Standing outside the all too familiar and intimidating bar, Veronica Mars took a deep breath and steeled herself. History classes at Neptune High had taught her that the River Styx, according to Greek mythology, was a river that formed a boundary between Earth and the Underworld.
Thousands of years later, it still held the same basic idea. Walking through those doors would bring her face to face with members of the Fighting Fitzpatrick’s, Neptune’s criminal underworld. Sure there was less fire and brimstone and a complete lack of three-headed guard dogs, but the threat of violence and possible death remained imminent.
Veronica didn’t want to go inside. Her past experiences there reminded her of that much. She knew that bad things would probably happen – to her, of course – but she needed to see Molly Fitzpatrick before Weevil got his hands on her. She just hoped that Molly’s uncles, specifically Liam Fitzpatrick, weren’t around to witness her visit.
Exhaling loudly, Veronica stepped forward and opened the door, her other hand clutched tightly around her bag and the taser hidden within it.
Several patrons were scattered throughout the bar, some sitting on barstools having a drink, some playing pool, and some gathered around a colored TV showing the big Notre Dame game. A few people noticed her entrance but immediately turned back to what they were doing.
Gazing quickly around the bar, Veronica looked for Molly or any sign that she was there. Just as she spotted the blonde clearing empty glasses from a table at the back of the bar, she felt a heavy hand grasping her shoulder.
“Well, well, well. Veronica Mars. Fancy meeting you here. Correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t we revoke your membership?”
Veronica turned to come face to face with Liam Fitzpatrick, one of the few people who actually managed to physically scare her. Defenses up, she turned to what she knew best.
“I’ll have you know that my mother’s mother was one half Irish. We’re practically related! Figured I’d come on down, have a beer, get a tattoo . . . you know, get to know the fam.”
Her sarcastic ramble was cut short as Liam put his hand on her other shoulder and shook her violently, garnering her utmost attention.
“Don’t insult me by suggesting a blood relation, Veronica. The only blood we share is gonna be your blood on my hands.”
He pushed hard, sending Veronica crashing backwards into a nearby table. She didn’t fall over, but she did manage to knock everything off the table and cause a loud ruckus.
By now, everyone in the bar was watching.
Holding up her hands in submission, Veronica regained her composure.
“Mental note for next time: sarcasm kills. Listen, I’m not here to fight or to cause any trouble. I just need to talk to Molly . . .”
“Molly doesn’t need to hear anything you have to say,” Liam interrupted, getting back up in her personal space. “Molly needs to stop getting involved with rich-bitch wanna-bees and get back to doing her job!”
He yelled the last part, shifting his attention to Molly who had been stepping closer to them. Molly quickly turned and went back behind the bar, keeping her head down while doing her best to listen.
“You don’t understand, she could be in danger . . .” Veronica tried again, hoping to appeal to his more sensible and protective side.
But with the way he lunged forward and grabbed her around her throat, she knew that Liam Fitzpatrick lacked the sensibility she was banking on.
“Danger? My baby cousin in danger, and you think that you can protect her better than we can?” Liam asked through clenched teeth, seething with anger.
She tried to speak, tried to move, but couldn’t do anything but try to pull the tight hands that were cutting off her air supply from her neck. Just as she started to feel faint, Veronica heard a loud shout from across the bar.
She looked out the corner of her eye to see a brunette girl quickly approaching, the case of beer she was carrying hastily placed on a table nearby. In the blink of an eye, Liam’s hands were gone from her neck and she was being protectively kept behind the back of the girl who was now standing between her and Liam.
“What the fuck, Li? You’re not supposed to be beatin’ on chicks and you know that! What would Uncle Seamus say?”
“You leave my dad out of this, Fai! This girlie here is a particular brand of annoying and likes to stick her nose where it don’t belong. She needs to learn a lesson about snooping on the Fitzpatrick’s,” Liam defended, his body shaking with rage.
“I was not snooping! I came here to help Molly!” Veronica spluttered defiantly as she tried to catch her breath.
“Right, like I don’t know who your daddy is. Last warning here, Veronica Mars. You stay outta this bar and away from this family or you’re gonna be wearing your graduation gown at your funeral.”
Liam kicked over a table and made his way toward the back of the bar, leaving Veronica and the brunette girl there alone while the onlookers quickly went back to minding their own business.
“Let’s get you outta here,” the girl said, grabbing Veronica’s elbow ever so gently and leading her over the debris and out the door.
“Who are you?” Veronica asked, still holding her quickly swelling neck.
“Me? I’m just your average everyday superhero.”
Veronica glanced over at the girl and narrowed her eyes, not at all in the mood to play games. The glare was apparently understood, as the girl quickly continued.
“The name’s Faith. We gotta get you an ice pack for that neck,” Faith replied easily. She looked down the practically deserted street and toward an open shop across the way, ignoring the way that Veronica was staring at her.
“And you’re a Fitzpatrick? Shouldn’t you be pummeling me in an alley somewhere? Beating up a Mars is a rite of initiation in your family, or so I’ve been led to believe.”
Faith chuckled as they made their way across the darkening street and into the small 24-hour grocery store. She stood on the tips of her toes to see over the shelves, searching out something in particular.
“Fitzpatrick, no. Close enough though. They’re family, no matter how much I tried to sever the fucked up ties over the years.”
She led Veronica over to the frozen food section and opened one of the freezer doors, pulling out a bag of peas. Veronica eyed her suspiciously but Faith did her best not to meet her eyes. Instead, she gingerly pulled one of Veronica’s hands from her neck and pressed the bag of frozen peas to it, making Veronica jump.
“Hey, that’s cold, you know!” Veronica said hoarsely, taking the bag from Faith’s hands and holding it tentatively to her neck.
“Yeah, frozen stuff generally is,” Faith said, meeting Veronica’s gaze for the first time and offering her a wink. “That’s gonna leave a nasty bruise. Keep a cold compress on it when you can and try to limit the solid foods for a day or two. Swallowing is gonna be a bitch.”
Veronica swallowed, already feeling the tightness in her throat when she did so. There was no way she was going to be able to pass this one off to her father as a hickey, especially since she’d been single for more than a month now.
“Why are you helping me?” Veronica asked, truly perplexed. “Liam will come through with the death threats if he finds out about this.”
Faith smiled but it didn’t reach her eyes.
“Liam’s a dangerous guy, but I can handle him. And just cos he’s family doesn’t mean I agree with what he does, or the rest of those idiots in there, too. My aunt – his mother – called me and said things were gettin’ a little out of hand with the guys, so I came here to help out, try to keep things in check.”
It didn’t make sense. The Fighting Fitzpatrick’s weren’t known for being sensible. Having more than one person within their ranks that was rational and not made of evil confused Veronica even more than she was willing to admit.
“You’re risking your own life to make sure they don’t go all crazy-like? Why would you do that? You seem so . . . well, not crazy,” Veronica said, walking slowly with Faith toward the front of the store.
Faith shrugged, sliding her hands deep into the pockets of her jeans.
“One – cos they’re family. And two, well,” Faith paused for a moment, “guess I’ve been on the more violent side of these kinda violent conflicts and I know what it’s like. They’re too conniving to land in jail, so I figure I can play warden for a while, try to keep the violent acts to a minimum. Besides, I’ve got some of my own atoning to do. A friend thought maybe it would help me.”
Veronica looked over at Faith, an eyebrow raised in question.
“Right, so you were crazy but you’re not any more, and now you’re here to preach to the crazy choir and hope they learn from your own crazy mistakes?”
Faith seemed to consider that and nodded, “Yeah, that about sums it up.”
“Sounds crazy to me,” Veronica concluded as they reached the checkout.
Faith pulled a handful of small bills from her pocket and tossed them on the counter. The cashier looked suspiciously at the bag of peas on Veronica’s neck and then took the money, giving Faith a bit of change back.
“Yeah, well, can’t say I haven’t been called crazy before.” Faith said with a shrug, then turned to meet Veronica, a serious look on her face. “Listen, this is where I come off all big and bad and you heed the ominous warning, ‘kay? Liam is every bit as crazy and dangerous as you’ve probably heard. Stay clear of the Styx and do your best to keep off his radar. He’s gonna be gunnin’ for ya now, V, and I can’t be there every time he stumbles on ya.”
Veronica sighed, pulling the bag of peas down from her neck.
“I wasn’t here to pick a fight with Liam. I know that my razor-sharp wit, as lethal as it may be, is nothing compared to his razor-sharp blades. I came to tell Molly to keep a low profile. Weevil – a PCH-er that you really don’t want to get involved with – is asking questions about the murder of one of his boys. He found a paper trail connecting Molly to Felix, and he’s out to get answers from her one way or another.”
Faith narrowed her eyes and clenched her jaw shut tightly.
“This guy, Weevil; Hispanic guy, shaved head, lotsa tattoos and even more attitude?”
“Got it in one,” Veronica said, her interest piqued. “You know him?”
“You could say that. Liam has it out for the guy. Now you say he’s after my baby cousin and I can kinda see why he’s on the naughty list. Whatever. I’ll let Molly know the gist.”
“Thanks,” Veronica said uneasily.
They made their way out of the shop and into the street where they both paused awkwardly. Veronica’s car was just down the block, but she felt she needed to say something more to Faith. She’d saved her life, after all.
“Listen, I just want to thank . . .”
“Stop while you’re ahead,” Faith interrupted, grinning. “I stepped in to stop Liam from making a mistake. Saving the hottie in distress was only a bonus. You don’t owe me. We’re five by five.”
Being called a hottie by the grinning girl in front of her was enough to fluster Veronica’s usually impregnable cool. Fighting the blush that she knew was creeping up on her cheeks, she brought the bag of frozen peas back up to her neck and smiled.
“And here I was about to thank you for buying me dinner,” she joked, indicating the bag of peas. “Is cockiness a Fitzpatrick family trait?”
“Nope, but good looks are,” Faith said with a wink as she took a few steps backward into the empty street.
“You make up in looks for what you lack in modesty, I see,” Veronica joked.
“Gonna pretend I didn’t hear the jab you took at me and focus on the part where you called me a hottie too.”
Veronica laughed, unable to keep the smile from her face. Five minutes earlier she was being choked by Liam Fitzpatrick, and here she was having a battle of wits with his cousin.
Yes, something strange was definitely in the air in Neptune this night.
And she couldn’t be sure, but she was pretty sure she was being flirted with. Unsettling, sure, but weirder things had happened to her before.
Turning around to leave, Veronica suddenly realized something. She turned back and called out to Faith.
“How do I find you if I need to give any more messages to Molly?”
“You do what I told ya to – keep off the radar and stay outta this neighborhood – you won’t see me again. And I really hope ya won’t, V, cos I don’t know how many times I can save your ass before it starts gettin’ old.”
Veronica nodded, understanding fully what Faith meant. The next time Faith saw her, it would probably be under some kind of bad circumstances. As much as Veronica wanted to help people, she needed to learn where to draw the line and keep herself safe first.
“Right. Well . . . later, Faith.”
Turning around again, Veronica quickly made her way down the street and to her car.
Faith watched as she walked away, a playful grin on her face.
“Tiny, blonde, cute, and quick with the wit. Just my kind of poison.”
Taking a deep breath, she shook her head and let it out slowly.
When she’d heard about her family troubles, she thought it was the perfect escape; a way to get away from Buffy and the gang without them thinking she was abandoning them for the pursuit of pleasure. Sure they’d helped to clear her record and had let her tag along with them to LA, and most of them had even gone so far as to offer her an olive branch in the guise of a clean-slate in regards to their friendship.
Still, things were tense, especially when it came to Buffy. Everyone had to tread carefully around the two of them and Faith was getting sick and tired of feeling like she was always walking on broken glass around Buffy. Angel had told Faith to give her time; to keep working on her own journey and let Buffy deal with her own.
That was a bit difficult when Buffy always made it so easy to make Faith feel completely unwelcome. Finally having had enough, Faith told Angel about her family problems and took off to Neptune, just a couple hours drive away, to offer her help. Part of her redemption. She didn’t say goodbye to anyone besides Angel despite his protests and she’d been doing well for the month that she’d been in Neptune.
Until tonight, that was, when she put her own neck on the line for yet another cute blonde.
Giving Veronica a quick wave as the girl drove past her, Faith sighed to herself. She’d left Los Angeles to get away from Buffy and the usual drama, and here she was faced with her carbon-copy.
God, she really seemed to have it in for herself.
Running a hand through her long hair, Faith took one last deep breath and made her way back to the bar.
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