A/N: So, um, hey. Long-time listener, first-time caller. For LwD fic, anyway. Also, just FYI, I'm pretty busy in the day-to-day, which translates to me being a fairly slow updater. I will say that the third chapter should be up on next Saturday.
Summary: Nora said their summer trip to the country was going to be an adventure. She didn't mean it quite so literally, but when have Casey and Derek ever been any good at doing what they're told?
Rating: T for content, but M for language, so I'm hedging my bets
Disclaimer: I own nothing you see here. Big shock, I know.
What We Did On Our Summer Vacation
Chapter One: Down the Rabbit Hole
"No," Derek said flatly.
"See, here's the thing, son," George replied in a voice full of false cheer, "I wasn't really giving you a choice."
"Yeah, but I'm exercising my freewill anyway."
Shaking his head, George just sighed. "Come on, Derek. Think of it as one last hurrah with Ed and Marti. In less than three months, you're going to be moving on to bigger and better things. Don't you get that they're going to miss you?"
He quirked an eyebrow. "Edwin's already asked me if he can have my room."
"Well... Marti will miss you, anyway," he said lamely.
"Nice try, Dad," Derek said, rolling his eyes. "But there's nothing you can do to make me spend two whole weeks with those... McDonalds."
Before George could reply, a loud shriek echoed through the room.
"What the hell was that?" Derek cried.
He grinned, ignoring the profanity. "I think Nora just broke the news about our little surprise vacation to Casey."
She pushed herself as far into the window as she could.
As far away from Derek as she could.
Shooting her a sideways look, he smirked at her. "Aw, Casey, I'm hurt. Don't you like me any more?"
"I'm not talking to you," she said with a sniff.
"Despite all evidence to the contrary," he replied, still smirking.
Furiously, she jammed headphones into her ears and pressed play.
Derek rolled his eyes. "Fine," he said. "Whatever. Hey, Dad, how much longer 'til we get there?"
"Ten minutes less than the last time you asked," George said irritably. "Shut up before I muzzle you, Derek."
"Yeah, Derek," Edwin echoed, obviously happy and comfortable in his position in the middle seat. "Quit whining."
"It's not fair," he moaned. "My legs are longer than anyone else's. Why do I have to be crammed in this tiny seat way back here?" Idly, he gave Lizzie's seat a kick. "Switch with me, Liz."
She turned around and gave him a glare that made Casey proud. "Well, according to your argument, Ed should switch with Casey, too, since her legs are the second longest, and then you're just right back where you started."
Slumping back with a frown, he muttered something under his breath that she couldn't quite hear over her music. It couldn't have been good, though.
Ten blissful minutes passed without Derek opening his mouth once. She even relaxed a little and went so far as to stretch her legs out as far as the cramped seat would let her. Her bare toes brushed against his leg, and he flinched.
"Keep your appendages to yourself, freak," he snarled, jerking away.
"Sorry," she hissed, 'accidentally' doing it again.
His lips tightened, but he didn't rise to the bait. Until about two minutes later, when he turned in his seat, let out a false yawn and promptly plopped his feet into her lap.
"De-rek," she cried.
"I felt a calf muscle tightening up," he said innocently. "Gotta stretch it out, Case."
Wrinkling her nose, she poked at the sole of one of his feet. "When's the last time you washed your socks, you pig?"
With a wide smile, he wiggled his toes. "Is that an offer?"
Casey glared at him and shoved his feet off of her. "Stay away from me," she said.
"Kind of hard to do when we're stuck in this lousy car together for the next six hours," he said mildly.
"Keep it up, you two, and you won't have to worry about being stuck back there," George called from the driver's seat.
"You mean you'll finally give in and let me drive?" Derek shot back.
"No, I mean I'll tie you both to the roof along with the luggage," he said, setting both Marti and Lizzie off in a fit of giggles.
"You're bluffing. You totally didn't bring enough rope for that," Derek said in a lofty tone, and Casey bit back a smile in spite of herself.
The house was... well, smaller than she'd thought. Somehow, when her mom had said they were spending two weeks in an old 'country house,' she'd envisioned something more along the lines of that house from Gone with the Wind. But she was resolved to make do -- it was all about family, right?
Plus, right after they stopped for lunch, her mom said if she could go the entire two weeks being civil to Derek, she'd consider letting her try and find an off-campus apartment instead of living in a dorm.
So when Derek came up beside her on the front walk and dropped his duffel bag on her foot, she just offered him a bright smile. "What're you so happy about?" he asked rudely. "This place is a dump."
"Yeah," Edwin said, coming back around the corner -- he and Lizzie had shot out of the car and begun exploring before George even had a chance to start untying the luggage. "There's no pool or anything."
"The curtains are closed," Lizzie said as she walked up from the opposite direction, "so I don't know what we're looking at inside. But if the outside is any indication..."
"Oh, come on, kids," her mom interjected brightly, "it'll be an adventure."
"As long as it's an adventure with cable TV," Edwin muttered.
With a shrug, Casey remembered her mother's promise and lightly elbowed Derek. "Let's help George with the rest of the stuff from the car."
He gave her a wide-eyed stare. "Are you a pod person or something? I've got all I need," he said, kicking his bag. "Got the keys, Nora?"
She went back to the car anyway and grabbed a couple of bags.
"Thanks, Casey," George said.
"I'm sure Derek'll help out once he's got his stuff situated," she said, amazed at her own ability to lie with a straight face.
George, however, just laughed. "That boy's in for a huge surprise once he goes off to college and doesn't have anyone to pick up after him."
And that was enough to sour her good mood.
He seemed to pick up on it. "You know, Casey," he began thoughtfully, "I seriously doubt Derek even thought about what he was doing. It's got nothing to do with you."
"I really want to believe you, George," she said in a sad voice. "But if that were the case, why did he wait to spring it on me like that?"
It was really hard to take him seriously... well, ever, but particularly when he was loaded down with suitcases and fishing gear. "I'll be honest with you," he said. "If Derek really made such a big decision based solely on you, I'd be very disappointed in him."
She didn't actually have anything to say to that, so she just followed him into the house, where her mom was waiting at the front door.
"George," her mom said, "we have a big problem."
He sighed. "What is it now?"
Just then, Derek came bursting into the foyer. "I can't believe you, Dad!" he cried. "Why would you rent a house that only has three bedrooms?"
"Um..." he said, looking confused. "Because I'm not made of money?"
Casey puzzled it out. "Three bedrooms?" she asked. "So, one for Mom and George, one for you and Edwin, and then Liz, Marti and I take the third. That's not too bad. Can't you share for two weeks, Derek?"
"Oh, you'd like that, wouldn't you?" he retorted. "How about the fact that each bedroom only has two beds? Were you planning on making my poor baby sister sleep on the floor?"
Blinking, she pushed her anger down and gritted her teeth. "Well, no," she said. "But I don't think her father was either when he rented the place."
"The brochure said something about a sleeper sofa in the basement," George said, jumping in before the fight could really get started. "I was thinking maybe..."
"I'll take my stuff down there," Casey said.
"Better idea," Derek interjected, blocking the entrance. "How about you and Liz bunk together, and Marti stays with Ed? I'll sleep downstairs in the dark, scary basement so you don't have to."
She blew out a frustrated sigh. "Fine, Derek. I don't care."
"But why would you be giving up a chance at privacy so easily?" he asked, more to himself than anyone else. "No, I don't like it. Sorry, Case. I call dibs on the bedroom with the attached bath."
Damn. But she wasn't going to fight. The dorm rooms on campus were like little matchboxes.
Her mom saw the set of her jaw and obviously decided that an intervention was needed. "Look, you two, we can decide this fairly."
"Sure," George said, fumbling in his pockets and pulling out a coin. "Heads, and Casey sleeps downstairs. Tails, and it's Derek." He flipped it in the air and caught it deftly on the palm of his hand.
"Well?" Derek asked irritably.
The basement wasn't too bad, Casey decided. And Derek had been right -- it would be nice to have a more or less private space. So she had to go upstairs to use either of the bathrooms; that was okay.
Her privacy lasted all of five minutes. Before she could so much as unzip her suitcase, she heard loud footsteps pounding down the stairs, and Derek came flying into the room, flinging himself on her couch.
"De-rek," she cried, unable to help herself.
"Sorry, Case," he said unapologetically. "But the pool table's down here. You wouldn't want to deprive a growing boy of his pool-playing needs, would you? Now, be a good girl and rack 'em."
Glancing down, she idly noticed that the table she'd put her bag on was, in fact, a pool table. Other than the sofa, it was the only piece of furniture in the room, and unfortunately, it was probably the one piece of furniture in the whole house that Derek was interested in, given her luck.
"I will not," she retorted.
"Gotta get sharp now," he said, picking up a pool cue and hefting it experimentally. "Lots of opportunity to make cash at school this way."
She felt her eyes narrow into slits. "I'm not having this conversation with you, Derek," she said quietly.
He snorted. "Like we ever have conversation. Now come on, play a game with me. Ed's lost in figuring out what channels we have, and Marti's too little."
"Play with yourself," she tossed over her shoulder, making her way up the stairs.
"How's the basement, Casey?" her mother asked from the kitchen area.
"Infested with vermin," she said shortly. "But he has to come up for food sometime. Speaking of, what can I help you with, Mom?"
"Washing dishes," she replied. "I'm not going to eat off anything we haven't washed ourselves."
"Sure." Casey flipped on the tap and began filling the sink.
Her mom came to stand beside her, holding a dishtowel Casey recognized from home. "Casey, I know this isn't your ideal way to spend your summer vacation, but thanks for playing along."
"Well, it is the last time I'm really going to get to spend any time with Lizzie and Marti," she said, handing her a freshly washed plate. "And it won't be so bad. It's really pretty outside, and I bet there's a lake or something nearby."
The back door slammed and Marti came scooting into the kitchen. "There's a secret garden!" she shrieked. "Just like in my book. I'm gonna have a tea party in there." She careened around the corner without waiting for a response.
Casey exchanged a bemused look with her mother. "Sounds like Marti's going to have a blast here," she said.
"Marti can have fun pretty much anywhere," her mom replied. "It's one of her cuter qualities."
"I'll have to add her 'secret garden' to my list of stuff to check out."
"There's a horse farm not too far away. That's one of the reasons George and I picked this particular house," her mom said. After a short pause, she grinned. "Well, that and the fact that it belongs to one of my clients, so they let it to us for half the going rate. You wouldn't believe how expensive summer rentals are."
"I might," she said evasively. She and Emily had briefly checked out how much it would cost to rent a beach house for this summer, to get out of their houses before Casey in particular had to resort to homicide. The sticker shock was enough to change their minds, though.
"We're planning on using what we saved on the house to finance the activities," she explained. "There's horseback riding, there's a community pool in the next town, and we were thinking of driving into New York City at some point to catch a show."
She fought back her rising excitement. "We're that close to New York?" she asked, frowning at her own enthusiasm.
Her mother smiled at her antics. "Well, no. It's still a good four or five hours from us. But you and I are intrepid enough to make that trip, aren't we?"
"Maybe Lizzie, too, if she wants to go," she said. "But doesn't George like--"
"George mostly likes Derek not setting the house on fire in his absence," she said with an ironic laugh. "He and I can make trips like that more often on our own, now that..."
Casey couldn't help it -- she winced.
"Oh, Case," her mother said, sitting the pot she was drying on the counter and giving her a little sideways squeeze. "I didn't mean it like that. But you have to admit, it'll be easier when..."
"Derek and I don't mess everything up for everyone else," she completed dryly.
Her mother didn't say anything, which pretty much proved her point.
Tossing a handful of silverware into the dishwater, she began scrubbing at a bit of rust on a knife. "We don't mean to," she said. "Well, I don't. Derek does, probably."
"Honey, you're mad at him right now," she said gently, taking the knife out of her hand and putting it to the side. "Your opinion doesn't really count."
"Then it never should, because I'm always mad at him," Casey said with a bitter laugh.
"You've been particularly... vitriolic lately."
She felt tears stinging her eyes as she stared down at the sink. The tines of a fork jabbed into her hand under the water. "Mom, can we not talk about this right now?"
A comforting hand rested on her shoulder. "Of course, Casey. I don't mean to push." After a few seconds, the hand withdrew and her mother's voice took on a decidedly brighter tone. "Now, this is your summer vacation, for goodness sakes. Why don't you go and enjoy it? I'll draft George to help me finish up the dishes."
Tilting her head, she wrinkled her nose at her mother. "Mom, I don't mind--"
She gave Casey's hip an affectionate bump with her own. "Yeah, you do. You're just too nice to say anything about it. Why don't you go and see if you aren't invited to Marti's tea party?"
Shaking her head, Casey rinsed off her hands and went out the back door, wondering where the hell she ought to go looking for a 'secret garden' in upstate New York.
It didn't turn out to be that hard to find, actually. Well, it might've, except that she saw Marti hightailing it across the backyard, carrying a bag almost as big as herself, and decided to follow her, rather than wasting time.
The backyard sloped downward -- Marti sent herself hurtling down so fast Casey was sure she was going to fall and break her neck -- ending in a little stream, which Marti ran through without so much as a pause. Casey did pause, though, wondering whether or not she ought to take off her shoes. In the end, she decided that the risk of cutting a foot on a rock was just too high and waded in, gasping as her sneakers flooded with icy-cold water.
"Jeez," she grumbled to herself. "It's freaking July."
"Yeah, but we're also in the freaking mountains," an irritatingly familiar voice said from somewhere over her left shoulder.
"What are you doing here, Derek?" she asked without even turning around.
An arm dropped heavily across her shoulders and water sloshed around her bare legs as Derek waded in after her. "Am I not allowed to follow Marti too? I am her big brother, after all."
She shoved him roughly. "Go away."
"Last time I heard anything about it, this was a free country," he retorted, returning her shove so hard she stumbled in the water. With a smirk, he pushed past her and started walking across the wide field of grass on the other side of the stream.
"De-rek!" she heard herself shout, scrambling to follow.
Her sneakers squelched as she ran, and as she approached, Derek broke into a trot, staying about ten paces ahead of her until they finally caught up to Marti.
"He-ey!" Derek shouted, sweeping the little girl up in his arms. "Where's my little Smarti running off to?"
"Derek, put me down," she shrieked somewhere in the middle of all the giggling.
Unimpressed, Casey just folded her arms across her chest and glared at him.
Shaking his head, he put Marti back on the ground and picked up her bag instead. "Would Madame mind if I carried her oh-so-heavy bag for her?"
"Be careful," Marti said, still smiling. "It's got stuff that'll break in it."
"Like what?" Derek asked curiously, hand moving to the zipper.
Immediately, a little hand slapped at his arm. "No!" she said. "You're not allowed."
He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Really? What, is it some 'girls only' thing? Can Casey look?"
Peeking around Derek, Marti appeared to notice Casey standing there for the first time. "Oh, hi, Casey. Yeah, she can look in my bag, but not because she's a girl. It's because she's nice."
Casey couldn't help giving Derek a smug smile.
"And she's invited to play with me, if she wants."
Derek's expression was wounded. "What have I done to you, kiddo? All I want to do is spend some quality time with my little sis, and here she is, ditching me for Spacey the Study Freak."
"See?" Marti shot back, stamping her foot. "That's mean, Derek. If you can't be nice to Casey, I won't show you my secret."
Again with the eyebrow. "Secret?" he echoed. "You know you're not allowed to keep secrets from your big brother."
"I'm not?" she asked, a little bit of fear showing on her face.
"Keeping secrets leads to very dangerous consequences..." he drawled.
Casey rolled her eyes but somehow managed to keep quiet.
"Oh, yeah?" Marti retorted, some sass leaking back into her voice. "Like what?"
"Like unleashing the tickle monster!" Derek cried with a growling noise. He stretched out his hands and pretended to charge her.
Giggling wildly, Marti took off running again, starting to shriek as Derek gave chase. Picking up the discarded bag of toys with a little headshake, Casey followed them at a slower pace.
She stopped short, though, when she saw the hedge.
More correctly, she ran into Derek's back because she was too busy staring to see where she was going. "Holy..." she murmured.
"That's... random," he said quietly.
Beyond the brook and across the field, a ten-foot tall hedge grew in the middle of nowhere. It appeared to be well tended, but there was no indication of anybody living anywhere close by. Their house had long since disappeared out of view, and a huge wall of plants was the sort of thing Casey had always envisioned being a part of a great estate, or a palace or something.
"Marti," she began slowly, "is this your secret garden?"
Marti rolled her eyes. "Of course not," she said. "The garden is through the door."
"Door?" Casey and Derek echoed in unison, shooting each other twin glares.
"Sure." Reaching out, she grabbed their hands and dragged them around the corner.
"That's... even more random," Derek said weakly.
A wooden door was set into the hedge about halfway down. Casey immediately walked over to it and gave it a little push. "Where are the hinges?" she wondered aloud.
"I think you're missing the bigger question here, Case," he said, stepping around her to give the door an experimental prod himself. "Why the hell would someone build a garden in the middle of nowhere and then go to the trouble of putting in an unlocked door?"
"I don't like it," she said with a frown. "It's creepy, and we're probably trespassing. Come on, Marti, let's go back to the house."
"Aww..." she said, only whining a little. "I wanted to play tea party. And there's a swing, too."
"No," Casey said decisively. "Marti, it's probably not safe."
Derek rolled his eyes at her. "Don't boss her around like that. If she wants to play here, it's none of your business, McDonald."
She just arched an eyebrow. "Because if she gets killed, Mom and George won't blame the people looking after her at all, is that it, Venturi?"
"She's my sister," he spat, jabbing his finger into her chest. "So back off. And I resent the implication that I don't care about her well-being."
"You don't care about anyone but yourself!" she said angrily.
So the apartment was officially out of the question, then. Equally disheartening was the realization that she and Derek couldn't go more than three hours without fighting, despite her best efforts. Well... okay, despite her so-so efforts, then.
His eyes narrowed. "I--"
But she'd held it in for too long. "If you cared, you wouldn't boss Edwin and Marti around like they were your little minions. And you sure as hell wouldn't have gone to all the trouble to get into the same university as me. Don't you realize that I've spent the last three years trying to get away from you?"
"Casey, don't you--"
She cut him off again. "And how did you even get accepted? I finished top of our class, and you were lucky to even finish at all. I can't believe you, Derek. You can't even let me have this one little thing all to myself!"
At the end of her rope, Casey put her hands on Derek's chest and just pushed with all of her might.
As he went pinwheeling backward, he lunged out and grabbed at her wrist. Flailing, she lost her balance and crashed into him. Together, they fell back onto the door into Marti's garden.
The door swung open, Marti screamed, and Casey felt herself falling into darkness.