Title: "Necessity is the Mother of Prevention"
Author: monimala
Fandom: Veronica Mars/21 Jump Street
Rating/Classification: gen, crossover.
Disclaimer: Mad props to Stephen J. Cannell and Rob Thomas. I'm just borrowing people.
Summary: 1075 words. Tom Hanson only plays after everyone's gone.

He gives the high school a wide berth...but not quite wide enough. Old habits die hard and he holds his breath driving past, like Neptune High is a cemetery and the ghosts are going to jump down his throat. He makes it to the bowling alley in good time, despite the deliberate daily detour, and then he's swallowed up by the crashing of balls into pins...that echo that sounds like a summer thunderstorm and smells like stale shoes.

He loves it best at night, when the leagues are in with their matching shirts and they yell over sloshing beer that Luis and Skeds clean up even before it hits the floor. When the high school kids have all gone home or gone on to things that he doesn't have to care about anymore.

"Hey, Ace!" Vanlowe hollers across the lanes, sounding so much like Penhall that it's actually unsettling and he stops his beeline to his office in the back. "You gonna play a few frames tonight?"

He shakes his head, waves a dismissive hand and keeps going. "Sorry, Man!"

He only plays after everyone's gone. So there's space for all the memories he keeps in his head to rattle around and bounce off the walls and the ceiling… like a stupid kid shouting, "Another slamarino!" and pumping his fist in the air after a strike.

He leans back in his chair, turns up the classic rock station on his stereo -- the system outside plays only '80s pop -- and tosses a casual salute to the Hendrix poster on the wall. It's a little faded around the edges, but you can't tell unless you look closely.

No one does anymore.

There's a knock on the door and he sighs. "I said, 'No!' Vinnie! Maybe another night!"

"It's always another night with you, Tom." Keith Mars pushes the door open without being invited to, shaking his head with mock disappointment. "Seriously, you need to get out more."

"I get out plenty," he assures, not without a little awkwardness...since the last person he got out *with* was Keith's ex, Alicia. They split a nice bottle of the house red at Luciano's and talked about nothing and everything and he pretended he didn't hear an old friend in her sexy laugh. It was a good first date, a good last one, and she left scratches on his shoulder blades before going home to her sons.

Keith makes himself at home, flopping down into the overstuffed armchair that Tom keeps around just for that purpose. He clears his throat noisily, cracks his knuckles, and pushes up his sleeves.

Is it already that time again? Time for The Speech? Keith drops by and gives it to him every couple of weeks. Half life coach, half varsity cheerleader.

Tom likes to picture this as the mode Keith was in when he gave Veronica The Talk. If he ever even had to give it to her. With that girl, she probably figured it out herself when she was nine and then told her parents the score.

He sighs, slouches down in his seat, and preps for the inevitable.

"Tom, police work is in your blood."

"Tom, law enforcement runs in your veins."

"Tom, you know you miss the life. You can still feel it in your gut."

After one of Keith's pep talks, he feels more inclined to visit his gastroenterologist than to sign up as a servant of Balboa County.

He hasn't been a cop for fifteen years.

He hasn't been that kid for even longer.

*"Another slamarino...!"*

"Tom..."

"Yeah?"

"Your heart's not in it anymore, is it?"

Make that the cardiologist this time, huh?

He smiles grimly, reaching down into the mini-fridge beneath his desk and popping out two cans of Bud in quick succession. "I don't know if it ever was in the first place."

"Now *that*, I don't believe." Keith catches the second can effortlessly after he slings it at him. "I know a good cop when I see one, Hanson. You can't hide it under an ugly bowling shirt and drown it out with CCR."

Tom pops the top on his beer, drinking half of it in one gulp. And he's actually doing a pretty decent job of obliterating any lingering love for the law with "Up Around the Bend" and "Down on the Corner." "You told me once that Lamb was a good cop, too."

"'Was' being the operative word."

They laugh at Don's expense and toast to being out of the game. He gets the update on Veronica -- complete with the accompanying pictorial, they talk about the Sharks' upcoming season, and he half-assedly avoids questions about his social life since he's not in the mood to get his face pounded by one of the few men in Neptune that he considers a friend.

He escapes The Speech this time.

He's a little faded around the edges, but you can't tell unless you look closely.

And no one does anymore.

***

At 3 a.m., long after the league-ers have gone home and Skeds has turned out most of the overhead lights, Tom slips into his red shoes and slip-slides across the floor.

He closes his eyes and he collides his past and the present like his lucky ball taking out a two pin split.

He's 22 again, swaggering down the halls of a busy high school with a white bandanna and a slip that'll let him in to junior English. Tommy McQuaid's a senior, but he doesn't *do* English, you dig? So they put him in the junior class to "encourage" his learning process. Nobody will ask why he's not in a remedial class instead. Nobody ever asks questions like that.

Just like nobody is wondering what his "brother," Doug is doing busting PCH-er heads in auto shop on his first day.

He drops into an empty seat after nodding a careless 'hey' at the other students and ignoring the teacher's suggestion that he introduce himself. He busies himself eyeing the hot blonde sitting in front of him, noting how her mouth is red like blood.

It doesn't take her long to twist around, to smile. To drip red all over his desk.

"Hi, there, New Guy," coos the girl whose picture is burning a hole in his back pocket. "I'm Lilly Kane."

Tom lets go of the breath he's been holding for 19 years…

And her ghost jumps down his throat.

--end--

June 20, 2006.

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