A/N: I really don't like Sally. It will probably show in this chapter, but I just wanted to put that out there. And I really don't like her relationship with Derek. And for some strange reason that is still unclear to me and I do not feel has been adequately explained by the writers (I suspect that they smoke crack), Derek does like her. So here is my take on that.

If you do not agree with it, fine. Everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion. But please keep in mind that this is a fic, not a message board.

Also, I would like to thank everyone for the continued reviews. You have no idea how much they mean to me!

Chapter Eight: Open Mic Plight

Women. Derek will never understand them, if he lives to be a hundred. (Except Casey, and that's all kinds of weird. What's even weirder is that he sometimes thinks he's the only person that does understand her – and vice versa. But this isn't about Casey. Mostly.)

He and Sally are dating, and they have been for a few weeks. And out of freaking nowhere, she springs her feelings on him as he's leaving Smelly Nellie's, telling him that she's crazy about him, and he's a wonderful guy (which really makes him doubt her sanity).

He smiles and says, "Right back atcha," and gives her a high five, because he's almost completely positive that she's messing with him. She has to be messing with him. She can't be serious. They've only been dating a few weeks, there's no way she can be any crazy about him, especially considering that he finds it hard to be himself around her. Sometimes he thinks that she's not really interested in him at all, but that she's interested in Derek Venturi, almighty hockey god and most popular student at Sir John Sparrow High. After all, she showed absolutely no romantic interest in him until he stopped – outwardly – showing any in her.

Also, he's fast learning that everything he liked about her is not the way he thought it would be. For instance, he remembers that one of the things that first attracted him to her (other than the fact that she's cute – cute, not hot) was that she did not go in for the girly drama that so many of the women in his life (read: Casey) are prone to. She had that fight with Patrick, and she just dealt with it, and that was it. But when Derek screws up – even though he maintains that half the shit he supposedly does isn't his fault (because it's so not, why does he always end up the bad guy?) – it's the end of the damn world.

Like that whole thing with Marti's party. Of course he's not going to help. What does he know about birthday parties for eight-year-old girls? And she was all surprised that he doesn't help his siblings with their homework. As if they would ever want his help, anyway. Lizzie and Edwin know that if they want help with their homework, they go to Casey. Duh. He doesn't like being forced to do anything. And it feels like she's forcing him to do a lot lately. So why is he letting her do it?

Casey. Duh.

He likes Sally. He does. She's cute (cute, not hot), and she's sweet. But he's starting to forget what it was that made him want to date her so much. Or maybe he just doesn't want to admit that it really had nothing to do with her, and everything to with the brunette who occupies most of his thoughts and has for the past year. But the longer he spends with Sally, the more Casey-like she seems, and that – to put it mildly – freaks him the fuck out. He liked Sally because she wasn't Casey. He already has one Casey in his life, and she's more than enough, thank you very much. He can't handle two. Because sooner or later he's going to have to choose, and he's sure he's not going to like how everyone else will react to that choice. (Casey. Duh.)

That isn't to say that he and Sally don't have a good time, because they do. Most of the time. She's a lot of fun to be around. Most of the time. She has a decent sense of humor and tells pretty good jokes. She doesn't try to make him watch ballet or sappy chick flicks (most of the time). She doesn't grouse and grumble when he wants to watch hockey. She's willing to make out with him. But they really don't have much in common.

Not like him and Casey. They fight and they bicker, but they really do have a lot in common. He'll deny it till the cows come home, though.

Like D-Rock, for starters. And when Derek announces the start of open mic night at the dinner table, Casey gets this smirk on her face that makes his stomach do that annoying little flip thing that he would like to go away, please.

"So," she says. "D-Rock is performing Friday? Don't you have something to ask me?"

Damn straight. But I don't think, "Want to make out in my bedroom?" would go over too well. "Do you want my mashed cauliflower?"

She looks slightly put out, which is different from her normal expression not all that much. In fact, "slightly put out" may be her default facial expression. "How about, 'Are you free Friday?'"

Is it just him, or does that sound like she's trying to get him to ask her on a date? It must just be him, because no one else looks the least bit phased by her remark.

"'Cause I'm the lead singer of D-Rock?" she goes on to say, and oh yeah, she's talking. He should probably be paying attention, and not picturing her naked. Which he's totally not doing, because that would be wrong.

"No," he says, "you made one guest appearance, and we've decided to go back to our manly rocking roots. So, you know, you're out."



He really hopes no one catches the way he's looking at her. Because he's pretty sure he's looking at her like he can't wait to rip off all her clothes. Was she actually excited about singing with his band? And she's upset that he's not letting her? He wants to let her. Seeing her up on stage, in that outfit she wore at Battle of the Bands, dancing around, singing his song… Yeah, that scene totally replays itself in his head at least once a week. Generally when he's in the middle of his usual cold shower.

But she can't sing with D-Rock, because he had to spend twenty minutes convincing Sally that she couldn't sing with them, and if Casey shows up and sings with them, Derek will be in a lot of trouble. And he's really sick of being in trouble for stupid reasons. Sally has a pretty good voice, that's not the problem. The problem is that she is invading every aspect of his life, and he just wants one thing – one thing – that she isn't a part of. Because, for the love of god, can't a guy take a damn breath once in a while?

Sally says she's crazy about him. He thinks, sometimes, that maybe she's just crazy.

What really blows his mind is that Sally seems genuinely upset that he didn't immediately respond to her statement of whatever by spouting off love sonnets. First of all, Derek Venturi just does not do love sonnets. He's not even entirely sure what they are. (It's a poem, or something, right?) Second of all, he is sixteen. Sixteen! Sixteen-year-old boys do not use the word "love" in a sentence unless they are expressing their appreciation for various pizza toppings. (Mmm….pizza.)

Then, to add insult to injury, she confronts him about it at a D-Rock rehearsal. In front of Sam and Ralph. Sam and Ralph, who are still teasing him about getting into trouble trying to get Casey out of it, which happened months ago. Not to mention that Derek is pretty private about things like this. He doesn't even like public displays of affection, which surprises a lot of people. He has a public persona, and then there's the other side of his personality that few people rarely see, and he doesn't like to let show that often. (Except to Casey. Under duress.)

"Oh," she says, when he asks her what she thought of their song, "so, you do care how I feel."

That, he thinks, is totally uncalled for. And kind of bitchy. And not the cute bitchy, the way that Casey gets, but just plain bitchy. But he's learned enough by now to not say this, though he's kind of hoping Sam or Ralph will.

"I was hoping for something a little more emotional," she adds, and he fights every instinct he has so that he does not start laughing. She was hoping that he would be emotional? Has she met him?

What is her problem? He doesn't get it. He always thought that women actually wanted you to mean it when you tell them how you feel. So, what, she'd rather he just say something and not mean it, just because she told him? Wouldn't it be better if he waits until he's ready and says it because he wants to, and not because she wants him to? She's crossing a line Derek didn't even really realize existed until she stormed over it. Because telling him – in front of Sam and Ralph, he cannot stress that enough – that he needs to tell her how he feels, is just not cool. That's uncool on so many levels he can't even begin to explain just how uncool it is.

And it's kind of annoying how Sally goes on and on about how he never takes her feelings into account, but she does the exact same thing to him. And yet he's the bad guy. Because, in his room, trying to calm her down, he flat out tells her that he's not good with this sort of stuff. And he's not. And admitting that he has a fault at all is really difficult for him – it practically tears him up to let those words out of his mouth. But she's adamant that he either come out and say how he feels about her (and right now, he feels that he needs to have a more sophisticated screening process when it comes to his girlfriends) or write the song, or he'll be in trouble.

It makes no sense. He is not good with stuff like this. How is writing a song about it supposed to be easier? Has she not heard his songs? They have like ten words total in them. Only Edwin likes them. And Ralph. But Ralph also has monogrammed drum gloves – with rhinestones.

So he tries to write her a song. Because maybe she'll leave this alone and go back to kissing him, because he kind of likes the kissing, although he has to keep his eyes open so that he sees the blonde hair. And predictably, the song sucks hard core. Derek didn't need Edwin laughing in the doorway to realize that.

But Casey wrote a song. And Casey's songs, he knows from personal experience, are all about emotion and crap like that. Besides that, Casey is good at this kind of thing. (He will, of course, never admit that. Ever. Even under threat of torture.) He's read her journal – both of them (the fake one that she leaves lying around for him to 'find' and the real one hidden in her underwear drawer that she either thinks he doesn't know about or won't risk seeing her underwear to read – apparently she's forgotten the honey incident). So getting Edwin to steal the sappy song that she wrote is the perfect solution. Sally will shut up about how he hurt her feelings, and he doesn't have to do any work. Or lie. Because it would be a lie.

(Wait, she wrote this song about her and Max? She thinks that she and Max were two halves that make a whole? Wow. Then they were one lame, cardboard, orange-tinted whole.)

And then Casey ruins everything. Or maybe he should blame Sally. Because she's the one who tells Casey about the song, and then Casey confronts him about it at the restaurant. Or maybe it's his fault, for holding pie. Nothing good can come of someone holding pie. Because when Sally finds out that Casey really wrote the song (although, really, she's surprised? She really doesn't know him at all), she shoves a pie in his face.

But it's okay. Because Casey eats some of it, right off his face. And then makes a really lame joke. But all Casey's jokes are lame, so that's not a shock. (Did he mention that she ate pie off his face? He doesn't eat pie off his own face. Well, okay, maybe he does. It's just a shame to waste good pie.)

He hopes that the pie covers up the smile that spreads across his face as she leaves.

And now Casey and Sally are both mad at him. It's probably some sort of sign that the first person he goes to – the first relationship he wants to mend – is Casey. He tells himself it's because he lives with her, and if he doesn't fix things, life in the house will be hell. But even as he's telling himself this, he knows it isn't true. But he doesn't like to think about why he does this. It's dangerous territory. And as long as he's with Sally, he can't go there.

He does. But he shouldn't.

He has no idea how to begin to make this up to Casey. He has a feeling that this is something that won't be solved by her favorite ice cream (vanilla caramel fudge swirl) or letting her watch her favorite program ("Canadian Idol"). This may involve some groveling.

She's sitting at her desk, writing something (probably a song about how much she hates him). She looks entirely too delicious, and that little flutter in his chest that can go away any time now becomes increasingly more pronounced the longer he stands there watching her. She hates being snuck up on when she's writing (he knows this from personal experience), so he knocks to let her know he's there. This is a monumental occasion, as Derek almost never knocks. He'd feel bad about barging into her room all the time, except she does the same thing to him.

"Well, if it isn't my favorite plagiarist." He can't tell if she's wearing her normal-annoyed or her super-annoyed expression. They look exactly the same. "Did you apologize to Sally yet?"

He really hopes that lurch in his stomach is because he's hungry and currently missing out on pizza bagels. Why is she always so involved in his relationship with Sally? "Hey. She's the one who should apologize."

Casey looks confused. It really sucks how endearing it is. "For what?"

How about for trying to turn me into something that I'm not, then getting mad at me when I don't want to do it? But you wouldn't know anything about that, would you, Casey? "Uh, for wasting perfectly good pie?" Dammit, even rolling her eyes at him, she's adorable. "And you," he says, totally pushing his luck now, and he knows it, "should apologize, too. And then get to work."

"I should apologize? To who? And get to work why?"

"Well, you need to help me write a new sensitive song, because you insensitively told her that I didn't write the other song, and for that, you should apologize."

Derek really, really hopes that Casey can hear all the sarcasm in his voice, because this whole situation is so ridiculous that he's not even sure why he still gives a damn. She's supposed to be the smart one! How in the name of all that is holy can she not realize what it means that he came to her, and not Sally, first? How did he not smack her in the face with all that gesturing he just did (seriously, what was up with that?)? But she just rolls her eyes at him again and turns back to her work.

Dammit. He's going to have to grovel. Maybe he can beg without really begging. He's usually good at that, but not when it's Casey. She knows all of his tricks. "Okay. I need your help to write a song because I don't speak…girl."

And he shouldn't have to. He's a guy. But apparently this thought has never occurred to anyone before.

Also, her bed is really comfy.

"Derek," Casey says, using the heels of her boots to roll her chair along the floor, and he really wishes she would stop doing adorable things like that, because she's close enough to him that he can totally pull her into his lap, "I'm not going to help you write a song about your feelings. But obviously Sally means a lot to you, so for her sake, I will help you write your own song."

Did he roll his eyes in real life or just in his head? Must have just been in his head, because Casey doesn't seem to have noticed.

"I've got a better idea. You write the song, and then forget about the apology."

He is less than surprised when that suggestion doesn't go over well.

She goes back to whatever it was she was working on, but he doesn't leave. He makes himself more comfortable, reclining slightly on her bed, bracing his weight on his hands and sprawling his legs out. He watches her write for a while, her legs tucked up underneath her. She chews on her pencil when she's thinking, but when she's really stuck, she tends to chew on her hair. (She does this in math class all the time – she still can't get polynomials.) She sighs theatrically a few times, he supposes because he's really staring at her, and she has to know that.

Finally she swivels to face him. "Take a picture. It'll last longer."

He has plenty of pictures of her, actually, tucked away in the darkest recesses of his room where they won't be discovered by prying eyes or snooping siblings. He's choosing not to poke fun at her for yet another lame joke. "Casey," he says, and he hopes that she can't hear the desperation in his voice, "please. I need your help."

Her face softens and she gives another sigh – this one of resignation – but she picks up her notebook and slides closer towards him. "All right. I suppose I can condescend to help you, just this once."

Right. Just this once. If you don't count all the other times you helped me. He stops short of thanking her – that's just too much for them and their warped relationship – and gets to work. Which basically means that he stares at her for another five minutes or so before she shakes her head and goes, "Derek, usually songwriting involves some sort of, you know, words."

Is his subconscious trying to tell him something? The fact that he cannot put his feelings for Sally into words, does this mean that maybe he doesn't really have feelings for her? He feels something for her, he knows he does (at the moment, it's frustration), but if he can't say it…that's bad. Because he should want to be able to say it, and he really doesn't want to.

"That's kind of the problem," he tells her, stretching out on his stomach. "I'm not good with words."

Casey purses her lips (yeah, she really needs to stop doing that, too). "Okay, well, the important thing to remember is that what you say is from the heart."

Derek flops over onto his back, so that his head hangs over the edge of Casey's bed, and she is upside down. "Face it. I can't write a heartfelt song, because I'm totally heartless!"

"Derek, I think the reason you can't do this is because you're doing something you shouldn't be doing."

Writing about Sally? "Working with you?" He can't help but notice that she doesn't argue the 'heartless' comment.

"Thinking. It's never worked for you." He's pretty sure he should be offended by that, but Casey isn't finished. "So stop thinking, and start feeling."

Huh. That sounds suspiciously like the advice he gave her back when she first joined D-Rock. (Ironically, it was so that she wouldn't sing such a ridiculously sappy song.) Could it be that she actually pays attention when he talks sometimes?

"Close your eyes," she says, and he does, "and think about your feelings towards Sally. I'll write down how you feel."

How can he do this? How can he write a song about his feelings for Sally when all he can think about is how pretty Casey looks with her hair like that, and how comfortable her bed is, and how she smells like vanilla (or maybe that's remnants of the pie Sally shoved in his face), and how this is the longest they've gone without fighting in a while?

"I feel…" He needs to say something. Okay, Sally. Sally. How does he feel about Sally? God, Casey smells good. You know, every time she leans forward, I can see right down her shirt. "…totally ridiculous!"

Oh, hell. Does his voice always sound this squeaky? "Hey," he says, doing some sort of backwards roll off her bed, "can you just write me a song? I will pay you."

Does she not realize how big of a deal this is, that he is offering her money? Usually, he's extorting it from her, but he's offering to pay her, and she should see what a huge thing that is.

"Derek, if you don't express your feelings somehow, Sally is never going to forgive you!"

He's suddenly wondering if that's such a bad thing. They've only been dating a few weeks! He's only sixteen, this should not even be an issue yet! Why the fuck can't everyone just leave him alone and let him express himself when he's good and ready and it will actually mean something? He doesn't see how any girl could be happy with what a guy says when he's forced to tell her something or face never getting to make out with her again.

Casey is not done lecturing, though (Casey is never done lecturing). "I thought you cared about her!"

"Of course I care about her!" I care that she's not you.

"Well, then tell me how she makes you feel!"

"I don't know! All I know is…when she comes to my hockey games, I play harder. When we watch a movie, I laugh louder. When we eat pizza, it tastes…better."

It occurs to him after he stops speaking that, while these things are true for Sally, they're also true for Casey. And Casey is the one smiling up at him – a smile that she almost never gives him. He knows all of her smiles, and this one means she's proud of him, and also that she's surprised. And maybe a little jealous, like she's wishing that she had someone who would say things like this to her. Casey is the one who he goes to when he needs help. Casey is the one he came to first to make things right. Casey is the one who appears every time he shuts his eyes. Not Sally. Casey.


Oh, this is bad. This is really, really bad.

"Keep going," she says, and that smile is going to fuel his fantasies for weeks. He wonders what he has to do to get her to smile at him like that more often.

"Keep going where?" he asks, because he really can't concentrate when she looks like that.

"You just started writing your song."

"Really?" He blinks a couple of times. "Because it sounds really lame."

She throws the notebook at him.

They work on the song all night, breaking only for dinner, which they both wolf down so that they can get back to work. It's a lot easier for the words to come to Derek now that he knows who the song is really about (hint: not Sally), and Casey can't stop smiling at him. She works out a tune that he picks at on his guitar, and they sit close together on her bed, and she really does smell like vanilla, so it's not the pie he smells. He does his Elvis impression for her, and she leans forward when she laughs, so that her hair brushes against his arm, and his heart speeds up.

It isn't like this with Sally. They can joke around, sure, but his heart doesn't speed up when her hair brushes against him, and he can't be this loose around her. He's constantly on guard, worried that he'll say or do something that's going to make her mad, and she gets mad at him so easily whenever he does things that he does all the time – things that never bothered her until they started dating. And it scares him to know that he feels this way about the one girl in the world he can't have these feelings for. And it's totally unfair that Sally will think this song is about her when it's not.

Of course, when he's sitting in the back at open mic night (close to the bathroom, because he really feels like he's going to throw up – Casey comes back between acts to check on him), listening to Sally emcee, he feels a little less guilty. Because whenever possible, she takes little passive-aggressive digs at him – like he doesn't realize what her "Venturi that I actually like" remark is supposed to refer to (and judging by the sympathetic look Casey tosses his way, she got it, too).

And, seriously, there's no need to be this goddamn bitchy. And it's nobody else's business if they're having problems (or, rather, if she has a problem with him), so she doesn't need to announce it to the whole audience.

During Edwin's act, Casey comes back to check on him one last time. She puts her hand on his forehead to make sure he doesn't have a fever, and she really needs to stop touching him, because it's dark, and he wants her so badly, and Sally's pissing him off, and no one can see them, hiding out here in the back.

"Are you sure you want to do this?" she asks, and her voice is soft, and oh, god, please tell his heart to calm down. He thinks he sees her eyes flick to the front door, but he can't really tell, since he's looking down her shirt. "You don't look so hot."

He tries to scoff, but it comes out strangled. "Please. I'm Derek Venturi. I am the definition of hot."

She gives him a small smile in acknowledgement of his (admittedly lame) joke. And she's still touching him. And this time, he totally sees her gaze move towards the door. He can't help but wonder who she's expecting, and it's that thought that finally makes him bolt to the bathroom and empty the contents of his stomach.

When he gets back from the bathroom, Casey is staring at him, her eyes wide, and she opens her mouth to speak, but he beats her to it. "Casey, I'm fine. Just nervous."

His brain is screaming bullshit. He hopes it doesn't show on his face.

She stares at him a while longer, then nods. She smiles encouragingly at him (his stomach does another flip, and he really hopes he doesn't throw up on her shoes), takes him by the hand, and leads him up to the stage. He doesn't miss the snark in Sally's voice when she says that it was originally supposed to be D-Rock (and from the glare on Casey's face, she catches it, too), nor does he miss Casey's knowing grin when Sam and Ralph walk through the door and up on stage.

Casey called them. She must have. Because they're acting like they're going to play, and the only way they could do that is if they know the song, and the only way they could know the song is if Casey gave it to them. Because Derek sure didn't.

And suddenly, he's realizing that he should be with Casey. He needs to be with Casey. Casey understands him, she knows him, she accepts him for what he is, and she may try to change him occasionally, but she knows when to stop pushing, and he knows that she's just trying to do the right thing. It's Casey who knows how much D-Rock means to him. It's Casey who helps him out when he's in a jam. It's Casey that he runs to whenever he has a problem. It's his relationship with Casey that is so important to him that he can't function when they're fighting. It's Casey who helped him write the song he's about to sing – the song that's about her.

Casey. Not Sally.

Casey's pushing him up on stage, but he knows he can't do this. He can't get up in front of all these people and sing this song for Sally, because it's not about Sally, it's about Casey, and he's not going to do that. He can't do that. To him, this is ten times worse than giving her a song he didn't write. And before he knows it, he's falling back into Casey's hands and asking her to sing the song.

She gapes at him, and he scrambles to think up a believable excuse for why he can't do this all of a sudden. "This song is so embarrassing," is what he comes up with – which is partly true, he can't imagine what Sam and Ralph are going to say to him when this is over. "You've got to sing it, please."

"What?" They stare at each other for a moment, and she must see something on his face, because she says, "Derek," and climbs up on stage, whispering to Sally that she'll be singing the song.

He really hopes he isn't smiling as he follows. But he thinks he might be.

Casey is in front of the mic, and god, she looks fantastic, and he automatically flashes back to the last time they performed on stage together (he doesn't think he can get away with an on stage grind again), and he's barely paying attention as Casey announces, "This is a song my stepbrother wrote for someone he really cares about, but I'm singing it because I have a way better voice."

Derek can hardly bring himself to look at Sally. He did write the song for someone he cares about. It's just not the girl who everyone thinks it is.

Wait. Did Sally change the name of his band? CD-Rock? What the hell is that? That's going to go right to Casey's head.

And then they're singing. And Sam and Ralph know the harmonies? When the hell did they work on this? He can't believe all the trouble Casey went to for him. He makes himself look back at Sally once or twice, because otherwise it's going to be totally obvious that the song's not about her, because for the rest of the time, he can't keep his eyes off Casey.

He needs to be with Casey, but not yet. He's not ready to be with her yet. He's not ready to be what she needs him to be – what she deserves. And, oh, right, they're stepsiblings who live under the same roof, and their parents would never let them be alone with each other if they got together before they left home. All that fun barging into each other's rooms at all hours? Yeah, that won't happen anymore. Being left home alone? Never going to happen again. Constant supervision is something he's not looking forward to, no matter how much he wants Casey.

And he does want her. A lot. Like, really a lot.

There are tears in Sally's eyes, and he feels like he's going to be sick. She's gushing about how much the song means to her, and he just can't stop thinking that it's not about her. He feels terrible, but what is he supposed to do? He can't be with the girl he wants, but he can't really be with anyone else, either. Everyone else reminds him of Casey, and it's become clear to him that it's no longer just about hair color.

There's a gnawing sensation in the pit of his stomach that he strongly suspects is guilt, and he wants to do something – anything – to stop feeling it, so he reaches out and pulls Sally to him, giving her a kiss in front of everyone. This goes directly against his no-PDA rule, but at the moment, that's the last thing on his mind. Because he's got to kiss someone right now, and it can't be Casey, so it has to be Sally.

It's the cheering that makes him pull away (makes him really realize what he's done – he hopes Sally doesn't get any ideas), and as he does so, he gets a good look at Casey's face. And she looks…not happy.

His stomach twists again. He hopes he can do this. He has to. It just really, really sucks.


Coming up…

Adios, Derek.