Title: Normal Is What You Make It (1/2)
Word Count: Around 7683 for both parts.
Spoilers: For every episode shown. No spoilers for Donut Run.
Summary: How does this normal thing pan out?
A/N: My beta readers moire2 and semby rock. A lot. Additional thanks to ethereal65 for the title!
Loud music pulsed from the CD system with an off-beat, pumping rhythm that befitted a hidden warehouse with a coked-up DJ and a crowd of arm-waving people, rather than a solem upmarket hotel. Empty cans and bottles were strewn across the table and crumpled bags of chips littered the sofa. A Playstation was laid out in front of the TV with discarded controllers snaking haphazardly across the floor.
There was a red bra on the floor. Later, Veronica would wish that when she'd seen it, she had turned around, driven home and crawled into bed. Instead she cautiously walked forward to Duncan's closed bedroom door. The palms of her hands came to rest on the oak as she held her breath.
She heard a creaking sound, followed by a moan.
The handle felt icy cold under her fingers. She glanced over her shoulder at the empty room, willing something to distract her. Nothing did. She swallowed down the feeling of trepidation as she pulled the handle down.
The room was dark and it took a few seconds for her eyes to adjust to the writhing bodies in the middle of Duncan's bed. The covers were piled on the floor – no modesty here.
Kendall was sitting upright, one of her hands wrapped in her cascading dark hair and the other against Duncan's gleaming chest. His head was thrown back, her name a chant on his lips.
Veronica lifted her arm, the cool metal in her hand a welcome relief from the heat tangible in the air. Her thumb flicked over the safety release and Duncan's blue eyes suddenly shot to her own, a frown marring his face. It happened before she knew what she was doing, a loud noise, the silver bullet streaming across the room and the blood – oh, god the blood. Kendall's shrill screams racketing through the room as Veronica shouted, "Shut up, just shut the hell up!"
Duncan's lifeless expression shook her as she stared at his alabaster skin. His fingers were outstretched, reminding her sharply of Lilly.
She blinked and Lilly appeared next to the bed, crimson blood oozing from the gash on her head. She tossed her hair and let out a giggle; her dead eyes sparkling with life.
"Murderer," Lilly whispered accusingly, cutting her amusement short.
"No!" Veronica gasped, her eyes flickering open.
Her heart hammered in her chest as she tried to move but found herself tangled in covers. She wriggled out of them and sat up, wiping her damp forehead.
She found herself shivering, even as the heavy air filled her lungs. The gleaming light from her alarm clock told her it was almost 3:00 A.M. It was also the forth time she had had the same dream. Four days since she found Duncan and Kendall together. Three days since they had broken up. Two days since he left town with his baby in tow. One day until she watched another friend be buried.
Veronica sighed and laid back down again. Life officially sucked.
Stupid, stubborn stain, Veronica complained to herself as she ferociously attacked the mark with a cloth and her trusty friend Mr Clean.
The door opened and she looked up to see a well-dressed woman enter. Veronica put down the cloth and brushed her hair out of her face.
"Can I help you?" she greeted, gesturing to the seat in front of her and they both sat down.
"Yeah," the blonde lady said, tucking a strand of her neat trimmed hair behind her ear. "It's a delicate subject."
"Delicate subjects are our specialty; we're very discreet," Veronica replied, smiling encouragingly.
"My h-husband, he gets a little, well, angry," she hesitantly began before stopping and taking a deep breath. The woman paused before resolve set across her features.
"Everyone loves him. He seems so sweet, but behind closed doors…" She trailed off and glanced down at her lap while running a hand over her abdomen.
"A year ago, he punched me in the stomach. I was three months pregnant, and I lost the baby."
Tears welled in her eyes, and she turned her head away from Veronica. The woman jerkily wiped tears from her face and took a long breath of air before turning forward.
"He said he'd stop, and crazy me, I believed him. Last week he slapped me, and I know it's going to get worse."
She looked up from the Kleenex she was twisting nervously. She met Veronica's eyes, a resolute look on her face.
"I'm pregnant again, and I'll be damned if I let him kill this baby, too. I want to get out of the relationship for the sake of my child, but all my money is tied up with his. If I leave him I'll end up with nothing, and he'll get visitation rights."
"What do you want us to do?" Veronica asked, pushing the box of tissues closer to the woman.
The woman grabbed one and dabbed at her eyes.
"I need a strong case against him so I have a leg to stand on in the court. Anything that shows what kind of person he is."
She fumbled in her purse, produced a card and handed it to Veronica.
"I can't stay here any longer; I'm supposed to be at the hairdressers. Any more details you need, just let me know with the contact details on that card. I can be reached any afternoon; he is either at work or playing golf."
"Okay -" Veronica paused as she skimmed over the card. "Anna, no problem. We'll get on it right away."
The door closed behind her and Veronica filed the card away, before picking up the cloth again.
"You won't win," she declared, rubbing the stain with renewed vigour.
Meg's locker was covered in pictures. Flowers adorned the floor beside it like a shrine.
It's funny how no one else got this treatment, Veronica decided. Just the 09er that died.
It's not that she begrudged Meg; she didn't. Really. She remembered the sweet, laughing girl with the kind eyes and the spare cheerleader costume. And, occasionally, she thought of the pale Meg with an enlarged stomach and fearful expression as she pleaded with Veronica and Duncan not to let her parents send her child away.
She wondered what kind of father Duncan was. Did he rock the baby when she cried? Sing softly to her? Did he remember to take his medication?
That isn't fair, Veronica reminded herself. She had tried not to hate him for his sins or herself for missing all the signs. She should have known. The intrepid girl-detective missed her own boyfriend's cheating and lying. It was laughable.
She idly wondered what he called the child. Lilly, perhaps? No - the world didn't need another Lilly Kane. One was quite enough and Lilly would have been outraged if there were another. Lilly was the original, the best. Any other would be inferior.
Veronica glanced away from the locker and noticed Logan staring at her from across the hall. She stood against her own locker, arms wrapped protectively around her middle as she gazed at the display. He held the contact defiantly until Veronica felt herself flush. She didn't feel up to a Logan confrontation, so she turned back to her open locker, grabbed her Physics book and shoved it into her messenger back. Glancing back up, she saw he was gone.
Her phone beeped and she pulled it out of her pocket.
'Would you like me to come to Meg's funeral with you?'
Her friendship with Wallace was building back up slowly, but how could she ask him to support her through this when she hadn't been there when he needed her? Not to mention he would have to make it back from Chicago before the funeral started. She'd hoped he was back for good when he arrived at Veronica's on New Year's Eve to welcome 2006 in, but he had gone back the next day saying he wasn't quite ready yet to stay in Neptune.
'I'll be okay, thanks.'
Veronica began the walk to Physics when she saw Cassidy and Mac leaning close to each other, a smile gracing their lips.
At least some people can be happy, she thought, not too bitterly.
The crowd had already gathered around the open hole in the earth. The white coffin laid next to it with bright sunshine yellow flowers decorating the top. The people were a sea of black surrounding it. I should have worn pink, Veronica decided. She had worn red to Lilly's funeral, underneath her black cardigan. Not yet confidant enough to make a scene, but a tribute nonetheless.
Today, Veronica had a white rose to leave. It was silly really. She couldn't help but think of Meg as innocent and pure, but she didn't get pregnant by Immaculate Conception. She swallowed back an inappropriate laugh at the thought. She had giggled at Lilly's funeral. The sight of Celeste sobbing into her embroidered handkerchief was just too much to take, but the laugh turned into a sob and no one was any the wiser. Lilly would have done anything to see Celeste show some feeling about her. All it took was it took her death to make it happen.
She caught sight of the Mannings standing at the head of the party and her jaw tightened in response. Lizzie was clinging to Grace's hand. She was dressed in a sweeping black dress with a large hat reminding Veronica of a movie star from years gone by. Half-heartedly she swept the crowd for Duncan, knowing he wouldn't be there.
Veronica gulped hard when her eyes found the pristine, white coffin again. The brass handles gleamed in the sunshine. She winced and looked away. There had been too many funerals lately.
At Lilly's funeral, Duncan had stood next to his mother ramrod straight. She didn't want to think about Duncan. The image of Kendall riding him in their bed streamed through her mind and she gulped hard, but the pressure built in the back of her throat. It was like a knot holding a boat to dock. Her eyes were hot, and she blinked hard. She gulped again, and the knot broke. Hot, wet tears streamed down her face, catching in the line of her mouth.
She made a sound that didn't sound human, not even to her.
Her hands fisted hard, turning white as she hurried away before the swirling emotions hit her like a ton of bricks. She reached some trees by the side of the cemetery and let herself fall to the ground. Her head buried in her hands as the tears slid down her cheeks. When was it going to end? How much more did life have to throw at her? The image of Kendall and Duncan writhing in ecstasy taunted her and she tried to push it away. How selfish could she get? Thinking of her ex when Meg was lying cold in the ground. Lilly, the party, Lianne, betrayed and betrayer, Logan, murder, Duncan, the lies, Wallace and Meg. Sometimes she felt like it was going to swallow her whole – sometimes she wished it would. Her shoulders shook as she sobbed, unable to stop. She felt a steady hand rub her back carefully.
"Shh," the familiar voice comforted and she leaned into his touch. "It's okay."
His chest was warm and solid as his arm snaked around her and pulled her into his embrace. He knew. He understood. But she had to keep hating him just little, otherwise it would be so easy to drift away in his expressive brown eyes and not find a way back home again.
Veronica wanted normal. She needed normal.
So, she took a shuddering deep breath, stood up and walked away.
"I don't know what to do," Veronica said, leaning back against her chair. "He's clean, Cliff. He holds doors open for little old ladies, he gives generously to charity. He hasn't any past convictions, his slate is squeaky. He doesn't leave visible bruises and it's always behind closed doors."
"I don't know what to suggest, V," Cliff replied, running a finger absently along his russet leather briefcase. "My cases are usually more cut and dry than this. I like the tawdry ones for a reason. Look at her records: she has a past conviction for fraud, she comes from the wrong side of the tracks – he'll get custody if she tries to divorce him."
"And if she divorces him now, she'll be left with no money to help bring up her child. Best case scenario," Veronica finished. Her fist smacked down on the table as she spat, "Goddamn it."
The door to her Dad's office clicked open and he motioned to Cliff to come in.
"No rest for the wicked," Cliff sighed as he stepped into the office.
Veronica skimmed over the page she had pulled up on John Walker, willing a past wrongdoing to appear but the page remained full of details of donations.
Slippery little weasel.
The sun was beating down on her skin as she sat in the parking lot of Neptune High, her fingers clenching around the steering wheel until they went white. Veronica found herself wishing it was cold. Just once, a freezing cold day in California. She wished she could wear an overcoat, a hat, scarf and gloves. Protective little shields to hide her from the world.
She caught sight of Weevil as he subtly glanced around him to make sure no one was watching he made his way over to the obnoxiously bright yellow car that Logan owned. She realised Logan was leaning casually against the side. They exchanged words, Logan's hand flying out as he expressively made his point. Weevil shook his head and motioned over his shoulder towards the school. They spoke for a second longer and then Logan took off towards the school, his strides long and sure.
Her fingers reached out and she yanked at the handle. She quickly locked the car and hurried towards Weevil who seemed to be in a deep reverie.
"What were you two talking about?" she asked.
"Curiosity killed the cat," he replied with a teasing smirk.
"Lucky they have eight more lives then, huh?" she replied tartly.
He nodded with the smirk still in place. Sometimes she really wanted to slap certain people.
"I can help, you know," Veronica offered with a shrug. "I kind of got to a dead end, but maybe if we all tried?"
"Help with what?" Weevil asked imperviously.
She sighed. It was going to be one of those days again, wasn't it? She should have stayed in bed. Stupid college applications with their attention to actual school attendance.
"Felix. Finding out who killed him. I assume you want to know?"
Weevil gave her a hard look before he softened.
"Your assistance might be needed," he admitted.
"You know where to find me," Veronica said, shifting her bag on her shoulder before taking off on the same route Logan had gone.
Veronica moved her salad around with her plastic fork for a good five minutes before she gave in and pushed it away.
The inane excited chatter of the surrounding tables was beginning to annoy her, creeping through her temples with an aching sensation. When someone leapt onto the 09er table and began to sing, she knew it was time to leave.
Do people think this is a fucking musical? It isn't as if they were in an episode of Buffy. God.
She stuffed her drink back into her bag and dropped the salad into the trash can. Veronica weaved through the crowds towards the parking lot. It was last year all over again. An AWOL/dead best friend, no boyfriend, and ostracized once again. This time she was being shunned over the stupid jury service. Getting alienated for making the right choices was getting old.
The cars shielded her as she weaved through them towards her LeBaron. A dark figure stepped into her viewpoint and she stopped sharply watching him. The leather and slouching gait was a dead giveaway for a biker and she frowned, wondering who it was that was cutting school during lunch to slip away.
Veronica hurried towards the next row of cars, ducking behind a van as she watched him mount his motorbike and rev the engine, before peeling off. She ran towards her car and jumped in, quickly started the engine and followed.
She realized quickly the biker was heading towards the River Styx and bit back a gulp. Memories of a strong hand pressing further and further into her air supply came to mind. Her chest felt tight and she struggled to take a breath at the thought. Veronica forced herself to calm down and pulled in further down the road out of sight.
The biker hopped from his bike and crossed the road, frustratingly keeping his helmet on. A large truck obscured the back of the motorcycle and she moved around, trying to get a view of the licence plate. Veronica bit her lip, trying to decide if she should get out of the car and have a look, but she decided it was too risky and sat back, ready to wait for as long as she had to, her camera on her lap ready.
A yawn escaped her lips and she blinked, willing herself to wake up. She normally took a flask of coffee with her, or in the very least a few cans of diet coke to perk herself up, but she had nothing to distract her. Sleeping had been rough in the past few weeks, drowsing off for a few hours before nightmares woke her up. The last few had centred on Duncan, but everything from her colourful history was being dragged up by her frustrating mind.
A few minutes later the biker came hurrying back out and leapt onto his bike. He took off at great speed and Veronica waited a second before following. He drove out into the busy intersection and to her annoyance, she saw the traffic had built up. She joined the back of the line as she glowered at the bike neatly weaving through the traffic and disappearing into the distance.
Her mouth hung open as she gazed at him in shock. He looked exactly the same. Why didn't he look different, she wondered. She felt different, like she'd aged a hundred years, but here he was – the same.
"Veronica," he greeted in return, running a hand briefly through his dark hair.
He looked to the side, a grimace on his features. He began to fidget with the books in his hands. Veronica's chest tightened at his reaction.
"Somewhere else you gotta be?"
He briefly met her eyes and then glanced around the hall.
"Uh, I'm late for class."
He stepped around her, and Veronica turned to watch his hasty escape. She didn't even get to ask about the baby before he ran away from her. Her stomach clenched as she hurried the opposite way down the hall.
You'd think I'd be the one trying to get away from him. It is sick and wrong, but a little piece of me still cares.
When the chips were down, the files came out. Veronica sat pouring over the information she had, trying to distract herself from the gnawing feeling in her gut.
The sun from the stained glass window danced across the paper in front of her, in shades of azure and emerald.
Pages and pages of John Walker's background. Anna's scared expression shooting forward every time she closed her eyes. A baby's cry whispering in her mind.
Then it hit her.
What the hell was she thinking? Veronica knew it was bad idea when she let herself be convinced to go to Dick and Beaver's party. Mac had dropped so many subtle and then not-so-subtle hints about going, she felt awful about refusing. She was always begging favours from Mac, asking questions and getting her involved in her investigations. It wasn't too much to ask, was it? Accompany her in. Maybe have a drink. Let Mac hang out with Cassidy, then leave.
Her heart dropped when Veronica spotted Duncan, who she had convinced herself wouldn't be going. He was sitting with Dick, Luke, Logan and a couple of other guys, swigging beers and laughing loudly at crude jokes. Madison was draped next to Dick, shooting him supposedly seductive looks while Gia seemed to be getting more and more heartbroken when Dick shot smug looks to his friends that he was being fought over.
Veronica hovered by the door, looking around for Mac. A couple of girls brushed past her in skimpy bikinis, heading for the pool.
Mac suddenly appeared in front of her, waving as if she was on the other side of the room. Veronica curiously looked over her shoulder, but couldn't see anyone Mac would be greeting so enthusiastically. She looked back at the dark haired girl and she smirked when she noticed that her eyes were slightly glazed.
"Had a few too many, have we?"
"The punch is good," Mac hiccupped. "I see Duncan is here."
Veronica gave a short nod. "Indeed he is." There was silence for a second before she blurted out, "God, look at me. I'm a mess! I just wanted things to be normal again."
"What is normal anyway?" Mac asked, shaking her head for a second too long. "Being a trophy wife? Patriarchal social values?"
"You are the only person I know that can say patriarchal while wasted," Veronica laughed before sobering up at Mac's stern look. Veronica sighed and said, "Duncan seemed normal."
"Duncan is normal." Mac agreed before going on, "He's a shitty boyfriend that fucks around. That is normal around here. You got what you wanted Veronica, now you're complaining about it."
Mac's hand clapped over her mouth at Veronica's raised eyebrow.
"Sorry," Mac mumbled.
"Excuse me," Veronica said, snatching a drink up from the tray of readily poured drinks and hurrying away, her head swimming with thoughts.
She walked briskly down the corridor before finding a quiet room. It was painted in a dark red, with wood panelling. Bookshelves filled two of the tall walls. Like the Casablancas' even knew what to do in a library. Veronica sunk down into one of the armchairs and gulped her drink down. She leaned her head back as she squeezed her eyes shut, trying to will the hot tears threatening to spill away.
Mac was right. Completely and utterly. She knew Duncan was a terrible boyfriend, but it didn't stop it hurting.
She leant forward as a wave of dizziness hit her. Her head felt murky and Veronica pressed her palms to her temples.
I can't be drunk already, she thought. I've only had one.
Realization struck her like a punch in the gut. How
could I be so stupid?
Taking an already poured drink at an 09er party?
jumped to her feet and paced for a second, thinking as fast as
could. Fear gripped at her as her breathing came in short bursts. She needed
to find someone who she could trust. Mac was drunk already so wouldn't be
much help and had no doubt disappeared with Cassidy by now. She reached the
door and nervously twisted the handle. She could just stay in the library;
no one was likely to go in. But she wouldn't know for sure.
made up her mind and left the dim room and headed back towards the
that was in full swing. Veronica pushed through the crowds until she spotted
Logan standing next to a girl, drinking from a large plastic cup of beer.
Veronica reached him and he turned
to look at her with a cold look of
can I talk to you?" she asked softly, hiding her shaking
behind her back.
"No, not really," he replied, turning back to the pretty blonde girl.
"Please," she begged, gripping his arm in desperation.
He turned his
attention back to her and surveyed her with narrow eyes. He
took in her white face and nodded.
"Excuse me," he said to the
girl with a smirk. He allowed Veronica to lead
him out of the room again back into the library. She shut the door with a
- " she started, leaning against a chair as she fought to
stay on her
"You dragged me in here to have your
wicked way with me?" he asked, his eyes
glinting with amusement.
"No - " she said hurriedly before he interrupted again.
"Of course, you haven't accused me of
anything in awhile, maybe you've
thought up something really good!"
He snapped his fingers and she stared at him for a
second as she tried to
form a coherent thought.
"Get to the point already, I have places to go, hot chicks to bang."
"I did a really stupid thing," she blurted out.
"Wearing that top with those pants? I completely agree."
"Logan! Would you let me explain? I was
upset about something, and I took a drink that was near the punch
bowl; I don't know why. I just wasn't thinking, and I feel bad
now, really bad. I think it was spiked, I don't know. You'd think
I'd learned my lesson, but no. My head feels weird and I feel like
just collapsing, but I'm scared." Her voice broke as
He immediately dropped the act and stepped forward,
putting his hand on her
"It's okay, I'll take you home."
Her fingers curled around his soft jacket and she
buried her head in his
"Please don't leave me," she murmured.