Title: A Scent of Gardenias
Fandom: Veronica Mars
Spoilers: Very general through Season 3.
Summary: After all these years, Eli is still doing Veronica favors. Future fic.
"I need a favor."
Although she can't see him through the phone, Eli grins. Ten years into his relationship with Veronica Mars, and some things still haven't changed. "What is it this time, V?"
"Mac and Wallace are getting married."
"Good for them," he replies easily, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
"I need a date," she says quietly, and he can hear what it costs her to ask him this.
He sighs. "I don't do weddings."
"Bullshit. I know for a fact that you were your cousin's best man last summer."
It's really annoying the way she never forgets a single thing that he tells her. "That's different. He's family."
"And I'm not?"
It's a low blow, and he tells her as much. "C'mon, you're telling me you can't find one guy in the entire Los Angeles area to go with you? What about that agent you were seeing?"
"That was six months ago. Besides, I don't want to take some random guy to the wedding. It would be awkward and uncomfortable. At least you know Mac and Wallace."
"Are you forgetting I once duct-taped the groom to a flagpole?"
He can practically see her waving a dismissive hand. "That was ages ago. Come on, would it really be so bad? There's an open bar," she wheedles. "And my bridesmaid dress is totally awesome."
He laughs, knowing that she's not going to give up until he says yes. "I don't dance," he tells her, and she knows she has him.
"Two slow songs," she counters. "As a member of the wedding party, I'm obligated to participate."
He doesn't argue; that battle can be waged later. "When is the big event, anyway?"
"Four weeks from Saturday. In Neptune, obviously. The reception's at the Neptune Grand."
"So you'll go?" she presses, needing to hear a definite answer, knowing she has to press the advantage while she can.
"Sure, what the hell. But V..."
"You're going to owe me. Big."
Eli can feel the stares as he walks into the small church; despite the dress shirt and suit jacket, it's clear people think he doesn't belong.
He isn't entirely sure why he's there--Veronica had given him the option of simply meeting him at the reception, explaining that she would be busy with bridesmaid duties. Deep down, though, he can't help thinking that it won't feel like a wedding if he doesn't attend the ceremony.
He finds a seat on the bride's side of the aisle. He figures it makes sense, given that V is a bridesmaid. Plus, he never taped Mac to anything.
The pews slowly fill up, but he manages to stay near the aisle, wanting to be able to see Veronica. The crowd settles, a hush falling as they realize the ceremony is about to begin. The music starts, and everyone watches as the first bridesmaid--Parker--walks towards the aisle. He notes absently that her dress is long and red, her hair pulled back in some kind of fancy twist. A girl he doesn't recognize follows her, and then Veronica takes her place at the end of the aisle.
He feels his breath catch, and he hates himself for it. They don't have that kind of relationship--they never have, no matter what he might have wished as a teenager. But she looks like a 1940s movie star come to life, and he can't look away. She meets his eyes as she walks past, teeth flashing white against ruby lips, and he thinks for an instant that she knows exactly what she's doing to him.
He has no idea what the vows are, no clue what message the minister tries to impart to the happy couple. But he knows every single time Veronica looks at him and smiles.
It's kind of pathetic, really.
It's a perfect, sunny, Southern California afternoon when everyone streams out of the church, and he slips open the top button of his shirt. Not even Veronica could get him into a tie today. Speaking of Veronica...
She's over near the newlyweds, surrounded by people, her face animated, happy. It is not, quite honestly, an expression he is used to seeing on her face. He wants to approach her, has every right to approach her--he's her date, dammit--but he hesitates.
He could really use a drink right now.
He climbs halfway up the steps before she notices him, and her smile doesn't waver. Instead, she beckons him closer, pulling him into a hug as soon as she can.
"I didn't think you'd be here," she murmurs, and he can smell the gardenias in her hair.
"Yeah, well, nothin' better to do," he teases her.
She rolls her eyes. "Right. And that's why you wore a suit, right? All your other clothes were dirty?"
"Watch it, chica," he growls softly, "or the two dances are out."
She just laughs, and turns back to Mac and Wallace. Smile firmly in place, he extends his hand to Wallace and offers his congratulations.
Veronica decides to leave her car at the church, and rides over to the Neptune Grand with Eli. Thankfully, he didn't bring his bike.
The short ride is quiet, and she keeps glancing over at him, the beginning of a conversation never quite making it out of her mouth. She's not sure she's ever seen him like this. He cleans up well, although she saw the looks his tattoos received. She hardly notices them these days; they're just a part of who he's always been.
She had felt him staring at her during the wedding; her frequent peeks in his direction only confirming what she already knew. She had asked him to come today as her friend, as someone she could trust and be comfortable around, someone who would--hopefully--keep her from getting drunk and stupid.
She hadn't expected it to feel like a date.
"Thank you," she says abruptly, as she fiddles with the stem of her bouquet.
"Coming with me today. Coming to the church. I'm not sure which is worse--being the single loser on New Year's Eve or at a wedding reception."
He ponders it for a moment. "Wedding, I think. At least there's no singles table on New Year's."
"Excellent point. So you see, you've saved me from a fate worse than being alone on New Year's."
"Have I mentioned that you owe me?"
"Not in the last twenty minutes."
"Just so we're clear," he says, but the smile gives him away.
He pulls into the hotel parking lot, and she's surprised again when he comes around to open her door. Linking her arm with his, she asks, "You ready for this?"
"Long as you weren't lying about that open bar."
Leaning back in his chair, Eli pops open another button on his shirt. His jacket is already hanging from the back of his chair, and he's tempted to roll up his sleeves, but he doesn't want to scare the mother of the bride.
It hasn't been so bad, really. Apparently Mac had balked at the idea of a head table for the wedding party, insisting she didn't want to be up on some podium with everyone watching her eat. It also makes it possible for the bridesmaids and groomsmen to sit with their dates. He and Veronica were assigned a table with Parker, her stockbroker boyfriend, and two other couples. It was a little awkward at first, but once Veronica and Parker started telling stories about college, everyone loosened up.
Of course, now the meal is over, and Mac and Wallace are sharing their first dance. He knows it's only a matter of time before Veronica tries to drag him out there.
On cue, she turns to him. "The rest of the wedding party is supposed to join in now," she explains, and he can hear the apology in her voice.
He just nods, and stands up. He holds out one hand to her, and reaches for his jacket with the other.
"Leave it," she says softly.
The dance floor feels empty with only five couples on it, and even though Eli really doesn't care what any of these people think of him, he still feels like an idiot. Worse, he's afraid of making Veronica feel like an idiot.
The music starts to play, and although he recognizes the song, he doesn't know the name. It doesn't really matter, however, because Veronica is stepping close, her hand finding his. He almost freezes; almost feels like he is back in junior high, when his grandmother insisted that he go to the graduation dance. Fortunately, she doesn't seem to notice, and they begin to move together.
He notices her watching the bride and groom as they dance, her head turning to follow their movements, a half-smile on her face. He wonders if she wants this, wonders what kind of guy she imagines marrying. He doesn't want to think about it too closely; doesn't want to admit that the idea bothers him.
She turns to look at him as the song ends. "One down, one to go," she says lightly.
He nods, but doesn't release her as the next song begins. Her face falls, and he realizes that she thinks he wants to get this over with as quickly as possible. "I'm not doing the chicken dance," he says firmly, "but I might be open to negotiations otherwise."
"YMCA" is blaring from the speakers when Veronica makes her way to the ladies' room. It's nearly eleven, and the reception is winding down. As she pushes open the door, she sees Mac emerging from a stall, struggling slightly with her dress.
"Hey, Veronica," Mac greets her, and Veronica is struck, not for the first time that night, by how radiant she looks. She hadn't been around when two of her best friends became more than friends--another summer internship with the FBI--but it had obviously worked out perfectly. "You looked like you were having fun out there."
"It's been a wonderful day. I'm so happy for the two of you."
"I was going to say the same to you," Mac teases.
"What are you talking about?"
"Come on--you and Eli have been out there for practically every single slow dance."
"We're just friends--he only came here tonight to do me a favor."
"Uh-huh. Just like Wallace and I were friends."
She laughs, but it feels forced. "Is it some sort of rule that married people try and pair off their single friends?"
"Just making an observation, that's all. Look him in the eye next time you dance, and then tell me I'm wrong."
Mac finishes drying her hands, and then leaves Veronica in the bathroom, utterly confused. She takes her time at the sink, splashing a little water on her face, mindful of the mascara. She touches up her lipstick, smooths down a few stray tendrils of hair, and wonders if Mac could possibly be right.
The night has come full circle, and the dance floor is mostly empty. Mac and Wallace are gone, sneaking upstairs when no one was paying attention. The DJ tells them that this will be the last song, and Eli leads Veronica onto the dance floor. She's been acting a little weird for the last hour or so, ever since she came back from the bathroom, and he wonders if he's done something wrong.
"Did you have fun tonight?" he asks.
She nods and smiles, but doesn't meet his gaze. "It was a beautiful wedding, wasn't it?"
"It wasn't bad, for a wedding."
She's still staring off past his shoulder, her head just below his chin. He smells the gardenias again, fainter than before. When she asks, "Are you sorry you came?" he hears a small catch in her voice.
He stops moving in the middle of the dance floor. "What are you talking about, V? What's going on?"
"Nothing!" she insists. "I just know this isn't your thing."
"Look...if I didn't want to be here, would I have danced so damn much?"
Finally, she looks up at him, meeting his eyes, and he has no idea what's going through her head. "You're not dancing now," she points out, and he starts to move again.
"Why did you come with me?"
There are so many ways he could answer that question, each of them more dangerous than the next. He settles for the simplest truth. "Because you asked me."
"That's all it takes?" she asks, and the odd fear he thought he'd heard in her voice is suddenly replaced by a teasing lilt.
"Try me," he says quietly.
"So if I asked you to kiss me..."
That's all it takes.