A/N: Again I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! This is probably one of my longer chapters. It's the last one, though, hope you like the ending. I hope you've enjoyed. It may be a tinsy bit OOC in the end, but not much. Thanks a bunch! R&R! -Mac

Disclaimer: I don't own Life with Derek, or the lyrics in italics below.

Chapter Five

Dance Until The Band Stops Playing

What can now be said, oh little one, on the other side? "Dance until the band stops playing," "Sing with all of your might." The list goes on and on...

A week to the day later, we held a memorial service. I was completely overwhelmed by the finality of it all. For most of the week I had tried to remain uninvolved in the arrangements. I couldn't think about what style of casket to have or what color flowers that would be best. I didn't want to think about the funeral at all. I think my dad and Nora were both appreciative and relieved when Casey offered to take over. She would better job anyway, they admitted later. I just wasn't ready for it. I was still clinging to the hope that one morning I'll wake up and Marti will be there causing come sort of unnecessary mayhem, just like her big brother. With the memorial coming up, though it was like a slap in the face. She was really gone. She wasn't coming back.

I know it seems foolish to hold on to a hope like that. I know I'm far too old to not understand death. I'm old enough to accept that she was gone. I just didn't want to believe it. She was so young, she had so much ahead of her and it all got ripped away from her. Her life was over before she even had a chance to really experience it. It was heart breaking, for me, for all of us. The truly painful thing was watching the heart break on the faces of my family. It seems like it was just this terrible nightmare that I would wake up from any minute. But I wasn't going to wake up. I have to face that.

Casey took over most of the arrangements but left only one area to my dad and Nora for a decision. Who was going to speak at the service? At first I thought my dad would just do it. It made sense for him to speak at his daughter's funeral. Actually, it didn't make sense at all. He shouldn't have to be deciding who would speak at his daughter's funeral. There shouldn't have to be a funeral. If the world made sense at all, Marti would still be alive, terrorizing the people in our house and listening only to me. But the world doesn't make sense, and Marti is gone. Now my dad is faced with such a decision and a few days ago I found out what his decision was. His decision was me.

When he came to talk to me, it was the first time we had really talked about it. We were really leaning on Casey and Nora for support, not each other. I went out of my way to make sure Edwin was alright--he counted on me to be there for him. I was his big brother, so of course I was going to be. But when it came to my dad, it just got hard. I didn't know what to do or say. I wanted to find away to tell him I understood how he was feeling, but I can't. What can you say to a man who just lost his daughter--even if he is your father?

We did get to talk a little about her. We got into a nice reminiscent conversation. Remembering all the good times with her, all her obscure and unusual ways of addressing people, her entire outlook on life even at such a a young age--it served to break the ice. She was amazing in her strange, demanding, unpredictable way. I would find a way to remember her everyday. She deserved that much. She deserved to be remembered.

After our somewhat shaky, awkward talk, my dad got up the nerve to ask me to speak at the service. I was shocked. I never thought he would ask me. Later on Casey would tell me, she had thought all along that I should do it. Apparently, everyone agreed with that. My dad said it just seemed right for me to do it. I was the one who was closest to her. Well I looked at my dad as he asked me, as he explained his reasoning--and I couldn't say no. So I told him I would do it. I had no idea what I would say, but I would do it. And I would.

I would get myself dressed up, stand up in front of all our relatives and friends, and try to sum up what Marti meant to us, even if there wasn't an easy way to condense everything Marti was. It would be hard to put into words, what Marti was--what she meant to us, how much we loved her--but I would try.

The only thing missing from the week prior to the funeral was a serious talk about my relationship with Casey. I think they were trying to put it off until after the service. I wasn't worried through, I couldn't be. If I worried, it meant I was afraid. I had no reason to be afraid, as I told myself constantly. It didn't matter what they thought about us, I wasn't losing Casey. And I definitely wasn't losing her because they can't accept it. Because they thought we would be better off with other people. Because they think we don't belong together. They can think whatever they want. I know better. I know we belong together. If anyone fits me perfectly it's Casey. I know it. I know it even if they don't.

I thought they were going to leave it off until I overheard a conversation between Casey and Nora, just Casey and Nora. I know, I know. Eavesdropping is bad. I know, but I still do it. This conversation might very well affect me. I have a good reason to listen.

"Casey can I talk to you?" Nora asked softly. There was only a couple of things this could be about. I stopped around the corner from the kitchen and listened.

"Yeah, Mom. What is it?" Casey responded. I couldn't see them from where I was.

"It's about you and Derek."

"What about us?" I could sense the tension in her voice. She was prepping herself for the worst. I could tell.

"How serious are you two?"

"Does it really matter? Will it make a difference in how you feel about it?"

"Probably not, but could you humor me Casey, please?"

"Mom could you just get to the point, please. I have some things left to do, before tomorrow. I need to get them done, so if we could hurry this along..." Casey's tone had an edge to it. I could hear it. She thought her mom was going to say something against us, and it was frustrating Casey.

"I'm having trouble understanding how this happened."

"It just happened Mom. I can't explain it. We didn't do it on purpose. It just happened. All I know is I love him and he loves me. That's a big step for Derek, and me too. Don't mess that up for us."

"Don't mess it up? The whole situation is messed up and the two of you made it that way." Nora accused, but somehow kept her tone neutral.

"The situation got messed up when you married George. The two of you forced us together. The way I see it is it was either this or we would have killed each other." Casey spoke firmly, with confidence, as she voiced her opinion. "Would you rather we had killed each other?"

I could almost see the look of question on her face. I imagine her head tilted to the side as she watched Nora, with her eyebrows raised. I had to suppress a laugh at the vision I had produced in my head. Her sarcasm must have stuck Nora, because there was a long pause before she spoke again.

"You're going to fight me at every corner, aren't you?"

"Did you expect me to just give up, and give in? I love him. Isn't that enough for you?" Casey nearly pleaded.

"No. It's just not right."

"And why not? Why is it wrong? Can you explain it to me?" Casey questioned, but waited for no answers. "He needs me. I'm not going to leave him when he needs me most. You can't expect me to."

"Casey, honey, see reason..."

Casey interrupted her. "I can see reason just fine. I see reason clearly. More clearly than you, I think. I understand that you and George are going to have trouble accepting that we're together, but it's what you'll have to do. I'm sorry that you don't like it, but I can't do anything about that. I'm not willing to hurt Derek--or myself for that matter--just because you said to. No, I won't do it."

"You're willing to fight that hard for him?"

"I'm willing to do anything for him."

My heart soared when those words came from Casey's lips. Now that's what I call devotion. I didn't need to worry. I would fight for us. She would fight for us. We would fight and that's all that mattered. I turned around and headed back for my room. I didn't need to hear anymore of the conversation. It didn't matter what was said, we'd be okay.

I had just settled down at my computer, in my room, when my door flew open. I lazily turned my head to see who had done it. I caught sight of Casey standing in my doorway. I nodded her in and she stepped in, closing the door behind her. I swiveled around in my chair so that I was facing her completely.

"What are you doing?" Casey asked as she looked at my computer screen.

"Nothing yet." I admitted and turned back to my computer.

The screen was empty save for a blank word document. I watched the blinking cursor in the top left corner of the document. I had been attempting to work on what I was going to say at the funeral the next day. I had been working on it all week and still hadn't managed to get anything down. I had no idea what to say and it didn't seem like it was going to come to me anytime soon.

"Nothing, huh?" Casey inquired, tilting her head as she looked at me.

"I was trying to figure out what I'm going to say tomorrow, but I got nothing...just a blank page."

"You'll think of something." Casey put a hand on my shoulder and squeezed slightly, "I'm sure you'll think of something."

"What about you? What are you doing?" I questioned, looking up at her.

"I just finished talking with my mom."

"About what?" I inquired, not letting on that I had listened in.

"Us." Casey answered simply.

"Hmm, what about us?"

"Everything, what she thinks about us. The conversation we were waiting for."

"What did she say?"

"In so many words, that she doesn't want us together. She doesn't think it's appropriate in our situation. That being in love isn't enough to justify our relationship...everything we expected they would say." Casey explained, "But I fought her, gave her a ton of trouble. I didn't give in."

"I knew your ability to have an answer to everything would come in handy someday." I joked, sending her a smirk as I turned away from my computer and back toward her.

Casey stepped forward so she was standing in between my legs. She leaned forward, holding herself up by holding onto my shoulders, so that we were face to face just inches apart. She smiled as she looked me right in the eyes.

"Make fun of me all you want, but it worked." She laughed and kissed me lightly on the nose before stepping back and away from me.

It worked? That was new information. "What do you mean it worked?"

"I mean, it worked. She's going to let us be together, no more argument."

"Really?" I asked, searching her eyes.

"Yeah. She said we'll have to sit down with her and George to discuss rules, but sometime later, once the funeral is behind us."

"I can't believe it."

"Well, believe it. And this will probably be the last time we'll be allowed to be alone together." Casey smiled as she backed up toward my door.

I stood and walked to her, "And I suppose sex is completely out of the question."

"Completely." Casey repeated and laughed.

"And what about this, is this allowed?" I asked, before I pulled her to me and kissed her. Her arms went around my neck as she kissed me back.

She pulled away and took a deep breath before saying, "We'll have to negotiate that one in."

"I'll be sure to." I smiled. I rested my forehead against hers. "Tomorrow is going to be awful."

"I know." Casey agreed, her voice quiet. "I know it is. But we'll get through it."

"How? I've got to get up there in front of everyone and I'm drawinga blank on what to say. I don't know what I'm going to do. I should never have agreed to this in the first place. But I couldn't say no to my dad. I couldn't force him to do something he wasn't ready to do."

"Derek you can do this. I know you can." Casey replied. "I can help you if you want."

"No, if I'm going to do this, I have to do it myself."

"Okay, I understand. I have some calls to make, last minute confirmation things, you know how it is." Casey said, "I'll check in on you later, okay?"

"Yeah." I nodded as she opened my door and made to walk out. "Oh and Case?"

"Mmhmm." Casey paused in her exit and looked back at me.

"Love you." I said simply.

"Love you too, Derek." Casey replied before walking out and closing the door behind her.

That night, I still had nothing, even through all my trials, I had nothing. It wasn't like I wasn't trying, it was just nothing sounded right. By the end of the night I was still staring at a clear white screen. Nothing, not even a trace of anything. Just blank. I had spent hours watching the cursor in the corner, blinking, taunting me, waiting for me to write something. But I couldn't.

I couldn't sleep. I had closed out the document, and shut down the computer long before. I had finally given up, in exchange for sleep. A sleep that wouldn't come. So I lay awake, staring at my ceiling. Not the best choice when you have a memorial service to attend--to speak at--in mere hours. At some point I did slip into dreams, but it didn't last long. Before I knew it my alarm woke me up and I was snapped back to reality.

I found my suit, hanging up and still in the plastic from the cleaners. I changed and headed fro the bathroom to freshen up and fix my hair. My tie sat untied around my neck. I got to the bathroom door just as Casey was coming out. I managed a small smile through my sleep deprived haze and she returned it with a little more energy.

"Morning." She replied, pressing a kiss to the side of my mouth and wiping away the smudge of lipstick she left there.

"Morning." I said.

"It's all yours." Casey responded waving me into the bathroom.

"Thanks." I nodded.

I slipped in and closed the door. I propped myself up with my hands on the counter, one on each side of the sink. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. It was actually today. We were going to bury my little sister today. I turned the nob for the cold water and splashed some on my face. It helped to wake me up a little. I grabbed a towel off the hook and dried my face. With minimal effort I fixed my hair so it wasn't unattractively unruly and left the bathroom.

Casey's door was open as I passed and I stopped in her doorway. She was sitting on her bed as she slipped some heels onto her feet, strapping them into place. She finally looked up and caught sight of me. She grabbed her purse and walked toward me. Once she was in the hallway she closed the door to her room.

"Did you figure out what you're going to say?" Casey asked.

"No." I said simply and the look I gave her must have been enough to tip her off that I didn't want to talk about it.

Casey turned and headed for the stairs, as I followed. We came down together. Lizzie was already finished and sitting on the couch staring at the blank screen of the TV. I stood next to Casey, behind the couch. She said a small greeting to Lizzie, who responded slightly. I hastily tied my tie. It must have looked sloppy, because Casey made a face when I turned toward her. She moved it a little so that it was centered and tightened it ever so slightly. Edwin joined us not long after with his own tie fisted in his hand, a look of frustration etched into his features. I immediately walked over to him and without a word, helped him tie it. I straightened it when we were finished similarly to how Casey had done with mine.

"Where are dad and Nora?" Edwin asked.

"I don't know. I haven't seen them yet." I answered.

"I checked in on them before I got ready, they should be done any minute." Casey replied.

"How were they?" I questioned. They had to be in tough shape.

"As well as they possibly could be." Casey said. "They'll be okay, though."

I nodded. After that it was quiet until my dad and Nora appeared. It was quiet even after that. It was only a moment before they ushered outside to the car Casey had arranged for, to take us to the church where the service was being held. The entire drive we were all quiet, I don't even think any of us moved. The trip didn't take long and we were soon assembled in the church.

While most ceremonies I've attended--weddings, awards assemblies, and funerals alike--seem to drag on forever, this one did not. At least, not to me. It was soon my turn to speak. The moment I had been fearing was now upon me.

"And here is Derek Venturi, to say a few words."

I stood and made my way to the front from my seat in the first pew with Casey and the rest of my family. I took my place behind the podium. As I looked out at all the faces--faces of the people who cared for or loved Marti--it was suddenly like I knew exactly what to say. I took a deep breath and began.

"I had trouble getting ready for this. I had trouble finding the right words to say for my little sister. I know most people would come prepared with some piece of scripture or some speech about how different life is going to be without her or how much we're going to miss her. While all that is there, I don't think that's enough for Marti.

"I can't say, 'she led a good life', 'she lived it well', or 'she had no regrets.' The truth is, she never really got the chance to lead a good life, or to live her life to the fullest. It's tragic, we all know that. I know that if she had understood what a regret was, she wouldn't have had any. And in her absence, I am left with only one: that she never truly got to see how good life could be.

"When I thought about what I was going to say here--when I thought about Marti--the only thing that crossed my mind were all the things Marti never got to do. She never got to grow out of her obsessive belief she was a cat. She never got to grow up at all. She never got to hate being too young. She never got to hate being too old. She never got to be an adult wishing she was a kid again. She never got to fall in love or get married. She never got to have kids of her own--that would grow up believing they're a bunch of cats, or dogs or some other wild animal. She never got to do a lot of things. There were a lot of things she missed out on. I could bore you with some spill about how 'she was taken from us too soon' or how 'God must have had a reason' or 'that's she's in a better place,' but I won't.

"From what I could tell Marti was happy. She may have been a little crazy sometimes, a little too nosey, insanely curious--which I assume was the cause of the nosiness--and someone once said to me, far too much like me. If you knew her, you know that's true. But she was a good kid and she was loved. She is loved.

"Marti was a bright spot in the day. She was a chance to see truly carefree whiles. She was a chance for a good laugh. She was so many things...and we will all miss that. We will all miss her. I will miss her, but I will not mourn her. I will live for her, experience everything she couldn't for her. This is for you Marti. I love you."

I let out a breath of relief and stepped down. I returned to my seat next to Casey and felt her slip her hand into mine. She leaned toward me and kissed my cheek, letting it linger just a tad longer than necessary. I smiled and leaned into her.

"Did you say all of that off the top of your head?" Casey whispered to me later, as we walked out to the cemetery for the actual burial.

"Yeah. When I tried to get it out, it just wouldn't come out. But once I got up there, it all seemed to fall into place. It sounded all right, didn't it?" I responded.

"It sounded amazing, perfect for not having anything prepared at all. And surprisingly eloquent fro you." Casey assured. "It was perfect, don't worry. You did good Derek. Marti was exactly what you said, everyone felt the exact way you described all the expected sentiments you cut out, didn't fit Marti, she would have hated them. You did perfect, especially for last minute."

"Thank you." I smiled.

"For what?" Casey questioned.

"You know we do that a lot. I say some thing and you need further clarification, 'for what?' You can't just accept it how it is." I rolled my eyes, "For making up that load of bull to make me feel better."

"It wasn't bull. I was serious." Casey defended her response. "I really think you did perfect, and that's the truth. Don't question it. 'You can't just accept it how it is.'"

"Don't steal my lines." I joked.

"Okay, as long as you don't steal mine." Casey proposed, "Deal?"

"When have I ever stolen one of yours?" I inquired, frowning.

"Do we have a deal or not?" Casey prodded.

"Fine deal." I agreed.

"See this is what Marti would have wanted, for us to get past it and move on as quickly as possible." Casey replied.

"Do you actually think she was old enough to think such a thing?" I asked.

"I just have the feeling that's what she would have wanted, whether she understood it or not." Casey responded.

"I think you're right."

From our connected hands, I pulled her closer so I could wrap my arm around her waist as we walked. Most people had already assembled at the burial site and they parted to let us through to the front. This part of the service began shortly after. Watching her casket being lowered was too much for me and before they finished. I had to get away. I gestured for Casey to stay. I spent the remainder of the burial, standing alone under a tree a little further down the hill. I casually glanced at the stones set into the ground at my feet. The closest one was a double plot, the dates showed the couple had been elderly when they passed--just over a month apart. From the few simple words written there you could tell they had lived full lives--mother, father, wife, husband, friend, even grandmother and grandfather. I wanted mine to read like that. I wanted to experience all of those things, because Marti hadn't.

"What are you looking at?" Casey's voice filled my ears, breaking into my thoughts.

I turned and watched her finish her walk down to me. "All done up there?"

"Yeah. So, what were you looking at?"

"This couple, they got to be very old--together. They were even buried next to each other. They were parents, and grandparents. I want that someday." I explained, "And I think I want it with you."

"Derek, I..."

"I love you, Case. I know it's only been six months, but it's different. I can feel it. I've realized a lot of things because of what happened. And when I said I wouldn't let you go, I didn't mean just right now--I meant forever. I might not have known it, but that's what I meant." I said quickly, spitting the words out as fast as I could. The emotion was thick in my voice, I could hear it.

"You can't possibly mean that..."

"I do."

"Really?"

"Yes." I nodded in confirmation.

"I love you, Derek. I really do. And I meant it yesterday when I said I was willing to do anything for you..."

"When did you say that?" I asked, continuing in my act of playing dumb.

"I know you heard me. You make too much noise when you walk. I heard you walk in and I heard you walk away. Just because my mom didn't hear you, I did. I'm too tuned into you."

"Oh."

"I don't care that you heard. I'm glad you heard."

"Really?"

"Yes." Casey nodded this time, "You said it felt different. I know what you mean. It feels right, so right that we don't want to let go of it, because it feels like if we do we'll never find it again..."

"I don't think we would ever find it again. Not something like this." I admitted.

"Me neither." Casey agreed.

"So we agree. We belong together, like eternal, forever together." I said.

"Yes, I think so." Casey smiled.

"Marti would be proud of us." I replied.

"Why do you say that?" Casey asked.

"Because we're living life to the fullest, taking it for everything it's worth." I answered.

Casey smiled and stepped closer to me. She gripped my shoulders and pushed herself up, onto the tips of her toes, to capture my lips with hers. My hands found her waist and pulled her closer. I was sure it was her I wanted it all with. I wasn't looking for a happily ever after, most of the time those aren't real. I was just looking for an ending with us together. And I would find it. For me. For Casey. For Marti.

A/N2: That's the end! Hope you enjoyed it! Review...Review...Review, please! -Mac