Disclaimer: I do not own the characters from Veronica Mars; Credit goes to Rob Thomas
Rating: K+ (for now at least!)
Genre: Mystery, Drama, Romance... your usual Veronica Mars storyline!
Pairing: that's one of the mysteries! (but really, you'll find out when you are supposed to, promise D)

Chapter 1: Back to the Future

"You're not serious!" Her bright, blue-gray eyes roamed the faces filling the room, desperately searching for the sign of a joke, a hidden camera, anything to tell her this wasn't really happening and bring her back to reality as she knew it.

When her stares were unanswered, she broke the silence to give them one last chance to admit their failed attempt at humor for the day. "You're joking, right? This is some, belated initiation practice. Where you tell the newbie to show up on the 9th in her prom dress just in time for the sprinklers to go off."

"I wouldn't mind seeing you soaking wet in your prom dress," a handsome, clean-cut young man mumbled just loud enough for the group to hear. He held onto his crisp suit and appeared to be pleased with himself at the snickered response to his attempt at humor.

Veronica had barely rolled her eyes when the director reminded everyone that this was a serious meeting and not the time for such comments with a swift and not-so-subtle clearing of his throat. "Ahem! Travis, Mars, that'll do." After a pause, he continued, "This is not a joke, Mars, this is an assignment. And the sooner you stop whining like a high school cheerleader the sooner we can get to work."

Veronica couldn't help taking offense at his depiction of her reaction. "With all due respect, sir," (she could have sworn she heard him mutter 'of course' as she said it), "I'm not whining. I'm merely questioning the validity of this… assignment. How much thought have you given this? Because I can already think of a million reasons why this will never work."

The director frowned but his disapproving stare wasn't as hard as it should have been. He knew he had a soft spot for her snark, and thankfully, the rest of his staff had come to appreciate the 'Mars way' of handling situations. Otherwise, he might lose credibility for letting a subordinate speak to him in such a manner. But Ms. Mars had certainly earned her respect. She had set records during the last case she'd worked on and no matter how surprised the group had been that such a tiny blonde could pack such tenacity, they had to give credit where it was due.

"Do you find the plan to be unsafe?" the director asked blankly.

Veronica looked confused by the question but answered accordingly. "Well – no, of course not."

"All right, then!" the director looked pleased. "That settles it, Mars."

Veronica's eyes widened, still flashing a stubborn light. "How exactly does that settle it?"

"You're in no danger. You're capable. That's good enough for me. Or do you require a break after the last case you handled? Maybe it was too much for you after all…" He tried to contain his smile in baiting her. He knew if there were any surefire way to trap her into acceptance, it would be questioning her capabilities. She had an insatiable need to constantly present herself as an independent woman.

"No!" Veronica immediately insisted, as predicted.

"Good! Now that's out of the way, Parker! You and Darius still haven't reported about the Sandovalcase. It was due yesterday. This is a critical file. Speaking of which, where the hell is Darius? If he wasn't working overtime I'd consider his absence to be his resignation…"

Veronica was forced into silence in order to let the meeting go on as usual. She sat uncomfortably, arms folded and attempting to pay some sort of attention despite the prospect that lay ahead. She couldn't help drowning out the dailies in her wandering thoughts.

He calls that a case?! This is the thanks I get after bagging the Berry case? I practically gift-wrapped the dirt bag, complete with a pretty pink bow to top it off! And he's handing me this?! Veronica was finding difficulty in masking her utter disappointment and disbelief. He's kidding himself if he thinks I'm gonna walk out of here and get right to work. There's no way I am doing that case, and I'll stay here as long as I have to for the message to sink in.

The director wasn't surprised to see a tiny blonde linger as the last of the staff departed to get back to work. He also wasn't surprised to see the radiant smile she wore as she approached his desk again. Clearly, she thought that being one-on-one and pleasant would bring a different result.

But she was sadly mistaken, and as much as he could use the good laugh, the director was too busy to listen to her arguing. He cut her off before she'd even started.

"Mr. Clar-"

"Veronica," he said with a sigh. "I have piles of paperwork to sort through and I'd rather skip the debate with you today. There is no way you can get out of this assignment."

Veronica wasn't going to give up so easily. "But sir, if you'd only listen-"

"No," he stated calmly, but firmly.

"It's impossible!" Veronica continued despite his request. "You say I'm capable, but I'm not."

The director opened his mouth to reply but before he could, Veronica went on. "And it's not me," she insisted. "The subject of this case…" She hesitated before continuing. "I'll be made upon arrival. The case is meant to be undercover and it's as simple as that- I can't be undercover. He'll see through any disguise."

"Did you even read the file?" the director asked.

Veronica frowned as she suddenly found herself unprepared to continue with her plan. "What do you mean? Of course I read the file. How else would I know this is undercover-"

"Then you'll have noticed further in the description where it states that you aren't to assume a new identity."

Now he's just pissing me off. Insulting my intelligence as well? "Yeah, I saw that I'll be popping up out of the blue as good old Veronica Mars." Once she calmed herselfenough to let go of the sarcasm, she continued seriously. "He'll know I'm FBI," she stated.

It was then that the director realized that she truly thought this was something he hadn't considered. It was times like these when he caught a brief glimpse of her usually guarded innocence. It was easy to forget with her fearless attitude and growing accomplishments. But she was, after all, still very new to being an agent. Veronica Mars did have her limitations.

For a brief moment he reconsidered, not that he'd ever let her realize that. But he quickly restored his confidence in her as he focused on all the reasons why she'd been chosen for this case in the first place.

"Your past is an advantage. I don't care what he's telling the press; we've got his background, old therapist reports. My team says it'll work. And I pay them well enough to trust that they're right."

Veronica didn't quite understand what he meant by the extra information. "What do they think they know about him? He's moved beyond the likes of… me… (she gesturedto her physique) since he left for school 5 years ago."

"You're kidding yourself if you think he won't have a physical reaction to you. But that's beside the point. Your advantage is your emotional attachment. He's a very troubled young man and you represent a part of his life that he's presently unable to move beyond."

Veronica shook her eyes and tried to push back the tears of frustration that were building. "We can't be talking about the same person here! Beverly Hills? The Playboy Mansion? How much further can you get?"

Now the director understood. She was really showing her naivety now. If she could only force herself to move past her childish fears she would realize that it wasn't just her who was standing without a choice. She was the only one who could take this case. There was truly no other 'in'.

He had no experience in dealing with female drama, nor did he see it as an area that needed developing. She'd already delayed him too much in his overwhelming list of tasks to finish today and he'd had enough. Now that he fully understood what was happening, he also knew that there was no room for such behavior in the Federal Bureau. It was time for sometough love.

"Mars, I have to say, you aren't handling the situation like a federal agent. I know you're capable of this and I can only assume that your behavior is the result of initial shock. I'll give you a day's grace before starting on this so you can get yourself together and return Monday morning as the federal agent who broke records with the Berry case."

The tiny shade of scarlet that lit her face showed him the message had finally hit home. "I'll give you the rest of the details on Monday," he finished.

"Yes, sir," Veronica answered immediately.

"At which time I will not allow any discussion that is not related to the execution of your mission."

"Yes, sir," Veronica repeated in a stronger voice. With that, she turned toward the door to leave him with his mounting paperwork.

But before finally exiting his office, she turned around once to offer her appreciation of his tolerance. "Thank you, sir. For… the day off. I promise, I won't let you down on Monday."

"I know you won't," the director replied without looking up.

Veronica nodded to herself before shutting the door behind her.

Great, Veronica! One good case and you think you know better than the director how to do his job! I must have looked really impressive in there, babbling on like a distraught teenager. After a pause another worried thought came to her. Oh, God. I was whining!

"I am such a rookie," she said, shaking her head in disappointment. She vowed inside to put a little more thought into it before the next time she decided to tell her boss that his idea had to have been pulled out of his-

"Ask me why I'm standing here," Travis's low, amused voice interrupted her inner walk of shame.

"…Because you have nothing better to do?" she quipped with a deceptively sweet smile sugarcoating her rudeness.

"I know you, Veronica Mars," he said in a voice so serious it almost made her skin crawl. Her inner defenses immediately soared out of instinct.

She responded with another attempt to deflect that conversation! "Not as well as you think you do, since you apparently forgot that come Saturday afternoon, I'm outta here as fast as my little legs can carry me! So unless you've got something good to spill, I'll be heading to my car now."

"Relax!" he said as he followed her stride out the door. "I knew you wouldn't be so easy to convince. Did you get him to change his mind?"

Veronica wasn't sure if she should be angry that he had moved beyond 'knowing' her to fully predicting her behavior or pleased that he thought she stood a chance of persuading their stern boss. "Well, I at least got a vacation day out of it," she offered.

The information was enough to impress him. "Vacation? Here?! You are good," he complimented her.

Veronica couldn't help smiling at the comment, although she did so with a rolling of her eyes.

"So this means you'll have plenty of time to make me dinner tomorrow night," he continued excitedly.

Veronica cocked her head in a mixture of amusement and annoyance. "Do you prefer your cyanide with the entrée or dessert?"

He laughed at her continued charade of pretending that she felt nothing for him. "Actually, I was thinking of something else for dessert…" he whispered before wrapping his arms around her.

She quickly tensed and pulled away, despite the smile on her face. "What are you doing?" she asked with wide eyes.

"What?" he asked innocently. "We're not at work anymore."

"We're in the parking lot!" she hissed.

"And a fine parking lot it is," he teased before pulling her closer to taste her lips.

She kissed him back before pulling away again. "Cut it out! What if someone sees us?"

"Would you relax? I'm smooth, remember?" he said before flashing her a charming smile.

"Oh yeah, that was real smooth in there. What was your fantasy? Me in my soaking wet prom dress?"

He laughed again at how serious she could be. "If you really want to know my fantasy, then you should definitely have me over for dinner tomorrow. But if you think I was the only guy in there who'd appreciate that sight… you're not as good at this detective stuffas you'd like to think you are!"

"You just want a free meal," Veronica side-stepped any further discussion of his inner fantasy.

"Yeah, this thing we have," he said, motioning his fingers between himself and her, "is purely for the benefit of my belly."

Veronica feigned surprise at the statement. "We have a 'thing'? Shouldn't I have been informed of this?"

He smiled in amusement at her usual antics. "Seriously, Mars. Tomorrow? Seven?" He grinned hopefully at the prospect.

Veronica didn't know why she was going to turn him down. Normally, she'd be looking forward to dinner with him, despite how much she enjoyed pretending to loathe him at work for secrecy's sake. But even with the grins he elicited just as always, something in the back of her mind made her hesitant today.

She was an expert at letting them down easily. It was like second nature with her, and so she didn't look at all awkward or confused as she quickly came up with a valid reason for having to say no. "You know I want to," she insisted to him just as much as herself, "But I might have stretched the truth. Just a little." She flashed him an innocent smile.

"No!" he responded, pretending to be utterly shocked. "You? Not being completely honest? Are there pigs flying behind me?" He motioned toward that direction dramatically.

Veronica punched him lightly on the shoulder before continuing. "Seriously, Travis. I have to do a little… recon on my day off. Catch myself up on all that Hollywood gossip that I love so much!"

He knew she was referring to background work for the case. Since come next week she would be heading back to her hometown, she would need to be prepared. She had to reacquaint herself with the everyday mundane stories and whispers that the world was so fascinated with. Neptune Valley was certainly a far cry from her new home in D.C.

"Well, I wouldn't want to interrupt your nightly obsession with Brad Pitt!" he teased as he accepted her rejection in the lightest manner possible.

"And it'll give you plenty of time to partake in your own with Jessica Alba!"

"Actually, it's Lindsay Lohan these days," he openly admitted.

Veronica nodded. "Something I really didn't need to know, Travis! Nice of you to share, though."

"Can't help being thoughtful," he boasted with an honest attempt at humility.

"You always were helpless to your nature," Veronica dug the knife a little deeper. Before he could reply, she opened her car door and turned to say goodbye. "Always a pleasure, Travis. But like I said. It's Saturday, and I'm quickly wondering what I'm still doing here."

"Have fun with the girls night!" he said with a wave. "Just don't stay up too late past your bedtime. Brad will still be there in the morning when you push play."

"But Lindsay might be back in rehab," she let out before shutting the door. A grin remained on her face as she pulled out of the parking lot, satisfied that she'd gotten the last word.

So he prefers Lindsay Lohan? she thought with slight interest. He'll regret letting that one slip!

Veronica couldn't help herself. Any information she'd ever been given had been a potential tool, something she could use against a person, should the situation arise. And usually, they did. She couldn't count the number of times that men, after smiling so sweetly to her face, had turned around to go behind her back with a knife. Of course, it wasn't just the men. Although her first taste of betrayal had come from a man, it was her own mother who sunk the knife deeper by abandoning her in her teenage years.

Murder, mystery, and lies had surrounded Veronica nearly her entire life. She'd quickly learned to never let human attachment get in the way of justice. For some, it might be a difficult career choice, working for the Bureau. But not for Veronica.

Being a federal agent was her dream job, something she truly felt she was born to do. She had a natural talent for sleuthing and uncovering the truth and her tenacity made her impossible to ignore. She didn't let go until she'd found what she was looking for, something the criminal world at large usually learned the hard way. She had a way of letting her targets believe they had the upper hand throughout her dealings with them. They didn't know what had hit them until she'd gotten them right where she'd wanted and intended the whole time – behind bars.

As Veronica pulled into the parking lot of her apartment complex, she thought about how she was going to handle this new assignment. This wasn't going to be like the Berry case, or any other she'd handled since entering the Bureau. This was different in a personal way, like a journalist writing a descriptive narrative about how he was left at the altar on his wedding day. Or perhaps a girl attempting to implicate her old flame in a felony investigation…

She couldn't say that she hadn't done stranger things. And it wouldn't be the first time she had to tip toe around him while secretly gathering evidence. Only I'm not so sure I can be secretive this time, she thought regretfully. Well, it didn't matter what her thoughts or personal feelings were on this case. Mr. Clarion had made that abundantly clear.

A/N: thank you so much for reading! If you have any comments/suggestions, please feel free to let me know! This is my first attempt at a VM fic and so any feedback is greatly appreciated!