Chapter 1: Dazed and Confused

"Why am I here again?" Derek whispered into his dad's ear.

"We're supporting Casey. And hoping to pay less for her college."

The lights dimmed and the auditorium hushed. Derek squirmed in his seat. Edwin had already fallen asleep and the ballet hadn't even started. Lizzie sat on the edge of the red velvet cushion to his right, Edwin drooling a bit on her shoulder. A half hour in, the program was only two acts down, and Casey's was the last on the program. Her ballet academy had decided to put on a more unconventional recital than usual, letting top students choreograph short vignettes, rather than have a common theme. Casey's had been chosen, and she and her partner Ben had been working on the dance for months.

By now, Lizzie had slumped back in her seat, uninterested. Even Nora stifled a yawn. Derek tried to catch the eye of a cute blonde a couple seats down, but it didn't work; she was staring intently at the stage. He remembered seeing her a few times when he'd picked Casey up at the studio. He thought she was one of the young girls' sisters or something. Even going near the dance studio made him feel a little gay, so he avoided it whenever possible.

After a few months in Montreal, Casey had been ready to pick up dancing again, and called her old school for recommendations. It wasn't long after that she started at the Montreal Royal Academy, which Derek thought was a stupid name for a dance studio that was owned by a crotchety old woman who wasn't even British.

Another act and another bout of tinny harpsichord music later and Derek's chin slid of his hand startling him into waking. The three be-tutued dancers curtsied and ran off the stage as the audience gave a polite round of applause.

Lizzie jerked on Edwin's ear; an annoying habit of Nora's that she'd picked up. "Casey's pas à deux is up!" she squealed in hushed tones. "It's so good!"

"What's a paw a duh?" Derek whispered back, waiting for the curtain to rise.

"It just means she has a partner. You met Ben, right?"

Derek snorted. Ben was half the reason Sam and Casey had broken up for good. Those two had the most notorious on again, off again relationship in their school. They broke up after about a month, and then got back together just another short month later. It only took two rounds of the drama for Derek to just wash his hands of the whole affair, even though it made him grit his teeth in unacknowledged frustration.

After Casey started dancing again Sam got jealous of how much time Casey spent at the studio, especially when she was at the studio with Ben. At least that's what Derek had heard. Sam hadn't wanted to talk much about the break up, and Derek hadn't wanted to ask. Besides, he had the sneaking suspicion that Ben wasn't all that into Casey, or any girl, for that matter.

The heavy crimson curtain parted and the stage was completely dark. Smooth guitar chords flowed out over the crowd and Derek immediately recognized the song.

"Is this why Casey's permanently borrowed my Led Zeppelin CD?"

Lizzie nodded intent on the two figures that were bathed in harsh spotlights at opposite ends of the stage. Instead of being elaborately costumed like the other performers, Casey just wore her normal pink tights cut off at the ankles, blue cotton exercise shorts and a pale pink tank top Derek had seen her wear around the house. Tall, blonde, good looking, and gay Derek reminded himself, Ben was similarly clothed in a tight fitting tee-shirt and what looked like cargo shorts. Casey's hair hung down completely, unadorned by her usual barrettes or headbands. It gleamed in the bright light as she sat, knees to chin, staring pointedly away from Ben. The Venturi-MacDonalds were only two rows away, and Derek immediately recognized the determined, angry look in her eye.

As Robert Plant began his opening wails to "Since I've Been Loving You," Ben strutted towards Casey, a smile playing on his lips. Flipping his hair and doing some fairly difficult, Derek admitted, acrobatics, Ben danced around Casey alone for a few moments. She just stayed still as a rock.

Derek poked Lizzie.

"What?" she hissed, annoyed by the distraction.

"Why isn't she moving?"

Rolling her eyes, she replied in a whisper, "Because she's telling a story. Ben is trying to impress Casey, and she doesn't want him to think she cares, that's why she isn't dancing with him."

"Oh."

Casey extended a leg, leisurely stretching and ignoring her partner. After another series of acrobatics, Ben finally crept up behind her and simply picked her up. Casey became stiff as a board, everything about her seeming pointed, from her toes to her hands pressed firmly to her sides. He tried to make her walk with him, but she looked more like a tin soldier. Finally Ben let go of her waist and Casey tumbled back to the floor.

Looking over her shoulder at Ben's retreating figure, Derek noticed Casey's expression change. It looked like she was a puppet and someone was pulling her off the floor. She was resisting every step that took her closer to Ben and he just watched her come, the same half smile on his face. Ben held out his hand and an elegant finger tip touched it, jerked away, and finally settled into his.

Ben pulled her close to him, pressing her face into his chest and no longer was Casey a puppet, she was a rag doll. He spun her around the stage, picked her up, tossed her around and she danced with him, she followed in whatever direction he took them. Gone was the angry look from her eyes, replaced with something confused and wistful.

Derek poked Lizzie again.

"What now?"

"Why isn't Casey happy?"

"Because she knows Ben's in control now. It's a hopeless situation for her."

To punctuate Lizzie's words, the song came to an end, Casey sinking to the ground at Ben's feet, clinging to his leg, once again refusing to let their eyes meet. Ben, on the other hand, laid a hand atop her head and his half smile became something crueler in Derek's opinion. It made him want to play Ben in a one on one hockey grudge match with no pads and no rules.

He didn't like that this performance made him actually feel something. Ballet was for pussies, and real men, like him, didn't become emotional over a stupid dance.

The audience stood up and applauded loudly as the curtain dropped for the final time. The entire theater started emptying itself and Nora and George dragged the rest of the kids off to a corner where they'd arranged to meet Casey after the show.

Leaning on a pillar, Derek watched the crowd. The cute blonde he'd noticed earlier kept trying to make eye contact, but now he just didn't feel like it. For the first time in the two years he'd been living with the MacDonald's Derek felt like something in him had changed.

No, not for the first time. Not for the first time at all. Stupid MacDonalds, stupid Casey and her stupid emotions. The blonde began to saunter over towards him, but Derek didn't feel like flirting. That had to be a first, at the least. At eighteen, Derek had still never had a girlfriend for more than a month. Why, he asked Nora when she questioned him about it, would he want to tie himself down with one girl if he could have twice as much fun with two? To avoid the seductively smiling Marilyn clone, Derek ducked out the door and made his way towards the car. Out of the corner of his eye, Derek saw Ben exit the theater, and it made his fist clench involuntarily.

Without even knowing why, Derek jogged after the dancer and shoved him, hard.

"What the fuck man?" Ben shouted, dropping his bag and car keys. "Seriously, not cool."

Derek just stared at him for a moment, eyes narrowed, searching for the words. "What did you do to Casey?"

Ben's eyebrows shot up, confused. "I have no idea?"

"She was upset. Dancing. She was upset when she was dancing."

Letting out a short laugh, Ben just shook his head. "Dude, you're retarded. It's just a fucking metaphor. Casey and I are friends, nothing more. Now, if you're done being an asshole, I'm going home to shower."

"Sorry," Derek mumbled as the tall blond boy walked off. Ben just gave him the finger.

"Derek!" George beckoned his son over to the SUV as the rest of the family started piling into it. "We're going to head home. I was hoping you could give Casey a ride when she finishes changing, since you couldn't bring yourself to congratulate her with the rest of us." The tone of George's voice made it clear that this was not a request. Nora tossed him the keys to her Camry with a warning to drive safely.

"Don't I always?" Derek batted his eyelashes at her and she just rolled her eyes.

"And don't fight!"

Derek waved them away, a tense smile on his face. He sat leaning against Nora's car for a good ten minutes, mulling over why he'd acted that way towards Ben. Was it possible that he was finally starting to accept Casey as part of the family? He doubted it. She was still as foreign and frustrating as ever. He knew as little about her as he did when she had moved in. Well, that wasn't exactly true. He'd spent enough time trying to figure out what got under her skin. And looking up half of the words she used in a dictionary. He hated to admit it, but Casey had indirectly raised his English grade from a C to a B-.

Finally, he saw Casey's lithe form come around the building carrying a giant pink bag. She looked around a bit at the almost empty parking lot before heading towards Derek and the Camry.

"Where is everyone?" she asked.

"Marti needed to get to bed early," he lied smoothly. He didn't like being alone with Casey. It always made him fidget.

"Oh." Casey's mouth turned down at the corners. "I guess…" She trailed off as Derek got in the car and turned the engine on. She threw her dance gear in the back seat and got in, stifling a sniffle.

As Casey's acting got worse and worse, Derek turned the car off, and in a moment of startling compassion, another MacDonald trait he'd picked up, he asked, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing. I'm just being stupid and nostalgic."

"Good." Derek turned the car back on.

"It's just that, back in Toronto, my mom and Lizzie used to take me out for ice cream after every recital. They'd tell me how good I did and it'd just be nice and fun and I'm just being stupid aren't I?"

"Yep." Derek sped up a little trying to get home and make the awkwardness go away. There was a weird feeling that chewed at the pit of his stomach whenever Casey was around. It felt kind of like guilt mixed with loyalty mixed with fascination and protectiveness. He didn't like the thought of accepting her into his life. It'd been two years, and he still refused to accept this feeling, still hadn't pinned down why he felt so uneasy with her.

Casey shut up at Derek's terse response. He glanced over and caught her staring out the window, wiping at her eyes. Sighing, Derek pulled into a gas station parking lot.

"Stay here, I need to get a soda. Edwin drank the last one in the fridge earlier." He ran inside and Casey watched him through the convenience store windows as best she could. She still didn't understand Derek Venturi. The two years they had lived together had done nothing to unravel the mystery of his choices and actions. It was if he never learned from his past mistakes, continuously dating the vapid pretty girls that he inevitably ended up dumping, picking fights with her whenever he could. Sometimes she was too tired these days to even fight back. It hurt her more than she would ever say that he couldn't see her in a positive light.

The sound of the door opening snapped her out of her thoughts.

"Hold this." Derek unceremoniously dumped a bag of groceries in her lap, causing her to shriek.

"Holy cold! Jesus, Derek! What the he…" Casey pulled a pint of Cherry Garcia out of the bag. She resisted the urge to hug her driver, so instead she just mumbled, "Thanks. It's my favorite."

"I know." The uncomfortable feeling jumped from his stomach to his throat and the car fell into silence as Casey found the plastic spoon he'd put into the bag.

"You're a good dancer." It was almost a whisper and it made Casey do a double take. "I really believed Ben was hurting you."

Blushing furiously, Casey stammered out a quick thank you. "But we're nothing more than friends. He's just my dance partner."

Derek killed the engine as they pulled up to the house. "That's what he said." He looked her straight in the eye, head practically pounding with the effort of it. "I know it was just a dance, but you were upset up there on stage. You were angry. I know when you're angry better than anyone in the world."

She dropped her bright blue eyes. "Like you said Derek. It was just a dance." Casey got out of the car and practically ran up the porch steps, but Derek grabbed her arm before she could make it into the house.

"Case, you're a terrible liar. If you're being hurt, you have to tell someone. Is it Sam?"

Shrugging off his grip, she just shook her head. "Sam's not doing anything. And I'm fine." Casey turned and walked into the heat of the house, effectively ending the conversation. She threw her bag at the bottom of the stairs and took her ice cream up to her room, where she stared at the container until it became ice cream soup.

Author's Notes:

I prefer end of the chapter notes because I think beginning of the chapter notes change a reader's perception of the story. That said, I'm not going to tell you at all about pairings or answer any plot related questions (though honestly, I don't have a good idea where this is going either).

I do want to let you all know that I am a very very slow writer, and to not expect any updates soon, though I am working on chapter 2. However, I always appreciate reviews, if you liked it, tell me why, if you didn't please do the same. Reviews always remind me that I have a project to work on, and help me try and corral the plot bunnies that make us write.

Thanks for reading!

Caro