Episode One/Part Two: Neptune Wasn't Waiting
Razia's Steakhouse - Neptune
The interior of Razia's Steakhouse has an industrial vibe, with brick walls, an exposed ceiling, and gleaming stainless steel fixtures everywhere. The air is thick with the tantalizing aromas of grilling beef and freshly baked dinner rolls.
Wallace and Weevil are seated at a corner table, but both stand as Veronica approaches. She takes a second to examine their faces, and it's as if they've traded places. Weevil seems…easier. Relaxed. He no longer emits that vibe like he's expecting a knife between his shoulder blades at any moment. Wallace, on the other hand, has misplaced his natural…floppsiness. A huge smile spreads across his face, but a lingering sadness lives in his eyes now. He's never quite recovered from his divorce, although it's been nearly a year. He pulls her into a tight hug, adding an extra squeeze. "Been too long, girl," he says.
"It hasn't even been a month since you were in San Diego, dork."
"Like I said," He says with a laugh. "Too long."
Weevil flashes her a slow lopsided grin, gives her his patented once-over, and then holds out one arm. "Get over here, girl." He pulls her in for a loose hug, giving her a few gentle pats on the back. He smells good. Expensive.
Keep any suspicions about criminal activities to yourself, Veronica.
Veronica slides into her chair, and reaches for the burgundy leather-bound menu. It opens to a list of appetizers.
Proceed with small talk in 3…2…1… "Nice place. When did it open?"
"Ehh...month or two ago?" Weevil answers, distractedly rubbing the top of his head. "Supposedly the chef is some big deal, but who keeps up with that stuff? "
Wallace touches her forearm. "Don't even bother with the menu. They serve this Asiago covered steak you have to taste to believe."
"Say no more." Veronica closes her menu with a flourish. "That was easy."
"So, how long has it been, V?" Weevil saves his place in the menu with his finger, and glances up at her. "Couple years?" He's back to wearing the small gold hoop earrings.
"Um...I've been gone for six. But I know I saw you at least once..." She trails off trying to remember when she ran into him last. "Three...No, four years ago. At Neptune General Hospital after my dad had that car accident. You were in the lobby, but you didn't have time to chat. Said you had somewhere important to be."
She pauses for a beat, giving Weevil a chance to explain himself, but he waits her out.
"You kind of ran off without an explanation."
"Had somewhere important to be." He shrugs, and she knows it's the most she's going to get out of him. At least through direct channels.
She turns to Wallace. "Where's Mac?"
"Couldn't make it. Had to work late tonight, but she said to give her a call tomorrow."
"She skipped dinner with her oldest girlfriend to work late?"
"Don't be too hard on her," Wallace says. "You know she's pretty much doing two jobs over at Casablancas."
"Dick is more of a…figurehead than an actual CEO."
Veronica shakes her head. "I still don't quite understand how she ended up working for him."
"She's paid very very well. Big Dick…" Wallace stops and makes a face at his choice of words. "…Dick Sr. found himself another trophy wife and wanted to retire to the Caymans, so he gave Little Dick six months to prove he could keep the company afloat."
"Which of course he couldn't," Veronica supplies.
"Well, he's smart enough to know when he needs help. He'd seen what Mac and Lo—" His eyes flick away uncomfortably. "…um…her…other business partner…were able to pull off, so he begged her to come work for him."
Their waitress, a petite brunette wearing a white button-up and black pants arrives to take their drink orders. Since all three already know what they want, they submit their meal orders as well. Wallace and Veronica order the Asiago Steak with salads and baked potatoes. Weevil goes with a T-Bone and French Fries."
Her phone buzzes, displaying a text message from her partner - former partner now - Joe Lopez.
Why is your apartment empty? Not even a goodbye?
I suppose I should have said goodbye. But it's not like we were serious. It was a casual fling. Good sex. Mutual respect. Not much in the way of romantic feelings.
She expects he'll text again, or even worse, call, so she turns off the phone and stuffs it in her bag.
I'll deal with you later. I suppose. Wish you would have had my back at the end.
Veronica feels Wallace's eyes on her and glances over at him.
"You look beat to hell," he says. "Have you been sleeping?"
She smiles weakly. "Exhaustion." Of the soul. "And a bad case of insomnia."
Aware the conversation will soon turn to her presence in Neptune, Veronica buys herself some time, turning to Wallace.
"So...Mr. Basketball coach. School's starting back up soon. You excited to go back to work or dreading it."
Wallace grins. "I'm actually stoked. I'll be coaching the JV team this year."
"That's a step up?"
"From the freshman team? You bet." Wallace says. "You know, I've been coaching basketball camp all summer, so it's not like I haven't been working"
"How about you, Weevil? Still doing rim jobs?" she asks with a smirk and an arched brow.
Weevil grins and shakes his head. "In a manner of speaking. You're looking at the Director of Fleet Services."
"What is Fleet Services?"
"Um...the city owns well over 300 vehicles and pieces of equipment. Fleet buys them, and keeps them garaged, fueled, and maintained."
"Weevil…" Veronica lowers her voice and shields her mouth with her hand as if telling a secret. "You're a felon. You can't work a government job."
Weevil shrugs and flashes a secretive smile. "I know people, V."
Veronica is about to interrogate him further, when their food arrives. She holds up a finger to remind him she's not done with that line of questioning, but once she takes a bite of her Asiago Steak, she can't even remember what day it is. The steak is to die for.
They talk for a while about current events. More than once, the boys exchange side-eyed glances, as if to stop each other from mentioning something – or someone – off-limits. Of course, she wants to know, but she's torn between unbearable curiosity and self-preservation.
"So, I hear you're a hotshot homicide detective these days," Weevil says between bites. "How's that going?"
"Actually..." Veronica stares at her plate. "I'm a private investigator these days."
"Wait…" Wallace puts down his fork. "What're you saying?"
She sighs. She'll have to get used to explaining herself. At least a watered-down version of the truth. "My dad hired me back."
Nobody says anything.
"I'm home! Tada! Let the celebrations commence."
Wallace looks confused, and Weevil looks…worried?
"Balloons? Confetti? Skywriting?"
"So what happened to your day job?" Wallace finally asks.
"Too much death. I burned out." She shoves a bite of steak in her mouth, chewing slowly to avoid any more questions.
It's one of the hardest things she's ever had to say. Invincible Veronica Mars does not burn out. It is, however, an easier explanation than 'I'm hiding out from a serial killer with an unhealthy interest in me. A serial killer nobody else believes exists.'
She swallows and changes the subject. "So Wallace, how's the love life? Dating anybody new?"
Her curiosity is twofold - he's had a rough year since his divorce. He hadn't wanted to leave, but he could no longer live with Jane's constant suspicion - especially once she'd started accusing him of affairs with his married coworkers. Secondly, if he's dating someone, Jackie's reappearance might not be so catastrophic.
"Nope, not dating anybody yet, but hopefully my luck will change Saturday night,"
"What's Saturday night?"
"The Neptunalia, girl." He grins widely, and this time the smile reaches his eyes. "Where some lucky lady will have the opportunity to bid on yours truly in the Bachelor Auction."
Veronica almost spits out her drink. "Bachelor's Auction? As in, you get auctioned off like livestock?"
Wallace shakes his head, holds up a hand in protest. "As in... It's one date, and it's for charity. Half of the proceeds go to the Neptune Food Bank, and the other half goes to a charity of my choice, which - if you're interested - is the basketball camp for underprivileged kids where I've been volunteering."
"Well, I'm sure those children will appreciate your sacrifice when you go out on a date with a psycho and never come back."
"Veronica, don't be like that."
"When will the date be?"
"You don't want to answer that," Weevil says.
"Well...the auction is Friday night, so the dates will be on Saturday."
"I can work with that," Veronica says.
Weevil shakes his head in amusement. "I warned you."
"Girl, what are you thinking?" Wallace asks.
"I'm thinking background check."
Wallace covers his eyes with his hands for a moment and then removes them with an exhale.
"When and where is this auction?" Veronica asks.
"Friday, 8:00 PM, main stage at the fairgrounds."
"I'll be there."
"This is a bad idea," Weevil says.
"Don't you even think about bidding on me," Wallace warns, waggling a finger at her. "I'm kinda excited to be dipping my toe back into the dating pool."
"Just skip the auction, V," Weevil says.
"You seem more personally invested in keeping me away than he is. Why? Will you be one of the shiny bachelors being auctioned off?"
Weevil gives her that 'are-you-sniffing-glue?' look he's so good at. "No, but I'm working the lights. I'm just sayin' you're gonna cramp his style and embarrass him."
"Would I do that?" Veronica tries to look putout.
They both level a stare at her.
"Fine…" Veronica sighs in capitulation. "I promise I won't bid on you. Unless, it looks like some whack-a-doo is going to buy you."
"Will you be tailing him on his date as well?" Weevil asks. "Three cars back with night vision goggles?"
"Depends on the results of the background check," Veronica fires back.
Weevil's phone rings. The corners of his lips turn up almost imperceptibly until he notices Veronica watching. "Excuse me for a minute," he says, standing and leaving the table.
What's that all about, and when did he get all sneaky?
"I'll be right back," Veronica says. "Need to use the restroom."
Wallace shakes his head. "Just can't resist, can you?"
On her way to the bathroom, Veronica finds Weevil in the bar, leaning against the wall and holding his phone to his ear. He looks relaxed and amused, so maybe the phone call is nothing to worry about. She continues on to the bathroom.
When she returns to the table, Weevil still hasn't returned.
"Where's my food?"
"What food? Your plate was empty."
"Hey, I still had two bites of baked potato left," Veronica complained.
Wallace shakes his head. "Eat your salad. It's good for you, and you've barely touched it."
"I would." Veronica says with a pout, "But they took my silverware too."
She flags down their server and asks for another set of silverware as Weevil returns to the table.
"What was all of that about?" Veronica asks.
Weevil shakes his head. "Still nosy as ever, I see. It was a friend."
"Of the female persuasion?"
"No. Moving on. So you're going back into the P.I. biz?"
"Moving on, for now. I'll circle back around later." Veronica warns. "And yes. I already have a case."
"Oh yeah? Anything interesting?"
"Can't really talk about the details," she says, avoiding Wallace's eyes, "but it has to do with Hearst, so I guess I'll be spending some time at my old stomping grounds."
"Good luck with that," Weevil chuckles.
"What's that supposed to mean."
"I was still working there up until the end of last year. They really cranked up security."
"You'll need a Hearst ID to get past the guard house. Otherwise, you'll have to go through the Visitor's Center."
"So? I'll go to the Visitor's Center."
"They'll only give you a visitor's pass if you're accompanied by a student or a faculty member."
"Damn. Now what?"
Weevil thinks for a minute. "I'll tell you what. I still have my old Hearst ID card. I can drop it off at your dad's place in the morning, but you'll have to switch out the photo and re-laminate it."
"Well aren't you Mr. Helpful."
"Feels just like old times," Weevil deadpans.
Veronica feels weary to the bone when she arrives back at her dad's house. She's been dragging for months now, but had hoped that returning home cure her of the 'blahs'.
Home. This is home now.
"Veronica, is that you?" Keith calls out from the kitchen.
"Who else would be here?" Veronica asks and then groans. "No. Don't answer that." She plops down onto the couch next to Backup, and scratches him in his favorite spot behind his ear.
"You need anything? Water? Tea?" Keith steps into the living room wearing a nice vertically striped button-down and a pair of jeans.
Is he going out? It's almost 11:00 PM. If he goes out now, it's a...Oh…I'm think I'm going to be sick.
She holds up a palm. "No thanks. I'm good."
Keith sits at Veronica's other side and puts an arm around her. "So how was dinner?"
Is that cologne?
"The food was delicious."
Backup wiggles forward to put his head on her lap.
God, I've missed this dog.
"And the company?"
She hesitates. "It was great to see Wallace and Weevil."
"I sense a 'but'. Want to tell me about it?"
Veronica flashes him a self-deprecating smile. "Just having a little pity party for one."
"Well that's your problem. You should never party alone. Talk to me."
"Aren't you worried about being late to your booty call?" She asks with barely hidden hostility.
"She can wait."
"The correct response would have been: 'what is a booty call? I'm on my way out to meet a client, who just happens to be nocturnal'."
Keith shoots her a quit-deluding-yourself look. "What's really bugging you, Veronica?"
"Besides this?" she waves her hand at Keith's attire.
"Yes, besides that."
"No matter how I say it, it's going to sound selfish."
"Hey. I'm your father. If you can't sound selfish to me, you can't to anybody."
"Okay…" Veronica lets out a sigh, and glances over at her dad. "You know, I was never really happy in homicide."
Keith nods in understanding. He'd warned her years ago that it might not be the right fit for her.
"I was proud of myself for getting there at such a young age. I was good at it. I was intellectually challenged. But it was ugly work, and it started to eat away at my soul"
Keith's arm tightens around her shoulder.
"I think subconsciously I always felt like I'd only 'pressed pause' on Neptune. Like I could slip right back into my old life at a moment's notice, hit play, and pick up right where I left off."
"Okay?" Keith prods her to continue.
Veronica closes her eyes and exhales. "Neptune wasn't waiting for me."
Keith hugs her tightly. "You're finding that your friends went on with their lives while you were gone?"
"They're all so changed," she answers in frustration. "There used to be a certain order to things."
"Everybody had their purpose. Compartments"
"Well when you put it that way, it sounds mercenary. But yeah, in a way."
She holds up a finger. "Wallace. My sidekick. The optimist. Pulled me back from going to the dark side more times than I can count." She counts out a second finger. "Weevil. co-conspirator. Doer of favors. Connections to the criminal element." She counts out a third finger. "Mac. Q to my Bond. Research. Tech support."
"You forgot someone." Keith says gently.
She opens her mouth to speak, but doesn't know what to say, so she shakes her head and pretends he hasn't spoken.
"It's not like I didn't give anything back. I tempered Wallace's optimism with my realism and kept him anchored. I cleared Weevil's name more than once and helped him find a job and get his act together. I helped Mac out of some jams."
Keith's knowing gaze makes her squirm. "So how has everyone changed?"
"Wallace is divorced and jaded. Weevil's gone legit - he's working a city job, for God's sake. Mac didn't even show up."
"So, it sounds like you used to fill certain niches for your friends, but once you were gone, they found other ways to fill them."
Veronica considers her father's statement. "That sounds right."
"You don't think they need you anymore."
"They do, Veronica. Just not in ways that you're comfortable with."
"What's that supposed to mean."
Keith shifts to be able to look Veronica in the eyes, resting his elbow on the back of the couch. "You thrive on solving problems and have people come to you for help."
"Is that a bad thing?"
"You want your friends to need you, but not if it means giving something of yourself away."
"But..." She trails off. She has no idea how to respond to that.
"Veronica, relationships aren't built on favor-trading. How are they supposed to feel your absence if you never let them in?"
Veronica sighs. "In my head, I know you're right. I guess it's something I need to work on."
"You're all functioning adults now. Wallace has had a rough year. He doesn't need a fixer. He needs emotional support. The same will be true for the rest of your friends."
"Well then thank God they have each other," she says, aware that she sounds bitter. "They're great friends now."
"You were used to being the sun they all orbited around."
She glances up at her father, both impressed by his perception and embarrassed by the truth of it.
"That might have been the case once upon a time."
"And you're feeling left out."
"I guess. You know, they have all these new shared experiences that I wasn't a part of. They communicate nonverbally. They cut each other off with glances."
Keith smiles slightly and nods as if unsurprised. "In their defense, you've trained us on what subjects are off-limits. You only have to ask, Veronica."
"I know." She sighs. "Not yet. I'm not ready."
"I know you don't want to admit you care, but maybe part of this alienation you're feeling is self-imposed. Expecting the worst will only eat you up inside."
Keith rises from the couch. "When you're ready to talk - whether about that, or about the reason you're back home - I'll be here, and I'll back you up no matter what."
She smiles sadly. "I know. You always do."
"I have to head out."
"Dad, aren't you a little old for this?"
"Veronica. I agreed to keep her out of your face. I never agreed to stop seeing her."
He kisses Veronica on the temple, and grabs his keys from the hook by the door. "I'll see you in the morning," he says before heading out.
Veronica answers to the closed door. "How can I expect the worst, when I still haven't decided which possibility is the most awful?"
A/N: Much love to ShanghaiLily, for beta-ing all of the chapters and helping me get past a few mental blocks.
A/N2: I'm still working hard on the next chapter of Sometimes. Took a break because I knew I could put out a chapter for this story faster, but I'll get right back to that one. Promise. Those huge chapters take forever.
A/N3: You all blow me away. Can't believe the number of reviews, follows and favs for one chapter and a tiny prologue. Trust me, this story might be starting out slowly, but I'll make it worth your while. Craziness to follow soon. LOTS of it.