Story: Sophomore Slump (chapter 2)

Authors: Pat Kelly

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Chapter 2

Title: Two



~Christmas Eve Day, 2006~

"How is she?" Veronica immediately asked when Logan opened the door to his Neptune Grand suite and she pushed inside, briefly spotting the cuts on the right side of his face.

"What's black and blue and red all over?" He answered, butchering a classic joke to give his assessment. "Aaron would be shocked and awed."

"May he rest in hell," she commented distractedly, walking ahead of her ex into the bedroom.

Where Buffy was just coming out of the connected bathroom, limping and pressing a wet, paper towel to her arm. Veronica's face went from concern to anger in no time at all. She couldn't gauge how her girlfriend was reacting to her anger, because the slayer was too busy wincing.

"Spry, though." Logan commented, stepping up next to the healthy blonde.

The heavy silence continued as if he hadn't spoken, so he looked to his bed.

"Pillow's much for that minty-fresh afternoon I had planned," he sighed regretfully. "Speaking of the lack of good Help these days, Juanita clearly doesn't have her Hoover technique down."

His head shook in disappointment. "Frankly? I'm tired of it; my carpet oughta receive the same, ‘hands-on' attention hers does. Management *will* hear about this."

The girls didn't even hear him "storm out."

"Ribs're broken, aren't they?" Veronica could tell by the way Buffy had moved, and now kept quiet. "Turn yourself right ‘round, baby--‘round as a record might go. All the way back to that porcelain throne," she ordered, even as she came over to support.

"Y'do know what ‘recon' means, yes? Here's a hint--it doesn't mean, ‘get yourself eyeballed and whomped on like a redneck during Cops.'"

She sat Buffy on the lidded toilet, placed her bag on the expensive, oversized sink, and proceeded to empty out much gauze, disinfectant, and other First Aid-appropriate items. Next came the frantic rifling.

"Did you rob a hospital?" Buffy asked in surprise, but she was ignored. "I know I promised, but they smart-thinking kinda went away...and, ow."

This was all the fault of a dead, Father Christmas. Playing a hunch, Veronica called the local mall. It was indeed short one Santa. A Santa who'd left work alive and well the day before.

While she went to see what she could learn about the guy from co-workers, and about any suspicious "people" they may have noticed, Buffy tried to get on the trail of the vampires responsible by starting at the mall and letting her slayer senses lead.

They led her to children living in a perpetually for sale, ‘09er mansion. To children who hadn't been children in a long time. Those *had* been small bite marks on Chris Cringle's neck.

Before she did anything else, Veronica knelt down and took her girlfriend's hands into her own. There was something in her eye. Emotion replaced tried-and-true humor.

"Are you okay?"

"I froze. Even after figuring the ‘I got played' part. A slayer can't freeze--or this happens." Buffy and self-blame went together like P.B. & J. "But I couldn't...kill kids."

"Be glad this," Veronica stood back up, "didn't end worse. Jacket's comin' off."

She helped her patient do so, gingerly. "Can't exactly bounce back from that grim fandango we call ‘death.'"

There was one more layer in the way.

"Now then, let's check out those headlights..." Her brow waggled. "Schnell."

Buffy appeared disturbed, but quickly managed a smile prior to unbuttoning her blouse. "Least I got the hot nurse."

"If you're trying to butter me up..." Veronica wanted to pretend it didn't work, but she was weak. "...continue."

When the garment was discarded, she wasn't looking at bra-covered breasts; she was looking at ribs. "Broken" wasn't what they were. Her breath hitched.

"Oh hell." Her anger? Back. "So...the undead, ‘Brat Pack'...tell me they fried up nice, slow, and crispy."

Not that it mattered anymore, but after seeing them on the mall's security footage, creeps were given. The detective had been doing "Scooby"-esque research when Logan called. This hadn't been the first Santa they'd cacked. Matter of fact, they'd developed quite a complex about anything related to Christmas over the centuries. Being that's when they all got sired. By Zachary Kralik. After he ate their mothers.

Boo hoo. Evil, little bastards.

"Thanks to Logan," the slayer hated saying that. "When did he even...?"

It was bad enough she got beaten by vampires physically aged no older than ten, but to be saved by Logan Echolls and his rich was embarrassing. Especially because she was pretty sure his motive was half split between wanting to destroy evil in his neighborhood, and just wanting to be destructive under the guise of goodness. Why did boys like to watch stuff burn?

"Way I heard the tale? A lazy Saturday, ‘Lost Boys' on the box--TNT, I believe it was--and he says to himself, ‘If the Coreys can do it...'"  Veronica quipped, grabbing for the athletic tape. "Raise ‘em."

Buffy's arms complied.

"You shouldn'ta said anything." She gritted her teeth, hissing as the tape was wrapped tight around her body. "He'll...get...killed."

"Did his own legwork...I only confirmed certain facts," Veronica clarified her part. "And Logan's always gonna find the next cliff; unfortunately, that's who he is."

She stopped trying to reign him in a long time ago. "Since that's why you're still alive to bring the grrl power another day, gotta be honest, part of me's kinda glad he's comfy there."

"I am, too."

That sounded like autopilot to Buffy's girlfriend.

"I am, Veronica." This was where the hazel-eyed blonde had to communicate. "Today? Wasn't my best. Everywhere hurts, including that ‘pride' thing, it's my fault vamps are coming here, and...I should've been better. I need to be.

"But, don't wanna be dead right now. I don't ever wanna show my face around Giles, *or* a mirror again, but ‘no' on the dead-wanting."

"Well that's reassuring." Veronica didn't sound serious, but her eyes were.

Her next stop was the cuts on Buffy's forearm.

"Because I can't--nay, won't--lose you." That sounded serious, but then she immediately busied herself with bandaging. "It isn't your fault, either. With Keith Mars as sheriff, there'd be a significant drop in murder-rate, thus making Neptune less attractive to the demonic."

She smiled. "Now, um, that we've established what you *don't* want, given any consideration to--?"

"Whoa." Dick Casabalancas was in the doorway.

Buffy pressed her blouse against herself. "Uh, get out?"

"My bad--thought I ordered that Charlize Theron movie off Pay-Per-View for a sec."

He didn't think about things he said, he just said them.

"You know, the one where her and that chick from Casper get it on, but her face is all messed up and stuff? Put *major* breaks on the hottness that could've been. Seriously."

"Do you think if we close our eyes, click our heels, and wish hard enough, he'll shrivel down to a nub?" Veronica asked Buffy rhetorically, crooking her pinky. "I'll wager it isn't the first time, but you heard the lady--get out, Dick."

"Yeah, okay, but--"

The handiest thing Buffy could grab--a fresh bar of hotel soap--beaned him squarely on the noggin, causing him to meet floor.

"Whoops. Didn't mean to throw that hard," swore the slayer.

"But see that? Who's lost their touch? Not you," Veronica pointed out.




Veronica Mars and graveyards? Non-mix-y things, as her girlfriend might say. But it was because of her girlfriend that she was here. Luckily, Buffy's cell being on meant she didn't have to search many for her. Her who mixed quite well with these surroundings. That was kind of the concern at present, even more so than usual.

They each got lost in their work; they'd fought about it once. Since, each had done a nice job helping, and allowing themselves to be found. But it wasn't until last May that Veronica finally understood how much more literal "got lost" was in Buffy's case. Understood what Buffy had struggled to articulate. And what her fear was.

Of course, it had been an extreme, somewhat atypical situation--relative to the others in Sunnydale--but it sometimes took an extreme to truly illustrate. Or, a psychology professor's homage to/blatant rip-off of (depending who you asked), Frankenstein's monster. With Faith out of commission, Buffy had stepped up to take him down. Because that "Santa thing" went wrong, she felt she had something to prove.

Through a spell, she accepted the primal core of the Slayer's power, and ceased being who she was. Wasn't too much of a stretch to say she ceased being human. Veronica saw her right before the spell broke, and there was no recognition in what had been, glowing eyes.

She'd never get used to the supernatural.




~Third Week of May, 2007~

Veronica stood over her bed, on which rested a cardboard box she'd closed with masking tape. This was the last of her items for the move. One more night here, and in the morning, on the road to Sunnydale. She thought she'd be more upset about leaving, being chased off. Many a case got cracked in this room--Lilly's case. This was where she and Buffy first learned the joys of Sapphic loving. But then, she only had to remember a few, other things.

Like, the plumbing never worked. That they were surrounded by varying degrees of circus freaks. That she was getting what she always flee Neptune. Every day here she'd had to expose and/or confront the worst aspects of humanity. Just because she enjoyed punishing the guilty, didn't mean it didn't wear on her. At least in Sunnydale, horned evil outnumbered the evil of the horny.

If there was a way to make Liam and Vinnie pay, she'd find it. Though her focus was currently on how she'd get to share a bed with her girlfriend, because the inner-logistics of 1630 Revello Drive necessitated it. Grin plastered on her face, she now magic-markered the box, Buffy walking in as she was.

"Ver...on...ic...a's...Pixx," she spoke her writing aloud. "With *two* X's. Yes, yes, perfect." There was a low-key, "mad scientist" tone to her voice.

"Thank god we didn't hafta hire moving guys. They'd whistle, probably stare, and *definitely* have wrong thoughts." Buffy believed, wrapping arms around her waist. "Leading to angry thoughts. By me. Of vengefulness, ‘cause you're a bad influence."

Beat. "Are you sure you *don't* want people thinking you're trampy? This isn't helping with that."

"I'm a ‘Girl Gone Wild' now--time to lay these dukes to rest," Veronica balled her hands into fists, bringing them up, "let fate win."

She then lowered them with an exaggerated sigh. "My only question? Where're our T-shirts?"

Buffy pondered over the box a moment, concernedly. "The disc isn't it?"

The Castle, under orders from Jake Kane, had a camera in Buffy's dorm at Hearst long enough to film their bodies au natural as they followed the most enjoyable of human drives,  acting a whole heck of a lot more intimate than people knew them to be. That was probably the worst part. It wasn't just sex the student body saw.

"As if I'd be so doy." After all that hunting down Veronica did?

She turned in Buffy's arms. "My surveillance portfolio's inside. J. Edgar wants to see who's got the juice? Booyah--it's already squeezed. And, I always keep my blackmail options open."

The "pleased with herself" glint that should've been taking residence inside her eyes, wasn't.

"All great...but the disc issue?" Buffy pressed.

Next to the box was Veronica's bag. From it, the owner pulled out her CD holder. Unzipping, she flipped through, and finally tapped a CD-R over the plastic sleeve. Then she tapped her nose.

Buffy read the label. "'The Flintstones Meet the Jetsons'?"

"Who'd suspect? Crossovers are shunned. Universally. Why? Never work."

"True," admitted the slayer as they kissed. "Still wish you hadn't kept a copy."

"How else am I supposed to stay warm on those hot, Virginia nights?" Veronica spoke in a Southern drawl.

She got a slight pout, and jumped on the opening. "Landry had to lose cred as soon as he rubbed Mindy out. Him vouching, can't hold much water anymore. Bet the Feds won't--"

"They will," Buffy interrupted, looking disapproving. "And if you say you don't, when I know you wanna intern, it's not fair. Because then you're making me choose, and if I say ‘stay' and you stay, I'll feel...very je suck. You've been dying for this, you're going."

Veronica ended the closeness so she could put the box on the floor, as well as her bag, then she lay down wearily on her bed.

"Prepare to say hello to Perspective--it's just shy of the entire summer," she reminded.

"We're flying out for a week in July." Buffy joined her on the bed, lying beside. "I can survive, Marsipan."

That was just it. Veronica wasn't sure her girlfriend would. It'd been a week and a half since Adam, and after those dreams of cheese and the original Slayer, Buffy admitted that she feared becoming less human. That was Veronica's fear, too. How a day would come when no amount of witticisms, affection, or misty memories could prevent it. But Buffy had almost been pretending like the conversation didn't happen.

"Oh yeah?" She rolled her head to face Buffy's. "How confident? Enough to put your Hungry, Hungry Hippos record on the table?"

Buffy hesitated too long. "If you weren't you...this is where the lying."

The detective didn't feel vindicated as she usually did when she was right, though.

"I'll get to confident," Buffy went on. "Once we're moved, I'm asking Giles to start training me again; I'm gonna find out where my power comes from. Can't control me if I control it first."

"All great," Veronica acknowledged, parroting earlier words, "and all the more reason for telling Quantico ‘frak-it.' I find, I dig, I expose...why not take advantage while she's at her prime?"

Her hand found blond hair that wasn't hers, and ran fingers through it. "Or could be she's just workin' the support system, trying to be a girlfriend."

"No," objected Buffy, but it was nowhere near stern. "No giving up huge, ‘foot in the door' opportunities just because ‘Slayer-Buffy's' been extra wiggy lately."

"That attitude there? Why I gotta stick around. There's only one you," said Veronica, climbing atop her best friend. "Discovered recently that my foundations can still be rocked. By what? A truth so ugly and inconvenient, Al Gore would put it to film."

Dramatic silence.

"The FBI? The Man? Bedfellows," she revealed.

Fingers crossed as her face asked, ‘Can you believe it?'

"I don't need his rules or his ethics." She air-quoted both. While coughing. "I can keep tabs on my fellow American Idiots *without* a Patriot Act...I'm licensed. Besides, in the long run, we know where I'd rake in the most scratch.

"Them picking you-know-who gave that tricksy biotch, Ego, her longest stroking to date. And temporary insanity got my principles shafted like a cheap..." She tapered, stopping herself for once. "Anyway, they're everything this girl's against."

She looked Buffy in the eye. "Sound like an opportunity I'm dying for? Foot's in my own door, damn it. What I want is to help Dad get the new office running, and stand by my woman. So let me."

The slayer didn't want to be objecting; she didn't want Veronica to go. She was giving her one, last chance to change her mind, because Buffy was the type to sacrifice her own happiness for someone else's. Nor would she ask that of Veronica.

Buffy started saying, "What about bringing it down from the inside, and--?"

However, if Veronica was going to be happier here--as the deep, body-shivering kiss that shut her up suggested--okay then.

"You make it so not worth it to argue," she spoke when she had air.

"Blessed with a gift," said Veronica grinningly. "Veronica, 1, shucks, nobody's a loser here."

She tugged on her girlfriend's shirt, pulling her up. "From one lone wolf to another, I know the approach I'd take. But you'll do as the song says and lean on me. Or else."

Meant what she said. The FBI was the belly of the beast, and after breaking free of its spell, she would've felt trapped and disillusioned. But the other reason for turning it down? She wasn't abandoning Buffy for three months. Not now. No way.

In the search for their amateur pornographer, she weathered the storm like she had many times past, with Buffy's help. That's what they did for each other, and they couldn't during a collect call. There was no choice in high school, but it was hers to make in college, and sorry, her life-long friendship (two-year relationship), came first.

A number of people would be shocked to hear that, but she had her priorities.

Buffy said the only thing she could, despite her smile making it redundant.

"Does this mean you can't quit me? Because wow, I can't quit either. Uh, quit *you*."

Veronica rolled her eyes. Inappropriate joking like that was her own, humorous fault. She *was* a bad influence.

"Not very timely, but apt," she nodded. "Apt."

"Thanks, Veronica. I mean really." Buffy felt more confident already.

Maybe even enough to help Faith, who because of the three day coma courtesy of Adam, emerged with her own reasons for feeling shaky about the slaying gig. Part of the problem was that Faith gave new meaning to "lone wolf," and didn't have someone to force her to break habit. Dawn wasn't a miracle worker.

Buffy knew how lucky she was. She freed her shirt from Veronica's grip, pulled her back down so Veronica's face was right above her lips, and whispered,

"Know what we hafta do, don't you?" And a one, and a two... "MOM!"

That? Louder than a whisper. Veronica was rendered speechless.

Joyce appeared, having run in with much fear and concern.

"What's wrong? Are you girls o...?" She took in their positions, and turned away, embarrassed. "We asked you to lock the door."

"Is Hungry, Hungry Hippos packed yet?" Her daughter was ignorant to what it looked like.

Veronica turned to look at Joyce, and Joyce looked to her for sense, yet they both shared the same befuddlement.

The detective shrugged. "Hey, whose happy little accident was she?"




A girl ran past Veronica just then, and if she'd learned anything living in Sunnydale, it was that heading in the direction people seemed to be fleeing from, was bound to lead to Buffy. Seeing that girl gave her some hope; it meant Buffy hadn't just picked a random fight. It meant the Slayer hadn't completely won. She started to run.

For months she'd stood by her, just as she said, and she was the balance Buffy had needed.  But when Joyce got sick, then got worse, Buffy began to slip away. Bit by bit, each day. Which was why when Joyce's surgery was a success, other than her daughters, no one was more grateful than Veronica.

Unfortunately, it was a big, cosmic tease. With that shell-shock, she may have lost her best friend forever. Being unable to kill the tumor which for all intents and purposes ultimately killed her mother, could make today the day they'd been trying to avoid.

Why? Because there were plenty of other things to kill in its place. Not for any heroic reason, but out of anger. Though the Slayer probably didn't care the reason the Girl was suddenly so onboard. Motivation didn't really matter. It just wanted to cut loose, and Buffy would let it.

When Veronica's boots hit crypt floor, she stopped, surveying the carnage around her. There'd been a nest here, and its inhabitants were strewn everywhere. In pieces. The walls were splattered with...she didn't want to know. She tried to shield her nose from the smell.

And in the middle of, kneeling amongst the gore, was her girlfriend. At first glance, she looked like how she did at Logan's that time, but...the blood wasn't hers. She wasn't hurt at all. Physically.

Veronica walked up cautiously, her footsteps echoing. Buffy gave no indication that she'd heard. Not until Veronica was right behind.

"It didn't help," said Buffy, low.

Then she just broke into exhausted sobs.

At that moment, Veronica felt something in her gut. Buffy, even if she beat Glory and survived, wasn't coming back from it. Her response to her gut? Like fucking hell--not if she had anything to say about it.

Also at that moment, Veronica didn't see or smell a thing. She just scrambled to hold onto her, before the person she knew got anymore lost.



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