"No, listen, you shouldn't do this alone. I don't want you to do it alone."
"But, my mom."
"All the more reason you should have someone along. Come on, Veronica. You can't do everything by yourself. I could just follow you in my car, but then I wouldn't get to spend time with you."
She smiled at that. He was sweet and he was the one who'd thought to find out where the last call had come from. She wasn't sure why she hadn't thought of that before. Just assumed they were crank calls or wrong numbers.
"I suppose the company would be nice."
"And having a cop along can't hurt either."
"Well, I guess that depends."
He smiled then, a twinkle in his eye. He knew things she did weren't always on the up and up. He didn't like it, but as long as she didn't cross whatever line he'd drawn he was willing to look the other way.
"And I've always wanted to ride on your trusty steed."
"Why, Deputy D'Amato, are you getting fresh?"
He laughed lightly. "Only if you don't mind."
Oddly, she didn't mind, but she kept that knowledge to herself. No use showing him her cards right away. They'd only started doing this. Whatever this was. Dating? She wasn't sure. She was still raw from not just Duncan but Troy. It was hard to find fault in Leo, though, even though she knew there were corrupt cops. He wasn't one of them.
They had left Neptune a short while ago when he spoke for the first time.
"Does she know anyone in Barstow?"
"Not that I know of. I've kind of reached the conclusion that I don't really know her well at all."
"That's not really that unusual."
"I know my dad."
"Well, yeah, but your dad is an exception to the rule. He is what he is. Anyone who meets him gets that."
"You think so?"
"I know so."
"Yeah, well, the good citizens of Neptune don't agree."
"They'll forget eventually."
"You think so?"
"Sure. Lilly Kane's murder will stop being headline news and memories will start to fade as far as who did what."
She thought about that, tapping her fingers on the steering wheel in time to the Stray Cats. It was a catchy tune. Not one she'd have chosen, but she'd let Leo control the radio and he'd found a station playing 80s music. That was agreeable to her, even if she couldn't remember the decade. She doubted he did either.
She didn't want Lilly's murder to get brushed under the carpet, forgotten, a cold case filed in a cardboard box somewhere. No, she wouldn't let that happen to her friend. That was the type of police work Sheriff Lamb was happy with. Not Veronica Mars. Good thing she wasn't a cop. Too bad her sort of boyfriend was. It made things a little tricky.
He didn't say anything, he wasn't sure what to say. He'd stayed back and watched as Veronica's mom tried to get away from her. He'd seen the initial look on her face. She had been surprised, though why Leo wasn't sure. If her mom knew her at all, she'd know Veronica wouldn't slow down until she'd found her. Surprise had quickly given way briefly to happiness and then to fear. The fear won. And then there was the head security man for Kane Software.
He wasn't here as a cop, but if he was he'd find that bit of information interesting. Leo no longer cared what happened to Veronica's mom or why Clarence Wiedman was in Barstow. He saw the look of confusion and hurt on Veronica's face and knew it was time to step up.
This was why he'd wanted to come with her. He knew people who ran away usually did for what they considered to be good reasons. Veronica's mom obviously didn't want to be found, at least not by Veronica. So, why the hang up calls? Leo couldn't figure that one. Unless she was drunk so much of the time she forgot how smart and savvy her daughter was.
She didn't look like she remembered he was even there. He couldn't say that he blamed her. He wagered the anger at being so close would come out later and be the thing she focused on most. He couldn't claim to know her well, not as well as he wanted to at any rate. He got that she used her emotions, though, let them drive her. That wasn't always a good thing to do.
He was surprised when she went willingly into his arms. He'd expected a struggle. She was so brave, so stoic all of the time. When he felt his shirt get damp in the spot her face was pressed against him, he was humbled. He wasn't privy to seeing her cry, but she was letting go with him nonetheless. He stroked her hair with his hand, wondering how many witnessed this side of Veronica Mars.
He heard the talk around the station house. He knew she was not only unpopular, but the focus of gossip. It was a good thing he was calm or he would have decked a guy or two when he'd heard the words used in association with her. It was before his time, but it seemed she'd come to the station house claiming rape.
It made him boil with rage to think of Lamb making fun of her to the others after she'd left. They'd all had a good laugh at her expense Leo had heard. It was at a time he hadn't known Veronica well enough to defend her. He knew better now. If she said someone raped her, Leo believed it was so.
And if he ever found out who did it, he'd make sure Lamb paid for letting a rapist walk free. He couldn't say anything, though. He needed the job. He needed the money. And, so, he had to let the things go in one ear and out the other. That didn't mean he had to be a party to it, though.
It was just the way he was made up. It was part of why he'd become a cop, the whole protect and serve thing. He particularly wanted to protect Veronica. She'd experienced a lot of pain already in her life. He wished he could ease it somehow. All he could do was be there for her, like he was now. The irony in thinking back to his initial impression of her. He couldn't get far enough away from her at first. Manipulative and user were two adjectives that had been forefront in his mind about her back then. That was no longer the case.
She'd managed to charm her way into his life, and now here he was in Barstow with her. His heart had led him here so she'd worked her way into more than just his life. He whispered softly, not really saying anything just trying to soothe her. He felt her body shake, knew she was still crying. He remained still, making no effort to move, wanting her to know he wasn't going to let go. He wasn't going to walk away. He wasn't going to rush her through the feelings that needed to come out.
She drew away, wiping her eyes with her fingers. He wished he carried a handkerchief with him, but he had nothing to offer her other than his shirt sleeve. That seemed kind of tacky, so he left it alone.
"At least I know she's alive."
"Yeah," he said agreeably. There was that.
"And it's not me she's trying to avoid."
"I'd say you're right." He knew fear when he saw it. The fear in Mrs. Mars' eyes hadn't been directed at Veronica. She was scared of something, scared out of her mind. Scared enough to abandon her daughter, leaving her doubting the one person's loyalty she should never have to question.
"You probably think I'm an idiot."
"Why would I think that?"
"Driving down here. The fact she was even still here. What are the odds?"
"That doesn't make you an idiot, Veronica. It makes you a person who loves her mother."
She sniffled and he thought it was a pretty cute sound. So un-Veronica-like, which made him feel close to her in a way he doubted many people got. Her eyes were a little puffy, but considering she hadn't been to bed yet she looked fine. He wondered if he told her about Tina what she'd say, knowing that there was someone in his life he'd do anything for. Driving all night to Barstow on a whim wasn't that bad.
He draped an arm around her and she went to him, her arm around his waist. She hugged him, leaning on him as he led her out of the bar.
"I just, I don't know what I thought. Fanfare, trumpets, a Deus ex machina. I show up, I solve the riddle, and she comes home. Like it was a test or something."
He stopped walking briefly, grazing her cheek with his thumb. God, she was pretty. When had he started seeing her that way?
"Hey, don't talk like that. You got some answers anyway. She's okay and she's not running away from you. You'll get more answers, Veronica. You'll find her again."
"You think so?"
"I know so. If I was in trouble there's no one I'd rather have hitting the pavement searching for me than you."
"Well, maybe your dad, but I'd be a lot happier to see you."
"You would, huh?" She glanced up at home as they paused by her car.
"Well," he said, placing his thumb against her chin. "I'd look a little silly doing this to your dad." Before she could ask, he tilted her head up ever so slightly and slanted his lips over hers. She responded like he'd expected her to given the circumstances, raw and needy. It was why he'd waited until they were outside to kiss her. Because he was raw and needy, too. For her, feeling helpless to ease her pain beyond this little bit of soothing and comfort.
He knew he should take pride in the fact she was letting him comfort her. Veronica didn't let just anybody in, even he knew that.
"Yeah, I guess that would seem a little strange," she quipped once they broke away, needing a breath.
He chuckled softly. "Yeah, it would. He's not my type."
"And just what is your type, Deputy D'Amato?"
"Feisty blondes who aren't afraid to chase after the bad guys with me."
"Hmm," she said with a simple nod. "I think I know someone like that."
"Me, too," he murmured, kissing her lightly. "Let's go get some breakfast before you're not in a position to chase the bad guys anymore today."
"I think the bad guys have gone home."
"What are you talking about? I'm standing right here."
She batted her lashes flirtatiously and he couldn't help but smile.
"Are you a bad guy, Deputy D'Amato?"
He nodded, biting his lower lip to stop from smiling again. "Mm hmm, but in all the right ways."
She kissed him then, a brief brush of her lips over his.
"I can't wait to find out about those ways."
Neither could he.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com