Title: The New Stepmom
Summary: Veronica plays dress-up and has parental issues. In a nutshell.
Spoilers: Season 1. Vaguely set a couple years post-S1, but doesn't negate or spoil anything from S2.
Author's Notes: Written for vmhaveaday challenge of "Have a day incognito". Big thanks to fickledame for the beta!
Disclaimer: I really have no power here.

Veronica would never admit it out loud, but the six year old that still existed inside of her, who had loved raiding her mom's closet and makeup collection to play dress-up, was pretty convinced that the best kind of cases were the ones that required her to go in disguise.

The jaded teenager inside of her was equally drawn to the idea of being someone else, even if it was just pretend, even if it was just for one night.

Of course, she always had more fun doing the incognito thing when it had no actual relevance to her own life.

Tonight, unfortunately, was one of the less fun occasions. She was sitting at a corner table in a fairly upscale restaurant, peeking through the thick, dark locks of her wig towards a table halfway across the room.

And she was eating pie. She had planned on just ordering coffee considering how much the food in this place was out of her price range, but when she started the surveillance she quickly found that she was in desperate need of dessert.

She kept trying to think of the night indifferently – professionally. It was a job. Sure, a job that no one had hired her for, but the mechanics were all the same. Research background, watch for suspicious activity. Easy. And she was completely prepared, research phase complete – she knew everything about these people.

Her eyes scanned over the members of the table.

Max – accountant, divorced, father of two, homeowner. Born and raised in Manhattan. Graduated magna cum laude, Columbia University Class of '82. Moved to Seattle after his first wedding and then San Diego after his divorce. Full head of hair with dashes of grey. Gym member. Completely charming, utterly uncomplicated and totally clean – not so much as a parking ticket on his record. Even the divorce had gone smoothly.

The kids – Sarah, 15 and Mike, 11. Sarah kicked butt at softball, was competent on the violin, loved strawberry ice cream and had a new, "kinda-sorta" boyfriend that her dad didn't know about. Mike was the high scorer on most of the machines at the local arcade, and definitely had the potential to be class valedictorian several years down the road.

Then there was the new stepmom, Lianne – who had finally found a family she considered worth sobering up for.

Veronica took an unusually large bite from her pie as she tried not to think of all the times she had imagined her mother on a street somewhere, passed out in a puddle of her own drool and vomit, days away from death by alcohol poisoning. She tried not to think of all the times her mind would fly to that mental image and then think, she'd deserve it.

Now, of course, it didn't matter what she'd imagined, because it was clear that her expectations of her mother's life since her last brief stay in Neptune couldn't be further from reality. Here she was, healthy, happy, and loved.

It kind of made Veronica want to puke.

She kept watching, long after she had finished her pie. She didn't even have a bug set up – she wasn't privy to anything that was being discussed at the table, so as far as information-gathering outings go, it was pretty worthless, but she kept watching anyway. Kept watching Lianne as she laughed and smiled warmly at her new husband and children. Kept watching Sarah be the perfect, sweet, girly daughter Lianne never had.

She froze suddenly as Lianne's eyes flitted around the room, glancing at the restaurant's other occupants, eyes passing over all of them, landing on her. And after a moment that seemed like an eternity – though she knew rationally that Lianne's gaze hadn't lingered on her for longer than any one else there – her mother looked away. She let out a deep, dissatisfied sigh. She knew, logically, that with the wig that hid most of her face, the baggy clothes and high turtleneck that covered most of her body, there weren't really any visual cues that would indicate to Lianne that it was Veronica underneath. But she'd still thought that somehow… somehow, she would have known. She would have seen deeper, seen her for who she was.

But she hadn't sensed anything. There hadn't been any recognition on her face, no hesitation, no sadness, no regret. Her mother had looked straight at her and not seen her at all.

Coming here had been a bad idea. What had she hoped to accomplish? What more had she possibly wanted to learn about Lianne's new life?

It was all too much, all too sudden. She dashed up from the table, muttering an apology as she roughly brushed past a waitress on the way to the bathroom.

She fell to her knees in front of the toilet, not even bothering to click the stall door shut before she emptied the contents of her stomach into the bowl.

She wiped tears from her cheeks and sighed as she realized she'd made a mess of her wig. She ripped it off tiredly and pressed the flush handle before heading to the sink to wash out the phony locks.

A blonde woman who wasn't her mother entered the room and gave Veronica a bemused look before entering a stall. Veronica glanced at the mirror and gave a sniff at the pathetic image she made – a red-eyed, flustered, frumpily-dressed blonde washing her other head of hair in the sink. Convinced it was clean enough, she squeezed out as much water as she could and put the wig back on her head, not caring that she looked even more dismal now. It was only fitting that her image would reflect how she felt.

Her timing had been impeccable, because just as she finished arranging the mess on her head, in walked a blonde woman who actually was her mother. She ducked her head and turned away, hiding her face as best as she could. It wasn't necessary; Lianne didn't even look in her direction before entering the second stall.

Veronica shook her head and walked to the door, but hesitated. She waited a moment more until she was sure Lianne was in a position where she couldn't easily jump up and run out of the stall before she spoke up. "I just… I just hope you're happy now, with them. They look like a nice family to have."

As much as she felt like she'd been the one to lose here, as much as she resented her mother at that moment, she realized she actually meant what she'd said. Mostly.

Without waiting a moment more, without giving Lianne a chance to absorb and respond, she rushed out of the door, passing by her table to throw down enough bills to cover the pie and tip before making her way to exit the restaurant completely. She didn't look back, couldn't, but she somehow knew her mother wasn't behind her.

She stepped into the parking lot and hurried over to her car, where Wallace was sitting in the driver's seat fiddling with the radio. He glanced at her as she slid into the passenger's side and gave her an expectant look.

"Everything go okay?" he pressed, realizing she wasn't just going to offer up the information without a push.

"It was fine," she answered tersely. "Drive."

Without commenting on the fact that it was her car and he'd been waiting for her to come out to switch back to the passenger's seat, Wallace obeyed, and they both sat quietly as the car pulled out of the lot.

Mere seconds later, another lone figure burst out of the restaurant and glanced around the parking lot hopelessly. Not finding what she was looking for, she went back inside, and rejoined her new family at their table.

"Everything okay?" her husband asked, taking in her flushed cheeks and troubled expression.

"It's fine," she answered quietly, and then met his eyes to force a smile. "Just fine."

She glanced around the restaurant, her eyes pausing on the newly-emptied table, and wondered how she hadn't noticed her daughter before.

A mother should be able to sense that sort of thing.