Today was going to be some level of hell no matter how she played it.
Striding through the crowd of yawning and complaining fellow students, Veronica strategized. Her plan was still a little unformed. She'd had a late start.
She spotted her target exactly where she'd been hoping he would be: at his open locker, his back very deliberately to the hall and everyone in it. He was standing perfectly still, but as she eased into a saunter to approach him he started balling up papers and tossing them over his shoulder. A freshman batted one away from the side of her head and took a step forward, but was pulled back by a wise and kindly upperclassman who knew better than that.
"Sooo," Veronica drawled, leaning sideways on the wall of lockers and blowing hair out of her face. "You know the whole bit where we pretend to flirt because honest friendship is far more terrifying than simple animosity or lust?" She twisted her face into a pained expression, tossing her head from side to side just a little for good measure, and hissed in a breath. "I'm kind of tired, so I was thinking we could skip that today."
"Mm." Weevil continued fishing through his locker, not even sparing her a glance. "Guess we won't be doin' much talking, then."
She pursed her lips. "I was thinking more like, we scrape off that thin veneer of pretense, and – dive right into the subtext."
Finally, Weevil straightened up, shut his locker, and turned to look at her. Veronica flicked on the most winning smile she could muster, under the circumstances.
He raised his eyebrows. "Are you sure we're not flirting?"
Her smile dropped. "I'm going to a lot of effort to cut the crap here, Weevil," she snapped, and poked him squarely in the chest. "Can you please return the favor for at least the next two minutes?"
Weevil sighed. "Yeah, okay, sure." Leaning closer, he peered solemnly into her eyes, took a deep breath, and said, "Veronica, of all the pretty, middle class white girls who hang out with 09'ers and constantly ask me for favors: You're my very favorite."
She blinked, quirked a self-satisfied smile, and tilted her head. He leaned back. She leaned forward. "I know you've heard what the news is doing," she said. "Everyone's heard. I'm asking if you want to spend the day being miserable and pissed off about it together."
"As opposed to being miserable and pissed off separately."
She rewarded this insight with finger guns. "You got it."
"Maybe you missed the whole friendship thing I mentioned a minute ago, it did kind of fly by."
She shrugged, throwing her arms out wildly and letting them fall to her sides. The effect was somewhat ruined when she hit another student and stumbled forward, but she pressed on. "You miss her. I miss her. We're friends. I think. Why not?"
Chuckling and staring at the ground, Weevil shook his head. "So the media circus is doin' their own damn thing as usual, who cares about people when there's stories, right – so, what, you think we're gonna... swap our own stories? Talk about feelings? Compare and contrast, Lilly Kane in and out of high society?"
"Something like that."
The five-minute bell rang, and the hall exploded into a frenzy of students who were supposed to be halfway across the building. Veronica kicked off from the wall and shouldered her backpack. "You know where to find me if you change your mind."
"I said nothing about getting drunk. And I wasn't drunk this morning, so I'm pretty sure I'd remember saying something about getting drunk."
"It's one beer. To split between us. That's not getting drunk, that's being, uh, what'd you call us - oh, friends."
Veronica stared at the sweating brown bottle in Weevil's hand and wondered how this hadn't occurred to her. Alcohol, the magical emotional aid. Of all possible topics, this was not one she needed to be thinking about today.
"I will take a sip," she declared, holding up one index finger. "One sip. In the spirit of friendship. And then the rest is all yours, and if you can't walk a straight line when we get up I'm driving us both to my place and you're crashing on my couch."
Weevil snorted. "Yeah, your dad would love that."
"He'd love it a lot more than seeing you hit with a DUI."
Weevil twisted the cap off the bottle and took a swig. "I think you're overestimating your father's sympathy for gang leaders."
Veronica snatched the beer away from him and took her sip. "And you're underestimating how happy he is that his outcast daughter has any friends at all. He doesn't like it when they're in jail."
Weevil took the beer back, holding the neck of the bottle between two fingers and staring at it. "Veronica. Tell me you're not on a case right now."
"Tell me you're not working a case, or if you are, tell me it has nothing to do with me."
"...Okay." She drew her legs up closer to her chest and huffed a laugh. "I deserve that. I'm not trying to get information out of you. I promise."
"Not what I asked you to say, V."
"I'm not working a case! Okay? You're not a suspect, you're not a witness, I didn't bug my own parking space on the off chance you would come running out at the last minute –"
"I was not running."
She smirked. "That was at least a light jog."
He smirked right back. "Yeah, well. You can be hard to find when you're pissed at someone."
"And what made you think I'd be pissed off at little ol' you?" she asked innocently, batting her eyelashes.
"I didn't do what you wanted."
"Ohhhh, riiiight. Yeah, you know, I've been meaning to talk to you about having your own way of dealing with grief. It's very inconsiderate."
Weevil rolled his eyes and leaned back, letting his head thunk lightly against the side of Veronica's car. As privacy went, the school parking lot wasn't great. But it was the end of the day, and everyone had their own agenda. "So what are we doin', V?"
"I thought... we could talk," Veronica said quietly. "About Lilly. At first. And... move away from that whole subject if... one of us gets too maudlin."
Weevil regarded her silently for a long moment. Finally, he nodded. "Okay." He jabbed a finger at her, nearly poking her in the nose. "Your idea. You first."
She shifted to sit more comfortably against the front tire, and swallowed down a sudden bubble of all the rage she'd been trying to suppress throughout the day.
Fuck the media. Fuck the news and the absolute glee with which they dug into every grisly murder, turned over and over and over the facts well beyond the surfacing of anything new or noteworthy, fuck the way they turned to unresolved cases ("superstar Aaron Echolls is now being accused, but-") as padding when they ran out of actual current events, fuck their obsession with the morbid and the bloody and the way every fond memory of a victim had to tie in somehow to their death. Fuck Lilly Kane Week: What You Don't Know About Neptune's Biggest Question Mark.
She took a deep breath. "My oldest memory of Lilly is her pulling some girl's hair until she screamed. They were fighting over art supplies."
"Yeah, middle school can be rough."
Veronica's lips curled into a smile. She looked away. "Your turn."
"She followed me into the men's room," Weevil began, and she could hear the smug grin. "And, uh – well, her phone number ended up on my-"
"Okay, my turn."
"I was gonna say 'thigh'!"
"Not really better."
"I guess she was... probably just tryin' to make Logan jealous," Weevil mused, laughter fading. "I mean. I figured that when it happened. Then she started... saying things. About Logan. About me. Said Logan was boring, angry, the worst kind of spoiled rich boy, and I was... and she'd rather... I, uhm." He cleared his throat. "Your turn."
"There was this elective bio class in junior high that a few seventh graders got into," Veronica mumbled, staring at the scratched paint on the car beside them. "One day we dissected fetal pigs. Lilly touched the brain with her bare hand and then licked her finger because some girl who hated her was watching. She spent all of lunch throwing up and washing her mouth out'n... laughing. She kept saying it was... so worth it, for the look on the other girl's face. I don't even remember who she was. It was only five years ago."
"A lot happens in five years."
"Tell me about it. Your turn."
"She kept pretending she didn't know anything about motorcycles because, um. Ha. Because she said she... liked the way I talk about... stuff I really know, when someone's interested in what I have to say. I liked it too. About her, I mean. Whenever she'd get talking about school, or friends... enemies... She got so into everything. And I think... a lot of people missed it." He took another drink. "Your turn."
Veronica grinned. "Elementary school science fair. Most kids made baking soda and vinegar volcanoes. Lilly tried to talk her dad into getting us some actual lava."
Weevil choked and set the bottle down hard. "You are kidding."
"I'm so not. He wouldn't do it, for some strange reason, and we spent all our time trying to convince him so we ended up making one of those potato light bulb things at the last second. I think we got points just for not making the judges look at another mound of clay covered in fingerprints and watercolor paint."
They lapsed into quiet chuckling, and Veronica remembered Lilly Kane, ten years old and discovering she enjoyed the taste of raw potatoes.
Weevil sat up straighter. "She tried to talk me into an orgy once."
"NO!" Veronica screeched, covering her ears. "No no no no no no no, no, I did not hear that, you did not say that, that did not count."
"Fine, fine," Weevil cackled, only laughing harder when she smacked him on the arm. "Sorry! Okay. I really do have my mom's ring. And I really did think about giving it to her."
"...One time when we were little, we were playing hide and seek, and it took me so long to find her, she fell asleep, and I panicked and called my dad at work because I thought... Mm. I didn't think this one through. Sorry. New one: One time we tried to make cookies, and after about twenty minutes of nothing, we realized we hadn't turned the oven on."
"Hey, better than not turning it off, right?"
"I was like, seven, eight tops, and we were alone in the house. My dad almost had a heart attack when he got home and saw us in the kitchen."
The parking lot was emptying out. A few stragglers found the time to toss strange looks over their shoulders. Veronica blew kisses.
"Two people knew about us, before it happened," Weevil murmured. "My grandmother, and... and Felix. Grandma because I figured she'd see us coming in or going out at some point, so I just told her myself first. And Felix and me, we grew up together, had each other's backs, you know, your standard bad neighborhood friendship. I've never trusted too many people – try to make it a policy not to have more than like, three at a time, you know? Felix was always one of'em."
"Yeah. Your turn."
"...You'll get them, Weevil. You'll catch whoever did it. I'm just glad it wasn't me."
"Won't pretend I never thought of it. Your turn."
"People used to think she and Duncan were twins. They were born less than a year apart and sometimes she finished his sentences to annoy him."
"Felix found out before I did."
Veronica sucked in a breath and felt the ground tilt beneath her. "Weevil..."
"I worked late the night before, slept in," he said, staring at his hands. "Woke up because my phone was ringing. For at least ten minutes. I kept ignoring it and he kept calling and I finally picked up and started layin' into him and as soon as I stopped to breathe he just... He kept saying 'don't turn on the tv until I get there.' I didn't know what the hell he was talkin' about, but he was panicking, so I told him I wouldn't. Few minutes later he comes barging into my fuckin' bedroom, let himself into the house, didn't knock, I don't think he even rode his bike there. I think he just ran."
Someone finally approached the car in front of them, and Weevil snapped his mouth shut and glared as the straggler nervously crammed what looked like a tuba case into the back seat, hopped in, and drove away. If that's full of drugs, Veronica thought, distantly, it's someone else's turn.
When the car was almost out of sight, Weevil let out a deep breath and continued.
"I asked him what was goin' on, but he kept... telling me to sit down, he wouldn't say anything else until I did, he just... He had a plan, I guess. Get to Weevil's place, make Weevil sit down," he said, listing items off on his fingers. "Tell Weevil his girlfriend's been murdered. And Felix... Felix never really got it, thought I was just foolin' around with her, you know? Figured maybe I liked her, never... Anyway. I thought he was joking. I almost tore his throat out. No one else was home, Grandma was out with some friends and everyone else was out runnin' around the neighborhood. I went down to the living room, turned on the news. And I just... lost it. I think I was screaming. I remember Felix holding me back, I think I was tryin' to hit the tv. He kept talkin' to me, no fuckin' idea what he said but it helped. At the time. He covered for me with the guys for a few days, told'em I was laid up with the flu. I had to go into work after that or I'd'a lost my job."
A breeze was starting to kick up. Veronica shivered, holding her breath as Weevil went on.
"Felix always said I shouldn't tell the others about Lilly, even after that, said... revenge wasn't worth getting her name mixed up in everything. Guess he knew what he was talkin' about. ...All right, I think that was at least three stories' worth. Your turn, V."
"I was with my dad," she said, before she could change her mind and tell him about Lilly's favorite book series in second grade. "He got a call about a disturbance at the Kane house. He told me to wait in the car."
"He's met you – right?"
The joke fell flat. She tried to pretend it hadn't, because she did appreciate it. She managed a rueful smile, and then looked away.
"Duncan was... completely out of it. Wouldn't – couldn't talk. He was - rocking back and forth, and he looked... I was scared. I followed my dad and I... I saw her."
"There was just... so much blood. All over her. All over the ground. We were at a car wash earlier that day. Pep squad. She was still in her uniform. A few weeks later I threw mine on my bedroom floor and forgot about it, saw it later and screamed my head off, but." She took a deep breath, shook her head. "It took... forever, for my dad to even get me back to the car. He left some deputies in charge and took me home, had to – remove the civilian minor from the scene of a murder, you know. I threw up, sat in the shower until the hot water ran out, and slept on the floor with my dog."
He didn't try to comfort her, which, honestly, was one of the reasons she'd sought him out. There was something to be said for simple commiseration. No hugging, no everything-will-be-fines. Just a couple of people agreeing that something sucked.
"You know the really fucked up thing?" Weevil said, casually, conversationally, taking another swig of beer. "I fell in love with Felix."
Veronica blinked, breath catching as this fact slotted neatly into place alongside everything else. "...Oh, Weevil."
"Don't give me that crap."
"Weevil. That's – did you tell anyone?"
"Oh, yeah, it was next on my list right under 'leave a bag of burning dog shit on the Fitzpatricks' doorstep.' I just love giving people reasons to shoot me. Rich white kids get killed for that shit, V. What the hell do you think would happen to me?"
"...Yeah. Right. So you just... I mean, you lost... Two people. Like that. And you just..."
"Yeah. Just kept being my usual charming self. Go ahead and ask questions, I can practically see your brain switching gears into detective mode."
She bit her lip. "I... Weevil, it's none of my business."
"I'm gonna remember you saying that next time laughter is even on the table, and I'm going to enjoy it."
"See, just, that last little bit. You made it creepy."
"It's a gift."
"When did you fall for Felix?" she asked, and her hands twitched for a notebook she didn't have.
Weevil shrugged. "Mm. Honestly? When we were kids, probably. I don't think I knew it then. I mean, I knew I was into guys - girls, too, and, you know, pretty much everyone else. I think. There's just so much variety; I hesitate to use any particular labels in my super secret diary when I haven't tried it all, y'know?"
She smiled down at her knees. "Right."
"But. I mean." He shrugged. "It was all kinda tied together, figuring that out, and, ah. I told Felix. About that. And he was good about it. Never told no one. And – straight boys, they find out you're not one of'em and all the sudden they gotta cover up in the locker room, keep at least one woman between you at all times, all that shit. Like they're automatically good enough for me, huh? But Felix... wasn't like that."
"You're sure he was straight?"
"Oh, yeah. I asked him once. He practically apologized. Said he knew someone if I was looking for a community."
"...I honestly cannot picture that conversation."
"Yeah, neither could we, we laughed our asses off."
"That's strangely comforting."
"Mmhm... So. I got over'im."
"Just like that?"
Weevil shrugged. "Hey, no one wants to chase their straight friend. Never ends well. I moved on. And... then Lilly Kane happened."
Veronica smiled. "As she did."
"Yeah, she liked to happen to people, huh? And then, uh. Well, you know. And Felix, uh. He was... He was there for me. He was annoying as fuck and he didn't really get it, but he hung out with me when everyone else was tryin' to stay away, I mean, I punched him in the face at least twice and he kept comin' back. And it wasn't like... Some rebound shit, you know? Six months or so down the road it was like a switch flipped. And, uh... Couldn't do anything about it this time. For some reason. So. Faked it."
"Yeah. And then. But!" He shook his head. "Not what this little sharing and caring session is all about, right? Little off track."
"I was in love with Lilly."
She said it before she could even consider the importance of saying it, of not saying it, of the fact that she'd never said it. Weevil just looked at her.
She thought about everything, and she said it again. "I was... in love with Lilly."
"Yeah. I. She didn't know. She... I didn't know. We grew up together, we - when I was little, I didn't know girls could... I thought I just - just really liked her. As a friend. So I. You know, it sort of... went away. And then, um. I started dating her brother, and. I thought about things, a little bit, and I knew more by then, but. I was dating Duncan, and I - I loved him, so I just. Brushed it off. Figured at most it was maybe... a crush. And then Duncan dumped me. And I started... really thinking about it. About Lilly. About me. And... And then she died."
She shook her head. Weevil sighed, and let his arm drape loosely around her shoulders, and fine, maybe a little bit of not-really-hugging wasn't so bad. "Hell of a team we make, V. Gotta start fallin' for people with bodyguards, huh?"
"I guess. ...She kissed me once."
Weevil whistled. "Lu-cky! How'd you work that?"
"It was just a dare," Veronica muttered, fiddling with the edges of her sleeves. "Logan told her to kiss someone. Figured she'd pick him. She didn't."
"Ah. One'a those."
"It... kind of hurt."
"Yeah, she did like to use teeth."
"Weevil!" She elbowed him in the ribs and tried not to laugh. "Not what I meant!"
He grinned not at all sheepishly, rubbing his side. "My mistake."
"I don't suppose you and Felix ever -"
Veronica's turn to whistle. "Luuu-cky. No obliviously turning your feelings into a cheap joke? How'd you work that?"
"All right, all right!" He threw one hand up, leaving his other arm around her. "I'm sorry for trying to lighten the mood before we both end up crawling under your car and crying ourselves to sleep! Jeesh."
"Some moods aren't meant to be lightened."
"That's very deep."
"I try." She inched closer and let her head fall gracelessly against his shoulder. "You know what word I'm sick of hearing?"
"Sporty? Negligent? Antidisestablishmentarianism?"
"Fuck potential," he agreed vehemently.
"Lilly Kane," Veronica said, voice taking on a regal and dignified air that didn't quite match the face she was making, "was a lovely young woman with a bright future ahead of her, and we all mourn the tragic loss of a life so young and full of such potential."
Weevil cleared his throat and matched her tone, for all of two words. "Felix Toombs - and if I could make cricket noises, here's where they'd be."
Veronica bit her lip. "Weevil..."
He shook his head. "Hey, whatever. Lilly's a tragedy, Felix is inevitable. One more kid goes down on the wrong side of the tracks? Alert the presses. Wait, I lie, there was one article that called his death 'a symptom of a disease that crawls through Neptune and the rest of America, claiming the lives of our youth.'"
"Yeah, someone wanted a promotion to bigger stories."
Veronica sighed, leaning forward and resting her chin on her knees. "Lilly would hate that awful fountain."
"I don't know," she grumbled. "It just comforts me to think so."
"Big fancy center of attention with her name on it? Come on. She'd love it."
"Just let me pretend she was a little less shallow than that, okay?"
Somewhere down the street, a dog started barking. Veronica stared out across the parking lot at the dimming horizon, wondering if what she wanted to say next was worth it.
Finally, she shook her head. "They'll never get to grow up."
Weevil's arm stiffened around her. "V."
"They're always gonna be who they were in high school. In ten years I'll be faced with some sort of major life decision and I'll think, what would Lilly do? And there won't be an answer, because Lilly died when she was sixteen. She'll never grow up, she'll never change. She was a teenage girl who liked to break rules and manipulate people and that's all she'll ever get to be."
She wiped her face and laughed. "Sorry. That definitely qualified as too maudlin."
"Felix... Felix had a plan," Weevil said, voice thick. "Trucking school. He wanted a wife. Kids. He wanted out. I... I fucked it all up for him, V. He shouldn't have been on that bridge, none of us should have been. You know what happened with our old leader, the Reaper?"
Brow furrowing at the sudden change of subject, Veronica hesitated. "I... remember hearing about it, yeah."
"Yeah." Weevil cleared his throat, but it didn't leave his voice any less hoarse. "That was Felix's brother."
"Oh." Oh. Well.
"Felix was a wreck," Weevil continued, hands clenched into fists in the cuffs of his jeans. "So was his mother. When I took over, I promised her I'd keep Felix safe. I promised Felix. And I got him killed. So no. He doesn't get to grow up. He doesn't get to drive a truck, get married, raise a family. He doesn't get to prove anything to anyone. Far as anyone else knows or cares he's nothing but a criminal who got himself killed. They'll remember some fake version of Lilly Kane forever. Felix Toombs doesn't even exist anymore."
"Is this where I say something sweet and empowering about how we'll have to grow up for them, and remember them right?"
"Go for it."
"Mm." Veronica snatched the bottle from him and downed the last mouthful of beer. "The moment has passed."
Weevil laughed softly. "One sip, huh?"
"I'll call my dad to come get us."
"That much beer and you can't drive?"
She shrugged. "It's not just the beer."
"...Yeah. Yeah, thanks. Think he'll bring us both back tomorrow morning?"
"No, he'll lecture me all the way here and leave you on the couch because he's a cruel, cruel man who enjoys forcing students into a life of truancy. Go grab anything from your bike you don't want stolen."
"I don't think I can carry a motorcycle."
Keith Mars was nothing if not accommodating. Very accommodating. How many fathers would be all right with this, Veronica? One. Him. That was how many.
He graciously fetched a blanket from the hall closet and tossed it over the back of the couch, fixed his daughter and the head of the PCH biker gang each in turn with a look that said quite clearly I am being very very kind to you both and there is a firearm in my safe, and went to bed.
Weevil patted himself down gingerly. "Well, I'm not bleeding."
"He likes you," Veronica said cheerfully, and stuck a bag of popcorn in the microwave. "I bet he only eavesdrops for half an hour."
"What's that for?"
"Step two of sharing and caring. We watch whatever awful movie we can find on tv and get sick on popcorn."
"You take a course on this stuff?"
"It's-" She bit her tongue. It's what Lilly and I used to do. It's what my mom and I used to do. "It's... kind of a tradition." She suddenly felt ridiculous. "You don't have to."
"Yeah, 'cause I'm gonna say no to popcorn. What movie channels you get?"
Twenty minutes in, they still hadn't figured out exactly what they were watching. It was in a language neither of them knew, with subtitles that must have gone through at least three translations, and half the scenes were in black and white.
"Is this porn?" Weevil demanded, for the second time. "This looks like porn. Weird porn. Not that 'watch weird porn with Veronica Mars' isn't on everyone's bucket list, but the sheriff already doesn't want me here and I'd like to wake up tomorrow."
"I think it's art," she said, chin resting on one hand as she scrutinized the half-dressed couple on screen. "I've yet to catch a glimpse of anyone's naughty bits, and at least four people are dead. That's art."
"If you say so." Weevil took another handful of popcorn and officially gave up on deciphering the movie.
The fact kept coming back to him that he was in Veronica Mars' living room, eating popcorn and watching tv.
Veronica was on the floor, using a snoring Backup as an armrest and snack-bowl-holder. Weevil was stretched out on the couch, his back twinging in protest about the hour or so spent sitting still on the ground against a car.
He'd called his grandmother earlier, promised everything was fine and he wasn't in trouble and he'd explain more tomorrow after school, and hung up. He still wasn't sure what he was going to tell her.
Or what he could do about what it was going to look like tomorrow morning, the two of them showing up at school together.
"I have some of Lilly's things," Veronica said suddenly, stroking Backup's fur and still looking at the television. "Jewelry and clothes, I mean, just. Stuff I borrowed from her. Her mother would never let me take anything else. Do you want some of it?"
some of Lilly's things
Well. Food for thought. Weevil stared up at the ceiling and bit the inside of his mouth. "I... appreciate it, V. I really do. But I can't do that. It'd look suspicious, for one thing. And it's yours, you keep it. Besides." He sat up, lifting his shirt just far enough to show the tattoo under his arm. "I got this."
"Ugh, movement," Veronica groaned, craning her neck to look without actually turning. When she caught a glimpse of the tattoo, however, she twisted around and leaned closer. "Oh. That's..."
"Cliché and pathetic, I know."
"Well, I was going to say beautiful, but sure. Did... Did you get it - ?"
"After." He dropped his shirt. "Guy doesn't ask many questions."
Veronica leaned back on her hands, tilting her head to one side. Weevil found himself reflexively waiting to hear what new favor needed returning, but all she said was, "What about Felix?"
Startled, he choked on a laugh, and Backup jerked his head off the floor and growled. "Hey, cool it, boy! Oh, yeah, big ol' heart with Felix's name in the middle? Blend right in."
"So put it somewhere... discreet." She grinned. "Where'd you say Lilly wrote her phone number again?"
Weevil upended his bowl of popcorn on her head. "Have some respect for the dead, Veronica Mars!"
A few days after the incident in the parking lot, Veronica passed by what should have been an empty classroom and did a double take.
Slowly, she backed up, and peered through the glass set into the wall beside the door.
Well, there's something you don't see every day.
She didn't have long to make a decision. Even in all the noise and general chaos of the first lunch mass exodus, people would notice her standing here soon.
As quickly and quietly as she could, she opened the door, slipped inside, and shut it behind her. "Something rotten in the state of Denmark, Weevil?"
He gaped at her. "What?"
"I know what it's from," he snapped. "What'd you mean?"
She took a brief moment to wonder if she'd misread the situation.
Weevil was leaning heavily onto one of the wooden desks, hands trembling, eyes wide and red-rimmed, and just seconds earlier he'd been gesticulating wildly at empty air and shouting.
She took slow, careful steps towards him. "Lilly showed up to give me fashion advice. And really vague, dramatic hints about actually solving her murder, but." She threw her arms up. "That's Lilly for you."
Weevil sank down into the chair behind the desk, burying his face in his hands. Veronica waited.
At length, he looked up, glaring, and said, "He doesn't want me to do anything."
"Maybe he's right."
He sat in a cell and stared down at his feet and tried to regret not listening.
"Hey, Felix? You're not, uh - I mean, I know you're cool with it an' everything, but you're not - ?"
"Nah, man, strictly chicks for me."
"Right." Eli tried not to sound disappointed.
Felix's grin flickered. "Hey, listen, I do know a couple people, if - if you're lookin' for, you know. Uh. A community, or. A support system or whatever it is."
It shouldn't have been funny. Eli was fourteen years old and terrified, running through constant scenarios of somebody at school finding out, the 09'ers realizing that there was a whole new list of words to hurl at him, ones he wasn't used to shrugging off yet. A whole new list of reasons to target him, a whole new list of things that would turn people to their side if it came down to it.
But he'd never seen Felix make such an effort to be serious in his life, and it was equal parts reassuring and absolutely fucking hilarious, and he was definitely pulling half-remembered concepts out of his social studies homework, and Eli punched his shoulder and laughed until his head swam.
Well, Lilly, Veronica thought, staring blankly down at the homework she wasn't doing. I tried to make this year different. So far we've got rape, murder, larceny, property damage, and severely neglected schoolwork. The more things change...
Giving up on studying for the time being, she shoved her books off her lap and stretched out on her bed, glaring up at the ceiling.
About this time two years ago, I was getting locked inside a fridge. And set on fire. I might take that again over this essay.
Her phone rang, and she snatched it up off the blankets. "Please tell me there's some sort of emergency that requires me to drop all this very important homework and drive somewhere far away."
She sat up. "Weevil! What's up?"
"I, uh. I need a favor."
With the hand not holding the phone, Veronica punched the air. "Music to my ears."
"...I honestly can't tell if you're being sarcastic or not, but whatever you're doing, it's scaring me."
"Sorry. Feeling a little cooped up is all. What do you need?"
"Well, that's perfect, actually. I need a ride."
"Right now?" She glanced at her alarm clock. "Did something happen?"
"I, ah. No. Well. Yeah. Not exactly recently."
"Wh- oh." Locked in a fridge. And set on fire. Funny how that tends to eclipse everything else. "...Felix?"
"Yeah. So. Can you give me a ride to the tattoo place?"
"...Please tell me you're not getting it on your-"
"I am not." The laughter on the other end of the line was a relief.
Veronica grinned, already fishing through her pockets for her car keys. "So what are you going with? Big cliché heart? Fancy motorcycle that'll take hours and hours to detail while my dad calls and demands to know where I am?"
"Just his name."
"Why do you need a ride?" She paused with one hand in her purse, narrowing her eyes. "Are you drunk tattooing, Weevil?"
"Hell no. Not after last time."
"So what, you want someone to hold your hand?"
He chuckled. "Somethin' like that. Just... don't let me change my mind."
"I'll bring my taser. If nothing else we can shake someone down for information on the way back. You know, for old times' sake."
"Sounds good, V."
There weren't many people around. Veronica knew better than to trust that fact to mean she was safe, but the tattoo parlor felt stifling and the assistants kept trying to talk her into admittedly fascinating and charming designs that she had absolutely no interest in having permanently affixed to her body through the use of needles.
So she stood outside, and tried to brood morosely, and thought she would look a lot cooler if she had a cigarette.
It was dark out. She kept one hand in her purse, on the taser, and didn't stray from the backlit display window.
"You know, I'm not saying you should get my name on your ass or anything," said Lilly's voice in her head, "But maybe something like, 'I promise not to swear off girls for the rest of my life just because the most awesome one on the planet got booted before I could make out with her, because that's not fair to the others and I don't even know what I'd be missing out on.'"
Veronica shook her head, covering a shaky smile with one hand. "My ass is not that big. And it's..." She glanced around, determined that if she was going to indulge in some light conversation with a dead person, she should at least make sure she was alone first. "...It's not just that, Lilly. Every time I think of girls, I... I think of you."
"Ugh. Get over it, Veronica Mars."
"That's some baggage that's... gonna take a long time to unpack. I'm kind of busy right now."
"It's college. Experiment! Mac's pretty cute."
Veronica scowled, pushed away from the brick wall, and hoped belatedly that no one inside the building could hear her. "Okay, you're not even a ghost. You're my subconscious, and you're not a very good one. I do not think Mac is cute."
"She's fucking adorable."
"Begone, evil spirit. I'm not toying with Mac's emotions like that."
"Fiiine, keep on being the good girl. But eventually you're gonna need someone new to balance that out."
She snorted. "In what universe am I a good girl?"
"In the universe where you stood next to me."
Veronica opened her mouth and couldn't make any sound come out.
And subconscious or not, Lilly didn't speak again.
The night felt colder.