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With Friends Like These

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It’s the house that makes everything worth it.

Sure, the pack has a nice house in Beacon Hills. They built it just for themselves, so it would have everything they wanted. It wasn’t small by any means. But it also wasn’t a house in the exclusive 90909 zip code. It didn’t have an ocean view or a hot tub or a walk-in closet in every bedroom. It didn’t have marble counters in the kitchen or an actual stained glass window in the living room.

The decision that had brought them to Neptune had been a complicated one. It was full of politics and money and implications about Sheriff Stilinski’s career. Someone had to take over the position of sheriff in Neptune since Don Lamb’s unceremonious firing, but nobody who actually lived in Neptune was willing to run for the position. There were rumors of corruption, allegations of abuse of power. Eventually, the powers that be had decided to bring in an outside party who could whip the department into shape. It would only be for a few months, they had promised Stilinski. Six at the outside. Then they would hold another election and get someone local to take the position.

In the end, it had simply come down to three things. 1) Sheriff Stilinski was going to take the position. Higher forces than him were going to maneuver him into it whether he liked it or not. 2) There was no way that Stiles was going to let his father go to a place like Neptune without him. 3) There was no way the rest of the pack was going to let their alpha go anywhere without them.

Which brought on almost a month of ‘can we actually pull this off’, a month full of paperwork and real estate and parents who were in the know versus parents who weren’t, pack members who had jobs versus those who didn’t, student transcripts and class catalogs, research into whether or not there was a local pack whose territory they would be stepping on, and endless speculation about how they would explain this to parties who weren’t clued in. Eventually, everything was sorted out. Scott’s bummed that he’ll miss lacrosse season in Beacon Hills, but is mollified somewhat that Neptune has a great lacrosse team he can be part of. Finstock is out of his mind that four of his best players are leaving, but Jackson’s thrilled. (He’ll miss Danny, not that he’ll admit it, but Danny suspects that having the glory of being the star of the lacrosse team all to himself again will make up for it.)

Lydia’s excited because Neptune High offers classes that Beacon Hills High doesn’t, and it’s a chance to buff up her transcript a little before she starts applying to colleges. Erica’s happy because she loves warmer weather and the beach and sunbathing. Boyd is anxious because he doesn’t like leaving his siblings to fend for themselves, but Trey is fourteen now and swears over and over again that he’s fit for the ‘man of the house’ position. Allison’s wary because she expects her father will be calling to check in on her every five minutes.

Not all the parents were thrilled with this, of course, particularly those who know nothing about werewolves. Scott’s mom accepted ‘I have to go because the pack is going’, and so did Chris and Victoria, albeit begrudgingly.  Lydia’s mom didn’t have a problem with ‘It’s this Future Business Leaders of America thing’, and of course Isaac’s father is no longer in the picture. Boyd’s parents were completely baffled by the concept but didn’t actively have a problem with it ‘as long as you do well in school’. Danny’s parents expressed some concern that really, they were glad he had new friends, but wasn’t this a little much? Danny reminded them that he’d be leaving for college in a year anyway, so this is like a pre-college experience, and besides, if he can get an internship at Kane software, his career is basically made.

Not surprisingly, it was Erica’s parents who were the hardest to convince. Her mother is still clingy despite the fact that she’s been seizure-free for over a year, and her father has never quite gotten over the fact that Stiles and the pack turned her without getting permission from her parents. Erica argued with them for over a week and came close to pulling the ‘well, I’m eighteen now so I can do whatever I want and you can’t stop me’ card, which Stiles convinces her not to pull because her father would never speak to them again.

In the end, after some thorough adult intervention, Erica’s parents allow her to go. She bargains down from skype sessions every night and a visit home every weekend to phone calls every night, skype sessions every weekend, and a visit home once a month. That’s okay with everyone else, because they figure they’ll want to go home once a month or so anyway. All of them have parents who will relax somewhat given that agreement. Neptune is ninety miles north of San Diego, which makes it over a six hour drive. Nobody will be looking to make that drive on a regular basis.

It takes so long to get all the details sorted out that the packing is very last minute, Stiles is sure he’s forgotten half of what he’ll need, and he feels like he hasn’t slept in a month. Melissa McCall has agreed to house-sit for the Stilinskis. Derek rather reluctantly gave Chris Argent the keys to the Hale family property, so he can check out any disturbances. He would have rather somebody else – anybody else – but Chris is the only person who could actually take care of a supernatural threat if one happened to turn up.

That’s one thing Stiles is looking forward to about Neptune. As far as he can tell, there’s no supernatural influences there. No wolf packs. No sorcerers. No covens. Not even an occult shop or a supernaturally-themed nightclub.

He doesn’t say any of this out loud, though, because he is well aware that there’s no faster way to jinx himself. He just says, ‘yeah, Neptune, sure’ because it’s good for his father’s career for adult reasons that are way over his head.

And because the house is awesome.

“I could seriously live here forever,” he says dreamily, sitting on a swinging porch chair and staring out at the ocean.

Derek shrugs a little. “It’s nice, but . . .”

“I know. Wolves in the city.” Stiles gives his shoulder a nudge. “But it’ll be nice for a little while. It’s a change of pace, if nothing else.” Which might be good for all of them. They love the house, they love Beacon Hills, but a lot of bad shit has happened there. Maybe this can be some sort of vacation for all of them.

“Well, you can’t sit out here all night,” Derek points out. “You have school tomorrow.”

“Killjoy.” Stiles sticks his tongue out but goes inside anyway. Since they had multiple cars, they managed to make it in one trip. The house was furnished. It’s a time-share owned by a local company that agreed to let the Stilinski family have it at a somewhat reduced price for their time in Neptune, after some string-pulling. They brought their own clothes and books and toiletries, but almost everything else is already there. There’s an impressive entertainment system, a room full of exercise equipment, and a fully loaded kitchen. It even has an espresso machine, which Sheriff Stilinski quickly removed before Stiles could notice it was there.

Just as Stiles is going into the house to start unpacking his boxes of clothes and things, his father comes in through the front door. He looks tired and frustrated. “First day on the job was already that bad?” Stiles asks, trying not to tense up.

Sheriff Stilinski all but throws his hands into the air. “That damned place is like an Abbott and Costello sketch. Nobody knows anything. When I ask a question, everyone looks at the person next to them. Even if they know the answer, they don’t dare give it because they’re afraid they’re wrong. The only person who seems to know anything is this young guy named Leo, and he kept thinking better of saying something no matter how much I tried to encourage him. And if I hear the words ‘that’s not how Lamb did things’ one more time, I might pop a vessel.”

Stiles is frowning and mentally revising how much sodium his father will be getting in his diet, since it’s obvious that this job is going to be making his blood pressure go up. “Well, if I recall correctly, that is why they brought you in.”

“Yeah, I’m sure I’ll be able to make a lot of progress with this group of monkeys,” Stilinski says, “particularly when I’ve been giving the power to hire new people if I want, but not fire the old ones. Eventually I got sick of the blank looks and asked ‘so who actually solves the crimes in Neptune’ and everyone was like ‘ha ha, good one, Sheriff’, and looking at each other all uncomfortable until Leo just said ‘usually Keith Mars and his daughter Veronica’.”

Stiles thinks back to the research he’s done about Neptune, which has, of course, been in the news a great deal lately. “Well, that does actually make some sense,” he says. “I mean, we know that they’re the ones responsible for solving the murder of Lilly Kane, so . . .”

“Great,” Stilinski says, rolling his eyes. “The only people in town who can solve crimes are the former sheriff who refused to take the job back – not that I blame him a bit – and his seventeen-year-old daughter.”

“I was only sixteen when I solved your attempted murder,” Stiles points out. “Don’t underestimate us savvy teenagers.”

“I would never,” his father says, and ruffles his hair. “But I can’t exactly hire her as a deputy. Or you, for that matter. Don’t give me that look.”

“Well, why don’t you go talk to her dad?” Stiles suggests. “I mean, he could probably at least give you the scoop on the way things are supposed to run around here.”

“I don’t know, kid.” Stilinski looks a little wary. “He made it pretty clear he didn’t want the job.”

“So did you,” Stiles says sourly, and his father raises his hands in surrender. “But my point is that you aren’t his enemy. He’s got to know that you’re an outside party brought in to clean up the mess that Lamb made. So no, he’s not gonna go work for you, but he’ll probably spare ten minutes to chat. He must still care about Neptune in general, or he would have left a long time ago.”

“Well, that’s fair,” his father says, and sighs. “I’ll think it over. How’s your unpacking going?”

“Uh, great,” Stiles says.

“You haven’t started yet, have you.”

“Not a single box, no.”

Stilinski shakes his head. “Me neither. Let’s get to work. Looks like we’re in this for the long haul.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

If there’s such a thing as a typical day in the office of Mars Investigations, Veronica is still waiting to see it. She’s tapping away at her laptop, waiting for it to finish the search she’s running while she idly scribbles down the answers to trigonometry problems in her notebook. It’s after five o’clock, but she often stays late when she’s working on something, and hasn’t bothered to lock the door. It neither bothers her nor startles where she there’s the familiar jingle and somebody walks in.

The man who comes in does surprise her, though. He’s of medium height and build, probably about the same age as her father, with a rough, careworn face. That’s not unusual. But the uniform he’s wearing and the sheriff’s badge displayed prominently over his pocket draws her attention. He wears it well. Not like Lamb, who always looked like a kid playing dress up. She puts on her charming smile and says, “You must be that new sheriff I’ve been hearing all about!”

He gives an amused huff. “Now why does that not surprise me?” he asks, and holds out a hand. “Tom Stilinski.” He gives her a professional look up and down and decides that she looks pretty much like what he had expected her to look like, given the descriptions he had gotten from the officers. They ranged from supermodel, to the devil herself, to a little school girl. Taking all of that into account, he came up with ‘normal kid, kind of pretty’. Lo and behold, he was right.

“Veronica Mars,” she says, shaking his offered hand. “My dad’s not in right now. Out chasing a bail jumper. So what can I do for you, sheriff? You want the skinny on the residents of our fair city?”

“Absolutely. When I tried to get it from my officers, it was like pulling teeth. Once I established that they were in fact officers of the law, I asked who actually sorts out crime around here and it turns out that that would be you and your dad. So yes, I would appreciate the ‘skinny’.” He claims a seat on the end of the lobby’s sofa. “But remember I’m old, so try to use words I understand.”

Veronica blinks at him. She feels inexplicably slow. This isn’t how things work around Neptune. “You’re serious.”

“You weren’t?” he asks, raising his eyebrows at her.

“I guess I’m just not used to someone around here in a uniform actually caring about what I have to say,” she says, with a shrug. “I mean . . . I was as happy as anyone when Lamb got unceremoniously fired . . . actually, I was about eight times as happy as everyone else! But when my dad declined their offer to take the interim post, I figured they would bring in some new jackass who’d suck up to the rich folks, ignore the rest of us, and everything would just be business as usual.”

Stilinski lets out a snort, taking her profanity in stride. It’s about six levels cleaner than Erica’s. “I have no reason to suck up to anyone. This is an interim position. My job and home are waiting for me regardless of whether the wealthy residents of Neptune like me or not. What I was hired to do was act like a competent sheriff and try to get the department back into functioning order.” He waves a hand. “That’s clearly going to require a lot of work, a lot of coffee, and a fair amount of aspirin. In the meantime I need to know what I’m dealing with. I’ll talk to Mr. Mars as well, but since he’s not here, I’ll start with you.”

Veronica can’t help but look mildly impressed at this speech. “Okay, well . . . you’ve got your basic rich guys who think they can do whatever they want. They’re usually drunk. Don’t bother to pull them over for DUIs; their lawyers will get them out of it. Then you’ve got everyone else. You know, the stepping stones for the rich people. Half the town works at Kane software, despite recent . . . problems with their command structure. Then you’ve got the PCHers, standard biker gang but they’re actually not too bad at keeping violent crime corralled in their corner. And then there’s the Fitzpatricks, your basic  city mob who keep all the rich kids supplied with E and heroin, et cetera. They’re untouchable. Don’t bother.”

There’s a moment while Stilinski considers this. “I don’t expect the corporate shake-up will affect the life of the average Kane employee, will it? Unless the company itself is in danger, but I haven’t heard anything like that.” Danny’s family has been keeping up on the corporate gossip lately. “The bikers, do they deal in drugs? And you mentioned the Fitzpatricks. Are there racial divides I should be aware of? Are drugs a problem at your school? Or just a presence, because they happen at every school. Are the social classes divided by neighborhood? Because I’d like to know where the lines are.”

Veronica just stares at him for a long moment, then smiles and says, “Excuse me,” as she reaches for the phone.

“Who are you calling?” Stilinski asks curiously.

“Cho’s Pizza,” she says. “I have a feeling that this little meeting is going to take a while.”

His face lights up. “Get a meat lover’s. With extra cheese. I’ll pay.”

Veronica sees the expression on his face and smiles. “Wife’s got you on a diet, huh?”

Stilinski’s expression turns a little wistful and he turns his wedding ring on his finger, worrying at it a little but not trying to hide it. Everyone in Beacon Hills knows that the sheriff lost his wife. It isn’t a secret. “Son. But yeah, same idea.”

Veronica files this away like she files everything away. “Hey, Hamilton. Got time for an order for Mars? Yeah. Large, thick crust, half pepperoni and mushrooms, half meat lover’s but not the spicy sausage.” She cups a hand over the phone and mouths, “Trust me.” Back in her normal voice she adds, “Extra cheese. Yeah? Okay, thanks.” She hangs up and says, “How’d your son feel about coming to the world’s most awesome beach city?”

“He didn’t like the sheriff’s success rate, but he thinks the real estate is nice.”

“Can’t argue with that.” Veronica reaches into one of her drawers and pulls out a map. “Okay. Here’s how the lines are drawn.”

They spend almost an hour talking about the different factions in Neptune. Stilinski takes notes and carefully steers away from anything about the Lilly Kane murder, although he knows all the details. He figures Veronica doesn’t want to talk about it, and since it’s been solved, it’s really not anything he needs to know about. She hears the doorbell jingle just as they’re finishing up the pizza, glances at the clock, and says, “But you know who you really need to watch out for? That kid Logan Echolls. He’s a real bad boy.”

“My ears are burning,” Logan says as he pokes his head around the corner, into the lobby.

Stilinski straightens up and looks between the two. “Somehow I think you can take care of him yourself. Or is this where I’m supposed to show him out for you?”

“Oh, no, I can handle him,” Veronica says.

“Any time,” Logan adds, with a smile that’s obviously supposed to be suggestive.

“Okay, adult here, in uniform,” Stilinski says, although he’s clearly amused. “Try to spare me the sordid details. I like to be able to claim plausible deniability in all teenaged romances.” He gives the smile that he uses on Stiles when he wants the teenager to please just stop, for the love of God. Then he holds his hand out to Logan, like they’re both reasonable adults. “Hi. Tom Stilinski.”

“The new sheriff.” Logan shakes his hand and says, “Veronica’s gotten herself into trouble already, huh? Weren’t you going to try to turn over a new leaf?”

“Oh, well, you know me,” Veronica says, laughing.

“Is this a big leaf?” Stilinski says. “Do I need to go look up your record?”

“Of course not,” she says.

“Hardly anything she’s done has been officially recorded anyway,” Logan says, and then leans down to give her a kiss. “Mwah.”

Sheriff Stilinski grins. “So you’re one of those. I’ll have to make sure I get all the computer passwords and locks changed down at the station tomorrow.” He waits to see the look on her face. It’s sure to be amusing.

Her eyebrows arch for a minute, but then she laughs. Logan doesn’t look quite as amused. “But then who’s going to solve all the crime around here?” He looks at Veronica. “He didn’t take your crime-fighting cape, did he?”

“I like to think I’ll be getting paid for something. And you shouldn’t wear capes. They get caught in things, or so I’m told. Besides,” he says to Logan with a shrug, “it’s only an interim position. Soon you’ll have elected a new sheriff and Miss Mars can have her honorary badge back.”

“Only if they find someone willing to run,” Logan says with a snort, but he’s winding a strand of Veronica’s blond hair between his fingers and clearly no longer paying attention to the conversation. “Well, I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around, sir.”

“I’m sure,” Sheriff Stilinski says, clearly amused, as he goes on his way.

 

~ ~ ~ ~

 

The next morning, Veronica is zoning through her first class of the day when the Pirate broadcast comes on. Meg smiles out from the screen and says, “Well, we’re all going to be seeing some new faces around the school today. A high school in Beacon Hills has had an unfortunate problem with asbestos, and the students there were divided up and sent to nearby high schools. We have eight of their seniors joining us for the first semester this year. Make sure to give them a warm pirate welcome!”

Not ten minutes later, the current journalism teacher has flagged Veronica down and asked her to get a profile on each of the new students, maybe a picture and a quote, something to put in the next issue of the Navigator. Veronica says sure, because why not? It’s not as if her schedule is packed full right now. No major crimes, move along, nothing to see here.

She’s pondering how she’s going to get time to do this when she reaches her study hall. There are two unfamiliar faces there, both boys, and a few minutes later, just before the bell rings, a third one eels in. She’s a young woman who would put any current Neptune senior to shame. She sits down next to them, then leans over and kisses one on the ear. He laughs and gives her a little shove.

“Mr. Wu?” Veronica goes up to the teacher monitoring the study hall. “I know we’re supposed to be quiet and everything, but do you mind if I chat with the new students? I’m supposed to interview them for the Navigator.”

“I suppose it would be all right,” Wu says. “Just keep it down.”

“Thanks!” She jogs back to her seat and then turns her desk around so she’s facing them. “Hi.” She debates which persona to use and decides to go with regular, friendly, hometown girl. No point in doing something more elaborate. “You guys are new here, right?”

“Yup,” the taller, more muscular of the two boys says, with an open smile. “We didn’t realize there’d be an announcement. Or . . . a television in each class room.” His brow furrows for a moment before he gets over that and says, “I’m Scott.”

“I’m Stiles,” the other boy says, “and this is Erica.”

“Your girlfriend?” Veronica presumes.

There’s just a flicker of hesitation before Stiles says, “Yeah.”

Erica makes an amused face at Stiles but then smiles at Veronica. It’s basically friendly, but definitely has more of an edge than Scott’s. “So are you part of the welcoming committee?”

Veronica, unfazed by Erica’s ‘mean girl’ smile, says, “Actually, I work for the school newspaper. They wanted me to just do a quick blurb on each of you. It’s kinda silly, I know, but that’s what passes for news around here.”

“Wow,” Stiles says, scratching behind his ear with a pencil. “Okay. I’m Stiles. What should go in my blurb? Uh . . . I love lacrosse, caffeine, World of Warcraft, various other dorky things. My favorite class is history. My favorite animal is the echidna. Is this the kind of exciting data you’re looking for?”

“The echidna?” Scott says. “They’re so . . .” He makes an odd gesture with his hands. “Really?”

“No, not really, I’m just making shit up,” Stiles says.

“Well, thank God,” Scott replies. “I was starting to think that I didn’t know you at all.”

Meanwhile, Erica is poking at her phone. “Ew. They have a ball sack under their chin.”

Veronica clears her throat and says, “So, you guys knew each other at your old school? I mean, you were friends?”

“Yeah, yeah,” Stiles says. “Actually, Scott and I have been friends since we were kids. When they divided up the kids, I pulled a few strings to bring along my pals rather than get stuck with a bunch of random people I didn’t know, didn’t like, or outright wanted to take a long walk off a short pier. Which there were a lot of. I’m kind of a nerd.”

“But you’re such a lovable nerd!” Erica says. “I’m just a bitch. But I’m hot, so I get by okay. So we like to stick together.”

Scott rubs his hand over his face. “We’re trying to decide if she actually knows what tact is.”

Veronica is grinning, but thinking that maybe she ought to try to bring some format to these interviews before things go off the rails and Mr. Wu gets annoyed. “Okay, okay. Let’s bring it down a notch, marshmallows. The basics. Names. I got Scott, Erica, and . . . Stiles? That must be a nickname, right?”

“Yeah, but I don’t tell people my full name,” Stiles says. “It’s embarrassing.”

“Okay . . .” Veronica says, thinking that if the journalism teacher doesn’t know, she’ll just ask Clemmons. “Are there last names that go with those?”

“Oh, right, sorry,” Scott says, and points to each of them in turn. “McCall, Reyes, Stilinski.”

“Stilinski . . . isn’t that the new sheriff’s name?” Veronica asks, in a totally innocent and curious tone, just to see what it would gain her.

Stiles puffs up a little with obvious pride. “Yeah, that’s my dad. He is the most awesome sheriff ever. I guess when they couldn’t even find anyone willing to run down here, they made some calls and he was willing to come fill in for a bit since I was going to have to change schools anyway, so I just wound up coming down to Neptune.”

Veronica remembered when the position of sheriff had been something to be proud of, before her father had been run out of office and Lamb had made a mockery of it. She hopes Stilinski is braced for the amount of crap he’s going to have to put up with, and silently wishes him the best of luck. He seems like a decent guy, after all. “So how do you like our fair town so far?”

“Eh, it’s so-so,” Stiles says, surprising her with his honesty. “There are some really nice places and the surfing is great, but I swear to God, I went to buy some steaks to grill and couldn’t find a store that didn’t either sell filet mignon for twenty-seven bucks a pound, or ground meat of suspicious origin. Do you guys have a middle class?”

Veronica laughs and tries to keep it quiet at the last minute. “Hi. I’ll be the middle class for your stay. Where are you living? I’ll see if I can direct you to a decent grocery store.”

“I don’t know my own damned address,” Stiles says, and pulls out his phone. “So then I was like, what the hell, might as well splurge once in a while, right? So I get some super expensive steak and I take it up to the front and I’m paying, right? And the woman looks at my cash like she’s never seen freakin’ money before.” He holds out his phone for Veronica to view the address.

“Didn’t you know? Cash is only for third world countries and . . . that’s an 09er address,” she says, and then snaps her mouth closed.

Stiles looks down at his phone. “Uh, is that supposed to mean something to me?”

“Um . . .” Veronica’s not usually at a loss for words, but even she’s not sure how to ask how the sheriff is affording a place like that. “It’s just that homes up there are usually on the, uh, pricier end of things.”

“Oh, yeah,” Stiles says, relieved that that’s all she’s confused about. “We’re just renting it for a few months. See, we have this friend who knows some people, and I guess one of them is a realtor or something? So they found us this house we could rent. And it made sense, because, see, it’s not just me and my dad staying there. We, all of us kids from Beacon Hills, are living there. That’s because Neptune was one of the further away schools to ferry kids to, so they couldn’t commute, but the parents couldn’t all just quit their jobs and move with us, so since we’re all eighteen and my dad’s the sheriff and it’s only a few months, eventually everyone hashed out that we’d all live together like some sort of crazy pre-college experience, my dad will keep an eye on us, and all the parents chipped in for some of the cost of housing, et cetera.”

Veronica blinks. That actually all sounds pretty reasonable. “So eight of you moved out here with just your father? And he agreed to let you live in the same house as your girlfriend?”

Stiles rubs his hand over the back of his head and says, “My dad is one of those ‘teenaged boys are going to do what teenaged boys are going to do’ guys. You know. If he’s willing to talk to me about stuff like that, I’ll actually go to him with problems so he knows I won’t get her pregnant or . . . and Scott’s girlfriend came with us, too, although my dad had to make very strong promises about how the girls and guys would have separate rooms.”

“Which of course we do,” Erica says, despite the fact that they all sleep in a pile at least three times a week regardless of what rooms their beds and clothes are in.

“Right, so,” Veronica says, filing all this away. “Let’s see. What makes a good newspaper article? Uh, career aspirations?”

Scott tentatively half-raises his hand. “Veterinarian.”

“I’m going into law enforcement like my dad,” Stiles says. “Don’t let my good looks fool you. I can do cop face.” He gives Veronica an approximation of his father’s steely glare.

“Do let my good looks fool you!” Erica says, with a hair flip. “Modeling.” She knows that when she says that, most people assume it’s just wishful thinking on her part. She doesn’t care, or feel the need to convince them that she already has her father and Derek’s lawyer reviewing contracts for her.

Veronica notes all this down. “Okay, uh . . . I guess you haven’t been here long enough for me to ask ‘what’s your favorite thing about Neptune’. How about ‘what will you miss most about Beacon Hills?”

Stiles opens his mouth. Scott elbows him and promptly says, “The lacrosse team. I know I can join here, but I’ve played on that team my entire high school career, and I was co-captain, so it’s going to be weird starting over here.”

Erica starts to agree with Scott about how she’s going to miss the lacrosse team, albeit for an entirely different reason. (At least three of them are pretty good in bed, and two more are mediocre.) Then she remembers that she’s supposedly dating Stiles and she probably shouldn’t say things like ‘I’m going to miss screwing the lacrosse team’. They’ll have to have a discussion about that.

“I’m going to miss, uh, I guess it’s weird moving to such a big place after growing up in a small town,” Stiles says. “I’m going to miss knowing where to go to get anything I need, that kind of thing. Not much else. I brought everything and everyone I care about with me.”

Veronica tries not to gag. “Okay. Uh, favorite quote or expression?”

“Do you know – ” Erica starts, before both Scott and Stiles slap a hand over her mouth.

“If you’re going through Hell, keep going,” Stiles says.

Erica sulks behind their hands. Then licks them.

“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Scott quotes.

Veronica laughs and jots these down. “Erica, you want to give it another try? I don’t want to see any abuse going on here,” she threatens, waving her pencil in Stiles’ face.

“Hah! She could beat the shit out of me if she put even a quarter of her mind to it,” Stiles says.

Erica looks smug. Scott just rolls his eyes and says, “Try for something Veronica could publish?”

She gives him a look. “Seize the day!”

Stiles cracks up. “Dude, you’re sick!”

Veronica arches her eyebrows. “I’m missing an in-joke,” she says. “I know the vibe.”

Erica holds up her wrist so the medic-alert that her parents still insist she wears gives a little rattle. “I’m epileptic,” she says. Stiles is still chortling. Scott just shakes his head, but he’s got those crinkles around his eyes that means he thinks it’s funny. If you can’t make fun of your own illnesses, what can you make fun of?

Veronica laughs, too. “Nice,” she says. “I won’t put that in the paper, though.” She sees Erica blink at her and says, “Some people here . . . are jerks. And they might . . . uh, say things or shine lights in your eyes or just behave like general jackasses because in addition to being jerks, they are also stupid, and so they wouldn’t know how to trigger an epileptic seizure, but . . .”

“But they would try, and then I’d have to kick their nuts up into their throats?” Erica asks.

Scott is just staring at Veronica, clearly appalled. “There are people here that bad?” Sure, there are jerks in Beacon Hills, kids that would laugh or a few assholes who would think it was fun to film a seizure, but he didn’t think anyone would stoop to purposefully trying to cause one.

“Uh, yeah, but you didn’t hear it from me,” Veronica says.

Stiles fidgets, but then smiles at Erica and says, “Well, we’ll watch your back, babe. But thanks for keeping that on the down low for us. Hey, if you want, I can introduce you to the rest of the pa – the rest of the kids who came down here with us during lunch. You know, so you can get your quotes and stuff.”

“Weren’t you going to take your dad lunch?” Erica asks.

Stiles frowns. “Shit. Yeah. He had pizza last night, which means he’s on a strict celery-and-wheat-germ diet until he confesses how many pieces he ate.”

“He’s gonna beat you to death with a package of frozen turkey bacon,” Scott informs him.

Veronica concentrates on pretending she has never met the sheriff and has no idea where this illicit pizza came from. Then she says, “Wait, you bring him lunch? That . . . that’s so cute. I used to do that for my dad when he was the sheriff sometimes.”

Stiles’ eyes go wide. “Oh, shit,” he says. “You’re Veronica Mars, arg, why did I not realize that?”

“Because this is your first day and nobody’s warned you away from me yet?” she guesses.

Erica laughs. “Okay, save poor Papa Stilinski some wheat germ, because I don’t even know what that shit is, and tell Stiles how many pieces of pizza he ate.”

“Oh no,” Veronica says, “I am not getting in the middle of that one.”

Stiles makes a face. “Fine. I guess I don’t really have time to get all the way down to the sheriff’s station on my lunch break anyway. It’s probably too far. Also, everyone this morning was like ‘hey, nice ride’, what assholes. It’s a Jeep. What’s wrong with a Jeep?”

“It’s not shiny and new and expensive enough to pay for a year of college?” Veronica shrugs. “Unless it is new. I wouldn’t know.”

Stiles rubs both hands through his hair and says to Scott, “If Boyd gets through a month without breaking one of these snobs in half, it will be a miracle.”

“And Isaac’s gonna help,” Scott agrees glumly.

Erica lets out a snort. “Are you two gonna sell popcorn or hold people’s arms?”

“I did promise my dad I would try not to get into any trouble, so . . . popcorn,” Stiles says.

Veronica’s amused, but finds herself vaguely concerned. She actually likes Stiles and his friends, so she says, “Guys, I don’t want to rain on your parade, but Neptune’s not really a great place to make enemies. I mean . . . these are the people who actually burned down the community poolhouse over the summer, basically just for shits and giggles. They have the money to get out of anything, and . . .”

“The local law wasn’t willing to push things?” Stiles presumes, and Veronica rather reluctantly nods. “And you think if my dad pushes things, he’ll be run out of town. But see, that’s the beauty of this. That’s okay. He’s going to try to do the job they hired him to do. If they don’t like it? Fine! We’ll just go back to Beacon Hills.”

“And inhale asbestos?” Veronica says.

Stiles shrugs. “We’ll just transfer to a different school. We’d work it out. We’ve had our fair share of dealings with assholes. I’m not saying I’m going to go looking for trouble. Just that I won’t back down if it comes looking for me.”

This set of statements seems completely at odds with the easy-going, friendly, spiky-haired boy she’s getting to know. But then again, Veronica supposes that’s fair. People wouldn’t expect her sort of attitude when they see a tiny, cute blonde girl. “You know what? I think we’re going to be great friends.”

“Everyone says that about me!” Stiles says, with a wide grin. “Which probably explains why I have so many enemies. But no more pizza for my dad. Seriously.”

Veronica laughs and agrees. They chat for a little while longer before study hall is over and she has to go to her next class. There are a couple new faces there, but she’s far too busy taking notes on world history to really take much note of them. It’s not until lunch that she’s introduced. She spots Stiles in the lunch line and follows him out to the table.

The newcomers, she finds, are a study in contradictions. First there’s Danny, the only guy she’s ever met who manages to be both a jock with biceps to die for and a complete computer nerd. She makes a mental note to introduce him to Mac. He also pings her gaydar, which is a dangerous thing to do in Neptune, but he doesn’t mention it and neither does she.

Then there’s Boyd, who looks like a typical urban black dude – Veronica winces at her own internal stereotyping and thinks that Wallace would kick her ass for that – but he’s soft-spoken and level-headed and wants to be an elementary school teacher. His favorite quote is something beautiful about stained glass windows and light from within. Allison is charming and bubbly but not at all airheaded. She cuddles with Scott incessantly but her hobby is archery – maybe even profession, she says – and she’s obviously very intelligent.

Isaac is quiet and shy and hard to get a bead on. He mentions that he’s thinking about going into landscaping but mostly just studies his hands and eats his sandwich. It’s Lydia who’s the real surprise. With looks and fashion sense that would give any 09er girl a run for their money, she’s already got a fan club. Even Madison Sinclair has complimented her shoes – and sincerely, too, without any mocking at all. Veronica is at a complete loss as to how Lydia can possibly be friends with this group of people until she asks about career aspirations and Lydia informs her matter-of-factly that she’s still trying to decide between being an astrophysicist and a particle physicist, although she supposes she should wait until she’s finished some of her college courses before making a final decision about it. Her favorite quote is from Einstein: “Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not sure about the universe.”

All in all, Veronica thinks, this might just be the weirdest group of people she’s ever met.

Which, of course, is when things get weirder.

As it turns out, her last class of the day is one that Stiles and Erica are going to be sharing, so she’s chatting with them as they leave the school. She’s finding herself glad that none of them are going to be competing for the Kane scholarship. Stiles’ GPA is pretty close to hers, and Lydia is actually ahead of her by a fraction of a point. “And this without the benefit of fancy tutors,” she says, and both of them give her a funny look.

As they reach the parking lot, she spots one more fancy car among the huge rows of them. This one looks particularly well cared for. It’s a black Camaro, and every inch of it is gleaming. Leaning against the hood is a young man who’s just as attractive, although a bit on the scruffy side for her taste. He’s wearing mirrored shades and a black V-neck.

Girls have flocked around this newcomer. One of them is in fact exclaiming over his biceps. Veronica’s amused at first, but as they get closer, she can read the discomfort in his body language. It’s subtle; most people wouldn’t notice. A tenseness in the set of his shoulders and jaw, a bit of an edge to the smile he’s trying to keep friendly.

“Hey, Derek!” Stiles suddenly shouts, and bounds away from the threesome to literally leap onto the newcomer. He throws his arms around him in a hug, and the girls scatter like startled birds. Veronica sees Derek’s arms go around Stiles’ waist and give him an obvious squeeze. She raises her eyebrows somewhat, but keeps walking with Erica towards the Camaro, since she hasn’t been told she’s not welcome.

“Truth?” Erica says, somewhat suddenly. “Stiles isn’t my boyfriend. I think he only said that because I kissed him, and he didn’t want everyone here thinking I was some slut before I’d had a chance to prove it for myself.” Her grin is somewhat devilish, but it softens a little as she gestures to Stiles and Derek and says, “That? That is the truth.”

Derek pulls Stiles in for a tight hug, and when Stiles makes no immediate move to let go, he says, “You’re on me again. What have I said about that?” He sees the girls eyeing him. “Never mind. It was all a vicious lie.”

“I knew I’d prevail eventually,” Stiles says, grinning and letting go. “What’s up? You were pining for me? Oh, hey,” he says, before Derek is forced to respond, “this is Veronica. I made an actual friend today. I think. If I understand the concept correctly.”

“You do,” Veronica says, smiling and extending her hand to Derek.

Derek reaches out and shakes her hand. “Derek.” This is clearly his idea of introducing himself. He tilts his head to Stiles and says, “Only until the sharks stop circling. Don’t get cocky.”

Erica grins and moves in to claim her own hug, for which she stands on her toes so they’re cheek to cheek, but it’s clearly not as personal a hug as the one Stiles got. “Aw. They’re only circling because they don’t know you yet.”

Stiles lets out a snort of laughter, pressing himself against Derek’s side. “So, seriously though, you came to pick me up? You remember that I drove here, right? Though I need to go to the grocery, now that I know where one actually is.”

“You mean one that sells real food? Not forty dollar steak and tofu?” Derek gives a one-armed shrug, his other arm wrapped around Stiles’ waist. “You said there were things you wanted for the house.”

“Yeah,” Stiles says. For Veronica’s benefit, he adds, “This all happened on kind of short notice. So we sort of wound up in a ‘take only what you need to survive’ packing mode, and I realized once I got here that I didn’t pack half of what I need to survive, let alone keep everyone else – ”

“Hey, fags!” a voice yells from across the parking lot. “Get a room, cocksuckers!”

Without missing a beat, Stiles looks up at Derek and says, “Danny’s gonna love this city.”

“Oh, Christ,” Derek says, rolling his eyes. Erica’s grin goes positively feral and she starts to head towards the voice. Derek snags her by the back of the shirt. “Nope.”

“You never let me have any fun,” Erica says, pouting.

“That’s right,” Stiles says peaceably. He shakes his head and says to Veronica, “Lots of open-minded folks around here, I take it.”

“Oh, absolutely,” Veronica says. She holds up her hands and starts counting off on her fingers. “Unless you’re . . . gay, poor, Hispanic, handicapped in most fashions, counter culture of any sort, named Mars, a girl with the sexual morals of a guy . . . I’m going to start running out of fingers soon, so . . .”

“Lydia should be fine,” Derek says. Then he looks at Erica. “You’re fucked.”

“Did you just make a joke?” Erica blinks at him. “Stiles! He made a joke!”

“That was less of a joke and more of a double entendre,” Stiles says, but shrugs. “I’m proud of you anyway. Hey, so, I wanna go check in on my dad, because duh, of course I do,” he says. To Veronica, he continues, “You know what I’m thinking? Party at my place Friday night. Bring the few people in this place that you think are worth knowing. I can expand my social circle. Cool?”

“Cool,” Veronica says. “Tell Inga and Leo I said hi. Don’t mention me to anybody else. They’re all afraid of me,” she says, in a mock confidential tone.

“I’ll wait for the others,” Erica says.

Stiles fishes the keys to the Jeep out of his pocket and says, “Have somebody competent drive my baby back to the house.”

She takes them and sighs. “Does Scott count?”

“Only if Allison’s in a different car.”

“Got it.”

 

~ ~ ~ ~