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"Ms Mars?" Veronica looks up at the soft tap on her office door.

"What's up, Jackie?"

"There's a woman to see you, no appointment, but I thought you might have time." Jackie's eyes linger disapprovingly on the magazine in Veronica's hands, which is currently advising her as to the heartbreaking tragedy of Tallulah Belle Willis's second divorce.

"Sure." She shoves the magazine into the desk drawer, along with the sandwich she was eating. "Do I have mayonnaise on my face?"

"Probably not," Jackie says, turning around without looking. A moment later she comes back in with the client.

"Cynthia MacKenzie, Veronica Mars," Jackie says, gesturing the woman inside.

"It's okay," Cynthia MacKenzie says, "We've been introduced."

"Mac," Veronica smiles, coming around from behind her desk. "I didn't know you were in town."

Mac quirks an eyebrow; she's a little older, but still has that play of bemused irony about her. They hug briefly, warmly.

"They transferred me to the LA office. What, you stopped keeping tabs on me?"

Veronica pulls back and tries to look slightly abashed. "I figured you weren't going anywhere, what with having found your dream job and all." She pauses, not sure what to say. "You wanna sit down?"

Mac shakes her head. She's cut her hair since Veronica last saw her, but it still flashes blue when she tucks a strand behind her ear.

"I want you to come with me," Mac says. "I have something to show you."

-

"A stakeout? Really?" Veronica slumps in the passenger seat and squints suspiciously. "You do realise that I'm willing to associate with you even if there's no case involved, right?"

"Meh, I thought I'd sweeten the pot anyway." Mac flashes a grin at her, and suddenly it's like old times, like back in college, the case of the missing monkey, the case of the stolen guitar, the case . . .

"Hey, what are we even watching for? You still haven't told me what we're doing here."

Mac doesn't answer. Eventually, a man in a pair of coveralls emerges from the back of the - whatever it is, warehouse, factory, office building – it's hard to tell from the dumpsters and the loading dock – and starts emptying a trash barrel. Veronica automatically trains her camera on him; the letters stitched over his left pocket spell Steve; the letters stitched over his right pocket spell Anodyne. Veronica sighs and lets her arms fall to her lap.

"You didn't even take a picture," Mac says.

"I'm not taking a picture of the loading dock of your company."

Mac just raises one eyebrow and shrugs. "I never had controlling interest. I'm just an employee and a shareholder." She smiles slowly, bitterly. "Ex-shareholder."

"So what do you know that I don't?"

"So very many things." And there, that sounds like the Mac she knew, teasing and sweet. "But in this case, what I know is that Anodyne is corrupt in about twenty different ways, is breaking a whole pile of laws, and is also, for a bonus, in violation of dozens of codes from its own charter."

Veronica nods. Steve is still emptying the trash, so Veronica raises her camera again and takes a few photographs.

"But I'm not going to get what you need for industrial espionage by taking pictures of Steve here, am I?" Veronica asks, not taking her eye from the camera's sight.

"Nope," Mac agrees. When Steve goes back inside and the area is quiet again, Veronica puts down her camera. Mac hands her a flash drive.

"This is what I've gathered so far," Mac says, a tiny inexplicable smile quirking her lips. "See what you can make of it. Maybe plan our next move."

Veronica nods slowly. There's a long silence, then, made longer by the years between them. They used to be so close; there used to be nothing between them but ease and intimacy.

"What happened?" Veronica's been a private eye since she was nineteen, but somehow all her usual subtlety is lost; she's pretended to be people she's not and she's altered her voice and her mannerisms as the situation required and she's gotten very, very good at it, but just now her voice emerges in a hoarse, shaky tone that she has no control over. "Mac, what happened to you? I thought you were supposed to . . . "

She stops herself there, pressing her lips together harshly.

Mac's gotten better at pretending, since they were in college, but she's still not as good as Veronica is; hurt passes over her face.

"I thought you were supposed to be the FBI's best and brightest, by now," Mac says, and it should hurt – it's the thing that hurts most, the thing that Veronica takes out every night and turns over in her mind, just to feel the pain of it, just to be angry. But the way that Mac says it, with a little breathy sigh, wearily, makes it somehow softer, duller, like a slow release of air.

"Yeah," Veronica says automatically; then she realises what she's agreeing to, and says it again: "Yes," she says.

"So, there you have it," Mac continues easily, as if they'd been discussing Steve the janitor this whole time. "We're not where we're supposed to be. I'm thirty-one, and about to put myself kind of seriously out of a job. Out of the industry, in fact; nobody likes a whistle-blower."

"I like a whistle-blower," Veronica answers, teasingly, letting herself smile. She really does.

Mac's answering smile is slow and bright. "Well, that's why I came to you, isn't it. I thought, 'now, who do I know who'd like to hang out with a troublemaker like me?'"

"Delinquent," Veronica accuses, mock-shocked.

Mac nods, very very seriously. Veronica can't help but laugh, and Mac laughs with her.

-

The drive back to Mars Investigations (L.A. Office) seems to pass quickly; before long, Veronica's pulling her nondescript sedan up next to Mac's bright blue Prius H20.

"Ooooh, pretty," Veronica coos, looking over the car. "What do those things run on again? Sunshine and puppies?"

"And the innocent dreams of little girls, caught in silver cobwebs," Mac agrees.

"Gotta be a premium on those these days."

"You're telling me."

Mac leans against her car, and Veronica doesn't go inside, even though she has the flash drive in her pocket and their business is done for the moment. Mac reaches out, and takes her hand, and pulls her gently so that Veronica falls into her space. Then Mac kisses her.

Mac's lips are soft and gentle, for a moment, just pressing against Veronica's mouth; Veronica is surprised, but not too surprised, so she kisses back: lips and just the hint of tongue, Mac's hot mouth just slightly out of her reach. Mac kisses as though just for the pleasure of it, as if the simple sensation of Veronica's mouth against her own is all that she needs in this moment, and more than she expects.

When they pull apart, Mac is smiling over the worry in her eyes; it's an expression that Veronica knows immediately, although she hasn't seen it in years, and she can't help but raise her hand to stroke two fingers, briefly, against Mac's temple.

"I always wanted to do that," Mac says simply.

"Okay," Veronica says.

Then Veronica is stepping back, and Mac is opening her car door. "Call me when you've looked at the data," is all that Mac says before she drives away.

-

"Ms. Mars?" Veronica is already standing – waiting, not pacing – when Jackie taps at her office door.

"Yes?"

"Cynthia MacKenzie to see you."

And there she is, standing behind Jackie, hands in her pockets, flash of blue tucked behind her ear. She strolls into Veronica's office with ridiculous studied nonchalance.

"Hi," she says.

"So, you didn't tell me that you'd already done all the fun parts," Veronica grins.

Mac grins back. "Well, I thought you might've gotten soft in your old age. I didn't know how much you could handle on your own."

"I do often feel the enfeebling chill of my oncoming death," Veronica agrees. "But you've got enough here to take down Anodyne all on your own – you can just take it to the police." She pauses, then adds, "you don't need me."

Mac shrugs. "I figured, you were always there before, when things like this happened." She looks up and holds Veronica's gaze. "When everything changed. And I thought you might like to bring these bastards down. Uh, with me."

"Sure," Veronica shrugs. "I did happen obtain you some additional evidence which, while absolutely relevant to your case and certainly admissible in court, also incidentally proves the rather shady sexual practices of some of your fellow share-holders." She holds out a file of 8x10 glossy photographs.

"Ha, I knew it!" Mac crows, flipping through. "See, you always bring just that extra touch of squalor and seediness."

"That's what it says on the sign," Veronica agrees. She can't remember the last time she was this happy.

Mac keeps shuffling gleefully through the photographs. Veronica takes a deep breath and gives it a shot.

"So, you'll be needing a job now, I guess."

Mac looks up at that. "I was thinking of starting my own company," she answers, slowly. "I mean, again. For real this time."

Veronica nods. "Any time for freelancing, you think? Some occasional light investigative hacking?"

Mac laughs, turning her head to the side briefly, then nods. "Yeah, well, information wants to be free," she says.

This time, it's Veronica who reaches out, who takes Mac's hand in hers. "I missed you," she says. It's true, although she didn't know it until just now.

They kiss slowly, as if they have endless time to spend; as if the world is laid out in front of them; as if they have their whole lives ahead of them.