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The Place You're In

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Twenty-five year old Casey McDonald paced impatiently from one side of the small bathroom in her one bedroom apartment to the other, waiting for the timer to ding. How long did it take for five minutes to pass anyway? Two minutes in, she'd decided that the bathroom was far too small to pace adequately. This situation called for some serious pacing that could just not be done in the bathroom. No, Casey definitely needed to be pacing in the living room.

Once in the living room, she set the timer down on the coffee table and continued her pacing. Casey's impatient pacing was quickly replaced by tidying up the already practically spotless living room. She needlessly straightened the pile of Derek's hockey magazines that were sitting next to the timer on the coffee table. Next she turned her attention to the DVD shelf, which held numerous DVDs that were both hers and Derek's but had long since mixed together to become "their" DVDs. She made sure that all of the cases were lined up neatly in their slots before deciding that her attempts to clean were futile. An activity that usually calmed her nerves and made things seem like they were spinning less out of control did nothing to soothe her tonight. With a minute left on the timer, she grabbed Derek's University of Toronto sweatshirt that was draped over the back of the couch, slipped it over her head and resigned herself to sitting on the couch to wait out the last minute on the timer.

Casey could barely wrap her mind around the whole situation. She was alone in her apartment and taking a pregnancy test at 3:00am. She'd never pictured herself in this position again. She'd always figured that the next time she thought she was pregnant, she'd be married and her husband would be holding her hand and they'd both have their fingers crossed waiting for a positive response. She mentally added that it would have been at a decent hour as well, as long as she was imagining the ideal circumstances to be taking a pregnancy test. Needless to say, none of the above applied to her life at the moment. She wasn't married, and she didn't know if the reason she was crossing her fingers was because she wanted the test to be positive or negative.

It had started innocently. She'd woken up one morning two weeks ago feeling sick. It didn't even cross her mind that she might have been pregnant. Why would it? It was the middle of December and on any given day around this time, at least one of her students would have been out sick. It had been that way every one of the past three years that she had been teaching high school English. Derek said it was the same at his school too. She'd shaken off the nausea, downed a glass of orange juice for breakfast and grabbed a can of chicken noodle soup to make for lunch that day during her prep period. No big deal. A week later she'd just figured that she'd caught a particularly stubborn cold virus and upped her vitamin C intake.

Her doctor had taken her off the pill for a few weeks, but she and Derek had immediately started using condoms. She still hadn't really made the connection that she could be pregnant. By the time her period was three days late, panicked thoughts had filled her brain. What if they'd slipped and forgotten a condom once? Or what if one had broken on them and neither of them had realized? She'd been so worried that she'd been having trouble sleeping. After hours of tossing and turning and worrying, she got out of bed, threw on a jacket, grabbed her car keys and headed towards the nearest store that was open at that time where she could get a pregnancy test.

The timer beeped, jolting Casey out of her thoughts and rudely bringing her back to reality. She was immediately overcome with an intense desire to throw the damn pregnancy test out of the living room window. She suddenly had no desire to see what was written in that tiny little window. Ignorance was bliss, right? If she didn't look, she'd never know and she'd never have to deal with this, right? Except that she would, and that was what the little voice in her head kept telling her. She gathered up every ounce of the courage she had and looked at the stick. There it was, clear as day.

Casey McDonald was pregnant.

She immediately burst into tears. Why? She still couldn't figure it out. Was she happy she was pregnant? Maybe. But it was also entirely possible that this was the last thing she wanted. Casey wasn't ready to try to interpret why she was feeling what she was feeling. She'd gotten over one emotional hurdle tonight and that was enough for her. She let herself drop to the floor, her back pressed up against the couch with her knees up to her chin and sobbed.

Somehow, she'd managed to get to her bedroom and fall into a fitful sleep. She was sure she hadn't stopped crying by the time she'd drifted off and when she woke up the next morning there was a pile of tissues crumpled next to her on the bed. She was grateful that today was Saturday and that she wouldn't have to work. She didn't think that she could handle teaching all of her classes today. It was all she could do to get up and make herself a cup of coffee. She'd been hoping that some sleep would make things seem less intimidating, but she apparently wasn't that lucky.

After a cup of coffee, she picked up her phone and called Tanya, her old college roommate and one of her best friends. Truth be told, Casey would rather have called Emily or her sister, but Emily lived two hours away now and her sister was about to start finals and dealing with her overly hormonal big sister probably wasn't on Lizzie's End-Of-Semester To Do list. Not that there was anything wrong with Tanya, it was just that Casey had known her sister and Emily for a whole lot longer.

"Hello?" mumbled a very groggy Tanya. Casey quickly glanced at a clock and saw that it was barely after 7:00am. Casey hadn't realized how early it was.

"Sorry Tanya, I didn't realize how early it was," apologized Casey. Casey's scratchy voice was all it took to wake Tanya up.

"Casey, you sound terrible. What's wrong?"

"Can you come over?" asked Casey, grateful to hear the concern in her friend's voice.

"Be there in twenty minutes," promised Tanya.

True to her word, Tanya walked into Casey's apartment twenty minutes later. She took one look at Casey, saw her red eyes and wrapped her in a hug. Casey handed her a cup of coffee and the two girls settled into the living room.

"What happened? Did you and Derek have a fight?" asked Tanya, taking note of the fact that Derek was not currently anywhere near the apartment, where he could usually be found.

Casey shook her head. "We're fine. Derek's at a hockey tournament until tomorrow afternoon." Casey was silent for a few moments before deciding to just spit it out, "I'm pregnant." It was easier to say out loud than she thought it would be.

Tanya's face changed from one of concern to excitement and back to concern.

"This is a good thing, isn't it?"

"I don't know," confessed Casey. "I don't know anything right now."

"What does Derek think?"

"I haven't told him yet. I mean, what if he reacts like he did last time? I'm not sure I could handle that."

In their senior year of college, Casey and Derek had had a pregnancy scare and Derek had not taken it well. He'd completely disappeared for a day when Casey first told him that she might be pregnant and when he did resurface, he'd made it clear that he did not want a child. But he'd held her hand while she waited for the test results and both had been equally relieved when it came back negative. Things were rocky between them for awhile, but they'd made it through everything together.

"Casey, that was three years ago. A lot of things have changed since then. Have you talked to your mom?"

"I. . .I can't talk to her. Not yet anyway. There's too many questions that she would ask that I can't answer right now. She and George don't know anything about me and Derek."

The only people in their family that knew about the relationship were Lizzie and Edwin, and that was because they lived in the same city and it would have been impossible to hide the relationship indefinitely from the two family snoops.

A few tears escaped from Casey's eyes even though she felt like she'd cried every tear possible and Tanya wrapped Casey in another hug.

"I just don't know what to do."

Chapter Text

The morning of her last final of the semester, twenty-one year old Lizzie McDonald woke up to the incessant chirping of her cell phone alarm. She mentally cursed her decision to choose the most annoying ringtone her phone came with to serve as her alarm clock. She blindly swung her hand in the general direction of her desk, hoping that she'd somehow manage to find her phone and hit the snooze button before she was fully conscious. Her hand swiped through air.

Two facts managed to register in her brain, despite the fact that she was still half asleep. One, she wasn't in her own bed. And two, she most definitely was not alone. A warm body was pressed up against her back and there was also an arm resting securely around her waist. Lizzie did the only thing that came to mind. She froze. Her mind raced through all of her possible options. She'd never woken up next to anyone before, let alone had to extract herself from a sleeping boy's arms without waking him. Was she supposed to pretend to still be asleep until he woke up? Let him make the first move? He was, after all, in a better position to move considering that he didn't have another set of arms wrapped around his body. Was she supposed to risk it and detangle herself from his arms and pray not to wake him up. Or would she be well within her rights to jostle him awake?

She was just about to snuggle back into the blankets (it was December in Canada after all, and she was comfortably warm) and pretend to be asleep until he woke up when she heard him mumble, his voice unrecognizable and still thick with sleep.

"Make it stop."

With a start, Lizzie realized that she still hadn't managed to find her phone and turn off the annoying alarm. Somehow, in her semi-panic she'd managed to tune it out. Obviously she'd had other, more pressing matters on her hands.

"Trying," she groaned. Lizzie forced herself to open her eyes, thinking that it would help her find her phone faster. Searches were generally more successful when one could see what they were searching for, at least in her previous experiences. The second that her eyes popped open, she was greeted with the blinding morning sun streaming in through a dorm room window. She slammed her eyes shut as one more fact became apparent.

She was horribly hung over.

Despite the ice picks she could have sworn were being stabbed into her brain, she forced herself to get up and find her phone just so that she could make that incessant chirping stop. It was way too early for incessant chirping.

In her jacket pocket, that was where her phone was most likely to be. In fact, she was almost certain that was where she'd left it. Now, she just needed to find her jacket. She let her eyes slide open a fraction of an inch in an attempt to see where she was searching while still keeping out as much of the sun as possible. There it was, her jacket was hanging on the back of a desk chair. She stuffed her hand into a pocket and disabled the alarm as quickly as possible.

"Oh thank god you stopped it. I am too hung over for that."

Lizzie dropped her phone onto the desk and turned around to see Edwin pushing himself into a sitting position. Lizzie could see that he wasn't wearing a shirt and instead he'd fallen asleep still wearing his jeans from the day before. Half way to sitting up, he'd decided that it wasn't worth the effort and let his arm collapse beneath his weight, sending his body crashing down against the mattress once again. He groaned as his head hit the pillow, obviously regretting the sudden movement.

"Moving is definitely not an option for now," Edwin mumbled into his pillow.

"Oh my god!" gasped Lizzie as the previous night's events came flying back to her. Before now, she'd been too focused on turning off her alarm and too groggy from recently waking up for last night's memories to hit her. But now those memories hit her full force and she was definitely embarrassed.

"Oh my god," she repeated. "I. . . I have to go," she stammered, an intense need to get the hell out of there overriding anything else she had been feeling before, including the stabbing pains behind her eyes due to her hangover.

She scrambled to grab her cell phone and her winter jacket. After a quick glance downward, she realized that she was only wearing her jeans and a tank top. She had definitely been wearing a blouse over the tank top when she'd arrived at Edwin's room the night before. Her eyes frantically swept the tiny dorm room in search of her blouse. She didn't see it anywhere. It wasn't on the floor or draped over a chair and it hadn't gotten thrown onto Edwin's roommate's bed either. (She made a mental note to remember where her clothing got thrown from now on). Instead of searching harder for her blouse (she didn't really even like it that much), she shoved her arms into her jacket and started to shove her feet into her tennis shoes, not bothering to undo the laces like she normally would.

"Lizzie, where are you going?" asked Edwin, finally opening his eyes to see what Lizzie was doing.

"This. . . this is too weird. I have to. . . I just have to go."

Lizzie was halfway to the door when she heard Edwin throw his blanket aside and jump out of bed. Seconds later she felt his hand on her arm. Despite the fact that every instinct she had was screaming for her to leave, she paused and turned to face Edwin.

"You don't have to leave."

"I have a final today," she protested.

"Not for like eight more hours," Edwin countered. "You have to be as hung over as I am. Stay. Sleep it off for a few more hours. Just crawl back into bed with me and stay. Please," he pleaded with her.

Lizzie almost gave in to him. Her head was killing her and it was incredibly early and she had to admit that Edwin's bed looked inviting. But she couldn't bring herself to stay.

"I can't. It's too weird right now. I have to go."

"Why? Why is it weird? Because we finally gave in to what's always been there?"

Over the years, it had become apparent to both of them that they didn't truly see each other as siblings and there were definitely feelings stronger than friendship between the two of them. They had never actually acknowledged their feelings for each other, but they both knew they were there nonetheless. In high school, both were reluctant to bring their current boyfriend or girlfriend to the house and on the rare occasion they did, the other was conveniently absent or quick to make themselves scarce. Despite the fact that they both knew these feelings existed, neither had acted on them. Until the night before, at least.

"Do you think that Derek and Casey's relationship is weird?" Edwin tried again.

"They're different." Lizzie answered quietly.

"How are they different from us? Why is this so weird for you?"

"I don't know, okay? I just don't know. This is too much for me to handle right now." She shrugged his hand off her arm. "This isn't the least bit weird to you?" she wondered.

"No. It couldn't be more right," he replied. But his answer fell on deaf ears. Lizzie had already left.

* * *

"Thanks for agreeing to the last minute change in plans," Lizzie thanked her sister a few days later. The four oldest Venturi/McDonald children were on their way home for the Christmas holidays. In Lizzie and Edwin's case, they were heading home for most of January since their spring semester didn't start until the end of that month and most of the on campus dorms were closed until then. Casey and Derek were only planning on staying until New Year's day because their classes were going to start up much sooner than the University's.

Because Lizzie and Edwin were going home for such a long stretch of time, they were both bringing home a significant amount of their things. Consequently, they'd need both Derek's and Casey's cars. The original plan was for Derek and Casey to drive to their siblings' dorms and load their bags into the cars. Edwin and Lizzie had originally planned on driving home in one car while Casey and Derek drove home in the other, taking advantage of the last bit of alone time they'd most likely be able to have until after the holidays. Once they were at the Venturi/McDonald home, they'd have to go back to being step-siblings and step-siblings only.

That morning, Lizzie had called Casey and asked if they could ride together instead. Casey had readily agreed as Lizzie had assumed she would. She knew something was up between Casey and Derek, but didn't have the slightest clue as to what it was.

"It's no problem, Liz. What kind of sister would I be otherwise?"

"Horrible. You'd be a horrible older sister. Refusing to give up time with your boyfriend and all," Lizzie rolled her eyes to let Casey know that she was just joking. "Speaking of, why were you so eager to give up this time with Derek. I thought for sure that I would have needed to ask more than once." She may have assumed that Casey would give in, but hadn't assumed that it would be so easy.

"So, why are you avoiding Edwin?" asked Casey, not bothering to pretend she didn't know what Lizzie was talking about. They were too close for something like that to work. She knew that Lizzie could tell that there was something going on with her and Derek, just like Lizzie knew that Casey could tell that she was avoiding Edwin. Neither sister would try to deny anything.

"It's complicated," replied Lizzie. (Just because she wouldn't deny it didn't mean she wanted to actually talk about it).

"Try me. I'm pretty smart."

"Only if you tell me what's going on with you and Derek."

Casey nodded in agreement, accepting Lizzie's terms.

"Edwin and I kind of spent the night together," Lizzie confessed quickly. "We were drinking and one thing led to another and we were kissing. I don't even remember who made the first move."

"And now you're avoiding him," said Casey, starting to understand.

"Yeah, pretty much. I woke up and got the hell out of there as soon as I could. It was too weird."

"What's so weird about it?"

"He's my step brother."

"Derek's my step brother too and look at us." Shrugged Casey. "Take the step sibling thing out of the equation. Pretend Edwin was just some random guy you met and became friends with. If this happened with that Edwin, would it be so weird?"

Lizzie was silent for a long time before she finally answered.

"I don't think it would be," she realized. She knew without a doubt that she cared about Edwin. She had known for some time now, but had been too afraid to admit it.

"So stop avoiding him then. Talk to him. Figure out if you think you two are worth a shot. If you think you'll look back at any time and wonder what would have been, then go for it."

After another stretch of silence, Lizzie spoke again.

"Okay, so a deal's a deal. Why are you avoiding Derek?"

* * *

"What gives, Edwin?" Derek demanded, lacking the tact that Casey did. He preferred to get right to the point. "There had better be a good reason I'm stuck in a car with you instead of enjoying some alone time with my girlfriend."

On the drive home, Derek had fully planned on pulling off onto a back road and having his way with Casey one last time before they arrived at their parents' house for a little over a week, where it wasn't guaranteed that he'd be able to do so much as hold her hand until they got home again.

"Lizzie and I spent the night together," Edwin said. He knew better than to try and be vague when Derek was in a mood like this. "And now she's avoiding me."

"Dude, was the sex really that bad for her?" asked Derek. Edwin wasn't sure if Derek was joking or not. For all he knew, it could be both. Either way, Edwin wasn't in the mood to have a sex talk with his brother.

"Get your mind out of the gutter," ordered an unamused Edwin. "and help me!"

"Get better in the sack," joked Derek, earning himself another glare from Edwin.

"We didn't sleep together." Edwin knew that Derek would keep bringing it up until Edwin told him exactly what happened and Edwin really didn't wanna sit through a two hour car ride with Derek insulting his bedroom skills. "Now be serious!"

"Okay fine. I'll be serious. She's freaked out. You don't wanna deal with a girl when she's freaked. It's basically the same as trying to deal with a girl while she's crying. Let her calm down and come to you if you insist on talking to her."

Edwin knew that was the last of the serious advice that he was going to get from Derek. Edwin could accept that Lizzie was freaked out. That much had been obvious from the moment they woke up together, but he wasn't sure he was willing to wait around for Lizzie to come to him. He was going to talk to Lizzie at the first chance he got. Apologize for freaking her out (even though he really didn't think he needed to), and then beg for her to give them a chance. He knew without a doubt that he needed to know if there was anything between them.

* * *

Sooner than any of the Venturi/McDonald kids were prepared for, they turned onto the familiar street. Derek pulled his car into the driveway and a few moments later Casey pulled hers in next to his. All four kids started grabbing bags and boxes from the trunks to bring into the house.

"You know, I think this might go faster if Lizzie and Edwin stay out here and unload the car while Derek and I bring it into the house," suggested Casey. Actually, she figured their task would be done faster if they all carried whatever boxes they grabbed into the house, but she needed an excuse to leave Lizzie and Edwin alone.

"Speak for yourself. None of this is mine. I'm going inside to relax. Ed can unpack his own stuff."

"Well, then at least take a box inside as you go." Casey shoved a heavy cardboard box into Derek's arms before he had a chance to protest and grabbed one for herself. She didn't care if Derek helped or not at the moment. As long as he left Lizzie and Edwin alone to talk, she was happy. She actually had no intention of coming back outside until Lizzie and Edwin were talking.

"Hey Casey!" Lizzie called after her. "Remember what I told you."

"Will do, Liz."

Casey and Derek were almost inside the house when George and Nora came outside to greet their children. Nora wrapped Casey in a hug despite the big box between them. She did the same thing for Derek and then headed towards the end of the driveway to hug Edwin and Lizzie, frantically asking questions about the end of their semester, the drive back, and anything else she could think of. She was obviously excited to have all of her children home at the same time. Casey saw Lizzie sigh and knew that she was disappointed about not being able to talk to Edwin immediately. By the end of the car ride, Casey could tell that Lizzie was eager to talk things out with Edwin now.

Unfortunately, it looked like their conversation was just going to have to wait awhile.

Chapter Text

At sixteen years old, Marti Venturi was clearly related to both Edwin and Derek. She'd been blessed with Edwin's brains and Derek's attitude toward life, but she'd managed to add her own personal touch to the mix, instead of just imitating her two older brothers. She was well known at Thompson High, even before she officially set foot in the building as a student. She was a Venturi after all, and naturally Derek had refused to let anyone with his name be unpopular. But she'd also proven that she deserved that reputation.

Marti's grades rivaled Edwin's. She almost effortlessly earned straight A's, only bothering to really put an effort into her studies if an upcoming test or project counted for a significant part of her grade. Otherwise she let the pieces fall where they may. Like Derek, Marti rarely chose to settle down in a relationship. Instead, she liked to keep her options open and make plans on a date by date basis. And just like Derek, she could always find someone more than willing to take her out for the night.

But unlike her brothers, Marti was not defined by either of these characteristics. She didn't care to spend her free time observing the people around her and taking extensive notes the way that Edwin had. And if Marti had to spend a Saturday night at home without a date, so be it. Sometimes she even preferred it that way.

Marti was more of the free spirited artistic type, and if it hadn't been for the Venturi name, she was sure that most people in the school would have written her off as a freak and relegated her to the back corner of the cafeteria by the garbage cans where the rest of the freaks sat within the first week of high school.

The first thing that anyone noticed about Marti Venturi was her slightly unconventional wardrobe, not necessarily in fashion but definitely not out of style either. It could be most accurately described as bohemian chic. She tended to wear clothing a step up from casual and was rarely ever seen in jeans, tennis shoes, and sweatshirts unless she was lounging around home. Her wardrobe also included a touch of her artistic side, just enough to set her apart from the crowd without making her look ridiculous. Her outfits were almost always accented with large hoop earring and bangle bracelets. She still loved the color purple and illustrated that with vibrant streaks in her dark hair and her fingernails were almost always painted to match.

Instead of trying to follow in her brothers' footsteps at Thompson High, she had carved out a niche for herself within the drama department, easily earning herself decent sized roles in every single one of the school's productions. No one in her family had been surprised when she'd gotten into acting, especially considering how much of her youth was spent pretending to be a cat. It was undeniable that Marti had become a full fledged drama geek by the end of grade nine.

On the last day of school before Christmas vacation, in true Venturi style, Marti decided that it wasn't worth her time to go to some of her more boring classes. It wasn't like either the students or the teachers were planning on getting anything important done. Everyone was too full of sugar from all the candy canes and Christmas cookies their friends had brought in to share to even consider trying to sit still for a whole class period. Marti was fairly certain that if any of her teachers were foolish enough to try to teach new material, they'd just end up re-teaching the same lesson when everyone returned to school in January.

Marti would have preferred to leave campus for the rest of the day, but she had no intention of missing the end of semester celebration her drama class was having that afternoon and she had a test in another class after lunch. She had no idea what her teacher was thinking trying to give a test before break but it meant she'd have to stick around on campus for the rest of the day and just hope that she didn't get caught skipping any morning classes.

She deftly made her way through the hallway crowded with kids slowly trying to make it to their next class, and headed toward the school's auditorium. The place was her home away from home. Her sanctuary. She just plain loved it there. Today, the curtain was up and the stage was littered with half painted set pieces for their next performance.

Down on the stage, Marti could see a blonde girl kneeling on the ground in front of one of the set pieces. She was still too far away to tell who it was, but Marti was almost certain that it was Kayla Manning. Marti quickly made it to the stage and saw that she'd been right. Marti kneeled down next to her and draped her arm across Kayla's back in hello.

"Thought I'd find you here," greeted Marti. She knew that Kayla had study hall this period. Technically it wasn't a free period and she was supposed to be in a classroom, but Kayla viewed that as more of a suggestion than anything else. And Marti knew that.

"Took you long enough," laughed Kayla, though she had only gotten there ten minutes earlier. Marti grabbed a paint brush and got to work on the same section of the set that Kayla was working on.

"Had to talk to my brother. Derek's sent me about a hundred text messages do far today so I figured I should call him."

"Everything okay?" asked Kayla, scrunching her eyes in concern.

"Probably. He's worried about Casey though. He swears that something's been bothering her all week but every time he asks her she says it's just work stress."

"And he thinks you know something else?"

"Apparently?" Marti shrugged. Anything else she was going to say was cut off by her phone alerting her to another text message, this one from Edwin asking if she knew what was bothering Lizzie. "These two are going to drive me crazy, I swear."

"Well, good thing you got me to keep you sane," replied Kayla.

"Is it wrong to hope that everything will blow up while they're all home so I can have a front row seat for all the drama?" asked Marti, only half joking.

"Not at all. Especially if you invite me over for it."

"Deal," Marti agreed. "Hey Kay? You've got something on the tip of your nose." Kayla raised her hand to brush away whatever it was and then looked back to Marti for confirmation. "Here, I got it," said Marti, motioning for Kayla to lean closer. As Kayla did so, Marti quickly drew her hand holding the paintbrush through the air to leave a bright red dot of paint on Kayla's nose before she even realized what had happened.

Marti grinned evilly.

"Oh yeah? Well, you've got a little bit of red right here," said Kayla, quickly drawing her own paintbrush across Marti's cheek, leaving a bright red streak in its path. The next few minutes were spent trying to mark the other person with a much paint as possible. Marti and Kayla sunk to the ground in giggles, trying to scrub the paint off their clothing and skin. But without any water to scrub with, they only managed to smear the paint around a bit.

"You've got some green in your hair," Marti pointed out, still trying to control her giggles. Kayla raised her left hand to her hair to see if there was any hope of getting the paint out of her hair. "No, wrong side. Here, I've got it," offered Marti as she leaned closer to Kayla.

The paint was still wet to the touch so Marti figured there was very little they could do at that moment without actually rinsing her hair.

"Come on, I can wash it out in the bathroom," said Kayla as she pushed herself into a standing position. She extended a hand to pull Marti up as well, which she gladly took. Once Marti was standing however, Kayla didn't drop her hand. Instead, she pulled Marti closer to her so they were a fraction of an inch apart.

"We should probably wait for the bell to ring," suggested Marti, trying to catch her breath a little bit. "No use getting caught skipping."

"Probably a good idea," agreed Kayla before finally closing the gap between them and kissing Marti. Eventually they were forced to pull apart, their need for oxygen overpowering their need for each other.

"Took you long enough to do that," joked Marti softly once she'd taken a few deep breaths of oxygen. There was no need to raise their voices much beyond a whisper. The room was practically silent and their faces were still only centimeters apart. Marti's fingers lazily played with a lock of Kayla's hair. "Girl could get old waiting for you to get the hint."

"I make the first move plenty," Kayla insisted.

"Prove it," Marti challenged, her voice never losing the teasing quality but also making it clear that she was waiting for Kayla to follow through on her claim.

Kayla cast a glance up at the auditorium doors. Neither girl was ready to go public with their relationship. The halls of Thompson High would be merciless and they would undoubtedly become the focus of most gossip for some time. A select few of their friends knew, but that was all.

Marti knew what Kayla was thinking when she glanced at the doors. Anyone could come in at any moment and the stage was far too exposed for either of their tastes. Kayla took Marti's hand in hers and led her to a more secluded spot backstage before kissing Marti once more.

Neither girl was aware of how much time was passing while they were thoroughly distracted and caught up in one another. They were so wrapped up in each other that they failed to notice the sound of approaching footsteps. It was the sound of a throat clearing that eventually made them jump apart. Kayla and Marti found themselves staring up at the face of their principal. They both suppressed a groan at being caught by the absolute worst person to get caught by.

Principal Lassiter had been uptight when Casey and Derek attended Thompson High. Casey had never managed to redeem herself in their principal's eyes, while Derek had eventually fallen from his good graces and taken his rightful place as the administration's most wanted, much to Casey's delight. Unfortunately, Principal Lassiter had assumed that both Lizzie and Edwin would be carbon copies of their siblings and immediately had it in for them as well. By the time Marti became one of his students, she'd had the reputations of four of her siblings working against her and had no hope of getting into his good graces. Instead of antagonizing him like Derek and Edwin did, she just chose to avoid his as much as possible.

Lassiter was also known for his intense homophobia and bigotry. It was unlikely that Lassiter would bat an eyelash at a guy and a girl groping each other against the lockers. School rules forbade him from punishing a same-sex couple for that reason alone, but if they were caught breaking any rule, he'd jump at the chance to punish them twice as harshly.

And Kayla and Marti had just handed him the ultimate Christmas present. Two girls in a compromising position skipping class for the umpteenth time. They knew they were looking at some serious detention time and were already moving towards the auditorium exit when he ordered them to his office.

* * *

"Two weeks of detention?!" Roared George. "Two weeks!" Marti could see the anger written all over her father's face. His cheeks were flushed and he was pacing in front of her like he was still trying to figure out what to do with her.

Of course, Marti's attitude probably wasn't helping matters much at the moment either. She was slumped on the couch, a cool defiance radiating from her. It only served to infuriate her father more. Nora was keeping her distance, letting George get most of his anger out of his system but ready to intervene if needed.

"Don't forget suspended for the rest of the day," added Marti smartly. In addition to her two weeks of detention, she had also been sent home for the rest of the day. She wasn't complaining about that part, it just meant that her Christmas break was going to start a few hours early. George and Nora had been called into the principal's office to come and pick up Marti and the car ride home had been quiet enough to hear a pin drop. The only sign that indicated how angry George was, was how tightly he was gripping the car's steering wheel. Tight enough to turn his knuckles stark white. Marti knew she was in for a nice long lecture once they were home.

"Now is not the time for that tone," George snapped. "You are grounded."

"What?! For how long?!"

"Indefinitely!" George shot back.

"That is so not fair!" protested Marti. "Derek pulled way more shit when he was my age-"

"Marti! Language!" scolded Nora.

"-and never got punished this way!" She continued, completely ignoring Nora's scolding. "While I skip one class to hang out with my girlfriend and I get grounded indefinitely! How the hell is that fair?!"

"G-g-girlfriend?" sputtered George. "Kayla's your girlfriend?" Principal Lassiter had informed her parents that she'd been caught skipping class and making out with Kayla. Neither Nora or George had been able to hide their shock when they'd heard that their daughter was kissing a girl. Apparently, they'd been too angry to process what that meant.

"My girlfriend," affirmed Marti, rising to her feet to look her father defiantly in the eye. "That's what this whole punishment is about, isn't it? You're grounding me because I was with Kayla. You don't care that I was skipping class, you're pissed off because of Kayla. You two are just like Lassiter. The only reason that bigot gave us two weeks of detention is because he's so damn narrow-minded! Look me in the eye and tell me that's not why you're grounding me!"

"Marti, that's not it at all," Nora jumped in. "You're grounded because you got caught skipping class. That's it."

"I seriously doubt that." Spat Marti.

"I don't care what you believe right now! It's the truth. Your being grounded has nothing to do with Kayla and you know it!"

"Then why are you being so unbelievably unfair?! No one else in the family got treated this way!"

"No one else in this family has ever been suspended for three days and earned two weeks of detention in one day!" Yeah, in addition to being sent home for the rest of the day, Marti had also been suspended for the two days following Christmas break as well. Again, that just meant she had a longer vacation.

"I only got that because Lassiter's a fucking bigot and I'm starting to think that you are too!"

"You are so far out of line!"

"That's enough!" Screamed Nora. She'd had to yell as loudly as she could to be heard over George and Marti's voices, which had been consistently increasing in volume for the duration of their argument. The loud outburst was so unexpected from her that both George and Marti jerked their heads to look at her. "You both need to cool down. George, go outside and take a walk."

"It's December!" He protested.

"Go for a drive then. Just get out of the house for an hour to clear your head and start thinking rationally." Reluctantly, he grabbed his keys and jacket and left the house.

"Thanks Nora," said Marti wearily, collapsing back onto the couch.

"Don't thank me yet. You're still grounded. But I'll see if I can get your sentence reduced to a few days. Think you can handle that?"

"I guess." Sighed Marti.

"Good. Now, you wanna talk to me? How long have you and Kayla been together?"

"A few weeks," she reluctantly admitted.

"How long were you going to hide it from us?"

"Until I was ready to tell you. I didn't exactly have a choice in the matter today."

"No, I guess you didn't, did you?" Agreed Nora. "I hope you don't think for a second that I'm mad that you and Kayla are together."

"Can you blame me with the way Dad reacted?" Retorted Marti, still steaming from their argument.

"He'll calm down. You remember how mad he'd get when Derek or Edwin landed in the principal's office."

"Did either of them get caught skipping class with their boyfriends?" At Nora's silent stare, Marti answered her own question. "No, didn't think so. Look, I'm gonna go to my room. I really don't want to be here for round two when dad gets back."

"That's probably a good idea. Just to be on the safe side." Agreed Nora.

Marti pushed herself off the couch and ran up the stairs. Halfway up she turned back around. "Nora? Can we keep this between the three of us for now?" Marti certainly hadn't been ready to confide anything in her parents about her relationship with Kayla so she was still reeling from the fact that they knew. She wasn't sure if she could handle anybody else finding out just yet.

"Of course," agreed Nora immediately.

As she closed her bedroom door behind her and flopped down on her bed, one more thing occurred to her. She and Kayla could hang out at her house and not have to worry about who might walk in on them and blow their secret. They wouldn't have to sneak around as much. As far as most people in their lives were concerned, Marti and Kayla were best friends, but nothing more. If they wanted a moment together, they'd have to wait until either of their houses were empty or drive somewhere half an hour away where they could be sure they wouldn't run into anyone from school. Now, they could have as many moments as they wanted at Marti's house, no longer having to jump at the slightest sound that could have indicated that her parents were home. Even if the events of the day hadn't completely sunk in yet, and even though she was still fighting with her dad, she was beginning to see the silver lining.

Chapter Text

The first year of university had been a complete and total shock for both Casey and Derek. Neither of them had found what they had been expecting. Casey had an idealistic view of her college experience. She'd assumed that her classes would be both interesting and challenging and that the class lectures would be stimulating and thought-provoking. She envisioned her roommate becoming her best friend. She thought there would be countless nights when they would stay up just a little bit too late talking about anything and everything. Instead, she got classes that were barely more stimulating than her high school courses, most of her teachers spent the entire time talking at the students, not bothering to engage them in a discussion of any kind. And because the classes were so easy, Casey found herself with a lot of spare time to spend in her room with an utterly obnoxious roommate. The girl came home at all hours of the night, had zero respect for Casey's personal space, and disrupted Casey's sleep on a regular basis by blasting her music or talking on the phone too loudly.

On the other hand, Derek had expected college to be a four-year extension of high school. He thought that he would once again be worshiped as a hockey god, being able to walk onto the team and take his usual place as a starter. (He was, after all, at the university on a hockey scholarship. And they obviously wouldn't have given him one if they didn't want him to play). When he wasn't playing hockey, he fully expected to be dating a different girl every week. There was a whole dating pool of beautiful girls at university that he had yet to dive into. And those pesky classes? He figured he'd put in an appearance once in a while and talk his way into his professors' good graces if any of them got too persnickety about it. After all, professors didn't really care if you actually showed up to class as long as the university got your money, right? There was nothing that Derek Venturi couldn't talk his way through. Unfortunately, none of his professors had fallen for his smooth-talking routine and he'd quickly figured out that he'd have to put in some actual work in his classes to remain eligible for his hockey scholarship. His other major disappointment was that he hadn't just been able to walk into a starting spot on the hockey team. Those spots were already taken by the senior players. The one bright spot was that Derek was the only freshman to earn himself a place on the team's second string. He would still be able to see some time on the ice and would most likely become a starter the following year once those seniors graduated.

But Derek and Casey weren't the only two that were in for some university surprises. The entire Venturi/McDonald family (as well as most of Derek and Casey's friends) had been shocked when Derek and Casey announced that they'd chosen to attend the same university. After three years of Derek and Casey living in the same house and going to the same school (and at each other's throats for every second of those three years), everyone around them assumed they would jump at the opportunity to get as far away from each other as possible.

But Derek and Casey both adamantly insisted that they wouldn't let the other person keep them from going to their desired university. Both kept insisting that they were going to a large university and that they would see each other so rarely that it would be like they were going to different schools. Casey had no desire to set foot in the hockey arena and Derek was adamant about never having to spend a minute in the library. What they hadn't counted on was that they would be right back where they started at home: Sharing a bathroom and the wall between their bedrooms.

That particular shock had come midway through summer when Casey and Derek received their housing information in the mail. They'd been appalled to realize that they were living in the same dorm and on the same floor on top of that. Neither of them was willing to admit that their rooms would be right next to each other, despite the fact that the room numbers were only one apart. Derek reasoned that they probably separated the guys and girls and that their rooms had to be in two different parts of the floor while Casey insisted that a responsible university would never allow boys and girls to live so closely together, especially with the "raging hormones" that were so characteristic of college students.

Unfortunately, their fears were confirmed on the day they moved in. That was the day that they were forced to confront the facts that the university did, in fact, allow boys and girls to live so closely together and that their respective rooms were not in different sections of the floor. This revelation was met with a groan and a few choice curse words from Derek, a sort of strangled sounding shriek from Casey, nervous looks between George and Nora, and nothing but laughter from Edwin, Lizzie, and Marti (which was promptly followed by the three of them running back to the car out of fear at the glares shot in their direction coming from Casey and Derek).

As it turned out, sharing a bathroom with Derek in the dorms wasn't that different from sharing a bathroom with him at home. They still managed to get in each other's way, even if they were the only two people in a bathroom that was designed for a whole floor of students, which happened more often than they liked to admit since Casey worked in the library every morning before class (taking full advantage of the quiet study time she'd get since no other students were crazy and/or desperate enough to go to the library that early outside of finals week) and Derek had early morning hockey practices every day.

"Derek!" She screeched one morning, drawing out the syllables in his name like she usually did. "Would you please keep your shaving cream to yourself?" she requested tersely after a glob of the stuff came flying at her from Derek's direction, landing on her cheek. She pointedly wiped the shaving cream off of her face and angrily shook it off of her hand into Derek's sink. The dollop made a soft plopping sound as it hit the water.

"Sorry, I slipped," he mumbled through a mouthful of toothpaste, not sounding the least bit apologetic. A second later he spat out the toothpaste, narrowly missing spitting it onto Casey's hand.

"Gross, Derek! You did that on purpose!" Casey screeched, sticking her hand under the stream of water coming from the faucet in front of Derek and splashed some in his face in retaliation.

"Real mature, Case," he said dryly.

Casey let out a cry of frustration but didn't say anything back. Instead, she finished washing her face, taking care to make sure that she got rid of all the shaving cream flung her way. When she was done with that, she grabbed her hairdryer and went to plug it into one of the outlets in the bathroom. Of course, at that exact same moment, Derek decided to do the same thing.

"I was here first!" Derek declared and they both tried to plug their dryers in. It wasn't so much the fact that they both couldn't plug their hairdryers into the same outlet, it was a matter of them being able to share the same space while drying their hair.

"Oh, now who's mature?" muttered Casey.

"Go use the other outlet," Derek grumbled, pointing to one on the wall across from them while pulling Casey's hairdryer out of the outlet.

"It's broken," she replied, replacing the cord. "And I need to dry my hair. It'll freeze outside today."

"Oh right, because the hockey rink is so warm. You spend a few hours with wet hair in there and see how you like it."

Casey didn't bother to respond. She just turned on her hairdryer and got to work. A few seconds later she heard an outraged yelp from Derek.

"What now?" she groaned, turning her dryer off to hear his answer.

"You got me in the face with the hairdryer. See how you like it," he retorted and turned the hot air from his dryer on her. Before they realized what was happening, they were in the middle of a full-out hairdryer war, trying to see who could get the other person the most with the hot air from the dryer. More often than not Derek aimed for Casey's hair in an attempt to mess it up, but she usually managed to jump aside before he could do too much damage. Halfway through the fight, their cries of annoyance became laughter.

Neither of them realized they had an audience until they heard the clapping. They turned around to see Tanya standing behind them in her bathrobe and shower shoes, shower caddy by her feet. Tanya was a girl who lived on their floor a few rooms down from them. She was probably one of the nicest people on the floor and was liked by just about everyone.

"Anyone ever tell you that you fight like an old married couple?" she asked.

"How much of that did you see?" asked Casey.

"Enough to see that you two fight like an old married couple," Tanya smirked and stepped into a shower stall and started the water before either Derek or Casey could reply. Though the fact that Tanya couldn't hear them over the running water still didn't stop Derek from muttering that she hadn't answered the question.

Casey and Derek quickly finished getting ready for the day. Casey gathered up all of her stuff and shot Derek a glare on her way out of the bathroom, trying to keep a straight face to show him that even though she was laughing by the end of the fight, she was still annoyed with him for getting in her way.

That was how things went for them for the majority of their first semester at university. They would continue to get in each other's way, clashing on almost a daily basis. But when the time came for them to go home for Christmas and winter break, their fights had less animosity to them. There were still times where Casey wanted to throttle Derek and plenty of instances where Derek wanted to wring Casey's neck, but those times were becoming fewer and further between by the end of the semester. And more often than not, their fights had a little bit of fun mixed in, especially if you asked their friends that lived on the same floor as Derek and Casey. Any one of them would tell you that by the end of a Derek/Casey squabble, both parties would walk away trying to suppress a large grin, a sure sign that there was more to their arguments than met the eye.