NOTES: Um. Crossover between Press Gang and Life with Derek. I don't think you need to know either show all that well to get the gist, though (but that might just be because I DO know both shows!). Written for the tweensanta challenge for amoenavi. Posted here for reasons of vanity and convenience :) If anyone actually reads it, comments and criticism are most welcome!
PROMPT: The duelling duos double date. Disaster much?
DISCLAIMER: I don't own Press Gang or Life with Derek. This was done for fun, not profit.
As first time efforts go, 'Thicker Than Blood' could certainly be worse. Of course, it could also be much much better...
...a moving tale of fascination, fate and above all, the meaning of 'family.' McDonald charts an undeniably attractive fictional landscape – in spite of my misgivings, I found myself charmed...
...meet Carrie, the brainy heroine of 'Thicker Than Blood', whose world is turned upside down when her mother suddenly remarries...
...frankly ludicrous. The protagonist's many sudden and inexplicable mood swings led me to wonder whether she was battling bipolar disorder. Upon raising the subject with my eleven year old daughter, I was told, in tones of the greatest condescension, "You just don't understand, Dad!" When I begged her to explain, that young lady sighed, "I can't – you won't 'get it'." And this in a nutshell is the story of 'Thicker Than Blood.' Young girls will ooh and ahh and anxiously count-down the days until Carrie's next 'adventure' is released ('Thicker Than Blood' is merely the first in a planned trilogy), while those with a 'y' chromosome will remain mystified...
...McDonald is at her best when documenting the tensions that arise when step-families collide. In comparison, the supernatural plot seems tacked on, an afterthought...
...and what about the mysterious ravens that seem to follow Carrie? Stepbrother Dirk taunts "Addams family reject!" But could the truth be more sinister?
...tension briefly rears its head when Dirk, the eldest stepbrother, declares that he is "not on board" with the sudden Happy Meal family McDonald has presented him with. But all too soon, the appealingly spiky Dirk is revealed to be a sheep in wolf's clothing, distressingly prone to bleating things like, "You're the sister I never knew I always needed, Carrie!" at regular intervals...
...important questions to be answered. Just what are the ravens trying to tell her? Will she and Dirk be able to put aside their differences and work together to fulfil the ancient prophecy? And of course, most important of all, will hunky quarterback Marc ask Carrie to the homecoming dance?
...but it isn't the uninspired and uninspiring romance that resonates (the shy bookworm and the quarterback – how original!), rather it is the idea of McDonald's patchwork family (far from perfect, but a perfect family nonetheless) that remains with the reader...
...nothing to justify the teen hysteria (I must confess, I found 'dreamy' love interest Marc rather wooden, and while Dirk is an ideal brother, he proves a disappointingly tame 'bad boy'). Still, 'Thicker Than Blood' is a fun read, and teen girls could do much worse than outspoken heroine Carrie...
...idea of the 'merged family' can perhaps account for the hype. It is a situation that much of McDonald's audience can identify with (indeed, the book is based on McDonald's personal experience as part of a blended family), and the author cannily markets wish-fulfilment dressed up as 'plot' to these readers...
...provides reassurance for those considering the scary move towards a blended family...
"Why don't you just – say whatever you want to say, and get it over with!"
"Who says I have anything to say to you?"
"The fact that you followed me all the way to London, England sort of hints that there might be something on your mind" –
"Whoa, whoa, whoa – I am not following you!"
"Really? Because your carbon footprint suggests otherwise."
"All part of the Derek Venturi plan of action."
"Cheerleaders, models, chicks with classy accents..."
"I don't understand why you have to be so mean!" Carrie shouted, stomping after him.
Dirk turned towards her. "And I don't understand why you still don't get it. I'm not interested in playing crappy families with you, bird-girl."
She tripped over her unlaced shoe, landing hard. Dirk just stepped over her, foot coming down inches from her nose. She flinched. He wouldn't crush her body – crushing her spirit was probably enough for him. He strutted down the corridor, uncaring of her anguish. Prone on the floor she yelled after him, "Yeah, well, I've got a nick-name for you too! Dirk the JERK! How do you like that!"
She stifled a sob. Couldn't Dirk understand she just wanted to be accepted? Their families had merged, but he still treated her with callous indifference...as if they were strangers, instead of sister and brother.
"Right, we can do this the easy way, or the hard way," the doorman said.
Lynda Day raised an eyebrow. "Yes, we can," she agreed. "So, what's it going to be?"
The doorman blinked. "Look, we've been through this! I can't let you in!"
"And I've told you, it's important!"
"Oh, well, if it's important...Why didn't you say?" the doorman said, expansively waving her forward, only to grab her by the arm as she attempted to pass. "It was a joke," he said severely.
"Are you sure?" she asked. "From what I've seen, you don't have the brain power to create any comedy that doesn't involve a multicoloured wig and sound effects."
"Oy!" the doorman exclaimed. "Right, that's it!" He rolled up his sleeves.
"I'm sorry, is there a problem here?" The doorman turned to the speaker and smiled reassuringly, before darting in front of Lynda as she tried to slip around him.
"Not in a minute, there won't be, sir."
"Look, if you'd just let me in, you'd save yourself a lot of trouble," Lynda said, in her most reasonable voice. "If anyone asks, you can tell them I outwitted you." She paused for a moment. "Or you could lie, if you want."
"We've been through this, lady," the doorman said through gritted teeth.
"Well prepare to go through it again, because I'm staying right here until you let me through that door."
"Then get comfortable, because that is not going to happen!"
They glared at each other.
There was the sound of a throat clearing, and both Lynda and the doorman looked in annoyance at the speaker. He smiled insincerely. "I hate to interrupt, but my date and I would kind of like to..." he gestured towards the door of the hotel.
"Of course, sir!" the doorman said, holding the door open and keeping a watchful eye on Lynda. The speaker brushed past Lynda, then turned back to her and said, impatiently, "Are you coming?"
She blinked at him, and he jerked his head towards the entrance.
The doorman and Lynda exchanged startled glances. "You're his date?" the doorman asked, bewildered. "Hang on, that can't be right" –
"Before Quasifrodo catches on would be good," the speaker hinted, holding out his arm.
"Yes!" Lynda decided. "I'm his date!" She aimed a poisonously sweet smile at the doorman, and grasped her rescuer's hand. "See you later!"
She and the speaker walked slowly into the hotel.
"Is he still watching?" Lynda hissed out of the side of her mouth.
Her unlikely rescuer glanced casually behind him. "Yeah."
"Right, well, I suppose you'll just have to tag along for a bit. Where's conference room three?"
" – no, really, it was nothing. You don't need to thank me," her rescuer said, sounding both sarcastic and stunned.
"It might be this way," Lynda said, tugging him off towards the right.
"Right, because I clearly have nothing better to do than help crazy chicks. Am I wearing some kind of sign? Do you have crazedar?" he rambled as she hauled him down a corridor, past small knots of people, and fortunately, in exactly the right direction.
Just outside the door to conference room three a woman was holding forth to her friends, wineglass in her hand, " – think it's the theme of personal redemption, as exemplified by...oh. Hi there..." she stared breathlessly to Lynda's left.
Lynda's rescuer paused for a moment to exchange smiles before Lynda yanked him into the room. And promptly dropped his hand.
"This is conference room three," she pointed out.
"I guessed," he said flatly, eyes flicking to the enormous golden '3' mounted on the wall behind her.
"Right. Well. I think I can take it from here." She spelled it out – he had floppy hair and a way of slouching that sort of drew attention to his...everything. He was far too pretty to be smart as well. "You're free to go now." She enunciated carefully and gave an impersonal, encouraging smile. "Go away."
He blinked at her. "It's the accent," he decided. "It's a scam! You guys aren't really Classy McManners-and-Crumpets at all – it's the accent that's got everyone fooled! I knew it!" He pointed an accusing finger.
Ignoring this, she turned away and began pushing through the crowd, in search of her target.
Who was, of course, leering at a pretty, jumpy-looking woman.
" – but you must've had some clue when you were writing it" –
"No!" she denied immediately. "I didn't even plan on sending it to a publisher. My sister did that. And I'm glad she did – of course! But...it's been – kind of...overwhelming." She took an audible gulp from her wineglass.
"Yeah, I'm sure it must have been," he said, oozing sympathy. Lynda rolled her eyes and took a step closer.
"Let's not talk about me anymore! Let's talk about...you!"
"Oh. Yeah. Well...we – uh, we could do that, but...I'm a pretty boring guy. I'm talking now and I can barely keep my eyes open."
She ignored this. "What's your book about?"
This was too perfect a cue to miss.
"Rubbish!" Lynda said, as she appeared at Spike's shoulder. She aimed a smile at both parties before continuing. "Down in the Dumps, a memoir of the year he spent living in a landfill."
"You...lived in a...waste disposal area for a year?" the woman asked, sounding faintly repulsed. She also took a step back.
"Yes!" Lynda answered before Spike could. "But I suppose it all worked out for the best. It did inspire him to write after all. And critics love his work – you can practically smell the methane as you turn the pages, one reviewer said."
"That's...um...you lived in a dump for a whole year?" the woman asked again, as if she couldn't stop herself.
"Well, it made sense at the time...dating my last girlfriend felt like taking out the garbage, so this...seemed like, uh, the next logical step," Spike improvised, with a glare at Lynda.
"Spike, aren't you going to introduce me?" Lynda asked, pointedly. She turned to the woman and smiled wryly at her. "Yes, he exposed the illegal dumping of toxic chemicals, but at what price? Doctors say he may never recover fully. Though it does provide material for the next book – A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste." The smile suddenly disappeared. "And you are?"
The woman blinked at the sudden change in attitude. "Casey McDonald," she said meekly, holding out her hand.
"Lynda Day. Spike's agent."
"You know, Casey – I can't help noticing that your glass is empty. Would you like another drink?" Spike asked.
"Well, I suppose I" –
"Great – we'll be right here waiting for you," he said, giving her a friendly smile and a gentle push. As she stumbled off, bewildered, Spike turned to Lynda.
"Stalking – you're doing it wrong," he informed her. "The whole point of stalking is to not draw attention to yourself. Meanwhile, you're staging an exhibition."
"Oh right – because that puddle of drool you're standing in isn't obvious at all."
"Hey, I am being completely professional!"
"So she knows that you're a reporter and you've asked her for an interview?"
"Well...not – exactly."
Lynda folded her arms.
"Listen, Julie wasn't kidding when she said the girl was press-shy. I ask her one simple little question about her book and she practically breaks out in hives. So I was thinking" –
"Here it comes..." Lynda announced, unimpressed.
"I think I need to keep up the ruse for just a little bit longer. Gain her trust...show her that not all reporters are slimeballs and really get to know her as a person" –
"Tell me Thomson, does this sudden desire to 'get to know her as a person' have anything at all to do with the fact that she's wearing a tight top and a short skirt?"
"I just want to loosen her tongue!" Spike protested.
"Don't you mean 'loosen her teeth'? I've seen vacuum cleaners with less suction!"
"And just how long have you been dating household appliances, boss?"
"Well, I have to get satisfaction somehow," she shot back.
Spike closed his eyes. "Listen, Lynda, crazy as this might sound – I am doing my job! The job you pay me to do! And even if I was interested in getting to know Casey McDonald on a more personal level...since I broke up with you, I don't think that's any of your business!"
"I'm the one that broke up with you, and I have documentation to prove it. I'm almost certain I kept the original memo."
"Yeah, and following me around and showing your claws whenever I say hi to another girl proves just how 'over me' you are. I'm expecting you to handcuff me to your radiator next."
"In your depraved fantasies, Thomson. Anyway, I'm not following you."
"Right...so the real reason you crashed this exclusive first-time-author's party would be...?" he trailed off and smirked.
Lynda looked stumped for a second before she caught sight of... "You!"
She grabbed the arm of her unlikely rescuer, and smiled at him. "You know, I don't think I ever thanked you for helping me."
Then she grabbed two fistfuls of his t-shirt, hauled him close, and kissed him.
"Thank you," she said, releasing her grip and pulling away.
Her rescuer stared at her. "I take it back. You have great manners. Really great...manners."
Spike blinked. "How much is she paying you for this?" he asked.
"I don't think that's any of your business," Lynda replied, with a trace of smugness. "By the way, I don't think I introduced myself. Lynda. Lynda Day."
She held out her hand.
Her rescuer looked at it for a second before shaking it. "Derek," he said, with a smirk, "Derek Venturi."
"You're staying in this hotel, right, Derek?" she asked.
"Yeah..." he said slowly.
"Great. Would you like to show me your room?"
Derek's jaw dropped. "...how do I file for citizenship of this great country?" he wondered.
"Spike? Any comments?"
Spike looked at Lynda, lips pressed tightly together. "Hey, we broke up. It's your call, nothing to do with me."
Lynda broke their gaze. "Fine," she said, and turned to Derek. "Lead the way."
"Second thoughts?" Spike asked. "That's completely understandable – hey, just because you have a self-destructive impulse doesn't mean you have to go with it, right?"
Derek stared intently over Spike's left shoulder. Then he pulled Lynda close and kissed her, arms snaking around her waist.
He drew back.
"Let's go," he said.
A moment later, Casey McDonald appeared at his side. "Did your agent just leave with that...jerk?"
"How do you know he's a jerk?" Spike asked.
"I – don't. He just...seemed like one. From what I saw."
"Yeah," Spike agreed, eyes fixed at the exit of conference room three. "He did, didn't he?"
Upon reaching the bedroom, there was an awkward pause.
"Here it is," Derek said, gesturing. "My room."
"Yes." Lynda cleared her throat. "Well, everything seems to be in order..." She swallowed, eyes drawn to the enormous bed.
"Yeah," Derek agreed. "Nothing to stop us from..." he trailed off.
There was a brief silence during which both stared at each other with panic filled eyes. The silence was broken when both spoke at the same time –
"I'm going to use the bathroom," Derek repeated.
"I need to make a call," Lynda said. "...can I use your phone? I don't know how mine works."
Derek looked confused but pulled his cell phone out of the pocket of his jeans and tossed it towards her.
"Great!" she said. "I'll make my call and then we can...get down to it." She bit her lip.
"Nothing to stop us then," Derek agreed, backing towards the bathroom.
Lynda stared down at the phone in her palm, before glancing at the bathroom door. And then at the entrance to the room. She carefully placed the cell phone at the end of the bed, before scrambling for the door.
However, fingers curling around the handle, she stopped, as an idea (or as Spike would probably put it, a 'scheme') occurred to her. With a glance at the still firmly closed bathroom door, she hurried back to the bed, grabbed the cell phone and slipped it into her pocket.
Then, she left.
"Hooking up with a complete stranger – that's mature and dignified. Did you even get her name?"
"Sure I did. Among...other things. Jealous?"
"I think you mean 'repulsive.' But hey, in the land of tombstone teeth, maybe even Casey McDonald can find true love."
"Maybe I already have. Jealous?"
"Why would I be jealous? Explain to me how that would even work, since I'm your brother."
"...and here we are again. Okay. I'm ready. I can take it."
"Good to know, but I'm not really interesting in giving it, so..."
"Would you just say it? Whatever it is, just say it."
"Nothing to say."
"Then why are you here?"
"...I need to borrow your cell phone."
Suddenly, a melodious voice asked, "May I help you?"
Carrie looked up, into the face of the most handsome boy she had ever seen. His eyes were dark pools a girl could drown in, his hair was thick and dark, and his glittering smile was incandescent.
"Hi," he said, as he gently set her on her feet. "I'm Marc."
"Carrie," she said dreamily. She had never believed in love at first sight, but then, she'd never believed in loathing at first sight either, not until she met Dirk.
"Um...why?" Kenny asked, staring down at the cell phone Lynda had just placed on the table in front of him.
"It's very simple," Lynda explained. "He calls his phone, to find out where it is, and you tell him that if he wants his phone back, he'll have to agree to a date. Here's a copy of my schedule. Tell him Wednesday is definitely out."
Kenny looked at her with resigned confusion. "But...why?"
"How else am I going to win this break up with Spike?"
"So you're going to blackmail a total stranger into dating you?"
"No. You're going to blackmail a total stranger into dating me. And anyway, he's not a total stranger. His name's...Derek. Derek...something. Vendor. Venture. Something."
Kenny raised his eyebrows.
"Venturi," Frazz said absently as he passed them.
"That's it! Derek Venturi!"
"How did I know that?" Frazz wondered, eyebrows drawing together.
"Update Frazz' profile. Put 'savant' next to the 'idiot'," Lynda advised.
At that precise moment, Spike made his entrance. Whistling.
Lynda's eyes narrowed. It was on.
"How do you know if you're in love?" he asked. "Because I've got this feeling – the kind of feeling I only get when I look in a mirror. I think this might be it."
"Did you get an interview?" Julie asked hopefully.
"Better. I got a date."
"Great – so instead of 'Popular Author Gives Exclusive Interview to The Junior Gazette' our headline is 'Spike Thomson has Date.'"
"Sssh. No need to upset our female readership," Spike winked.
Lynda folded her arms. "Aren't you going to ask me how my date went?"
"No – I'm trying to be nice. Besides, I don't call you trapping an innocent guy in a pathetic attempt to one up me, a date."
"Why not? It sounds sort of like your entire relationship with Lynda," Tiddler said, as she distributed mail.
"Anyway, he didn't kiss like an innocent guy," Lynda mused, then smirked at the look on Spike's face. "Jealous, Thomson?"
"Sympathetic," he shot back. "Tell him I know a great physical therapist when you're done with him. He'll need it."
"Unlike you, he has stamina," Lynda fired back.
Just then, the cell phone rang. Hesitantly, Kenny picked it up. "Yes, it is," he said, in response to the person on the other end. He glanced at Lynda as he got to his feet, and wandered over to Frazz' desk in search of more privacy. "This is probably going to sound strange, but...are you free Tuesday?"
"Why don't you just give it up, Lynda? Admit that this is all a stupid plan to get under my skin."
"I will if you will," she challenged.
Spike shook his head vehemently. "Breaking up with you was the best thing I ever did."
"I broke up with you!"
"If this guy's not just a cheap ploy to get back at me – what's his name?" Spike asked suddenly.
"Derek – Venturi," Lynda said, pausing slightly before she remembered his second name. Spike smirked.
"And what does he do?"
"Derek Venturi? He's a famous Canadian hockey player," Frazz said absently as he passed them again. He stopped. "I knew the name sounded familiar."
Lynda blinked. "...he's a famous Canadian hockey player," she repeated, aiming for casual, and almost hitting it.
"Lynda's dating a sports star?" Julie said, extremely loudly. Everyone turned to stare at her, and the door to Colin's office opened. "Sorry," she said. "It's just...usually when I say this stuff out loud – I wake up."
"Lynda's dating a famous sports star?" Colin stepped out into the newsroom. He frowned. "Why was I not informed of this money-making opportunity?" He slung an arm around Lynda's shoulder. "Lynda, how does your boyfriend feel about endorsements, because" –
"He's not her boyfriend – they haven't even been on a real date!" Spike burst out. "Not...that it matters to me. At all."
Kenny made his way back to Lynda. "Tonight at eight, wear something nice, and I told him you'd meet him at the hotel."
He attempted to hand her the cell phone, but Lynda refused to take it. "I'm not giving that back," she said. "Not until I get him to agree to a profile piece, anyway."
There was a mixture of disgust and amazement on Spike's face. "You know, just once, I wish you could choose someone over this lousy paper."
"Not that it's any of your business of course, right?"
"Right," Spike agreed, staring her down. "As a matter of fact, I am going to order some flowers for my date. Who isn't an overly-controlling, manipulative workaholic psychopath!"
"Missing me already?" Lynda questioned, as Spike stomped off. "Julie?"
Julie continued to study the sheaf of paper in her hands. "I've told you already, Lynda – I don't think you can 'win' a break up." She glanced up. "But so far? Spike's definitely losing."
Towards the end of the day, the phone rang. Kenny picked it up and –
"You know Derek – when you said you were going to London, I thought you meant London, not LONDON. Are you crazy?"
"I can't believe you just followed her to London. What do you think that's going to accomplish? Have you even talked to her yet? I bet you haven't even talked to her yet..." The voice trailed off. "...and I'm thinking that by now, Derek would have either hung up, or interrupted, so...hi there – Kelsie? Katie? Lisa? Chloe?"
"Kenny," he offered.
"...that's...new," the voice mused. "Um, is Derek there? I need to talk him out of doing something stupid. Er."
"Sorry," Kenny apologized. "Derek's sort of...not here right now." He looked around the newsroom as if to verify this. "He – left his phone behind, and I'm looking after it for him. He's going to collect it soon, though."
"Oh. Okay. Well, could you tell him that Sam called, and to call me back?"
"Yeah, of course," Kenny promised.
"And, um – sorry for...yelling at you earlier. Kenny, right?"
"Right. No problem...Sam."
Kenny disconnected the call and took up his pen.
"Why are you here?"
"Well, according to the ancient prophecy, my fate is bound to yours. In a completely non-kinky, non-fun kind of way. Obviously."
"That was the book."
"Yeah, but how am I supposed to tell the difference between fiction and reality, when they're both so similar? Carrie."
"It's so weird," Lisa said, "Milly's pool was full of raven feathers this morning."
"Maybe bird-brain here decided to take a bird-bath," Dirk said, pointing at Carrie and laughing.
"Shut up, Dirk – or should I say, JERK," Carrie shot back. Inside though, she was worrying. First the bike shed, now this? She hadn't wanted to believe the prophecy at first...but what if it was right? The ravens did seem to be following her, watching her every move, threatening those she held dear. A cold prickle ran down her back and she shivered, misty blue eyes going wide with fear. Dirk might still be able to laugh it off, but she couldn't. Not anymore.
Suddenly the phone rang. Dirk picked it up. "Hi there, Crazy Carrie's bird sanctuary – how may we help you?" He straightened, voice suddenly serious. "No, I – I haven't seen Kelly since yesterday. Did you try her cell phone?"
She looked at Dirk, pale with worry for his girlfriend, and she finally realized the depth of his burning passion for Kelly. Dirk really did have feelings, buried deep beneath his impassive exterior.
His eyes caught hers – no longer mocking. He looked just as worried as she did, and she knew. Dirk believed the fatal prophecy too.
It was a far from conventional date.
"You probably want an explanation," Lynda said, as she sat down.
"Actually, I'd prefer my cell phone."
"I'm going to be completely honest with you," she said.
"Oh. Good," he said, clearly unimpressed.
"Believe me, I don't like it any more than you will, but...I have no sexual or romantic interest in you."
He blinked. "Strong come on, neurotic freak-out...I have a definite type," he decided.
There was a silence, broken only by the rapid flashing of –
"...if you have no interest in me, why did you bring a photographer?"
"Proof," she offered, and smiled adoringly at Derek. There was another flash. "I'm going to put together a scrapbook of our first date. That'll show him," she muttered.
Derek's eyebrows raised. "So this..." he gestured at the candle-lit table, "...is a revenge date." He sounded almost admiring.
"Do you have a problem with that?"
"Not at all...as a matter of fact," Derek took her hand in his and stared into her eyes. In a loud voice, he said, "I think we should go on a river cruise. It'll be romantic and educational at the same time!"
There was an outraged squeak from behind them, but as Lynda tried to twist around, Derek's hands came up to cup her face, and gently turned her back towards him. "Can I get a copy of those photographs?" he asked.
Spike's date was...likewise unconventional.
"Shall I come back later?" the waiter asked.
"No, no," Spike said. "Casey, are you ready?"
"I think so," she said, staring at her menu. She bit her lip. "It's just...so hard to decide."
"Chicken or beef," Spike said. "It's not exactly a matter of life and death."
"But what if I don't make the right decision? What if there is no right decision? What if I'm destined to be a miserable outcast no matter what I do?" Tears welled up in her eyes.
"I'll come back in a few minutes," the waiter said, tactfully withdrawing.
Casey was in full gush. "It's just so hard – there's so much pressure," she hiccupped, as tears streamed down her face.
At a loss, Spike stared at her. "Hey, hey, it's not that bad," he said, shifting his chair closer to her. He picked up his napkin and gently wiped her cheeks. "How about – you get the chicken, I'll get the beef and – we can share."
Casey sniffed in agreement and Spike's head whipped around –
"OW! Did you see that? Someone just threw a bread-roll at me!"
The next day, Lynda triumphantly declared, "I think he likes me. He gave me this!" She held out a ceramic heart key-chain with...
"Is that a thumbprint?" Tiddler asked.
"It's my thumbprint. Because I've stolen his heart," Lynda explained, loudly, within earshot of Spike.
Who rose immediately to the bait. "First his cell phone, now his heart...Boss, I think you need help."
"Give it here," Julie said. She examined the key-chain. "I can't hear a ticking sound." She considered this. "He likes you," she said, sounding completely shocked.
"It has been known to happen!" Lynda sounded insulted.
"Biblical plagues have been known to happen, Lynda."
Lynda ignored this in favour of marching over to Spike's desk. "So, how did your date go last night?" she asked.
"Great," he said. "As a matter of fact, she couldn't wait to go back to my place."
Lynda regarded him steadily.
"To reorganise my wardrobe," Spike semi-coughed. He tried to make it sound as dirty as possible – not an easy task.
Lynda didn't rise to the bait. Instead she asked, "Did you tell her the truth?"
"We had other things to...discuss," Spike said. "How about your date? Does he know you're just dying to...profile him?"
"Funny, we never got around to that. Better things to...talk...about. Do you want to see some photographs?"
"This is going to end well," Kenny observed. "I can tell."
The next phone call came soon after.
"Derek, are you avoiding me? Not cool man. Not cool. I mean, I only have your best interests at heart and...it still isn't Derek, is it?"
"Afraid not," Kenny said. "Sam, yeah?"
"Sorry. I thought Derek might have gotten his phone by now. I thought he was" –
"Yeah...anyway, I should go."
"I'll tell him to call you. I'll tell him it's urgent."
"Thanks. I'm...actually not as crazy as I sound whenever you pick up Derek's phone. I swear."
"It's all right, honest. You don't have to explain."
He persisted, obviously feeling that he did need to explain. "You have met Derek, yeah?"
"Um...I've spoken to him," Kenny hedged.
"Well, you know those...mass murderers, or psychopaths? You know how everyone says, 'He seemed like such a normal guy?' That's Derek. He seems like a normal guy, but underneath...it's crazy."
"I think I know the type," Kenny said.
"Derek's a guy-shaped hurricane – trust me, you've never met anyone like him," Sam said seriously.
"Really?" Kenny leaned back in his chair. This was, after all, his area of expertise. "Because I know a girl called Lynda, and she's not like anything on this earth."
There was a silence. "No way can she be as bad as Derek," Sam said, sounding fascinated.
"Want to bet?"
"All right," Sam said. "You're on. Picture this – we're eight years old and Derek talks me into climbing onto my garage roof to decide once and for all, who gets to be Superman when he grows up. We start with the flying contest – and Derek charitably allows me to go first. And by charitably allows, I mean pushes me off the roof."
"I was in a cast for most of the summer," Sam finished. "Okay. Let's hear what you've got."
Kenny thought for a second. "Easy. When we were six, Lynda wanted to be a doctor. She had the white coat, toy stethoscope, everything. And we spent ages diagnosing her teddy bears...I was the nurse," he explained. "She made me wear the pinafore and all."
Sam sucked in a sympathetic breath.
"But that wasn't the worst bit. The worst part was when Lynda decided that she needed to operate on a human. For experience. Guess who?"
"Got out her mum's scissors. I'd never seen so much blood. Course, the worst part was when she got out the needle and thread to sew me up. Luckily I passed out at that stage."
Sam half-laughed. "You're making this up."
"Is that an admission of defeat?" Kenny asked, interested.
"No way – I was just...getting warmed up. I've got stories that would curl your hair...I mean, assuming it isn't curly already."
Kenny glanced around the newsroom. Everything seemed to be progressing smoothly – well, as smoothly as it ever did at the Junior Gazette.
He stretched out his legs. "I'm listening."
"Why are you here, Derek?"
"The ravens sent me to tell you that Alfred Hitchcock wants his plot back."
"Fine. You know what? I find it completely reasonable that you've travelled across the Atlantic ocean to argue with me, but won't tell me what's actually bothering you."
"I would, but I'm afraid it'd end up in your next book. Sis."
They cowered together in the bathroom, while outside, winged bodies battered against the door.
Carrie licked her dry lips. "Remember the last time we got locked in this bathroom?" She wished she could return to those halcyon days, when the fate of the world wasn't resting on her young, inexperienced shoulders, when the only thing that bothered her was Dirk.
"Yeah. And I'm almost as scared now as I was then," Dirk wisecracked, but his trembling hands gave him away.
She whimpered as there was a particularly loud bang on the door. Some feathers slipped through the crack at the bottom. "At least Mom, Gordon, Edna, Lisa and Marie are safe," Carrie said, voice cracking.
"Yeah, they're safe, so maybe we could go back to worrying about, I don't know – us?" Dirk asked in a strangled voice.
"That's very considerate, Dirk!"
"Yeah, well, you're the one they want to crown as their raven priestess, I'm the guy they're going to peck to death as a blood sacrifice!"
The following day, Lynda dropped a copy of Thicker Than Blood in front of Spike, and announced, "Have you read this?"
"Her prose is disgustingly flowery, her grammar needs brushing up and the less said about her punctuation the better."
"Hey, I thought she had great punctuation," Spike defended. He smirked. "She brought me to a full stop anyway."
Lynda glared. "You're disgusting."
"Hey – at least I don't have to resort to theft to get a date."
"That's part of my plan," Lynda said. "I'm making him completely dependent on me."
"Great – what's next? Are you going to break his legs?"
Lynda considered this. "Only if he resists."
" – so, because I couldn't concentrate on anything else, Lynda fixed me up with her."
"That sounds nice," Sam argued.
"Yeah. It does, doesn't it? Until you find out that Lynda got me the date by pretending that I was terminally ill and it was my dying wish. She spent the whole night crying whenever we made eye contact and telling me how brave I was. Your turn."
Sam was quiet for a minute. "Have you ever heard of the male code?" he said.
"Kenny?" Tiddler tapped his shoulder, "Julie needs you."
"Sorry, Sam, can I call you back?" Kenny disconnected.
"Right – Julie wants your opinion on the graphics for..." Tiddler broke off and eyed him suspiciously. "What are you so smiley about?"
"I've told you before, though I guess it shouldn't surprise me that I have to tell you again...my book has nothing to do with you!"
"Since I'm part of your stupid book, I have to disrespectfully disagree."
"I've told you before – all characters appearing in my work are entirely fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental."
"Really? Because from where I'm standing, it looks more like 'Names have been changed – but not very much – to protect the writer's own ass.'"
It was true, she realized. And, as horrible and mean as Dirk had been to her, she couldn't bear the thought of him being ripped into meaty shreds by cruel beaks and talons. He was her brother, after all.
Unsteadily, she got to her feet.
"What are you doing," he hissed, grabbing her wrist.
She fought against his grip. "You're right," she said.
"Yeah, I know, I usually am. But again – what the hell are you doing?"
"I was able to control those ravens by the bike shed!" she said. "I didn't know that's what I was doing, but I did!"
"Oh yeah, if by 'controlling' you mean, letting them divebomb me!"
"They didn't kill you," she argued.
He pulled her back onto the floor. "There were ten of them then. How many are there outside that door now? I'm not going to let you risk it."
Their faces were close together, and she could see a vulnerability that Dirk usually kept well hidden.
"Why?" she whispered. "We're going to die sooner or later."
"Well, I'm really okay with later," he snapped. "And" – he stopped.
"What? What is it."
His eyes burned into hers, searing her with the intensity of his gaze. "Don't you get it? You're the sister I never knew I always needed, Carrie. I can't just...let that go. I can't lose you!" His voice broke on the last word and his eyes glimmered with unshed tears.
Their conversation became jumbled, words whirled together in her mind...blood...sister...control...and suddenly she knew.
"Close your eyes," she said.
"Do you trust me? If you do, then close your eyes!"
Slowly, his eyes fluttered shut, his lashes dark against his alabaster cheeks.
"Don't tell me you still don't have an interview?" Lynda taunted. "I thought by now she'd be eating out of your hand."
"It's not like that," Spike defended. "She's had some really bad experiences. She couldn't predict she was going to write a bestseller – and she was totally unprepared for the publicity. She just wants to enjoy her holiday...take a break from being Casey McDonald, author and just be...Casey McDonald...babe."
Lynda regarded him. "You're losing your touch, Thomson. I thought by now you'd have the interview in the bag and you'd be onto your next brainless bimbo."
"Hey – she's not brainless! She's smart. And – and nice."
Lynda raised her eyebrows. "Don't tell me you're wimping out now, Spike?" Her voice was soft, and her eyes sharp.
"Look, I'm just saying...I get the feeling she's been through a rough time lately. And maybe...not pressuring her into an interview wouldn't be the end of the world."
"Fine," Lynda decided.
"Fine?" he repeated disbelievingly.
She shrugged. "If you can't do it." She shook her head. "I never thought I'd see the day. Spike Thomson finds a woman he can't charm into doing his bidding." She examined him critically. "I always thought the hair would be the first thing to go. But apparently, it's the sex appeal."
Spike bristled. "Hey – I could get that interview, if I wanted. I'm going to get that interview."
"If you say so." Lynda picked up an article off her desk and went in search of – "Kenny!"
With a muttered, "I have to go – I'll call you back," Kenny put down the cell phone.
"Kenny, have you seen the article on planning permission?"
"And what about you, huh?" Spike asked, pursuing her. Kenny handed her the article.
The cell phone rang.
"What about me?"
"Have you told your hockey 'star' that you're a newspaper editor, and you're only interested in his profile?"
Kenny answered the phone. "Hi, I hope you've got a good one, because I have got the story to end all stories for you." He straightened up. "Oh – hi."
"Actually, I'm very familiar with his...profile. I have intimate knowledge of his vital statistics," Lynda said. Spike shot her a sceptical look. "Anyway, if I did tell him – our relationship is strong enough to handle it. Because it's based on mutual trust." Even she didn't look like she believed that one.
"Your phone?" Kenny said, darting a glance at Lynda, who continued arguing with Spike.
Spike scoffed. "Your relationship is based on his tongue in your mouth. Not that I care, since we've broken up," he hastily clarified as she smirked. "But –when are you going to tell him?"
"How about now?" Kenny said, covering the mouthpiece of the phone. "Since he's sick of you 'forgetting' it, and wants to collect it right this second."
"Mutual trust?" Spike repeated smugly.
Lynda stared at the phone. "Tell him to come down."
Kenny blinked. "Are you sure?"
"Honesty is the best policy. No time like the present," she said. She looked at Kenny speculatively, "You can take the opportunity to interview him."
"All right," Kenny's voice held more than a trace of 'you'll be sorry' in it. "Yeah, hi again – Lynda says that'd be fine. Let me give you directions..."
Without warning, a lurking Colin limpetted himself to Lynda. "Your famous sports star boyfriend is coming here? Couldn't you have given me a bit of warning? I haven't perfected my pitch yet!"
Kenny was in the graphics department going through the questions to ask Derek. It was quiet in there, easier to get work done.
Kenny tapped his fingers on the table. He took up the sheet of questions he had come up with. "Right," he said to himself. He cleared his throat and took up a pen. "Let's get this finished!"
His gaze strayed to the cell phone on his left.
Derek's entrance into the newsroom was a big deal. Spike glared as Julie simpered at him and Frazz asked him for an autograph.
Then Colin got in on the action. "Derek! So good to see you!"
"And who are you?" Derek asked blankly.
"Colin Mathews. Lynda didn't mention me? Pass on any of my business plans? Proposals? No?" Colin looked momentarily disheartened.
"I'm on vacation," Derek said. "I'm really not looking for" –
"Say no more!" Colin put his finger on his lips. "But if you could just give me an autograph..." he looked pleadingly at Derek, who shrugged in impatient agreement.
Colin waved a thick bundle of paper under Derek's nose, and produced a pen from his pocket. "Excellent! If you could autograph here, here, here, and initial here...we're all done!" He clapped his hands together. "Now, if you could just come into my office for a few moments, we can get started!"
"Yeah, I'm kind of busy right now," Derek said absently.
"Not now, Colin!" Lynda warned as she descended on Derek.
"You work for a newspaper," Derek commented. "That's a completely new fact that you never mentioned before."
"Funny how that works. Sort of like you being a famous hockey player never came up." Lynda didn't sound guilty (there were those that said she just wasn't capable).
Derek looked faintly amused as they stared each other down.
"Oh, Lynda doesn't just work here – she runs the paper," Spike interrupted. "And hey, can I shake your hand? I gotta say, we thought Lynda would never find true love, but the solution was right in front of us the whole time! Date a guy who's got his own mouthguard!"
Derek blinked at Spike. "I know you," he said suddenly. "You're that guy I keep seeing with Ca– I mean, you're that guy I saw that...one time. At the book – thing. Aren't you a writer or something? Something about garbage...?"
"Spike – a writer?" Lynda mocked. "He can't even spell the word."
"Really?" Derek said, looking interested.
"It's part of my cover," Spike volunteered.
"Your...cover?" Derek looked, if possible, even more enthralled. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly.
Julie butted in, tossing her hair and laying a hand on Derek's arm. "Yeah, there's this author we really want to land an interview with – Casey McDonald...and I thought Spike could use his cover to get closer to her."
"Not that close!" Lynda snapped.
Derek's hand came up to cover his mouth for a moment. "Uh-huh," he said, and cleared his throat. "So, just to make sure I've got this straight...you're an undercover journalist with absolutely no romantic interest in Casey McDonald?" His mouth twitched, and he made a strange noise – a mixture of a laugh and a cough.
"Well, I wouldn't say 'NO interest'," Spike said, with a pointed look at Lynda.
"I will," Derek murmured. Then, with a practiced smile, he said, "Can I borrow a cell phone? I...really have to make a call, and mine is still missing."
"You can have mine," Julie breathed, pressing her cell phone into his hands with a look of adoration.
Derek slipped out the newsroom doors. Spike and Lynda watched him go with identical frowns on their faces.
"Did you get the feeling there's something we're missing?" Spike asked.
"He seemed very interested in you," Lynda said.
"Well, he has been dating you – he's probably ready for someone a little less masculine."
"And you certainly qualify."
"Did you see his arms?" Julie sighed.
"...still phones sometimes," Kenny said. "Emails. Sends photographs of her and her boyfriend under the stars. Wish you were here."
"The sad part is, I think she actually means it. Like I'm a teddy bear she left behind."
"I'm sure you're not a teddy bear," Sam reassured him.
"No. It's worse than that," Kenny said gloomily. "I'm a nice guy."
"That's not so bad."
"My last girlfriend invited me round for tea with her mum."
"That sounds okay."
"To explain to her mum why she was dating someone else?"
"...okay, that's – not so good. But, hey, I can relate. At my coming-out party, I spent the whole time comforting Casey in the bathroom, because Derek told her that she jinxed me."
Sam waited for a response.
"...Kenny? Are you still there?"
"...Yeah," Kenny said, vaguely, staring hard at the table. "Yeah, I'm...um. At Lynda's fourteenth birthday party, she pretended to be sick, and we spent the whole time playing board games in her room."
"I think my party beats your party," Sam offered.
"Yeah." Kenny frowned. "Hang on a minute – did you say 'Casey'?"
Kenny burst out of the graphics department, and caught Lynda by the elbow. "You can't meet Derek Venturi here!"
"What? Why not?"
"Because he's related to Casey McDonald."
"She's his stepsister! So you have got to – I don't know – do something and make sure that Derek Venturi doesn't realize that we've been stalking Casey McDonald hoping to get an interview!"
At that precise moment, Derek sauntered through the newsroom doors again. "Thanks," he said, handing over Julie's phone. She clasped it to her heart.
"So," Spike said, in a strained voice. "There's this...crazy rumour going around that you...know Casey McDonald. You wouldn't happen to have" –
"Called her?" Derek finished cheerfully. "Huh. You know something, I think I did. She said something about calling you. Of course, it was kind of hard to make out over the screams of rage, but...I think that's what she said." Derek jerked a thumb in the direction of the newsroom doors, "Well, it's been fun, but I should probably be..." cell phone apparently forgotten as he sauntered off.
Spike winced. "I should probably start failing to make it up to Casey...roses are always good, right?"
"Did you see his shoulders?" Julie said, practically oozing into a puddle. "Do you think he has all his own teeth? They play dirty in ice-hockey, don't they?" She bit her lip. Hard.
"I don't know about ice-hockey, but I play dirty!"
Lynda raced out the door, but slowed as she caught sight of Derek. "You've ruined our feature," she said. Calmly, conversationally.
He turned. "Yeah – so?"
"I think that's worth a profile. Puff piece, nothing to worry about. And...a date." She stepped closer to him. "Don't you?"
Moments later, she strode back into the newsroom. "Kenny, we're doing a scathing expose – I want all the dirt you can find on Casey McDonald and Derek Venturi...something's not adding up here. You've still got his phone, right?"
"Hey, at least it gives you material for your next book. I can see it now – 'Cassie thought Pike was the one – until she found out he was an undercover reporter. How does she react when she figures out that he's not interested in being exclusive – he just wants an exclusive?'"
"Shut up, Derek!"
"But you shouldn't feel bad about it...oh, no, wait – you totally should!"
"You know something, Derek? It's possible that there's more to this story" –
"Yeah, I heard he really wanted to get some 'in-depth' coverage."
" – and maybe there's a reasonable explanation for his behaviour. Did you ever think of that? No. You just – hung him out to dry without even asking him...without even giving him a chance to explain!"
"Oh, I'm sorry – I guess we have totally different ways of dealing with betrayal."
Carrie reached up onto the bathroom shelf and took down Gordon's straight razor. She caught Dirk's hand in hers. His eyelids fluttered, but he didn't open his eyes. Then she sliced a line across his palm.
"What did you do that for?" he howled, yanking his hand away and clutching it to his chest.
"I thought you trusted me?"
"That was before you decided to filet me!"
She held out her own palm. "Do me," she said.
"Don't you see? It's the prophecy – my blood gives me some control over them, but I can't conquer them alone!"
His eyes widened in comprehension. "But together..." he trailed off and took her hand between his. "Are you sure?"
"It's the only way to defeat them," she said. He took the razor in his right hand and poised it over her palm. Suddenly, her skin sang with a sharp pain, and beads of blood welled up across the cut Dirk had made in her palm.
"Blood family?" he asked, holding out his hand. The blood ran down his fingers.
"Blood family," she agreed, and clasped his hand in hers.
They both gasped as their blood mingled and a shudder of power went through their bodies. Carrie's mind exploded into white hot light and she gripped his hand tighter.
"Are you ready?" she asked, through the pounding in her head.
"Yeah," he said, chest rising and falling fast.
Hands still clasped, they went to meet their fate.