bros. All is yours. And to Apple and the remaining Beatles, the song is yours.



{...About Two Years Later...}

When Vinnie Van Lowe stepped outside the confines of LAX, there was a limo, its rear door open and inviting. With a grin, he slipped on his shades, flung his ratty duffel over his shoulder, and walked to the chariot that awaited. At the door, he threw his duffel inside first, then got in himself and shut the door. Within moments, the vehicle was moving, slowly navigating through the airport traffic.

“How was the Riviera, Mr. Van Lowe?” A voice suddenly asked, and hearing it caused the askee to jump out of his skin. “Two months, wasn’t it? You look tan.”

Vinnie lowered the sunglasses on his nose, trying to play it cool. He found the source of the voice sitting in the long, leather seat across from his. He took a moment to collect himself. His fellow passenger half-hid in shadow, but he could definitely see that--

“No offense, but, little color around the face? Goes a long way with the senoritas, my friend.” He got nothing, and also felt quite chilly just then. “Hey, whatever waves your flag. Already got a mojo working, right? Yeah. Feelin’ that whole ‘Batman’ vibe...has to be the coat.” He raised an empty hand like he was toasting his unreadable companion. Still no reaction. “So, uh, those suits at the top really know how to disappear a guy with class. Make sure you tell Mr. Wolfram and Mr. Hart I said, ‘Danke Schoen’ from the bottom of my shorts.”

“We’ve been under new management since your ‘disappearance’...mine. Name’s Angel.” The man in black revealed, leaning forward out of the dark, so the little bit of light that shone down from above highlighted his vampiric features more than somewhat menacingly. ”It’s gonna be a long ride, Vinnie. Long enough to hear you come clean.”

Vinnie swallowed, instantly forgetting how metrosexual he found the name. “About what?”

“The murder of Keith Mars.”

***

“...are already speculating this is due to Liam Fitzpatrick, the bar’s owner, being recently acquitted on all charges. Fire crews are still working to put out the blaze. We’ll have more as this story develops.” Came the voice from a car’s radio somewhere on the street.

Veronica heard it distantly, more focused on watching “The River Styx” burn. There was definitely a fire, but no one trying to extinguish it. What the copters and the gawkers safely behind police/Tara’s mystical barriers didn’t see, was the battle that raged. Willow’s glamour made sure of that nicely. As the blonde detective saw the truth, she thought about another news report from seven months ago.

{“Four UCLA seniors made a shocking discovery today. ‘Minimalist camping’ enthusiasts, Kate Walsh and Beth Little, along with their boyfriends, Dylan Hargrove and Nick Jacobs, had planned to spend their Spring Break isolated in the Mohave Desert, surviving off of the contents of their backpacks and their surroundings.

“While searching for a campsite, the young couples came across an area that at first, seemed to serve as a tragic warning of what could happen if they weren’t prepared...”}


Soon it cut away from the anchor to a pre-recorded piece. Where the reporter asked each of the students what they saw. Vultures circling, they’d said. And when they got closer, two bodies partially exposed in the sand. One had been picked clean already. The other was fairly fresh. Nick had recognized him as that guy who wrote that book about the Lilly Kane murder. Later, dental records on the other body revealed it to be the long-MIA, Cormac Fitzpatrick. Theories abounded in the succeeding weeks about their connection.

Because nature didn’t kill Cormac or her father. Bullets from close range did, and it didn’t take Veronica long to discover why and who. But not that first night. During a random stop amidst channel surfing, she and Buffy tuned in just in time to see the story they’d had no reason whatsoever to expect. She had no memory of the rest of it; she’d have to rely on her girlfriend’s. Just as Buffy would on hers of the day they’d found Joyce.

If they ever asked each other about them. Which they weren’t going to, because those days never happened. There was just before...and then there was after.

{“Oh, so you know? You’re only allowed to die metaphorically.”}

{“Dad, do me a favor...Don't get murdered...”}


He didn’t listen. Maybe if he’d told her he was investigating in secret again, he’d be alive tonight. Maybe if she’d paid attention to his face every time the latest, bad news came from Leo and Sacks, and saw how much it ate at him. Maybe if she’d remembered how good a man he was, and that he wouldn’t be able to sit by and do nothing forever.

But no, she just thought he’d been on a regular case. It wasn’t unusual for him to be gone for days at a time, even a week here and there. Maybe if she wasn’t so preoccupied, she would’ve noticed that he hadn’t called. But there were nerds who needed catching, who’d escalated from annoyances to murderers, and it pissed her off that she couldn’t find, and nail them to the wall. So many maybes.

As her eye caught the glint off the “slayer scythe” that the two Chosen were sharing between them--in Warren Meer’s case, finder’s *wasn’t* keepers--she knew she had to get her head back in this. She chucked a holy water bottle at the vampire who now charged, and while he growled, clutching his face, her compact-model crossbow fired at his heart.

Veronica Mars was no slayer, nor did she pretend to be, but she had damn good aim.

{“...Because I couldn't live without you, and all I've been doing is thinking about what I would do if I didn't have you.”}

Loading up the next bolt, she knew it would all be over soon. Then...then...she’d have to figure out how to live another day without her dad.

***

As far as plans went, this was one of Buffy’s more direct and unsubtle, but it was working. In the days following Liam’s trial, while she and Veronica’s wept at the world’s cruelness and cursed at it, Angel was busy becoming Wolfram and Hart’s new, Los Angeles CEO. After learning that, and learning why the law firm had so vigorously defended two, human drug dealers practically pro bono, the plan came together pretty quickly.

Angel had his part, they had theirs. The thankfully, only two cemeteries in town were A-phase. Had to get rid of the newborns. Easy. In fact, poking them as they rose out of the ground felt like cheating. B-phase, not so much.

“The River Styx” had turned into one, huge vampire nest. When the demons originally started moving in, Wolfram and Hart approached the Fitzpatricks. Neptune was untapped territory the Irishmen could help them mine in all sorts of ways (that naturally never linked back to the firm in any provable way). Including introducing mystical drugs like Orpheus to the townspeople. Hence why they were burning the bar to the ground.

The fire was like a beacon to all the others who hadn’t been inside when Weevil and the PCHers he’d reunited with, lit their matches. That’s exactly what Buffy wanted. After tonight, she swore Neptune would be vampire-free. A task made all the more easier by her...uh, *their* shiny, axe thing. There was more to it than sharp and pretty, she just didn’t know what the “more” was yet.

Getting herself a triple decapitation with a smooth 180, she scanned the rapidly thinning battlefield for its co-owner. She owed Faith much, and never let the brunette forget. It wasn’t just Dawn Faith had saved. It was the world. And Veronica, from doing something that would’ve haunted the rest of her life. And Buffy herself, from never having to choose to kill her sister in cold blood. Faith shouldered the burden for them all.

At the time, they couldn’t have known what it would mean in the grand scheme of things, but just a few weeks ago, it meant that Dawn got to be alive to find her green, glowy, “Key” center and make a big, Hellmouth-sized hole where Sunnydale used to be. They thought she’d died in the cave-in, but as they stood peering into the crater, a green, glowy, energy ball rose out of. Because it was like a law that energy couldn’t be destroyed.

Once she was in huggable form, Buffy didn’t want to let her go. She remembered joking, “And *I’m* the family weirdo?” Dawn wasn’t here now though; she was waiting for them in L.A. Under valid, “I’ve earned ‘Scooby’ status” protest. To which Buffy replied, “You know you were probably like, some god’s--who’s lame and extinct now--nightlight, right,” and then she had Faith make her stay. Wasn’t it enough that Veronica let her drive the Saturn?

“I finally know what you get the girl who has everything.” Logan’s voice suddenly crackled over the walk-talkie. “Come check it out...didn’t have time to wrap.”

She answered immediately, Faith’s eyes meeting hers as she did. “You mean--?”

“We got‘m, Buf.” Xander confirmed next. “Alley a couple blocks from all the hoopla.”

With a single look, Faith assured that she and the boys could finish, and told Buffy to get over there.

“Veronica?” The blonde than asked into her walkie, throwing her sister slayer the weapon.

“Already on the way.”

She felt worry coming from every angle. The primary at the moment revolving around her girlfriend’s physical well being. That’s why she went back for her--Veronica “I took down a hell god with a Taser” Mars or no. Yelling could come later, she didn’t care.

***

The blondes walked into the alleyway together, seeing Xander and Logan standing over a trussed up Liam and Danny Boyd, who were slouched against a dumpster, hands behind backs. Even with an amputated, left forearm, Logan had clearly still managed to beat the shit out of Liam. His bloodied, swollen face didn’t look so smug now. Buffy stepped up to Danny, whose face was unmarred, but wearing the same, stupid expression it always did.

“Untie him.” She requested of either of his captors.

Following her father’s death, Veronica avoided deep depression and debilitating grief by finding all the notes he’d kept, all the evidence he’d gathered against the Fitzpatricks. He’d been in contact with the D.A., and was close to getting what they needed to put the brothers away for several lifetimes. Exactly the reason he was killed.

Despite the risks, the objections from the only person she had left, she continued where he’d left off. In so doing, she became a target, too. They tried to make it an “accident.” No plates, unremarkable-looking car...that would’ve run Veronica down had Buffy not shoved her out of the way. Giles said any other person would’ve been paralyzed, with the way the car struck her back--it took a week for her spine to heal.

That whole week, while Veronica brought the D.A. what she had so formal charges could be brought, Buffy was laid up, just picturing the driver’s face in her mind. One guess who.

Logan cut the rope from Danny’s wrists, and as he massaged them, Buffy bent down so they were eye-to-eye. “Gonna kiss me?” He none-too-brightly asked, smirking.

Oh, she’d hoped for that. It was all the excuse she needed to take his hand, and with an easy flick of her superhuman wrist, snap it backwards into a position God probably didn’t intend. He screamed so horrifyingly loud, she imagined the vampires left at the battle got chills. Figuratively speaking. When his hand flopped forward, everyone except she and Logan grimaced. He might’ve passed out.

Then Liam decided to be less-than-bright, too. “You fuckin’ bitch!”

Words could not express how much hatred coursed through her. Hatred to a level she'd not felt since Cassidy, and that roof. She’d accepted the darkness within, as had Faith in these past, two years, but staring into Liam’s eyes, their darkness didn’t seem to hold a candle to his.

She had just enough self-control left to get out, “Somebody...stop me...please.” Maybe it was in her.

A hand grabbed hers, which she’d balled into a white-knuckled fist at her side; she knew who it belonged to. “It’s okay.” Veronica whispered calmly, and spoke the next part for everyone present. “Dad wanted him in jail, and that’s where his reservations are. For años upon años. Hopefully sharing a wall with Larry, Curly, and Ike.” Meaning those evil nerds.

Liam half-laughed. “Didn’t ya hear? I got off.”

“No...no, pretty sure you didn’t.” The detective replied with a sprinkle of her usual cockiness.

“When this is over, you’re gonna be--“

Veronica held up her finger in the universal gesture for “one minute of silence, please”--her cell phone was ringing. She answered it. “Angel?” Several seconds later, she smiled, hitting “speaker” on the phone. “Say hi to Liam Fitzpatrick.”

“Rather say goodbye. Wolfram and Hart won’t be doing business with you or any member of your family,” Angel’s voice came through loud and clear, “ever again. Legal or otherwise. Which is bad news for you, because now that you’re no longer our client, we can make sure you aren’t anybody else’s either.

“And if even half of what Mr. Van Lowe’s told me is true, could be a problem for you. We didn’t wanna put him on the stand during the trial, because we knew no jury in Neptune would believe a word. Not after how his term ended. We also knew the prosecution would eat him alive.

“Well, they’re gonna get the chance. Apparently there’re pictures, tapes...looks like he *really* didn’t trust you. May have gotten away with one crime, but good luck getting away with ‘em all.”

“Thanks, Angel.” Veronica was pleased, finally seeing fear in Liam. “I owe you.”

“He gives ‘Liams’ a bad name.”

Hanging up with him, she listened to Faith come over Buffy’s walkie. “All clear, B.”

“Then tell the sheriff he’s got some arresting to do.” The petite slayer requested.

“Roger that. Yo, Jerry!” Faith was calling on the other end before she took her finger off the button.

The girls stood up, and Liam just couldn’t shut up. “Your old man didn’t even see it coming.”

Veronica stilled. “Probably not.” She agreed after a second. “But hey, neither did you.” Her boot then crunched his face. “Who says they’re only made for walking?”

“I think we’re both butch.” Buffy said, her opportunity to grab hand having knocked. “Or, butch-*ish*.”

***

Everybody met up in Sack’n’Pack’s parking lot. Weevil, Faith and the PCHers; Logan, Xander, Buffy, and Veronica; Willow and Tara; and Mac and Giles, who’d been inside their non-descript van keeping a satellite’s eye on the proceedings via laptop. Mac had become their technology person ever since Willow realized she could brain-drain a god. But one of the last things the redhead did before fully outing her inner-witch, was conclude “The Project.”

She and Mac were both glad for the timing, or else Buffy and Veronica wouldn’t have been able to keep college up, let alone feed themselves and Dawn. Especially not Faith. And this was while Mr. Mars won the bread still. He did his best, but they’d needed help. So, the geeks blackmailed the Council.

To think, it had started with such an academic purpose freshman year. Hack into their files, learn what they could, give Buffy useful, slaying knowledge. But when Quentin Travers tried to strong arm Buffy back in the days of Glory, and she strong-armed them into paying Giles again, Mac got an idea. Willow being Willow, she was of course resistant.

Mac reminded her of the night they met. She’d said they could learn much from one another--this was her time to shine. No one knew how to make money through technological blackmail better than she. It wasn’t complicated blackmail, either. “Pay Buffy and Faith, or we sell your secrets to the highest bidder.” Direct and pointed.

Like all old, rich white men desperate to cling to what little power, they played ball. Left the slayers comfortably well off, and the hackers proud. They were the first to hug.

Weevil got off his bike, and went to get his over with. Buffy and Veronica welcomed it. “Careful--big, bad world out there.”

“You’re staying?” Veronica asked, surprised.

“Where else we gonna go, V?” Then with an ironic grin he said, “Somebody’s gotta keep the streets clean.”

“Hey, Weevil?” Buffy spoke. “Good fight.”

“You too, Hazel Eyes.”

Faith was next, but they didn’t say anything. Didn’t need to. From him, Faith let her hand entwine high up with each of the blondes’, expressing congrats and how much ass they kicked, once more, without words. She made her way to Giles, Buffy and Veronica to the witches and to Mac.

But seeing Logan by himself, Veronica took a quick detour. “Thanks. For helping.”

“I liked your dad.” He said simply.

Sad smile. “You should come with us.”

“Touched, but uh, afraid I have a prior engagement.” He informed her, causing her eyebrows to rise. “Surfing. In Hawaii.”

This just made Veronica laugh. And Logan soon followed her example. After everything they’d just been through, everything he lost, everything that changed...

“Why does that not surprise me?” She shook her head.

“Dick’s already there.”

“So he’s been left to his own devices in a tropical paradise? Never a smart move. Don't they discourage bikini lines?” She smirked. “I can see you’re needed.”

“Plan is to make me ‘The Armstrong of the Swells.’” Raising his half an arm, Logan gave his ex a moment to put it together.

When Lance, Lance *Armstrong* that is, lost a body part, he won title after French title, ipso facto--

“Again, why am I not surprised?”

Dick wasn’t the only one who’d left town. Wallace had been back living in Chicago for almost a year now. This time with his mother and brother. Alicia saw how bad Neptune was getting, and wanted her family out. Wallace didn’t have to go, but he chose to, to try and repair his relationship with his mother; it was never quite the same after she’d lied about his father. He said yes under the condition that she finally face Nathan Woods. Things were okay.

“He woulda been proud, y’know.” Logan believed. “Your dad.”

“That’s what I’m goin’ for.” And here Veronica was stumped. They were saying goodbye, and she didn’t know how. They’d been friends, enemies, and dated pretty intensely for oh so brief a time, and it was just...weird. “Promise you’ll keep the ‘Bad Boy’ on the QT. And try to be happy.”

He smiled enigmatically, then his fingers went Vulcan. “Live long and prosper, Mars.”

“Ditto, Echolls. Ditto.”

***

“Macs-a-million! All my base? Are belong to you. Your kung fu is t-e-h best.” Veronica gave her a high five as she walked to the van, where “The Scooby Gang” had gathered.

Logan was gone, and the PCHers rode out, leaving a trail of exhaust in their wake.

“She just sat there! What about my fu?” Willow pouted.

“I like it.” Tara assured her with a kiss.

They were so damn adorable. All the time. Well, Veronica and Buffy had only themselves to blame for facilitating the relationship’s growth when they demanded a double date to make a first one occur. The wiccas had come a long way.

Mac missed her compadre in crime, but you didn’t stand in the way of adorable. “Hey, I was the eyes of the whole op.” She argued. “It would’ve fallen into freaking shambles without me.”

“Me too! Without me too!” The redhead shot back.

“Everybody was pretty vital.” Buffy interjected before there was a showdown.

“I have to agree.” Giles supported his slayer. “None of us would be alive to celebrate what was accomplished tonight, if we all hadn’t played our roles. You’re a formidable team...when, ah, you aren’t bickering like six-year-olds.”

His role was to get the cops onboard to do crowd control.

“This mean it isn’t the best time to complain about Faith fencing my pudding cup?” Veronica wondered.

Chuckles sounded throughout the group. Xander was the only one who didn’t join in, because he was reminded of the member who wasn’t alive to celebrate. No, she hadn’t died here, but she’d still died. Like Veronica earlier, all he could think about were the maybes. Maybe if he’d been honest with her, hadn’t left her at the altar...

Day of the wedding, his parents kept reminding him how very bad marriage could go. He didn’t need that demon to make him doubt. So he did what he thought would’ve been best for the both of them in the long run. They weren’t ready to take that step, whether Anya had realized it or not.

She hadn’t wanted to; she was too hurt. She got herself re-demonized, and back into vengeance. But when she slaughtered an entire frat house, she couldn’t stand the sight of her own carnage. She asked D’Hoffryn, her boss, to undo it. As a price, he killed another vengeance demon, one of her oldest friends, and stripped her powers for the second time.

But he didn’t leave it at that. He’d sent demons to assassinate her. Xander found his ex-fiancé dead on her apartment floor.

“C’mere.” Buffy said to him, knowing what was going on inside his head.

She embraced him tightly. Anya’s death was something of a last straw. Sick and tired of the Hellmouth, Buffy took a part time counseling job at the rebuilt Sunnydale High to watch over it. First chance she got, she investigated. In the basement, she dug up this seal. Looked like some kind of hatch. Research began.

It was basically a door down into the Hellmouth, opened and closed by blood. Left her with a decision to make. Dawn’s journey of personal discovery made that decision both easier and more difficult. But in the end, they destroyed the mystical hoozit for good. And then came here--they were batting two for two.

“Let’s motor, I’m starved, and these Puffs aren’t dousin’ the fire.” Faith announced, crumpling the empty bag in her hand, and breaking the friends’ mutual exchange of comfort.

“’Cause that’s new.” Buffy rolled her eyes.

The Bostonian added, “I’m buyin’.”

“*There’s* new.” Xander took a deep breath and got into the spirit of things. “And I’m sold. Wagons ho!”

Buffy went back to her girlfriend’s side and they watched their friends pile in to the van. “We’ll be right behind.”

***

They’d just gotten into the LeBaron as the van hit the highway.

“Positive about this?” Buffy asked her one, last time.

“Neptune and I broke up a long time ago.” Veronica answered. “Floozy still has my ‘Dandy Warhols’ CD.”

Gently, the slayer pointed out, “He’s here, though.”

“I know.” Keith Mars’ daughter started the engine. “So we finished what he started. Because Dad loved this town. Moi? Rarely felt the love.”

“Guess he had good memories.” Buffy deduced on her own. “We had those, too. A whole life of.”

“True.” Veronica had to nod, pulling out of the lot. “Well, except during what I like to call, ‘The Dark Time.’”

“You’re welcome for me ending it, by the way.” The hazel-eyed blonde’s smile stretched across her face.

“Uh, I believe that welcome is mine? Who was the bigger person, hmm? Who came to whose house and made lemonade from our lemons?” Blue, accusing eyes narrowed. Veronica hated revisionists. “Don’t whitewash history just ‘cause you can’t handle the truth. Face your shame.” She patted her girlfriend’s arm supportively.

Buffy gaped. “You’re washing! *I* came to your apartment! *I* made lemonade!”

“If ya did, we’d still be estranged.” So very, very sour. However, now Veronica was confused. “But wha...oh. Summer lovin’.” She shook her head and sighed. “You used to ponder what I pondered; you disappoint me, Pinky.” Her girlfriend couldn’t have forgotten. “Third grade? The slide?” Blink. “Whole life of memories, she brags. Then just *happens* to completely black out on this one. There’s a word for that among us in the biz--‘convenient.’ Learned from Dad.”

Here came the ton of bricks.

“I...you didn’t talk to me for a forever weekend.” Buffy’s eight-year-old self said in the twenty-two-year-old’s voice, as it dawned.

“See why it’s, ‘The Dark Time’?” Now that they were on the same page... “Anyhow, your fault. You shoved Gavin Peters down the slide while I was trying to talk to him and give him a cupcake I baked myself.” Veronica groused. “*Possibly* with Mommy’s help.”

“You liked him!” Buffy grr’d, remembering how much that bugged her. Only now did she understand why. “Him and his stupid ‘Alfalfa’ hair.”

Veronica thought that clear. He got baked goods on a day not of her birth. In fact, it’d been Monday, no less. “Ouch, low road. Blame Gavin because *his* mommy couldn’t comb worth a damn.”

Buffy frowned. “Ever think maybe *I* wanted a cupcake? Duh?”

Yet more bricks came falling down. The epiphany they provided Veronica caused her to pull the car over to the shoulder. “Ohhhhhhhhhh.” That’s why poor Gavin wound up with a bump on his head the size of Texas. Wow, it went farther back than they thought.

She wanted to make a joke about her cupcakes, but didn’t feel it. She didn’t realize it was due to her silent, yet relieved, crying. Because while she worked on living without her dad, and keeping Mars Investigations alive without its original namesake, at least she had Buffy. If anyone loved her as much as he did, it was her best friend. And Veronica had to admit to the vice versa. Wasn’t the same kind, but packed the same punch.

The passenger unbuckled her seatbelt and leaned over to hug. “Buffy forgives.”

And the driver choked out a laugh. “Good thing we aren’t playing baseball, I’d be so frakked.”

“Extra-strength missage?” Buffy was no stranger to what Veronica had to get out.

“Meh. Just every twenty seconds. Big picture, that’s way up from every half, right?” The detective pulled back herself, and smiled so as not to worry her girlfriend. “I love you...” She said from the bottom of her heart, “...like a fat kid loves cake.” Buffy’s nose crinkled. “What? 50-Cent is a wordsmith.” She paused, as if preparing herself. “Loving you is easy--”

“--‘cause I’m beautiful?” Buffy smirked, going for the natural joke, and finishing her own lyric of choice.

“Because when it’s you, dootin’-dootin’-do-doo,” Veronica sang, then spoke, “I’m uncharacteristically open to how the concept works. To a smorgasbord of foreign concepts, actually.” A smirk returned. “The consequence being? Well, count those chickens and watch hell host the Winter Olympics--I feel naked. Emotionally bare assed, if you wanna get French. My carefully spackled veneer of unpredictability/mystique, cracked and worn down like a hooker on her last trick.” She sighed. “Makes me wanna cry. Again.”

Buffy didn’t like hearing that. She felt blamed. “Cry how? In gladness? Badness? Please not badness.” The soft, non-sarcastic smile Veronica reserved only for her, reassured. “Then why? We don’t have a ‘where’ to rush to...well, we kind of do, but, talk. You can’t shut up normally.” She teased. “What’s why?”

“I think I’m a...marshmallow.” It sounded painful for Veronica to say.

Of all the things the slayer had expected, well, that wasn’t among them. She was rendered mute for several seconds. “Okay. ‘Cause I’m thinking marshmallows’re soft and also, uh, kinda chewy, my brain’s going to ‘Flintstone and Jetson Meeting’ places.” Blush. “Splainy. Before entendres start tripling.” They’d created the world’s strangest euphemism.

Before Veronica answered, she took a stab at capitalizing on her girlfriend’s dirty state of mind. Minutes after she got her sugar, she ran her teeth over her bottom lip, breathing onto those just kissed, “Why don’t we do it in the road? No one will be watching us.”

“I love you too,” Buffy shivered, as there was just something extra to kissing your B.F.F. and lover, “have always, do and will, like that Whitney Houston song, but, road. With chunks of gravel just waiting to stick where *god no*. Besides, it’s freezing.”

“Sure? Your nipples’ll thank you.” Veronica grinned, but got off the detour and back to the question. Also, to the road. For driving purposes. “’Member chatting in a certain Bennigan’s? Gave you credit for resurrecting a dead girl. A girl who’s, more or less, supposed to be garroted and weighted down somewhere off an isle in the Pacific--I cut a deal with the Dharma Initiative.”

That was the last time.

“But, kept between us, don’t mind so much. ‘Cause it’s *just* between us. Private, isolated, nicely cocooned. Alas, the sugar to my years of cultivated spice, is spreading her wings, flapping ‘em in public.”

“So you’re a marshmallow because I bring out ‘Sugary Veronica’?” Buffy was trying to understand, really. “Dunno, these’ve been mildly spicy minutes.”

“Wrong kind.” Veronica said, her eyes alight, though she stayed on point. “In this case, ‘spice’ refers to my ‘angry, young woman’ shell.” As Wallace had called it once. “You aren’t the reason it’s melting.” Here she gave Buffy a chance to fill in the blank.

“Losing him is.” Buffy rightly guessed.

And the detective remembered to breathe. “Since, that girl I was, won’t stay buried. She wants her daddy back, *a lot*; the one thing I can’t fight her on. I guess it tracks that I’d soften to a--”

“--marshmallow’s degree?”

Veronica glanced over, and took a hand off the wheel to slug her woman’s shoulder. “Good to have ya back, Pinky.”

“Hands! Wheel! Two!” Buffy said the first distracting thing that came to mind while covering that shoulder.

“Did I hear right? ‘Buffy the Crash Test Dummy,’ challenging my interpretation of motorist law? Hah. It is to laugh.”

The dummy stuck her tongue out. “Your definition of ‘soft’ is freakishly wider than mine.”

“Not if it applies to the ‘anger shell’ only. I’ve foraged enough ‘sassy’ to last out the Rapture, so, won’t be totally regressing anytime soon.” Veronica promised. “Try’n’tell me that ain’t narrow. I triple-dog ya.”

“I liked every age group. Just saying.”

“‘You mean from ‘E For Everyone,’ even to ‘Mature Audiences’?” Veronica chirped excitedly.

“I mean.” Buffy smiled. “Still, why’s melty anger cry-worthy?”

“Been hammered home that it isn’t...under most circumstances.” Veronica admitted easily, throwing some silent gratitude to the passenger side. “Like trying to resist being led to the Dark Side. But our usual circumstances involve these businesses we’ve chosen, where a necessary, critical evil, anger is.”

“It’s not our fault we’re height-challenged--something has to compensate.” Buffy agreed.

Veronica couldn’t believe what was about to come out. “Harsh Fact #1? My dad was murdered. *Days* were spent stewing to an impressively scalding boil. Harsh Fact #2? I couldn’t rake up any muck on the Blarney Boys...he already did. The mode I typically default to, how I intended to stir that stew and, shocker, overflow it exponentially, far past the limits of cooking metaphors, shut me down hard.

“No, I had to settle for screaming till, this throat? Raw. At myself, at him, you...” May have been Hulk-smashing of many breakables too, while she’d waited for her voice to return. “Caught on too late, because shaazam,” She slapped the wheel, “burned outta me. Just like that, ‘sad’ was all that got left behind.”

“First thing he said after okaying ‘Couple Us’ was that I looked out for his little girl, and I knew he’d hate me if I let him dying make you...not you. I would’ve hated me.” Buffy said, truthfully. She’d pictured jaded and bitter and resentful to an extreme, humor vanishing, and most stomach-churning of all, self-destructiveness. With one end. “You’re why I survived Mom’s--was my turn. Plus, I had a second chance.” Her girlfriend didn’t follow. “To avoid disappointing a dad.”

“’Hanky-Panky’ was a dad?” Veronica asked more acidly than was her norm, and without thinking. That’s what Madison Sinclair christened Buffy’s father freshman year. As if slaying hadn’t hurt her reputation enough. “I’ll, um, be striking that from the record now. Permanent-like.” She also wanted to wash her mouth out for dipping into the same well as her arch-nemesis.

“I know, shouldn’t care, but...” But Hank Summers’ daughter did. “Am I stupid?”

Here, for the second time, Veronica utilized the shoulder and stopped the car. Good thing it was really late and empty. She looked right into hazel eyes and said, “You’re not stupid, Buffy. You’re Dumbers.” Only she could make that sound affectionate, and only her saying it could lead into kissing again. “How could you let me give the Dawn the Saturn?” Longing sigh. “Cargo space.”

“Hotel.” Buffy preferred, speaking it with some urgency, lest they get out of hand. She did just slay. “How’d we find scenic on a highway?” So much for right behind. And speaking of taking the scenic route... “*All* anger? As in...’all’?”

“I’m no Charlie Crews, but the foundation I cemented in high school, then built skyscraper tall in college? Gone. Until an hour ago, my right foot’d been storing the last. Thank goodness Liam’s face was available.” Veronica shrugged, her smile of serene satisfaction wasn’t exactly innocent. “Adolescence? The Inquisition? Line kinda blurry. Sure felt like I was getting Racked, and holy-moly did it fuel the rage. Twenty-something disillusionment?” She made a scoffing noise. “It’s gonna take a lifetime to refill the tanks.”

“Which wouldn’t matter, except--“ Buffy began, feeling the blame coming back.

“--except I wanna stay in business. The family business.” Veronica completed, and the possibility of it failing because her skin lost thickness, because of increased vulnerability, and because she couldn’t be as prickly toward the morally bankrupt, made her want to cry. “I can’t be happy about being happy--‘irony’ at its most ironical.” She read Buffy like a book, smiled that reassuring smile from a couple minutes ago, and pointed at it. ”Think this was fake? We exorcised a demon; my house is clear.” She could admit something now. “Thanks for not letting it kill me.”

Beat as Buffy came to a impulse decision. “I’ll wear the ‘angry’ boots.”

“Don’t tease, Bertha.” Barely contained excitement was about to burst forth from Veronica. “It’ll be exactly like when Mabel tried to tussle in the Yard!” That earned her laughter, but she wanted to ensure that the slayer understood what the offer meant to her. More kisses felt like the way to express that. “You’re serious?”

“Nope, I’m your best friend.” First and foremost. All the other ways you could categorize them, would always be secondary to their friendship. “Who wants to help you reach max ‘happy.’ And getting to be backup more often’ll max my ‘happy.’”

Veronica head shook. “Backup’s a dog.” She grabbed Buffy’s wrist, thrust out her chest, and placed Buffy’s hand on it. “Put’er there, pardner.”

“*Hotel*, Marsipan.” Buffy reiterated, but did her hand move? No.

No, it didn’t.

Veronica pressed pedal to metal. “Worry not. Third time feels charmed.” They rode in quiet for a few miles, then her palm slapped the horn this time. “Ooh! Let’s splinter Angel’s corner of the market! He’s not working it anymore, the overpaid shyster; it’s ours to usurp.

“His first office still under lease? It’s the noir rattrap every halfway-sleazy ‘Shamus’ dreams about owning, you know.”

“Pre-or-post exploded?” Buffy grinned lopsidedly as she reminded, choosing then to move her hand.

“Schnozberries!” Veronica “cursed,” punishing the horn again.

“S’a good idea.” Buffy saw what Veronica was thinking, and it worked for her. “I slay, you sleuth...sleuthing *while* slaying...or you sleuth, then I *hafta* slay... especially ‘world destructing’/‘kitten gambling’ evil.” Two birds, single stone. “Deeper pool, too. Of client potential.”

“*Paying* clients--we’re expensive.” Veronica added.

Buffy had a thing to add, herself. “But not sleazy.”

“Can we keep the name?”

“Have to.” Buffy stated firmly. “Change perfect? Nah.”

&&& When I was younger, so much younger than today,
I never needed anybody's help in any way. &&&


Oh boy. More waterworks imminent. “If I didn’t hafta stare straight ahead, I’d ‘Look’ you silly.” Veronica vowed not to pull over. “Really do love you.”

&&& But now these days are gone, I'm not so self-assured
Now I find I've changed my mind, and opened up the doors. &&&


“’Cause I’m beautiful, right?” Buffy’ wasn’t dropping that, as her “Looking” effortlessly covered both their shares. “And as much as I really?”

Veronica’s eyebrow quirked. “Was that a gauntlet thrown?”

&&& And now my life has changed in, oh, so many ways,
My independence seems to vanish in the haze. &&&


“Maybe...direction?” Buffy questioned back, pretending to search.

“Like there’s any mistaking direction.”

&&& But every now and then I feel so insecure,
I know that I just need you like, I've never done before. &&&


Whatever they did with their lives and businesses tomorrow...tonight? The hotel couldn’t appear on that technically hard to view horizon, fast enough. Gauntlet was definitely down.

&&& And I do appreciate you being ‘round...
So won’t you please, please help me? &&&




Fin.

Thanks everybody. Really. Hope it was worth the long wait.

The End

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