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A Kind of Merry War

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She wakes up with a pulsing headache, a sour, twisted feeling in her stomach, and a hickey on the left side of her neck.

Casey stares at her neck in the bathroom mirror for a while, some dim, screaming part of her brain insisting that this is very, very, very bad, but then the sickness in her stomach kicks in and she decides to throw up in the toilet instead.

She stumbles into the shower after that, turning the hot water off when she starts to go light-headed in the steam, and shivers her way through getting clean. She pulls on a pair of yoga pants, a tank, and an off-the-shoulder top she wears for dancing sometimes before stumbling downstairs, not sure what her stomach might be able to handle but feeling like she needs to try to eat or drink something.

At least she doesn’t have to go to school today. Thank god. She takes back everything she vaguely remembers thinking last night about drinking being cool or exciting or interesting, because she NEVER wants to feel this way on purpose again. This is the worst. Why do people do this to themselves? Is everybody else really that dumb??

Her mom is cooking bacon in the kitchen, singing cheerfully along with the radio, and the combination of the thick, smoky, grease-smell of the bacon, the light streaming in through the windows over the sink, and the idea of somebody being happy when Casey feels like this makes her want to stab herself in the brain. Ugh.

“Morning,” Nora says, smiling at her and holding a spatula. “Want some bacon? I’m making eggs in a couple minutes too.”

“No, thank you,” Casey mutters, and slips down to sit on one of the kitchen island stools, exhausted from the long, arduous, terrible journey of walking down a whole entire flight of stairs.

Her mom frowns over at her. “You feeling okay, sweetheart?”

Casey summons up the emotional and physical energy to manage a shrug, and then thunks her forehead down on the kitchen island.

Nora smooths a lock of hair back behind Casey’s ear. “What’s wrong?”

She cannot say that she has a hangover. Don’t say you have a hangover, don’t say you have a…. “My stomach is upset. And I just don’t feel well.”

“You poor thing,” Nora says, and Casey feels such a well of gratitude at the words she almost wants to cry. “Do you want me to make you some toast?”

Casey nods, nose smooshed up against the table.

Her mom fusses with the toaster while Casey greedily soaks in the coolness of the kitchen island counter through her forehead. “Derek wasn’t feeling that great earlier either,” Nora says, flipping the bacon one more time. “I wonder if there’s a stomach bug going around.”



Casey’s head pops up, then she winces at the sudden motion. “Is he up?” she asks, looking around with her head in her hands, like maybe Derek’s been sitting next to her this whole time like a creeper and she just never noticed.

“Not anymore. He went back to bed a while ago.”

“Oh,” Casey says, and stares down at the un-buttered toast and glass of water that Nora sets in front of her instead.

She munches her way through the toast and takes sips of the water. It seems to help. Edwin and Lizzie and Marti invade the kitchen once the smell of bacon works its way up to the second floor, and Casey excuses herself and runs away from their screaming and fighting and general loudness and activity and awfulness.

She stares at the closed door to Derek’s room in the hallway upstairs, then walks past to her own room. She falls asleep again within minutes.

Through careful planning, a bit of dumb luck, a strategic skipping of dinner, and a dual hangover keeping both Derek and herself out of commission for the day anyway, Casey manages to make it to school on Monday without having to talk to Derek after… after.

It’s the little victories, really.

While Mrs. Wilson drones on about the rebellions of 1837 in first period, Casey tries not to think about making out with Derek. She’d been out of it most of the day yesterday, alternating between trying to avoid Derek and feeling dreadfully, sickly hungover, so this is basically the first time she’s really sat still and had to think about what had happened on Saturday.

It was… it had been… ugh.

It can’t have been that good! She’s kissed guys who were much cuter than Derek. Guys she’d actually liked. Her self-respect demands that making out with Derek has to rank low on that list. It just has to.

Maybe it’s the alcohol. People talk about beer goggles, right? Maybe that’s what the term means, that you can make out with your super annoying stepbrother and for some reason it ends up being the most intense thing you’ve ever done in your life, but that’s a-okay, because it’s just the alcohol talking.

Casey breathes a sigh of relief. It makes sense, really. Beer goggles. Sure, she might have been wondering what it would be like to kiss Derek beforehand, there might have been this weirdness building up between them, but that doesn’t have to mean anything.

Her memories of Saturday night are strangely fragmented anyway, like slippery flashes of a dream. If it had really been that great, wouldn’t she remember more of it? Because when she thinks about kissing Derek, all she remembers is a vague sensation of teeth and Derek’s lips against her neck. The sensation of liquid and heat, heavy inside of her. The weight of his body, cramped and awkward in the backseat of the Prince. They way they’d both been panting. The desperation, the feeling like she was trying to claw her way out of her own skin, like all the things she’d felt were too big for her to contain, like she was going to -

“Ms. McDonald?”

She jumps in her seat, fumbling her pen.

Mrs. Wilson is facing the class. “Could you read the section in the textbook on the Act of Union out loud for the class? Starting at page 122, please.”

Casey clears her throat, face hot, and flips her textbook open.

Casey makes it to lunch, cranky and restless with the fact that she hasn’t been able to stop thinking about making out with stupid, dumb, awful Derek Venturi all morning, before her luck turns.

“Casey!” Derek yells across the hallway, and Casey closes her eyes, a hand on her locker. Of course.

“Hey, Derek!” Emily says, smiling. “What’s up?”

“Mind if I grab Casey? Got to discuss something with the step-sis.” Derek swings his arm around Casey’s shoulder and grins at Emily, then digs his knuckles into Casey’s scalp, messing up her pigtails.

Casey shoves him off, scowling and straightening her hair. “Don’t touch me, Derek.”

Derek’s eyebrows goes up, and Casey thinks he’s about to say… something… until Emily laughs. “Glad to see the two of you are back to normal.”

Casey slams her locker shut. “Right.”

“Seriously, though. You have a minute, Case?” Derek asks.

Casey shifts her glance at Emily, then back at Derek. She’s not sure if she should. The avoidance thing really seems like the way to go here.


“Venturi family business,” Derek says. “You know.”

“Don’t you mean McDonald family business?”

“E-I-E-I-O,” Derek sings, then moos.

Emily laughs, and Casey slams her locker shut. “Fine,” she says. “You have,” she looks at her watch, “five minutes until the next class starts, so talk fast.”

“Hey, I’ll see you later, Casey, okay?” Emily says. Casey watches Emily walk away down the hall before facing Derek again.

Casey gestures. “So, talk.”

“Not here,” Derek says, motioning as if to grab her arm, but drops his hand instead. “Come on.”

Derek leads her through the school to the gym, which is empty and silent with everybody at lunch. He doesn’t say anything while they’re walking, which suits Casey just fine. Hopefully they can make it through the next five - she looks at her watch again, four - minutes without actually interacting at all. That would be pretty sweet, actually.

She sneaks a glance over at him when they’re halfway across the gym floor, the squeak of their sneakers loud in the cavernous room. She hasn’t just... looked at him since Saturday, really. His hair is its normal hockey cut, ear length and half-wild. He’s wearing a brown t-shirt underneath his black leather jacket. And under the collar of the jacket, at the base of his neck, is a faint purple-black bruise. Casey stares at it for a moment before realizing she’s staring at a hickey.

Derek has a hickey.

Derek has a hickey.

She’s suddenly, scaldingly aware of the matching bruise just above her own collarbone, covered up by the high-necked shirt she’d picked out that morning. Her heart starts to beat faster.

She gave Derek a hickey she doesn’t remember. Her! Drunk Casey, the Casey-from-Saturday-night who had made out with her stepbrother in a half-remembered haze of hormones - she’d done that to him.

Derek’s lips are pressed together. He hasn’t looked at her or said anything since he’d given her that stupid noogie in the hallway. Despite Casey’s earlier feeling that she’d be happy if they never talked again, it’s starting to weird her out now. Derek talks shit; that’s what he does. He gets out of situations with a smirk and a complete lack of self-decorum, a too-charming grin and an unfettered belief in a world that revolves around him.

They round the corner behind the stacked-up bleachers, a small corner of privacy in a school overrun with people. Derek turns toward her, half-frowning.

Casey kisses him.

She’s not really sure why she does it. She doesn’t think it about it.

She just - does it.

She crashes into Derek awkwardly, knocking him a step backwards, a startled oomph escaping his lips. She shoves her hands up into his hair and pulls his face down to hers. Derek’s back hits the painted concrete blocks of the gym walls. Derek’s taller than her, a fact she knew but hadn’t really understood until she realizes she had to stand on her toes a bit to get to his mouth.

Casey pushes her body closer to his, propelling them both backwards so that Derek’s shoulders hit the concrete behind him. They keep kissing.

Their teeth bump. Derek’s hands are in her hair, his fingers wrapped up in her low pigtails, and when he shifts his hands, he pulls strands of her hair out. It stings.

And she forgets that they’re making out at school (where anybody could see them!) and she forgets how much she hates Derek (he’s the worst!). She forgets how she was pretty sure they should never talk to each other again (nope, definitely not!). She forgets all the reasons they never should have started whatever-this-is in the first place (their parents are married; oh god, they’re supposed to be siblings).

Derek’s hands are her waist and he’s half-slouched, kissing her back, his tongue in her mouth. He squirms a bit against the wall, and she can feel the bulge of his dick against her hip already. The idea of Derek with a hard-on, in the middle of school, is crazily out of place. It’s wrong in this way that somehow makes everything strangely hotter. Because: she can do this to him, just by french kissing him a little. She can embarrass Derek like this, she can make him want her so much that if anybody caught them, he wouldn’t even be able to hide it. It almost makes her want to laugh.

The bell rings.

The sound is like a bucket of cold water to Casey’s face.

Casey pulls herself away from Derek, breathing hard. Something like shame starts to churn in her stomach. What was… what…

Casey backs away one step from Derek, then two. Then she turns and runs.

She misses the first ten minutes of her next class hiding in the girl’s bathroom, sitting on the toilet, staring at the flimsy metal door.

Why had she done that? She can’t think of a single excuse - they hadn’t been drunk this time, they hadn’t been arguing, they hadn’t been anything. She’d just… attacked Derek’s mouth, in the school gym, where anybody could have seen them.

She can’t even blame Derek. It had been her, sexually assaulting her own stepbrother, in the broad light of day.

She groans, and drops her face in her hands.

She sits in the silence of the empty, echoing bathroom for a couple more minutes before flushing the toilet, splashing cold water on her face, and walking out to take a tardy in her next class. She almost skips the afternoon class she shares with Derek, but finally, in a rush of sheer determination and gut-wrenching panic because Casey McDonald doesn’t skip classes, makes herself walk through the classroom door, only to discover Derek skipped instead.

She’s never been so happy that Derek’s basically a juvenile delinquent.

The rest of the day goes by in a blur. Casey stays late at school, doing homework, and rushes home just before dinner, slipping into her normal seat across from Derek right as the food starts getting passed around.

She doesn’t look at Derek, sitting across from her. She’s never going to look at Derek again. Yup, that’s what she’s going to do. Never again!

“Casey, sweetie?” her mom says, and waves a hand in front of Casey’s face.

Casey blinks.


“Could you please pass the salt?” George asks from the other end of the table, like he’s repeating himself.

“Oh, right!” She grabs the shaker and shoves it at Lizzie, in George’s direction. “Salt. Right. Here you go.”

“Thanks,” George says, something amused in his voice.

“And what did you do today, Edwin?” Nora asks.

Edwin goes off on a long, strangely political diatribe about the machinations of his class at school, while next to him, Marti stares at the green beans on her plate like she’s trying to make them disappear solely through the power of thought. Lizzie taps her feet, tap tap tap on the floor. George eats three of the dinner rolls, one after the other, and Nora purses her lips together and nods thoughtfully at every third sentence or so that Edwin says.

Casey sneaks a glance across the table at Derek.

Derek’s staring at her.

Casey snaps her gaze away.

She volunteers to help with clean up after dinner, clearing the table and trying to give Derek as much time as possible to vacate the immediate area. Lizzie empties the dishwasher and Casey rinses the dishes, filling the machine again.

She can see Derek’s head on the couch in the living room, hanging around. Ugh. Why is he still here?

Derek’s watching something on the TV, seemingly engrossed, when she finally finishes the dishes. Maybe he won’t notice her sneak upstairs. She wipes her hands dry, takes a deep breath, and starts to edge her way towards the stairway. The back of Derek’s head stays facing forward. Success! She tiptoes her way up the stairs, and makes it to the top and a glimpse of her bedroom door when a hand closes around her elbow.

“Hey, Case,” Derek says, and pulls on her arm.

Derek,” she hisses, and tries to wrench her arm away. “Let go! What are you doing?”

“What are you doing?” he repeats back - nonsensically, as far as Casey is concerned.

“I asked you first!”

“I - just - c’mere, for a sec, okay?” He tightens his grip, and pulls them down the hallway to the door of the games closet.

She catches a glimpse of shelves of half-broken plastic toys and the spines of once-loved picture books stacked high above their heads as he pushes her inside the closet ahead of him. A single bare, unlit bulb hangs above them, the chain swinging like a guillotine. Derek doesn’t yank the light on; instead, he shuts the door behind them, plunging the room into a dim darkness, only a thin sliver of light showing around the frame of the door.

“Derek,” she whispers, “seriously, what are you -”

Derek makes this odd, urgent sort of sound, and kisses her in the darkness, hard.

She stumbles backwards from the force of the attack on her mouth, and kisses back instinctively for one blind moment. Derek grabs her hips.

She pulls away.

“Derek! What are you doing? You know - I mean… we can’t -”

“Somebody’s going to hear you if you keep talking,” Derek says, his voice disembodied, and the vague, blobby Derek-shaped form leans in and starts going to town on her mouth again.

Her protests die in her throat. Derek mutters something she can’t quite understand under his breath, and slants his mouth more fully against hers. Casey takes a second step backwards, and her back hits one of the shelves that line the games closet. Some sort of cardboard box - a game or a puzzle which is, statistically speaking, almost certainly missing some of its pieces - digs into her shoulder blades.

Derek crowds up into her space, and since Casey can’t back up anymore, they end up pressed together from their shoulders to their toes. Derek’s body is overwhelming this close. His hands are all over her body, and Casey has never seen Derek like this: sort of half-crazed, like he’s going to die or something if he’s not kissing her.

And Derek smells good pressed up this close against her, the clean smell of soap and boy shampoo overwhelming in the small, claustrophobic space. Casey makes this embarrassing noise, a sort of overwhelmed squeak. Derek’s fingers tighten almost painfully on her waist.

“You’re driving me crazy, Case,” Derek mumbles against her mouth.

Oh, it is so like Derek to blame this on HER.

She opens off her mouth to tell him off, to say - something, she’s definitely going to say something, when they hear somebody coming down the hallway, toward the closet.

“Why don’t you get it yourself, Edwin! Why do you always have to -“

Derek jumps back, and manages to find the chain for the light bulb right as the door yanks open. Casey freezes. Lizzie stares at the two of them, apparently just… hanging out in the games closet. For some reason?

“Oh, hey, Casey! And… Derek? What are you guys doing here?”

Casey turns to stare at the wall of board games, fussing over the column of faded titles. Derek plucks a copy of Mousetrap from the bottom shelf and holds it up like it’s the answer to all his dreams.

“Just looking for this,” he says, and brandishes the box in Lizzie’s direction. “Obviously.”

“You know we couldn’t find half the pieces to that game the last time we tried to play it,” Lizzie says, and pulls a copy of Sorry off the shelf.

“We’re going to fix it,” Casey blurts out. “Fix the… game. I mean, the missing pieces - we’re going to figure out what to do without them. Because - that’s a thing?”

“For a school project,” Derek adds.

“The two of you are doing a school assignment together?” Lizzie asks, frowning.

“Nope!” Casey says, and snatches a copy of Battleship from behind a stack of puzzles. “Different games.”

Lizzie frowns. “High school is weird.”

Derek pats Lizzie on the head. “You’ll learn about it when you’re older.”

“Okay,” Lizzie agrees doubtfully, and heads back downstairs with the battered copy of Sorry.

Casey looks at Derek, and Derek looks back at Casey, and they both bolt at the same time, heading for their rooms with their respective board games.