Veronica stared moodily at the papers in front of her. She was at her desk at Mars Investigations, supposedly doing homework, but she couldn't concentrate. She knew that Keith had called in a specialist to come take a look at the bus crash case, but he wouldn't tell her anything else. Just that the specialist was an old family friend who might be able to help crack the case. She'd thought she'd been given tacit permission to dig into the bus crash; seven of her classmates, and one teacher, had died. Meg Manning was comatose in the hospital right now, the only survivor. Veronica herself should have been on the bus; it was a minor miracle that she hadn't been. It felt personal to her. She needed to find who had done this and make them pay.

Plus, she needed the distraction. Duncan had broken up with her a couple days after the bus crash. She knew he felt as guilty as she did about Meg. Probably more, because Veronica hadn't actually done anything to Meg, except take up with her ex boyfriend. Duncan had broken up with Meg on the last day of school. Veronica had still been with Logan then so it hadn't mattered to her, but it seemed to matter to Meg. She'd gotten cold to Veronica but not exactly hostile. Hostility came after Veronica broke up with Logan, and then, a couple weeks later, started seeing Duncan again. The year before, Meg was the only 09er Veronica could call a friend; over the summer, Meg was the only who was openly hostile. And now there was no chance of fixing things, because Meg was comatose and no one knew if she'd wake up or not. And that was very personal to Veronica.

She'd heard that Duncan spent almost every afternoon at the hospital, visiting Meg. Madison Sinclair had gleefully rubbed that little bit of gossip in her face only that afternoon. Madison was an evil harpy in designer clothes, but Veronica also knew Duncan. He was the kind of guy who would spend every afternoon at his ex's bedside, especially if he felt responsible.

Before she could brood too deeply about that, two guys came into the office. She sat up, trying to look professional. Her eyes collided with warm green ones, and it was a good thing she was sitting down. She was momentarily speechless. This guy could not be real. It was not possible for a person to be that gorgeous and sexy. And she'd grown up in Neptune, home of athletes, movie stars and moguls. People who made a living on gorgeous and sexy. She was used to pretty, perfect looking people. But this guy was something else completely. Not manufactured good looking like the rest of Neptune, but real, rugged, unbelievably good looking. She took a deep breath, hoping he wouldn't notice, and turned her eyes to the other guy. This time her eyes met liquid brown eyes that were earnest with a hint of pain. She felt the urge to hug him, to tell him it would be okay. Or to let him hug her and tell her it would be okay. Anyway, there would be hugs, and they would be good, kind, comforting hugs.

"Can I help you?" she asked in her professional secretary voice.

"Yeah, we're looking for Keith Mars." Brown Eyes said.

"Oh. He just stepped out. He'll be right back." She studied them, and then took a shot. "You're the specialists?"

"Yeah. I'm Sam, this is Dean." Dean grinned at her and she couldn't help grinning back. Sam sat down on one of the couches in the waiting area, Dean leaned against the desk. He looked at her with a glow of appreciation that brought a slight blush to her cheeks. She avoided looking at him and focused on Sam.

"So what do you specialize in?" She asked. Dean's grin got marginally wider.

"Sweetheart, I specialize in a lot of things." He said, his eyes catching hers. His eyes and his smile suggested all kinds of things. Fun things. Not-necessarily-clothed things. She felt her body heat up under his gaze. His smile softened a little and a knowing look came into his eyes. Like he knew that she'd be all over him in a second. Fuck that, she thought as she slowly smiled back.

"Like what, honey, cheesy pick up lines?" She retorted, holding his eyes. Sam let out a laugh at that. Dean, a little annoyed at being laughed at, conceded her the point with a slight nod and half a grin.

"We look into cases that are… weird. Stuff that's hard to explain." Sam said when he got himself under control. Veronica processed that. She didn't know exactly what he meant, but it sounded right for the bus crash.

"What do you know about the bus crash?" She asked. Dean shrugged, readjusting his position on the desk.

"Just what Keith told us. A lot of people dead, mysterious circumstances, no suspects." He said, switching into working mode.

"Well. Our illustrious sheriff is trying to pin it on the bus driver." She said. She had no respect for Lamb. He was incompetent and always took the easy way out. The evidence against Ed Doyle had been circumstantial at best, but Lamb had immediately run to the media and screamed "CASE CLOSED!" Veronica knew that wasn't the end of it; this was Neptune, nothing was cut and dried.

"You don't think it was the bus driver." Sam said, interested.

"He was going to leave his wife. His 'suicide note' was a Dear John to her." Veronica said. "I know his daughter and I talked to the mistress. With even a little bit of capable investigating, Lamb would know that."

"So do you have any suspects?" Dean asked. She shook her head frustrated.

"Well. Maybe. But-"

As if on cue, Keith came into the office right then. He looked at Sam and Dean and smiled, recognizing them.

"Look at you guys, all grown up." He considered as Sam stood up. "Really grown up." Sam smiled and held out a hand to Keith.

"Yeah, that usually does happen over time." He said. "Nice to see you again, Keith." Dean moved away from the desk and also shook Keith's hand. Keith put on hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently. It was a fatherly, caring gesture. Dean had thought Sam would be the one to elicit that kind of fondness; people usually thought Dean was cocky and arrogant or, at the very least, as together as he liked to project. But Keith saw through that. And he remembered Keith quietly asking him "And you're okay with that, Dean?" the last time they'd seen each other. His voice had been compassionate and gentle, no hint of judgement. Keith took his hand off dean and led them into his office. Veronica got up to follow them in. She was just shutting the door when Keith spoke.

"Shut the door on your way out, Veronica." Sam and Dean exchanged a look, Dean chagrined and Sam amused. They remembered Veronica as a 7 year old in pig tails, dragging a stuffed pony everywhere with her. Dean was never going to hear the end of this.

"Dad." She said, standing her ground. Keith looked at her, an eyebrow raised. "It's my case too." He stepped around the desk, going towards Veronica.

"This is a private consultation, Veronica. If they decide to take the case, I'll fill you in." Keith said. Another protest rose to Veronica's lips, but Keith spoke. "Veronica, just this once. Because I'm your father and like to think I sometimes still know best." Veronica looked at him.

"You always say that." She muttered, not quite ready to concede.

"I'm still the Mars in the Investigations, Veronica. If I want to have a private consultation, I can." Keith said. The words were a little annoyed, but there was affection behind them too. Like he found her stubbornness and headstrong ways endearing.

"So I should just sit at my desk and look pretty." Veronica said, but she was teasing now.

"don't sell yourself short. You can look pretty and answer the phone." Veronica smiled at him and left the office. She was pretty sure that even if Keith wouldn't tell her what this was about, she could get Sam or Dean to.

Keith outlined the case for Sam and Dean. They listened to the details, trying to make sense. It was definitely weird, but Sam was unconvinced that it was their kind of weird. He glanced at Dean. He was resentful that Dean had insisted on coming back to California. After what had happened to Jess, he never wanted to be in California again. He didn't want to think about Stanford or Jess's terrible death. He just wanted to find John and whatever had killed Jess. He wanted revenge for her. And here Dean was, chasing… not a ghost, a ghost they could handle, but… memories. A part of him wanted to be fair to Dean; an old family friend had called, and you always went to help a friend. That was part of one of John's rules: save as many people as you can. It was a rule that seemed good on the surface, but when it involved California and painful memories of his former life, it was hard to obey. And he'd always had trouble obeying John, even in the best of circumstances.

"You're thinking possession." Dean said. Keith nodded. "Not the bus driver, but someone else. Maybe." He glanced at the door to make sure it was shut. He didn't want Veronica to hear him.

"You should take a look at Logan Echolls. He's had a rough year." Both Sam and Dean nodded; the implosion of the Echolls family had been splashed across tabloids and sound bites for the last year, starting with Logan's bum fights, Aaron's infidelities, Lynn's disappearance, and then both Logan and Aaron accused of murders. Logan's case had been declared a mistrial, but Aaron was still waiting for his to come to trial.

"Has his behavior changed? Loss of memory?" Sam asked, getting interested.

"You'd have to talk to his friends about his behavior, but… he doesn't remember what happened on the bridge. Your dad only told me a little bit about what it is you do, but he said that people in a high emotional state are targets for possession. Logan was in an emotional state." Dean nodded; they'd look at the Echolls kid.

"Anything else?" Sam asked, processing the information.

"I don't know. This is your area. But Veronica did say she thought she saw Lily the day of the bus crash." Keith told them. "She said she saw Lily run around the corner of the convenience store. That's why she missed the bus." Sam and Dean exchanged a look. A possible ghost, or a possible possession. Both people who were tied to Veronica. Awesome, Dean thought.

"We'll take a look at the Echolls kid tomorrow." Dean said. "Sam can look into the Lily thing." Keith nodded.

"Thanks." Keith said. His eyes went to Sam. "I'm sorry about Stanford, Sam." He said quietly. Sam froze for a moment, and then slowly met Keith's eyes. There was only compassion and warmth there. He didn't know that his own eyes often had that look, but he appreciated the sentiment. He gave a slight nod to Keith.

"Yeah, me too, Keith." His voice crackled with pain, but he tried to control it.

"We're staying at the Camelot." Dean said, hurrying away from the topic. "I'll give you our numbers so you can get in touch. We can reach you here?"

"Yeah." Keith said, moving his eyes away from Sam. "I'll give you my cell number too."

"Okay. We'll see you tomorrow." Dean said, standing up. Sam rose to his feet as well. Keith smiled at them.

"You boys want to join us for dinner? Home cooked meal." He said. "Well. We'll pretend it's home cooked." They smiled at him. Dean's eyes slid to Sam. Sam nodded.

"That'd be nice, Keith." Sam said, his smile coming back. "Just like old times, huh." Dean moved towards the door, Sam following. They went back to the reception area. Veronica looked up at them.

"So are you taking the case?" She asked eagerly. Dean nodded.

"We're going to look into it, yeah." He said. Her eyes lit up.

"Good." She said. She couldn't resist half a smile back at him.

"Tomorrow, though." He said. She nodded, a little disappointed. He grinned to himself, he could not resist teasing her. "Tonight… tonight you're a lucky lady, Veronica." His voice dropped lower and he leaned towards her. "Tonight you get to take me home." There was a hot spark in his eyes that made her cheeks flush and warmth rush all over her. Veronica couldn't think of anything to say, and his mischievous smile got deeper. Sam coughed violently.

"They're coming over for dinner tonight." Keith said from the doorway of his office, his voice even but his eyes on Dean. Veronica dropped her eyes from Dean's, an embarrassed flush in her cheeks. Dean didn't meet Keith's eyes.

"We'll see you in a bit, I guess." He muttered. Sam didn't bother to hide his laughter as they left the office.

"Dude, you were totally busted." Sam said once they were in the Impala. He still hadn't stopped laughing. "You should have seen your face!" He guffawed again. Dean shot him a hard look and started the impala.

"Shut up." Dean said. Sam stopped laughing, his face getting more serious.

"Dean. You know… you know Keith would kill you if you touched her, right?" Sam said. "Don't even think about it."

"I'm not. Shut up." Dean answered.

"Really, Dean. Jailbait." Sam insisted. Dean sighed.

"Sammy, I swear to God-" But Sam laughed again.

" 'Like what, honey, cheesy pick up lines?' Oh God, Dean, I'm never gonna let that go." Sam said, sinking into the passenger seat.

"She's 18." Dean said.


"She's not jailbait. She's 18." Dean said. "I can count. She was seven the last time I saw her, so that makes her 18 now."

"And that's exactly why Keith will kill you. And I'm not speaking metaphorically, Dean. He will literally kill you dead." Sam said. Dean shook his head as they pulled into the Camelot parking lot.

"Bitch." Dean said, thoroughly annoyed.


The Mars apartment was small but homey. It was comfortable. Veronica leaned on the kitchen island, eating a slice of pizza and listening to Dean tell Keith about his father John. How he was missing. How they were trying to track him down. Though he was stating facts, she could see the worry and pain in his eyes. She knew what that felt like; when Lianne, her mother, had left the year before, she'd been desperate to find her. She had eventually tracked Lianne down, but things hadn't quiet worked out the way she'd planned. She hoped things would go better for Sam and Dean.

"The trail is cold now, but we're still looking." Dean said. "We're also taking on other jobs to stay busy. And maybe we'll find a new lead." Sam huffed an annoyed breath. Veronica turned her eyes to him. He had a moody expression on his face, but when he saw her looking, he dropped his eyes and picked up another slice of pizza.

"I'm sorry, Dean. I hope you do find him. I'll keep my ears open." Keith said.

"Thanks, Keith." Dean said. There was a moment of silence.

"Hey. Veronica." Sam said. She looked at him. His eyes were earnest and his face a little sad. She felt the urge to hug him. It's like his super power, she thought with a smile. "What happened to Mr. Sparkles?" Her mouth dropped opened and then she laughed.

"how do you know Mr. Sparkles?" She demanded.

"I stayed with you guys when I was eleven. You dragged that thing everywhere." Sam glanced at his brother. "She totally loved it, it was this stuffed pony with a rainbow tail and a sparkly mane." A memory suddenly swam to the front of her mind. A younger, smaller Sam with the same earnest brown eyes, telling her that he thought Mr. Sparkles was actually Mrs. Sparkles, because of the giant pink bow. And crying until Sam admitted that it really was Mr. Sparkles. He'd hugged her awkwardly around the shoulders, and whispered "Don't cry Veronica. I'm sorry, okay?" The solid but somehow gentle squeeze of her shoulders. She wasn't entirely sure, but she also kind of thought he'd kissed her forehead the way Keith always did.

"Sammy? You're… you're my Sammy?" She said, and laughed again. "I asked my parents forever if I could have a big brother just like Sammy." And she couldn't help but stare at him, trying to remember more about that Sammy she had adored. He was older than her, but gentle and patient with her. He talked to her like she mattered. He took an interest in her small world and threatened to kick the neighbor boy's ass for pushing her and making her scrape her knees. He'd solemnly checked her closet for monsters and told her it was okay, there was nothing there. And offered to watch by her bed all night to make sure.

Sam remembered being amazed by Veronica. How innocent she was; when she told him she was scared of the monster in her closet, he'd checked (just to be sure; one of John's rules was you could never be too careful) and told her it was okay. But she'd told him a whole story about the monster in her closet, her eyes round and her voice hushed. And he knew it was all her own imagination; nothing she said had anything to do with any lore he'd known at the time. He was amazed that even a normal kid could be scared like that, could make up such an elaborate story and believe it. He'd been fascinated by how normal she was. He'd loved that bout the Mars'; they were normal, and happy, and loving. Veronica, the product of such a home, was endlessly intriguing.

"It was months before she stopped asking for a brother just like you." Keith said to Sam. Sam smiled shyly at Veronica. He didn't think he'd have made such an impression, not on a girl who had such a perfect life.

"Sammy. I can't believe I didn't recognize you."

"No one calls me that anymore." He said quietly, aware of Dean's surprise to hear someone else call him Sammy. Veronica caught the current between them and changed the subject, but her eyes flashed warmly at Sam.

"Mr. Sparkles met his fate in fifth grade. It was tragic." She said. "He was left behind at a sleepover and he was never seen again."

"Did you investigate?" Dean asked, his voice serious but his eyes teasing. "Did you follow all leads? Because it sounds like Mr. Sparkles was important to poor Sammy here." Sam kicked at Dean good naturedly. Dean stayed out of his reach, grinning.

"The police department did all it could." Keith said. "We had two deputies on it- me and my partner- but no trace was ever found. With more manpower, maybe we could have found him, but alas."

"That's a tragedy." His eyes went ot veronica. "I'm sorry for your loss, Veronica. It must have been devastating."

"It was." She answered. "I've been asking for another pony ever since, but Dad won't get me one."

"What a deadbeat." Dean said, his eyes flashing wickedly. She grinned back at him, and Dean forgot for amoment that she was too young for him. That she was the daughter of an old family friend. He leaned towards her, his grin melting into a devastatingly intimate smile. "I know a guy who knows a guy, I could take care of that pony problem for you."

"What are you going to do, make him an offer he can't refuse?" She asked. Dean outright laughed, delighted she'd understood the reference. His eyes warmed and she glowed at him. Sam was overtaken by a violent coughing fit again, andVeroinca sudden;y leaned away from him, taking her eyes away from his. He realized that Keith was across the table, and probably carrying a firearm, and he leaned away too. Yeah. Because this isn't awkward. She thought to herself.

"Anyway. It's nice to catch up and stuff, but I have homework. I'll see you guys tomorrow." She said, escaping to her room. She leaned against the door, listened to Keith offer them both a beer and be refused. She heard them saying goodnight, and the apartment door close. She sighed. What the hell was wrong with her? She'd just been overexcited about discovering Sammy, she'd gotten carried away with Dean because she'd been so overwhelmed. She didn't even like Dean. With his cheesy pick up lines and his stupid muscle car and his mullet rock. Besides, he was way, way, way too old for her. Keith had freaked out over Leo, who was 2 years and a bit older than her. He would have a conniption about Dean. There was a knock on her door, and she reluctantly opened it. Keith was standing there- of course- his face completely neutral.

"Veronica." He said, his tone warning. Here it comes, she thought. "Sam is going to meet you at school during lunch. He needs to look into some things with case, and he'll blend in better." Veronica nodded, getting the unspoken message. Dean was definitely, completely off limits.

Later. She was in the back seat of Dean's stupid muscle car, except it wasn't stupid. It had beautiful flowing lines and its shiny black coat was beautiful. Obviously the car was Dean's pride and joy. Not that she cared that much about the car right now. Dean's hands were on her, his lips trailing down her neck, his breath warming her skin and making her shiver at the same time. He whispered her name and she could feel him smiling. She ran her hands over his chest and down his sides, the muscles smooth beneath her hands. He lifted his head and kissed her, and she pressed against him, making a small moaning sound. His arms tightened around her and his kiss deepened. She felt like she could get lost in those kisses, give herself up completely in the pleasure of it. He pulled away for a moment to look at her, grinning his roguish smile, his eyes hot. Then he kissed her again, sliding his hands down her sides and to her hips.

"I want you." He said, his voice a low growl. "Now." He said, reaching for the zipper on her pants.

Veronica woke with a start, her body buzzing from the dream. She took a shaky breath, trying to push the dream away, trying to subdue her humming nerves. Oh shit. She thought.