She supposed it all came down to underestimating Keith Mars.

Celeste Kane would have much rather come up with another reason, but there it was. It made sense once, to think a little less of him no matter how many crimes he solved or people he helped. Keith Mars was balding, mediocre in stature and not very handsome. Every time he walked into the room, she felt as if she had to dredge up all tolerance just to have an exchange of words. Despite his hunches when it came to Lilly's murder, Keith never scared her. He was the kind of man that was often cheated: out of a job, out of admiration and out of the good graces of Neptune. Celeste's disgust was cemented by the fact that Keith was cheated on. The point was continually proven by Lianne Mars' indiscretions with Celeste's own husband, Jake Kane.

Jake cheated on her because he was weak and thought he had a residue of fondness left for his high school sweetheart. His cheating had nothing to do with what she lacked, or at least that's what Celeste always told herself when he came home late and smelling like someone else.

And then there was Veronica Mars.

Celeste breathed in deeply and took a long look around the living room. It was in shambles, the result of the quick exit made by her partygoers when her son Duncan had run into the room, urgently telling his father that he thought Veronica was in trouble and –

"It was Mr. Echolls. It wasn't me - it wasn't me!"

Jake was gone before she could blink and Duncan had gone with him. No amount of practice at maintaining a cool composure had helped her look at the governor straight in the eye and ask him to leave. It was humiliating, the way she had to push everyone out the door; she'd yelled at the catering crew because… well, because they were there and they weren't all that important enough to have an opinion that mattered. Her concern lay in how she would explain her reasons to women like Sadie Casablancas or her recent replacement, Kendall. But now her house was a mess and no one was around to clean it up.

Celeste allowed herself an unladylike snort. The thought was true on several levels and the dark humor wasn't lost on her. If she held onto that humor, perhaps she'd be able to keep from crying.

"I tried not to, I tried not to, but it won't go away!"

Duncan still loved Veronica, even though that reluctant truth made him miserable. What Celeste had seen only days before proved it. She flinched at the memory, but the voices came with a picture commentary: Duncan sliding to the ground, the sight of Veronica's tear-streaked face before she broke into a run. Duncan running out the door and her thoughts both half-dreading and half-hoping that Veronica was beyond saving. Picking up her wineglass, Celeste took a deep drink before she let her thoughts keep going.

Veronica Mars was a beautiful girl. A smart girl. Engaging, even. In some twisted, alternate reality where spouses were faithful and marriages happy, Celeste would have been pleased to have her son date such a girl. But she lived here, where the let-down was expected and loyalty was a rare treat. She lived here, where no one but Jake could have sired a girl like that. Keith Mars didn't have it in him. It just made sense.

But she'd underestimated him. He was right all along, wasn't he? Abel Koontz hadn't killed Lilly and Jake was most certainly involved. There was a lightly-scented trail that only Keith picked up on and that no one else but Veronica was obsessive enough to catch. But Duncan didn't kill Lilly either, it seemed. Celeste had to pour another glass of wine to face that fact.

It was that ill-conceived truth that she's held onto for more than a year, that all the things she had done were for her son's chance at a better life, alternate reality not required. To find out that they'd been wrong, it felt like a betrayal on the level of where she'd found Lianne's picture hidden in Jake's wallet. She was wonderfully photogenic and Celeste had relished tearing it into tiny pieces.

She swallowed more of the wine, wishing it would take the bitterness down her throat with it. Duncan had been so happy with Veronica. He had smiled all the time and walked with a cocky bounce in his step. Celeste wanted to be happy for him, but every single time she saw the girl at his side, she only saw Jake-Jake-Jake. Her mind taunted her with images of two bodies twisted on a bed in a seedy motel or on top of a desk in a darkened office and she hated-hated-hated.

I tried not to, I tried not to, but it wouldn't go away.

There was a noise to the side and Celeste looked over to see Duncan emerge from the hallway with his athletic bag. It bulged at all sides and she wondered when he would return. She wondered if he would return.

She had looked straight into her son's eyes and told him something that had a slim chance of being a lie. Celeste promised herself it was for the best. Then Lilly died (murdered by a lover) and they played Hide the Evidence (which still left a scent) and Lianne disappeared (not without help) and Duncan got better (thanks to his medication) and everyone could see they were finally happy (but not really). As for now, everyone would talk of how their facade fell apart; there would be little need for a catering crew anytime soon - except for, maybe, celebration when she and Jake were released from jail.

It was Keith Mars. It wasn't Jake – it wasn't Jake.

Her son had returned already changed. Finding that the girl you can't help but love barely escaped a burning and that her father – her real father - wasn't quite so lucky tended to have that effect on people. Life just worked that way.

Veronica Mars still existed.

She imagined that there was a scent of smoke in the air and Celeste choked on it. Duncan stared at her, expressionless, his message delivered and clearly lacking anything more to say. His weakness had always been Veronica, would always be Veronica and it had nothing to do with Celeste, no matter how much she tried to stamp it out.

It appeared nothing could break Veronica Mars. Lord knows all the things she'd heard about the girl over the past year and a half. Celeste wished she could believe the rumors, but let herself know better in this one case. She was the kind of girl who demanded respect from those who crossed paths with her or they scarcely lived, only to tell tales of woe. Veronica talked to her with barely concealed contempt and Celeste strived to keep her back straight. The girl had solved the crime and reclaimed Duncan, all in one fell swoop. Celeste would have liked to deny that, but it was no use at this point. She was, once again, being pushed aside for something different, something a man in her life thought was better. The only one who thought of Celeste was... Celeste.

But, then, perhaps it came down to the fact that she overestimated herself.

The End

A/N: My one-shots continue to affiliate themselves with Duncan, but I'm happy to say he wasn't the central character this time. Please review if you have the inclination for it.