a/n: My life seems to be lived out in a series of apologies, so I'm very sorry :( And trying to bring about resolution in a mess can be boring, so I apologize for that too. EreshkigalGirl made a fanmix for updating, so yay! I can't be sure whether any one still wants to read this with my horrible updates and all, but there are only (I think) two more chapters left. Thank you for sticking through :)

DISCLAIMER: Disclaimed

Oddly enough, sometimes when she looks at him, she still wants that feel-good family moment that she never had. It's a little sickening and probably has a medical syndrome attached to it.

"Your class certainly did a very…thorough job," George has obviously completed the first three chapters of his 'Big Book on Tact'.

They look around the house; boughs of tinsel and holly cover every available surface. A couple of Halloween decorations stare menacingly at them, while a full size banner wishes everyone a 'Very Happy New Year.' A lonely looking toy shaped like a stuffed turkey graces the couch, and balloons genially telling everybody to have a 'Happy Birthday' lie at startling intervals on the ground.

"Yeah," says Lizzie, her expression half-frozen, "recycling…it's the way to go. It all looks very…recycled."

She blinks her eyes slowly, as Lizzie catches her gaze, but the nightmarish assortment of color refuses to bow down to whatever law of physics it is that rules the glare of Excessively Shiny Things. He's the only one who's looking around with a half-amused expression, standing next to Edwin (but then he's probably so used to girls in skimpy things covered with extreme amounts of glitter that it probably doesn't even register with him anymore), "yeah, it's all garish...liciously amazing."

"Do you like it?" Marti grins, pleased, "I told everyone that Nora was coming back today and they wanted to help. It's very symbolic. The tinsel is symbolic of good-will that I shall extend to him by dressing him up like the girl he should have been, and the New Year is symbolic of new beginnings and the turkey is symbolic of how he should be thankful for being lucky enough to be born with the McDonald-Venturis."

"What are the monster masks symbolic of?"

"They're symbolic of the fact that Dimi is stupid at symbolism."

"It's so nice to see you both. It's been ages, hasn't it? How's the hockey going, Miss Case? And have you gotten your brother to loosen up a little and stop pushing himself so hard?"

That's certainly symbolic of her mother's tiredness, "Mom, it's been great catching up but I really think you should go get some sleep. You're way too strung up. I can take care of the baby for a while."

They both stare at the cot lying next to the couch in silence, "You know, Casey, he looks exactly like you did when you were younger."

And she's heard George tell Marti, Edwin and Derek the same thing at different intervals of time, and her mother probably said it to Lizzie too, but it still makes her smile, "He's my brother, isn't he? Now go!"

"But you're leaving tomorrow, and I really did want to talk to you. You shouldn't feel that the coming of another child changes anything in the house, Case. You're still as much the eldest daughter of this house and I still love you just as much as I always did and…"

She interrupts, a little amused, "It's okay, mom, you know I've read all those Parenting books you bought at garage sales and let gather dust, you needn't quote them to me. And we'll be back after the exams for a longer time. Just go get some rest before you burn out."

Her mother smiles tiredly, her eyes drooping, as she gets up to leave, "You always were so…so…"

"…Klutzy?" he finishes as he enters the room, as if on cue, "Nora must really be losing it, if she's letting you take care of something that's not made of re-enforced concrete."

"Says the guy who failed his license test five times," she retorts back. And it's like she's forgotten how to be normal with him. Or maybe this is normal and she's forgotten what it used to feel like.

He raises an eyebrow, "that relates to this how?" (It doesn't, but since when has that ever been a criterion).

She doesn't reply, going back to rocking the cradle instead. But he doesn't take the hint and leave, because he's obviously geared to do the one thing that is sure to irritate her the most in any situation. It's like he has a seventh sense for it or something. (His sixth sense is obviously the ability to stand close to her and not be affected at all. Unlike her. She's not exactly sure she has any functioning senses at all. Because their signals are interpreted by the brain, sixth grade biology taught her that, and hotel rooms and sleepless nights seem to have shut off that organ effectively).

He sits on the ground near the foot of her couch and she can't help feeling he's done it deliberately; she can't see his eyes at all and it's completely disconcerting.

"I want to go back."

It takes a while for her to realize that she's the one who's spoken. And that wasn't what she'd been planning on saying. She hadn't been planning on saying anything at all, just on sitting in silence for as long as it would take for him to realize that she didn't want him. (Here. Didn't want him here. Since there was no question of the other kind of wanting or anything).

He flips through his comic nonchalantly, "I knew you did."

"No," she's snapping now, but he always strings her up, till she's wound up too tight "no, you didn't know. You don't know everything there is to know in the world."

"But I do know this," he counters calmly, "You don't fit in anymore."

She clenches her fist, "What is that supposed to mean?"

He shrugs (and maybe if he could turn around at this moment, she'd really like to pull a Ryan and hit him hard), "College. You're different. You can't fit in the same image you'd built for yourself at home. And if you stayed here too long maybe they'd realize that too. And you've been pretending to be that for so long that you don't even know how not to be it."

He gets up and he can't leave, not after saying something like that, so she stops him, "what the hell was that?" and obviously the fact that she doesn't understand what he means just means that it didn't mean anything in the first place. It's Derek, it's not like he's deep or anything.

He sidesteps her easily, "if you can't understand that then the whole visit back has obviously addled your mind." He pats her shoulder cheerfully, "don't worry, nobody will notice. It isn't much of a change."

She stares at his retreating back in outrage. (And doesn't kiss him. That's probably the moral of this story).

He stops halfway up the stairs to his old room, "What do you want?"

It's too late for trick questions, "Derek, just—"

"Do you want this," he makes a strange gesture and she can't get it at all, "us. Whatever."

Like they could ever be contained in a single word. She turned to look at the cradle, and maybe the baby did look like her. And him too. Because it was their sibling, "no."

"Fine," he says, and if she'd been expecting pain-filled declarations of unrequited love she'd have been sorely disappointed. It was probably good for her that she always lowered her expectations to the least possible when it came to him, "fine. This one time you get what you want. Enjoy the feeling."

She tries. The feeling isn't very enjoyable, but she still tries. (That obviously counts, right?)


There are way too many goodbyes and he doesn't talk to her on the way back and they don't lose the way and normalcy makes its way back into her dictionary.



"Isn't that much fun being ordinary, is it?"

"Maybe if I don't say anything, she'll go away," she says out loud, thumbing frantically through her book. (Was chapter twenty in the course? They'd touched upon it, but they hadn't really gone in-depth. Maybe she could just consult someone and see if her notes were…)

"All this while," Lyra lies sprawled across her bed, and it's like being with Derek all over again, except not, "you thought you were special and that ordinary rules didn't apply to you. And then you wake up one day and realize you enjoy plain, hot sex, like any common person. And lose your head over pretty boys. That must have been a major ideological fall."

"Don't bother explaining. No really, don't feel yourself obligated. In fact if you could just leave my room…"

Lyra messes her sheet a little more, and she's one second away from losing it, "I'm the simple kind of person. I call it like I see it."

She looks up, "you mean you don't calculate your insults. You're just nasty by nature?"

Lyra loses her smile, it's kind of scary actually, "Casey, stop it. You're slaving too hard over these exams."

"Well you know me," she tries to smile, but it'd probably waste too much muscle energy. Almost fifteen muscles are used in smiling, she needs those for other work right now, "I need to be on top of stuff."

"I didn't know 'being on top of stuff' had a 'suicide' clause to it."

"Don't be melodramatic."

Lyra looks at her, hard, "trying to forget… something... through this slow torture?"

"I think we're forgetting who's the psych major here."

"Casey," that's the soft, entreating, never-used voice, "you have to help me out here, okay? I'm not Derek. I can't do all these things and make you so mad, that you're fine again. And to be honest, zombie!Casey is starting to freak me out."

She smiles, at least she's sacrificing those fifteen muscles in good cause, there is no way she'll let anyone think that there are certain reactions which only he can get. He's not that special. "You're a fake. You're really the mothering type at heart."

"Yeah, no," Lyra says, her face in freak-out mode, "I don't think we could have two of those in this dorm. One of you is more than enough. Have you eaten?"

She genuinely laughs this time, "yes, I have, mom. Thanks for asking."

"Really?" It's like she has laser vision or something.

"No," she says truthfully, "but I just have a lot of work, and I'll be sure to puke whatever I eat."

Lyra sighs, "stop running yourself to the ground, okay? Just call him, talk to him, do whatever will get you back to your normal, dysfunctional self."

Like she would do that. Call him. Wasn't like he'd called her or anything-- that 'fine' of his had really been a shorter version of 'the end'. And he was just her stepbrother; she didn't need to talk to him to survive. How absolutely lame would that be?

"I'm fine. It's just the exams, okay. I have a scholarship to keep- to live up to.I have to do well, what if they take it and give it to someone else? I need that, and I need to work for it."

"I don't think it'd be much use to you if you're dead," Lyra's back to her usual vicious cheerfulness.

"Okay," she turns around, breathing deeply, "okay, tell me something truthfully. You don't think there's anything weird in this. I slept with my stepbrother while my mother was in the hospital giving birth to our sibling. You don't think that's strange or sick or not normal or…" she stops, because yes, it is. It's sick and she's sick.

Lyra doesn't even look at her, "I think there's something strange in that abrupt centre positioning of the topic that had been going on in between the lines," she flips a page of a textbook that isn't even hers, "of course it's strange. It's very, very weird."

It odd hearing it from someone else. She's always known it, but maybe she's read too many books and seen too many crappy movies and she just forgot how real life works. And there's a lesson in temptation somewhere in between here. About resisting and not being drawn in. But she's not special, she's just ordinary, and she's a hypocrite because she can't control her feelings at all.

"But look at you," Lyra breaks her inner-monologue, looking up in frustration, "you're a freak. Cleaning is your idea of fun. You think Sundays were made so you could get a head start on extra course work, after you finish your assignments on Friday nights. You color-code your work schedule. There's obviously nothing about you that's normal! And I don't see why you should start with love."


She splutters with indignation, "Love…I'm not…there's no way… I don't love my brother. In that way. Or any way actually. Unless it's a 'love to hate you' thing."

Lyra looks at her with mild curiosity, "didn't you say Derek was an expert liar."

"He's an expert at anything that involves treachery, deceit, duplicity, perfidy and naked girls," she snaps, "what does that have to do with anything?"

"Funny," her absolutely annoying roommate contemplates thoughtfully, "you'd have thought after four years of living together some of it would have rubbed off."

"Look," she takes a deep breath (the whole truth and nothing but the truth), "he's in love with Sally. You don't know them like I do. When they first met, he was…different. Really different. He was nicer and did sweet things and ... wrote her love songs… and thought pizza was tastier with her and when she came to see him play, he played harder. You don't know what he was like when she left for Toronto. I've never seen him so… like that. You don't know."

"Why did they break up?"


"Why did Derek and Sally break up the first time?"

"Because," she pauses a second, her air supply dangerously cut off by the memories ("I don't know, okay. It's just… pizza's tastier with her, and when she comes to see me play, I…play harder.") "She was leaving."

Lyra considers this for a moment, "they broke up because she was leaving for Toronto?"


"Can he drive?"

She snorts, "Legally, yes, unfortunately for the citizens of Canada."

"Their break-up does sound like a Romeo-and-Juliet death scene thing then. Metaphorically, of course. I mean, she was leaving, and high phone bills are so not-conducive to love. Good thing they broke up."

"Lyra, it's not that simple. Not everything is that easy."

"So there was this guy, he calls up tech support and goes 'my computer isn't working, the screen doesn't light up when I switch it on! Help me.' They stay at it for an hour, and they try everything and you know why the screen didn't light up?"

"Because he hadn't switched on the monitor. My counselor at school told me once," she smiles, remembering Paul, it had been so long since she'd thought of him, "It's just as lame and unfunny now as it was then."

"You know what the moral of the story is?" Lyra persists, and maybe if half of this persistence went into her assignments… "Everything is that easy. You, Derek, love or whatever. It's like a two plus two equation, and maybe you would see that if you weren't too busy killing yourself over answering through a differential calculus method."

"Are you okay?"

(Was there some sort of an award for the thousandth person who'd ask her this?)

"Yes, Richard, I'm perfectly fine".

"Because you look ill. You're working yourself too hard over these exams, cut yourself some slack."

"You know me better than that… slacking is Derek's domain."

Richard looks straight ahead for a moment, "pretty much everything is."

She feels a little strange, heavy, "did you say something?"

"No. Let's go back, it's getting cold."

She steps out of the exam hall and waits for the ecstatic after-exam feeling to set in. It doesn't. Her head feels heavy and her nose is blocked and she feels too warm in the clothes she's bundled herself up in.

"Derek," she recognizes instantly the completely messed-up red-brown hair that is his usual on-the-day-of-the-exam state, "hello."

He turns around in what seems a slow motion scene, god her head was killing her, "Casey?"

"Yeah," she says brightly, foolishly, "how were your exams? I haven't seen you in ages"

He looks at her, frowning slightly, "are you…okay?"

(There, that was the one thousandth. He had exclusive rights to… well something to do with hearts and breaks. She hoped he would use it wisely).

"I'm fine; it's good to see you."

"It's good to see me," he repeats slowly, "did you bang your head getting out of the classroom?"

She actually giggles, with no other redemptive name for the sound, "no." Although she wishes she had, maybe it would have made the pounding go away. "I enjoyed sleeping with you. Thank you."

He stares at her for a moment, his eyes hard, "Is this your idea of a joke or something?"

She smiles up at him, radiantly, "A lot. I think about it a lot. Sometimes I can't sleep because I can't get you out of my head." There's something wrong, but she's too tired to think about it at the moment.

She doesn't like the way he's staring, it makes her feel too self conscious and stupid and… "Are you on drugs?" He never stops speaking.

"No," she's shocked, "I'm not stupid. Drugs are… bad for you. They do bad things to your body. It's very bad."

"Since when do you use the word bad," he places his hand on her forehead, (and since when is he allowed to do that?) "You're way too hot."

She's not stupid; she knows the reply to that, even if her eye-lids feel too heavy to keep up, "thank you."

He looks up, startled, and then laughs and she realizes she's quite missed the sound. Why did she stay away from it for so long?

"Let's get you home," he's speaking in his Marti-voice, "okay?"

"But it's too far," she protests half-heartedly because she really does want her mother and if he could, "and we got lost last time."

"Not that home," he says, "your dorm. Let's get you there."

He lifts her up, "it's very close," he says like she needs an explanation (she doesn't, she just likes being in his arms, she doesn't care why, and will her body never stop hurting?) "Although you really need to lay off whatever you've been eating, you're way too heav…" he stops abruptly, "have you eaten anything at all?"

"I'm not fat," she retaliates indignantly, even though it takes too much effort, "you can't lift me up because you're too scrappy."

"Have. You. Eaten?" He's saying it like he has something to be mad about, when she should be mad because she feels odd and he isn't even being nice to her.

"I refuse to answer the question," she says haughtily, "on grounds of, misappropriation of…misdepreciation of… something."

He pulls her closer, and she sighs a little, "you wore that surgeon costume when I was sick on my sixteenth birthday. You looked stupid."

"Thanks," he says dryly.

"No problem," she kisses his neck, "you smell good."

"Casey," she can almost hear him gritting his teeth, that's like a whole disjunction (or was it jointment? Or disjunctiontment?) of senses overlapping into one another, "don't make this harder than it is."

She kisses his neck again, annoyed, as he inhales sharply, "that's punishment. It's not hard to carry me."

"Ask," he says, the intensity scorching her a little, "ask before doing that."

She considers it a moment, "can I kiss you?"

"No," flatly.

She kisses his ear, "I never listen to what you say."

"Casey," it's drawn out of him almost in a long breath of pain.

"Are you hurt?" She demands.

"Not exactly," he says, and she doesn't know why but it feels like he's being sarcastic.

"So it's the kind of hurt that doesn't show? Like you're hurt inside," she pats his shoulder in sympathy, "I know how it feels."

"Nothing as deep as that," he says, "but I'm trying to restrain myself from making juvenile jokes about what's actually hard. You're a nightmare when you're ill. Or drunk. Or when you're neither ill nor drunk."

She tries to figure that out but it would take too much effort, and her eyes feel… and her body feels too… and her head hurts and she wants to cry for some reason but she doesn't even know why, and she really wants to know before she expends the energy it will take for crying and Derek's carrying her home and there's something very right about it. Or very wrong. What does it even mean. Maybe she is on dru…