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Dead Things Can't Grow

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It’s been eight years since The Incident, which is what Veronica calls it in her head. Calling it The Incident sounds so innocent, like it was the time cow tipping went wrong, which in some small way it was.

Veronica laughs to herself, making Jessica, the lady who shares the other side of her cube wall, pop her head up and ask what’s so funny.

That murder spree I went on in high school.

“Nothing,” Veronica says hastily. “Just thinking about the episode of Friends that was on last week.”

Jessica sighs dreamily. “Isn’t it just the best? I hope Ross and Rachel work everything out.”

“Sure,” Veronica agrees as Jessica disappears again. The way she pops up and down reminds Veronica of that whack-a-mole game she used to play at the beach with her parents. But now she mostly tries avoiding things that employ blunt force trauma.

Veronica props her head up on one hand and doesn’t even bother getting back to analyzing the financial data she’s been working on. It’s pointless when she shows up.

“Pathetic,” Heather says, still dressed in her red jacket with the shoulder pads a mile wide. God, Heather would have hated grunge, everyone walking around in worn-down combat boots and more flannel than your grandma’s winter nightgown.

I KNOW, Veronica scratches out on her legal pad. Because she doesn’t want to say it out loud with Jessica on the other side of the wall and because she is. Pathetic, that is.

+

Veronica moved away from Ohio as soon as she graduated from high school. Undergrad at Duke, her MBA at Brown, landing an analyst gig in New York City through some client of her dad’s after that. Hasta luego, Westerburg, or rather, see you never.

Only Veronica is still at Westerburg every day. JD is never far from her mind, and often she wakes up with sweaty sheets, Kurt’s desperate pleas to live ringing in her ears. And then there’s Heather Chandler, of course, Veronica’s permanent hallucination. She shows up whenever she damn well feels like it, which is just so Heather, isn’t it? She doesn’t seem like she hates being dead and that’s why she’s haunting Veronica, but she doesn’t really seem to like being dead, either. Of course, Heather never really seemed to like anything while she was alive, either, unless making other people miserable counted. So her haunting Veronica this way makes a certain amount of sense. Heather mostly shows up to judge Veronica’s life, her choices, like, all of them. Veronica can’t even blame her for that.

After high school, Veronica tried staying in touch with Betty Finn, but honestly she didn’t try very hard. In college, she mostly kept her head down and did her work, so desperate to get out into the real world and so scared of letting anyone in again. And now that she was out in the real world, she didn’t even know what she’d been rushing toward all along.

Heather follows Veronica home from work, keeps a running commentary of everything Veronica is doing and how wrong Veronica’s doing it, and like, how badly could Veronica be feeding her cat, really?

“Shut up, Heather,” Veronica says finally.

One corner of Heather’s mouth twitches up, a ghost of a smile from a ghost of a girl. “You don’t really want that, do you?”

Veronica does and she doesn’t. There’s a pretty big part of her that thinks she’s getting everything she deserves.

+

“Do you ever wonder what it would be like if we switched places?” Heather wonders one day, perching at the edge of Veronica’s bed and crossing her legs.

“Hmm?” Veronica asks. She’s eating a bowl of Lucky Charms and concentrating on fishing out all the crappy oat pieces first so she can save the marshmallows till the end. Veronica isn’t feeling particularly pathetic or even thinking about The Incident again, but Heather sometimes shows up for no reason. Psychological manifestations of guilt are tricky like that.

“Like if I decided to fix JD instead of you, and we’d killed you together,” Heather says. “Accidentally, of course.”

“Of course,” Veronica agrees.

“I bet I could have handled the pressure better than you. At least, I’d like to think I wouldn’t be twenty-five and sitting alone in a studio apartment on a Saturday night.” Heather peers into Veronica’s bowl, now mostly marshmallow. “Eating my feelings.”

Veronica snorts. “I’m sure you’d have taken killing your best friend in stride. I bet you would have even written a better fake suicide note than I did.”

Heather considers this for a moment. “Nah,” she eventually concludes. “Honestly, I’m still not even sure what myriad means.”

“It means a lot,” Veronica tells her. “Like, scores. A huge number.” She’s told Heather this before, dozens of times, but it never sinks in. Heather’s a dead thing; she’s no longer capable of growth.

“Oh.” Heather, eternally seventeen, suddenly looks like the child she is. Was. “As in, you helped murder myriad people.”

“Yes,” Veronica says.

+

Sometimes Veronica rewinds the clock and tries to picture what things would be like if she hadn’t fallen for an angst-flavored Slushee back when she was seventeen. JD stole Heather from her, and it took Veronica a long time to realize that wasn’t the gift she initially thought. Heather really had been her best friend and her worst enemy, and even now she can remember that praise from Heather was like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

There’s no way she and Heather would still be friends now, no matter how things had played out. But maybe Veronica wouldn’t have been afraid of making new friends or dating new people once she went away to school.

Maybe she would have had an experimental stage in college. Maybe she would have made out with blonde girls with knowing smirks, using her mouth to wipe that look off their faces. Maybe Veronica would have had firsthand proof that those looks really were covering up feelings that no one understood. And maybe, just maybe, in the end it wouldn’t have been an experiment at all.

Yeah, Veronica’s teen angst bullshit had a body count and, as much as she doesn’t like admitting it, that includes her.