"Private Wars" Title: "Private Wars"
Author: monimala
Fandom: Days of our Lives/Veronica Mars
Rating/Classification: crossover, AU, Veronica/Philip adult language, sexual situations.
Disclaimer: Not my characters, no malicious infringement intended.
Summary: 7300 words. Pretty much an unabashedly indulgent crossover set during August of '07 where we blithely ignore that Philip was a bit batshit crazy when he came back to Salem earlier that year.

Her client was sprawled in the booth across from her with all apparent signs of rich, insufferable insouciance… from the arm thrown across the top of the seat, to the glimmer in his eye, to the deliberate half-smile designed to stop any red-blooded heterosexual woman at fifty paces.

Lucky for Veronica, she was sitting down.

Lucky for Veronica, she'd learned a long time ago to ignore apparent signs.

"Why did you have me flown all the way to Salem, Lieutenant Kiriakis?" she asked, arching one brow as she timed the rhythmic taps of his fingers against the metal railing lining the seat. Nervous fella, no doubt. And he'd deliberately chosen to face the door, not even standing when she walked in… and she wasn't stupid enough to attribute that to the amputation of his left leg below the knee. Despite those expansive medical reports she'd accessed, she knew it was soldier's instinct, plain and simple, that had kept her client seated while she came to him.

"Please, call me Philip," he murmured, flashing that killer smile again and shrugging with careful arrogance. "I'm a Kiriakis. I'm used to the best, Ms. Mars. And I heard you were the best."

"Please, call me Veronica," she returned, coolly copying his tone. "And am I to assume that your choice of meeting place is the 'best', too? Zagat rated, is it?"

The family restaurant was bright, homey and cheerful. A bar lined the far wall and it looked about as far from an expensive taste as Guinness was from Cristal. A shingle over the door said, simply, "The Brady Pub."

For the first time in the seven minutes since she'd stepped foot inside, Philip's laugh was genuine… revealing deep dimples that were a thousand times more lethal than the playboy grin he'd put on for show. "It's my brother's parents' place," he admitted, lowering his arm to run his hand sheepishly through his golden blond hair. "And, yes, Veronica, it *is* the best of Salem."

Good Lord, the man was pretty.

She busied herself flipping open the file folder she'd brought with her, checking the footnotes revealing that Philip's brother was one Bo Brady (of the Pub)-- mother Caroline and adopted father Shawn. He and Philip shared a biological father, Victor Kiriakis… probably the distinguished gentleman who'd shoved the silver spoon down Philip's throat.

It was a good thing all boys of privilege hadn't been born with the ability to fluster her… Neptune would have been a veritable DMZ of hotness overload. When she felt like she was armed enough against his undeniable charm to flip the folder shut, she looked at him again. "I don't understand why you think I'm the person to help you find your son. I don’t work missing children's cases. I'm strictly a small-time hustle kinda gal."

He leaned forward, elbows resting on the checkered tablecloth, close enough for her to breathe in the subtle scent of soap… never cologne; it was a dead giveaway of your position to your enemy. "You're a small-time gal who helped smuggle Duncan Kane and his infant daughter out of the country," he said, softly, emphatically.

Veronica was completely unsurprised by the flash drive he plucked from the breast pocket of his expensive Polo shirt and laid on the table. It figured he would one-up her trusty manila. She sighed and pulled her digital camera from her purse, punching in the correct sequence so it would synch up from the surveillance feed she'd set up at the fancy mansion on her way over. "And that, I take it, is your ex-wife, Belle, and your other child… your daughter, Claire?"

Philip scowled down at the screen, where a toddler was playing on a blonde's lap. But it didn't take long for his annoyance to turn into a fond, fatherly grin. "Touché, Veronica. Touché," he murmured, absently.

For a minute or two, she felt like she'd completely disappeared. Philip watched the video feed as if there was no one else in the world except the little girl on the screen. He brushed over the side of the camera with his thumb and Veronica had to turn to her folder again to keep from leaping across the table and attacking him in a fit of hormonal, uterus-clenching, "please impregnate me," insanity.

Claire's biological father was… Philip's brother's son? Good God. The gene pool alone should have been enough to stop her in her lust-ridden tracks. Except it wasn't. Veronica fanned herself with the printout pages until Philip looked up at her, stricken.

No acts, no plays, no defenses. He shoved the camera back towards her. "I've lost Claire, Veronica. Please, you've got to help me make sure I don't lose my son, too."

She knew she would before she even registered saying, "I'll do it."

**

After the meeting, he guided her to her rental car with one hand at the base of her spine. His pace was just a little off-rhythm. Nothing so overt as the thump of a pirate's peg leg, but just enough to seem like someone had kicked him really hard in the shin. Veronica made no move to slow her natural speed… and he made no move to thank her for it.

"Does it bother you?" she wondered, as she slid her key into the driver's side door of the jaunty green hybrid.

"What? My leg?" He glared down at her, just a few inches because despite his military bearing he wasn't that much taller. The twist of his mouth was anything but pretty, the tone less than charming. "I'm used to it by now, but only the kinky ladies really like the stump."

"Nope. I actually meant the face." She grinned brightly, gesturing helpfully at the perfect oval. "What'd they do, mix Prince William and Brad Pitt? Throw in a little Edward Norton for balance?"

It caught him by just enough surprise that his indignant huff choked into a laugh. "Beats me," he shrugged, helplessly. "But I wasn't exactly an ugly sonofabitch before."

Veronica matched his laugh. "Just admit it, Lieutenant: Only the kinky ladies really liked you, right?"

Philip's pace was just a little off-rhythm, so it couldn't explain why he suddenly tilted into her and she fell against the car door as he braced his arm on the roof. And it certainly couldn't explain why his mouth was suddenly brushing against her earlobe, his breath deliciously warm and tickling. "What about you, Veronica?" he asked, huskily. "You a little kinky?"

Part of her wanted to scream, "Yes! Yes! Oh, for the love of Herbal Essences, yes!" Fortunately, she listened to the other part of her, snaked her hand into her bag, and tasered him.

When he was crumpled in a heap on the concrete, she bent over and answered, "Oh, yeah. Just a little."

**

The Salem Inn was a nice little hotel, made even nicer by the fact that there were network jacks in every room and there was a wireless Internet pocket in the lobby. And thanks to her trusty taser, she was in her room alone, plugged in, and looking up the phone records of one Mimi Lockhart going back for the last two months.

Veronica had a lot of faith in her detective skills. Her faith in not sleeping with rich boys who practically licked her ear was a different story.

Philip Kiriakis was, without a doubt, Her Type. Wounded (literally, as opposed to figuratively and prone to an accompanying Snow Patrol soundtrack), smart, funny, good-looking. But there was one thing… no, two things, that set him apart from the Logans and Troys of the world. Their names were Tyler and Claire. Yeah, he even had one up on Duncan. And that made him twice as off limits.

She adjusted the camera on the bedside table, watching Philip limping quite deliberately (all her doing) into the Kiriakis living room and wincing as a whirlwind of brown hair and pink bows launched into his arms. He cradled his little girl close, and Veronica didn't miss the look that passed between him and her mother.

Even on an LCD screen no bigger than a decent makeup mirror, it was obvious: He still loved Belle Black.

Yup. He was her type all right.

She sighed, turning back to the phone records, and found three calls from Mimi Lockhart's phone to an Indiana number… and four calls tracking back.

Nice. Very, very nice.

**

Finding the Indianapolis apartment belonging to Lauren, Mimi Lockhart's former surrogate, empty, had been something of a downer. Not to mention a faster trip than the average car around the track at the Indy 500. But as they took the Kiriakis jet back to Salem, Veronica watched Philip finger the soft, blue, baby blanket they'd found tucked into a drawer and she knew the trip had been worth it.

"He's real," the lieutenant had whispered, kneeling there in the bedroom. "He's really real, isn't he, Veronica? And he's out there somewhere."

"We'll find him," she said now, her fingers closing lightly around Philip's shoulder. "There was a starting point, Indianapolis, and that means there's an ending point."

He looked up at her, and she realized, whimsically, that his eyes were the same color as the binky, blue-grey, like Civil War uniforms from both sides. Everything about the man spoke of war.

"That's what I'm paying you for." There was distance in his voice, maybe because she'd caught him vulnerable. Maybe for other reasons entirely. "So there damn well better be an ending."

Okay, so he hadn't entirely forgiven her for zapping him.

Veronica could only justify what she did next because they were at cruising altitude and cabin pressure did funny things to her insides. Because Salem, Neptune, and their exes were thousands of miles below and nobody was going to witness her sudden attack of weakness.

"Well, you're not paying me to be nice to you, and you're not paying me for this," she whispered, before scooting closer on the leather seat and kissing his cheek.

She'd meant it to be a chaste kiss, a comforting kiss. The kind of kiss you gave your brother if you were that kind of family (which she'd concluded the Brady-Kiriakises definitely were).

She'd forgotten Philip's arguably magical powers, his undeniable effect on her. And that he was in no way, shape, or form her brother.

His skin was absurdly smooth against her mouth, like he'd made a deal with the God of Close Shaves, and then he was turning his face and catching her lips with his and any thoughts of beard burn were swiftly replaced by other things burning. The hand clutching the blanket dropped it and rose up to firmly cup the back of her head. "Distance" ended up somewhere between the wing and tail as he pulled her into his lap and kissed her back in a way that was real. Really real.

And now they had a starting point, too.

**

Two days later, Veronica wandered through the Salem Place outdoor mall, trying to juggle a cappuccino, a muffin, and her Sidekick, and she could still taste that kiss. She'd expected a guy like Philip to be intense, to be all-consuming, to kiss like he was preparing for combat, but not even the bitter tang of Starbucks could wipe away how he'd nipped, teasingly, at her mouth, turning it into a dozen soft, slow mini-kisses. He hadn't even used tongue… and she'd almost *keened* for it, like some romance novel heroine whimpering "please," before regaining a small portion of her sanity, launching herself into the seat across from him, and buckling herself in.

She was seriously, seriously, tempted to hop on the first commercial flight back to Neptune and regroup.

Only she had hit a dead end in finding Tyler, and she couldn't leave her client in the lurch. That was not in the Mars Investigations code. Of course, neither was practically joining the Mile High Club with the hottest thing on one and a half legs.

It was just her luck that this was exactly what she was contemplating when she ran into her client's two favorite women. Her muffin went bouncing from her hands, landing on the sidewalk in front of Claire, who very helpfully picked it up and went, "Muff!"

Smart kid.

Unfortunately, her mother plucked the muffin out of her hand before Veronica could accept it, admonishing, "Claire! We don't pick things up off the ground!" in a voice that was almost too sugary sweet to be real.

Belle was just a few years older than her, but already looked like she'd overdosed on the Happy Homemaker Kool-Aid. Her flower print ensemble nearly matched Claire's Osh-Kosh duds and the smile on her face had an eerie Stepford Wife quality to it. In fact, everything about Belle was perfectly in place… except for her chest, which beat Veronica's by at least four cup sizes.

Good Lord. No wonder she was Philip's dream woman… she pretty much epitomized the virgin/whore paradigm. Veronica, in her nondescript Old Navy T-shirt, American Eagle cargos and virtual training bra, suddenly felt like a slacker in comparison.

"Oh!" gasped Belle, absently chucking the bran muffin into the nearest trash can (and she was environmentally responsible, too… damn her!). "You're the investigator Philip hired, aren't you?"

"Yeah, that's me! Veronica Mars, investigator." There was absolutely nothing wrong with the question, and yet Veronica's teeth set on edge, as if 'investigator' was somehow secret code for 'two dollar hooker.' One kiss --okay, a dozen mini-kisses-- had definitely scrambled her brains.

"Have you had any luck? Philip's just been beside himself ever since he started getting those phone calls." Belle was so darned earnest, Veronica felt ridiculous for thinking so bitchily.

She shrugged, thankfully distracted from breaking any confidentiality agreements by Claire tugging on her pant leg. The little girl was not what anyone might call conventionally cute. She looked almost like a little boy, with her halo of brown curls and her plain features. "Unfortunate," would be the polite 09er way to say it. But she had charm, definite charm, and when she grinned up at Veronica, something fluttered in her chest. "Oh, this one's just like her dad, isn't she?"

"You've met Shawn?"

Belle's sculpted eyebrows drew together in confusion and Veronica realized her tactless faux pas. "Oh, um, sorry, I meant Philip," she murmured, handing Claire her now empty to-go cup and earning an adorably delighted laugh in return.

The other woman's genial façade faded almost immediately. Her bow-shaped mouth flattened into a thin white line and her eyes narrowed. "I don't know what he's told you, but Philip is not Claire's father," she said, stiffly.

Were it not for Veronica's crack investigative skills, she would've assumed the prissy defensiveness came from a need to protect Shawn Brady's parental rights. But Belle stressed the wrong part of her sentence. Instead of emphasizing "not," she stressed the "told." Like Philip was imparting state secrets while they shared a pillow. Like Philip wasn't *supposed* to be sharing said pillow. Well, well, well. Saint Isabella of the Happy Home wanted to rack up a strike *and* pick up the spare.

Veronica felt very, very relieved that she, herself, had never been considered a saint. "Oh, don't worry. Philip's not telling me anything," she assured, doing her best wide-eyed and innocent act. And she glanced down at their pint-sized companion to make sure she was happily occupied playing barista before tacking on a stage whisper worthy of Broadway and a casually waved hand. "We're just having a lot of great s-e-x."

Belle's outraged gasp was a fleeting victory. Because suddenly there was an arm sliding around her waist and a telltale warm whisper against her ear. One that she couldn't combat with a taser without negating everything she'd just said. "Hey, Baby," Philip purred, sounding lazy and indulgent, like they'd just finished a Tantric session that would make Sting blush with envy. "Going public already?"

Oh, damn.

Veronica's toes curled inside her Chucks as he nuzzled her cheek before pulling away. She had to remember there was a child present. A child and an ex-wife. "I'm sorry," she trilled, not even faking the awkward laugh. "I didn't mean to be so crass, Philip, it's just that Belle was concerned things might be a little serious..."

"Was she?" Philip's eyebrows arched, and though he wore that standard special-for-Claire smile, there was no mistaking the speculation in his gaze. "Well, I've been making it a point to never be serious, even about someone as gorgeous as you are." He smoothly raised her hand to his lips and brushed a proprietary kiss across her knuckles that gave all evidence to the contrary.

If they weren't still putting on a show for Belle's benefit, Veronica would have applauded. All that time in the ISA and in the Middle East had definitely given him some skills-- a fact that wasn't escaping Belle's notice. If this were a cartoon, steam would have been shooting out of her ears. And Veronica was feeling a bit steamy herself… if for decidedly different reasons.

"Well. Claire and I need to be going. Shawn's scheduled to be coming home from Cleveland tonight!" Belle's sugary tone was back and she swiftly swept up her daughter from where she'd started tugging at Philip's pant leg. Only now… now it was pretty clear that the sweetness was just a candy coating for the bullshit beneath. "Good luck with the investigation. I hope you don't work too hard."

Veronica couldn't help but inwardly cringe as the disappointment rippled through Philip's body. But the kid… the kid was, after all, a chip off the old block. Leaning forward from Belle's arms, she extended her chubby little arms to Philip and cried, "Da!"

As "Da" gave Claire a smacking kiss on the cheek and a hug for the road and she laughed and laughed, Veronica's desire to hop on a plane back to Neptune crystallized.

If she didn't leave town, she was going to sleep with Lieutenant Philip Kiriakis.

And she was going to really enjoy it.

**

Philip had helped himself to the mini-bar in her room, and ice clinked in a tumbler as he poured himself one of those cute little airplane bottles of scotch. She leaned back against the headboard, laptop open, pretending she wasn't watching the way his shoulders moved beneath his tailored silk shirt… and muttering "Damn!" when he turned around and caught her at it.

He stared at her over the rim of the glass. "Be honest, Veronica. You just want to see the stump."

"That's ridiculous. I don't ask to see the stump until at least the third date." Her gaze stayed firmly locked into his as she shut her computer's lid and moved it to the nightstand. She had absolutely no inclination to look down… not when his eyes were so damn pretty. "And besides," she reminded, crisply, "aren't I the one who had to taser you in the parking lot last week?"

"Yeah. Yeah, you were." He took a sip of his drink, and the motion of his Adam's apple was positively mesmerizing. "So why did you tell Belle we're sleeping together?"

There was no point in lying. "Pretty much to piss her off," she shrugged. "And it worked. Your ex may be engaged to your nephew, but she still wants to cry 'Uncle.'"

She expected the news to garner some kind of response. A flash of something. Anything. Triumph. Happiness. But he just continued to drink, absently rubbing his knee where the prosthetic was probably attached.

He stood there so long, she wondered if he'd grown roots. But no, he just finished his scotch, until the only sound in the room was, again, the ice clinking in the glass.

"What about you, Veronica? What do you want?" he asked, setting the empty tumbler back down on the beverage cart.

"I want to find Tyler. I want my retainer in full." These answers were automatic. Easy. "World peace. For God to answer Lindsay Lohan's cry for help." These were flip. As she slid off the bed and moved towards him, though, the jokes were done. "I want to see you naked, Philip, and not because you're an amputee, but because I have wanted to do things to your body that violate the Geneva Convention ever since I walked into the Brady Pub."

A muscle jumped in his cheek, and there was the tightening of the fist that hung at his side. "You know, we didn't give much of a fuck about the Geneva Convention in the desert."

"And here I thought they blew parts of you up because you were making such a splash with the burqa clad set." She was just inches from him now, as close as she had been on the jet… only there was nothing chaste about what she wanted to do to him.

"Don't play with me, Veronica, because I will bury you." There was no threat in his voice, only promise… terrible, frightened, promise that spoke to her own laundry list of fears beginning and ending with trust fund boys and broken hearts.

"You can't bury me, Lieutenant," she shrugged, helplessly. "I'm in too many pieces."

"I told you to call me Philip."

Before the first syllable was even past her lips, he was kissing her. He lurched into her and she leaned into him and they clutched each other for purchase as he slanted his mouth against hers. No teasing nips this time, no mini-kisses and slow caresses. Philip waged a full-scale one-man assault worthy of Rambo, urging her lips to part for him so he could capture her tongue.

Veronica circled her arms around his neck, hooking her foot behind his to throw him off balance. She whispered in his ear, husky against his earlobe, using his own weapons to conquer him. "Philip, Philip, Philip," she chanted, before taking her mouth back to his and giving as good as she'd gotten.

He walked her backwards toward the bed, toppling them both to the mattress without even breaking the kiss. Pinned beneath him, all those lean muscles and sharp angles, Veronica could feel every cell in her body standing at attention and singing "God Bless America." Followed suit by a rousing reprise of the Hallelujah chorus as he pulled back and began unbuttoning his shirt.

She kissed every millimeter of skin he bared, from his flat, hard nipple to the tight expanse of his stomach, to the tiny white scars that criss-crossed his golden tan like lines on a map. The pale blue silk was forgotten on the floor as she tugged at the zipper of his khakis.

"Veronica…" he murmured, warningly, against her jaw. His breathing was already uneven and wanting as he pushed her with two fingers and looked at her. "Veronica, I've got to take off my prosthetic." And the way he said it left no room for misconception… he expected it to kill the mood, to send her screaming into the hills.

She scoffed. "And it's not even the third date! I'm *such* a whore."

It was her turn to push him, and she did, tumbling him to the bed while she loosely straddled his hips and made short work of his pants. He rose up just slightly so she could pull them off, and then closed his eyes.

Sure, the plastic harnessed to his left knee was pretty glaring, as well as the ugly scar across his kneecap that reconstructive surgery had not been able to quite erase. But in all honesty…? Veronica was entirely too fascinated by the tent in his boxers to care. She gently moved his hands to the fastenings of the prosthetic, and then used her own to send *him* screaming into the hills.

"Now this is what I call a stump," she teased as she freed his impressive erection and wrapped her fingers around the base. She stroked experimentally until she found a steady rhythm, one that made him pant and fumble and forget to be self-conscious.

"Jesus, *God*, Veronica," he gasped, as his fake leg hit the floor with a thump and his head made an answering sound against the duvet. He'd gone and turned her into a Holy Trinity… now that was a first.

Veronica slowly tugged off her t-shirt and shimmied out of her cargo pants, stopping just long enough to pull two condoms from one of the snap pockets. She grinned as she slid back up his body. "Got any phantom pain, soldier?"

"Yeah. In my ass. And her name is Veronica." Philip used her cockiness to benefit *his* cockiness and rolled them so she was under him once more. His erection was hot and long and throbbing against her inner thigh and the tease of it so close to the jackpot made her whimper. He kissed his way down from the sensitive spot behind her ear to the column of her throat, to the tops of her breasts… all while slowly tormenting her with the tip of his cock. She wound her legs around his hips in an effort to guide him inside her, but still he held back, determined to make her crazy. "I told you," he chuckled when she made a strangled sound of protest, "fuck the Geneva Convention."

"Forget Geneva and fuck *me*," she cried, tangling her fingers in his hair and forcing his self-satisfied mouth back down to hers.

He did exactly that. Every single piece of her. Even the ones she hadn't wanted him to find.

**

She watched him sleep for what felt like hours, her knees drawn up to her chin and her fingers lightly stroking up and down his arm. Philip slept on his stomach, both hands buried under the pillow, and she was struck, again, by just how pretty the man was. Boyish, young, in slumber. He looked like a model or an actor on some teen drama. He was practically flawless except for the rounded off point just below his knee. His parents must have had so many dreams for him, so many hopes, and they'd nearly lost him twice.

*"Now I'll never be a teen model!"* She stifled the inappropriate giggle against her palm, filing that joke away for later use, and then quietly slipped from the bed.

She couldn't imagine almost losing Philip. She didn't want to.

"Leaving so soon?" The sheets rustled and he was instantly awake, looking up as she dusted condom wrappers into the decorative trashcan and glanced at her phone for messages. He propped himself up on one elbow. "Regrets already?"

Veronica gave him a withering look. "Just that Heather Mills lasted as long as she did on Dancing With the Stars."

"I actually met Heather Mills. She came to visit me after I lost my leg," he admitted, begrudgingly, still wearing a vaguely sleep-addled look of suspicion.

"As a Beatles fan, I'm horrified."

"Well, she was nice to me, so I'm sorry, but I gotta go against Sir Paul in the divorce."

"Okay, *now* I'm leaving you."

Philip laughed, reaching out, slinging an arm around her waist, and hauling her back to the edge of the bed. He rested his forehead against her belly and she stroked his absurdly, adorably, floppy hair. "How did I get this lucky, Veronica?"

"You hired the best," she pointed out. "And believe me, most clients don't get the benefits package."

"Good." The assertion was surprisingly vehement and possessive.

And she was surprisingly moved.

Even more so when he splayed his palms across her ass, effectively holding her in place, and lowered his head to her sex.

**

They were giggling like teenagers as they left the inn. Okay, so Veronica technically had been one just a few months ago, but that was just quibbling. Being with Philip was like being punch-drunk, winning Prom Queen, and going full-on Carrie on the senior class wrapped up into one. The smile hadn't left his face since they'd stepped out of her room hand in hand. "God, Veronica," he murmured now. "Thank you. Thank you for this."

"Don't thank me yet. We still haven't found Tyler," she reminded, instinctively pulling out her phone to check for texts from her contact at Indianapolis Children's Protective Services.

"No, but we will." The flash of his dimples was a gorgeous sight to behold, and she marveled that the doctors had managed to transplant those, too.

Veronica knew, now, that if they went for dinner at the Pub, he wouldn't take the far side of the booth. He would sit with her, stand when she stood, and very likely eat all of her French fries. She was no longer the enemy. And he was no longer just her client.

"Philip…?"

As they crossed the parking lot, a low female voice carried across the cars. It was attached to a dark-haired woman in her forties --clearly very well preserved. She strode towards them at a brisk, business-like pace, and when Veronica would have dropped her hand from Philip's, he only held it tighter.

"Oh. Veronica, this is my…"

"Mother," she finished, remembering the choice tidbit from the trusty Philip file that she hadn't opened in days.

But even if she hadn't had a headshot and a rap sheet on Kate Roberts, she would have known. She reeked of designer suits, expensive perfume, and righteous disapproval. Celeste Kane had subscribed to the same overall philosophy. It seemed to be a thing. Luckily, that meant Veronica had experience with mothers of this variety. Experience, and battle scars.

"And who is this?" Kate arched an eyebrow, and the tic that was sexy on Philip was downright bitchtastic on her.

"Veronica is my…"

"Partner." She would worry about finishing his sentences later. She untangled from Philip and offered her hand for a crisp, business-like shake. "We're working on a project together involving the Adopt-A-Minefield program. I'm a liaison for Heather Mills-McCartney."

Philip turned a burst of laughter into a poorly disguised cough, but Kate was too busy sizing her up to notice. The open dislike didn't even slip a notch. "There is nothing worse than a gold-digging tramp with a cause," Kate sneered, and where Veronica would have taken some *real* offense (tramp, yes, but gold-digging not so much), Kate quickly filled in, "But since Ms. Mills was kind to Philip during a very difficult time, I can hardly object."

Aw. His mother was a Beatles fan, too. That actually made her less of a robotic hosebeast than Celeste, who had listened to Yanni.

"Heather and Veronica think really highly of my military record, Mom. You should have seen our brainstorming session last night. It went on for hours. It was so… productive." Now it was Veronica's turn to mask a mortified giggle, which earned her a withering look that put her own to shame.

But she was gratified to see that the habit of looking softly and fondly at one's child while saving suspicion for everyone else was something Philip had inherited. Kate loved him. And why not? The guy was appallingly lovable. Decorated war veteran, great with kids, great in the sack… okay, so those, hopefully, weren't the reasons his mother adored him. This wasn't exactly The Bold and the Beautiful -- and she was thankful for that. For one thing, that analogy would make Veronica the Brooke Logan of the equation. Ick.

She shuddered, tuning back into the conversation going on around her.

"…worry, Mom. Veronica and I have it all under control."

"I'm sure," Kate murmured, clearly telegraphing that she hadn't believed the Adopt-A-Landmine story for a second.

The encounter was mercifully short, as Kate then clicked away on her stilettos with nary a second glance at Philip's "liaison." Veronica couldn't help but rub her hands up and down her arms and quip, "Brrrr."

"We can conference call my brother Austin or go visit my sister if you'd like. They're *much* nicer people," Philip laughed, grabbing her hand again like she had never let it go.

"I'd say Al Qaeda are nicer people, but that wouldn't exactly be PC given the circumstances, Lieutenant."

He laughed, a full-bodied laugh. And Veronica knew she was done for. Whether or not she found Tyler, she'd found something else that she wasn't nearly ready to let go of.

**

Veronica had papers spread all across the corner booth that she had co-opted at the Brady Pub. Fortunately for her, old Shawn had taken a shine to her and her bottomless cup of coffee had been on the house. Unfortunately, she was about to take advantage of the fact that young Shawn was back from Cleveland.

Lauren's phone records had tracked back to Salem as well as Mimi Lockhart. And the Salem number was Shawn's cell phone. She wasn't exactly looking forward to sharing this information with Philip, so she had all her hopes pinned on Shawn professing to be some kind of idiot phone savant who dialed numbers from different states purely by accident… and kept them on the line for more than five minutes because he was clueless and had gone to wash his hair.

When Shawn sauntered into the restaurant, Veronica had to admit he was pretty spectacular. All dark hair and blue eyes and muscles, he looked like he had stepped out of a Calvin Klein commercial. Luckily, she'd already realized she liked her models a little less perfect… more Soldier of Fortune than CK1.

She slid out of her seat to catch him before he went up to the bar to greet his grandfather. "Shawn?" she asked, stepping in front of him like a cute, blonde, Belle-esque roadblock.

He gave her a dimpled smile that was most certainly genetic… though she didn't want to remotely try whipping out Mendel's chart and figuring out how it related to Philip dominantly or recessively. "Hi. Do I know you?"

"Um, no. But I've been working with Philip on something and was just wondering if I could ask you a few questions." She smiled with all kinds of vapidness, hoping that her knowledge of genetics didn't somehow translate through the bright eyes and disarming grin.

Shawn, sadly, was not as dumb as he looked. "You're working with Uncle Phil?" He looked her up and looked her down, probably comparing her ensemble to Belle's Laura Ashley ilk. "Oh! You're Veronica, aren't you?"

"That's me," she admitted, as he followed her back to the booth. "But, seriously, I'm all bark and no bite… unless you ask nicely."

"Well, I'm not asking. Belle's the only one allowed to bite." He grinned. "No offense."

"None taken!"

She had, quite honestly, been hoping Shawn would turn out to be some kind of colossal asshole… what with Belle picking him over Philip and all. But Veronica was chagrined to realize that he basically seemed like a stand-up guy. Even if he *had* been making phone calls to a shady surrogate mother. He dutifully sank down into the seat across from her and took her measure. His eyes were ridiculously, beautifully, blue.

"So, uh, you and Phil…" He cocked his head speculatively. "Can I call you Auntie Veronica or is that a bit premature?"

Belle certainly hadn't wasted any time passing along the news, had she? Veronica shook her head, sighing. "Only if I can pinch your cheeks... and I don't mean the upper set, Flyboy."

He laughed, ducking his head and blushing, and Veronica felt slightly vindicated. Sure, she wasn't Miss Perfect and hadn't birthed the next Brady scion, but she still had skills. "How can I help you, Veronica?" he asked.

And while he was still flustered, she smiled innocently and went in for the kill. "You can tell me about Lauren."

**

Hours later, Veronica was curled up in her hotel room bed, wishing she had a crabby pit bull to cuddle up to. She'd called her dad, picking his brain about the case and how she'd gotten way, way too involved --"You? Overinvolved? Never"-- but even that wasn't nearly as good as the in-person feedback with a side of ice cream and Backup nosing at her for chocolate chips (which he was most certainly *not* allowed to have).

Her brief stay in Salem had taught her many things --and a couple of new sexual positions-- but the most important among them was just how much the people here valued family. Where she came from, exes beat up current lovers at the drop of a hat. People covered up their daughters' murders. No one trusted anyone, even if they were related. The people here weren't like that. Philip wasn't like that. Even if he'd lost his wife to Shawn, he loved his nephew; he loved the Bradys. No matter how many times they fought, no matter how deep the rivalry ran, that was the bottom line: best friends forever and blood beyond that.

And hearing that Shawn had looked up Lauren at Mimi's request, had *seen* his child and said nothing …all out of a misguided jealousy that Claire loved Philip… it was going to devastate him.

"Veronica, believe me, if I knew where Tyler was, I'd tell Philip in a heartbeat," Shawn had sworn to her, those unearthly eyes better than any lie detector test. "But all I did was meet with Lauren. That's it. I didn't put her up to stalking Philip with phone calls or encourage her to keep the baby away from him!"

"Right. You'd think you'd *want* Philip to find his son," she'd countered, icily. "Or were you afraid that then Philip would have both Tyler *and* Claire's love?"

That had shamed Shawn into silence. No answer required.

But now she needed an answer. She needed to figure out what exactly she was going to tell her client, the man who'd hired her to find his baby. And she wondered whether or not the man she was sleeping with was going to recover from yet another loss.

You could replace a limb and reconstruct a face, but this…? What if it was the straw that broke the camel's back? After all the custody battles and kidnappings and petty schemes to get Shawn out of town (Veronica was no dummy: Shawn's auto parts company gig had *so* been a Kiriakis subsidiary), what if it was the one thing that Philip and his family couldn't come back from?

Naturally, it was while she was wrestling with this existential crisis that Philip let himself into her suite. He looked pretty smug, placing a purloined key card on top of the TV cabinet as he murmured a "Hey, Baby," that was just as sexy and clichéd as it had been for Belle's benefit.

"That's Private Baby to you, Lieutenant," she murmured, glancing around to make sure there were no extraneous files spread out on the bed. Nope.

"You're a civilian. You do not get a rank."

"I do if I say so!" Throwing aside the sheet and grinning fetchingly would have been a bit more effective had she been wearing a cute black negligee. Sadly, her Hearst T-shirt and shorts would have to do.

Philip's eyebrows rose appreciatively, and along with them so did her estimation of him. "Will Brilliant and Beautiful Goddess of Crimesolving do?"

"What was that? Will the Goddess do you?" She tapped her chin, hoping he didn't notice it trembling. "I'm thinking yes."

Before she even added the last part, he was already pulling his shirt over his head and undoing his jeans.

Thank God, she thought. And not just because he was hard and hot for her and fantastically easy on the eyes, but because his enthusiasm was about to buy her some time. She didn't have to tell him about Shawn. She didn't have to tell him anything besides, "come here," and "kiss me," and, "now."

For a higher-ranking soldier, he took orders really, really well. Then again, Goddess probably trumped him. Veronica laughed to herself, softly, and wound her fingers in his hair as he settled between her legs. He rubbed his cheek against hers and she caught the groove of his dimple with her tongue, licking the hollow. "You are so pretty," she murmured as he gasped with pleasure.

"Prettiest guy in my unit. They always wanted me to bring up the rear," he chuckled, not the least bit offended, reaching down to palm *her* rear for emphasis.

They made love fiercely, leaving bruises and scratches and retracing each mark with kisses. It was only after they were done, when Philip was curved against her side, playing with strands of her hair, that she realized she'd thought of it in those terms: "making love." A euphemism meant for romance novels and soap operas and power ballads. Not for rape survivors and traumatized veterans. Not for girls who tasered first and asked questions later and guys who paid their way through white-collar crimes.

"I'm not a good guy, Veronica," he murmured against her ear, as if she'd been broadcasting her thoughts across Dionne Warwick's psychic hotline. "I'm not a good guy, and you need to know that. If you knew half the things I've done… and not just over there, but here…"

"I'm sure someone can do a Linkin Park video to your rap sheet." Veronica turned in his embrace, meeting his naked and nervous gaze. "I'm not asking for it. All I'm asking for is now." Never mind that she actually *knew* most of his rap sheet, the classified DOD documents aside. "Now and maybe tomorrow."

Philip didn't smile, which was unfortunate because she loved it when he did. "I can do that," he whispered. And then he kissed her. Fortunately, she loved it when he did that, too.

When they stopped for air, Veronica blurted it out. No, not "I love you." Not even, "I know what you paid on your 2005 tax returns." She sprawled half on top of him, leg curled around his thigh, and blurted out, "I got a break in the case."

"Yeah?" He tilted up her chin. "What?"

"It's Shawn," she said, voice full of misery. "Shawn's seen Lauren."

Just like that, the space below his knee was not the only empty one between them. Philip's eyes went blank, and his hand fell away from her face. She slipped down to the mattress, to her pillow on the right side of the bed. The room was warm, and the sheets still felt like sex, but she was cold… and he was positively polar.

"Are you sure?"

"He confirmed it at the Pub… and his phone records can't lie." She hid her face in the cotton of the pillowcase, waiting for the rustle of sheets, for the sound of clothing being gathered and extraneous parts being reattached.

Only it never came.

Philip aligned his chilled body with hers, brushing his mouth against her temple and curling his fingers around her shoulder. "Thank you," he whispered, raggedly. "Thank you for finding out."

They leaned together, so their foreheads touched, and Veronica murmured, "You're welcome," before gently kissing the corner of his lips.

He pulled back just enough to slay her with the smile, the eyes, and the charisma that had stopped her at fifty paces. "You really want to know why I had you flown out to Salem?"

"That and world peace."

"Because I saw your picture… and I'm a sucker for a face more gorgeous than mine."

"It figures," she sighed, nestling into his arms. "I knew only the kinky gentlemen really liked me."

He kissed the top of her head and chuckled against her earlobe in that way that never failed to make her stomach somersault and her toes tingle. "Then I must be *really* fucking kinky, Veronica Mars."

--end--

August 8, 2007

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