Title: "don't chase ghosts, don't get too close"
Author: monimala
Fandom: Veronica Mars/Turks
Character/Pairing: Veronica/Paul
Word Count: 1900
Disclaimer: I'm not Rob Thomas and I have no idea who created the characters on Turks.
Summary: Lamb has a doppelganger walking the earth who wears $200 shirts and, of all things, Drakkar Noir.
Spoilers/Warnings: Through 3.14, "Mars, Bars," and the entire season of the short-lived series "Turks." Adult situations, some language, etc.

Veronica is in Chicago tracking down a client's bail jumping "no-good louse" of a husband when she thinks she sees a ghost. Not the kind that whispers and darts away in a streak of green and white, but the kind that breathes and walks and looks like an asshole who died almost one year and eight months ago in a southern California hospital bed.

He's dressed like an investment banker, which probably means he *is* an investment banker. Slicked back Gordon Gekko hair, dimple in his chin, and the smell of money Don Lamb couldn't even dream of radiating off his Rolex. But the resemblance is still uncanny.

So uncanny that it makes her stumble and collide with him right outside the door to the bar where she was contemplating having a drink and some cheese fries. He grabs her by the shoulders before she can wipe out and she hears him say, "Are you okay?" at the same moment she's gasping, "Sorry."

His voice is nasal, with that unmistakable accent that sounds like it belongs in an Al Capone biopic. It grates and she's horrified to realize that it makes Lamb's voice sound appealing in comparison. Then, she's horrified that she remembers Lamb's dulcet tones at all. "I-I'm fine," she stutters, regaining her balance and brushing her hands down the front of her jacket. "Just… clumsy."

"It's alright." His grin is boyish. He probably hasn't been a boy in at least ten years. "You comin' into Emmit's? Let me buy you a drink."

She mumbles something of the "sure," variety, following him in as she catalogs the height, the weight, everything that is --and yet isn't-- the same. The minute they cross the threshold, cries go up. Boisterous "Hey!"s and shouts of "Yo, Paulie!" Common sense dictates that her ghost is named Paul and it's a name she has to roll around on her tongue because it's not "Don," and doesn't quite mesh with "Deputy."

He's guiding her with one arm loose around her waist, proprietary and yet distant, like he's been used to opening doors for ladies and ordering dinner for two. The place is crowded, noisy, even for a Wednesday night, but a magic amount of room appears for the two of them as Paul shouts to the older woman pulling taps behind the bar. "Ginny, I'll have a pint and, for the lady here…"

"Veronica," she fills in, adding, "A pint's fine by me, too."

He grins his approval, and she's struck by the beer versus power suit imbalance. No vodka, no gin? Just a plebian brewskie? The drinks arrive quickly, almost before she's done with that thought, and the ghost catches the bartender's eye and raises his glass in some kind of private salute. "To Joey," he says, softly, before taking the first sip.

She doesn't know why, but she whispers, "To Lilly," before she takes a sip from her own.

The man who is not Lamb sets down his draft and checks her out with the kind of easy confidence that only comes with long term womanizing. He takes in her jacket, her jeans, and the knit jersey beneath. It all says "college," and "casual," and "cheap." None of which he appears to be. "So, Veronica, you trip here often?"

She's got to get used to the voice, to the harsh vowels, ASAP. She shakes her head, trying to wrap it around the odd turn this night has taken. "'Fraid not. This is only the second time I've been to Chi-town. Should I be worried? Are there a lot of nefarious sidewalks here?"

"Loads." He smiles again and it feels like a sucker punch. "You might want to watch where you step."

"I… I'll keep that in mind."

Veronica can't help it. She reaches out and touches his face, breaking any and all personal boundary laws. To his credit, he doesn't pull away. He just stares at her with impossibly familiar blue eyes and a cocked eyebrow. His jaw is lightly stubbled and the hollow in his chin is a perfect fit for her thumb.

Her fingers are stinging when she pulls them back. So are her eyes. And she hides the hysteria in a long gulp of beer. He's real. This is real. Lamb is dead and has a doppelganger walking the earth who wears $200 shirts and, of all things, Drakkar Noir.

"Not that I mind when a beautiful girl has her hands all over me, but you mind tellin' me what that was about?"

She laughs, shakily. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you."

He studies her over the rim of his glass. "Try me."

The words 'try me,' are something Logan would use as a pick-up. It's worked on her a dozen times and now she has a Pavlovian response that tells her pulse to skip and makes her think of sex. She has to bite back the "I'd like to," because this is not her ex-boyfriend, this is a man who looks like someone she… someone she didn't even care enough about to hate.

"I'm sorry I invaded the personal bubble," she says instead, hoping her face telegraphs enough winsome chagrin. "I don't know what came over me."

At that, Paul looks like he, too, is biting back an obvious sexual response. "No apology necessary," he assures instead. And then he's turning to his drink, toying with the coaster. The movement draws her gaze back to his hands and she takes in the white line where a wedding ring used to be. Taken off to get laid or because of a recent divorce? The odds are about even. "You know," he begins, after a minute or two. "My brother Joe died eight years ago this week. I still think I see him everywhere. Some of the guys say he still haunts this place, just like all the guys on the squad who do it while they're alive."

Veronica glances around again, sees photos on the wall and the flashes of shields and holsters. She'd missed it on the way in because it didn't match her Wall Street trader mental picture. This is a cop bar. Blue collar and blue line, all the way. "He was killed in the line of duty?"

"Yeah." The boyish look is back, vulnerable, young, and anything but slick. "Yeah, he died on the job. His picture's on the Wall of Heroes in the back."

Just like Lamb. In the line of fire. It doesn't matter if he was an asshole or a saint; he automatically gets painted a hero because he was wearing the uniform when he died.

"Does that make it easier?" she wonders. "Did it help you accept it? Was it any less senseless?"

Paul reaches out, strokes her cheek with two fingers and gently grasps her chin. "I don't know, Veronica… you tell me."

She swallows hard. "When I saw you… I thought I was looking at a ghost. It's… eerie."

"Damn, and I thought this pretty mug of mine was an original." The joke is fleeting, though, and he levels her with a serious stare. "Was he someone you loved?"

"No. No, for a long time I thought I hated him," she admits. "And now…"

*Look at this. She cries.*

*Veronica Mars is... smarter than me.*

*You're eighteen now, kiddo. You're an adult.*

*Still picking winners, Veronica?*

Now she misses him. And she didn't know that until she was seeing his face in the most unexpected of places. Oh, God. What the hell does that even mean?

She reaches for her beer but her hand is shaking and half the glass sloshes out onto her sleeve. Paul takes the pint glass from her and sets it down. "You lied to me outside," he scolds, gently, clicking his tongue. "You are most definitely *not* okay."

This is a ghost. Not the kind that whispers and darts away in a streak of green and white, but the kind that breathes and walks and looks like an asshole who died almost one year and eight months ago in a southern California hospital bed.

And she meets his steady gaze without flinching. "Maybe I will be if you come back to my hotel?"

**

"Divorced," Paul whispers to her in the cab. "I don't play games anymore."

"Single," she says, sliding her hand into his lap. "Games are all I have left."

**

They do away with the niceties of cracking open the mini-fridge and having another drink. Of pretending this is anything but what it is.

She strips off every layer of his fancy suit before they tumble to the double bed. He stares up at her while she's straddling him and pulling her shirt over her head. He laughs nervously. "Jesus, tell me you're legal. You did *not* look this young in the bar."

"I'm 21," she assures, wryly. "Trust me, this is the only time I look young anymore."

"Now that's a crying shame. There's nothing worse than growing up too fast." Paul's fingertips skate down her belly and then he's working at her zipper. "Whoever he was? He wasn't worth it."

Veronica thinks of the no-good louse that she has to pull in tomorrow… of her second, fourth, and sixth break-ups with Logan. "None of them are in the end."

"Hey!" He winces and she thinks that this must be the dead hero's baby brother, the nice guy that hides beneath the hair gel and the power ties. "Let me prove you wrong… just for tonight, huh?" he urges, helping her shimmy out of her jeans. "We're not all bad news."

She doesn't believe him, but has enough tact to keep from disagreeing with a naked man. His body is sculpted, abs tight, and when she wraps her fingers around his cock, he gasps her name in a way Don Lamb never would have… and never got the chance to.

**

She wakes up to him dressing by the glow of one lamp. She's wrapped in the sheets, her muscles deliciously sore and her brain still on autopilot, and she squints at him, murmuring, "Going somewhere, Dep--" and catching herself, "Paulie?"

"Don't worry about it," he shrugs, zipping up his pants. "I've done the quick exit thing before. Believe me, I don't feel used and abused."

"You don't have to leave." No one is more surprised than she is that she says that.

But she means it. She likes the guy who kept her from falling, who offered her a drink and toasted "to Joey." He was warm and he made her come and he made her remember just as many things as he made her forget.

"Seriously, it's no big deal…"

She slides from the bed and marvels at how she never really noticed that Lamb was tall because she always felt bigger, more important, than him. Paul is his ghost, but not his shadow… and he towers over her as she grabs the open halves of his shirt. "Stay," she murmurs. "At least till morning."

He arches his eyebrow, skeptical but kind… and no longer uncanny. "Why? I still won't be that guy."

*Look at this. She cries.*

"No, you won't," she agrees, quietly. "You'll be better."

"Veronica…"

He's already shrugging out of his shirt and leaning in when she hooks her ankle around his, tips him into her, and arches up for a kiss. "Trip here often?"

--end--

April 1, 2007.

e-mail mala.