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When Lilly Kane is murdered, Veronica feels alone in the world.

She has her dad, of course, who's a really good dad and has loved her incessantly and without reservations in spite of her visible flaws—the ones that drew her mom to drink and abandon her family and disappear, which in turn caused Veronica's dad to spend a stately fortune looking for her. His reputation suffered from that—not to mention his ignoring the priorities that the Neptune community at large thought he should have had.

They don't know half of what happened with Lianne, of course—they don't know what it was about Veronica that drove her away.

Lilly knew. Lilly liked her. Lilly said the whole thing was just quirky enough to work and did her make-up in ways that highlighted what Veronica's kept hidden all her life. Lilly had a big pool and a big house and switched off the security cameras when Veronica came on over, so she wouldn't feel violent or ashamed. Veronica's never felt ashamed when it was only Lilly or her dad around her. They get it. Well, he gets it. She—she did, is the right word now.

It's hard to let go of that. Lilly got it to the extent where she convinced Veronica to tell her boyfriend—Veronica's boyfriend, Lilly's brother, Duncan Kane. Lilly with her persuasive tricks and her bright smirk while she exclaimed, "Oh, but he's so smitten with you, he would love to know! If only because he'll know more about you, and it will bring you closer together." The smirk told Veronica that Lilly meant it, because Lilly liked to mock her brother for things that were actually true. No point in lying about someone she knows—knew—so well, after all.

But then, for all her honesty, Lilly tended to extend her view of the world to everyone else, and Duncan wasn't so touched. At first he was reluctant, but the way she'd been hiding it from everyone—alleged surgery and a considerably large bandage—usually made people reluctant, so she didn't see it as a sign. If anything, it was remarkable that Duncan didn't flat-out say no.

To be fair, he didn't run away. He just seemed weirded out by the whole thing. But he stuck around, and Veronica thought he'd just take a while to come to terms with the situation—she could give him that. It was after two weeks, after Duncan kept saying he had to study or do homework or practice Calculus whenever Veronica suggested hanging out together, that Veronica realized he was slowly retreating, until he didn't even hold a conversation with her long enough for Veronica to ask.

That was a month ago, and now Lilly's dead, and Veronica's alone. It's great that her dad's focusing on the case, that he's a good sheriff and cared enough for Lilly, knew how important Lilly was to Veronica and is working for both of them, but Veronica—Veronica feels like she can't keep standing back and walking around like a ghost for much longer, putting up with the curious glances at her bandage now that Lilly's not there to growl at anyone who's not willing to include Veronica in everything. She offends herself.

Besides, it's not what Lilly would have wanted.

*

Looking back on the past year, Veronica can't put her finger on how it happened, how she managed to get herself inside such a tight, slippery shell and place said shell out in the open, but here she is, scowling under and glaring over the bandage, cutting some new kid off a pole.

Things get to her—the people looking, judging all the time, whispering about her—but if she pretends for long enough, eventually she forgets all about them.

The kid looks down at her with wariness, maybe a bit of hope, and she feels bad enough for him to say "Go pirates!" as sarcastically as she can and wait for the crowd to dissipate.

Later, the kid says his name's Wallace Fennel and innocently sits down with her at lunch.

"So what's with the bandage?" he casually asks after a few minutes. He probably hasn't been around enough to get caught in the gossip mill. Veronica doesn't know if that's an advantage or the kid's even lamer than she thought at first, but she appreciates that he's coming out with this now instead of later. "You don't look like the kinda girl who'd get a nose job."

"Don't I?" she says in a high voice. "I'm all squishy on the inside, you'll see. I'm working on getting my personality fixed, too."

Wallace laughs. "That sure can't be cheap."

"It's cheap in comparison to the suffering of rational thought," Veronica says normally, a bit of a pondering tone to it, a less false smile. "About the nose, though? Just a bad fall," she says easily, so practiced it doesn't even sound like a lie anymore. "And bad surgery after that. It hasn't seen the light of day in so long I'm afraid it might be transparent by now," she jokes.

"Not an alien, then?"

Veronica takes a second before answering. "No," she finally says, in all honesty. "Not an alien nose, anyway."

And it's true—in the little green man sense.

*

It's common knowledge that Logan Echolls is a jackass. For all the clichés that do, the cliques don't run all that rampant at this school—beyond the PCHers and the general economic divider, people are mostly known for what they do. Lilly was a slutty bitch, Duncan is kind of a vegetable, Veronica used to be that shadow who mostly stood out because her nose was always in the shop. Now she's that girl who knows people, and does favors sometimes if you can pay for them. The nose mystery's kind of on the side, like a dipping sauce, for those days where your stomach can't be bothered with a burger and really you just want the fries.

For what it's worth, Logan's still as much the jackass as he's ever been. There's something oddly comforting about that.

*

Abel Koontz didn't kill Lilly Kane—Veronica's completely sure about it. For the past year, there hasn't been a moment where she's doubted it. She's not so sure about her dad's accusations, because Jake Kane has always been more or less nice to her, but the possibility's been enough to back her dad up—especially if, as he thinks, and as Veronica has wound up thinking too, Jake Kane put Abel in jail to cover up for something.

She hasn't done much investigating on her own, only picking up some slack here and there, focusing instead on assisting her dad since he was voted out of the sheriffdom and learning more about the business, but now her dad's either giving up or keeping Veronica out of it and Veronica—Veronica doesn't like it.

So one day he's out, she breaks into his stash, makes copies of everything, and saves them for a sunny day. Of course, in Neptune, sunny days don't require a lot of waiting.

*

School doesn't give her much time, though. She can't really ask her dad to fund her illicit investigations—especially because she doesn't think it would be a good idea to make him at all aware of them. He worries too much already, when she's just taking money shots of cheating bastards outside of shady motels and breaking into people's file cabinets—he has enough on his plate. So she takes what she can, and works on little side projects.

They're fun, for the most part. She doesn't have a death wish, as some people claim at the sheriff station, but she has something of a death indifference—while her heart races, her mind remains clear.

It's unusual that she has to work for herself, though. She takes on Meg Manning's case—this girl who's never been nothing but nice to her, probably because they don't deal much with each other, but it's the thought that counts—and finds she's actually worse off.

Wallace apparently knows more people than Veronica thought—huh, maybe he is interested in hanging out at the mall—and introduces her to Cindy Mackenzie, "Mac to everyone who doesn't want his private e-mails out for public consumption", who, yeah, Veronica's seen before, and she could have approached her easily, but when you've had a heavy bandage over your nose since you came to California, it's better to have someone to vouch for your sanity.

"So, what do we have here?" Mac asks, not bothering to look up from the screen.

"Some impersonation, deception, fraud," Veronica lists.

Mac chuckles. "Just the usual, then?"

"Pretty much."

They read over Meg's entire test again, trying to find anything incriminating, and Veronica realizes she missed one question about a second before Mac does and stops scrolling. "That's—really pointed," Mac says.

"I've heard worse," Veronica says, because Dick Casablancas once suggested her nose was so sensitive that the wind blowing across it would make Veronica come. Then Lilly covered Veronica's ears and said something Veronica assumes had to do with Dick's eponymous appendix, and proceeded to tell Logan to shun Dick for a month.

Now there's no Lilly, but the shell is strong enough that she's more pissed off at —and feels a lot superior to— whomever included "I've gotten off thinking about someone taking off their bandage for me and/or in public" than emotionally hurt.

"So you really are a virgin," Veronica says to Meg when all is solved, and Meg nods bashfully. "For life?"

Meg softly raises an eyebrow. "I thought you were going to say 'until marriage'."

"Are you?" asks Veronica.

"No," Meg answers, and lets out a breathy laugh. "Not on principle."

Meg still hangs out and has lunch with the cheerleaders and the 09ers, but sometimes Veronica catches a glance Meg's throwing her way, a sort of reticent look that tells Veronica Meg doesn't really want to be there, and Meg smiles at her, and Veronica wouldn't admit it, but her heart feels kind of warm.

*

Things happen, as they do, and one day she's in the newsroom listening in to a private parent-teacher conference when someone taps her on the shoulder.

She turns her head and catches the earphones when they fall out of her ears. "Hey," she says.

"Hi," Logan replies, polite. Veronica figures he's approaching her about the memorial for Lilly, and she's right.

Logan and Veronica—they used to be friends. Friends by proxy, anyway, by proxy of Lilly Kane. Lilly and Logan, on-again and off-again, but the friendship by proxy tended to stick—before Veronica sided with her dad against Jake Kane, before Veronica sided with her dad towards digging more into the case instead of leaving it alone. It's public, that fallout—she'd lost Duncan and then she lost Logan and with him, all the 09ers went. They made her doubt her doubts less, if only.

"I was wondering," Logan says, "if you had any footage of Lilly? Something that's not a singing recital or her first steps." His tone is offended, almost, like he would snort in derision if she was actually his friend. He's being nice, here, not pretending to notice her bandaged nose like he usually does. He hasn't given it a second thought since they were thirteen, as far as Veronica knows. One of those people who could just live with it.

Veronica's mouth curls up a little. "I'll see what I can find," she says, and Logan nods at her. It means something to him, Lilly, giving her the right goodbye—a goodbye that's not boring and politically correct, because Lilly wasn't.

Logan and Veronica, well—they do have that in common.

*

That's one thing her dad tells her, because they're not involved in it at all, except Veronica kind of is, would be invested in it even if she wasn't providing Logan with proof of Lilly's scandalousness.

"You're going to the inauguration, right?" he asks defeatedly, a little amused. He knows it's important to her, but Veronica knows he can't help but feel protective towards her—protect her from the people who judge her, for the nose and for all the other things, the ones he thinks he's responsible for.

"Yeah," she says. It's not really up for discussion. "Are you?"

"Maybe," he concedes, looking up from the newspaper. "I'll be fashionably late and sneak out before it's over."

Veronica chuckles. "That should be fun." Her dad looks at her, gets lost in—Veronica's not sure, but it happens sometimes, that he looks at her and keeps looking and she wants to curl up into a ball and disappear into the armchair, even though she knows he's not judging—he's used to this, to Veronica without the bandage. "Sheriff Mars," she says, making light of the situation, putting on a fake Mexican accent, "I already said I didn't do it. He simply happened to be on the way of my bullet."

Her dad chuckles, shakes his head at her silliness, like he usually does when he's looking at her with this amount of concentration. It's a little freaky, to be honest. "You're so goddamn pretty, Veronica," he says, "don't listen to anyone."

Veronica avoids his eyes, now, looks at the open notebook on her lap, all the Physics formulae, much easier than not listening to anyone. "I have a pig nose, dad," she says quietly, and her dad sighs.

"It's not as bad as you think," he says. "I know your mom—" and she mouths Lianne, because it's easier that way, "—I know Lianne kept telling you that, but she was just—she was a prom queen. She always equated beauty to perfection."

"She married you," Veronica says with a half-smile.

Her dad makes a silly face. "I'll have you know I was fourteen kinds of perfect in my time."

"I thought there was only one kind of perfect," she says, and the moment is light now, and it's all—gone, really. Because her dad can think she's pretty, but she—she puts a lock of hair behind her ear, and lingers on her own cheek, touches her nose, and doesn't shiver, this time, but she usually does. It's still the way it usually is—taut, and a bit wrinkly, and the skin feels thick in contrast with the rest of her face. Her dad follows the movement with a smile completely void of mockery, which is nice.

"Oh, no," he says. "Each species has a different kind of perfect. There's human perfect, sure, and you could say it overpowers our society, but I was fish perfect, and fridge perfect, and gave perfect bear hugs. That's gotta count for something, right?"

"You're still all those things," Veronica says. "Maybe your hugs are more teddy bear than actual manly grizzly, but as far as that goes, you've aged pretty well."

His expression changes again, though, and he says, "Seriously, though, Veronica, I'd be right there with you if you decided to stop wearing that bandage."

Veronica smiles and lets the armchair engulf her. "Thanks, dad."

*

It's not like she's never considered it, just going out and letting everyone see the stupid snout. It was always in the back of her mind when Lianne was around—not really an option, but a fleeting thought or hope that it could happen someday, that the nose would swell down, maybe, magically—it was a curse after all—but if it didn't, maybe Veronica could learn to really live with it, rather than hiding it.

After her mom left, though, it's been more present in her thoughts, doing that. She thinks she might not even care what people think, but she doesn't want to be scientifically analyzed against her will. It really is a curse and it's stupid and it's not her fault and, childish as it is, she doesn't get why she's the one the whole thing fell on. And Veronica's not a danger to society, at least not because of the nose.

The thing is, she wants to go to college. She wants to do something with her life—she's good at this P.I. business. Idealistically, she could join the police and dismantle all that corruption from the inside. The bandages would work, too, make her seem tough and willing to get her hands dirty. But the nose? If they see the nose, she might just have to join the circus for a living, or work from a bunker, or be a trophy wife you can't really show off—marry a polygamist with a pig fetish or something. She knows that. Even if she wasn't embarrassed—even if Lianne hadn't been embarrassed all those years—there's an enormous problem in taking that step.

That's what led Veronica, at the tender age of fifteen, four months after Lianne had packed her bags and gone, to tell Lilly first, in confidence, in all seriousness, which was unusual with Lilly—which was impossible with Lilly, in a way, because Lilly made fun of everything—but she'd also been perfectly supportive, in that special way of hers, of Veronica and her dad during the Lianne debacle, and Veronica knew she could trust her.

What Lilly said was: "Oh my, Veronica Mars, you really were hiding something big!" And she said it with all the ease in the world, with a constant shake of the head, mocking, which was how Veronica knew that Lilly wasn't going to blab to Duncan or Logan or any of her boy toys.

It meant something, Lilly being totally okay with it, encouraging Veronica to take off the bandage when only Lilly was around, asking Veronica questions about it—dirtier than Veronica could answer or even wanted to, and then the normal ones, the things she hadn't really put to words since she was a child—but it didn't solve anything in the grand scheme of things.

*

Now the video's over, and Celeste Kane looks as cross as her husband looks amused, reminiscent, and Veronica could use someone to—maybe not talk to, but sit beside in silence. Think about Lilly.

She's walking towards the parking lot when Logan and the Casablancas kids intercept her. Dick makes an obscene gesture with his mouth and snorts, which is disgusting, and says,

"And I think the question on everyone's lips is: how are you gonna breathe when you blow me?"

Logan looks at her, knowing, in a way that he's never looked at Veronica before, and Veronica takes too long to think up a witty reply and doesn't even have the chance to say it before Logan punches Dick across the jaw.

"What the fuck, man?" Dick says, touching his hand to his jaw, holding it to ease the pain.

"You need context for that shit, Dick," Logan says. "You don't say shit like that to my girlfriend's best friend at a fucking memorial, you dickhead." Veronica raises an eyebrow.

"You were broken up," Dick says, pretty pointedly, and then they're fighting and Veronica finds herself in the newsroom at school, sitting next to Mac, who's overseeing the filming of the ceremony for the school's website, not really talking. Mac glances at her every other minute, a flickering in her eyes like she'd like to say something, and looks back at the computer.

After twenty minutes, Veronica remembers that Wallace is waiting in the car.

"Well, here comes a regular," he says when she gets in, and she makes an apologetic pout. "Don't worry, I heard the fight."

Veronica raises an eyebrow. "You heard—"

"It got loud," Wallace said, exaggerating for drama. "There were gunshots."

Veronica's eyes widen, and then Wallace's face contracts into the face of someone who's trying not to laugh. "Byotch," she says, not bothering to change her surprised face until she punches him in the arm, hard enough for him to feel it. "Can't put that stuff past Logan. Any time, the PCHers could swing by and sweep him off his feet."

She's joking, except it's also kinda true, but she just keeps the deadpan face and Wallace snickers and all is good again.

*

Meg starts dating Duncan. Meg also thinks that the looks they've been throwing at each other since the purity test incident qualify as friendship, so one day Veronica's quietly having lunch with Wallace and wondering why Duncan has his arm around Meg's waist, and in a second Meg is looking over at her with a pained expression, excusing herself and walking towards Veronica's table.

Meg sits down in front of her. "Hi," she says with a smile.

Veronica likes Meg, so she makes it easy. "Hey," Veronica says. "I'm assuming you and Duncan are—"

Meg bites her lower lip and looks down for a second before facing Veronica again. "Yeah. Dating, yeah. I—it just happened."

"You don't have to apologize." She really doesn't. Duncan's dated all of two girls since Lilly died, both of them extremely bad for him, and Veronica could still be mad at him for blowing her off, but sometimes she looks in the mirror and thinks she would do the same, and—yeah, she's taught herself to forgive him, in a way. Forgive and forget. Meg is a good thing.

"But I wanted to tell you before anyone else did," Meg explains. "Are you—"

"I'm fine," Veronica says, smiling widely now. "It's been an entire year. I neither have nor want any sort of dibs on Duncan Kane."

Meg smiles sweetly, in that way she does, and leaves just as Wallace is turning to Veronica and saying, "So who do you want dibs on?"

Veronica shakes her head. "Well, now that you mention it," she begins in a high squeal, "that little Casablancas boy—"

"Don't be gross, Mars."

"You're no fun, Fennel," Veronica says, and throws a cold fry at his face.

*

Surprisingly enough, one visit to the Sheriff not only brings the desired sleuthing results, but also sets Veronica up with a date for Saturday.

Leo's older than her, which is not exactly a plus for Veronica, and he hasn't asked what the deal with the bandage is yet, but he doesn't seem twitchy about it like other people do—their glances moving indirectly towards the bandage like it's some sort of considerable amount of cleavage—so Veronica's giving him the evening to either blab or show his discomfort.

"Don't tell Lamb, but I've missed your dad since he lost the election," Leo says over dinner.

"I'm sure you were very happy when the results came out," Veronica says, not expecting a no—quite the opposite—with a grin that she hopes suggests she's not gonna blame him for having been a sheep.

"No, it was—I wanted Keith out, yeah. He was concentrating too much on the Lilly Kane case, and I know she's important to you, and I know it's an important case, but we already had a guy."

"Yeah, skip this part," says Veronica.

"Anyway, I was pretty glad at the time, and then I got to know Sheriff Lamb professionally. Really wish I hadn't. Messes with a guy's morals pretty bad, you know."

Veronica smiles, amused. He wouldn't do anything about it, but at least he's offering her an opening to bitch about the Sheriff. It's kind of sweet. "Look at you, criticizing your boss. Whatever has Neptune come to?"

He takes a sip of wine, then, and looks at her pretty intently, and pops the question.

"Nose job," Veronica says.

"Really?"

"Yeah."

Leo frowns. "You don't look like the kind of person who'd need a nose job." Which is not exactly saying that she wouldn't have it if she did, and—for some reason, it's incredibly off-putting to hear that.

"Sweet seventeen," says Veronica. "A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do."

Leo doesn't press the subject. Two days later, he calls for another date.

Veronica lets him down easy.

*

Mac starts dating Logan. See, that Veronica doesn't expect.

"He's. . .nice," Mac tells her. They're trying to hack into a local newspaper's database, and Mac thought Veronica might want to know.

Veronica's a little taken aback by this. "Well, that's new," she manages amid her confusion.

"Not really," Mac says. She's smiling now, kind of. . . smitten, which is weird because Mac doesn't really seem like the type, and then not so much because she just said Logan is nice, of all things. "Remember when Logan punched Dick? After the memorial?"

Veronica raises an eyebrow and says, elongating the word, "Yeah."

"He'd been wanting to do that for a while." Mac looks into the computer, types something way too fast for Veronica to grasp all the keys, and they're in. "Ha."

Which is pretty much what Logan said after a very complicated joke when they were fourteen where he tried to convince Veronica that Duncan was two-timing her with Madison Sinclair. But this is not Logan talking, this is Mac, and Mac's made it clear that she likes and respects Veronica, plus there's no personal gain in making Veronica believe Mac's dating Logan if she's not.

Besides, Veronica's not fourteen anymore.

So she leans into Mac, on pretense of leaning to see the screen more closely, and says, "So you're happy with him?"

And Mac nibbles at her lower lip a bit, and her eyes go down for a second, and then she looks up at Veronica. "It's going well," she says casually, and Veronica knows that means yes.

*

Mac also starts hanging out with Veronica more often, having lunch with Veronica and Wallace. It's a ritual, almost—Mac walks towards the 09ers with Logan's arm around her shoulders, talking to him, and then his attention shifts towards Duncan or Dick, she disentangles herself from him, touches his arm as a sort of warning—he looks around, leans down for a peck on the lips—and Mac begins walking towards Veronica with her lunch tray.

"You don't mind if I sit here, do you?"

Veronica chuckles. "Too many underdeveloped systems to deal with this early in the day?"

"Too many 09ers, I was going to say, but that works too."

Wallace has started dating this red-haired girl, Jane, a year younger than both of them, and every time she's next to Wallace, they become this disgustingly sweet couple that Veronica wouldn't wish on her worst enemy, so the company's appreciated.

"So," Mac says one day, "are you ever going to let us in in the mystery of the middle of your face?"

"Well," Veronica replies, "if you become flies small enough to fly into my nostrils, I might."

"Ah," Mac says with a smirk, "and how small would this hypothetical fly form have to be?"

"You're keeping up," Veronica says brightly. "How novel. But I'm afraid you'll have to Alice this one up."

Mac leans into the plastic chair and smiles up at Veronica. "Any clue where the first drink-me bottle is?"

"I could do some investigative work on that," Veronica says, her face showing fake concentration. "For a start, though, I hear the cafeteria mushrooms have shrinking properties."

"Poison?"

"Magic, my friend."

Mac is pretty awesome—opinionated and passionate about some things and not so much about the ones that people assume teenagers obsess over, which is all great in Veronica's book. She's also the only sane person Veronica knows who's not an 09er and has made the transition into dating one, so hey, Veronica's doing her part for the country, here.

They're not that close, though, and Veronica doesn't think it's the right time for Mac to have an existential crisis, so she just smiles and changes the topic to Logan.

Mac raises her eyebrows, shakes her head, bitches about him, makes jokes at his expense, and Veronica finds herself missing Lilly, missing the people who could make fun of what she's scared of.

*

It's probably that fear that leads her into this. Things keep happening, and she takes a good long look at all the pictorial references in the Lilly files until she takes notice of a photograph she hadn't seen before. But she doesn't really plan on visiting Abel Koontz in jail until she starts thinking about the nose and wants to beat the crap out of her brain for not shutting up.

So she goes to prison. It fits.

Surprisingly enough, the crazy only amounts to Abel calling her Veronica Mars after she purposefully introduces herself as Ellen White, being creepily descriptive about the murder—nothing Veronica doesn't know already, nothing anyone doesn't know already—, and looking pointedly at Veronica's bandage and saying,

"Mm, I wonder who did that." She's not going to cave. She doesn't want to. "Not a bad burn, was it?"

"Not exactly, Mr. Koontz."

"Ah. Are you sure about that, Veronica Mars?"

"I'm confident it's not a bad burn, yes."

"Maybe it would have been better if your father had believed it was."

She's not getting sucked into this. He's sleep-deprived, and he doesn't know what he's talking about, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with her dad. "I doubt that, Mr. Koontz."

He raises an eyebrow pointedly and lifts his hands to his head. The receiver makes for sad Mickey Mouse ears, and his fingers raise above it like a crown. "You might want to pick your battles better, Mr. Koontz," Veronica says, though Abel only picks up the receiver halfway through. "Bad burns are not genetic," she says, and hangs up.

It wouldn't be a bad way to waste her time, making her doubt her origins. But Veronica has a snout on her face and a dad who keeps every single file intact. If nothing else, she's pretty familiar with her DNA.

*

Logan's mother kills herself. Jumps off a bridge. Some kids shooting a stupid movie get footage of the whole thing, and Mac threatens them into not even considering selling them out for public consumption.

"She's pretty kickass, that Mac girl," Veronica says to Wallace during lunch.

"Took you long enough to figure that out," Wallace says with a smirk.

Veronica shakes her head. "I always knew she had it in her."

Wallace chuckles. "Not gonna make the obvious joke."

Veronica bows to him in thanks, and looks over at the 09er table, towards which Mac has shifted in the past week. She plays the supportive girlfriend fairly well—the casual hand on the thigh, the letting Logan do his stupid act in front of everyone, that sort of thing—and it's even better than Lilly's denial methods for the unfixable evils. Promotes acceptance, at least, which Veronica's perfectly cool with.

Veronica's going with denial this time, though. She liked Lynn, when she dealt with her—she'd undergone one too many surgeries, probably a by-product of her public persona being overshadowed by her husband's in every department, but at the end of the day, you could even say she was a doting mother. She checked in every half hour, brought them the pastries the maid either baked or bought at the nearest Starbucks—she was around. Lilly pretended she wasn't, but she was, and it makes it a bit harder for Veronica to let the depth of Lynn's death just slide off her.

Still, she manages.

*

"So I was talking to Wallace earlier—" Meg starts, and Veronica interrupts her.

"Wallace talks—wait. Why did I think you and Wallace would only speak within hearing range of me?"

Meg doesn't blink an eye. "Egomania, probably."

Veronica nods solemnly. "Go on."

"Did you go see Abel Koontz in prison?" Meg says, and it sounds half amused, half indignant, but not exactly judgmental.

"Even convicted criminals deserve a conjugal visit every now and then," Veronica says, and wants to throw up when she hears herself.

"I thought you'd buried this whole thing, Veronica," Meg says, in a sort of anxiously worried tone that kind of makes Veronica want to bury the whole thing. Kind of. Not at all, when he thinks of Lilly, and of all the things that don't tie in together in the case, but it's a tad alarming that the desire to find Lilly's real murderer wavers even just for a second.

"It's buried," she lies. "Just some loose ends here and there. It's all good."

"Okay," Meg says, drawing the word out—like she's not entirely convinced. It'll have to do. "I'm still weirded out by him, to be honest."

"Why?" Veronica asks, putting on her best curious-and-worried-and-totally-not-trying-to-find-evidence-of-anything tone.

"He went to my doctor. I passed him by in the hallways a couple times, and I sat in the waiting room with him. I mean, Dr. Levine is the Kanes' doctor, too. Lilly was there. It could—what if he had taken notice of me?"

Veronica's—well, to answer the question, it probably wouldn't have mattered as much to Veronica at the time. Maybe her dad would still be Sheriff. Maybe—but Abel Koontz didn't kill Lilly Kane. Abel Koontz was—oh. "It wasn't that random, Meg. He wouldn't just have picked someone out of a crowd," she says, and allows Meg a second of thinking before continuing. "How often did you see him there?"

Meg gives her a strange look, but answers the question. "He was there for most of my appointments. I think he's just one of those people prone to catching the flu. He never looked very healthy."

"That must have been it," Veronica says. Of course, in Veronica's world, it's never that easy. If Abel was sharing a doctor with the Kanes, and never looked healthy—there's a third element she has to find. "What made you think of this, anyway?"

"I have an appointment later today," Meg says. Veronica raises an eyebrow. "Just a routine check-up."

"You want me to go with you?" Veronica suggests. It comes out really casual—she should lie more often.

Meg gives her another strange look before saying, in a rather maternal way, "Veronica."

"As your friend," Veronica says. "Seriously, I'm not trying anything. But Wallace has practice and I'm out of things to do. We can get coffee afterwards."

Meg smiles softly and agrees.

*

It's a slow day at the clinic, which is luckier than Veronica could have hoped for, and Meg has the last appointment of the day, which is even creepier, but Veronica will take it—karma does owe her good.

They're in the waiting room when Meg says, "I broke up with Duncan." Veronica turns to her, and Meg adds, "Well, Duncan broke up with me. Though by the end it was kind of mutual."

"Did he say why?" asks Veronica. She's not hung up on Duncan, not at all, but Duncan hasn't really dated anyone decent in the past year and seemed rather happy with Meg. She's not hung up on Duncan, but she's kind of hung up on not knowing his real reasons to break up with her—not having heard them exactly, anyway—and not understanding why anyone would suddenly decide he doesn't want Meg. It's not like Meg's the type of girl who would randomly unveil a hidden side of herself—Veronica doubts she even has one.

"Well, it's one of those. . .no spark things," Meg says. "I mean, the first time we kissed was kind of an accident, and we started dating out of. . .inertia or something. Seemed like the right thing to do."

Veronica raises her eyebrows. "You're not keeping any secrets from me, are you?"

"Should I?" Meg asks, not quite serious. "You know, hypothetically, imagine I was. Imagine, say, that there was someone else."

"I'm imagining this situation, yes. Go on."

"Imagine it was you," Meg says, faking outrage. She deadpans, "If Duncan's still in love with you, you know, I don't think I can ever speak to you again."

Veronica laughs and says, "Well, for my sanity, let's hope it's not."

"You're getting something out of this, right?" Meg asks, and her tone conveys that she doesn't mean this conversation, but Veronica goes with it anyway.

"I'm getting an update on your personal life," Veronica says, "so yeah, I guess I am."

Meg looks at her this time, holds Veronica's eyes in place, and Veronica doesn't know if she turns away and blabs because Meg won't mind, or because Meg is fucking adorable like that and it causes Veronica's stomach to turn into itself and do a bunch of Olympic whirls. If anyone asks, it's the former.

Veronica turns away and looks towards reception. "There's a certain file I want."

"It's in my best interest not to ask, isn't it?" Meg says, and Veronica thinks this is denial, too, Meg convincing herself that it's a good thing and not being told otherwise. Veronica can deal with that.

She nods. "Yep."

While Meg's inside—and Veronica's not thinking about what state of dress Meg is in right now, because she has things to say—Veronica manages to ask enough questions to drive the nurse away, and it's really lucky that the files are so easy to find, because keeping that woman out of Veronica's hair for too long could prove complicated.

She leaves and waits for Meg in the car.

*

Abel Koontz is dying.

Veronica kind of itches to tell Meg on the drive home, but finally saves the information for her dad, later—first, she calls Wallace.

*

The next night, Meg shows up on her doorstep with a baby care bag.

"Are we babysitting or something?" Veronica says, and for a moment is terrified she forgot to put the bandage back on. Her dad's there, they were having dinner, and Veronica usually relaxes and watches TV with the bandage in her hand—she reaches for it, and yeah, it's there. Actually, the fact that Meg hasn't run off is probably better indication.

"Sort of," Meg says. "Would it be too much trouble if I stayed the night?"

Veronica's dad takes that moment to wander back from the fridge. "Oh, Meg, hi."

"Hi, Mr. Mars."

"You packing for war?" he says, and Veronica pointedly raises an eyebrow.

Meg chuckles, though, politely. "Running away from it, maybe. I have a. . .situation at home, I was wondering if I could stay here?"

"If Veronica doesn't think you shouldn't," he offers.

Veronica blinks. "No, it's fine. Come in."

It's not exactly fine, if Veronica's honest with herself, because:

a. She's sleepy. She's sleepy and unaware and she could doze off and instinctively take off the bandage.
b. As proven by her blabbing to Meg about Abel Koontz in the waiting room yesterday, Veronica's not exactly bright around Meg. See: unawareness.
c. They don't have an extra bed. See: dozing off. See also: Veronica's not letting Meg sleep on the couch. There's the blow-up mattress, but it'd go in Veronica's room, and she's back to the first point.

But she can't say no to Meg, and Meg probably feels guilty about asking Veronica in the first place—even though, truth be told, Veronica kind of owes her—so she's just going to have to drink a gallon of coffee in the morning and abuse the concealer.

Come to think of it, she also needs to take Abel's medical files off her dresser, so for now, she's going to do exactly that.

*

Expecting Meg to let Veronica off easy, though, is a bit like expecting the end of the world to happen when a minor religious group says it will.

Meg is wearing some sort of cross between a nightdress and a long nightshirt, which would be creepy or weird if it wasn't bright pink and had a big puppy on the front. It's not even childish. Veronica used to stay over at Lilly's, but Lilly already knew about the nose, so Veronica didn't have to worry about that, and Lilly was always either exhausted or drunk, so Veronica didn't have to worry about making conversation.

She clearly needs to reevaluate her views on sleepovers, though. So far, not a pillow has been gutted. It's a relief.

Meg looks at her, squints a bit, and says, softly, "Are you gonna sleep with that thing on your face?"

"Yeah," Veronica says matter-of-factly. It's one thing to let someone see the nose in a situation where they can just laugh it off and the other person can leave and never talk to Veronica again. Meg's staying the night in Veronica's bedroom. It's not really an option.

"You can't sleep with the bandage on. Your skin's gonna shrink."

"That's not—" Veronica starts, but stops herself. "It's not pretty, Meg. You don't want to see it." The worst part is, she's considering it. Meg is—Meg's a nice girl. Meg's always been nothing but lovely to Veronica, and helpful, and seems to hold Veronica in high esteem. As much as she believes in God, she wouldn't think the fucking snout is evil, would she?

Meg smiles and shakes her head. "I can deal with it. If it's a bad scar or a burn or—"

"No, I mean it's—not scientifically possible," Veronica attempts. "Which makes me sound like a psycho," she reflects, "but it's really difficult to explain in a way that makes sense."

"I'm a woman of faith, Veronica."

That's what I'm worried about, Veronica thinks. "It's probably not very. . .godly, either," she says, and urges her heart to stop beating. She can't get nervous about the nose—it's not an option.

Meg snorts, which is really kinda cute. "Veronica, my parents tried to set me up with the school janitor today. I'm at my most cynical right now. You're not gonna find a better moment to tell someone than me right now."

Veronica shakes her head. "Meg, think about it," she says, and she's aware that she sounds cold and amused—that she's about to make a joke. "What if I took off my bandage, and it activated a system that made my skin sprout a superhero costume?"

Meg looks at her, not sure if Veronica's kidding or what. "That would be. . .cool. Creepy, but cool. I could be the Mary Jane to your Spider-Man."

Veronica raises an eyebrow. "You know those two get married, right?"

"We'll make it work," Meg says nonchalantly. "So what's your secret identity? Shredderwoman, combatting crime one medical file at a time? SuperV, for the rights of women everywhere?"

She's looking at Veronica with this bright, amused smile, like this is something that's going to make her laugh, and Veronica—Veronica caves in. It went well with Lilly, it went badly with Duncan and her mom—karma really owes her. So she—doesn't rip the band-aid off, either literally or metaphorically, but she says:

"I have a pig nose."

And Meg frowns, though the ghost of a smile is still there. "Like, a—"

"Not an unfortunately shaped nose, or a bad scar, or anything that you may be trying to explain to yourself right now," Veronica interrupts. She's feeling ballsy now. "I have a pig nose. A snout. It hasn't grown proportionally, so it's not as overpowering as it was when I was a kid, but it's still a snout. Pig snout. I'm not kidding."

Meg looks at her in this contemplative way, like she's not entirely sure this isn't a joke, but Veronica's positive her face doesn't allow for doubts there. "Well," Meg says after a few seconds, "can I see it?"

Veronica will later tell herself that she made a completely rational decision here, and that it was meant to turn out the way it did, but honestly, she just got really fucking lucky.

Meg looks at it with a frown, at first, and then she stands up and seems to be looking at it from different angles, which makes Veronica really uncomfortable, but at least she's not freaking out.

"Can I touch it?" Meg asks, and Veronica lets out a relieved laugh she didn't know she was holding.

"Sure," she says, but keeps laughing, and Meg sort of looks at Veronica's nostrils, like it's totally fascinating, and Veronica thinks, well, it probably is.

*

Meg doesn't blow her off the next day. As a matter of fact, she's cheerful and spends all her lunch time with Veronica, and keeps texting her with stupid coded questions during class, like Dogs can only see black and white, right? Can you smell everything?, and every time she gets one, Veronica feels the pressure slide off her shoulders.

She considers telling Wallace, even, because he's technically her best friend, but that'd probably be abusing her —really, really good— luck, and he's being icky with Jane anyway, which Veronica informs him of straight away—her duty as a citizen, after all—and then she proceeds to convince him to put a bug in Clarence Wiedman's office, where his mom just got a job.

She should totally tell Wallace. In about a year or so, when he stops ogling Jane's cleavage like it's grown ears and settles for ogling Jane's cleavage like his eyes just casually fell upon it.

Later, Mac begs Veronica, as her fellow freak with 09er experience, to go with her to a party. Something Trina Echolls is throwing in honor of a—documentary of some sort about her mother being made, where Trina will play her mother.

Veronica doesn't see how this is cause for celebration, but that's to be expected. Besides, Mac is funny when she rants. When Mac is done, though, the breath she takes makes Veronica shiver in terror.

Mac looks at her for a second, probably trying to find the meaning of life in Veronica's eyes. "Keep me company?" she finally asks, all good girl act. "Besides, his dad kinda freaks me out."

Veronica smiles. "Ah, there's a little Aaron Echolls fangirl gnawing at your insides, huh?"

"If you want to put it that way," Mac says without blinking. "But no, it's more like the little sideway glances at the blue streaks and how he constantly looks like he can't believe his son is dating me."

Veronica frowns. "How much time have you spent around Aaron Echolls?"

"Well, you know, the occasional family dinner, breakfast in bed. . ." Mac starts, and Veronica gestures at her to cut the snark. "Drove me home once. Told me I was a nice girl who might reform his son."

"Very freaky concern," Veronica says. "Threatened you with a steak knife."

"I think you had to be there, but it felt a lot like being held at shotgun."

Veronica smiles. "I'll keep my eyes open."

Mac does everything but jump in excitement—she claps and chants thank you thank you thank you and practically bounces out of the room, except that's kind of an insulting thing to say when Mac is just. . .relieved, probably. She does clap, a bit, and thanks Veronica pretty effusively for what Mac's usually like, but that doesn't make for an amusing tale, so Veronica tells Wallace the other story.

*

Veronica visits Abel Koontz again. Shows him his medical record. She doesn't tell him that she has a clue on her daughter because she doesn't know at the time, but when she does find out, she kind of hits herself for rushing things. It would have been pretty awesome to see his face. Even if he's dying—even if he's doing this for his stranged daughter—the guy has a sadistic vein, and could probably use more than just one lesson.

She has a test, and she's involved in a case against a teacher who she's doing her hardest to keep on the staff, so her dad goes looking for Amelia DeLongpre. He tells her everything, which Veronica wouldn't have done, and after she's done sending text messages to the judge from Mr. Clemmons's cell, she picks up a call from her dad—who says Amelia's run off with the money.

Veronica really shouldn't be surprised. Like father, like daughter.

She really thinks Mr. Rooks is innocent, though, as much as her dad advises her not to get so invested in the case, but the deal with Carrie Bishop is that she'd do just about anything for attention. Veronica has her beliefs, some unwavering ones, not many, and she likes those beliefs—they keep her grounded in a sort of contemplative optimism—and she'd like to keep them where they are, safe as they are.

So Veronica's absolutely sure the guy's innocent until, after the trial, she pays him a visit and all the little things in Carrie's journal—the music, the ambience, the walls, the fucking sheets—turn out to be true.

Needless to say, she doesn't stay for dinner.

She reads what she has of Carrie's diary again, tries to make sense of things, and, when she picks Meg up to get some studying done, she figures if someone knows who wins spelling bees, that's the blonde in the co-pilot seat.

"That was—Susan Knight, this year, I think," Meg says. "Why?"

Veronica's sorely disappointed, but she hides it well. "Carrie doesn't have sweet knees. She has a friend who answers to the same initials."

Meg frowns, and then her face turns into a sort of shocked realization that Veronica wants to kiss right off of her.

Probably not the best idea she's ever had.

Instead, she starts the car.

*

On the ride to Susan's house, Veronica thinks about lesbians.

More specifically, Veronica briefs Meg on the situation, trying her best not to give out outrageous details or anything too personal. Then she hands Meg a pair of headphones and turns on the car's radio for her. Then, Veronica thinks about lesbians.

More specifically, Veronica thinks about being a lesbian, or partly a lesbian, at least. She liked Duncan, she was attracted to him, she wanted to date him. She was completely crushed when he couldn't get over the snout—she had feelings for him. And Veronica's strong, now, is pretty damned self-aware and proud for someone in her senior year of high school, and she doesn't want to closet this too—she already has the nose to hide, after all, and the nose is embarrassing, it is, but Meg is really, really not.

In the hypothetical case that Meg was actually interested in Veronica—which Veronica has some hope in, because Meg doesn't do the lingering look thing with everyone—, Veronica wouldn't be ashamed of dating Meg. In any way. Meg has the Christian family, so there's that, but Veronica—Veronica could just get out of bed in her pajamas, drink some milk out of the carton and tell her dad she's dating a girl, and her dad would look at her and question her well-being in a parental sort of way, like he did when she told him she was dating Duncan, and possibly pat her on the head and then freak out a little on his own.

She actually thinks about setting up a sound bug to see how much of the conversation goes exactly the way she expects it to, that's how worried she is.

But the thing is, Veronica's okay with that. It's not an epiphany, it's just—something else she had to rip the band-aid off of. It doesn't even hurt.

She pulls over at the address she has, tells Meg to wait in the car, that she'll probably not take long.

Susan sneaks her head out around the door, and Veronica knows she's reached her destination.

"What are you doing here?" asks Susan.

"It wasn't Carrie, was it? The journal was yours. You're S.K.," Veronica says.

The door opens, reveals Susan's pregnancy pretty clearly. She tells Veronica easily—in for a penny—embarrassed about the journal, at this point not anymore about the basics of the situation. Veronica gives her a number, tells her what Carrie's going through at school, and hopes she'll do the right thing.

When she turns around, the sun is starting to set. Meg is waiting on the sidewalk, probably stretching her legs, and Veronica—Veronica thinks she might as well do this now, before she gets in too deep. She walks over to Meg, announces herself with a "Hey".

"How did it go?"

Veronica shrugs nonchalantly. "I guilt-tripped her a little. She'll call the board."

"Good," Meg says, and there's a moment there—a second that's barely hanging, waiting—and Veronica looks at Meg's face, her lips, and thinks, okay, now I'm going to kiss her.

So she takes the last step between them and does.

It's just a peck, really, and Veronica feels a little self-conscious, but when she pulls away, Meg surges forward and kisses back. Veronica only has time to think, fleetingly, that Meg knows about the nose and is not running away—that she's okay with this—before her hand goes up to cup Meg's jaw and Meg giggles into Veronica's mouth, in a way that sounds a lot more like relief than amusement, and then they're kissing, really kissing, on the sidewalk in front of the place where Susan Knight's staying, too caught up in it for Veronica to realize, not until later, that they're in public and Meg doesn't seem to have a problem with that.

*

They go to Trina's party.

They're in the middle of the living room when Meg suddenly decides to hold her hand, which is weird, and Veronica raises an eyebrow at her, but it does make a point. Meg shrugs, makes a face like it's not a big deal, and says,

"I don't want to get engulfed by the crowd."

It's a good point.

Veronica finds Mac in the kitchen, eating canapes and channelling her inner high society girl. She seems to be having fun with it. Or making fun of it, anyway. "Thank God you're here," Mac says when she spots her, and frowns at Meg. "You guys are—"

"Dating," Veronica says, not missing a beat. "New development. Has evil befallen us yet?"

"No," Mac says. Then, "Yes, actually, don't look behind you, please hide me," she says, and downs the rest of his drink like it's scotch, makes a face afterwards—maybe it is scotch. "I think that girl wants to auction my first-born off on eBay."

Veronica looks up at her now, eyes wide. Aaron has never been a model dad, at least as far as educating his son properly goes, and yeah, Trina makes a buck and some fame out of anything, but Veronica's been around them on occasion, when Lilly was alive, and they weren't awful at all. "Wow. You really hate them."

"I don't," Mac says, "I just don't want them to get close to my brain. In case they eat it."

Veronica chuckles, and feels Meg's hand disentangle from hers and slip into her back pocket. She smiles. "Why are you even dating Logan, anyway?"

"I told you, he's nice. He's not a total jackass."

"That's news to me."

Mac shrugs. "Wouldn't be if you listened to me more often," she says. "Besides, if your definition of nice is your girlfriend, you're going to live a really difficult life."

"Hey," Meg says, and throws an olive at Mac, who catches it with another drink. "Quick, Mackenzie."

Mac makes a mock-bow. "Thank you."

Trina doesn't even bother talking to Mac, busy as she is with people Veronica half-recognizes from freshmen's folders and gossip mags, and eventually Logan shows up and drags Mac away.

Meg is speculating about the way the waiter keeps flirting with this one brunet actor when Veronica's cell goes off.

The message is from Mac, and says: Get yourself to the guest room, I'm freaking out.

Veronica leaves Meg in the kitchen and finds Mac in a big bedroom, Mac poking around inside a—cupboard of some sort.

"What's going on?" asks Veronica.

Mac scowls. "There's a video system in here."

"Skeevy," Veronica says sarcastically, though it is creepy, truth be told. "What are you trying to do with it?"

"I'm playing the tapes," Mac says. "If there's a slight chance Logan's as big a jerk as you say he is, I don't want him to have blackmail material when I break things off."

It takes Veronica a second to figure out what that means, and then she snorts. "Seriously?"

"Work now, judge later," Mac commands, and Veronica obeys.

She looks back at the bed, then, and there's—a déjà vu, there, something that she's seen before. She tells Mac she's going to check the cameras and, as she does that, she takes in the walls, the position of the bed—Lilly had pictures taken in this room. It doesn't mean anything, it's not supposed to mean anything, but Veronica can't help wondering—maybe there's footage of Lilly that could reveal something about the case.

Mac decides to talk to Logan instead of running away. "I'm playing the supportive girlfriend," she says. "Plus, I can't slap him through the phone."

Veronica drives Meg home and calls Duncan. They check the air conditioning vent, find the tapes, figure it out—

—but you already know this part.

*

She's waken up at four a.m. by the doorbell, and is too exhausted to put the bandage back on. They're just gonna have to deal with it.

She opens the door, looks from one visitor to another, and blinks. "Are you guys friends or something?"

Wallace gapes at Veronica's nose.

Meg says, "Oh, yeah, she has a pig nose. Her mother was cursed. It doesn't make any sense, don't even try it, it will only give you a headache. I'm sure she'll fill you in later." Then she lets herself in and drags Wallace behind her.

Wallace composes himself eventually, and says, "So you're a lesbian now, huh? Nice," and Veronica hits him on the head before letting the couch embrace her weight.

"It's four in the morning," Veronica groans.

"You didn't pick up the phone," Meg says.

"Are you even going to ask what happened?"

"Later, maybe," says Meg, "you need to sleep."

"And you two are just—" Veronica begins, leaving the sentence open. Her stomach twitches, and she groans again.

"Making sure you don't die," Wallace fills in.

Veronica's too tired to argue.

*

She keeps the bandage on through the week, anyway. Wallace keeps threatening to rip it off when she least expects it, and Jane keeps throwing her sideway looks and raising her eyebrows because Wallace never mentions Veronica's nose by name, and obviously he hasn't told Jane either, though Veronica thinks she wouldn't mind if Jane knew.

It's not like it's Veronica's doing, the nose. It's not like she woke up one day, looked in the mirror, and had a make-up accident, like when someone unconsciously shaves off an eyebrow.

Still, Veronica doesn't really think it's truly stupid to hide it until Meg brings it up.

"It's not such a big deal," Meg says.

"In Neptune? It definitely is," says Veronica.

But Meg is dating Veronica openly, even if Meg hasn't told her parents yet—they hold hands in the halls, because Meg likes it, and they kiss in public spaces, because they both do—so the fact that Meg is encouraging Veronica to let everyone know that she has a pig snout for a nose is, well, pretty remarkable.

So Veronica decides to take advantage of her newly found courage, and tells Mac.

"You what?" says Mac.

"Was born with a pig nose," says Veronica. "I know it's hard to believe, and I won't blame you if you freak out or run out the room, but hear me out first, please?"

Mac raises her eyebrows. "Talk."

"My mother's grandfather was a total jackass, okay? He left a black woman pregnant and refused to acknowledge the child. Nothing new there. But the black woman? Had some nerve, and apparently was magic or something, because she threw a curse on him."

"She cursed him," Mac says incredulously.

"Yes," Veronica says. "She wanted him to know what it was like to have a bastard child. And since women have always been stupid, instead of cursing him directly, she decided to let her black magic fall upon the next pregnant woman in his direct lineage."

Mac frowns. "And that was your mother."

Veronica shrugs.

"Well, that is new."

"I've lived with it for seventeen years."

"It's new to me," explains Mac. "How big is it?"

"Not very," Veronica says. "I mean, it's a goddamn snout, but it hasn't grown proportionally to the rest of my body. It's smaller. Not as awful as it used to be, but still really embarrassing."

"Do you think it will fade away eventually?"

"Wishful thinking, yes," Veronica says. "Realistically speaking, I don't think so."

"Wow."

"Yeah."

*

Veronica also decides to do this:

"Dad," she says during dinner.

"Hm," he replies from behind the spoonful of mac and cheese.

"I'm dating Meg," she says.

He raises an eyebrow, finishes chewing, then says, in an interrogatory-like voice, "Not a phase?"

"Not a phase," Veronica says.

"Okay," he replies. "You probably shouldn't have told me that. Now I'm not gonna let her sleep over."

Veronica puts on a Southern accent and says, "Darn."

"Do people know about this?" her dad asks, and Veronica can tell by the tone that he's implying something, though she can't figure out what it is.

"Yeah," she says.

"Okay, good," her dad says. "You shouldn't feel ashamed about the nose either."

Veronica chuckles, kind of condescendingly, kind of—maybe. "I'll think about it," she says.

*

She doesn't get to make the decision, though.

Meg drags her into the bathroom between classes, which isn't new, but she forgets to put the "out of service" sign on the door. Veronica has all the intention of reminding her, but then she's leaning back against the counter and Meg is kissing her way down Veronica's neck, so Veronica's general awareness of her surroundings becomes pretty close to chimerical, and she doesn't. Remember the sign on the door, that is.

This wouldn't be a problem, generally, since they're not exactly private about it anywhere else, but Veronica has a free period and Meg has Veronica's realistic-looking hallway passes to get her through the shame of being late to class—and Meg carefully lifts off the surgical tape from Veronica's face and leaves the bandage behind Veronica, on the counter, because Veronica can actually breathe properly through her nose that way and deepen the kiss.

Meg's hands are under Veronica's shirt, dangerously close to where her bra starts, when something happens and Meg turns around—and Veronica realizes that the door is open.

She thinks of the bandage, quick, but she doesn't have time to put it back on before Shelly Pomroy—of all people—sees it.

"Oh, my God," Shelly says. Veronica's already pressing the tape to her cheeks—she doesn't feel embarrassment, not really, just—something like disappointment, heavy on her stomach, and a rush through her head—and then, or so they tell her afterwards, she passes out.

*

She wakes up in the infirmary, and her hand flies to her face before she can contain herself.

It used to be like this, when she was a kid—every morning, she'd wake up and think that she'd dreamed up the nose, that now she would look in the mirror and it wouldn't be there anymore. Sometimes she'd close her eyes and walk to the kitchen, raising her arms and rubbing her eyes from above, wishing that maybe, just maybe, her mother would see her and sing that her face was immaculate, now, making a rooftop out of the kitchen floor.

It never happened, though, never mind how often Lianne read her tales, like she thought that, if Veronica believed in it—in the curse being arbitrary, not sticking around all her life—her nose would be human at dawn.

Veronica's not sure why she's thinking about this now, after not having thought about it for just a little less than a decade, but she does, she thinks about it when she wakes up in the infirmary, and her hand flies to her face.

"You didn't hit your face," Meg says softly, as Veronica feels the familiar shape under her fingers.

She's kind of happy to feel it, though. Not disappointed, not even a little less hopeful—just happy she's still whole.

"You really shouldn't keep wearing that thing," Wallace says, and Veronica has to turn her head to see him. She's still a bit weirded out about Meg and Wallace being in cahoots.

Meg nods. "The whole school has heard about it by now."

"I didn't dream Shelly up, did I?" Veronica says with a groan.

"Is she commonly present in your dreams?" Meg says, and Veronica laughs at the tone.

"In my nightmares," says Veronica.

"Seriously, though, don't bandage your face again," says Wallace. "Denying rumors is exhausting."

Veronica sits up, which hurts her shoulder a bit. "Did you confirm any?" she accuses.

"Haven't talked to anyone," Wallace says, putting his hands up defensively. "She just texted me and said you fainted. I've been getting a bunch of messages from the team, but, unlike other people, I'm a good friend and was waiting to ask permission before revealing your secrets to the world."

"Nobody likes a whiner, Wallace," says Veronica. "Is the nurse—"

And the nurse comes in.

"Can you patch my nose up?"

The nurse looks at her with—sadness?—something not quite happy in her eyes, but complies. "Sure, Veronica."

Wallace sighs loudly in complaint, and Meg just looks a little disappointed.

*

"You can't keep wearing that thing," Meg says, walking across the parking lot, pressed up close to Veronica's side. "It's making me feel filthy."

Veronica raises an eyebrow.

"Oh, come on. It's like everyone's just. . .waiting for the other shoe to fall. It's belittling. It's belittling to you, right? I'm not making it up? I feel diminute by proxy."

Veronica snorts. "How many people saw the nose? Just Shelly, right?"

Meg doesn't dignify her question with an answer.

"Seriously, I can just tell everyone she's making it up. Or that she was hallucinating."

"Veronica," interrupts Meg, and then Veronica's pressed against a car, with Meg's hands on her hips, looking straight into her eyes.

It's a tad frightening.

"Fine," says Veronica. "Rip it off. See if I care."

So Meg rips the new tape off—it doesn't even hurt, not really—and Veronica closes her eyes. It's. . .weird, to say the least, having the wind blow on her nose. It's not exciting or terrifying, it's just weird. Then Meg is really close to her face, Veronica can feel her breathing, and then she can also feel Meg's smile against her lips, totally open and—free, in a way, in the middle of the school parking lot—as she catches Veronica's upper lip between her own.

Veronica only has time to laugh after she hears someone gasp and say, "Holy sh—", because then, or so Meg tells her afterwards, she passes out. Again.

The nose is still there when she wakes up, but, all of a sudden, she's sure she couldn't care any less.