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The Exception

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There was a logical explanation for the situation she was in. Everything boiled down to logic if you worked through it enough. Okay, maybe not everything but Casey was sure that most things had a logical explanation.

Even if those things involved a not quite as obnoxious as he used to be but still pretty damn obnoxious step-brother and a slightly trashy, backstabbing cousin.

Right?

RIGHT?!?

Chapter One:

“Vicki! How are you?” Casey shouted, trying to sound as cheery as possible. She had no idea why Icky Vicki was calling. They hadn’t spoken since the Truman-incident. Not that Casey minded. Life was infinitely better when she didn’t have to deal with her traitorous cousin.

“Please, don’t act like you’re excited to hear from me,” Vicki replied. Casey could picture her rolling her eyes and twirling a strand of hair around her finger. Just the thought of Vicki’s typical ‘I can’t believe I’m related to you’ expression made Casey’s eye twitch.

“Of course I’m glad to hear from you. We haven’t talked in so long! How are you liking U of T?” Casey asked with a sigh. She didn’t want to give Vicki even the slightest hint that Casey still wasn’t over the thing with Truman. Vicki didn’t deserve the satisfaction.

Don’t get her wrong – she was definitely over Truman. Truman was a sleaze ball. She might have forgiven him for a millisecond at the end of senior year but she blamed that on loneliness and her month long freak out over graduation.

Vicki was a totally different matter. Casey didn’t know if she was ever going to forgive Vicki or if she was ever going to want to forgive Vicki. Casey had been naïve enough to think that after the wedding that she’d reached a new level of understanding with Vicki. That, maybe, they had moved past their childhood competition and started to be actual friends. Wrong. So, very wrong.

Casey McDonald was really good at holding a grudge.

“It’s okay but I was thinking of transferring,” Vicki said slowly.

Casey pictured the evil, little smile that was undoubtedly on her face, “Transferring? Where? Why?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Toronto is great but just a little too close to home, you know? Plus the party scene here is so overdone. I was actually thinking about Queen’s. What do you think, cuz?”

Casey sputtered a bit, dropping her phone. She dove to the ground to grab it and ended up banging her head on her desk, “Shit!”

“Geeze, I didn’t think it would be that big of a deal,” Vicki said with an awkward laugh.

“No, no, I just hit my head,” Casey whined.

“I guess Klutzilla didn’t stay in London then? You should warn your roommate before she gets injured,” Vicki said. Casey rolled her eyes. Why did that stupid nickname stick around after high school? Why was the universe so cruel?

“I don’t have a roommate,” Casey said, completely ignoring the insult. Maybe for once ignoring the bully would make them go away. A girl could dream, right?

“That’ll be convenient when that dancer guy comes to visit, right?”

Casey winced. How the hell did she know about Jesse?

“Our mothers do talk, occasionally, you know,” Vicki replied.

Had she said that out loud? Maybe she should sit down. Clearly, she’d hit her head harder than she thought.

“Well, it doesn’t really matter – we, kind of, broke up,” Casey mumbled before she could stop herself.

Okay. Concussion. She must have a concussion because her and Jesse breaking up? Definitely not on the list of things that Vicki needed to know.

“Oh no, that’s too bad,” Vicki said with a serious lack of sympathy. “I guess he wanted some freedom with you heading back to Canada, huh?”

“Excuse me?” Casey snapped.

“I mean, who would want to be with someone who lives in a totally different country, right? Obviously, you two weren’t super serious or else you would have stayed in New York,” Vicki stated. Casey ground her teeth and closed her eyes.

“That is most definitely not what happened. We agreed, mutually, that a long distance relationship wasn’t what either of us wanted,” Casey ground out, trying to stay patient. Vicki snorted and Casey’s grip on her phone tightened.

“Whatever you say, cuz. At least now you’ll have time to play the field a little. Please tell me the guys at Queen’s at least look like men. They all look like high school freshmen here,” Vicki whined.

“I’m not here for the guys, Vicki. I’m here to study and get a good education,” Casey replied primly.

“Oh my god, you are such a prude! Good to know some things never change. I bet you haven’t even been with anyone since you and Jesse broke up,” Vicki replied smugly.

“Hey! We didn’t break up that long ago, some people – and I am talking about people here – need time to move on,” Casey said with a sneer. “What do you know about it anyways? I could totally have a boyfriend.”

“As if! I know you, Space Case. You probably spent a week in your ‘maybe I should call him and get back together’ phase and then another two weeks in your ‘why doesn’t anyone love me enough to live up to my ridiculous standards’ phase. Now you’re in the ‘I don’t need a man’ phase and next month it’ll be the ‘dating anything with two legs and a dick because I’m desperate’ phase until you finally settle down with someone who is so not right for you. Rinse. Repeat,” Vicki said with another laugh.

“I do not have phases! And I am not desperate! I totally have a boyfriend! A totally hot boyfriend!” Casey shouted, her temper getting the best of her.

“Who?” Vicki yelled back. Casey racked her brain for a name – any name, it didn’t matter. Vicki was in Toronto. There was no way she would be able to tell if Casey were lying or not.

“I knew it – you’re trying to make someone up right now. You don’t have a boyfriend,” Vicki replied with a laugh.

“Derek! I’m dating Derek Venturi!” Casey shouted in a moment of panic. She wasn’t going to dissect how ‘Derek = hot’ got lodged in her brain. She wasn’t.

Vicki’s laughter instantly stopped, “WHAT?”

“You heard me. I’m dating Derek. You know – the guy you always wanted but never really got,” Casey replied with a smirk. She was blatantly ignoring the panic that was forcing its way up her throat. She tried to take a deep breath but that just made her chest feel tighter.

“The coolest guy in London is dating the biggest keener that Toronto or London and now Kingston has ever seen?” Vicki asked. Casey rolled her eyes and bit her lip.

“Yeah. He is,” she replied meekly. Why the hell did she say Derek’s name? Could she have picked a more unbelievable person?

“When?”

“When what?”

“When did you two start dating?”

“At Nana’s last summer,” Casey said quickly. It was the last time she’d seen Derek in person before they were reunited at Queen’s (she’d come home for Christmas but Derek was visiting Abby with Marti and Edwin). They had been closer that summer than they had ever been – things had changed between them. So, it was more of a fudge than a straight up lie.

“Last summer? You’ve been dating since last summer?” Vicki replied.

Casey grimaced and began to chew on her fingernail. She was a writer and an actress. She could come up with a good story. She knew she could. Think of it as an improve game, Casey. Think of Bob.

“Not really, I mean that’s when we first figured out our . . . feelings but I freaked. Why else would I put off school to go to New York? I needed some space,” she replied.

“But what about Jesse? Your mom said you met him while at Nana’s,” Vicki countered. Casey was going to kill her mother. It was one thing to gossip but gossiping about Casey to her worst enemy’s mother? Worst idea ever, Nora!

“Like you said – we weren’t serious,” Casey practically whispered. Which of course wasn’t true. They had been serious. She had loved him. He had been her everything for over a year. It had killed her to leave New York but she had promised herself that she would get her degree before settling down. Jesse had understood – at least he said he did. But Vicki didn’t need to know all of that.

“Called it! So, you worked things out with Derek?” Vicki asked, excitedly. This was juicy gossip. Vicki was drawn to gossip like a shark to chum.

“Yeaup!” Casey replied, popping the p.

“Do your parents know?”

“No!” Casey practically screamed. “And you can’t tell them. We were going to do it ourselves. You know. When the time was right.”

“Wow, Case. I never pegged you for the secret romance,” Vicki replied breezily. Casey knew that Vicki didn’t believe her but at least she had stopped asking questions.

“I can’t wait to see what kind of couple you are when I visit next week. I’ll email you the details, cuz. Tell that hunk of a boyfriend I said hi!”

Casey’s phone beeped and the call ended.

She stared at the phone, her mouth hanging open, “What have I done?”

***

“Der-ek!” Casey yelled as she pounded on his door. “Derek, open this door! I know you’re home! Open up!”

“Listen, sweet bottom. If you’re that desperate for some loving, I can help you out down here,” someone yelled from the end of the hall.

“Sweet bottom? Ew,” Casey whispered to herself. Thank god she was living in an off-campus building. All of her neighbors were nice thirty-somethings with office jobs and Priuses.

“Der-,” Casey started before the door was thrown open and a very pissed off Derek stepped into the hall.

“What the flying fuck do you want, Space Case? You do realize it’s way past your bedtime right? This better be life or death because you are interrupting,” Derek hissed.

“Don’t curse, it’s crude. I need to talk to you,” Casey said quickly, wringing her hands.

“Is the fam okay?”

She nodded.

“You’re okay? No fatal injuries or major illnesses?”

Again, she nodded.

“Apocalypse?”

Casey rolled her eyes, “Der-eeek.”

“Then I don’t see what there is to talk about at two in the morning. Go home, Case. I’ll call you tomorrow.”

He stepped inside the doorway, closing the door behind him. She quickly shoved her foot in between the door and the frame.

“Shit!” she shouted when the door crushed her foot. This was not a well-planned move.

“Are you insane? Don’t answer that, I know the answer. Yes!” Derek shouted. He kicked at her foot with his bare toes, trying to shut the door in her face.

Casey pushed at the door, grunting, “Der-ek. I need to talk to you. It’s important.”

“Hey, is everything alright down there? Do you need help or something, lady?” the catcaller from earlier shouted down the hall.

“Goddammit. She’s fine!” Derek called. “Fucking come in, you psychopath.”

He stepped away from the door without warning. Casey fell forward, barely catching herself before face-planting on his living room carpet. Trying to salvage her dignity, she held her nose in the air and brushed some imaginary dirt off of her jacket.

“You have five minutes,” Derek said as he sat down in his armchair. Casey moved to sit on the couch but Derek held his hand up, “Don’t make yourself comfortable. You’re not staying long. Five minutes and then you’re out.”

“Five minutes? Are you serious? What else could you possibly be doing right now?” Casey asked, realizing too late what she’d said. This was Derek which meant there was probably some girl in his room.

“I could be doing Nina, the redhead from my psych class, but instead I am out here entertaining you while she is on my bed – naked,” Derek explained slowly with a smirk.

Casey rolled her eyes at how predictable he could be, “Ugh. Derek, do you have to be so crude?”

“Do you have to be such a prude? You have three minutes.”

“And since when do you take psychology? I thought you were doing sports management – what does psychology have to do with that?”

“Since last semester and unlike certain people – you know, the kind who have sticks up their asses and are preventing me from getting laid – I am broadening my horizons. One minute,” he said through a clenched jaw.

“ItoldVickiyouweremyboyfriend,” Casey blurted out. She quickly covered her face with her hands and waited for Derek to freak out.

When she didn’t hear anything, she peaked through her fingers. Derek was gone.

“Derek?” Casey shouted, taking a step towards his bedroom. She quickly moved out of the way when a very irritated redhead burst through the door.

“For fuck’s sake Derek. I thought it was going to be just us tonight – you fucking promised me!” she whined as she grabbed her jacket.

“I know, I know, but my psycho step sib needs me, okay? The last thing I need is her running back to our parents bitching about how I didn’t help out,” Derek replied. Nina rolled her eyes and looked at Casey before turning back to Derek.

“Step-sister? Do you seriously think I’m going to buy that? You scheduled more than one date, didn’t you? I can’t believe you. Pig,” she snapped, hitting Derek’s chest.

“Definitely step-sister – not, not anything else,” Casey sputtered, making a face at the insinuation.

“I’m not stupid. Don’t bother calling me again, Derek, and you can totally forget about those psych notes. Good luck actually paying attention in class for once,” Nina replied, rolling her eyes.

“Wait, no, Nina!” Derek shouted as Nina stormed through the door. It felt like the whole apartment shuddered when she slammed the door shut.

“You are the worst thing that has ever happened to me,” Derek mumbled.

“I’m sorry! I panicked,” Casey complained.

“Why the hell did you choose two in the morning to panic? Couldn’t your freak out wait until morning?” Derek moaned. Casey shrugged and sat down in his armchair, running a hand through her hair.

“Get out of my chair,” Derek snapped, before shoving himself into the gap between her and the back of the chair.

“Okay! I’m getting up,” Casey snapped back. She elbowed him in the side before slipping off the edge of the chair and landing on the floor. Derek smirked as she stood up with a huff.

“So. You told Vicki what now?”

“That you’re my boyfriend,” Casey replied slowly.

“Why the hell would you say my name? You are certifiable, you know that?”

“I know it was dumb! But she was giving me shit about Jesse and then she was like ‘psh you totally don’t have a boyfriend’ and I was like ‘I so do!’ and then I may have blurted out your name because I knew it would make her super jealous and it was the first thing that popped into my head,” Casey rambled. She paced in front of Derek, wringing her hands and worrying her lip.

Derek started chuckling and rubbed his hand over his face, “I don’t know which is funnier – you trying to lie or the fact that Vicki bought it.”

“Nothing about this is funny, Derek! I don’t even know if she bought it, okay? She said she couldn’t wait to see what kind of couple we were. What is that even supposed to mean?”

“That she knows you’re lying and she’s going to call your bluff,” Derek said with a laugh.

“Der-ek, don’t laugh! This is serious!” she screeched as she kicked at his shin.

“No, it’s not. It definitely was not worth ruining my night with Nina. Just own up to the lie,” Derek replied, brushing his hand away.

“Der-ek! I can’t do that. Do you know how embarrassing that would be? She’d never let me live it down,” Casey complained as she threw herself on the couch. She buried her face into the cushions and kicked her feet. She was due a proper tantrum – it had been at least a few months since her last major freak out.

“I’m sure you’ll survive, Klutzilla,” Derek said.

“Derek, are you – the king of lies – really telling me to tell the truth?” Casey asked. She sat up and gave him the same challenging look she had when they’d bet on who would get their license first. It had always worked in high school. He could never resist that smirk.

“Nice try but the last thing I need is for people to think that I would ever date you,” Derek replied.

“This isn’t high school! Derek, people don’t even know me on campus yet! There is no way that this could ruin whatever rep you have,” Casey explained slowly.

“I know you, Case, and it’s only a matter of time until your keener-ness shows itself. I’m not willing to take the risk. You’re just going to have to own up to it.”

“Der-ek! She’s coming to visit next week,” Casey said. Time to change tactics. She pouted and batted her eyelashes, hoping that she was channeling Marti.

“So?” he asked, totally unmoved.

“So, can you be nice, for once, and just play along?”

“Play along?” Derek asked with a snort.

“Please?” Casey said with a wide smile. “It won’t be too bad and it’ll only be a few days, what can happen in a few days? After she’s gone we can go back to normal, pretend like it never happened. Think of it as a prank!”

“You want me to pretend to be your boyfriend? To make Vicki jealous and hide your piss poor love life?” Derek asked with a raised eyebrow. “Are you sure you want that?”

“My love life is not piss poor! Besides, it’s not like I want to be in this position but desperate times call for desperate measures!”

“If it’s so great then you wouldn’t be here begging me to be your boyfriend. God, desperate is right. I wish I had a camera,” Derek mumbled.

“Der-ek! Fake boyfriend! Emphasis on the fake! And I am not desperate! Why does everyone think I’m desperate?” she whined.

She had officially lost her mind. At least she would have Derek there to document it for posterity. Or maybe that was a bad thing? Probably a bad thing.

“Okay.”

“Okay?” she beamed.

“For a price.”

Chapter Text

“Name it,” Casey said, ignoring the way her stomach dropped. Derek almost always wanted something she wasn’t willing to give.

He stroked his chin and stared up at the ceiling. She guessed it was supposed to be diabolical or something. It wasn’t working. The only time Derek Venturi scared her was when he stopped joking. Right now, all she could see was the joke. The joke that her first semester at university was going to be. Casey closed her eyes in mortification. How was she ever going to come back from this?

“Come on, Derek,” she sighed.

“Gas money for a month,” Derek replied. She started to smile when he continued, “Tutoring whenever I need it – minus the lecture about my study habits.”

“Fine,” Casey replied. Those weren’t so bad. They could be a lot worse. She stood to leave, but Derek grabbed her hand.

“One more thing – this fake relationship? I get to call the shots,” Derek said softly.

“Excuse me?” Casey hissed. She yanked her arm away from his hand. She leaned over him, glaring and crossing her arms. This seemed more like a Derek demand.

“This whole fake boyfriend thing? I get to make up how we got together. I get to decide how we interact as a couple. I. Am in. Charge,” Derek said with a growing smile.

“No way,” Casey replied, standing up straight and shaking her head. There was no way in hell that she was going to give Derek Venturi any kind of control over her life.

“Then you can tell Vicki what a big fat liar you are,” he replied. Satisfied with himself, he leaned back in the armchair with his hands behind his head.

He arched an eyebrow at her, waiting for her answer. Casey worried at her lip. Her eyes darted around the room, trying desperately to try and figure something out. There had to be something else that she could give him – something sweeter but she couldn’t think of it. It made sense that Derek would want to call the shots. It would give him the perfect opportunity to embarrass her. As if pretending to be his girlfriend wasn’t going to be embarrassing enough.

“I haven’t got all night, Space Case. What’s you answer?” Derek sing-songed.

“Fine!” Casey huffed.

Derek stood from his chair in one smooth motion. He was barely an inch away from her. She could feel his breath on her face. They’d never had any issues about personal space when they were in high school. She could remember a few too many times when they were this close, eyeing each other - waiting for the other to crack. But for the first time, she felt uncomfortable. They’d been apart too long for this to seem natural anymore.

“Come by tonight around 5,” Derek said softly, a smirk playing on his lips. Lips that were too close to her. Taking a deep breath, Casey stepped back.

“Why?”

“That’s when your lessons begin,” he replied with a shrug.

“Lessons?” Casey asked with a raised brow.

“Derek Venturi’s School for Romantic Losers. I’m going to teach you how to be a proper girlfriend,” Derek said with a smile. “Free of charge, of course.”

“Der-ek! I am an excellent girlfriend!” Casey shouted.

She shoved at his chest but he barely moved. He giggled, the annoying one that managed to be adorable and condescending at the same time. Casey shook her head, promptly forgetting that she had ever called anything Derek did adorable.

“If you were such a great girlfriend then you wouldn’t be single,” Derek said. Casey opened and closed her mouth in shock. “You look like a fish.”

“You are such an incredible jerk, Derek Venturi!” Casey shouted, shoving at him again.

“Yeah, I am pretty incredible,” he said smugly. Casey huffed and spun on her heel, heading to the door.

“Casey,” Derek called out.

“What?” she snapped with her hand on the doorknob.

“Did you – uh, did you drive or walk?” he asked, rubbing at the back of his neck.

“I drove,” she replied, pulling her car keys from her pocket. He sighed and nodded. He shoved his hands into the pockets of his sleep pants and leaned back on his heels.

“Text me when you get home?”

Casey rolled her eyes and nodded, “Night, Derek.”

“Night.”

***

“Okay, so explain this to me one more time,” Emily said.

Casey rolled her eyes and held the phone to her ear with her shoulder. She reached into the box at her feet and pulled out some more books, scanning over the titles to figure out how she wanted them organized.

“Vicki was being . . . Vicki and I, kind of, blabbed about Derek being my boyfriend to get her to shut up,” Casey said quickly.

“And she believed you?” Emily asked.

“I don’t know. She sounded like she did but then she just invited herself to visit next week. So, maybe she doesn’t?” Casey replied.

Romance novels did not belong next to horror novels. That much Casey was sure of as she shifted some books around. She frowned at the shelves. Moving romance put it next to her old science textbooks (she never threw out textbooks, you never knew when you needed them) and that wouldn’t work either.

“Em, should my science textbooks go next to horror or science fiction. Or should they be on an entirely different shelf separate from fiction in general?”

“Are you seriously asking me that? You drop a bombshell about you and Derek dating –“

“Fake dating,” Casey inserted.

“Fake dating and then expect me to care about how you organize your bookshelf?” Emily snapped.

“Emily, a well-organized bookshelf leads to a well-organized home which leads to a well-organized life,” Casey explained.

“You aren’t going to ever have a well-organized life if you keep getting yourself into ridiculous situations with Derek,” Emily pointed out.

“Oh, please. How many times has something like this happened?” Casey said with a laugh.

“You remember Bob or Trevor or your awkward friend date with Noel or getting locked in the bathroom? I mean, there is a precedent of you getting into dumb situations with him,” Emily said softly.

“Okay, so, all of those things may have happened and they may have happened because Derek pissed me off. But that doesn’t mean the rest of my life isn’t going to be great! I won’t be around Derek forever – just until he graduates and leaves Kingston,” Casey insisted. She decided that textbooks deserved their own shelf. It really just didn’t make any sense to have non-fiction next to fiction.

“I don’t think you’ll ever be able to live a Derek-free life,” Emily said softly.

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Think about it, Case. You were in an amazing relationship with Jesse. You were living the dream in New York. You were away from Derek. And what did you do?”

Casey chewed on her lip, waiting for Emily to answer her own question. She had no idea where this was going.

“You called him every other day. You Skyped. You texted. You could have been totally Derek free for a year and a half but you chose not to be. And then when that year was up instead of saying fuck it, excuse my French, and continuing with your amazing life you came back to Canada and back to Derek.”

“So, I kept in touch with him. So what? He’s family. Plus, I couldn’t just give up on school,” Casey said with a serious lack of conviction. She had never thought about why she kept in touch with Derek. He was the bane of her existence in London but when she had gone to New York it seemed natural to keep in touch.

Leaving New York had nothing to do with Derek. She’d been looking forward to getting her degree ever since she was old enough to know what a degree was.

“Whatever you say, Case. What is this lesson supposed to be?”

“I don’t know. Derek said I needed to learn how to be a ‘proper’ girlfriend. Like he would know what a proper girlfriend is! The cad wouldn’t know one if one hit him in the face,” Casey snapped.

“Uh, you do remember that I dated him, right?”

“Em, you know I don’t mean you. You are way too good for him, always have been,” Casey replied with a sniff.

She had hated it when Emily had started dating Derek. The thing that bugged her most is that Derek had never actually seemed interested in Emily. He just wanted a date to the prom and then all of the sudden the two of them are an item. How does that even work? Thank god, Emily had enough sense to end it after graduation.

“But the point still stands – what in the world could he ever hope to teach me? I am an excellent girlfriend,” Casey said.

“I don’t know, Case. You do have some pretty high standards,” Emily said sheepishly. Casey threw herself onto her couch and groaned, grabbing her phone when it slipped away from her ear.

“Emily! They aren’t high! They are perfectly attainable, the guy just needs to actually try,” Casey whined.

“I don’t know, Case. I don’t think anyone could ever follow all of your rules,” Emily replied.

“Why are we even talking about my rules? What do you think Derek’s are going to be? You dated him, you have insider information, right?” Casey asked with a silly giggle.

“I may have dated him but that does not mean I knew what was going on in that boy’s head. Derek Venturi is a total mystery to me. Always has been and, probably, always will be,” Emily replied with a weak laugh.

“Oh, Em, I thought you were over him,” Casey said softly.

“I am. I swear but I can’t help be a little bitter, you know?” Emily replied quickly. “Don’t worry about me, Case! I’m fine. Besides, the guys at Western are pretty incredible.”

“Incredible, huh? Any new boyfriends on the horizon then?” Casey asked with a smile. Emily laughed.

“Maybe but I don’t want to talk about it. I might jinx it. Besides, shouldn’t you be heading out for your lesson with Derek?”

“Thanks for reminding me. I can’t believe I’m doing this. Pray for me, Em. Pray,” Casey said with a sigh.

***

Naturally, it started raining halfway through her walk to Derek’s place. She didn’t live far from his building, only a twenty-minute walk. The sun had been shining when she left her apartment and it seemed like the perfect opportunity to get some exercise. She’d walked everywhere in New York, she felt lazy when she drove anywhere – especially when he lived so close to her.

She was shivering and soaked to the bone by the time she got to Derek’s door. She knocked once. The buzzing in her knuckles was the only indication that she had even touched a thing.

“And so the pupil arrives,” Derek said dramatically when he threw the door open. “Jesus Christ, Case. I knew that I could make girls wet but don’t you think this is overkill?”

“You’re a pig,” she muttered.

“I know you can’t handle my sexual magnetism but that doesn’t mean you have to go to such extremes. The metaphor is a tad overdone,” he said with a smirk.

“I walked for twenty minutes in the rain. I am not in the mood, Der-ek,” she said softly. Her teeth clacked together and she held her arms stiffly at her sides. He grabbed her by the shoulders, maneuvering her into the apartment. He rubbed his hands up and down her arms, trying to get some warmth back into her limbs.

“Why the hell did you walk? It’s fucking raining, Case,” he snapped.

“Language,” she said. “It was sunny when I left.”

“Ever heard of checking the weather, Spacey?” he asked with a crooked grin. “I think I have some clothes that’ll probably fit you in my room. You’re drenched.”

“I am not wearing anything from your one night stands, Derek,” Casey said. Some feeling was coming back to her lips and the buzzing feeling in her arms was lessening but she still jerked violently from the cold.

“Actually, they’re from an ex-girlfriend. So, you know, more appropriate or something,” he replied.

“Don’t care. Give me some of your clothes. Clean clothes,” she said. He stopped rubbing her arms and took a step away before pressing his hand to her forehead.

“Are you sure you didn’t get sick on your way over here? You want to wear my clothes? Willingly?” he asked with a smirk. She shook her head, scattering droplets of water everywhere.

“I’ve done it before and it’s not willingly. I’m soaking wet and freezing,” she snapped before shoving him out of the way and stomping to his bedroom.

Of course it was a pigsty. Why would his bad habits change just because he moved away? She was pretty sure that his lack of hygiene was even worse than it had been in London. Trying not to breathe too deeply, she rummaged through his dresser until she found a clean t-shirt and a pair of jeans that were way too small for him.

“Try not to drip all over my things,” Derek said from the doorway.

“If someone were a better person, I wouldn’t have had to come in here at all,” she replied with a raised eyebrow. “Where did you get these jeans? They’re like three sizes too small for you.”

“Shrunk them,” he replied with a shrug.

“You shrunk them? How in the world did you shrink jeans?”

“Have you ever seen me do laundry? Like, ever?” he replied. She nodded in understanding. When he continued to stand there she made a face and waved him away. He rolled his eyes but turned out of the room, shutting the door behind him.

She quickly stripped. She paused at her bra and panties. They were drenched and she didn’t think she could handle sitting around in squishy, wet underwear. Biting her lip, she ditched both items and slipped into Derek’s clothes. He didn’t need to know and she’d wash everything before she gave it back to him.

She grabbed a towel that was draped over his, obviously unused, desk chair. She gave it a quick sniff and then used it to try and dry her hair. Thankfully, she’d kept it short while she was in New York so it was mostly dry when she stopped.

“Derek, what girlfriend?” Casey asked as she stepped out of the room.

“Debbie. We dated for a few months last year, on and off again last semester,” he explained absent-mindedly. His eyes were flitting over her outfit and for a split second she felt self-conscious. But then she remembered that it was Derek and that she didn’t care.

“You never told me about any Debbie,” she said with a frown. She sat down on the couch, pulling her legs under her.

“There wasn’t anything to tell. We dated. We broke up. We fucked,” he replied with a shrug.

“Language,” she reminded him.

“Why do you do that? Marti isn’t around. It’s just us. Who cares?” Derek snapped suddenly irritated.

“Because it’s crude and I don’t like it,” she replied. “You don’t have to curse so much. I don’t know why you do it.”

“Maybe because I like to. I like something. I do it. That is the way of Derek,” he replied. “Four years living together and you haven’t picked up that?”

“I thought that maybe you would have grown up by now,” she replied with a sniff. Derek laughed and sat down next to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. She instantly stiffened and tried to move away from him but he gripped her shoulder.

“Alright, first two rules of dating Derek Venturi: 1. Stop giving me shit for my fucking language. Get the fuck over it. Shit. 2. Derek Venturi is a handsy guy, which means you need to be comfortable with me touching you,” he said quickly. Casey rolled her eyes and tried to relax into Derek. She leaned into him a little more, angling her knees towards him and putting a hand on his knee.

“Okay. Can’t call you out on your potty mouth and contact. I think I might survive that. Maybe,” she said slowly, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

“I doubt it but we’ll see. Okay, so backstory – what have you told Vicki so far?” he asked, leaning back into the couch.

“We figured out our . . . feelings at the lake last summer. I freaked out and took the job in New York to get away from you. We worked things out when I got to Queen’s,” she said quickly.

“You came after me,” he said with a nod. Casey sat forward and looked back at him.

“I don’t think so, Venturi,” she said with a laugh. “I’m the one that ran away to New York, remember? If I’m going to freak out that badly why would I be the one to go after you?”

“I call the shots, remember? If I say you came after me then you came after me. We got to make this realistic,” Derek replied.

“How does me going after you make anything about this realistic?”

“Because I would never, purposefully, go after a keener. I, unlike your ex-boyfriends, have some self respect,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“Is it possible for you to do this and not be a total jerk? Please?” Casey asked. She rubbed her face and leaned back on the couch, forgetting about Derek’s arm. He gripped her shoulder and shook her lightly.

“It’ll be okay, Space Case. You’ve got Derek, the master of love and the king of lies, to help you out. By the end of this, you might actually be interesting enough for a guy to stick around longer than a few months,” he said with a saccharine smile.

“Shut up Derek,” she said softly, shoving him with her shoulder. “So, I went after you?”

“Yeah, you realized that you couldn’t resist the wonder that is me any longer,” he started. Casey rolled her eyes and tried not to gag. “I, naturally, refused and, to escape the temptation and the heartbreak, you ran off to New York with Jesse.”

“That sounds terrible, Derek! You’re making me out to be some panicky, emotional . . . teenager!” Casey yelled. “What about you? I mean, how did you react to this whole thing?”

“Like the calm, cool, and collected individual that I am. Because – here’s the thing – I always knew that I wanted you but you were my step-sib and the biggest keener ever. So, naturally out of self-preservation, I never made a move,” Derek replied with a smile.

“Why do you get to be the one that always knew? Why not me?” Casey asked with a raised brow.

“Do you really think that if you had feelings for me this whole time you wouldn’t have told me? Think about it. Can you even keep that kind of stuff to yourself? If you hadn’t blabbed then Klutzilla would have happened the second you met me,” Derek explained.

“Okay, fine, but what about Derek always gets what Derek wants?” Casey asked with a raised eyebrow. “Or Derek likes so Derek does?”

“Here’s the genius – I didn’t want to want you. So, it becomes this whole dramatic bullshit story of, I don’t know, me pining for you from afar. You chicks love shit like that,” Derek said with a laugh.

“You are a terrible person, Derek Venturi,” Casey said slightly awed.

“I know,” he said with a content sigh.

“But seriously, how long have you been thinking about this? I mean, talk about detailed. Are you speaking from personal experience? Is there something you want to tell me, Derek?” Casey asked with a smile.

“Gross. Shut up, Klutzilla,” Derek said with a laugh. He shoved at her head and stood up.

“I think you loooooove me, Derek Venturi,” Casey replied with a laugh.

Derek smiled and shook his head, “Give it up, Space Case. You’re just jealous because I’m a genius and you are not.”

“You? A genius? As if,” Casey scoffed. He rolled his eyes and opened the closet. He pulled out a box of what looked like VHS tapes.

“What are you doing now?” Casey asked, warily.

“Now is when we watch old videos of my games and you learn how to compliment the greatness that is me,” Derek said with a smile.

“Der-ek! I went to half your games in high school. I’ve seen you play. I really don’t think this is necessary,” she said with a nervous laugh. She had gone to some of his games but she spent most of them reading a book or covering her eyes so she didn’t have to see the violence.

“Rule number three in Derek’s guide to love: always know your man’s favorite sport. Rule number four: always be able to compliment your man on past victories,” he explained as he popped in the first tape.

“I think you’re just making these rules up as you go,” Casey mumbled. Derek shrugged and sifted through some magazines for the remote.

“Oh, I’m definitely making these up as I go but that doesn’t mean they won’t work. Now, shut up and pay attention,” he replied with a victorious grin as he waved the remote in her face.

“Why do you even have these? Or a tape player, for that matter?” Casey asked. She knew Derek was conceited but she didn’t know he was this bad.

“Coach sent them to me last semester. I wanted to put together a highlight reel, maybe send it to some big leagues sports agents,” he explained quickly as he sat down next to her. She automatically leaned against him, his hand resting on her knee.

“Can’t we watch that?” she whined. A highlight reel seemed so much more bearable than watching video after video.

“I never finished it. Besides, you need to actually learn how hockey is played,” he said with a sigh.

“Like I am ever going to let you teach me about a sport again!” Casey snapped.

“That was football. This is hockey. This is important,” Derek said with a patronizing shake of his head. Casey rolled her eyes and settled into the couch as Derek pressed play.

Chapter Text

The sound of the white noise jolted Casey awake. She rubbed her eyes, looking around her. For a second, she panicked. This was not her apartment. This was . . . this was Derek’s living room in Derek’s apartment in Canada. She let out a sigh of relief and settled back into the couch. She probably fell asleep during the fourth tape.

“Scoot over, Spacey. My neck hurts,” Derek murmured while he shifted under her.

Casey sat up straight, fully awake. She’d fallen asleep on Derek and from the looks of his mussed hair, he must have fallen asleep as well. They had napped. On a small couch. Together. Cuddling. This was definitely more than just practicing how to be comfortable around each other.

He yawned and stretched, his shirt riding up a little revealing the Statue of Liberty boxers she had sent him after her first paycheck. Casey turned away, pretending that she hadn’t noticed what type of boxers he was wearing. Again, way beyond the whole practicing to be in a relationship thing.

“Why did you let me fall asleep?” she said, smacking at his knee.

“Excuse me but I don’t exactly know how to control you,” he mumbled. He sat up and wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Hungry?”

“Starving,” she said, slipping out from under his arm. He made a face at her before stumbling into the kitchen. “You’re not actually going to try and cook are you?”

“Hell no. There’s a Chinese place that delivers that’s really fucking good,” he replied with snort.

“Lang-,” she started but cut herself off. Pressing her lips together, she stared at her knees. She could do this. She could. “Do they have tofu?”

“You still eat that crap?” he asked from the kitchen.

“Yes, it’s good for you,” she said through clenched teeth. She balled her hands into fists and pressed them into her thighs.

“Well, I am not paying for any of your healthy junk. If you want me to pay you need to eat what I eat. Hey! Let’s add that to the rules – rule number five: you eat only things a normal college student eats. That means beer, pizza, fries, ramen, and anything else that’s cheap and greasy,” he said with a laugh.

“Der-ek! You can’t change the way I eat! That has nothing to do with being in a relationship with you,” Casey yelled from the couch. She resisted the urge to rush into the kitchen and beat him senseless.

“Hey, nothing about this situation is fair, princess. You’re the one who got us into this. You’re just going to have to bear the consequences,” Derek said with a shrug as he walked back in with a menu.

“That’s – that is bullshit, Derek Venturi,” she said with wide eyes. Derek laughed and clutched his sides. “What is so funny?”

“You cursing. I never thought anyone could make cursing so damn keener-ish but there you go. Casey McDonald, setting the precedent like always,” he said with a smile.

“I do not curse like a keener,” Casey said. Derek raised an eyebrow and sat down in his armchair, leaning over the armrest.

“Say fuck.”

“That’s vulgar,” she said. She couldn’t meet his eye. He was staring at her with this stupid little smirk that she’d never seen before. She had been pretty positive that she knew all of his smirks. Maybe he developed new ones while she was away. That wasn’t fair. She had liked knowing all of his little facial tics.

“See? Keener,” he said with a satisfied smile. She shook her head. He was not going to win this one.

“Fuck,” she said quietly.

“Excuse me? What was that?” he asked. He cupped his ear and leaned towards her even more.

“Come on, Derek. I said it. Can we order food now?” she whined.

“No way. No food shall be ordered until I hear Princess Casey curse and fucking mean it,” he said with a shake of his head.

He leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms. He had the menu clutched in the hand furthest away from her. Without thinking, she launched herself across his lap and made a grab for it. Her fingers brushed over the corner of the glossy paper but he stretched his hand out adding another half a meter of distance.

She shrieked when he grabbed her by the waist, rolling his chest over her back. He lifted up a knee, trying to push her away from him. She twisted in his grasp and pushed at the arm wrapped around her. He tried to keep the hand with the menu in the air but when they started to tip forward he threw it forward to try and break their fall.

Casey gave up on trying to free herself and reached for the menu again. She managed to grab the front page of it and tugged lightly, trying not to rip it. Derek let go of her waist to smack of her hand. Casey grimaced and kicked her legs, kneeing him in the stomach. He groaned and pushed at her side. When she felt herself start to fall, Casey grabbed a fistful of Derek’s shirt. The two of them fell to the ground, Derek laying across Casey’s stomach.

“Ugh. Der-ek. Get off,” Casey groaned.

“No way. Not until you use some fucking foul-ass language,” Derek replied. He shifted so that he was straddling her hips and crossed his arms. He had that weird smirk on his face again.

“Der-ek! We are not fifteen anymore. This is immature,” she huffed. She sat up and tried pushing at him. He leaned back a little but ended up grabbing her wrists, pinning her to the ground.

“Says the girl who launched herself at me to get at a take-out menu,” he said with a roll of his eyes. She glared up at him before turning her head to the side. She was not going to give in. There was no way.

“Casey,” he sing-songed. She rolled her eyes and shifted her hips, trying to tip him over. She huffed when he just pressed down harder making it impossible for her to move.

“Fine! Get the fuck off of me you fucking asshole, goddamn it,” she shouted. Derek laughed but didn’t let go of her.

“Derek, get off,” she whined. She’d cursed. She’d done it. What more did he want?

“One more time – for science,” he said.

“Science?”

“Okay, so maybe, I want to, like, burn the image of ‘fuck’ coming out of your mouth into my memory. I mean, how many times is that ever going to happen?” he said with a lazy grin. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. Derek sighed and leaned forward a little, “Please, Case. For your booooyfrieeeend?”

She leaned up a little and hissed through clenched teeth, “Fake, goddammit. Fake boyfriend. You are not my fucking boyfriend.”

“There it is,” he said softly. He smiled at her and his eyes flicked to her mouth, “We should practice making out.”

“WHAT?” she screamed. She twisted and turned in his grip, bucking her hips to try and knock him off of her. He sat up quickly and slid off of her, lying down on the ground next to her. Casey sat up, blowing her hair out of her face.

“You are out of your mind if you think I am kissing you, Derek Venturi,” Casey snapped. Derek ran a hand over his face and turned to look at her.

“Casey, it’s just kissing. It doesn’t have to mean anything,” Derek said slowly. Casey glanced at him briefly before gluing her eyes to the other wall.

“It means something to me, Derek. We’re not all like you and the girls you bring home. Being physical with someone means something,” she said softly. She pulled her knees to her chest, resting her chin on them.

“It’s not going to look good if we never kiss. You’re supposed to be my fake girlfriend. I should be able to kiss you without you spazzing out,” he said. Casey turned her head, resting her cheek where her chin had been.

“Why are you so invested in this looking good? I mean, it’s not like you have anything to lose if Vicki finds out I lied,” Casey said with a shrug. “So, what gives?”

“Hey, you have no idea how badly I need gas money and tutoring,” he said with a laugh.

“I’m serious, Derek,” she said with a laugh. He sat up and bumped her shoulder with his own.

“Don’t worry about it. Isn’t there like a saying about horses and gifts?” he asked with a wave of his hand.

“Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” she said with a sigh. “Alright.”

“Alright?”

“Kissing. You and me. We can practice kissing,” she said with a slight blush. She thought she saw him start to smile before he slipped into his usual arrogant smirk.

“Knew you’d come to your senses. No one can resist the Venturi charm,” Derek said as he pushed himself off the ground.

“Uh huh. Can we order food at least? I’m starving,” Casey replied. She stood up and grabbed the forgotten menu off the ground. She scanned through the contents before handing it back to Derek.

“I want the sesame chicken, a spring roll, brown rice, and egg drop soup,” she said before sitting down on the couch. Derek shook his head at her and wandered into his bedroom to call in the order.

Casey waited until he shut the door before she started to panic. She hadn’t even thought about kissing Derek. How could she be such a moron? Of course she would have to kiss him. There was no way for them to pull this off without kissing. Casey fanned herself as she tried to imagine what it would be like to kiss Derek Venturi.

She doubted that he was bad at it. The revolving door of girls definitely attributed him some sort of skill even if she didn’t believe that for a minute. Of course, there was the ridiculous amount of gossip that she had not wanted to hear in the girl’s bathroom.

But what about her? She hadn’t exactly gotten complaints but there was that one time that she’d gone to kiss Sam and ended up spilling her milkshake in her lap and then getting her earring caught on his hat. There was no way that Sam hadn’t told Derek. He was probably expecting her to be a total spazz.

Hurriedly, she cupped her hand over her mouth to check her breath. It was definitely stale, post-nap breath. She reached for her purse and rifled through it until she pulled out a thing of Tic-Tacs. Popping at least six in her mouth, she continued searching until she pulled out her mango flavored lip gloss. She applied it, smacking her lips together and enjoying the way they stuck together slightly. She was running her fingers through her hair when she heard the bedroom door open.

“Food is on its way,” he announced. She nodded and kept her eyes on her purse. “Were you fixing your hair?”

“No!” she shouted, looking up at him quickly. He was smirking. Of course he was smirking. “Maybe. Not all of us like having a bird’s nest on top of our head, Derek.”

“Hey, this bird’s nest is a work of art. Do you know how hard it is to master having perfectly disheveled hair?” he said, pointing his finger in her direction.

“Oh, I remember the hours you spent preening in front of the mirror just fine,” she replied with a raised eyebrow.

“Hey, that was not preening. Guys don’t preen,” he replied as he threw himself onto the couch next to her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders again and Casey leaned into him. She hadn’t realized she’d done it until she noticed how close Derek’s mouth was to hers.

“Then what would you call it? Because from where I was standing that was definitely preening,” Casey said, trying to keep the banter going for as long as possible. Derek rolled his eyes and leaned forward, pressing his mouth to hers.

Casey froze.

“You know for this to work, you have to actually kiss me back,” Derek said softly after pulling back slightly. His lips brushed against hers and she could smell his breath. He must have had a mint or something. It was fresh and cool against her mango sticky lips.

“You can’t just kiss me without warning, you know,” she whispered back. She refused to admit that he’d surprised her or that his lips were softer than she thought they would be or that her heart was racing and not in the ‘I’m going to kill him’ way.

“If you’re going to pretend that you’re my girlfriend then I am going to kiss you whenever I want,” he replied. He still hadn’t moved back and Casey found herself leaning forward slightly. Their mouths were so close together that they might as well have been kissing but she kept talking, “Whenever you want? Why would you even want to?”

“Horse. Mouth. Gifts,” he mumbled before pressing his mouth fully to hers.

His thumb rubbed circles into her shoulder. His other hand hovered over her thigh, his fingers barely brushing hers. It was nice. Not the greatest kiss of her life but it wasn’t terrible either.

“You’re still not kissing me back, Case,” he said after pulling away again. “I’m pretty amazing but even I can’t make this look convincing if you just stand there while I kiss you.”

He had kept his mouth close to hers the whole time he was talking. The vibration of his voice against her lips throbbed through her body. She pressed down the urge to sigh into those lips. His tongue slipped out to wet his lips and she felt the slightest touch of it on her bottom lip.

“Did you put on lip gloss?” he asked.

“Yeah,” she replied with a shrug.

“Mango. I like it,” he said before kissing her again. This time he grabbed the back of her neck, letting go of her shoulder. His fingers tangled in her hair and pressed her more firmly against him. She slanted her mouth over his and clenched his thigh.

He kissed her like he meant it, his mouth needy and open. His other hand grabbed her waist and squeezed, sending a pleasant throb down her side. She groaned a little and turned into him. She moved her hand to his side, sliding her fingers beneath the hem of his shirt and brushing against the soft skin of his side.

He seemed to stutter for a minute, his lips losing any kind of rhythm they had. She smirked into the kiss, enjoying the knowledge that she could still surprise him. He wasn’t the only one to gain new smirks and secret girlfriends.

He recovered quickly, slipping his hand entirely under her shirt. He kneaded her side, making her gasp into his mouth. His hand was hot and large against her skin. When had his hands gotten so big?

She refused to be out done and swung her leg over his lap, settling him between her hips. She grabbed the sides of his head and angled his mouth up to hers. He fell back into the couch, pulling her with him. She huffed slightly when her chest fell into his but didn’t feel the need to move away.

He slid his hand from under her shirt to cup her ass. She flinched slightly at the contact but instantly sank down into his palm. He squeezed her ass, making her gasp. He took the opportunity to slip his tongue into her mouth. Casey groaned as he licked the roof of her mouth.

She pressed her hips down, grinding herself into his lap. She swallowed the moan that slipped up Derek’s throat and smiled into the kiss. His hips lifted up slightly, grinding back. Casey pulled away and buried her face into his neck, holding her breath. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to think through the haze.

“Casey,” Derek whispered. Casey pulled back and looked him in the eye. He was heavy lidded and his mouth was red and swollen. She could see the remnants of her lip-gloss on his lips. He looked perfectly disheveled like all of those celebrities who manage to walk around looking like they just had sex.

“Derek,” she whispered back. She continued to grind down on him, needing the friction. His hands squeezed her hips and he groaned again, throwing his head back. She pulled his head back up and smashed her mouth against his. He sucked her bottom lip into his mouth, running his tongue along it. She whined into his mouth and tried to press herself closer to him.

“Fuck this,” Derek mumbled against her mouth. He squeezed her hips and lifted her, turning so that he was on top of her. He ground down on her, burying his face in her neck. She dug her nails into his biceps and stifled another groan.

Casey grabbed his head and brought his mouth to hers again. She wanted that mouth. That stupid mouth with its stupid smirk and stupid insults. Everything about that mouth drove her crazy. Even this. Even kissing him was maddening.

She dug her fingers into his hair and wrapped her legs around his waist. He slid a hand up her side, skirting his thumb over her nipple, and grabbed the back of her head. He ran the fingers of his other hand along the waistband of her borrowed jeans, pausing by the button. She was about to nod, to give him permission, when the apartment buzzer went off jolting them both out of their haze.

“Food,” Casey said, her voice hoarse.

“Right. Food,” Derek replied. He swallowed lightly and pulled away from her. He dragged his fingers away from the button of her jeans, pulling her with him slightly, before staggering to the door. He buzzed the food guy in and turned around, pressing his back to the door.

Casey stayed spread out on the couch. She pressed the back of her hand to her forehead and tried to catch her breath. She wasn’t going to look at this . . . thing that happened too closely. She tried repeating that to herself over and over again but she couldn’t help the spiraling nature of her mind.

She’d made out with Derek.

She. Made out. With Derek.

Derek Venturi made out with her.

“You’re starting to freak out. Don’t do it,” Derek said from the door. He’d slid to the ground and was resting his head on his knees.

“How am I supposed to not freak out, Der-ek?” she snapped, looking up at him. She sat up on the couch and dug her fingers into the back cushions. “How am I supposed to react to what just happened?”

“You don’t have to react at all,” Derek ground out. “I told you. It’s just kissing. It doesn’t have to mean anything. It didn’t mean anything.”

Those four words socked her in the chest. She knew that when she’d agreed. She knew that it was all part of the ruse but that didn’t make her feel any better. She ran her fingers through her hair and nodded, “You’re right. You are right.”

“Casey – wait, what?” he said, his head snapping up.

“This didn’t mean a thing other than it’s been too long since I’ve had sex. This was nothing more than hormones,” Casey said with a firm nod. She pushed herself up from the couch and grabbed her purse. “I’m going home. When’s our next lesson?”

“Wait. You’re leaving? The food just got here,” Derek said, standing up as well.

“I’m not hungry anymore,” Casey replied with a shrug. “So, what are we doing next?”

Derek shook his head, blinking rapidly, “Are you sure you’re okay? I mean, not that I don’t appreciate the lack of a freak out but you’re not acting very Casey-ish.”

“Hey, it’s no big deal. I swear. I mean, you’re Derek. Why would I think anything would matter to you? It all just rolls right off. So, don’t worry about it, Der. Once again, you get off scot free. I’m fine,” Casey said through clenched teeth.

“Casey,” he started with a sigh but she cut him off.

“Don’t. Just don’t worry about it. Now, if you’ll move out of the way,” she said, shoving him to the side. She quickly unlocked the door and stepped into the hall almost running into the deliveryman. She smiled apologetically and said over her shoulder, “Let me know when you want to meet up again. I’ll text you when I get home. Later, Der.”

Chapter Text

“Sam, we have a code orange emergency on our hands,” Derek said calmly. He was stretched out on his bed, hand tangled in his hair. Things with Casey – okay, the one thing with Casey had gotten out of control. Derek and out of control did not work. Derek was all about the control. No one, definitely no girl and definitely not Casey McDonald, made Derek Venturi loose his cool.

“What’s the what, Der?” Sam asked.

“I made out with Casey,” he said in a rush. Derek heard a loud bang and then some scrambling on the other end of the line, “Sam?”

“Sorry. I dropped my phone. I thought you said that you made out with Casey,” Sam explained with an awkward laugh. Derek rolled his eyes.

“I did,” Derek mumbled. He rubbed at his eyes and sighed.

There had been a plan. He was going to help Casey out while helping himself out. Embarrass her as much as possible while getting paid and tutored to do it. It was perfect. He had been incredibly proud of himself that he was able to formulate it so quickly.

And then the make-out happened.

He had been telling the truth about wanting it to look real. If they were going to pull this off then they would need to look convincing. What he hadn’t planned on was enjoying himself as much as he did – no, not enjoying it . . . more like stepping into quicksand without a rope to pull him back.

It was Casey for Christ’s sake. Yes, she was female but Casey wasn’t just any girl – she was . . . Casey.

“What the hell happened, dude? Wasn’t this supposed be an easy scam?” Sam asked with a total lack of sympathy in his voice. Derek could picture his stupid ‘I told you so’ smirk. It made him sick. Derek hated to be the one on the other end of that look. Hated it.

“It is an easy scam! I just . . . got distracted,” Derek said with a shrug.

“Yeah, by Casey’s mouth!” Sam said. “Like usual!”

“It was not Casey that did the distracting. It’s just been a while and she was there and reactions happen. It’s biology,” Derek tried to explain. “What the hell do you mean like usual?”

“That is a piss-poor excuse, Der.”

“I know!” Derek groaned. He banged his head against his headboard. “Answer my question.”

“Just, you know, Casey will say something and then you’re obsessing over it until you can either prove her wrong or figure out a way to get back at her,” Sam said slowly. Derek snorted.

“That is not true, at all,” Derek said.

“I’m just saying, as your best friend and a passive observer, that you don’t have a lot of control when it comes to Casey,” Sam said. “Sorry, bro.”

“Shut up, Sam,” Derek snapped. This was not helping. At all. Why the fuck did he even call Sam? He didn’t need a voice of reason. He needed someone to pat his back and tell them there was a cure for temporary insanity.

It didn’t help that he couldn’t stop thinking about it, about the way she felt beneath him. She had always been stubborn but he had not expected that same stubbornness to come out while she kissed. (Not that he thought about kissing Casey prior to this incident but weren’t control freaks supposed to be subs in bed? He was positive that he had read that somewhere.) She had kept pushing back, making sure she was the one taking the lead or pushing those boundaries. It was bullshit.

Boundary pushing was definitely a Venturi job.

“So, did you like it?” Sam asked after a minute.

“EXCUSE ME?” Derek yelled.

“I asked if you liked it,” Sam repeated calmly.

“Why the hell would you think I enjoyed making out with Casey? I told you. Biology. Reactions happen. Doesn’t mean a damn thing,” Derek replied quickly, shaking his head.

“I think the dude doth protest too much,” Sam said.

“Huh?”

“Dude. Shakespeare.”

“Shakes-who?”

“The Bard, man. The Bard,” Sam said with an exasperated sigh. “You have got to start reading more.”

“Not all of us lost our minds and chose literature as a major, Sam,” Derek snapped.

“No, instead your insanity decided to show itself by making out with Casey,” Sam replied.

“I really regret telling you any of this. I really fucking do,” Derek ground out.

“You wound me, D. You wound me,” Sam said with a laugh. “When are you going to admit that, on a purely physical level, you think Casey’s a hottie? I mean, if she wasn’t, do you seriously think she would have dated so many guys in high school?”

“I will never admit to that. Ever. Those guys were all losers who clearly didn’t know a walking disaster when they saw one,” Derek replied. His voice might have squeaked.

“You do realize that I was one of those guys, right?”

Derek rolled his eyes and said, “I should have known from the start that you were a loser in disguise. First you mack Casey and now you’re a lit major. Where did I go wrong with you? Did you not get enough attention, Sammy?”

“Listen D, the facts are pretty simple – Casey was a hottie in high school, is a hottie in college, and will probably continue to be a hottie well into adulthood,” Sam said. “And hidden under layers of denial, you agree with me.”

“Goodbye, Sam,” Derek snapped before hanging up. Derek threw the phone across the room and stood up.

He paced back and forth trying to find a way to regain control. First things first, there would be no more kissing of any kind. At the very least, not in private because in private he was a lot more likely to try something that resembled last time. In fact, no more private time at all. Private time just spelled disaster. Next lesson, he decided, would have to be conducted out in public with things to distract him from thinking about the way Casey’s mouth felt and how much he liked her mango lip gloss.

Derek banged his fists against his head. He would definitely need to try to forget that the encounter had happened at all. That afternoon no longer existed. Memory deleted.

Derek sighed and threw himself back onto his bed. This was a mess, a very big mess, which he could not believe he’d gotten himself into. He covered his face with hands and groaned, flailing his legs around. He probably was going to burst into stress-induced tears (because there really was no other reason to cry – ever) when someone knocked on the door. Repeatedly.

Grumbling, Derek made his way to the front door and peered through the peephole. His heart shot into his throat when he saw Casey waiting on the other side. She had that talking-about-feelings face as she pulled her hair into a ponytail. This was the exact opposite of what he wanted to happen. He didn’t know why he thought Casey would play along with the forgetting-this-ever-happened game.

For a second, he debated ignoring her entirely and acting like he wasn’t home. That idea was smashed when she shouted through the door, “I know you’re home, Derek. I saw the Prince in the parking lot and I can see your shadow under the door. Open up, we need to talk!”

“God-fucking-dammit,” he muttered under his breath before pulling the door open. Donning an obviously fake smile Derek greeted his stepsister (remember that little bit of information, Derek?), “Casey! What a pleasant surprise.”

“Don’t act like you’re happy to see me. Believe me, I don’t want to be here either but I’ve heard from Vicki. She’s going to be here on Saturday.”

“She does realize that classes start on Monday, right? Doesn’t she have school?” Derek said with a frown.

“Yeah, well, that’s Vicki for you! Nothing gets in the way of something she wants and apparently she really wants to visit and see how boyfriend-y you can be,” Casey replied with a groan. “So, are you going to let me in or what? We have things to discuss.”

“Discuss? What do we have to discuss? Vicki here by Saturday, got it. I’ll be on my best boyfriend behavior on Saturday – which is four days away,” Derek said. He knew he was rambling but that was totally beside the point right now. Number one on his list was no alone time. Being in the apartment with him? Pretty sure that counted as alone time.

“I know that but we need to talk about what happened, Derek,” she said with a frown. She poked out her bottom lip and it went straight to his crotch. Bad plan, very, extremely, super bad plan.

“I don’t think so. It’s a thing that happened. No discussing needed,” he said with a shrug. She narrowed her eyes before pushing past him and sitting down on the couch. She pulled a notepad out of her purse and a pen before fixing her stupid, blue eyes on him.

“Seeing as you are totally incompetent, I have created a list of rule that I think we should follow,” she started. Derek rolled his eyes and shut the door.

“Is this you taking back the power? There are better ways to deal with your freak outs, you know,” Derek mumbled.

“Der-ek! For once in your life, would you please just sit down and listen?” she asked, her voice definitely tinged with hysteria. Derek rolled his eyes and plopped down in his armchair, throwing a leg over the armrest. He gestured for her to continue and rolled his eyes when she picked up her notepad again.

“Rule number one – any rules that Derek Venturi has laid out shall be ignored from this moment forward,” she started.

“How about no? Part of the agreement was that I get to call the shots,” Derek said.

“Yeah and you calling the shots led to us dry humping on your couch. Sorry, Der, but I’m not exactly confident in your leadership skills,” Casey replied.

Derek glowered and crossed his arms. He hated it when Casey called him Der. She only did it when she was pissed off, knowing how much it bugged him. Only the elite got to call him Der and Casey was definitely not amongst them.

“Look, what happened the other night was a fluke. It will never, ever happen again. Trust me on that one,” he said as clearly as he could. “Besides, it takes two to tango, princess.”

“Rule number two,” she said through clenched teeth. “Any and all physical contact will be conducted in public and solely for the believability of the fake relationship that Derek Venturi and Casey McDonald have entered into.”

“Casey, I never knew you were an exhibitionist,” Derek said with a smirk. “Hot.”

“Physical contact!” she shouted, trying to ignore him. “Will be limited to casual touches, hugs, and the occasional kiss on the lips – no tongue or groping.”

“Way to suck the fun out of everything, Space Case,” Derek grumbled. He rested his chin on his fist and raised his eyebrows at her. She was fuming. Her hands clutched her stupid notepad so tightly that her knuckles were turning white. Derek couldn’t remember the last time he’d gotten her so angry. He’d kind of missed it.

“You think what happened the other night was fun?” she hissed. “Making out with your sister was fun? Is that it?”

“STEP sister,” Derek replied. “Step as in not related by blood. As in nothing that happened was actually against the law. As in it’s really not as big of a deal as you’re making it out to be.”

“DER-EK! WE KISSED. WE. MADE. OUT,” she screeched, throwing her notepad at his head. She picked up the remote from the coffee table and threw that at him as well. And then it was a coaster and a toothpick and a balled up napkin, until she grabbed a pillow and just started beating him senselessly.

“CASEY!” Derek bellowed as he grabbed the pillow. She yanked on it but he didn’t let go. “Are you done freaking the fuck out? Jesus Christ, did you get more psycho while you were in New York?”

“How can you be so calm about all of this?” she whined before burying her face into the pillow in Derek’s hands.

“Because I am the king of cool,” Derek replied with a shrug. Casey said something into the pillow and shrugged her shoulders. Derek tapped the back of her head, “Want to share with the class?”

She sat up with a huff and brushed back the hair that had slipped free of her ponytail, “I can’t do this. I can’t. It was a stupid idea to begin with and I’m out.”

“You’re out? Just like that?” Derek asked. She looked past him and nodded. “You’re going to call Vicki up and tell her it was all a lie? You’re going to give her that ammunition for the rest of your life? You’re going to let Vicki win?”

He didn’t know why he was goading her. If she wanted out, then he should just let her do it. It’s not like he was the one who was going to be embarrassed for the rest of his natural born life. In fact, this was the perfect opportunity to get out of the whole thing without any fuss. Somewhere in the back of his mind, Derek heard Sam’s little comment about self-control and Casey being un-mix-y things. Derek, promptly, ignored it.

“Vicki will understand. She’s matured,” Casey said hesitantly. Derek tried not to snort but he couldn’t help it.

“Yeah and I’m a straight A student,” he mumbled. Casey groaned and covered her mouth. Her big blue eyes were wide and searching. He was pretty sure she was looking at him for an out but he wouldn’t do it. Somehow, he’d gotten committed to the con.

“I’m fucked,” she said behind her hand. Derek imagined the way her mouth looked when she said fuck and tried to keep his eyes from rolling back into his head.

They were alone. In his apartment. Again. And all he could think about was the high pitched whine she’d made when he’d sucked her lip into his mouth. Impending doom was on its way.

“Alright, so, you have rules. Let’s hear the rest,” he, practically, shouted. If his voice cracked slightly, he wasn’t going to acknowledge it. At all.

“You want to actually hear them?” she asked. Derek shrugged. He didn’t trust his voice right now. That was twice, TWICE, that his voice had cracked in the past 24 hours. He wasn’t going to acknowledge that both times Casey had been involved.

“Okay,” she said as she grabbed her notepad from his lap. (How had that thing gotten there? Why did her fingers have to brush against the denim of his pants? Why was he even thinking about any of this?)

“Rule number three – Derek Venturi will maintain a distance of at least half a meter at all times unless physical contact is needed for the sake of the false relationship.”

“Half a meter?” Derek asked with a raised eyebrow. “Why the hell half a meter? You know, negotiating was way easier when Ed and Liz did it for us.”

“Because you, clearly, aren’t capable of controlling your baser urges and so you have to be restrained,” Casey explained like it was obvious. “And don’t even think of calling them! This is twisted enough as it is – we don’t need to bring them into the mix.”

“Hold on a minute, princess,” Derek said. “Twisted? That’s the word you’re going to use? Twisted?”

“That’s what I said. Can you imagine how scarring it would be for them to think we were dating? Or just for them to imagine it?” Casey said. The hysteria was starting to creep back into her voice.

“Oh, I can imagine. Hell, I am living it! I’m going to be having nightmares for a week,” he said with a shiver.

“You’re the one who initiated the kissing!”

“So? You’re the one who crawled into my lap!”

“And you’re the one who suggested making out in the first place! It had never even crossed my mind,” Casey replied snottily.

“Oh, come on. You must have thought about it at least once,” Derek said with a snort.

“Der-ek! I would never think about you that way – EVER,” she replied. Derek rolled his eyes.

“You’re the one who instantly thought of me when you told Vicki that you had a boyfriend,” Derek pointed out.

“I explained that already! I wasn’t thinking.”

“So, it was a gut reaction to just loop me and boyfriend together? Very interesting,” he said with a smirk. He stroked his imaginary beard and looked at her through narrowed eyes. “I’m sure there’s a psych lesson in this somewhere.”

“You know what? There is. I can’t believe I didn’t see it until now. You’re projecting!” she said with a laugh. She bit her lip and snorted a couple of times as she tried to reign in her laughter.

Derek hoped he wasn’t obviously drooling as he watched her pull her plump bottom lip into her mouth with her teeth. He needed a cold shower. Desperately.

“Projecting?”

“Oh, come on Derek. They must have reached projecting in your psych lectures at some point,” Casey said with a huff.

“Uh, if you hadn’t noticed, but my direct line to notes for that class ran off because you came barging into my apartment in the middle of the night!”

“Der-ek,” Casey said with a roll of her eyes. “This isn’t high school anymore. You know you’re going to have to pay more attention to your studies. There won’t always be redheaded bimbos to help you out.”

“Nina is not a bimbo, okay?” Derek said with a frown.

“Don’t tell me that you actually liked her?” Casey asked with a snort.

“Is it really that unbelievable that I might actually be interested in someone?” Derek asked. He hadn’t been. Nina was cute and a great note taker but that was as far as the attraction went.

“Kind of, yeah,” she said with a shrug.

“I’ve had girlfriends before,” he said with a shake of his head.

“Girlfriends that you actually cared about?”

“Sally,” he replied instantly. “I loved Sally.”

Casey leaned back with a weird look on her face. It was somewhere between her guilt face and her disbelief face. (He wasn’t going to mention that he has her facial expressions categorized in his head. Or that he filed this one away under new expressions – right next to Casey saying fuck and Casey when she’s turned on and Casey after she’s been making out.)

“I didn’t know you loved her,” she said softly.

“Yeah, well, I wouldn’t try running off to Vancouver for just anybody, would I?” he mumbled.

“I guess not,” she said softly. Derek groaned and shook his arms out. He did not sign up to walk down memory lane.

“Can we not talk about Sally? What the hell are you on about with this projecting thing?” he snapped. Casey shook her head and sat up straighter.

“Projecting is when you don’t want to deal with your own failings so you push them onto other people. In this case, you are clearly attracted to me so you’re projecting those feelings onto me,” Casey explained slowly. Derek gaped at her, opening and closing his mouth.

“You look like a fish.”

“That’s ridiculous!”

“What? That you look like a fish? Cause you kind of do when you keep opening and closing your mouth like that,” Casey said before showing him what she meant.

“No! That whole projecting thing! I am not in any way, shape, or form attracted to you!” Derek said as he stood up and rubbed the back of his neck. He was pretty sure he laughed or maybe he screeched. He wasn’t sure. All he knew was that a high pitched sound escaped his mouth before he could stop it.

“I mean, it is the only logical explanation for your behavior. Why else would you agree to this whole charade unless you were secretly harboring feelings for me?” Casey went on with a mischievous glint in her eye. Derek didn’t like it. Then again when did he ever like anything Casey did?

A dark, evil, part of him instantly imagined the way Casey had tugged on his hair when he had ground into her just right and the little hiss she had let out against his neck.

He needed to get out of here.

“You know what? Fuck your rules. They all suck. Except the no kissing. That I can agree with,” Derek started with a wave of his hand. “We’re moving on to the next lesson.”

“You can’t just say fuck my rules!” Casey shouted as she stood up as well. “I have at least five more that we need to go over! Like rule number four – all lessons must be discussed and agreed on before they start.”

He was going to have to get used to her cursing. He couldn’t pop a boner every time she randomly let out an f-bomb.

“Fuck. Your. Rules,” he said, ignoring her cry of Der-ek. “You got to have your little moment of power but it’s over. We do this my way, remember?” he replied, towering over her.

“Fine, Der. What’s your way, then? Want to make out some more until Vicki gets here? That is how you judge relationships now-a-days, right? With how quickly you can get off?” she asked with a raised brow. Derek swallowed the lump in his throat and tried really hard not to imagine Casey getting him off.

“I. Do not. Want you,” he said as he leaned over her.

Casey rolled her eyes, “I think the lady doth protest too much.”

“Don’t fucking quote Shakespeare at me!”

“You recognized that?” she asked.

Derek rolled his eyes, “I do read, you know.”

He didn’t but she didn’t need to know that. Better to keep her on her toes.

“But who cares about the Bard? Next lesson – how to fucking throw down,” Derek said with a smile.

“But what about rule number four?” Casey mumbled.

“Oh my god, say it with me, Case. Fuck. Your. Rules,” he said with a groan. Casey pouted at him and he shook his head. “I want to hear you say it back. Need to know it’s sticking.”

“Der-ek!”

“You already dropped two f-bombs in the last half an hour. One more is not going to kill you. Now, say it,” he said.

She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, “Fuck. Your. Rules.”

“No, no – say fuck my rules. Say it right or get out,” he said with a smirk.

“You’re such a freak, Derek Venturi. Fuck. My. Rules. Happy?” she asked. Two f-bombs in a row. He definitely had a chub going on.

“Oh, yes. Hockey party. Tonight. I will be the rising hockey star and you will be my adoring girlfriend,” he replied with a nod. He smirked as Casey’s face dropped. This was going to be good.

Chapter Text

“Come on, Space Case, you were supposed to be ready like ten minutes ago,” Derek whined from the other side of the bathroom door.

“Derek, how many times do I have to tell you? If you want me to look good for this stupid party, then you’re going to have to be patient,” she snapped. Derek rolled his eyes and wandered back into the living room. There were still boxes everywhere from the move, though most of them were empty. Idly, he wondered how much unpacking she had done while freaking out about their little make-out session.

He was about to hit himself in the head when she finally flounced out of the bathroom in a cloud of fruity smelling girl-junk.

“How do I look?” she asked as she spun on a heel. Her jeans were too tight and too low slung. Her top didn’t have a back to it and he could see her sparkle pink toenail polish poking out from heeled sandals. She looked amazingly enticing.

“Like a troll,” he said with very little force behind it. It didn’t help that his voice sounding like a toad croaking.

“So, I look good. Great. Let’s go,” she said with a roll of her eyes. Blue eye shadow. Oh god, she had put on the ‘I want to look good and make guys drool’ blue eye shadow. He was suddenly regretting this entire plan. If he didn’t try to jump her bones then at least one of his teammates would. Yeah, definitely regretting this plan.

“You sure you don’t want to change? I mean, you’re going to this party as a taken woman – do you really want to be giving off that kind of message?” he asked while gesturing at her outfit. She frowned at him and looked down at what she was wearing.

“What message?”

“Oh, just that you’re down if they’re down,” he said with a concerned sigh. She narrowed her eyes at him and scrunched up her mouth which usually meant he was in for a lecture about feminism or something. Derek scratched his neck and waited for the inevitable explosion.

“It’s okay, Der-bear. I’m the adoring girlfriend tonight, remember?” she said with a smirk. Derek’s brow furrowed in confusion before Casey turned and walked out of the apartment, leaving the door open behind her. Derek stared at the open door before shaking himself and rushing after her, slamming it shut behind him.

This was definitely a bad idea.

***

The house was packed. The music was loud. The beer was flowing. Derek Venturi was in his element.

“Derek!” Rob yelled from his post by the sound system. Derek smiled and grabbed Casey’s wrist, dragging her with him.

“Robert! How’s it hanging?” Derek shouted as he walked up. Rob rolled his eyes and pulled Derek into a bear hug, lifting him up slightly. Derek tried to smile and patted Rob’s back. He hated when Rob did the whole hug thing. It always made him feel puny but then again, Rob was a big guy. It would be hard not to feel small next to him.

“Dude, you have been missing out on my parties something fierce this semester. If I didn’t know any better I’d think you were avoiding someone,” Rob said with a smirk. Derek rolled his eyes and scanned the room.

“So, how’s it looking tonight? Anything worth mentioning?” Derek asked, shoving his hands in his pockets.

“If you’re looking for Debbie, she’s not here yet,” Rob said with a laugh.

“Dude, how many times do I have to tell you – Debbie and I are very much over,” Derek snapped.

“I’ll believe it when I see you two with other people,” Rob said. Derek smirked and turned to Casey. She was staring off into the crowd, arms crossed over her stomach. Her entire body was rigid and it was obvious to anyone who was paying attention that she wasn’t comfortable.

“Oh, Casey? Meet Rob. Rob? Meet Casey,” Derek said as he turned Casey towards the giant. Rob grinned, eyes obviously scanning over Casey’s body.

“Casey? Nice to meet you,” Rob said while holding his hand out. Casey smiled at him shyly before shaking hands. “Don’t tell me you’re this guy’s date?”

“And if I am?” she asked with a raised brow.

“Well, first off, he’s a total douche. Second, you are too damn pretty to be wasted on a total douche,” Rob said with a playful punch to Derek’s shoulder. Derek gave him a tight smile and tried to push down the urge to punch Rob.

Yeah, okay, so Casey wasn’t actually his girlfriend or even really a date but that was not the point. Rob knew that Casey was there with him. Wasn’t there something in the guy code about eyeing another guy’s date? Not to mention, Rob had a girlfriend of his own to worry about. It didn’t help that Casey was smiling at Rob like he’d bestowed some ancient wisdom or something. Derek was not a total douche – at least, not all of the time. Not often enough to earn the nickname of douche.

“Well, Rob, Derek definitely has a nasty side but he’s still my little Der-bear and that’s all that matters,” Casey said with a wistful sigh. She wrapped her arms around Derek’s waist, trapping his arms in, and squeezed. “I don’t know what I’d do without my Der-bear.”

“Der-bear?” Rob asked, turning to Derek. Derek grimaced slightly and looked down at Casey who was staring up at him with an evil smirk. “How long have you guys been dating?”

“Oh, we’ve only been together for a few months but we’ve been in love for so much longer,” Casey said with wide eyes. It was, kind of, amazing how easily she could turn the doe eyes on and off. Of course, you couldn’t actually get Derek to admit that anything Casey did was amazing.

“Longer?”

“We’ve known each other since high school and can you believe that we fought our feelings for so long? Thankfully, when I finally moved back to Canada, Derek had the courage to confess his feelings,” Casey replied with a serious nod. She still hadn’t let go of Derek and he was beginning to lose feeling in both arms.

“Derek confessing feelings? Hard to believe,” Rob said, throwing a smirk in Derek’s direction. Derek pried himself loose from Casey’s death grip and pushed her off of him.

“Der-bear? Is something wrong?” Casey asked with a pouty mouth. And, fucking hell, she was wearing lip gloss – probably mango flavored and he definitely should not have brought her here.

“Yeah – you don’t have a drink, why don’t you go get one?” Derek asked with a deadly smile.

“But, Der-bear, I thought you were going to spoil me tonight? That’s what you promised,” she said with a smile as she stood on her toes to put her chin on his shoulder. Derek turned away from her mouth, which was way too close to him and definitely smelled like mangoes, and stared straight ahead.

“Come on, Der-bear. You promised,” she said softly. He could feel every word against his cheek and it made him shiver. Shrugging her off, Derek grabbed her shoulder and steered her towards what he hoped was the bar.

“Go get a drink and I will get you back later. Promise,” he said with a little shove. She stumbled for a second before straightening her back and marching off with a purpose. Derek sighed and rubbed at his face.

“So, Der-bear, where have you been hiding the class five clinger?” Rob asked as he slung an arm over Derek’s shoulders. Derek sneered and shrugged the arm off.

“Long story that I really don’t feel like getting into right now,” Derek said.

“Hey man! No judgment here. Just thought you were the type to steer clear of the Betty Crocker’s of the world,” Rob replied with his hands up in surrender.

“And where is your ball and chain?” Derek asked with a smirk. Rob’s girlfriend was not the sharing type. She even got jealous when Rob spent too much time with the guys.

“Visiting her folks before classes start up again,” Rob said with the easy smile he always showed up on his face when he talked about Becca.

“How’d she take the knowledge that you were throwing a party while you were out of town?”

“I text her every ten minutes and we have a Skype date once everyone leaves.”

“Man, she is keeping a close eye on you,” Derek said with a laugh.

Rob shrugged before pointing in the direction that Derek had pushed Casey, “I would be more worried about keeping tabs on your girl though.”

“What are you -” Derek started before cutting himself off.

Casey was standing by the bar, a drink in both hands, laughing her ass off. There were at least four or five guys around her, none of them he recognized, laughing along. She glanced in his direction briefly before leaning towards her audience to say something that made them laugh even harder. Not good. Definitely not good.

Derek shoved his way through the crowd and slid up next to Casey, “What’s so funny?”

“Oh Derry! I was just telling them about all those times you let Marti put make-up on your face. Especially, that one time you had a date but I convinced you to babysit instead and guess who shows up when you’re wearing lipstick? Your date!” Casey said with a big, shit-eating grin. Derek laughed dryly before turning a glare onto the group standing around them.

“Heard some good stories, have you?” he asked the guys.

“Some great ones, Derek-a,” one of them replied with a smirk. Derek narrowed his eyes at him and smiled tightly before turning his back on the group.

“What the fuck, Casey?” Derek hissed.

“Chills, Der-bear. It’s a party and I’m just making some new friends, right guys?” Casey said as she leaned around Derek. A chorus of yeah’s followed shortly after. “Have a drink.”

Derek took the offered cup and stared at it suspiciously. Casey rolled her eyes and took it from him to take a sip. He watched her throat to make sure she swallowed. When she was done, she handed it back to him with raised eyebrows. Derek frowned at her before taking it and taking a huge gulp himself.

“It’s just beer,” Derek said with a frown. Casey rolled her eyes.

“Of course it’s just beer. Geeze, Derek. Relax,” Casey said as she scooted past him. “Oh! Snacks!”

Derek watched with a grimace as she shimmied across the hall to the kitchen. The guys she had been entertaining all watched her go, eyes firmly fixed on her ass. Derek cleared his throat and watched as they all turned to him a little startled that he was still there. He gave them a tight smile before finishing his drink and following after Casey.

She was standing next to the kitchen table chatting with a couple of girls that Derek knew from various parties. They were all giggling and sipping on their drinks. It looked innocent enough but then again, looks were deceiving. Casey turned and saw him standing in the doorway, “Derek! Come here, you have to try this dip!”

Derek rolled his eyes and wandered into the room, plastering his best smirk onto his face. The girls Casey had been talking with looked him up and down before turning towards each other, whispering behind their hands. Derek’s smirk grew into a full blown grin. He would never get tired of that reaction and they were cute, so that was an added bonus.

“Here, try this,” Casey said before she shoved a chip covered with something in his face. Of course, she missed his mouth, smearing the dip across his cheek before a huge dollop landed on his shirt.

“Jesus Christ, Casey!” Derek shouted as he rubbed at his face. “Is this – is this sour cream and onion? Ugh, you know I fucking hate onion!”

“Oops?” Casey said with wide eyes. The cute, whispering girls let out a snorted giggle before scurrying from the kitchen.

“What the fuck is wrong with you?” Derek snapped as he grabbed a handful of paper towels. “This smell better not get stuck in this shirt.”

“Oh, please, that is the same pink and gray polo you’ve had since high school. If it can survive your B.O. then it can survive some onions,” Casey replied with a roll of her eyes. She grabbed the napkins from his hand and threw them in the trash before getting some fresh ones. She scraped off some more of the dip and shook her head. “This is your fault you know.”

“My fault? My fucking fault!” Derek yelled. He grabbed Casey’s arm and dragged her back into the party.

“Derek! Let go! What are you doing?” she shouted as she pulled at the hand he had wrapped around her wrist.

“You and I need to talk. Game closet style,” he snapped over his shoulder. He pulled her through the house until he found an empty bedroom. Pushing her in front of him, he slammed the door shut after stepping into the dark room.

At the back of his mind, his new golden rule flashed in bed red letters. Casey and alone time spelled out danger. He ignored it.

“Der-ek! What is your problem?” she yelled.

“You! You are my goddamn problem. What the hell are you doing?” he snapped. He crossed his arms and cringed when they passed over the wet smear where Casey had dropped the dip.

“I’m playing the adoring girlfriend or did you forget what my role was tonight?” she replied with a smirk.

“Adoring girlfriend? Adoring? That’s what you think adoring is?” he said slowly through his clenched jaw. Casey rolled her eyes and took a step closer to him.

“Did you honestly think I was going to take tonight seriously? We both know that this whole evening was just a chance for you to embarrass me in front of anyone who you think is cool and thus banishing me to loserville all over again. This is not high school, Der-ek,” she hissed. “You’re just mad that I got you before you could get me.”

She crossed her arms and stared at him with a raised brow. She was so fucking smug. Derek huffed and tried to think of something he could say – anything – to get back at her but he was drawing a blank. She was totally right. Of course, she was right but that was definitely not the point.

“Don’t you have anything to say, Dereka?” Casey asked with a sickly sweet smile. Derek frowned and stepped into Casey’s space, leaning forward until their noses were a few centimeters apart.

“Listen, Space Case, we clearly are not working together on this – what do you say we rework our terms?” he asked with a condescending smirk. He was giving in – he knew that but he couldn’t let her further damage whatever rep he had at this school. He figured that once Vicki came into town there would be a slew of opportunities to get her back.

She narrowed her eyes at him and frowned, “What’s your angle?”

“No angle. Truce for the rest of the night,” he said with a shrug. Casey sighed and Derek was reminded of how close they were when he felt it on his mouth. He licked his lips and tried to tell himself it wasn’t to try and savor whatever taste of Casey he could get from her breath.

Her eyes were so blue and crystal clear. He could see every emotion she was experiencing flutter through them until she turned away briefly. He was going to say something to get her attention back on him when she turned back and leaned forward slightly, bringing them even closer together, “Truce but in the morning we talk about the new rules.”

“In the meantime, you are going to chill on the Stepford Wife routine and be a normal human being for the rest of the evening,” Derek said. Casey scoffed and rolled her eyes.

“I thought this was a truce?”

“It is a truce.”

“Then why are you telling me what to do, Dereka?” Casey asked with a smirk.

“Don’t fucking call me that. Jesus, I am never going to forgive Sam for telling you that!” he shouted.

“Don’t call you what? Dereka?” Casey asked with a smile.

“That.”

“Dereka, Dereka, Dereka!” she shouted in his face with a triumphant smirk.

“Real mature, Klutzilla!”

“Like you know anything about being mature, Dereka! You wouldn’t know mature if it hit you in the face,” Casey snapped back. Derek clenched his jaw and let out a slow breath. He was going to kill her before the night was over. He knew it. This was an unavoidable fact.

“Do you think it’s possible for you to not be a righteous stick in the mud for one fucking night and have some fun?” Derek asked.

Derek smirked and licked his lips. His eyes flicked to the shiny gloss of her lips. He didn’t back away from her and she didn’t move either. He thought back to the many times that they had had these kinds of stand-offs. He couldn’t remember ever feeling anxious the way he was now. It had always been about the irritation or the anger or the challenge presented before him. The lack of personal space had never registered before now.

“I can’t believe you! God, I’m here aren’t I? Plus you don’t even know what I got into while I was in New York -”

“Case!” Derek shouted, effectively cutting her off.

“Derek!”

“I’m going to kiss you now.”

“Der-ek! You can’t just cut me off with some ridiculous idea that kissing is going to solve anything!”

“I’m not looking to solve anything. God, a hot guy is offering to kiss you and this is how you react? No wonder you’re single!”

“God, Derek, you are such an arrogant ass! How do you even know I would want you to kiss me?”

“Case,” he said with a raised brow. She stared at him with wide eyes and licked her lip slightly. She was panting and the sound had never sounded so fucking sexy to him than right now. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear.

“Well, are you going to do it or not?” she snapped, flailing her hands around her face.

Derek laughed before leaning in and capturing Casey’s mouth with his own before she could say anything else (and she was, he could see her gearing up for it). It was the mango lip-gloss that had haunted him since that night. He kissed her harder, trying to sear the taste of that lip-gloss onto his lips. He ran his tongue over her bottom lip and moaned when her mouth opened under his. He grabbed both sides of her face and smiled into the kiss when she grabbed his wrists and stepped closer to him.

Derek took the final step forward, pressing his hips to hers. She sighed again and Derek breathed it in. Kissing Casey was so much easier than it should have been. She fit perfectly into all of his nooks and crannies. He wasn’t going to think too hard about what it meant that they fit together so well. That, at least in this, they worked so well together.

Casey let go of Derek’s wrists, letting her hands drag down his sides and down to his ass. She clenched both cheeks and if he squeaked there was no way that anyone could make him admit it.

He felt her lips curl up into a smile that he couldn’t help but return. He slipped his tongue inside of her mouth. She tasted like strawberries and liquor. He wondered briefly when she’d had the chance to down a drink but then her tongue was pushing back on his and any sort of thought process short-circuited.

He pushed her back until her knees hit the bed and she fell backwards. As she was falling, she grabbed his shirt and pulled him with her. They landed on the bed in a tangled heap. He lost her mouth but found her neck and the sweet spot beneath her ear that made her groan. It was a beautiful sound and Derek sucked hard to make her do it again.

She squirmed beneath him, wiggling her legs until he was between them. He could feel how hot she was through both their jeans. The thought of being buried inside of that heat made him groan. He grabbed her hips, giving them a squeeze before sliding up and gathering the flimsy silk thing she was wearing with them. His fingers brushed along the underside of her breast. No bra. He felt his hands start to tremble when that thought slowed down in his mind.

Casey McDonald was not wearing a bra.

No. Bra.

Derek pushed her shirt up the rest of the way, his palms brushing over her nipples. She gasped slightly and arched her back.

Derek knew that there was a line being crossed. In fact, he knew that there was a line about two meters back that was crossed. But this. This was a totally different line and he was sprinting across it full throttle.

He stopped worshiping Casey’s neck with his mouth to glance at her breasts in his hands. They fit. Of course they fit. She fit in all those spots he wanted to keep her out of. Why would this be any different?

The line was in his eyesight.

He licked the valley between her breasts, tasted the sweat there and wondered if it was warm in the room or if he was the one making her sweat like that.
His left foot was over the line.

He lifted his head slowly. Felt the moment get drawn out to a lifetime. He paused at Casey’s mouth and admired the way her lips were puffy and red. He smirked slightly and leaned forward to kiss her again, gently pressing his mouth to hers.

His chest was thrust forward and he was pulling his right leg over the yellow streak beneath him.

He pulled away from Casey and admired the way her breath hitched when he rolled his thumb over her nipple. His eyes traveled over her face. She was blushing; her round cheeks a bright pink that he’d only seen when she was furious. This put a whole new spin on the color.

When he got to her eyes, he was startled by the clear blue of them. He’d always known that her eyes were out of this world but he would rarely admit it to himself. But now, with them so close and so full of want, he could probably write a song about that color and he’d never actually written a song in his life (even the song for Sally was written more by Casey than it was him).

He tripped over his damn feet and fell face first over that fucking line.

Derek licked his lips and tried to smile – tried to do anything other than look totally panicked. Kissing Casey was easy. Especially when he was actually kissing her and not actively making eye contact. The longer he looked at her the more he realized how totally insane all of this was. It was CASEY!

“Derek,” she said softly. She sounded a lot calmer than he felt. For a second, he was angry that he seemed to be the one having the meltdown while Casey cruised through calmville.

“Case,” he croaked out. She licked her kiss swollen lips and Derek got lost in following the path her tongue laid out. He wanted to follow it with his own tongue, just so he was sure of the route.

“Derek, get off,” she said after a moment, bringing Derek back to the world. Derek rolled off of her and covered his face with his hands. Casey didn’t move next to him, she didn’t even shift her shirt back down.

Taking a deep breath, Derek opened his mouth, “Look, Case –“

“Let me just throw my coat in here!” a voice said as the door opened and light filled the room.

Both Derek and Casey sat up at the sound. Derek’s heart leapt into his throat when he recognized their intruder, “Debbie!”

“Derek? What are you – Jesus, really, Derek?” Debbie asked when she fully took in both Casey and Derek. Casey hastily pulled her shirt down and wrapped her arms around her waist. Her cheeks were turning a deep red that clearly showed how embarrassed she was. (Derek couldn’t help the pang in his stomach when he noticed that amazing shade of pink fading away.)

“I thought we weren’t going to do this to each other anymore, Derek,” Debbie said with a sigh. “We talked about this and you said that we weren’t going to play these games anymore.”

“Debbie, I know – I swear I can explain. Just – can we just talk about this later?” he said as he stood up slowly. He held his hands out and pressed them together in a prayer.

“Derek, I’m just sick of going back and forth like this. It’s exhausting – especially when I find you like this with yet another girl,” Debbie said with a dismissive wave in Casey’s direction. Casey’s spine straightened as she stood up, wagging her finger.

“I am not yet another of Derek’s girls,” Casey said with a frown. Derek rubbed at his face and resisted the urge to choke her. This was not the time for the righteous indignation act.

“Excuse me?” Debbie asked, turning on Casey with a venomous glare. Derek had been on the receiving end of that glare on more than one occasion and worried for Casey’s safety.

“I said – I am not yet another of Derek’s girls,” Casey replied through clenched teeth. She took a step forward before smiling and latching onto Derek’s arm. “I’m his girlfriend.”

Derek blinked before looking down at Casey. She was staring Debbie down with a raised eyebrow and a small smirk. Derek looked at Debbie and cringed away from the look she was giving him.

“Derek, is that true?” Debbie asked in a small voice. He knew that voice. That voice meant she was either going to cry or explode at him. She didn’t give him the chance to answer though. Debbie let out an airy laugh before turning on her heel and leaving the room.

“Shit,” Derek said when Debbie slammed the door shut behind her.

“What the hell is going on with you and Debbie?” Casey asked. She marched across the room and flipped on the light. She crossed her arms and arched an eyebrow at him. Derek clenched his jaw and stared at her blankly. His eye got caught on the hickey that she was now sporting just above her left collarbone.

“Der-ek?”

“What? She’s my ex – it’s fucking complicated, okay?” he snapped, running a hand through his hair. Casey scoffed and turned to leave. Derek reached out to grab her but she shook off his hand and followed Debbie back into the party.

Derek swore under his breath and rubbed at his face some more. This was ridiculous. This whole night was ridiculous. Derek laughed and shook his finger at nothing. This was all some sort of cosmic joke. It had to be. Too bad he didn’t find any of it funny.

Taking a deep breath, Derek shook out his arms and legs. He adjusted his shirt, tried to forget about the dip stain, and combed his fingers through his hair. Letting out a long stream of air, he pulled open the door and followed the girls back into the party.

***

It had been a couple hours since the bedroom incident. Derek hadn’t seen Casey or Debbie. He reminded himself for the millionth time that he wasn’t Casey’s keeper so he didn’t need to know where she was. Debbie on the other hand was the last thing on his mind. He had a talent for that, pushing away things that were probably important to obsess over Casey. He’d done it enough in high school thinking up pranks that at this point he was a pro.

He was on his third beer of the night. Considering how much shit he’d stirred up already, he figured going slow would be a good idea tonight. He would need a clear head in case he ran into either his step sister or his ex-girlfriend again. In the meantime, a brunette that had shared his literature lecture the semester before was trying really hard to keep his attention. It wasn’t working considering every few minutes he was scanning the crowd for Casey.

“Are you looking for someone?” the brunette asked. Her name was Sarah or was it Shawna?

“Yeah. I mean, no. Of course not,” he replied with a shake of his head. He gave the girl one of his winning smiles and she smiled back before relaxing into the wall they were leaning against. As soon as she started talking again, Derek zoned back out.

He started to wonder what Casey was up to when he couldn’t find her in the crowd after yet another scan. He quickly shut down that train of thought. What he needed to do was focus on the cute brunette in front of him. Sarah/Shawna was single, not related to him in any way, and, so far, not a total basket case. Sarah/Shawna was easy, familiar territory. What could be more familiar to Derek Venturi than chatting up cute girls at a party?

He thought about the way Casey seemed to melt into him – the way she fit into him so fucking well that it seemed like they were made to press together. It was like they had been one fucking thing that had been ripped apart and they were just finding each other again. All those other girls, all those other guys, they were never going to fit because it was supposed to be Derek and Casey. When he kissed her it became the most obvious and familiar thing on the planet to him.

Derek shook his head to clear away those thoughts (bad, bad, very bad thoughts). Maybe staying sober was a really bad fucking plan.

“Hey, you need another drink? I’m going to run and get one for myself,” Derek said, interrupting whatever the hell Sarah/Shawna was talking about. She smiled and nodded. Derek thought about saying something clever and slightly naughty but shook his head and turned away instead.

There was a line at the keg but Derek didn’t mind. He needed a minute to get himself together.

Casey was off doing who knew what and that was fine. She was an adult – she could make her own decisions.

Debbie was . . . well, he didn’t know if he cared about what Debbie was doing, which was new.

Sarah/Shawna was waiting patiently for him to come back.

Now all he had to do was choose the easiest option and go back to Sarah/Shawna with a smile and a flirty comment. Simple enough, right?

“Derek, we need to talk,” Debbie said from behind him in line. Derek sighed and turned to look at her. Her cheeks were pink and her eyes were a little glassy. She was definitely tipsy. That was better than a full on drunk rage, right? Then again, in this state there was always the possibility of tears and he still wasn’t used to women crying around him.

“What’s there to talk about?” he asked with his best nonchalant shrug. They’d done this before. One of them would catch the other getting it on, they would talk, they would fuck, they would fight, and then they would start the whole cycle over again. It had been a couple of months since the last round but he felt himself getting pulled back into it. He didn’t know why he kept playing the game but it was Debbie and she was pretty hard to resist.

“How about you have a girlfriend all of the sudden who looks an awful lot like your stepsister,” Debbie said with a raised brow. Derek grabbed Debbie’s arm and dragged her through the party to the backdoor. They slipped out and stood in the crappy light of the back porch light.

“Look, what you saw – it’s not what you think,” Derek started but Debbie cut him off.

“Save it, Derek. I knew you were super close to your step sib. I just didn’t realize how close, okay?” she said with a tired sigh.

“We’re not actually together!” Derek said. Debbie raised a brow at him and rolled her eyes.

“Really? Because she seemed pretty convinced that you were her boyfriend, Derek.”

Derek ran a hand down his face and let out a slow breath. This was not happening. It wasn’t. There was no way that the world would be as cruel as to do this to him.

“Listen, we’re not together. It’s this huge thing with her cousin and she blabbed some pretty stupid shit and I’m just helping her with something,” Derek tried to explain. He knew it didn’t make any sense but, for some reason, he didn’t really want to properly explain the whole thing to Debbie. Hell, he didn’t even know why he was giving her the half-assed explanation that he was.

“Helping her by fucking her?”

“We were not, I repeat, not fucking,” Derek said with a nervous laugh. Debbie started to gnaw at her thumbnail, a bad habit that only showed itself when she was contemplating doing something she thought was stupid. He was about to ask what was brewing when she leaned forward and kissed him.

The second her lips touched his, Derek’s brain stopped functioning. Debbie was kissing him again and he forgot about those months where he hadn’t seen her, he forgot about the stupid games they played, he forgot everything outside of how much he had loved her. He wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her into him. She sighed and he nibbled at her lower lip the way she liked. Kissing Debbie was like riding a bike – he never really forgot what the buttons were and when to push them. She wasn’t a perfect fit – had never been a perfect fit but she still found a way to wrap herself around him so that all of those awkward gaps didn’t matter.

“Der-,” Casey’s cut off voice floated through the mist of Debbie and brought Derek slamming back to reality. He pulled away from Debbie with a gasp and turned to see Casey standing in the doorway. Her cheeks were hot pink and her hand was curled into a fist.

“Casey,” Derek said with a sigh. She shook her head before running back into the house. Derek let go of Debbie to follow after her but Debbie held onto his arm.

“Are you seriously going to run after her?” Debbie asked with a look of total disbelief. For a second, he thought about it. Why was he running after her? It was Casey and it’s not like they were actually together. But then he remembered another party with a certain icky cousin and slimy ex-boyfriend.

“I have to. It’s Casey,” he said with an apologetic shrug before shaking himself free and going back into the house.

When he had finally worked his way through the kitchen and into the living room, he was surprised to see Casey immediately. He was even more surprised to see her dancing with Josh from the team. Josh who was a worse flirt than Derek and who had his hands on Casey’s waist, pulling the fabric of her shirt up. Casey put her hands over Josh’s and slid them so that his arms wrapped around her stomach before she leaned her head back exposing her neck to Josh’s mouth.

Derek felt his eye twitch and his jaw clench.

“Uh, Derek?” someone asked from behind him. Dragging his eyes away from Casey and Josh, Derek turned around to Sarah/Shawna. “Hey there! Did you get lost or something?”

She let out a nervous laugh and peeked around him to see what had caught his attention.

“No – just, you know, catching up with people,” Derek replied as he tried to get back into her line of sight. Sarah/Shawna would be a perfect distraction if he could just focus on her.

“Really?” she asked. She scrunched up her nose and he guessed that some guys might find that cute but it just didn’t work for Derek.

“Yeah, really. So, where were we?” he asked with an easy smile. He leaned towards her slightly and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear. She smiled and fluttered her eyelashes at him. God, this was too easy.

“Well, we were talking about our majors but I think that’s a little dull for a party, don’t you?” she asked with a little smirk. She took a step towards him, resting her hands on his shoulders and playing with his shirt collar. Derek smirked, letting his eyes roam up and down her frame. “We should do something a little more fun and a little more private, yeah?”

“Private fun? I like the sound of that idea,” Derek murmured. Sarah/Shawna smiled up at him and bit her bottom lip. Cute, definitely very cute. He grabbed her hand and turned, pulling her along with him.

Casey was whispering something in Josh’s ear. Josh was smiling and had a hand on Casey’s bare back. He was drawing circles with his index fingers. Casey had one hand wrapped around Josh’s neck and the other clutched his bicep.

Derek’s eye twitched again.

“Derek?” Sarah/Shawna asked.

“Rain check,” he said without turning to gauge her reaction. Before she could say anything, Derek was pushing through the dance floor to Casey and Josh. Josh saw him first.

“Derek! How’s it hanging, brother?” Josh asked with a big smile and a wink. Derek knew that wink. That was the ‘I’m getting laid tonight’ wink. Fat fucking chance.

“Space Case, we’re out of here,” Derek said, ignoring Josh. Casey turned and glared at Derek.

“Whoa, I didn’t know you two knew each other? I thought you said that you just started at Queen’s?” Josh asked Casey. He kept looking at Derek with a bit of panic in his eye. Derek liked it.

“We grew up together,” she said simply, never taking her eyes off of Derek or her hands off of Josh. Josh nodded briefly and started to smile when Derek caught his eye again. Derek smiled in a less than friendly way that made Josh balk. Josh swallowed before he took a step back from Casey.

“I’ll uh – I’ll see you around, Casey,” Josh stammered before he turned and left. Derek gave Casey a triumphant smirk right before she punched him in the shoulder.

“You are a horrible person, Derek Venturi!” she screeched. Derek rubbed at his shoulder and grimaced.

“You’re supposed to be my girlfriend, Spacey, and yet I find you practically fucking Josh on the dance floor,” Derek hissed. Casey had enough decency to look somewhat embarrassed but it was a brief moment before she was furious again.

“You were the one making out with your ex on the back porch!” she growled back. Derek licked his teeth and set his shoulders.

“She kissed me,” he said quietly.

“Like that makes a difference! You kissed her back!” Casey insisted. He shook his head and looked around them. A couple of people were watching them fight but for the most part people had given them a wide berth. It was time to go.

“Fuck this. I’m going home. You can either walk back with me or stay around here. Maybe Josh can give you a ride?” Derek snapped before walking around her and heading to the door. He turned just before walking out to see Casey right behind him with her stupid, blue eyes staring at him like he was a puzzle she just couldn’t work out.

It felt good outside, not too chilly but not stifling like it had been in the house. Derek took a deep breath and waited at the bottom of the stoop for Casey to make her way down. She sighed as she stopped next to him, pulled her hair back into a ponytail and exposed her long neck. There was definitely a hickey right below her ear and Derek tried to hide his triumphant smirk.

“Come on, Space Case,” he said with a shrug. He took off in the direction of her apartment and listened for her quick little footsteps as she tried to catch up in heels.

“Der-ek! Slow down,” she whined as she caught up with him. She latched onto his arm and made him slow his pace.

“If you can’t walk in them, then why wear them?”

“They’re cute and they make me feel sexy,” she said with a shrug. “I think I deserve to feel sexy every now and then.”

“It’s going to take more than just a pair of shoes to make you sexy, Klutzilla,” Derek said with a fake smile. Casey rolled her eyes and looked down at their feet while they walked.

“Are we going to talk about what happened tonight?” Casey asked in a small voice. Derek stiffened slightly before relaxing again.

“What’s there to talk about? Heat of the moment,” he replied with a shrug. Casey huffed. Derek could see her frowning out of the corner of his eye.

“Fine. Don’t talk about it. Want to tell me about Debbie?”

Again he shrugged and again Casey huffed, “Look, me and Debbie has nothing to do with our little deal, so don’t worry about it.”

“I’m not worried about the deal, Derek. I’m worried about you,” she said with a shove. Derek stumbled a little but quickly regained his balance – physically, at least.

“I’m fine. I’m Derek Venturi – when am I ever not fine?” he asked with a laugh. Casey rolled her eyes and bumped his shoulder with hers.

“You can stay at my place tonight. On the couch, of course. I mean, since I’m closer and it’s late and I don’t like the idea of you walking back to your place alone,” Casey rambled as they walked down the street.

Derek rolled his eyes, “Thanks, McDonald.”

“Anytime, Venturi.”

Chapter Text

Derek Venturi had successfully avoided Casey McDonald for a full 48 hours before he showed up at her apartment door.

He’d spent a majority of those 48 hours thinking about Casey and wishing to hell that he wasn’t thinking about her at all. But it was Casey and he’d felt her breasts in his hands and he’d discovered that he kind of liked the way they felt and maybe he wanted the Space Case. Of course that was out of the question but (and really he blamed Casey because her obsessiveness must have been transferred to him via saliva or something because Derek Venturi never thought this long and hard about anything) the question kept popping up.

What if he did want Casey? Like, all of Casey – not just those lips and those breasts and those legs that went on for fucking miles. What if he wanted the whining and the cleaning frenzies and the panic attacks and the self-righteous feminist lectures? What if he wanted it all?

What the fuck then?

Which led him to standing in front of Casey’s apartment door at close to midnight the day before her stupid cousin was supposed to roll into town. She’d been awake which was surprising. She’d complained about it being late but buzzed him up, anyways.

Derek smoothed back his hair and opened the door using the key that she’d given him when she had first moved in (one day he was going to remember the code to get in the building). Casey was curled up on the couch, cradling a mug in her hands. She had this content smile on her face, the one that came out when she was reading a really good book or writing poetry (he couldn’t remember the first time he saw that smile or the first time he’d catalogued it). Fuck. He was so damned screwed.

“I made tea if you want some,” Casey said without looking at him.

“Have you ever known me to drink tea?” he asked from his spot by the door. He suddenly felt very stupid for being there.

“I don’t know. Something could have changed in the year that I was gone,” she said with a shrug. “It feels like things have changed.”

“Huh?” he asked. He took a step towards the couch but stopped when she turned to look at him.

“Are you done avoiding me then?” Casey asked, changing topics suddenly. She sounded tired and he wondered if maybe he was wrong and she had actually been asleep. Then again, there was already made tea so that was probably wrong. Casey McDonald was not the type to stay up late for no reason. Again, Derek noticed the weirdness of the moment and felt something that he guessed was embarrassment (the king of cool rarely felt embarrassed, this was a known fact of life).

“I wasn’t avoiding you,” Derek replied with a shrug. She turned away from him, unfreezing him with her stupid, blue eyes. He shrugged off his jacket, hanging it on the coat rack by the door, before he moved to sit down on the couch. He didn’t sound very convincing but what else was he supposed to say?

“Then why haven’t you answered any of my texts or phone calls for the past two days?” Casey asked as she pulled her legs beneath her to make room for him. She sounded hurt which just made Derek feel kind of queasy. Making fun of Casey was one thing but actually hurting her feelings? That had never been part of the Derek Venturi agenda.

“I was busy. Hockey practice is picking up and I had to get my books and I just didn’t have the time,” he lied. Of course he had the time. But he’d spent most of it thinking about her and what the fuck he was going to do.

“I don’t believe you,” she said with a frown. “We were supposed to talk the morning after the party. We were supposed to discuss the new rules but you left before I was even awake and then I didn’t hear from you for days. How am I supposed to take that?”

“Look, I didn’t feel like sticking around so I didn’t. Chills. We’re talking now. What difference does a couple of days make?” Derek snapped. Casey huffed and looked down at her mug.

She was wearing that stupid pink, fluffy robe that had been like a shield when they were home. He’d always thought she looked ridiculous in it but it was having a totally different effect on him now. It was slightly open at the neck and Derek could see the tops of her breasts. The knot was loose and all Derek could think about was pulling at it slowly until the whole thing fell open for him.

“Whatever, Derek. Why are you here?” she asked.

Derek tried for his best nonchalant shrug, “I couldn’t sleep.”

“So you decided to wake me up? How considerate of you,” she said with a dry smile.

“It doesn’t look like you were sleeping. I mean, you have tea already made – there’s no way you made tea that quickly,” he pointed out. He didn’t really have a reason to come running over in the middle of the night. He just did. When he thought about it, that’s how he usually operated when it came to Casey.

“Yeah, well, Jesse called,” she said in a watery voice. “Just to talk – nothing major. He said he missed me and he told me about a new show that he was in and about all the amazing people he was meeting and how all of our friends missed me and wh-what if I made a mistake coming to Queen’s? What if I blew it with him? What if he was my forever guy and I ruined everything by coming back?”

Derek cracked his neck and sighed. So, she was freaking out about her ex and he was freaking out about her and things were never simple, were they?

“Did you, like, call Emily or something?” he asked, hoping that the answer was yes. He may have been mopping up Casey’s tears for years now but that didn’t mean he was even remotely comfortable in a situation like this.

“She didn’t answer,” she replied with a sigh. “And then you were ignoring me! For days!”

She kicked him in the thigh and tightened her grip on her mug of tea. Derek grabbed her foot to protect himself but she just switched feet.

“I told you, I was busy!” he replied, trying to fend off her assault. Casey rolled her eyes and pulled her foot free, tucking both legs under her again.

“That is such bull and you know it. You were avoiding me because of Debbie,” she said. Derek shook his head and took a minute to process. Debbie? What the hell did Debbie have to do with anything?

“What does Debbie have to do with anything?” he asked. Casey opened and closed her mouth with wide eyes. She looked totally caught off guard. Derek smirked. Casey always had a bad case of word vomit and it looked like it had struck again.

“Just that – that I know you care about her and you two clearly have something going on and you never even told me about her!” Casey said with a grimace. She shrugged and pressed her mug to her mouth, taking a huge gulp.

“Okay, first of all – I don’t have to tell you everything, Space Case. There is no clause in the step-sibling handbook that says you get to know everything about my life. Second, Debbie and I are – we are very much over. It was complicated for a while but now it’s done,” Derek said, the first truth of the night, but he could tell that Casey didn’t believe him. Her face was covered with disbelief and frustration.

“You are so stubborn, Derek Venturi! God, this is like Sally all over again. Just admit that you miss Debbie and that you want her back. I could see it all over your face at the party and you were making out with her, so there really is no point in denying it,” Casey replied. She raised her nose in the air so that she could properly look down on him. Derek sneered and shook his head.

“Don’t push your insecurities on me. You’re the one missing your ex, not me, okay?”

“Why can’t you just be honest with me? Why does it always have to turn into an argument?” she asked with a pout. Derek stared at her bottom lip for a second before forcing himself to look away.

“I am being honest with you. Debbie and I had a thing – a thing that is now over and that I don’t really want back,” he said with an exasperated sigh. “I don’t even know why you brought her up.”

“Because you were avoiding me!”

“I wasn’t avoiding you!” he snapped, turning to her fully. “You know, a year ago, you would have been all too happy to not hear from me for a month. I don’t talk to you for a couple of days and it’s some huge conspiracy where I have feelings or some shit.”

“I was worried!” she said, kicking at him again. Again, he grabbed her foot but this time he yanked. She slid down the couch with a grunt. She held her mug up in the air in an attempt not to spill. “Der-ek!”

“You weren’t worried. You were jealous!” he said without thinking. But it was worth it to see her face instantly turn bright pink.

“Der-ek! I am not jealous! What is there to be jealous of?” she asked. Her voice was this high pitched squeak that he hadn’t heard in years. He tried to remember the last time he’d made her this angry and drew a blank.

“Come on, Case. It’s okay. I know I’m irresistible,” he said with a mock serious face. Casey rolled her eyes and pulled on her leg, trying to free her foot. Derek kept a firm hold on her and yanked again, pulling her across the couch until most of her leg was across his lap.

“Der-ek! My tea!” she shouted. She stretched until she could place the mug on the coffee table and then she was sitting up with a pillow in hand. She hit him a couple times over the head until he was able to grab the pillow, yanking it free from her hands. He threw the pillow to the floor and grabbed Casey by the waist, pulling her into his lap.

She blew her hair out of her face and looked down at Derek. He hadn’t noticed before the way her blush started somewhere below the neckline of her tank, crawled up her neck, and sputtered out around her cheeks. Her eyes were shining and her lips were parted slightly.

“Derek,” she said softly. “We can’t keep doing this.”

“Doing what?” he asked with a soft smirk. He knew what she was talking about (how could he not when she was in his lap and her mouth looked so damn inviting) but he wanted to hear her say it.

“We can’t keep ending up like this. You need – you need to keep your distance,” she replied slowly. Derek raised his eyebrows in surprise and pulled his hands away from her hips, holding them in the air.

“No one’s stopping you from getting off, princess,” he said. He tucked his hands behind his head and leaned back into the couch. Casey slid towards him a little when he shifted positions. She put her hands on his chest to brace herself. She licked her lips and closed her hands into fists against his chest.

“Tell me what happened with Debbie?” she asked suddenly. Derek rolled his eyes. Leave to Casey McDonald to ruin a perfectly sexy moment with a question like that.

“There is nothing to tell – we dated, we broke up, and we fucked. In that order,” he said quickly.

“If you broke up, then why did you keep fucking her?” she asked. The f-bomb rolled off her tongue so smoothly that he almost didn’t notice it. He clenched his jaw and begged his body not to pop a boner.

“Because we wanted to! There isn’t some secret heartfelt reasoning behind it. I was horny. She was horny. We solved that problem together,” he snapped.

Casey shook her head and slid off of his lap, scooting back to her corner of the couch, “I honestly don’t know why I ever expected you to react to things like a normal human being. You have no heart, Derek Venturi.”

“Well, I like it that way, so stop trying to force one on me,” he ground out. She rolled her eyes and turned away from him.

“Whatever, Derek. I’m going to bed. You can stay on the couch if you want – just be here tomorrow, okay?” she said as she stood up. All of their roughhousing had opened her robe all the way and Derek was distracted by the gap between her tank top and sleep pants. He wanted to run his tongue across that strip of skin.

“Blankets are in the closet,” she said with a wave of her hand. She wiggled her fingers at him and went into her room, shutting the door behind her.

Derek threw himself back onto the couch and covered his face with his hands. He groaned and banged his head against the arm rest a few times before getting up to get a blanket from the closet. Honestly, what did he think was going to happen if he came over in the middle of the night? Derek Venturi was not one for self-loathing but right now he, kind of, hated himself for not only getting involved in this whole charade but for, even worse, letting it get to him.

He stripped off his jeans and his t-shirt, throwing them in a pile by the couch before laying down. He closed his eyes and decided that by the time Vicki got to Kingston he would have a plan of action. He could come up with something in less than 12 hours, right?

***

“Der-ek!” Casey yelled, jolting him awake. In fact, he fell of the couch and hit his knee on the coffee table.

“What? What happened? What’s wrong?” he asked, rubbing at his eyes and standing up. Casey was standing at the foot of the couch, hands on her hips. She was dressed already, hair done, and make-up in place. Derek grabbed his jeans and pulled his phone out of the pocket. It wasn’t even ten yet – on a SATURDAY.

“Put your pants on!” she yelled, turning her face away. Derek looked down at himself and noticed that his boxers were a little too open. He chuckled before quickly pulling his pants on, leaving the button undone, “Relax, Casey. Not like its anything you’ve haven’t seen before.”

“Yeah, well, the ones that I have seen weren’t attached to my brother, so I think this is a little different,” Casey mumbled. “Are you decent?”

“STEP-brother. I wouldn’t say decent but I am dressed,” he said with a smirk. Casey rolled her eyes and picked up the blanket that he had used the night before.

“So, you going to buy a guy breakfast or what?” he asked as he stretched. He smiled slightly when he noticed Casey’s eyes lingering on the line of his boxers a little longer than was necessary.

“You know, you could ask nicely,” she snapped as she shoved the blanket back in the closet. Derek threw himself back onto the couch and stretched out.

“Casey, honey-pie, make me pancakes?” he asked with his sweetest smile. She stared at him with a confused look for a minute before she shook herself.

“Honey-pie?” she asked. Derek shrugged.

“You prefer babe?” he asked. She continued staring at him like he’d grown a second head. “Or maybe sweetie? Baby? Darling?”

“What are you talking about?” she asked, shaking herself.

“Pet names,” he replied like it was obvious.

“Why are you asking me about pet names?” she asked as she crossed her arms.

“Because we’re supposed to be dating? Did you hit your head or something?”

“I know that! I just don’t see what pet names have to do with anything.”

“I thought all you romantic chicks dug pet names. Isn’t it supposed to be cute or something?” he asked. She rolled her eyes at him and turned towards the kitchen.

“Pet names are belittling titles that men created to prevent women from finding equal standing in a relationship. Why else would a grown man call a grown woman baby?” she asked over her shoulder.

“Plenty of chicks use pet names, too,” he pointed out.

“That doesn’t change the fact that they are demeaning,” she snapped.

“Whatever you say, honey-pie!” Derek called cheerily.

“Der-ek!” Casey shouted back. Derek shook his head and ran a hand down his face. He closed his eyes and started to drift off again when his phone rang. Blindly, he reached for his phone and answered, “Hello?”

“Derek! How’s my favorite big brother doing?” Edwin shouted on the other line.

“I’m your only big brother, Ed. What do you want?” Derek replied.

“We haven’t talked in a month. Couldn’t I just want the pleasure of hearing your voice?” Ed replied, sounding offended.

Derek rolled his eyes, “Yeah and the last time we talked you wanted something – so, I’m sure the same is true now.”

“Okay, fine, you’re right. I need girl advice,” Edwin mumbled. “Specifically, how can you tell when your girlfriend is mad at you?”

“Edwin, I didn’t know you had a girlfriend! I’m impressed,” Derek said with a smile.

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Answer the question, Derek,” Edwin said.

“Generally, they tell you when they’re angry,” he replied.

“And if they don’t?” Edwin shouted. The kid was panicked.

“Then you either keep on trucking or just apologize,” Derek replied.

“Who are you talking to?” Casey asked as she walked into the living room with two plates stacked high with pancakes.

“Edwin,” he replied as he snagged one and shoved it in his mouth.

“Edwin what?” Ed asked.

“Casey was asking who I was talking to,” Derek replied around his mouthful of pancake.

“Chew and then speak Derek. Chew and then speak,” Casey said with a grimace. Derek opened his mouth so that Casey could see the half-chewed pancake sitting on his tongue. “You are disgusting!”

“Why are you at Casey’s this early in the morning?” Ed asked.

“Stayed the night on her couch. Didn’t feel like walking home,” Derek replied. He watched Casey sit down on the floor, placing her plate on the coffee table. She started eating and he couldn’t help but watch her mouth as she chewed.

“Whatever. Weird. So, I just apologize?” Edwin asked.

“Yeah, just apologize. Usually fixes everything,” Derek replied. He shoved a second pancake in his mouth and stretched his legs out, resting his feet on the coffee table.

“Der-ek! I’m eating here!” Casey shouted as she daintily pushed his feet away. Derek laughed and put his feet back up just to hear her shriek again.

“Hey Ed, is Lizzie home?” Derek asked.

“Yeah, why?”

“Casey and I need some terms worked out,” Derek replied with a smirk. Casey’s eyes became saucers as she started waving her hands back and forth.

“Terms? What have you two gotten into now?” Edwin asked with a sigh. “Am I going to regret getting involved?”

“Of course not! Besides, you’ll be compensated,” Derek replied. Casey stood up and reached for his phone but he just batted her hands away.

“Go on. I’m listening,” Edwin replied. Casey tried to climb on top of him to get the phone but Derek just twisted away, burying his head in the couch cushions and pushing her away with his foot.

“Prince privileges when I’m home for the holidays.”

“Whenever you’re home in general,” Edwin countered. Derek thought about it for a minute before agreeing. “Sweet! Alright, so what are we discussing?”

“Fake relationship guidelines,” Derek said.

“DER-EK!” Casey screamed.

“Was that Casey?” Edwin asked.

“Does anyone else say my name like that?” Derek replied with a sigh.

“Good point. Give me ten minutes and then log on to Skype,” Edwin replied before hanging up. Derek lifted his head and took a deep breath before smiling over at a fuming Casey.

“I cannot believe you! I told you not to tell them!” Casey shouted.

“Well, we need them. We clearly cannot make up terms of our own and I want to avoid as many ‘adoring girlfriend’ incidents as possible,” Derek replied. Casey growled and started pacing back and forth.

“But what will they think? I mean, it’s going to be so weird! It’s bad enough doing this for Vicki but our siblings? This could scar them for life!” Casey complained.

“Chills, Casey. Ed and Liz have been witness to their fair share of keener freak-outs. If they aren’t scarred by now then nothing is going to faze them,” he said slowly. “Besides, we need to get everything sorted out before Vicki shows up.”

“Oh god, she’s going to be here today. She’s . . . I think I’m going to be sick,” Casey whined as she began to fan herself with her hands. Derek stood up and grabbed her hands. She looked up at him with watery eyes and started to worry her bottom lip.

“You need to calm the fuck down,” he said. “Take a shot or something but calm down.”

“Der-ek! It’s not even noon yet and you’re telling me to start drinking?” Casey asked with a scandalized look on her face.

“Will it help you calm down?” he asked. She thought about it for a second before she nodded. Derek blinked and leaned down so he could look her in the eye. Looked like Casey. He pressed the back of his hand to her forehead, “Are you feeling okay? I think you just agreed to a shot. In the morning.”

“Oh my god. Bad idea. Bad idea. I’m losing my mind,” she whined before letting her head fall forward onto his shoulder. “I can’t do this.”

“Yes you can,” he replied with an awkward pat on her shoulder. “Just think of it as, like, rehearsal or something for the big performance. Now go get your laptop, we’re supposed to Skype them soon.”

She whimpered slightly before wandering into her room for her laptop. Derek shook his head and grabbed his shirt off of the floor. He pulled it over his head and sat back down on the couch to continue shoving pancakes in his mouth. No one made chocolate pancakes the way Casey did. He’d missed them while she was in New York.

She came back into the living room a few minutes later, laptop in hand. She frowned at the way he was eating his pancakes but refrained from saying anything this time. Putting the laptop on the coffee table, Derek could see that the video chat was already started.

“Liz,” Derek said with a nod.

“Derek,” she replied just as seriously before a huge smile spread across her face. “So, what kind of trouble did you get my sister into this time?”

“Hey! It was not me,” Derek said. “And I think I take offense to that comment.”

Liz rolled her eyes, “Like I’m going to believe that Casey is the one who came up with a fake dating scenario. Yeah right, Derek.”

“Um. He might, maybe, sort of be right,” Casey mumbled as she sat down next to Derek on the couch.

“Did I hear that right? This is Casey’s fault?” Edwin asked as he walked up to the camera. He had a very familiar white binder and pen in his hand.

“I panicked! Vicki was being Vicki and I panicked,” Casey shouted.

“Wow, Casey, this is surprising,” Edwin said as he wrote something down in the binder.

“What are you writing down?” Derek asked. Edwin shrugged and slammed the binder shut.

“Just some observations,” he replied with a sly look at Lizzie.

“Are you still gathering data on us? I thought was in prep for high school?” Casey asked with a sigh.

“Yeah and now it’s in prep for university. Science never rests, Casey. Science never rests,” Edwin said with a firm nod. Derek rolled his eyes and wondered if his little brother would ever learn what it meant to be cool. Probably not.

“Well, I still can’t believe that Casey is the one who started this but let’s get to work,” Lizzie said with a shake of her head. “Did you guys have any terms already agreed on?”

“Gas money for a month, tutoring, and Derek gets to call the shots,” Casey listed.

“Okay, well, right off the bat we’re getting rid of Derek calling the shots,” Lizzie said.

“Why is that the first thing to go?” Derek asked with a frown.

“Because it’s ridiculous. You’ll just use it to embarrass Casey and this whole thing is going to be embarrassing enough without you adding to it,” Liz explained. She turned to Edwin who was furiously writing in the binder. “Do you have a problem with that?”

“Shouldn’t you be asking me that?” Derek asked.

“Leave this to me, Derek,” Edwin said with an air of authority that Derek seriously doubted. “That’s fine.”

“Ed!” Derek yelled.

“Relax, bro,” Edwin said with a nervous grin. “Gas money stays and tutoring continues until Derek either graduates or drops out.”

“Hey!” Derek yelled. “Drops out? Really?”

“Just making the terms as clear as possible, bro. Of course you’ll graduate,” Edwin said quickly, giving Derek an awkward smile. He looked at Liz for help but she just shook her head.

“Gas money for the length of the con. My client is not made of money,” Liz countered. Edwin thought about it for a minute before agreeing. “Did you two come up with a background story? How you got together?”

Casey looked at Derek for a second before she repeated the story that Derek had come up with. Liz nodded along while Ed took notes. When Casey was finished her face was beet red and she was twisting her hands together.

“You guys aren’t, like, freaked out or anything?” she asked. Ed and Liz looked at each other before shrugging.

“It’s not like you two are actually dating. It’s kind of like playing house except you’re university students who should really know better,” Edwin said. Derek glared at him for a minute until Liz spoke.

“We’re fine. I mean, it’s kind of funny. How stupid is Vicki if she believed that you two would ever date?” she said with a smile. Derek swallowed the lump in his throat while Casey smiled and laughed. “But I think we should stick with Derek’s story. Sorry Case but it is believable.”

Casey frowned and looked at Derek, “Am I really that dramatic?”

Derek nodded and turned back to the computer, “Alright, so we have a background story and incentive. Anything else?”

“PDA,” Casey mumbled. Liz and Ed looked at each other before simultaneously clearing their throats. They were spending way too much time together.

“Right,” Ed started. “Um, so PDA as in public displays of affection. Right. Well, I guess, we can just –“

“Oh for goodness sake, Edwin,” Liz said with a roll of her eyes. “PDA is kept to a minimum. Hugging and hand holding is okay but kissing is strictly on a need-to basis.”

“Thanks, Lizzie,” Casey said with a small smile.

“Define need-to basis,” Derek said. When the three of them all looked at him strangely he shrugged. “We just want to make the terms as clear as possible, right?”

Edwin and Liz both looked skeptical but shrugged it off. Casey just kept looking at him like he’d grown a second head. Derek shifted slightly under her gaze and ignored her as best he could.

“Well, I guess, when you’re with Vicki or anyone else you need to convince?” Liz said. “I mean it’s not like you guys want to kiss each other. I’m sure you’ll use your discretion.”

Ed let out a bellow of a laugh that made Derek cringe. Liz chuckled slightly and gave them both a big smile. Derek tried to laugh but he kind of grimaced and grunted. Casey just looked pale.

“Oh man, good one Liz,” Edwin said after he calmed down. He patted her on the back and wiped at his eye.

“Not that funny, Ed,” Derek growled. Edwin instantly sobered up, pulling on the collar of his shirt for a second.

“Sorry, bro. Anyways, anything else that you guys want to address?” he asked before looking between Casey and Derek. They both shrugged. “Alright, then I think we’re done here. Pleasure doing business, as always.”

He held his hand out to Lizzie and smiled when she took it. Edwin waved at Derek before he left the room. Lizzie turned to Casey with an excited grin, “I have something to tell you!”

“What?” Casey asked as she leaned forward.

“Daryl asked me out!” Lizzie shouted. Casey screeched and waved her hands.

“That’s so exciting!”

“I know!”

“Could you take this somewhere else? Some of us want to keep our eardrums,” Derek said with a tiny grin. Casey rolled her eyes and gathered her laptop in her arms. She moved to her bedroom and shut the door slightly, leaving it open a crack.

Derek rubbed at his face and shoved more pancake into his mouth. Pancakes could make everything better if he ate enough, right? He distinctly remembered going to bed thinking that he would form a plan before Vicki showed up but he was stuck in the same place he’d been the night before. It didn’t help that Casey seemed even more freaked out by this whole thing than she had been the day before.

He was going to have to use this whole fake dating thing to his advantage but how? Vicki was only going to be in town for a couple of days and there was only so much that he could do in a couple of days. Even he was willing to admit that he wasn’t that good. Of course he could just do the mature thing: fucking telling her how he felt.

He shoved the last bite of pancake in his mouth and shook his head. There was no way that Derek Venturi was going to take the honest route. Not until it was a last resort. All he could picture right now was Casey flat out rejecting him and running back to New York and Jesse. Not a risk he was willing to take.

Derek was jolted out of his thoughts when the speaker buzzed. Putting his plate down, he grabbed one of Casey’s pancakes and went to the speaker, “Hello?”

“Derek? It’s Vicki. Can you buzz me up?” she asked. Derek hit the buzzer, unlocking the door downstairs.

“Come on up – the door’s unlocked so just come in,” he said while he unlocked the front door. He didn’t wait for her to answer before he was rushing into Casey’s room.

“Der-ek! This isn’t London, you can’t just rush in here whenever you want,” Casey snapped from her desk. Liz was looking at him with wide eyes from the laptop screen. He tilted his head before ignoring her entirely. Whatever they had been talking about did not matter.

“Vicki is here,” he replied.

“Oh fuck,” Casey said. Derek stretched his neck and closed his eyes briefly. He was seriously going to have to control that Pavlovian response to her cursing, especially if it was going to keep rolling off her tongue with such ease. “Wish us luck, Liz.”

“Luck!” she said before ending the video call.

“What were you and Liz talking about?” Derek asked but Casey ignored him.

Panicking, she stood up from her desk and started to fuss with her hair. She looked at him for a minute with wide eyes before rushing to the mirror and adjusting her outfit. She was muttering to herself under her breath and stared dabbing at her eye make-up when Derek crossed the room and grabbed her hands in his own.

“Relax, we’ve got this. It’s Bob all over again,” he said softly, rubbing circles into her wrists with his thumbs.

“We got caught when we lied about Bob, remember?” she snapped. Derek cringed slightly but didn’t let go of Casey’s hands.

“Yeah, well that’s mostly because you’re a terrible liar and should have owned up to it in the first place,” Derek said. Casey gasped and yanked a hand back to smack him on the chest. Derek flinched and moved to protect himself, letting go of her other hand.

Now that she was free, she proceeded to bat at him with both hands, “This is so stupid! I can’t believe I did this. I blame you! This is your fault!”

“My fault? How is any of this my fault?” he asked as he ducked below her batting hands to grab her around her waist. She squeaked when he threw her over his shoulder but that didn’t stop her from hitting and kicking him.

“You’re a bad influence! I was a good person before I met you and now look at me!” she hollered.

Derek wrapped an arm around her flailing legs and threw her down on the bed, landing on top of her. She continued to struggle until Derek had pinned her arms down and was resting his full weight on her legs. Who knew dancers had such strong legs?

“Der-ek!” she grunted. She was glaring up at him with rosy pink cheeks.

“Cas-ey!” he mocked. She tried to kick her legs but just ended up flailing her feet around. He smiled and was about to laugh or maybe kiss her (he really had not decided yet) when someone cleared their throat.

Both Derek and Casey looked towards to the bedroom door where Vicki was casually leaning with a smirk on her face, “Am I interrupting something?”

Chapter Text

“Vicki!” Casey shrieked. She glanced at Derek’s blank face and pushed at his shoulder. That seemed to snap him out of it. He climbed off of her, sitting down on her bed. Casey frowned, she was sure that was not allowed.

“Hey cousin Case,” Vicki said with a smirk. She looked over at Derek and then back to Casey. “What have you been up to?”

Casey felt her face get hot, flashbacking to Derek’s mouth between her breasts.

“Nothing! Nothing! I haven’t been up to anything!”

Vicki laughed and smiled at Derek, “What’s happening, big D?”

“Not much, Victoria,” he replied with a smirk. “Come to see the superiority of Queen’s to Toronto?”

“You know its Vicki again. I wouldn’t say its superior just yet, D. Need to scope it out, see if it’s up to my standards,” she said with a smile. The two of them continued to look at each other for a minute longer than Casey was comfortable with. She clapped her hands together, dragging their attention back to her.

“So! You’re here. What do you want to do first?” Casey asked with a big smile. Derek rolled his eyes and leaned back so that he was resting against the pile of pillows at the foot of her bed. His shirt pulled up slightly and she could see part of the trail of hair that went below the waist of his jeans.

When she turned away quickly, Vicki was watching her with an oddly triumphant smirk.

“I don’t know, cuz. Don’t you have our whole day already planned out with all the best sites and restaurants?” Vicki asked with a sigh. She rubbed at her eyes and Casey noticed how tired she looked.

“I mean, of course I do, but you look kind of tired so we can scrap it and get lunch? I bet you’re starving,” Casey said with a shrug.

Vicki gave her a grateful smile and nodded, “Food sounds amazing right now.”

“Great! You can set your stuff up in the living room – I only have the one room so that’s where you’ll be sleeping – and then we can go!” Casey said with a smile that quickly faded when she looked at Derek. “You can go home now.”

Derek sat up with a hand on his chest and a shocked look on his face. She rolled her eyes at him and saw the tiniest bit of a smirk on his lips. She watched his tongue dart out to moisten those stupid lips before he opened his mouth to say something. Vicki beat him to the punch though, “Oh, Casey! Come on! We’ve got to have lover boy join us for lunch. First off, I’m sure he’s hungry and, second, I am dying to hear about how you two hooked up.”

“I told you that already,” Casey said through clenched teeth. She looked at her cousin who was enjoying this way too much.

“Oh, you told me your version of events. I just want to hear Derek’s,” she replied with a shrug.

“Come on, Case! You can’t deny us the chance to hang out as step-cousins,” Derek said as he threw his arm around her shoulders. She tensed and resisted the urge to push him away. He was way too comfortable with touching her. She tried to smile and wrapped her arm around his waist, sliding a hand under his shirt to pinch his side. He flinched slightly and squeezed her shoulder a little too tight. Vicki looked at them with her eyebrow raised, waiting for Casey’s answer.

“I could never keep you two apart! That would be mean,” she said in the fake cheery voice she ended up using a lot when she was around Vicki.

“Awesome!” Vicki replied in an equally cheery voice. “I’m going to pee and then we can go.”

Once Casey heard the bathroom door shut, she pushed Derek’s arm of her and turned on him, “What is your problem?”

“Problem? I don’t have a problem. You, on the other hand, definitely have a problem,” Derek hissed back. He narrowed his eyes at her and crossed his arms. “Are you trying to sabotage this whole thing?”

“Of course not!” she snapped. She mirrored his stance and tried to think rationally. “I just was caught off guard. It’s not like we’ve been at this very long. I don’t know how to act.”

“How about you just act like Casey?” Derek said with a sigh. “You’ve been a girlfriend before. It shouldn’t be this hard.”

She nodded. He was right. What was so special about Derek compared to Jesse or Max? She had slipped into the girlfriend role so easily for them. It hadn’t required any thinking at all but all she did when it came to Derek was think. She couldn’t shut her brain off. There just was too much history there – that had to be the explanation.

Maybe if she pretended that he was Max or Jesse, either of the best boyfriends she’s ever had, then it would be easier. Maybe.

“You’re right. I can’t believe it but you’re right,” she said with a shake of her head and a laugh. She looked at him and bit her lip. His eyes were on her mouth and she noticed just how close she was to him. How did this always happen? Clearing her throat, she took a step back and ran a hand through her hair.

“I can do this. I know I can,” she said softly to herself. Derek stepped closer to her and put his hands gently on her upper arms. He rubbed up and down a couple of times before Casey pushed him off of her. She wrapped her arms around her waist and left the bedroom. Just because she had to pretend to be his girlfriend, that she knew she could put on a convincing show, didn’t mean that she had to spend more alone time with him than needed.

“Vicki, are you ready yet?” Casey shouted as she grabbed her purse and fluffed her hair one more time. Vicki stepped out of the bathroom and nodded. Casey couldn’t help noticing the new layer of lipstick and the sly look Vicki sent towards Derek as he stepped out of the bedroom. Casey’s spine stiffened slightly but she quickly pushed the feeling away.

Derek wasn’t her boyfriend. Not really, at least. If Vicki wanted to flirt with him then she wasn’t going to let it bother her. Who cared if Vicki was supposed to think Derek was with Casey and that ultimately it looked like Vicki was contemplating a Truman 2.0 type situation? Not Casey McDonald, not at all. If she grabbed Derek’s hand as they walked out of the apartment and smirked slightly at Vicki over her shoulder it was entirely to play along with the game. Right?

“I think there’s a deli around the corner, right Derek?” she asked with a smile. Vicki raised an eyebrow at Casey but didn’t say anything. Casey tried not to scowl. She hated when Vicki did that, like she knew something about Casey that Casey didn’t.

“Uh – there’s that place that makes that salad you like. Is that the one?” Derek asked. He shrugged and pulled Casey closer to him, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. She tensed a bit but smiled through it and nodded.

“You two go there often?” Vicki asked from behind them. Casey shrugged, reaching up to lace her fingers with Derek’s. She could definitely do this and she didn’t even have to pretend that it was Jesse or Max to do it. Derek looked down at her and smiled slightly before spinning them around to walk backwards while he talked to Vicki.

“Not too often. We are broke university students,” Derek said with a smile. “But they have this salad with like bell peppers, chick peas, and some stinky cheese that she loves.”

“Feta cheese is not that stinky. It’s a mild cheese,” Casey said with a roll of her eye. She glanced over her shoulder to make sure they weren’t going to walk into anyone or anything before turning back to Vicki. “Plus, he totally liked it to when he stole half of it while I was in the bathroom.”

“Hey! I didn’t steal anything,” Derek replied. “You said you were done, so I helped clean the plate. It would have been wasteful to just leave it. Children in Africa could have lived off of that thing for like a week or something.”

“Oh, yes, I forgot. Derek Venturi – humanitarian and lover of the unfortunate,” Casey said with a laugh. Derek rolled his eyes and turned them back around.

“Man, I never thought I would see the day,” Vicki mumbled behind them.

“Huh?” Casey asked over her shoulder. Vicki picked up the pace and wrapped her arm around Casey’s waist, bumping her in the hip and into Derek.

“You two getting along. I mean, yeah, at that party Derek was all knight in shining armor but I just thought that was a onetime thing, you know?” Vicki said with a shrug. Casey licked her lips and looked at Derek out of the corner of his eye. He was staring straight ahead, face blank.

“What do you mean knight in shining armor?” Casey asked slowly. She kept her eyes on her feet but held onto Derek’s hand a little tighter. She knew Derek had said something to Truman – why else would he have shown up at the house in a tux? But she didn’t know that he’d said anything at the party.

“And we’re here!” Derek announced, letting go of Casey. He pushed her towards the entrance and grabbed Vicki by the arm. “Aren’t we so excited to be here at this deli in the present and not bringing up old shit?”

“Chills, Derek,” Vicki said with a laugh. She pulled her arm free and walked into the deli in front of Casey. Casey turned to Derek and crossed her arms. She stared at him with a raised eyebrow waiting for some kind of an explanation.

“It was nothing! Like I said. Old shit,” Derek snapped. He shoved his hands in his pockets and clenched his jaw. “Just go inside, alright?”

“Alright but this conversation is not over,” Casey said. She gave him one more long look before following Vicki inside. Derek was behind her but passed by their table to grab menus. While he was busy with that, Casey leaned across the table and whispered, “What did he say?”

“I can’t believe he didn’t tell you but okay so you run off, right? And Derek comes up and is all ‘apologize and never speak to her again – nobody treats Casey that way.’ I honestly thought he was going to hit Truman,” Vicki said with a small smile. “It was really sweet and totally un-Derek like but, I mean, it makes sense now.”

“What – what do you mean it makes sense now?” Casey replied softly.

She was still trying to wrap her head around Derek defending her. And in high school no less! He hated her in high school but if she thought back to that night (something she tried to avoid at all costs), he had been uncharacteristically kind. He’d left the party, and more importantly the cute blonde he’d been flirting with all night, to make the two hour drive home. He hadn’t asked her about anything or made fun of her. He’d let her listen to her favorite station on the radio. He’d called her mom so that she’d have a shoulder to cry on when they got home.

“I mean, he was so protective that night. The Derek that I met at the wedding wouldn’t have batted an eye but he was so upset that you were upset. Clearly, he had feelings for you even then,” Vicki said with a knowing smile. Casey leaned back and nodded. She put a hand on her cheek. It was hot. She was probably bright red.

“Alright, ladies. I come bearing menus,” Derek said as he threw himself into the chair next to Casey. He rested his elbow on the back of Casey’s chair and gently put his hand on her shoulder. Casey shoved her face in the menu, trying to fight back the blush she knew was on her cheeks. She tried to read the menu but it might as well have been in a different language. All she could do was think about the weight of Derek’s hand on her shoulder. Not good. Not good at all.

“I have to go to the bathroom!” she shouted before pushing her chair back. It wobbled for a second and she turned quickly to catch it before it fell. She bumped the table with her hip and the fake flowers in the middle fell over, rolling towards the edge of the table. She spun back around and tried to catch the vase before it fell to the ground but she missed, quickly kneeling down to grab it. She slammed it down on the table and glared at it when it started to wobble.

When she looked up both Derek and Vicki were staring at her like she’d grown a second head.

“Geeze, Klutzilla, calm down,” Vicki said with a laugh. She flicked her hair back and looked at Derek out of the corner of her eye with a smile that Casey definitely didn’t like.

“If you have to go that badly, just go. No need to take down the restaurant with you,” Derek mumbled but there wasn’t much force behind the slight insult. He was looking at her weirdly, yet another Derek Venturi facial expression that she couldn’t identify.

Huffing, Casey spun around on her heel and marched into the bathroom. It was a one stall, which was nice considering she was having a total meltdown. She paced back and forth, trying to breathe deeply. She was 95% sure that her ‘deep breathing’ was really just her hyperventilating.

“Okay, Casey. Think about this logically,” she mumbled to herself. She stopped into front of the sink and clutched both sides of the porcelain bowl. She stared at herself and took a deep breath. “Who cares if Derek did one nice thing? It doesn’t make up for the crappy things he’s done.”

Casey took another deep breath and tried to bring up all of the horrible things Derek Venturi had ever done to her. First off, there was the whole Klutzilla thing. But he’d made it a point to try and smooth that over by telling everyone they were related. So, maybe that one didn’t count.

There was the time that he’d auditioned for the school play and almost ruined it with his terrible dancing and singing. But that wasn’t aimed at her. Definitely didn’t count, even if it annoyed her to no end.

The dance competition! That one was definitely done to annoy her. He’d said so himself and then he’d had the nerve to actually make it into the final four! And the icing on the cake was when he blabbed about not really being a dancer, letting Sadia steal her dance partner.

Then again, he did practice really hard to actually compete as her partner and they had won.

“Pull it together, Casey!” she said to herself. Groaning, Casey turned the sink on and splashed herself with cold water.

There were bad things running through her head. Things like how Derek could be unbearably sweet when he wanted to. How he never hurt her feelings on purpose – all of those pranks, all of the teasing – none of it had been geared to actually hurt her, just piss her off. How much he cared about his little siblings even if he would never admit it. How, even when he was being at his most annoying, she always had fun with him.
Definitely bad thoughts.

She shook her arms out and decided that there was only one solution to this obvious problem.

Rules. She needed rules to keep herself from falling for Derek fucking Venturi.

Casey nodded to herself and started mapping out her fool proof plan to avoid developing any feelings for Derek Venturi that ventured outside of tolerance and mild irritation. First off, she really needed to stop getting into compromising situations with him. No more random make-outs. No more sitting on laps at midnight. No more casual touches. Nothing of that nature. There was a no-Derek bubble around her now.

Any and all touches would be fake-relationship related and that was it.

Kissing. Major no-no but when it happened (again, for the sake of the fake relationship and that was IT, are you listening Casey McDonald?) she had to think of things other than how soft his lips were or the way his hands wrapped around her waist. Mud. Snakes. Ralph eating. Anything to make kissing Derek seem gross.

Casey stared at her reflection for a few more minutes before she nodded again and brushed her hair back. Those were a good starting point. She would have to come up with more, of course, but for now those would have to do. Taking one more deep breath, Casey left the bathroom and rejoined Derek and Vicki at the table.

“There you are! I was just about to send out a search party. We thought you might have drowned in the toilet or something,” Derek said with a smirk. Casey frowned at him and took the seat on the other side of Vicki. She ignored the look that Derek gave her and turned towards Vicki.

“What were you two talking about?” she asked with a smile. It was so fake that it was making her cheeks hurt but she wasn’t going to let it drop. She was happy with her fake-boyfriend and the cousin that she didn’t fully trust. Yup, Casey McDonald was having a blast.

“Well, Derek was just telling me about how you two got together,” Vicki said with a small smile. Casey looked at Derek but he wouldn’t make eye contact with her. Sighing, Casey waited for the ridicule that was bound to come. “I had no idea that he could be so romantic!”

“Wait. What?” Casey asked, sitting up straight and looking between the two of them.

Derek cleared his throat and said, “Yeah. I told her how after you came home that I just couldn’t stop thinking about you. It was easy when you were in New York but now you were here and you were single and I kind of just threw all my cards down.”

“Aw! He’s being modest!” Vicki said. She clapped her hands together and clasped them under her chin. “He told me how you avoided him like crazy for the first week, which I totally get, but he wouldn’t let that stop him. He told me all about the dinner he cooked with the candles and the roses. He told me about the song he wrote you and how he played it for you the night you finally got together.”

Casey cleared her throat and nodded, “Yeah. Right. It was beautiful.”

She was not tearing up. She was not tearing up. She was not tearing up.

“Yeah, well, don’t say I never gave you anything,” Derek mumbled. He finally looked Casey in the eye and kind of shrugged, kind of half smiled. She gave him a small, tight smile back but couldn’t look away from him. When did his eyes get that kind? Why hadn’t she noticed how pretty they were? Sure, they were brown but there was a sparkle there that was pure Derek. It always seems brighter when they were fighting or when he was pulling a prank on her but that was nothing compared to the way he was looking at her now.

Casey turned away quickly and rubbed at her eyes. Rule number three: avoid eye contact that lasted longer than a few seconds.

***

“Alright. So, we’ve eaten and toured the campus. Now what?” Casey asked. She had her arm linked with Vicki’s while Derek walked in front of them. “Derek, do you know if there is anything going on tonight? Maybe we could show Vicki some of the party life here?”

“I’d have to hit up the guys from the team first, but I’m sure there’s something going on. There always is,” Derek shouted over his shoulder.

“What do you say, cousin Vick? Up for a party tonight?” Casey asked, bumping her hip into Vicki’s. It hadn’t been a total bust of a day. After Derek’s little ‘confession’ at lunch, Vicki had chilled out on the flirting and Casey remembered that Vicki could actually be fun when she wanted to be.

“I’m actually kind of tired. Do you think that, maybe, we could do a movie night?” Vicki asked with an uncharacteristically shy smile. Casey shrugged and nodded. She would always take a movie night over a party.

“Is this going to be one of those eat crappy food and cry over actors nights? If so, I think I’ll pass,” Derek groaned.

“Hey! You can’t pass! I’m loving this family bonding time. I want more,” Vicki said with a smile. “And since I am the guest of honor – you have to abide.”

She laughed and picked up her pace to wrap an arm around Derek’s waist, dragging Casey along with her.

“Come on, cuz. You can’t say that you aren’t having an excellent day!” Vicki said. Derek smiled and wrapped an arm around Vicki, brushing his fingers over Casey’s shoulder.

“So, today wasn’t a total disaster but that doesn’t mean that I will subject myself to a night of chick flicks,” Derek insisted. He kept running his fingers back and forth over Casey’s shoulder. She could barely think, her mind was so focused on the movement. He really, REALLY, needed to stop doing things like this.

“Casey, use your girlfriend privilege and make him join us,” Vicki whined, snapping Casey out of her stupor.

“You are sorely mistaken if you think I have any influence of Derek Venturi,” Casey said with a laugh. She let go of Vicki’s arm and stepped away a little, creating some space between her and Derek’s stupid fingers. He gave her a look over Vicki’s head that she ignored.

“You’ve got to have some control over him, right? Can’t you like withhold blowjobs or something?” Vicki asked with a laugh. Derek tripped over something and let go of Vicki before snapping back up and straightening his hair. Casey opened and closed her mouth, trying to find some response for that.

“Blowjobs. Heh. Funny, Vicki. Very funny,” Derek said a little too loudly. A couple of people turned to give them funny looks. Casey swallowed the lump in her throat and tried to laugh but that just made even more people turn to stare as they walked by.

“Geeze, you two relax. I was just kidding,” Vicki said with a shrug. “If you don’t want to come with Derek, I’m sure I’ll survive.”

“No, its fine but we’re having it at my place. At the very least, I want to be comfortable,” Derek said. If his voice cracked, neither Vicki nor Casey mentioned it. Casey did raise her eyebrow at him but she tried really hard not to laugh.

“What’s wrong with my apartment? You were comfortable enough at it last night,” Casey said with a pout. She liked her apartment. It was cozy, a nice combination of her mother’s classy style and the comfy, rag-tag style she had developed in New York with Jesse.

“That was a necessity! It’s not like I wanted to stay with you last night. It was late,” Derek replied. Casey rolled her eyes.

“It was late because you showed up – out of the blue – at midnight! It’s not my apartment’s fault that you are irresponsible,” Casey snapped. Derek laughed and rolled his eyes.

“Here it comes. The responsibility speech. Remind me again, who was it that ran off to New York for a year and who was it that actually went to school?” Derek said with a smirk. Casey gasped and stopped walking.

“You know exactly why I went to New York, Derek Venturi!” she hissed. “I can’t believe you sometimes.”

“Hey, princess, I haven’t changed since you met me. So, you can stop with the surprised act, okay?” Derek snapped.

“Guys. Chills,” Vicki interrupted. “It’s just a movie night. Who cares where we have it?”

Casey huffed and shook her head, “You’re right. I’m sorry, Vicki, that Derek is such an insufferable ass.”

“Hey! I resent that!” he shouted, pointing at her.

“So much for you two getting along,” Vicki mumbled. Casey sighed and rolled her eyes. This was stupid and she was pretty sure that if they kept bickering, they were going to blow the whole thing.

“We can have the stupid movie night at Derek’s apartment,” she said under her breath. Derek smirked in victory and Vicki smiled.

“You’re the best cousin, ever!” Vicki shouted as she wrapped an arm around Casey. Casey smiled slightly and wrapped her arm around Vicki’s waist. “Don’t worry. We’re totally going to pick the movie.”

“Hey! I never agreed to that!”

“Too bad, D. We’re chilling at your place, so we get to pick the movie. It’s called a compromise,” Vicki explained with a smirk. Casey laughed and looked at Derek’s pout.

“If you keep pouting like that your face is going to get stuck that way! Don’t worry, Derek. It won’t be too bad,” Casey said with a laugh. Derek eyed her suspiciously before shrugging.

“I’m sure he’d feel better if you gave him a kiss, Case,” Vicki said softly. “Kisses heal all wounds.”

Casey stiffened and looked over at Derek to see if he heard. He seemed to be oblivious but, then again, he always looked kind of oblivious. Casey kind of shrugged and forced out a giggle that made Vicki look at her funny. She cleared her throat and turned forward, ignoring the way Vicki was looking at her.

“I’m just kidding, Case,” Vicki said with a laugh. “You’d think I suggested kissing Ed by the way you’re reacting.”

“Who’s kissing Ed?” Derek asked, tuning back into the conversation.

“I suggested Casey kiss you to get rid of that pout and I don’t know. She acted weird,” Vicki said with a shrug. “Maybe she’s actually mad at you for dissing the apartment.”

“Typical Casey, getting pissed over nothing,” Derek said with a shake of his head. He sidestepped Vicki and came up against Casey’s other side. He pulled her to him in a hug, wrapping his arms around her waist and looking down at her. “Are you really mad at me, baby?”

“Of course not, Der-ek,” she said through clenched teeth. He smirked and pulled her closer to him. This was definitely against rule number one in her fool-proof plan but since he was being an annoying prick, she figured she could let it slide this one time.

“Don’t be mad at me. You know how much I love spending time with you at your apartment,” he said with a growing smirk. “Doing all sorts of the things in all sorts of places and positions.”

“Der-ek!” Casey gasped. She smacked at his chest but that just made him hold her closer. Definitely against rule number one – annoying or not – that rule was definitely being broken right now.

“Come on, baby girl,” he said softly, leaning towards her. She felt a shiver run down her spine and her heart rate increased a little. She grabbed a bit of his t-shirt, curling her hand into a fist against his chest. “I’ll make it up to you. Promise.”

His voice was barely above a whisper and Casey had the distinct feeling that this wasn’t for show anymore. He was actually offering . . . that to her and she was really tempted to take him up on it. He brushed his mouth over hers lightly, barely even a kiss if she thought about it (which she was, of course), before he pressed his mouth to hers fully. Instinctually, she slid her hand up to cup the back of his neck, twirling her fingers into the softness of his hair. She mentally kicked herself and started running through things that were decidedly un-sexy.

Mud.

Snakes.

Algebra.

Ralph eating.

Ralph ralphing.

Derek ran his tongue over her bottom lip and she threw rule number two out the window. Then it was nothing but Derek’s hands on her waist. Derek’s lips on her lips. Derek’s tongue licking the roof of her mouth. Derek’s hair curled around her fingers. Derek’s hips pressed against her own.

Derek.

Derek.

Derek.

Vicki cleared her throat behind them and Casey pulled away with a gasp.

“Forgive me, Space Case?” Derek asked. He leaned in close to her again, letting his hair brush against her forehead. Absently mindedly, she nodded and stepped away from him with a hand on her mouth. He smiled and stretched, turning to Vicki.

“If I knew all I had to do was kiss her to get her to forgive me, I would have done it years ago,” he said with a laugh.

“Good to know the spark is still there. Let’s go,” Vicki said while rolling her eyes. Casey laughed slightly and looped arms with Vicki again and steered her in the direction of Derek’s apartment with Derek trailing behind them.

***

“I can’t believe you’re making me watch this,” Derek whined for the millionth time. Casey rolled her eyes and snuggled further into the couch, wrapping her arms around herself. It was cold in Derek’s apartment and, being the bad host that he was, he’d yet to offer her a blanket or something.

“It’s not so bad,” Vicki replied as she plopped down in Derek’s chair with a bowl of popcorn. Derek glared at her before sitting down next to Casey, resting his arm behind her.

Casey had decided that the incident on the way back from lunch was a fluke. From this moment forward, she was rededicated to the rules. Having Derek resting his arm behind her was a little too close to breaking them again, so she scooted the side and rested against the armrest. She snuggled into the corner of the couch and stretched out her legs a little to try and create a barrier between them.

Derek frowned and pulled her feet into his lap. She yanked them back. He glared at her and pulled them back. She yanking back but this time Derek kept a firm grasp on them. Rolling her eyes, Casey settled back into the couch. This didn’t really break the rule, right?

“Just explain to me why we have to watch this movie?” Derek whined. He had a hand on Casey’s ankle and was rubbing circles with his thumb. Casey wiggled a little and shook her head. Definitely not breaking the rule. It couldn’t be. It was just a thumb and an ankle. Plus, it was totally innocent with Vicki in the room.

“Because it has action for you and romance for us,” Vicki explained around a mouthful of popcorn. Derek looked at Casey and raised his eyebrows.

“Okay, so there’s maybe more romance than there is action but it’s set during World War II and there’s Keira Knightly!” Casey said. Derek scoffed. “You’ll like it. I promise.”

“And if I don’t like it?” Derek asked. “Which is more likely.”

“I don’t know! I’ll make it up to you, okay?” Casey huffed. Derek smirked and leaned back into the couch. Casey rolled her eyes and turned towards the TV.

She wished she had brought a jacket with her. Derek’s apartment was always cold. She should have known better than to just agree to have movie night here. She was totally unprepared. Trying to push back a shiver, Casey pulled her legs into herself to try and conserve warmth. Derek looked over at her and rolled his eyes before getting up and going to his bedroom.

When he came back, he had his comforter bunched up in his arms. He sat back down, stretched his legs out so that his feet were resting on the coffee table, and threw the comforter over himself. He held up an arm and gestured for her to join him.

Casey bit her lip and quickly thought it over. If she went over there then she was definitely breaking the rule – cuddling was explicitly stated – but it was for the sake of the fake relationship. She was sure that Vicki would think it’s weird if she didn’t snuggle up to Derek.

Casey sighed and slid along the couch and fit herself under Derek’s extended arm. She curled her legs underneath her and rested her knees on his thigh. Derek’s arm felt heavy across her shoulders but the body heat was greatly appreciated.

“Thanks,” she mumbled.

“If you were cold, all you had to do was say something. I’m not totally cruel, Space Case,” Derek replied. He looked down at her briefly before looking back at the TV.

“Whatever, Venturi. Shut up and watch the movie,” Casey said. She put her head on his shoulder and couldn’t help the sigh of contentment when he held her a little tighter.

She loved this movie – loved the epic romance, loved how it ended, loved the costumes and the locations. It was sad, sure, and she was bound to cry but that didn’t stain the movie for her. But for the first time since she first saw it she could barely concentrate.

Derek kept shifting the shoulder beneath her head but every time she tried to sit up a little straighter he gave her this sad little pout. She wasn’t sure he was even aware that he was doing it but every time it happened she just put her head back down without protest.

Then of course came the running commentary.

“Man that little girl is a bitch.”

“Cucumberbitch – you are a creepy ass dude.”

“I would totally do Keira Knightly against a bookshelf. No questions about it.”

“I knew that little girl was a bitch. What did I say? Called it.”

Eventually, Casey was able to ignore it.

What she wasn’t able to ignore was Derek’s fingers casually running up and down her neck. She tilted her head to the side and stretched her neck and shifted her torso. She did everything she could to signal that he should stop because it was definitely breaking the rules and she was definitely enjoying it too much but he just kept on going. To make matters worse, at one point he rested his head on hers and (she insisted she was imagining it – she had to be) kissed the crown of her head.

“Derek,” she whispered when his fingers found their way to the base of her neck.

“Hm?”

“Stop it,” she replied softly.

He slid down on the couch so that his face was closer to hers before saying, “Stop what?”

“Stop doing that,” she said, reaching up to grab his fingers. She turned to look at Derek and was caught off guard by how bright his eyes were. He twisted his hand free and laced his fingers with hers. He leaned in a little and Casey held her breath.

“What’s the matter, baby girl?” he asked. She felt her toes curl and her stomach drop. He smirked and kissed her on the cheek before leaning back again and resting his head on her shoulder.

“You’re a jerk,” she hissed before turning back to the movie, which was practically over. Cecilia was yelling at Briony about never forgiving her and Robbie looked like death warmed over. Casey pouted and crossed her arms.

“What are you huffing about?” Derek drawled.

“I missed most of the movie!” Casey whined. “And it’s your fault!”

“Here we go again,” Vicki groaned. Casey frowned and slammed her mouth shut while Derek laughed.

“Is this sob fest over yet?” he asked.

“Wait for it,” Vicki said, eyes glued to the TV. Derek sighed and settled back into Casey. Casey rested her head on his shoulder again and sighed. The big reveal was about to happen and, at least, she didn’t miss that.
Once the credits started to roll, Derek sat up straight and threw a pillow at the TV, “That bitch!”

“Der-ek!”

“What? First she ruins their lives and then makes up some bullshit story about how they lived happily ever after? Please,” he said with a snort.

“I don’t know. I thought it was kind of sweet in a totally twisted way,” Vicki said with a shrug. Derek looked at her with a raised eyebrow. “Hey! Sometimes people do fucked up shit when they’re younger and they have to find whatever way they can to make up for it. She just did what she could even though it was too late.”

“Whatever. Clearly all you McDonalds are a bunch of saps,” Derek said.

“I am not a McDonald. Thank you very much,” Vicki said with a laugh. Derek rolled his eyes and stood up, stretching out.

“Alright ladies. Are you two staying or should I drive you home?” he asked as he turned the DVD player off. “Vicki, you have to head back tomorrow right? Classes start soon, don’t they?”

“Uh – about that,” Vicki mumbled. Casey looked over at her with a raised brow. “So, I kind of dropped out? And I haven’t told my mom?”

“What!” Casey yelled as she stood up. For a second, she was caught in the comforter but she wrestled her way free. “You dropped out? Are you insane?”

“Chills, Case!” Vicki shouted back. She stood up as well and crossed her arms. “Not all of us are total bookworms okay? I hated it!”

“Then transfer! Find somewhere with better programs or tutors or facilities! You don’t just drop out, Victoria!”

“You took a year off in New York and you’re going to give me shit? Really, Case?”

“I was working in New York! I had a job and bills and responsibilities. I didn’t throw everything to the wind saying fuck it! God, you are so irresponsible,” Casey said with a shake of her head. Part of her was totally shocked that Vicki would do something so unbelievably stupid but then again, it was Vicki. Nothing Vicki ever did seemed that surprising. There was a wildness in Vicki that just wouldn’t be controlled. Casey had hoped that maybe she’d toned it down a bit but, clearly, she was wrong.

“Look, I know it was stupid! I know it was irresponsible! I know that! I don’t need to hear it from you, Casey! Why do you think I haven’t told my mom?” Vicki shouted. “I tried so hard but I couldn’t do it! No matter how much she pushed me, I just couldn’t do it! So, I came here thinking that maybe my cousin could help me out. Clearly, I was wrong!”

Vicki grabbed her purse and made a beeline for the door but Derek stopped her, “Vicki. Don’t go. Just. Sit down.”

“Why? So, perfect fucking Casey can lecture me about how stupid I am? No, thanks,” Vicki replied. Her voice was thick and Casey realized that she was on the verge of tears.

Taking a deep breath, Casey sat down on the couch, “Vicki, I’m sorry I yelled. I shouldn’t have. I – I overreacted. I just don’t want you to throw your future away.”

“Not everyone’s future includes university, Case,” Vicki said with a tired sigh. “Look, I just need a place to stay for a while until I can figure a few things out. I thought I could stay with you.”

“Of course you can. Of course. We’re family. I could never turn you out, Vicki,” Casey said with a small smile. Vicki smiled back and sat down next to her, throwing her arms around Casey’s neck.

“Thanks, cuz. I seriously owe you one,” she whispered into Casey’s neck. Casey wrapped her arms around her cousin and shrugged. She looked over Vicki’s shoulder and saw Derek’s wide eyed expression.

Then it hit her.

Vicki was staying.

Fuck.

Chapter Text

“Der-ek, make room,” she growled as she shoved him in the ribs with her elbow. He groaned and elbowed her back before grabbing onto his laptop so it didn’t fall off the bed.

“If someone would just cut back on the chunky monkey, we wouldn’t be having this problem right now,” he grumbled as he pulled up his Skype account. Casey gasped and elbowed him again. “Stop that!”

“Take it back!” she snapped, prepping her elbow for another blow. She glared at him, waiting for a sarcastic remark or something but he just sighed and rubbed at his face.

“I’m sorry that I implied that your ass is fat and thus takes up too much room on the bed, even though I am crushed against the wall and you look perfectly comfortable,” Derek grumbled. He didn’t look at her as he started to call Edwin, anxiously tapping his fingers. She lowered her elbow but pinched the underside of his arm instead.

“That was a piss poor apology, Venturi,” she said with a sigh. Derek rolled his eyes and continued to glare at the computer screen as if that would magically make Edwin appear. “Why don’t you try Liz? It’s more likely that she’s awake.”

“Why would I reach out to your rep before mine?” he asked with an irritated sigh. Casey rolled her eyes and mirrored his position lying on her stomach next to him. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye when her arm brushed against his but didn’t say anything. She folded her arms under her chin and joined him in his staring contest with the laptop.

“I figure, given the situation, either one of them would do, right?” she mumbled.

Vicki was asleep on the couch in the living room. After her little reveal, Derek had made popcorn, pulled out the beer, and put on some crappy kung-fu movie to distract them.

“Considering this situation is entirely your fault, you should be begging me to continue with this little farce,” Derek replied. He banged his head against the bed a couple of times before tapping the computer screen. “Come on, Ed. I know you’re not sleeping, you little shit.”

“Derek, that’s you brother!” Casey snapped, slightly horrified. He looked at her with a raised eyebrow and a shrug.

“He’s still a little shit and you know it.”

“He’s family!”

“Doesn’t negate the shitness that is my little brother,” Derek pointed out. “I don’t even know why we have to do this.”

“I told you! This changes everything! The whole dynamic is different now!” Casey repeated for what seemed like the tenth time since Vicki fell asleep.

“How? How in the world is the dynamic different?” he snapped, closing his call to Ed. Casey rolled her eyes and ran a hand over her face – she was too tired for this.

“This! This right now! Us fighting all the time! It’s bound to blow our cover if we keep trying to pretend long enough,” she snapped, waving her hand between them. Derek caught her fingers in his grasp and squeezed slightly.

“Our cover will get blown if you let it. I can keep playing the game, Casey. Calling Ed and Liz isn’t going to help you keep your cool,” he said slowly. She tried to flex her fingers in his hand, tried to indicate that it was not okay that he was grabbing onto her like that but he didn’t flinch or let go.

“Derek, let go,” she whispered. He smirked slightly and released her hand before leaning back.

“Can you keep your cool, Space Case?” he asked with a raised eyebrow. She looked at her fingers, rubbed them against the bed.

“Just call Liz.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? We don’t need Liz or Ed!” he practically shouted. She glared at him and pulled the computer from under his fingers and started to call her sister.

“Last time we tried to do this without them was a disaster – we need them. Get over it,” she hissed at him, keeping her face turned away. He groaned and flopped onto his back, covering his face with an arm.

She wrapped her fingers into the ends of her hair, pulling on it slightly while she waited for Liz to answer. She couldn’t help but be nervous about extending this whole thing. It was hard enough to ignore the good things about Derek for a day. How was she going to do that for a week - or more?

“We did okay today, right?” she asked softly. He looked over at her, moving his arm to his stomach, and shrugged. “What does that even mean?”

“It means we did fine,” he replied. He stared at her through narrowed eyes as if he were studying her or something. She didn’t like it.

“Just fine? I thought we were pretty damn convincing,” Casey snapped. Derek sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Yes. We were convincing. We were excellent until someone opened her big mouth and invited her cousin to stay for an indefinite amount of time,” Derek said with that scrutinizing stare again. She shrunk back from his look and let her head fall to the bed.

“She needed me! She needed us! I couldn’t just send her home,” Casey whined into the mattress. “She’s Vicki but she’s still my cousin.”

“I know. I know. Family is important or so they keep telling me,” Derek mumbled. He smiled slightly. “It was a good thing, giving Vicki a place to stay. You did good kid.”

Casey snorted and looked back at him. “What are you from the 30s now?”

“Hey, I am the king of cool. Don’t go knocking my lingo,” he replied with a smirk before he rolled back onto his stomach, propping his head up with one hand.

“You are such a softie, Derek Venturi,” she said with a smile before she leaned over to kiss him on the cheek. The second her lips touched his skin she remembered her rules. Slowly, she pulled away from him as he turned to look at her. His eyes flicked to her mouth briefly before they were glued to her eyes.

He leaned forward slightly, keeping his eyes on hers. She licked her lips and let out a slow breath, “Derek.”

“Casey,” he mumbled, his mouth barely a centimeter away from hers.

“Hello?” Liz asked through the video call. Her voice was muffled but it managed to snap Casey out of Derek’s spell. One day she was going to figure out how he was able to do that. “Derek, your camera isn’t on.”

“Sorry,” he mumbled as he turned it on. Casey smiled at her sister’s sleepy face.

“Casey? You’re with Derek? At midnight?” Liz asked as she rubbed at her eyes. “What’s going on?”

“We have a slight problem. Go get Ed, will you?” Derek said. Liz looked at Casey with a raised eyebrow but she just shrugged.

“If he kills me for waking him up it’s your fault and I hope you can explain it to Mom and George,” Liz replied with a sigh before getting up.

As soon as she was gone, Derek turned to her, “Casey.”

“What?” she snapped. She refused to look at him. No eye contact. That was rule number three. She needed to remember the damn rules.

“Never mind,” he replied with a sigh before turning back to the laptop. Liz appeared a few seconds later with a very groggy Edwin in tow.

“You two are the worst siblings on the face of the planet,” Edwin groaned as he hovered behind Liz’s desk chair. “Do you know what time it is?”

“It’s midnight. On a Saturday,” Derek said with a dry look. Edwin rolled his eyes and pushed Liz over so they were sharing her chair. Casey smiled when Liz rolled her eyes and patted Ed on the head gently.

“Alright, sib, what’s going on?” she asked with a serious look.

“Vicki is staying longer than the weekend,” Derek said with a pointed look towards Casey. Edwin’s head shot up and he stared at them both with wide eyes.

“What do you mean she’s staying? Doesn’t she have school?” Liz asked in a high pitched voice.

“What happened?” Edwin snapped, suddenly serious. He was giving both of them that interrogating look that he’d adopted after they dented George’s car. Derek looked at Casey and waved his hand for her to provide the explanation.

“Okay but you two are sworn to secrecy. Mom and George cannot find out, okay?” Casey said looking between the two of them. They both nodded and waited for her to continue. “Vicki dropped out but she can’t go home. She’s going to stay here for a week or two while she figures things out – more importantly while she figures out how to tell her mom.”

“What!” they yelled in unison. Casey rolled her eyes and shook her head.

“You two spend too much time together,” she said. They both looked offended and shouted, “We do not!”

Derek laughed and rested his head on her shoulder, rubbing at his eyes. Liz and Ed gave him a weird look and Casey shoved his head off of her.

“Alright, so, longer than a weekend – what do you need us for?” Liz asked after a pointed look at Edwin.

“Terms. There’s no way that the one’s we worked out for just a weekend will be good enough for a week or more,” Casey said like it was obvious. Edwin rolled his eyes and looked at Derek who shrugged. “What?”

“Casey, the terms we worked out are fine. I mean, she’s buying it right?” Liz asked. Casey shrugged and looked at Derek who rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, she’s buying it,” he said quickly. Ed raised an eyebrow but when Derek didn’t elaborate he just shook his head.

“If she’s buying it, I don’t see any reason for us to alter the terms,” Edwin said. “I mean, unless there’s something else that you think we should add?”

Casey bit her lip and thought back to her rules. “I want to propose a stricter rule concerning PDA.”

“What?” all three of then shouted in unison. Derek was staring at her with wide eyes that slowly narrowed into his usual ‘I hate Casey McDonald’ glare. She turned away from him and stared at the keyboard.

“I think – I think it would be beneficial to both of us if we just created a stricter rule,” she repeated slowly. Ed cleared his throat and Liz rubbed at her face.

“Did something happen?” she asked. Casey bit her lip and looked at Derek out of the corner of her eye. He was staring at the bed, his mouth a thin line, and his jaw clenched.

“No, of course not! I just, want to be prepared if we’re going to be at this for like a week or something,” Casey said quickly.

“Alright. Derek, thoughts?” Liz asked with a shrug. Derek snorted.

“I think it’s a stupid idea. Like most of Space Case’s ideas,” he grumbled.

“Der-ek!”

“Come on, Casey! We can’t not touch each other! She’s buying it! Why the hell are you trying to sabotage this whole thing?” he snapped, turning to look at her.

“I’m not trying to sabotage anything! Did you forget that this is my reputation on the line?” she replied with a huff.

“Yeah and you are determined to ruin it with your stupid keener ways!” he replied, trying to keep his voice low.

“I’m trying to avoid any sort of inevitable catastrophe, Der-ek!” she replied with just as strained of a voice.

“Guys!” Liz shouted over both of them. “Stop fighting.”

Casey pouted and looked away from Derek. She hated it when Liz was the mature one.

“Look, we’ll get rid of the gas money thing – keep the tutoring and leave at that,” Derek said quickly.

“I think that’s agreeable,” Liz said with as shrug. “Casey?”

“What about the PDA clause?” she whined.

“Casey, I hate to say it, but Derek has a point,” Liz conceded.

“Hey! I think I resent that!”

“Whatever, Derek,” Liz said with a roll of her eyes. “Casey, if you and Derek don’t kiss or whatever then Vicki will know that something’s up. If she’s buying it for now, then why change it?”

“Yeah! If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!” Ed interjected through a yawn.

“Shut up, Ed, you shit,” Derek said with a laugh.

“Whatever, bro. Are we in agreement?” he asked, flipping the bird at his brother. Derek nodded and looked over at Casey. She closed her eyes and pressed her mouth into a thin line before nodding in agreement.

“In that case, I am going back to bed. Later, sibs,” Edwin said before he walked out of the room. Liz watched him go before turning back to the computer.

“Are you going to be okay doing this for a week?” she asked, her eyebrows furrowed in concern.

“Of course we are,” Derek answered with a scoff. Liz rolled her eyes.

“I was talking to Casey.”

Casey licked her lips and took a deep breath. The truth was she didn’t know if she could keep it up. She couldn’t stand Derek. At all. That was a fact and she knew that it was only a matter of time before they had one of their massive fights and then the whole thing was ruined. There was also the other thing – the thing that she had made rules for. Rules that she kept breaking but rules were made none-the-less. She definitely had to acknowledge those . . . feelings and if she did that there was no way she was coming out of this whole thing unscathed.

“Casey?” Liz asked in that wary tone that meant she was expecting Casey to burst into tears at any minute.

“I’ve got this, Liz. I can do it,” Casey said with as much confidence as she could muster. Liz didn’t look convinced but she nodded before saying good night and signing off.

Derek shut his laptop and moved it so that it sat on the trunk at the foot of his bed. He turned to look at Casey but she kept her eyes on the bedspread. Her heart was pounding in her ears, memories of the last time they were alone in a bedroom together flashing through her mind. She heard Derek sigh before he sat up and shifted so that his head was against the headboard.

“Alright, Space Case. We are officially done with this day and I am officially done with you and you’re bullshit. I am going to sleep,” he mumbled as he shifted around on the bed. Casey sat up and looked at him with a frown.

“You’re not going to ask me why I wanted change that rule?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

“I don’t care.”

“Really?”

“What do you want me to say, Casey? You don’t want to kiss me? Fine. I don’t want to kiss you either,” he growled before turning on his side so that he was facing the wall.

“Where am I supposed to sleep?”

“Don’t know. Don’t care. Turn the light off, will you?”

Casey huffed and grabbed a pillow from off of the bed as well as the comforter that Derek was trying to wrap around himself. He made an outraged sound but didn’t try to get it back when she dragged it off the bed.

“I am sleeping on the floor since you are a horrible jerk!” she snapped before lying down on the floor, wrapping the comforter around her like a burrito.

She huffed as she laid her head down on the pillow and tried to shut out his little confession. Who cared if he didn’t want to kiss her? That just made things so much easier, really. It helped knowing that when he was kissing her he wasn’t enjoying himself. It had to help even if, right at that moment, it hurt like hell to think about. She didn’t know why she thought that maybe he was different – that maybe today had been evidence that he could be a genuinely good guy. Clearly, Vicki wasn’t the only one to fall for the act.

“Chill out, Space Case,” he grumbled before swinging his feet over the edge of the bed, bending over and scooping her up bridal style. “We can share.”

He turned back to the bed and dumped her out of his arms before lying down next to her. He put a hand behind his head and put the other on his stomach. She glared at him before sitting up, “Maybe I don’t want to share the bed with you? Did you ever think of that?”

“Then you can sleep on the floor,” he said with a sigh. He looked at her briefly, his eyes flashing over her outfit. “Do you want some shorts to sleep in? There’s no way you’re comfortable.”

She frowned and looked at him, “What about you? You’re still wearing your jeans.”

He shrugged, “Not the first time I’ve slept in jeans and definitely not the last time. I have some clean shorts and shirts in the dresser, second drawer.”

She stared at him suspiciously for a minute before struggling out of the comforter and off of the bed. She was never going to be able to keep up with his back and forth. One minute he was an asshole and then next he was offering her sleep clothes. She yanked open the drawer and pulled out the first pair of shorts she finds. They smelled clean and there weren’t any obvious stains. She pulled out a shirt and gave it the same inspection.

“Wow, Derek. Never thought you would actively keep clean clothes,” she said with a smile. She looked over her shoulder but he was turning away from her as if she’d caught him staring or something. Casey frowned and turned back around. “Keep your eyes closed while I change.”

She heard him sigh but he didn’t agree or anything, “Der-ek!”

“Fine, whatever. Keep your voice down, my eyes are closed,” he snapped. She peeked at him once to make sure he was telling the truth and started changing. After she pulled her shirt off and went to unhook her bra, she felt his eyes on her. She paused for a second before she continued taking her bra off. It was just her back. There was nothing scandalous about her back, right?

She didn’t want to think about the way her breath got caught in her throat. Or the way her heart started pounding.

She pulled his shirt over her head and sighed when her head was surrounded by Derek-smell. Once her head was free, she shook her hair out and tried to clear out her head. She needed to not think like that – it was only going to lead to trouble.

(She made a mental note to create a rule concerning his body spray. She liked it way too much.)

She unbuttoned her pants and wiggled her way out of them. Derek’s eyes were still on her; she could feel them boring holes into her back. She kicked her pants off and paused for a second in nothing but the t-shirt and her underwear. She shifted her feet for a few seconds before pulling his shorts on.

She turned around and was taken back that Derek was still watching her. She stared, couldn’t find it in herself to turn away from him. She felt like a deer frozen in the headlights, which was ridiculous because he was the one who got caught! How did he do that – turn it around so that she felt like the one getting caught?

“Bed?” he asked, his voice was low and she felt it crawl over her, leaving goose bumps in its wake. She scratched at her arm and nodded, slowly making her way to the bed. He held up his hand and pointed towards the light switch, “Lights.”

She rolled her eyes and shut off the lights before heading back to the bed. He slid to the side, pressing himself against the wall to make room for her. She laid down next to him, resting on her side so that she could see his profile. He lifted up a little and pulled the comforter from under him, draping it over her. He didn’t turn to look at her, keeping his eyes closed.

“Thanks, Derek,” she whispered. “For today, I mean, and this whole thing.”

“Yeah, no problem,” he replied. He sounded tired, his voice low and soft. She opened her mouth to say something else but changed her mind, letting her mouth fall closed again. She nodded and rolled over, pulling the comforter up to her chin. She was fading into sleep when she heard him whisper, “Night, Space Case.”

She smiled slightly before sleep took over her.

***

Casey groaned and stretched in bed. She sighed and snuggled back into her pillow, too warm and comfortable to get out of bed yet. She’d slept so well – better than she had ever since she came back from New York. It had taken some getting used to sleeping by herself again. She guessed that just knowing that she was sharing the bed had made it easier for her to sleep.

Derek shifted and Casey frowned. She’d felt that. Whatever remnants of sleep that still clung to her slipped away. She wiggled back and felt him snuggle against her tighter, pulling her in with an arm around her waist. They were spooning. She was spooning with Derek Venturi.

Casey took a deep breath and slid away from him slightly before sitting up. His arm slid from around her waist to rest on her hip. He rubbed his face into the spot where her head had been but didn’t wake up. His face was so gentle when he was sleeping. There wasn’t any sarcasm or amusement at her expense displayed across his features. Casey wasn’t stupid – she knew that Derek was a good-looking guy but with his face so soft and gentle, she could see why the girls in high school all fluttered around him like hummingbirds around a particularly sweet flower.

She stared at him and made a new rule in her head.

She was not allowed to stay the night with Derek Venturi. Nope. Definitely not allowed. Not allowed to see him in the morning, to see him with his defenses down.

And no more poetic comparisons to flowers or birds or anything remotely sweet. He was vile and gross and Derek!

Casey pulled his arm from around her waist and slipped out of the bed. She looked at her clothes piled on the floor changed into her jeans and left her shirt balled up on the floor. She was positive that the rustling from pulling on her jeans had stirred him just a little – she wasn’t going to risk a confrontation when she was trying to escape.

Vicki was still passed out on the couch, her arm thrown over her face. The clock on the wall said that it was close to ten. She was totally justified in waking her cousin up.

“Vicki,” Casey said, shaking Vicki’s arm. “Vicki, let’s go.”

Vicki slowly moved her arm and opened her eyes, “Case? What time is it?”

“Almost ten. I need to get home,” Casey said quickly.

“Now?”

“School starts tomorrow. I need to get ready. You know me,” Casey said with a nervous laugh. It wasn’t a total lie. She needed to prepare for her first day of classes but more importantly – she needed to get away from Derek Venturi.

Vicki rolled her eyes and swung her legs over the side of the couch. She glared at Casey before grabbing her purse and shoving her feet into her shoes. Casey gave her a grateful smile as she put her own shoes on and grabbed her purse.

“I’ll buy you breakfast, okay?” Casey said. Vicki nodded and rubbed at her eyes as she headed towards the door.

“Is that Derek’s shirt?”

“Yeah – he won’t mind. Let’s just go,” Casey said quickly before leaving the apartment with Vicki following.

“Whatever, cousin Case,” Vicki grumbled. “Whatever. I just demand coffee and soon.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Vicki laughed and followed Casey down the street. She yawned again before looping their arms together and leaning her head on Casey’s shoulder. Casey sighed and rested her head on her cousin’s, “You have a good time yesterday?”

“I did. It was good, getting to relax and everything, seeing you with Derek. You two are actually pretty cute,” Vicki said with a laugh. Casey rolled her eyes. If only she knew.

“I wouldn’t say cute,” Casey said.

“No, really, you two are pretty adorable. I mean, you still fight like cats and dogs but I can see that you care,” Vicki said with a small smile. Casey paused for a second and tried to hide any sort of panic. Whatever Vicki was seeing was all part of the act. It had to be.

Casey opened the door for the café that was down the street from her place, “This place makes the best French toast – it puts mine to shame.”

Vicki rolled her eyes and followed Casey inside, sitting down at the first available booth. Casey sat down opposite of her and ordered for them when the waitress showed up. Vicki played with a napkin, folding and unfolding it into different shapes.

“So are you going to tell me the real reason why you left school?” Casey asked softly. She hated that she had to ask. She knew she sounded like some lame, after school special but she just had this feeling that there was more to the story that Vicki was not telling her.

“I told you – school and I do not mix,” Vicki replied with a shrug. Casey stared at her cousin, waiting for the truth to come out. She’d practiced her mom’s confession look enough times with Liz that she knew that it was pretty effective. “God, Case. Why I left doesn’t really matter.”

“If it was bad enough to make you leave then it matters, Vicki. You can’t just bottle this stuff up. It’s not healthy,” Casey said with wide eyes. Vicki rolled her eyes.

“I left because I didn’t want to be there, okay? That’s it, that is the end of the story,” Vicki snapped. Casey sighed and leaned back.

“Fine but when you’re ready to tell me, I’m listening,” she said with a shake of her head.

“Whatever, Space Case,” Vicki replied before diving into her French toast.

***

“Em, you are not listening! I have three classes with her. THREE,” Casey shouted into her phone. Emily sighed before responding.

“So what? It’s not like you have to talk to her. Being Derek’s ex is a perfectly good reason to not talk to her. Especially if you still have to pretend that you and Derek are a thing,” Emily explained for the third time that week.

When Casey had walked into her first class Tuesday morning, Debbie was sitting in the second row. In her third class on Wednesday, Debbie was sitting in the far right corner doodling in a notebook. Finally, in her three-hour long Thursday night lecture, there was Debbie with the only empty seat available right next to her.

“I have to sit next to her for three hours every week, Emily. How am I supposed to not talk to her?” Casey snapped. She could practically hear Emily rolling her eyes on the other end of the line.

“It’s pretty easy. I mean, there was this one guy that I had like four classes with and we always ended up sitting next to each other. Didn’t say a word to me for an entire semester,” Emily said. “It’s no big deal. You don’t have to make friends with everyone you sit next to.”

“But what if I need notes or something? Wouldn’t it be good to make friends then?”

“Well, duh, but the point is that it doesn’t have to be Debbie. I don’t know why you’re even freaking out about this. They broke up like months ago.”

“You didn’t see the way he looked at her, Em. He didn’t even look at Sally that way,” Casey said with a sigh. She rubbed at her eyes and sat down on the park bench she was pacing in front of. She’d been obsessing over Debbie all week. The second she saw the other girl in class, she couldn’t get the way Derek had looked at her out of her mind.

“Do you think she was, like, really important to him or something?” Emily asked with a slight twinge to her voice. Casey rolled her eyes. She knew that Emily was totally over Derek; she’d reiterated the point many times over but that didn’t help the annoyance she felt every time Emily’s voice took on that tone – the one that said she had feelings for the jerk.

“I don’t know. He won’t tell me anything about his relationship with her. It’s driving me crazy!” Casey complained.

“How are things going by the way with the whole Derek and Vicki thing?”

“Oh, you mean the thing where Derek doesn’t know how to keep his hands to himself and Vicki actually believes that we’re a couple? That thing? Is that the one?” Casey snapped. Emily laughed and sighed as Casey whimpered. “I am so sick of having to play girlfriend to Derek. I have my studies to worry about! I don’t have time for this.”

“Oh come on, it’s barely even been a full week yet! It can’t be that bad,” Emily said with another laugh. “I mean, he’s not a totally terrible boyfriend.”

“That’s the worst part! He’s, like, an amazing boyfriend! I don’t know what his game is, Em. He’s barely tried to embarrass me once,” Casey complained.

“Are you seriously complaining because Derek is being a decent person for once? Do you hear yourself?” Emily asked. Casey groaned and put her head into her hand. “Why don’t you just enjoy the momentary niceness instead of complaining about it?”

“It’s weird!” she whined, stomping her feet.

“Oh my god, Casey. Grow up. Just let him be nice to you for a while. You won’t die,” Emily said with a sigh. Casey groaned and bit her lip, thinking it over. It wasn’t so terrible – a semi-nice Derek but it threw a serious wrench in her ‘don’t fall in love with Derek Venturi plan.’ How do you not fall in love with someone who was so fucking nice?

“Casey?” Debbie asked as she walked up. Casey snapped up and mumbled something that could have been a goodbye before she hung up on Emily. “I thought that was you!”

“Hey, Debbie!” Casey said through thin lips. “What’s up?”

Debbie shrugged and smiled sweetly, “Just going on a walk. How are you liking Queen’s so far?”

“It’s different, that’s for sure,” Casey replied with a nervous smile. “Did you need something?”

“Actually, yeah!” Debbie says with an easy laugh and a smile. “Derek told me how much a genius you are and I was, kind of, hoping that you would be my study buddy for our literature lecture?”

“He…he told you about me?” Casey asked. Her chest felt tight. He told Debbie about her but never told her about Debbie. What kind of twisted logic was that?

“Of course. I mean, when we first started dating you were practically all he could talk about – I mean, it was story after story about pranks he pulled or times you annoyed him. I’m not going to lie, it was super annoying but I got used to it,” Debbie said with a laugh. Casey frowned and looked at her phone. Emily was texting her. “It all makes sense now that you two are together and everything.”

What is going on? – Em.

Debbie. I’ll call you later. – Case.

Casey! I need information NOW! – Em.

“Right. Of course,” Casey replied. “I just – he never mentioned you. Sorry.”

Debbie blinked at her before smiling, “That’s just Derek. He was such a weirdo when we dated. I mean, it took him months to even introduce me to the hockey team – even if I knew half of them already. He just keeps relationship stuff quiet, you know?”

“Apparently,” Casey said with a shrug. She shook her head and took a deep breath. “So, study buddy?”

“Yeah! Literature has always been a weak spot for me and I figured since you’re the only person I actually know in the class that you wouldn’t mind if we teamed up?” she asked with an eager smile. Casey felt herself smiling back despite the nervous pounding of her heart. She could see how Derek had been attracted to Debbie. Her smile was infectious and she was sweet in a weird way.

She wants to be study buddies. – Case.

Study buddies? Really? – Em.

“Yeah! I can totally do that. When do you want to meet up?” Casey asked. The very thought of hanging out with Debbie made her nervous but she wasn’t about to pass up a study session. If anything, she could learn a little more about the girl that seemed to have stolen Derek’s heart at one point.

“Whenever, I don’t really have a preference,” Debbie said with a shrug. “Let me give you my number and we’ll coordinate.”

Casey nodded and entered Debbie’s information into her phone before saying her goodbyes and watching Debbie walk away. She was at least twenty feet away before Casey called Emily again.

“We’re study buddies. I agreed to be study buddies with Derek’s ex-girlfriend!” she practically shrieked into the phone.

“Calm down!” Emily said. “Why did you agree?”

“I couldn’t just say no!”

“Of course you could. This isn’t high school, Casey. You can tell people off without it destroying your entire reputation,” Emily said with a gentle sigh. Casey groaned.

“I know that! I just. Emily, she is so nice and seemed so genuine,” Casey said slowly.

“Nice is good!”

“I know! I know! But it’s his ex! What if this is some evil plan to, like, ruin my life or something?” Casey shouted. “He told her about me! He told her all about me and I never heard a single word from him about her!”

“Casey. Who cares?” Emily said slowly. Casey took a deep breath and nodded.

“Okay. Okay. You’re right,” she said, more to herself than to Emily. Emily sighed loudly into the phone.

“Are you going to be okay? I need to go,” Emily asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be fine,” Casey said with a pout.

“Great. Call me if you need me – like, really, need me not for one of your overthinking freak outs, okay?”

“Okay, okay! I’ll talk to you later,” Casey said with a sigh before hanging up the phone.

***

“Derek!” Casey shouted through the door. She knocked for the tenth time and ignored the looks that she was getting from his neighbors as they made their way down the hall. She was about to knock again when the door flew open and a much disheveled Derek stood in the doorway. Barefoot with unruly curls, his eyes travelled over her tiny frame. She shifted slightly and copied him, took in his black jeans and the t-shirt with ripped off sleeves.

“What?”

“Why didn’t you tell me about Debbie?”

He groaned and walked back into his apartment, leaving the door open for Casey. She followed him in, slamming the door behind her and stood with her hands on her hips while he lounged in his chair.

“Why do you care so fucking much about my relationship with Debbie?” he asked. He leaned back in the chair, propping his feet up and closing his eyes. For a second, Casey was distracted by how good he looked just lounging in the chair with his long neck exposed and begging for her mouth. She shook her head and huffed.

“I care because you kept it a secret! Because she seems to know about me but I know nothing about her!” Casey snapped. Derek opened his eyes and gave her one of his trademark smirks.

“Oh my god, you’re jealous!” he announced with a laugh. “You’re jealous that I confided in Debbie and not you! This is priceless, Space Case.”

“I am not jealous!”

“Yes, you are! Oh man. This is just great!” He clapped his hands together and smiled brightly at her.

“Derek! This isn’t funny! Why didn’t you tell me about her?” she whined before sitting down on the couch. She ran a hand through her hair and let out a long sigh. “I just don’t get it. I told you all about Jesse and you never mentioned her. Not once.”

“Did I ever ask about Jesse? Did you ever, for one second, think to ask if I wanted to hear about Jesse?” Derek snapped. “I don’t have to tell you every single thing about my life.”

“Der-ek!” Casey said, shocked. “Who else was I going to talk to besides you?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care. The point, Cas-ey, is that I don’t owe you shit,” he said slowly. She leaned back slightly and frowned. She didn’t like the way her chest hurt, the way his dismissal of whatever it was they had been while she was in New York hurt. She didn’t know why she was surprised. He didn’t do feelings and he definitely didn’t do feelings when it came to her.

“You were my best friend,” she said softly. And he had been. Emily had been busy with her classes and Casey hadn’t been very good at making in her dance company but Derek had always been there when she was homesick or needed to rant or to comfort her if she’d gotten into a fight with Jesse. He had never seemed to mind when she called him at midnight or Skyped him randomly on a Tuesday.

He sighed and clenched his jaw, “Well, I never agreed to that.”

“Wow, just when I thought you couldn’t be more heartless than you already are,” she said with a shake of her head. She held a hand to her cheek, it was hot to the touch. She was probably blushing. She was sick of blushing around him. God, to think she had ever thought that there was a possibility of her falling for him!

“Oh don’t be such a drama queen, Casey!” he shouted before standing up and marching into the kitchen. “We’re not friends. We have never been friends and you know it.”

He marched back into the living room with a beer in each hand. He handed one to her and sat back down in his chair, throwing a leg over the arm closer to the door and leaning closer to her. He was the picture of nonchalance and it drove her crazy. She rolled her eyes and tried to look away from him but he was staring at her now with an eyebrow raised. She’d never backed down from him before and she definitely wasn’t going to do it now.

She watched him gulp down his beer, Adam’s apple bobbing up and down as he swallowed. She couldn’t help the way the sight made her clench her thighs tighter together. She sipped at hers and forced herself to look away from him.

“I think we’re friends. Now. Maybe not in high school but we are now,” she said softly before taking another sip of her beer.

She took a deep breath and cleared her throat. She shouldn’t be getting this emotional about Derek. Maybe that should be a new rule – no talking about feelings with Derek Venturi. All it did was rip her heart out. Then again, it was probably a good thing. She was definitely reminded why she found him to be so un-dateable.

He rolled his eyes and held his bottle over her knee, pressing the cold glass to her bare skin. He smirked when she flinched and he did it again, rubbing the condensation across the top of her thigh, “If you’re so desperate for friends I guess you can call me one. But never in public. Ever. Can’t ruin my rep.”

She rolled her eyes and pulled her knee away from him, “Maybe I don’t want to be your friend anymore.”

“Liar,” he replied with a smirk, taking a sip of his beer but never taking his eyes off of her. She shifted slightly under his gaze and frowned, turning her head away.

“Why would I want to be friends with someone who is such an asshole all of the time?”

“I thought I was your best friend?”

“I take it back,” she replied with a pout. He laughed and finished off his beer, wiped at his mouth with the back of his hand, and shook his head.

“Can’t take it back. I know it now. I’m your best friend, princess,” he said with an arrogant smirk. He snagged her beer from her fingers and took a sip before pressing the cold bottle to her knee again.

“Fine. Tell me about Debbie,” she snapped, trying not to shiver from the cold of the bottle. He rolled his eyes and leaned his head back.

“I dated Debbie. We broke up. It got complicated and now it’s over. Stop pestering me about it.”

“Why didn’t you tell me about her?” she asked. He clenched his jaw and closed his eyes. She watched him, waiting for his usual sarcastic or callous remark. She touched his wrist lightly and felt his muscles jerk under her fingertips. She licked her lips and wrapped her hand around his wrist, ran her thumb over his pounding pulse.

“It didn’t matter,” he said softly through his teeth. He shook his wrist lightly and she let go, balling her hand into a fist on the couch.

“What didn’t matter?”

“Me and Debbie. It didn’t matter when I was talking to you. Every other minute of the day it mattered but not during your phone calls or Skype calls,” he repeated. “It didn’t matter and I never felt the need to tell you and then we broke up and there was nothing to tell.”

“Why didn’t it matter? You were dating her – you were . . . you were in love with her,” she said slowly. She tried to wrap her head around what he was saying. It didn’t make any sense. She searched his face for any sign that what he was saying was as important as it sounded but his face was blank.

He kept sliding the bottle back and forth across her knee cap, let his fingers run gently across her skin. Her entire body was fine tuned to that spot but she refused to look down.

“It just didn’t,” he said. He didn’t confirm or deny his feelings towards Debbie and part of her wanted to keep pushing until she knew. She had to know if it had been that serious – the curiosity gnawed at her gut but she kept her mouth tightly clamped. No more feelings conversations. No more. She shook her head and sighed, rubbed at her face.

“I don’t understand you.”

“Yeah, well, I like it better that way,” he said with a small smile before turning to look at her, his eyes bright and breath-taking. “It wouldn’t be nearly as fun if you did.”

Chapter Text

“Alright, McDonalds! It is Friday night which means we are going out,” Derek announced as he walked into her apartment. Casey rolled her eyes and stirred her pasta. She really regretted giving him a key.

“How many times do I have to tell you that I am not a McDonald?” Vicki asked from the couch not looking up from her laptop.

“Found a job yet?” Derek asked as he took his jacket off. Vicki sighed and scratched her forehead.

“Nope, it doesn’t help that I don’t actually know how long I’ll be here,” she said.

“Still haven’t found a way to break the news to mommy dearest?”

“No such luck, Der,” Vicki said with a little smile. Casey sighed and decided a change of topic was needed.

“Did you actually remember the code to get in the building this time?” she asked from the kitchen. He snorted and threw himself onto the couch next to Vicki.

“No, someone was leaving and I just slipped past,” he explained with a little gesture she assumed meant he was smooth or something. “Alright. So, bar hopping anyone?"

“I’m in,” Vicki said with an excited nod, shutting her laptop. “Cousin Case?”

“But I’m cooking dinner!” Casey whined. “Pasta and homemade sauce and salad and bread sticks!”

“Can you be any more of an old lady? Come on, Case, you are officially a college student. Live a little,” Derek said with a smirk. He walked to the kitchen and wrapped his arms around her waist, resting his chin on her shoulder. She tensed for a second before relaxing into him.

“Are you ever going to stop flinching when I touch you?” Derek whispered into her ear. She shivered and frowned, keeping her eyes on her pasta sauce.

“Why do you care?” she whispered back. He snorted and turned his head, pressing his lips against her neck. “What are you doing?”

“Trying to seem like a boyfriend begging his girlfriend to spend a Friday night out on the town with him. What are you doing?” he asked. She rolled her shoulder, trying to get him to move his face away. There was putting on a show and then there was purposefully making her uncomfortable. She had a very clear idea that this was the latter.

“Stop it,” she hissed.

“Come on, baby girl,” he said softly. She could feel him smirking against her neck and she tried very hard not to react. If there were goose bumps on her arms then that was because the A/C had just kicked in and had nothing to do with Derek.

New rule: get him to stop using baby girl as a pet name. Get him to stop using pet names in general.

“Der-ek,” she said, elbowing him slightly in the ribs. His arms loosened a little but he didn’t let go.

“Cas-ey,” he replied with a chuckle.

“Come on, Casey. You’ve been in classes all week and I’ve been job hunting. We need fun and we need it tonight,” Vicki said as she wandered into the kitchen. She hopped up on the counter and smiled at the two of them. “We can celebrate the end of your first week of classes.”

“Come on, Case,” Derek said with a smile. She rolled her eyes and nodded. Vicki clapped while Derek kissed her cheek. “It’ll be fun. Promise.”

One more rule: don’t look at Derek when he’s smiling – she’ll just fall for it every time.

“Taste this and tell me if it’s done,” she said as she held the noodle up to his face. He bit the noodle, his lips brushing over her fingers. Her breath got caught in her throat for a second but she shook her head and the feeling passed. “Done?”

“Yeah, it’s good,” he said.

“You two are, like, grossly cute sometimes,” Vicki said with a shake of her head. Derek laughed and stepped away from Casey but kept a hand on her waist. “The best part is that you don’t even realize it!”

“We don’t realize it because it’s not true,” Casey grumbled as she lifted the pasta pot off the stove and drained it in the sink.

“It’s definitely true,” Vicki insisted.

“Come on, honey pie. Don’t you want to be the cutest couple on campus?” Derek asked with a smirk. He pinched her cheek and laughed when she swatted at his hand.

“Gross, Derek. Gross,” she said. Vicki raised an eyebrow at her but didn’t say anything. “I hate it when he calls me pet names.”

“What’s wrong with pet names?”

“Oh god, don’t get her started on her feminist rant about pet names. Please. I would like to get out of here before midnight,” Derek said with an exaggerated groan. Casey pinched his side and shook her head at him. He was hopeless, totally hopeless. He giggled and batted at her arm. She raised her brow and started to smirk.

“Did you just giggle?”

“What? No. Never. Giggling is not manly at all,” he said with a frown. He cleared his throat and straightened his shirt, standing up a little taller.

“I don’t know, cousin Der,” Vicki said with a shake of her head. “I’m pretty positive that was a giggle.”

“Hey! I do not giggle!” he insisted. Vicki laughed and slid off the counter.

“You keep telling yourself that, Derek,” she said. “Alright, cuz, can I finally eat? If we’re going out drinking I want to be fully satisfied before we leave.”

“I know someone else who could be fully satisfied before we leave,” Derek murmured as he stepped up behind Casey, rubbing his face against her hair. Casey gasped and elbowed him in the stomach, taking a step away from him.

“Pig,” she said, trying not to smirk.

***

“No, no, but the best part is that Ralph definitely fell in love with her!” Derek shouted over Vicki’s laughter. Casey rolled her eyes and sipped at her drink, trying to ignore the blush that she knew was creeping up her neck.

“Oh my god, I can’t believe Ralph fell for you!” Vicki said through her laughter.

“Believe it,” Derek replied, smirking at Casey as he took a gulp of his drink. “Oh man, I haven’t even told you about how we first met!”

“Der-ek!” Casey shouted, punching him in the arm. He rubbed at the spot and laughed again. His cheeks were pink and he was definitely buzzed – they all were. This was bar three and it was only eleven. Derek wasn’t kidding when he said they were going bar hopping. Casey could barely keep track of where he had dragged them. At least Vicki was having a good time.

“I definitely want to hear about it after this song! Come on, Derek, you’re dancing with me,” Vicki announced as she stood up, grabbing Derek by the collar. He threw a pleading look at Casey who just shrugged and watched her cousin drag him onto the floor. Even though he’d put up a little bit of a fight, Derek couldn’t say no to being the center of attention and it was only a few minutes before Crazy Legs made an appearance.

“God, he is never going to let go of Crazy Legs is he?” an all too familiar voice said from behind her.

Casey stood up and spun around with a huge smile on her face, “Sam!”

“Hey, Case,” he replied with an equally bright smile. She hugged him briefly before she saw Emily right behind him.

“Emily! What are you doing here?” she asked as she pulled her best friend in for a hug.

“We are here to see the spectacle that is Derek Venturi dating Casey McDonald,” Emily said with a smile. Casey pulled back and glared at both of them.

“Are you kidding?”

“Hell no. I had to see this for myself. This is like that comet that only appears, like, once every seventy years,” Sam said with a laugh. Casey tried not to laugh, scrunching her mouth up, and punched him in the shoulder.

“It’s not funny,” she said.

“Come on, Case. It’s kind of funny,” Emily said, poking Casey in the side.

“No, it’s majorly funny. She just won’t admit it,” Sam pointed out. Casey shook her head and turned back to her table, motioning for them to take Derek and Vicki’s chairs.

“How did you know that we were here though?” Casey asked as she sipped from her drink.

“I’ve been texting Derek since we left London. He didn’t tell you?” Emily asked while she took off her jacket. Casey choked on her drink a little bit.

“No! He did not! What a sneaky little worm!” Casey practically shouted. Sam laughed and pulled Emily’s chair out for her.

“How is making it a surprise that your best friend is visiting a bad thing?” Emily asked.

“Because it’s Der-ek and I’m sure he has some ulterior motive?” Casey said, realizing that she might be over reacting just the tiniest bit. Sam looked at Emily and grimaced, draping his arm behind her. Casey raised her eyebrows the tiniest bit and started to smile. Sam saw her reaction and laughed.

“Before you even ask, I’m gay,” Sam said with a shrug. Casey leaned back in her chair and kind of gaped.

“Oh! That’s . . . that’s great, Sam,” she said with a weak smile. It was. It totally was. She was caught off guard that was all and wasn’t coming out supposed to be special or something? Sam laughed and shook his head.

“You have not changed a bit,” he said with a soft smile. “I came out last year but you were in New York and I wanted to tell you in person. So, yeah, sorry for not telling you earlier.”

“It’s fine! As long as you’re happy then I’m happy!” Casey said with a wave of her hand. She turned to Emily and leaned forward slightly. “Okay. So, it’s not Sam. Who is this mystery guy you still have not told me about?”

“She hasn’t told you about the Schlepp?” Sam asked with a laugh.

“Sam!” Emily shrieked, elbowing him in the side.

“Sheldon?” Casey shouted. “I thought he was in Newfoundland.”

“He transferred back and we’re giving it another go. I was going to wait with the big reveal until it was more settled, you know?” Emily said with a shy smile and a shrug. Casey sighed and smiled back.

“That is so sweet, Emily! Awwww. I’m so happy for you!” she said.

“Thanks, Case. It’s been pretty amazing so far. I’m just hoping he won’t, you know, Schlepp out and ruin the whole thing,” she replied with a laugh.

“Alright. Now that we’re all caught up. Where is your better half? I need to see this thing for myself,” Sam said, looking back towards the dance floor. Casey turned to look for the duo but didn’t see them anywhere. She couldn’t help the twinge of panic in her chest.

“They probably went to the bar for more drinks,” Casey kind of mumbled.

“Right,” Emily said, catching the way that Casey’s face kind of dropped. “You want to go look for them?”

Casey turned back to her friends and tried to smile, “No way. What else is going on with you guys? Do you have a boyfriend, Sam?”

“Case, if you want to look for them that’s fine,” Sam said gently. Casey bit her lip and looked down at the table.

“It’ll just be a minute, I swear,” she said. “Do you guys want anything to drink, I can put in a order for you.”

“We’ll be fine, Case. Go,” Emily said with a sweet smile. Casey nodded and walked towards the dance floor.

She knew she was being silly. Derek wasn’t her boyfriend and Vicki wasn’t the same person she was two years ago. Spending a week with her cousin had shown her that but she couldn’t help it. They weren’t on the dance floor anymore and she didn’t see them at the bar. She headed towards the bathrooms, maybe Vicki had to pee and Derek was waiting for her.

The longer she looked the stupider she felt.

“Casey?” Vicki said from behind her. She turned around and saw the two of them coming back into the bar. She felt her chest squeeze tight but she plastered a smile on her face.

“There you two are! Sam and Emily are here! I was just looking for you two to let you know,” she said in that annoying ‘I’m totally lying’ tone. She really needed to work on lying better.

“Really? Awesome! Are they sitting down?” Vicki asked as she headed towards the table. If she didn’t believe Casey she wasn’t saying anything and Casey was intensely grateful for that. She nodded and smiled as Vicki walked by.

“Not a word, Der-ek,” Casey hissed as soon as Vicki was out of sight.

“She wanted a cigarette and I didn’t think leaving her alone was a good idea,” he explained as he rolled his eyes.

“Right,” Casey snapped. She started walking towards the table when Derek grabbed her arm and pulled her to him. She stared at his chest and yanked her arm free. “What?”

He put a finger under her chin and tilted her head up, making her look at him. He was smirking and she hated him so much at that moment. Why she ever thought he was worth any sort of concern was totally beyond her.

“You worried about something, Case?” he asked, poking his tongue into the corner of his mouth. He was so pleased with himself. She could see it all over his face.

“Nothing. I never worry about you,” she said softly with a sneer. He leaned forward a little and her breath got caught in her throat.

“You know I can tell when you’re lying right?”

“I’m not lying.”

He leaned in a little closer and licked his lips. His cheeks were still flushed and she could smell the cigarette smoke on his clothes and on his breath.

“Listen up, princess, I am not Truman and this is not high school,” he said softly, there was a slight tinge of bitterness that made her skin crawl. “I would never do that to you or anybody.”

“I didn’t –“

“Yes, you did,” he cut her off. “Now shut up and kiss me – they’re watching us.”

“I don’t want to kiss you,” she hissed.

“Casey, I didn’t touch Vicki,” he said all sense of playfulness totally gone. He looked at her with sincere eyes and Casey didn’t know if she should believe him or stay hesitant. The more important question was why she even cared if he made out with Vicki? They. Were not. Dating. She shouldn’t have to continuously remind herself of that.

“I don’t care if you did. You’re not really my boyfriend, Der-ek. You can do whatever the hell you want,” she said with as much indifference as she could muster. He narrowed his eye at her and sucked on his teeth, letting go of her chin and taking a step back.

“Fine, Casey, be that way,” he said throwing up his hands. He walked around her and headed back to their table. Casey took a minute to get control of herself before she followed him back. She wasn’t jealous or paranoid or anything other than annoyed that she even had to go look for them in the first place. She wasn’t.

Shaking her head, she turned around and walked back to the table, another fake smile plastered on her face. She sat down next to Emily, across from Derek, and actively avoided looking at him. He could be angry all he wanted. She hadn’t done anything besides speak the truth. She was the victim here! Sam was telling some story but she’d missed the beginning so the punch line didn’t make any sense.

“Hey, Case, are you okay?” Emily asked softly, touching her arm.

“I’m fine. Why?” Casey replied with an easy smile.

“I don’t know. You just looked upset for a second. That’s all,” Emily said with a frown. She looked over at Derek, took in his rigid posture and the way he was staring at Casey. “Case, come with me to the bathroom?”

“Sure,” Casey said with a shrug. She felt Derek’s eyes on her as they walked across the bar to the bathroom. They burned holes through her blouse and made her skin crawl again.

Once they were behind the door, Emily turned to Casey and crossed her arms, “What happened between you and Derek?”

“Nothing, what are you talking about?” Casey replied. Emily continued to stare at her until finally Casey gave in. “We just had a stupid fight. It’s no big deal.”

“Right,” Emily said. “That’s why you wouldn’t tell me and Derek won’t stop staring at you.”

“He’s not staring!”

“I’m pretty sure if looks could kill you would be dead, like, three times over,” Emily said with a shrug. “Now spill.”

“He just got fussy when I wouldn’t kiss him,” she mumbled. “It’s not a big deal. He went outside with Vicki and I was worried about them and then he was a jerk like usual. I guess he wanted it to look like we’d made up or something. I don’t know. I don’t care. I don’t want to kiss him.”

Emily stared at her with wide eyes, “You totally like Derek.”

“What? No!” Casey shouted. Emily giggled and covered her mouth with her hand. “Em, listen to me. All I feel for Derek Venturi is disgust and irritation. That is it.”

“That and totally squishy like-type feelings!” Emily replied with another excited giggle. “Oh my god. I never thought I would see the day that Casey McDonald fell for the Venturi charm!”

“I haven’t fallen for anything!” Casey insisted. Emily crossed her arms and stared at Casey with a raised eyebrow. “I mean. Not yet. But I’m trying really hard not to!”

“Casey! Why didn’t you tell me?” Emily said before she slapped at Casey’s shoulder. “This is huge!”

“There is nothing to tell! The whole fake boyfriend thing is just distracting me! It’s not like he’s actually date worthy!” Casey said slapping her back.

“There isn’t that large of a gap between Derek and Derek as boyfriend, Case.”

“Yes there is! There has to be!” Casey whined. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She was not doing this. She was not freaking out about Derek. She wasn’t. There was no way. Emily wrapped her arms around Casey, pressing her head to her shoulder.

“Casey, it’s not the end of the world,” she said softly, stroking Casey’s hair.

“But its Derek, Emily,” Casey whispered. “I hate him.”

“Casey, you haven’t hated him for years now,” Emily reminded her.

“I know but it would be so much easier if I had just continued hating him,” Casey said with a sigh. “I don’t want to like him at all.”

“Tough luck, Spacey,” Emily said with a laugh. Casey laughed and pulled away from Emily. Emily smiled and wrapped an arm around Casey’s neck and led them out of the bathroom.

They started for the table when Derek called out to her. Casey smiled at Emily and pushed her towards the table where it looked like Vicki and Sam were deep in conversation. Emily raised an eyebrow at her and Casey was positive there were the beginnings of a smug smile on her face before she turned around to rush back to the table. Casey was going to have to talk to her about keeping her facial expression in check. Taking a deep breath, Casey turned towards Derek with a frown firmly planted on her face.

“What?”

“Are you – are you okay?” he asked slowly. He looked around them awkwardly and Casey had the distinct feeling that this was not his idea.

“Did Sam make you check on me?” she asked.

“Maybe,” he said with a smirk. She laughed and rolled her eyes.

“Come on, Venturi. I’m fine,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him towards the table. Derek pulled her back, spinning her around so that they were chest to chest. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and ran his fingers down her neck.

Her heart sputtered and she licked her lips. She was breaking rules left and right. She knew that but it was so hard to follow them when Derek was so, well, so Derek.

“Vicki and I didn’t do anything. We shared a cigarette. Promise,” he said softly. His cheeks were a little pinker than they had been when she went to the bathroom. She wondered how drunk he actually was. She shook her head and smiled softly.

“Don’t worry about it, Derek,” she said.

“You’re the one who worried,” he said, mouth curling up in a smirk. “Shouldn’t have but you do it anyways. Always worrying about things that are not an issue.”

“Why not?” she asked, trying to get her heart to beat properly. Was she drunk? She didn’t feel drunk. Why was she putting a hand on his chest, curling his shirt in her fingers, and taking a step closer if she wasn’t drunk? If she wasn’t drunk then why was she staring at his mouth?

“Because I would never do that to you,” he said slowly the smirk falling away from his mouth. His lips parted slightly and his lids lowered, hiding the lust that she saw blossoming in his eyes.

“Never?”

He shook his head and pressed his mouth to hers. She sighed and opened her mouth to him, pressing her tongue forward. His touched the tip of his tongue to hers, darting around her own to explore the inside of her mouth. The hand under her chin slid around to the back of her head, bunching her hair in his palm. She pushed her hand up his chest, slightly pulling up his shirt and wrapped her arm around his neck, hooking him with her elbow.

He wrapped an arm around her waist, hooking her lower back in the crook of his elbow. She stood up on her toes and pressed her chest to his. He tasted like beer and cigarettes, smelled like that body spray she liked so much. He felt good pressed against her, liked the way he pulled on her hair slightly but kept her pressed to him.

The hand on her waist was hot and damp. It seared through her shirt when he squeezed tight before letting go. She brought her other hand up to his face, running her fingers down his jaw, pressing her thumb to his throat slightly before she pulled away. She pressed another gentle kiss to his mouth before lowering herself down and loosening her grip on his neck.

“Let’s sit down,” she panted. Her voice was barely above a whisper and she didn’t know if he would hear her under the bar noise. He nodded and let go of her, clearing his throat. He cracked his neck and shook out his arms before grabbing her hand and linking their fingers. She took a deep breath and tried to stop the pounding of her heart before heading back to the table.

She would start over with the rules tomorrow morning.

***

“So what is it that’s got you all mixed up about this?” Emily whispered. They were lying on Casey’s bed, legs pressed against her wall and their heads hanging off the edge of the bed. Casey rubbed at her eyes and shook her head.

“Isn’t it obvious? It’s Derek! He tortured me for years!” Casey hissed. “We just became friends, Em.”

“Casey, you’ve been friends a lot longer than the last few months,” Emily replied with a shrug. “I mean the best relationships aren’t that different from being friends.”

“Okay, fine, but that’s not me and Derek. I need someone who’s going to be open and caring and considerate. Things that are decidedly not Derek Venturi,” Casey replied. She sat up, feeling the blood rush down from her head and crossed her legs, picking at a loose thread on her pajama pants.

Emily sat up as well and put a hand on Casey’s knee, “Case, if you like him then you like him. I mean if you think about it, you haven’t really given Derek the chance to show you any of that.”

“Emily, are we talking about the same Derek Venturi?” Casey asked with a raised eyebrow. Emily laughed and nodded.

“Okay, you have a point but maybe you don’t need those things as much as you thought? If you like Derek then maybe those things aren’t really that important to you,” Emily explained.

Casey was about to reply when there was a knock on the door, “Casey, are you up?”

“Yeah, Vicki! Come on in,” Casey shouted. She smiled gratefully at Emily and pulled her hair back into a ponytail. Vicki poked her head into the bedroom and smiled at the two girls.

“So was last night fun or was it fun?” she asked. Casey laughed and nodded.

“Definitely fun. Good idea, Vick,” Casey replied. Emily nodded in agreement and made room on the bed for Vicki to sit down.

“Thank you. Thank you,” Vicki replied taking a little bow before sitting down. “Alright, be honest with me though, what happened last night with Derek?”

“What? What are you talking about?” Casey asked with a panicked look on her face. “Nothing happened. Right, Em?”

Emily, kind of, grimaced and shrugged. Vicki raised an eyebrow and looked between the two of them, “I know something happened. I saw the way Derek was glaring at you.”

“Oh. Well, um, I might have jumped to conclusions,” Casey mumbled, looking away from Vicki. “It was stupid.”

“You thought . . . you thought I would do that? Again?” Vicki asked with a frown. “Casey, I would never do that again. I swear.”

“I know, Vicki, I know,” Casey said with a shake of her head. She smiled slightly. “It’s just new relationship jitters.”

It was a weak excuse but she hoped that Vicki would buy it. Vicki smiled slightly and nodded.

“I never apologized for that – really, apologized. It was wrong and I was kind of a terrible person in high school,” she said with a self-deprecating laugh. Casey shook her head.

“No, Vicki, it’s fine. You don’t have to apologize. Ancient history,” Casey said with a small smile. She pulled Vicki into a hug, pressing her head to her shoulder. It was true. She wasn’t angry anymore. She’d stopped being angry ages ago. If she felt anything about it anymore, it was the odd flare up of paranoia but it always passed. The night before was a perfect example of that.

Vicki hugged her back, squeezing tight, “Thanks, Case.”

The two girls pulled apart and turned to Emily. She had a hand pressed to her mouth and looked teary eyed. Casey laughed and pushed at Emily’s knee, “Are you crying?”

“Shut up. It was just so sweet! Cousins becoming friends again,” Emily said with a watery laugh. She pinched Casey’s thigh and smiled at Vicki.

“I don’t know about friends again but maybe friends for the first time?” Vicki said slowly, giving Casey a sheepish smile. Casey nodded and smiled brightly.

“Definitely friends. I mean, I need all the help I can get torturing Derek, right?” Casey said with a laugh. Emily rolled her eyes while Vicki laughed and held her hand up for a high five. Casey eagerly slapped hands and smiled.

She knew that she’d had this conversation before with Vicki. They’d tried the friend thing in the past but they were kids then. Maybe, now that they were almost adults, it would actually work.

As annoying as Vicki could be and as much as they argued, Casey liked the idea of being friends with Vicki. If anything, the past week living together showed her that Vicki had changed. Then again, so had Casey otherwise there was no way that this would have worked - this being Vicki living with her, of course.

The Derek thing was still, unfortunately, at the back of her mind. She knew in her gut that it was never going to work out. She knew that like she knew that the sun was in the sky. Emily made it seem so easy but it wasn’t. Things were never easy with Derek. Even if she did like him, and she still wasn’t admitting that, that didn’t mean he liked her. Kissing her was one thing. Actually wanting to be with her was something totally different.

“Alright, so what’s the plan for today?” Vicki asked. Casey kind of shrugged and looked at Emily.

“Was there anything you wanted to do while you were here?” Casey asked Emily.

“Not really? I was going to text Sam to see if he had plans with Derek or not,” Emily said. “I figured we could all meet up with them or something?”

“I’m okay with that. I have a job interview this afternoon,” Vicki said.

“An interview on a Saturday?” Casey asked with an eyebrow raised.

Vicki shrugged, “It’s for a coffee shop. It was the only time the manager was going to be in.”

“Casey?” Emily asked, turning to her. She wasn’t too eager to see Derek again but she was convinced that if she could just stick to her rules then everything would be okay. She just had to remind herself that Derek was not a good idea – had never been a good idea.

“I guess that’s okay. Go ahead and text him. Vicki, we can make breakfast for Em, right?” Casey asked. Vicki nodded and hopped off the bed, heading to the kitchen. Once she was out of earshot, Casey grabbed Emily’s arm.

“You are on official keep Casey away from Derek duty, okay?” Casey whispered. Emily’s eyes grew two sizes and she shook her head.

“I can’t do that!”

Casey scoffed, “Why not?”

“Because first of all, it would look weird if I kept cock blocking, excuse my language, Derek – especially since, as far as Vicki is concerned, you’re his girlfriend. Second of all, have you ever tried to stop Derek from doing something? You know it makes him want to do it even more,” Emily explained. Casey frowned.

“Okay but I need you to play as much interference as you can. Please, Em? Pretty please?” Casey begged. Emily bit her lip but nodded. Casey squealed and threw her arms around Emily. “You’re the best, Em!”

“I know, I know. You better make me the best breakfast on the face of the planet,” Emily said with a laugh, returning the hug.

“Oh it will be,” Casey said with a smile. She stood up and went into the kitchen with Vicki. “Alright, Vicki! You do remember how to make pancakes, right?”

Vicki laughed, “With the number of times your mom made us pancakes growing up? How could I ever forget?”

“Awesome!” Casey said with a smile as she started pulling out supplies. Vicki leaned against the counter and crossed her arms, watching Casey get started.

“Hey Case?”

“Yeah?”

“How’s Derek in bed?”

Casey froze, her hand holding a measuring spoon full of flour. She slowly scraped off the top, trying to keep her hands from shaking, and poured it into her mixing bowl. She licked her lips and turned to Vicki with a sigh. How the hell was she supposed to answer that?

“Well, we haven’t actually done that yet,” she said slowly. She turned back to her ingredients and smirked a little. “He wants to wait – wants it to be special.”

“Really? Wow. He sure has changed,” Vicki said with a shake of her head. She pulled out a skillet, turning the burner on and leaning back against the counter.

“Yeah, he’s just turned into a big softie,” Casey said with an exaggerated sigh.

“He didn’t seem like a softie when we hung out. I mean, you guys bickered almost as much as before you got together,” Vicki pointed out. Casey shrugged and cracked a couple of eggs.

“He’s still a major jerk but he’s a total softie when it’s just the two of us,” Casey explained. She knew it was total bull but it sounded convincing. For a second, she could pretend that that was the story of her relationship with him. She snorted and started to beat the mix furiously. It was a nice story but it wasn’t hers and she needed to not let her mind wander like that.

“Must be nice, having someone like that,” Vicki said softly. She grabbed the bottle of olive oil off the counter and poured a little into the skillet, tilting the pan back and forth to get an even coat.

Casey paused and looked over at Vicki, “Vicki, do you want to talk about something?”

Vicki turned to Casey and kind of smiled but there was a sadness there that definitely wasn’t Vicki.

“I got my heart smashed, Case,” Vicki said softly. “I loved him and I thought he loved me, too. I was wrong.”

“Is that why you left?” Casey asked. She held the mixing bowl lightly in her hands, mixing slowly.

“Not really. I wasn’t doing well in my classes. I hated my dorm,” Vicki explained. “He was just the last straw, you know? I needed space from everything.”

“Well, you got space. That one is for sure,” Casey said with a laugh. She turned to Vicki and held out the mixing bowl. “Care to do the honors?”

“Gladly,” she said with a smile. She started scooping out batter, pouring it into the skillet making four perfectly shaped pancakes. “Thanks for being so great about this, Case. I know this is not what you would consider a good life choice but thanks for not lecturing me every five minutes.”

“Hey, what are cousins for?” Casey asked with a laugh.

Chapter Text

“Dude, I am not hooking up with your hockey buddy,” Sam said with a laugh. “Stop asking.”

“Sam, this guy will not stop giving me moon eyes. Just flirt with him or something to remind him that there are other guys on the planet other than me,” Derek shouted as he pulled a shirt on. He ran a hand through his hair and shrugged before going back to the living room where Sam was sprawled across his couch. “I am begging you as my best friend, take one for the team Sammy.”

“Derek, the answer is no,” Sam replied, staring him down until Derek nodded. “Good. Now, we need to talk about way more important things.”

“More important things? Like what?” Derek asked, knowing what Sam wanted to talk about. He didn’t want to talk about it. It was one thing to think about it – to let it drive him crazy but talking about it was something totally different. Talking about things made things real and this thing was not real, not at all.

“Casey,” Sam said with a knowing smirk.

Derek threw himself into his chair and shrugged, “What about Casey?”

“What about Casey?” Sam repeated. “How about the massive thing you have for her? The one I could see all the way from London?”

“There is no thing,” Derek said with a smirk. Sam laughed and kicked Derek’s chair. “Gentle on the chair, man!”

“You know you can’t lie to me, dude. You have a serious thing for Casey,” Sam said with a chuckle.

“Sam. Sammy. You know Derek Venturi doesn’t do things – he doesn’t have things for girls. They have things for him,” Derek said with an easy smile. Sam rolled his eyes and sat up. He rested his chin on his hand and stared at Derek with a raised eyebrow. Derek stared back, his easy smile fading quickly.

“I remember you having things for girls. There was Kendra. Sally. Debbie – who you didn’t tell Casey about which makes me think this thing has been around for a while,” Sam said with a knowing smirk. Derek stood up and paced the living room for a minute before turning to Sam.

“If there was a thing – not that I’m admitting there is – what should I do? I mean, dude, it’s Casey!” Derek said with a groan. He ran a hand through his hair and tried to breathe calmly.

“You could be an adult and just tell her?” Sam suggested. Derek snorted and rolled his eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry, I forgot you were still stuck in high school.”

“Have you forgotten who we’re talking about? This is Casey McDonald the queen of sharing her feelings,” Derek said. “I don’t have feelings to share.”

“Clearly you do, dude, or else you wouldn’t be freaking out about it,” Sam said. “I’m just saying – the forward approach is always appreciated.”

“But I’m so much better at sneaky!” Derek whined before throwing himself back into his chair. He rubbed at his face and let out a loud sigh. There was a reason why he didn’t do feelings. All it did was mess him up inside.

“So, be sneaky in a smart way,” Sam said with a shrug. “I mean, you’ve been a pretty good fake-boyfriend, right?”

Derek shrugged, “I guess so. I mean, I’ve just been doing the usual boyfriend things. I don’t know if they’re good or not. Never got many complaints in the past.”

“Use that to your advantage,” Sam said with a smile. “If she sees how great a boyfriend you are then maybe she’ll give your obnoxious ass a chance.”

“I don’t know, Sammy. No offense but you don’t exactly have a great track record with one Casey McDonald,” Derek replied with a smirk. Sam rolled his eyes.

“Yeah, okay, so Casey and I were not that great of a combination but that is definitely not the point right now. The point is that you like her and, for once in your life, have no idea how to get the girl,” Sam said with a smirk. Derek rolled his eyes and groaned, banging his head against the headrest of the chair.

“This would be so much easier if it were anyone but Casey,” Derek mumbled. Sam laughed and stood up, stretching.

“Tough luck, D, but you fell for her – now you got to live with it,” he said before heading to the bathroom.

“I didn’t fall for her!” Derek shouted after Sam.

There was just an attraction. That was it. Right? Derek stood up and started pacing again. He didn’t like thinking about things for too long and he definitely didn’t like thinking about Casey for too long but he couldn’t stop himself. It wasn’t like thinking about Casey was new. He’d thought about her constantly in high school, mostly how he could ruin her life that week, but this was a totally different thing. Now, it was about how soft her lips were or how bright her smile could be or how amazing it felt to have that bright smile directed at him.

He was seriously losing his touch.

The worst part was that the longer he thought about her, the harder it was to deny any sort of fondness for the keener. He liked kissing her, liked getting to put his hands on her, liked the little moan she made when he sucked on that spot beneath her ear. He liked listening to her blab on and on about her day, about her classes, about the kid in her biology lab that insisted on being her lab partner and then spent the entire hour staring at her chest. He liked talking to her, fighting with her about which on-campus restaurant made the best breakfast sandwiches, complaining about the way their favorite TV show had totally assassinated the main character’s personality, teasing her about her color-coded notebooks.

He sat back down in his chair. He was screwed – so, very screwed.

“Alright, we’re meeting up with Emily and Casey for lunch,” Sam announced as he walked back into the living room.

“When did we decide that?” Derek mumbled, still caught up in his self-pity moment. Sam flicked Derek’s ear as he walked by to sit down on the couch.

“Just now. Emily texted. I told her that we’d meet up with them later,” Sam explained. Derek looked over at his best friend and rolled his eyes.

“What if I don’t want to hang out with them?”

Sam gave him a blank look before raising his eyebrows, “Are you really thinking about doing that?”

“Doing what?”

“Doing that whole hot and cold thing that you do.”

“I wasn’t thinking about doing that.”

“Yes you were. I can see it in your sneaky, beady eyes. You seriously think those games are going to work on Casey?”

“I wasn’t planning on doing anything!”

Sam shook his head and patted Derek’s arm, “You, my friend, are a lost cause.”

“But I wasn’t planning anything!” Derek shouted again. “And my eyes are not beady!”

***

Derek smiled when Casey laughed at something Sam said. She threw her head back, her hair brushing against her bare skin. She leaned into Sam a little more and pressed a hand to her chest. He was so unbelievably screwed – it wasn’t funny anymore.

“So, what’s your plan?” Emily asked, breaking him out of his stare at Casey moment. He was having more and more of those moments. If he wanted to, at least, keep up the pretense of being cool he was going to have to stop that.

“Plan for what?” he asked turning to look at her. She raised an eyebrow and bumped her shoulder against his before linking their arms.

“Your plan to win Casey over,” Emily replied like it as obvious. Derek’s eye grew wide and he looked back at Casey and Sam. They were still chatting a few feet ahead of them, totally oblivious that Derek and Emily had fallen behind.

“Can you please keep your voice down?” Derek hissed, he slowed down his pace to create more space between them and Casey. More space was definitely good. “I don’t have a plan because I don’t need one because I am not doing anything to win her over because I don’t want to win her over, okay?”

“Derek,” Emily said with a sigh. “It’s okay to have feelings, you know.”

“I know that. What’s not okay is having feelings for your stupid, keener step-sister,” Derek replied, keeping his eyes trained on Casey’s back. She’d wrapped her arm around Sam’s waist and his arm was wrapped around her shoulders. He felt a stupid twinge of something in his chest that he pushed away to be quickly forgotten.

“So you do like her!” Emily said with an eager giggle. “I knew it. It was all over your face last night.”

“No – what you saw last night was annoyance,” Derek said slowly. Emily laughed.

“Annoyance that Casey wouldn’t kiss you,” Emily said.

“Annoyance that Casey didn’t trust me,” Derek grumbled. “Annoyance that she thought I would do that to her.”

“She didn’t,” Emily said softly. “Not really, at least. You know how her brain is, Derek.”

“Okay, well, if she didn’t then why did she rush after me like she did?” he countered, pointing a finger at her. Emily bit her lip and shrugged. “See? It was annoyance. That’s it.”

“You are absolutely hopeless,” Emily said with a sigh. “As someone who has seen you smitten many times over, let me just say that you are totally into Casey McDonald and you’ll be a lot happier if you’d just admit it. To me, in particular.”

“And why would I admit it to you?” Derek asked while he rolled his eyes.

“Because I can help you win your girl over – best friend insider knowledge and all of that,” she said with a smirk that could probably rival his own if he were willing to be generous – which he definitely wasn’t.

“You would use secret best friend information just so I could hypothetically get a girl you think I’m interested in?” he asked. “Emily Davis, I didn’t know you were so devious.”

“I have my many talents,” she said with a laugh. “Besides, I wouldn’t be offering if I didn’t think it would be beneficial to everyone involved.”

“How would it be beneficial to her though?” he asked, nodding towards Casey and Sam. “Other than the obvious opportunity to be with the greatness that is me.”

“And to think they say boys mature slower than girls,” Emily said with a dry smile.

Their best friends had stopped to ogle something in a window shop. Casey’s face was practically pressed to the glass, her eyes big and bright in the reflection. She turned to look at him, catching him staring at her. He was pretty positive that he saw a blush on her cheek before she turned back to Sam with a laugh.

“Very funny, Em. Answer the question.”

“That is for me to know and you to find out,” Emily said. Derek rolled his eyes and picked up their pace, pulling his arm free from Emily’s grasp. He peeked in the window of the shop Casey and Sam had paused at – jewelry, typical.

“Alright, where the hell are we eating? The D-man needs food and he needs it now,” Derek announced as he threw his arms around Sam and Casey’s necks. Casey whined and bent herself backwards, trying to escape his arm. He laughed when she stumbled a little.

“Der-ek!” she shouted, adjusting her shirt and glaring at him. “Do you always have to be so handsy?”

He laughed and pulled Sam in a little tighter, “I think I upset her, Sammy.”

“I think you did, Der. Couldn’t imagine you doing something like that,” he replied with a smirk. Casey rolled her eyes at them and grabbed Emily’s arm, linking them together and walking a little faster.

“Does she know where we’re eating because I was not kidding about the food thing,” Derek asked as he let go of Sam.

“She knows,” Sam said with a nod. “So, did Emily help you come up with a plan yet?”

“What is with you two? Are you in on this together? Is this what you did the whole drive here?” Derek groaned. He tilted his head back and stared up at the blue sky for a minute. At least the weather was nice, that sort of made up for the ridiculousness that was this morning.

“Maybe,” Sam said with a laugh. “Listen, I know you don’t do feelings and all of that. I get it. But Derek, man, this is Casey we’re talking about.”

“I know who we’re talking about – don’t know why we’re still talking about her though,” Derek said. Sam rolled his eyes and wrapped an arm around Derek’s shoulders.

“Look, you can play denial all you want but we’re friends with both of you guys and we just want what’s best for you both, okay? We’re just looking out for you,” Sam said slowly. Derek nodded.

“I know but I don’t need looking out for. If Casey has a thing back then our things will merge and everything will just work out, right?” Derek replied with a shrug. He paused for a second, that didn’t come exactly like he had planned. Sam laughed and patted his shoulder.

“So, you do have a thing then?”

“Really, dude? You’re going to make me say it out loud?”

“Most definitely.”

“I can’t believe you,” Derek mumbled, looking down at his shoes. “I, Derek Venturi, have a thing for Casey McDonald.”

Sam laughed and fist pumped in triumph before letting go of Derek. He clapped his hands together, drawing a few strange looks from passersby. He pulled out his cell phone, fiddled with it for a second before holding it up in Derek’s face.

“Okay, now, one more time for the camera,” Sam said with a laugh. Derek sneered at him and let out a fake laugh, swiping at Sam’s phone.

“Oh yeah. It’s hilarious. Just laugh it up.”

“I’m sorry, dude, but I never thought you would admit it,” Sam said with a sigh as he put his phone away. He wiped at his eyes and smiled at Derek. “This is the best visit ever.”

“Better than that time you banged Jordan?” Derek asked with a smirk. Sam rolled his eyes and groaned.

“You know he still Facebook messages me, like, every other week. It’s like – dude, it was one night a year ago. Let go,” Sam complained. Derek laughed and shook his head.

“I told you not to go after that guy. He’s a fucking theatre major! That should have been a clear sign,” Derek replied.

“Okay but you didn’t see the size of his dick,” Sam said as he wiggled his eyebrows. Derek groaned and pretended to puke into a bush.

“I don’t need that mental image. I want to be able to eat if we ever get there,” he said, pushing Sam a little. “Speaking of food, where did they go?”

Derek looked ahead of him and couldn’t see Casey or Emily. Great. He was about to complain to Sam when he recognized the back of Casey’s head. They were stopped in front of some hipster coffee shop that he knew she’d been dying to try since moving to Kingston. They were talking to someone that Derek couldn’t see but Casey looked pretty happy and, maybe, a little flirty. He frowned a little and picked up his pace to reach them.

“I know! How ridiculous is that comb-over? I honestly thought that professors only looked like that in movies!” Casey said with a laugh.

“I had him last year, the comb-over gets the worse the later in the semester it gets. I swear, the thing mutates into a living creature by the time finals roll around,” the mystery person replied. Mystery person was definitely a dude and there was that twinge of something that Derek didn’t want to acknowledge in his chest. He pushed it to the place in the back of his mind where he’d pushed the last one and stepped up to Casey, wrapping his arms around her neck.

“What’s happening, Space Case? Can we eat already?” Derek asked practically whispering in her ear. She definitely shivered and he counted that as a point in his favor. Smirking, he glared at the red head that Casey had been talking to. Casey groaned and pried his arms off of him, taking a step away. “You going to introduce your new friend or what?”

“Geoff,” the redhead said, sticking his hand out towards Derek. Derek gave Geoff a thin smile and shook his hand. “Yeah, Casey and I are in the same creative writing class.”

“You’re a writing major?” Sam asked. “I’m Sam, by the way.”

“Yeah, actually. Our professor has the worst comb-over you’ve ever seen,” Geoff said with a smile.

“Right. Lunch? Are we still doing that?” Derek asked, turning his back on Geoff.

“Der-ek,” Casey hissed. “Don’t be rude.”

“Rude? Who’s rude? Not me,” Derek said with his sweetest smile. She just rolled her eyes and stepped around Derek, turning to Geoff.

“Do you want to join us? We were just grabbing something to eat,” Casey asked with a big smile. Derek’s glare at Geoff intensified over Casey’s shoulder and he crossed his arms to add extra emphasis that Geoff was not welcome. They could laugh about professor’s hair styles some other day when Derek wasn’t around to witness and subsequently puke in his mouth.

He heard Sam hold back a laugh and Emily let out a very loud snort. Casey turned to look at them and Derek dropped his arms and his glare, giving her an innocent smile. She raised an eyebrow at him before turning back to Geoff.

“Uh, I think I’ll pass this time. It was nice meeting you guys. I’ll see you in class, Casey,” Geoff said with a wave before he rushed away. Casey watched him walk away with a frown on her face. Derek clapped his hands and gave her a genuine smile.

“Alright, let’s go inside, yeah?” he asked, opening the door for everyone. Emily and Sam both gave him the same look of amused exasperation – they were spending too much time together – as they walked into the restaurant.

Casey stopped in front of him with her arms crossed and an eyebrow raised. Derek’s smile grew bigger and maybe a little tighter. He knew that look. She was going to yell at him about something – probably Geoff.

“You know, just because I’m pretending to be your girlfriend in front of Vicki doesn’t mean you get to chase off nice guys,” she said in an even tone. Maybe not the reaction he had expected but he could work with it.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, step sister of mine,” he replied. She rolled her eyes and poked him in the chest.

“You know exactly what I’m talking about. Geoff was nice and kind of cute and you were rude and chased him away,” she said, some of her cool slipping away.

“I didn’t do anything. The guy just passed on lunch. It’s not the end of the world, Space Case,” he said with a smirk. He crossed his arms and let the door shut. He could see Emily and Sam watching them through the glass from the corner of his eye.

“He passed because you glared at him! Before you walked up he was flirting with me!” she shouted with large, outraged eyes.

“I didn’t glare at him!” Derek denied.

“You did! Why else would he leave like that?” she asked. Derek scoffed and rolled his eyes.

“You can’t blame me every time you fail to score with a guy, Casey. Accept your own failings,” he said with a falsely sympathetic sigh. She growled at him and stomped her foot, reaching for the door. He grabbed her arm and leaned in a little, whispering, “Did you just growl at me? So animalistic, Casey.”

“You’re a pig, Der-ek,” she replied in her own whisper. Her cheeks were a little flushed. They had definitely not been flushed when she was talking to Geoff, he was sure of that.

“Casey, you have got to stop with the pet names. It’s belittling,” he said, morphing his face into a wounded expression or as close to one as he could get. She rolled her eyes and reached for the door with her other hand, pulling it open.

“I thought you were hungry,” she said, looking down at to where he was still holding onto her. He let go slowly and grabbed the door from her, holding it open for her. He smirked at the little smile she was trying to hold back and followed her inside the restaurant.

Casey dropped her bag into a chair and dragged Emily to the bathroom. Derek sat down next to Sam and couldn’t help but watch her run away.

“You know stunts like that will only go so far,” Sam said as he looked over the menu.

“Shut up, Sam.”

“I mean, yeah, it gets her attention but you’re still just her annoying step-brother versus potential boyfriend material,” he continued.

“Sam, I don’t want to hear it.”

“Though that little moment with the door was a nice touch. Emily and I were very impressed,” he said.

“Seriously, can we not talk about this anymore?”

“I’m done,” Sam said with a smile. “You know what you’re going to order?”

***

“Vicki is on her way over,” Casey announced, shoving her phone back into her purse. “She said she has good news and expects celebrations once she gets here.”

“I guess she got the job?” Derek asked.

“Seems like it,” Casey replied as she snuggled further into the couch, crossing her legs. “Ew, Der-ek! I am not watching some gross CSI show. Change the channel.”

“You don’t want to watch them cut up bodies and pull out bugs to figure out time of death? Really?” he asked with a smirk, putting the remote down.

“Seriously, Derek, this is disgusting,” Emily whined before covering her eyes with a squeak. Sam laughed and snatched the remote from Derek’s chair, flicking through the channels until he landed on some random sitcom.

“There. No blood. Just laughs,” he said with an amused smile. He leaned back over the coffee table and continued rolling the joint that he’d been focusing on for the past hour.

“How long are you going to roll that thing, Sammy?” Derek asked for the tenth time since they got back.

“Until it’s just right, Der-ek,” Sam said with a laugh.

“That was pretty spot on, Sam,” Derek said pretty impressed.

“I learn from the best,” Sam replied with a sideways glance at Casey. Casey gasped and swatted at Sam’s shoulder.

“I do not sound like that!” she said. She looked at Emily for support but Emily just shrugged and laughed. “Emily! You’re supposed to back me up.”

“Sorry, Case, but that was a really good Derek-call,” Emily said.

“Derek-call?” Casey asked with a pitiful pout. Derek felt himself start to smile slightly at her big eyes and puffed up lower lip. He shook his head and turned his attention back to the TV, which was just boring. He’d much rather watch Casey’s pouty lip. He was about to turn towards her again when Sam held the joint up in the air.

“It is done!” he shouted before looking around at everyone with a goofy smile. Derek laughed and snatched it away from him.

“I’m host, I get green,” he said when Sam protested.

Casey rolled her eyes at him as he lit up. He smirked around the end, inhaling deeply before passing it back to Sam. He kept his eyes locked on Casey’s, his smirk growing with every passing second. She shifted slightly in her seat before finally breaking eye contact and turning towards Emily. Derek exhaled and smiled, leaning back into his chair. He was about to say something, to make the blush on Casey’s cheeks turn bright red versus the subtle pink they were at that moment, when someone knocked on the door.

Derek looked at Sam and shouted, “Who is it?”

“You favorite cousin ever!” Vicki shouted through the door. Derek snorted and stood up, opening the door for her. She patted him on the cheek and threw herself into his chair with a large smile painted across her face.

“So, Vicki, you said you had good news?” Casey asked excitedly. Derek threw himself onto the couch, his head landing in her lap. He looked up at her and smirked at the way her mouth turned into a thin line. She was so annoyed.

“I got the job! I start on Monday!” she shouted, clapping her hands excitedly. Everyone clapped and cheered as Vicki took a small bow. “Thank you. Thank you. It’s going to be so nice to actually have something to do instead of sitting around Casey’s apartment all day.”

“How long are you planning on staying in Kingston?” Emily asked. Derek stretched his arms back and brushed his fingers across Casey’s sides. She flinched and shook her knee a little beneath his head before grabbing his hands and pushing them back towards his own body. He snickered and crossed his arms, stretching his legs out and resting his feet on the opposite armrest.

“I don’t know. As long as Casey lets me crash on her couch, I guess,” Vicki mumbled with a shrug.

Derek looked up at Casey to see her reaction to that. Sure, Casey had been way more understanding that any of them had ever expected but Derek knew that she would only tolerate it for so long. The way her brow was furrowed and she was nibbling at her bottom lip told him that she was not entirely pleased with Vicki’s answer.

He rolled his eyes and wondered for the millionth time since he’d met her when she was going to relax.

“Is it the coffee shop?” Derek asked, looking towards Sam who had been hogging the joint since Vicki had walked in. Sam raised an eyebrow at him and Derek nodded towards Vicki. It was her big moment, she deserved to celebrate a little.

“Yeah, I’m supposed to study and learn as many of the drinks as I can over the weekend,” Vicki explained. She smiled when Sam handed her the joint, took a small hit and passed it towards Derek. She blew out a cloud of smoke and leaned her head back. “You’d think that dropping out of college would negate any sort of studying ever.”

“I can help you study,” Casey offered with an excited smile. Derek groaned and sat up to take his hit before offering to Casey. She scrunched up her nose and Derek tried really hard not to find it adorable. “Not for me.”

“What, Space Case? I thought by now you would have learned to live a little dangerously,” Derek teased after he blew a cloud of smoke above her head. She rolled her eyes and took the joint, pinching it between her thumb and index finger. Derek raised his eyebrows but frowned when she handed it to Emily.

“I’m not totally lame. I have smoked before you know. I just always get sick,” she explained with a shrug. Derek laughed, couldn’t help it. He, honestly, didn’t think that Casey – his Casey (and where the hell did that come from?) would have ever tried something so vastly wild for her.

“Weakling,” he said with a smirk before laying his head back into her lap. She rolled her eyes and put a hand on her knee, her fingers curling into the hair behind his ear.

“Anyways, Vicki, I can totally help you study,” Casey repeated. She scratched his scalp gently, twirled a strand around her index finger. It tingled for a minute, sending vibrations through his entire body before subsiding - until she repeated the action. He was definitely stoned. “Casey’s Condensation Method has never failed.”

Vicki laughed and took the joint from Emily, shrugging while she took her hit.

“If it hasn’t failed yet,” Vicki said. “Why the hell not?”

“Hey! It even got Derek to graduate!” Emily said with a smile. “We can’t forget that.”

“If it can help Derek than it can help anyone,” Sam mumbled as he broke up a nugget of weed and pulled out another sheet of rolling paper. Casey laughed and slapped her thigh.

“Hey man! I offer you my home. I feed you. This is how you treat me?” Derek complained.

“You haven’t fed me. I paid for pizza last night. We didn’t eat breakfast and I bought my own lunch,” Sam pointed out with a snort.

“Wow, Derek, could you be a more terrible host?” Casey asked taking her hand away from his head briefly to tuck her hair behind her ear. He resisted the urge to pout but couldn’t help the smirk that slipped onto his face when she put her hand back. He might have nuzzled a little but she didn’t seem to notice.

“Oh, please and what did you do for your guest?” he asked.

“Em, how good of a host am I?” Casey asked with a smug smile, keeping her eyes locked on Derek’s.

“Pancakes – I mean, is there anything else to say but pancakes?” Emily asked with a giggle.

“I want pancakes,” Sam whined. “Why didn’t you make me pancakes, D?”

“Shut up, Sam,” Derek grumbled. “If you want pancakes so bad then you can stay with Casey.”

“Can I?” Sam asked with a little too much enthusiasm. Derek threw a pillow at his head and laughed when Sam desperately tried to protect his weed.

“Back to the matter at hand!” Vicki announced with a laugh. “Yes, Casey, you can help me study.”

“Yay!” Casey shouted, wiggling her knees a little.

Derek reached up and grabbed her thighs, giving them a squeeze, “Easy on my head, Space Case.”

“Der-ek! Don’t grab my thighs like that!” Casey fussed, pulling at his wrists. He smirked and kept his hands in place, rubbing his thumbs up and down her thighs. She squirmed a little and stared at him with wide eyes. “Der-ek!”

“You two are so fucking funny,” Vicki murmured before giggling. Derek looked over at her and smirked. Her eyes were droopy and she was leaning back in his chair half-awake.

“Hear that, sweetie pie? Not only are we the cutest couple on campus but we’re fucking funny,” Derek said with a smirk, knowing it was going to push one of her buttons. She groaned, giving him a warm and fuzzy feeling in his gut.

“How many times do I have to ask you not to call me pet names?” she asked, looking down at him. She had let go of his wrists and crossed her arms. He crossed his arms underneath his head, resting his wrists on her calves, and ran a finger up and down her shin. He felt her shiver and that warm feeling in his gut spread to his chest.

“Wait, we need to back track to this cutest couple thing? Is that official? Was there a vote held? Did you guys get your faces in the local paper?” Emily asked with a little smirk. Derek snorted and ran his finger down her shin again, loving the way she shivered. He might have wished that she would put her hand back in his hair but if asked he would definitely deny it.

“Of course not! Vicki thinks we’re cute,” Casey said.

“I don’t just think. I know,” Vicki shouted suddenly awake. It only lasted a few seconds before she rested her head against the chair again. “You two are just too dumb to realize it.”

“I am not dumb!” Casey shouted.

“Uh, what about me? Why aren’t you rushing to defend me?” Derek asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Derek, we all know you’re dumb,” Casey replied without even looking at him.

“Wow, Space Case. Wow,” he replied with a shake of his head. Casey laughed and looked down at him.

“Are you offended, Dereka?”

“Dereka!” Sam shouted with a laugh he lit the second joint.

“Shut up, Sam,” Derek snapped before turning back to Casey. “I did get into university, remember?”

“Yeah, I remember but who was it that helped you pull your grades out of the gutter? Oh yeah! It was me!” Casey replied.

“Nope! Stop! This is not happening right now!” Vicki shouted, waving her arms back and forth. “I am celebrating which means there will be no Derek and Casey bickering. I will not tolerate it.”

“You won’t tolerate it? You’re in my apartment!” Derek shouted, leaning up a little.

“So not the point, Derek,” she replied. “Now, kiss and make up.”

“Please, Vicki, we weren’t really fighting,” Casey said with a wave of her hand. “You know this is just how we deal with each other.”

“No, no, celebration girl has decreed,” Sam said with a shake of his head. He smirked at Derek briefly before turning to Casey with a serious look on his face. “You’re going to have to kiss and make up. More importantly – kiss.”

“Sam!” Casey shouted.

“Oh yeah, kissing is a must! I mean, you can’t kiss and make up without an actual kiss,” Emily chimed in. Derek rolled his eyes and let his head fall back into her lap. Could those two be any more obvious? Why not rent out a billboard? Her hand brushed against his cheek, her fingers curling around his jaw for the briefest moment, and he definitely nuzzled that time. She looked down at him with a soft smile that he barely had a chance to catalogue (that smile had, definitely, never been thrown in his direction before) before she was turning back to Sam and Emily.

“What is with you two?” Casey asked with an awkward chuckle.

“Come on, Case. We haven’t really seen any proof that you two are all couple-y,” Emily said with a shrug.

“Uh, were you at the bar last night? I think we were plenty couple-y,” Casey said through clenched teeth. She was glaring daggers at Emily and if Derek had any sense he would be slightly offended that she was so reluctant to kiss him. But he didn’t and her cheeks were turning that shade of red that always got his blood pumping.

“Come on, Casey. It’s just Derek. You know – you’re boyfriend. I’m sure he won’t mind another demonstration. Right, Der?” Sam asked.

Vicki giggled and clapped her hands as she shouted, “Demonstration! Demonstration!”

“For Christ’s sake,” Derek mumbled before he sat up and turned around to face Casey. She was looking at him with wide eyes. He frowned – kissing him wasn’t that bad, right? He grabbed both sides of her face and pulled her close. “It’s just for show, baby girl.”

She shivered and closed her eyes briefly making him smirk. He knew that little pet name had an effect on her and she was convinced that pet names were the devil? Ridiculous. He smiled slightly before pressing his mouth to hers, coaxing her lips into a few open mouthed kisses. Her tongue touched his lightly and he could have sworn he heard a tiny whimper come from her.

He pulled away slightly and smirked at her heavy lidded expression. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?’

“You’re a pig,” she mumbled with very little force behind it, making him laugh.

“I think I need a cold shower,” Sam announced before getting hit in the face with another pillow.

Chapter Text

“Guys, I think Vicki is asleep,” Emily mumbled, lifting her head from Casey’s lap to look at the chair Vicki hadn’t moved from once all night.

Derek looked up from his hand of cards and snorted. Her mouth was hanging open and all of her cards had fallen into her lap. He reached up from his spot on the floor and grabbed them from her, “I have been waiting for this damn ace to show up for hours.”

“She had the last ace this whole time?” Casey shouted, leaning over the coffee table and reaching towards him. He smacked her hand away and added Vicki’s cards to his own hand. “You can’t do that!”

“Watch me,” he said with a large shit-eating grin. Sam sat up from where he was lying on the ground and stared at the large number of cards in Derek’s hand.

“That’s bullshit!” he shouted before falling back onto the ground, cradling his cards to his chest. “What time is it?”

Derek looked at the clock on the cable box, “Close to two in the morning.”

“We have to drive back tomorrow,” Emily whined, dropping her cards on the table and rolling over onto her side. She slid her head off of Casey’s lap and wrapped her arms around her head. “Get out, I’m going to sleep.”

“Em, come on, let’s just go back my apartment,” Casey said with a laugh and a yawn. Derek snorted and gathered the cards on the table in his hands.

“You’re not going anywhere tonight,” he said. “It’s too late to walk back and I am too stoned to drive you.”

“I could just borrow the Prince,” Casey offered through another yawn. She threw her cards on the table and rubbed at her face. He smiled at her determination, his eyelids heavy. He was fucking tired.

“You’re staying. Get over it,” he said with a shrug. He put down the stack of cards and rubbed at his face. Stretching, he pushed himself off of the floor. For once, he was grateful for the blankets that Nora had forced him to pack ‘just in case.’ He pulled down three, tossing one to both Emily and Sam before gently laying one over Vicki. He held his hand out for Casey, standing by his door. “Let’s go to bed.”

She looked at him with wide eyes and glanced down at Emily, biting her lip. She started wringing her hands and opened her mouth to say something when Derek cut her off, “Can you please not argue? I just want to go to bed and we both know that she’ll ask questions if she wakes up and sees you sleeping out here.”

“Fine,” she snapped, glaring at him like he’d arranged for this to happen. He rolled his eyes and opened the door for her gesturing her into his room. She stomped by him with her arms crossed and a frown firmly fixed on her face.

Sam and Emily both gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up before he slammed the door shut in their faces.

“Do you want to borrow sleep clothes?” Derek asked as he stumbled over to his dresser. He was not sleeping in jeans tonight. There was no way. “You’re not getting one of my shirts though.”

“What?” she asked from his bed. She was sitting on the edge, her hands clutching his comforter. He raised an eyebrow at her and shook his head. It wasn’t like he was just going to pounce at her. He had some self-control even if he chose to ignore it more often then not.

“I asked if you wanted to borrow some sleep clothes,” he repeated. He turned back to his dresser and pulled out a pair of sweatpants for himself, unbuttoning the fly of his jeans at the same time. He heard her stand up and cross the room to him. He grabbed the shorts she had worn the last time she was here and handed them to her over his shoulder.

“Thanks,” she mumbled, her breath brushing against the back of his neck. She was a lot closer than he’d expected and he felt goose bumps pop up all over his shoulders.

“No problem,” he replied softly before throwing his sweatpants over his shoulder and pulling down his zipper. He was positive that he heard her gasp before she hurried back towards the bed. He smirked slightly and started to pull his pants down. He definitely heard her gasp that time and he couldn’t help but laugh. “It’s just my boxers, Casey.”

“You could have warned me,” she snapped. He rolled his eyes and finished changing, turning around without warning. She was pulling his shorts on and the entire length of her legs was exposed. His mouth drooped slightly as his eyes roamed over all of that bare flesh. He knew she had great legs – she was a dancer, for Christ’s sake, great legs were a given. But seeing them like this – in his bedroom, the lights low, and having known what it’s like to be in between those legs – it was an entirely different experience.

“Der-ek,” she whispered. He looked up at her, saw how wide her eyes were, how dark her pupils were and felt a blush creep onto his face. He didn’t blush – it was a thing that just didn’t happen, not to Derek Venturi. She was causing a serious problem. He snorted and turned around, trying to keep up his trademark air of indifference that he knew, after so many years, she could see right through. “You can turn around now.”

“Thanks, princess,” he replied as he strolled back to his bed. She was already laying down, her back to the wall and the comforter pulled up to her chin.

He slipped into bed next to her, laying down facing her. He pulled the comforter over his chest and let out a long sigh. She yawned again and smiled slightly, “I’m glad Em and Sam could visit.”

“Yeah,” he said softly. She was half awake, her eyes mostly closed and her mouth curled into a goofy smile. She was beautiful. “Go to sleep, Space Case.”

“Mmmm. Sleep,” she mumbled before closing her eyes all the way and rolling over. He scooted closer to her, closing his eyes. She was snoring softly, obviously more tired than she was willing to admit. He rested his head on one arm and stretched the other out to her, resting his palm on her waist.

She could yell at him about it in the morning.

***

He groaned and rubbed his face into her shoulder blades, tightening his arms around her waist. Someone was up, making all sorts of noise in the kitchen. It was too early on a Sunday for this type of shit to be happening. He flattened his hand on her stomach and pressed his cheek to her back.

“Der-ek, make them stop,” she whined before rolling over and resting her cheek on the top of his head. He smiled softly and pressed his face to her neck. She tucked an arm under her head and wrapped her other hand around his bicep.

“You do it,” he whispered against her skin. She shivered slightly and moved so that she had her arm loosely wrapped around his neck, her fingers curling into his hair. She murmured something that he couldn’t make out and rubbed her cheek against him.

A goofy, half-smile slipped onto his face. She was definitely more asleep then awake. Fully awake Casey would be screaming at him about personal space and kicking him out of his own bed. He liked half asleep Casey a lot more than normal Casey. She was way easier to deal with. He was drifting off when another clatter and a muffled shout of “shit” echoed through the apartment.

“Der-ek!” Casey complained, shaking him back and forth. He rolled his eyes and pried himself from her grasp while she kicked at him with her bare feet, pushing him out of the bed. Stumbling a little, he looked down at her and scratched the back of his neck. She had this pleased little smile on her face that he didn’t necessarily like (oh, who was he kidding, he liked it – he liked it a lot). She wrapped her arms around his pillow and mumbled, “Thanks.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he replied as he left his room, closing the door gently behind him. Vicki was still in the chair, curled into a ball. Emily and Sam were both missing. They were probably the ones making all the noise. Scratching his stomach, Derek walked into the kitchen his best grumpy face in place. “What the fuck are you two doing?”

“Dammit, Derek!” Emily shouted, putting a hand on her heart. “A little warning would be nice before you just sneak up on someone!”

“Would you keep your voice down? God. Some people were sleeping before you two started banging pots around,” Derek complained. He leaned against the fridge and crossed his arms, yawning loudly to prove his point.

“Sorry, we were trying to make coffee,” Sam explained. Derek rolled his eyes and moved around his kitchen pulling out mugs, coffee grounds, a filter, milk, and sugar.

“I don’t know why you couldn’t wait until I woke up. You know you can’t make a decent pot of coffee to save your life, Sam,” Derek said as he plugged in his coffee pot.

“It’s almost one,” Sam said like it was obvious. “We need to start heading back. We’ve both got homework to do.”

“Fuck is it that late already?” Derek groaned. He finished putting the grounds in the pot, turning it on, and rubbed at his face. “I guess I should wake those two up.”

“How was your night with Casey?” Emily asked with a small smile.

“We slept,” he said. He tapped his fingers against the counter. “That was it.”

“Wow, Derek,” Emily said. “That’s surprisingly gentlemanly of you.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“Just, you know, you’re Derek!” she said like that explained anything at all. Derek raised his eyebrows at her and waited for a better explanation. “I mean, when was the last time you liked a girl and didn’t go for it?”

“Never.”

“Okay, then what’s the difference now?” Sam asked.

“It’s Casey,” Derek replied with a shrug.

“Wait – are you finally admitting that you like Casey? When did that happen? Why was I not there?” Emily asked with a pout. Derek rolled his eyes and turned back to the coffee pot. He poured coffee into three mugs, sliding them along the counter for Sam and Emily to grab. He sipped from his mug and sighed when the warmth from the coffee spread through his chest.

“Can we not talk about my feelings for Casey this morning?” he asked slowly. “I just want to drink my coffee in peace.”

“Fine,” Emily said with a sniff. She poured a stupid amount of milk in her coffee until it was a pale brown color that probably shouldn’t be ingested by anyone and leaned against the counter. She raised an eyebrow at him over her mug as she took a sip. Derek mirrored her, taking a long sip from his mug and slurping loudly. If she seriously thought her little staring contest was going to make him break then she had something else coming.

“Yeah, let’s not talk about Derek’s very obvious heart boner for Casey. Totally irrelevant at this point anyways,” Sam said as he poured spoonful after spoonful of sugar into his mug.

“Why is it suddenly irrelevant considering you’d spent hours yesterday trying to make me admit it in the first place?” Derek asked, making a face when Sam took a huge gulp of sugar with a little bit of coffee.

Sam raised an eyebrow at him and smirked, “If you haven’t figured it out yet then I am not saying a word.”

“Figured what out?” Casey asked in a soft voice as she walked into the kitchen. She was in his shorts and had pulled on one of his sweaters. She’d pulled her hair back into a ponytail and her eyes were still puffy from sleep.

“Nothing,” Sam said with a small smile. She nodded absent mindedly and took Derek’s mug from his hand, taking a large gulp.

“Excuse you,” Derek said with an amused smirk. She ignored him and continued to sip at his coffee, moving to stand next to Emily. She rested her head on Emily’s shoulder and yawned.

“What time is it?” she asked through another yawn.

“Almost one,” Emily said before resting her head on top of Casey’s. Derek tried not to laugh when Casey’s eyes grew to twice their size.

“One? Oh my god, I have so much reading to do!” she whined, closing her eyes and pressing her face to Emily’s shoulder. She looked at Derek with narrowed eyes, “Why did you let me sleep so late?”

“Don’t blame me!” he replied. “I didn’t force you to stay here until two in the morning. I didn’t even know what time it was until two seconds ago!”

“You know that I use Sundays for studying! You should have woken me up!” she fussed, standing up straight. He rolled his eyes and took his coffee back from her, taking a huge gulp.

“You can leave now, you know,” he said with a wave of his hand. “No one is making you stay longer than you need to.”

“Fine!” she shouted. Derek raised an eyebrow expecting her to storm away but she didn’t move an inch. She crossed her arms and glared at him for a minute before another yawn slipped through her mouth. He smirked and sipped from his mug, turning around and pouring some coffee into a mug for her. He held it out silently, waiting for her to take it from him. “Thanks.”

“No problem,” he replied with a shrug. They stared at each other for a second too long before her cheeks turned red and she looked away. Maybe he knew what Sam was talking about.

“Oh yeah!” Sam asked, breaking the silence of the kitchen. “I’ve been meaning to ask, if I needed a fake boyfriend – would you make out with me the way you two made out last night?”

“What?” Casey asked with wide eyes. Sam smiled at her and sipped his sugar-coffee.

“I mean, it’s no wonder Vicki is buying it if you two keep making out like that in front of her,” he explained with a shrug. He turned to Derek and nudged him with his elbow. “So, if ever I need a fake boyfriend, will I get awesome make outs like that?”

“They are not awesome!” Casey protested.

“Excuse me?” Derek asked with a raised eyebrow. “I’m pretty positive they’re awesome.”

“I’m going to have to side with Derek on this one, Case,” Emily said softly. “Having been on the receiving end of some Derek Venturi make outs, they tend to lean towards the awesome.”

“Emily! You were making out because you wanted to – for me it is a necessity, not something that I’m enjoying,” Casey said with a grimace.

“They aren’t that bad!” Derek protested, probably a little too loudly considering the way she was looking at him. “What? I’m not going to just stand here and let you insult my making out skills.”

“This can be settled really quickly,” Sam said.

“There’s nothing to settle,” Derek replied. “Spacey is just in denial that I am the best kiss she’s ever had.”

“You wish,” Casey grumbled before sipping at her coffee. Derek raised an eyebrow at her and poked his tongue into the corner of his mouth, trying not to smile too brightly. She was so full of shit. He could see it all over her face.

“You two are so silly. You’ll fight over anything,” Emily said with a laugh.

“You say that like its new information,” Derek said with a smirk, keeping his eyes on Casey.

“Yeah, well, I’m always amused by what new thing you two decide to disagree on,” she said with a shrug. “I thought that by now, since you’re like friends or whatever, that you two would have stopped.”

“We are not friends!” Casey shouted. Derek laughed, almost spilling his coffee. “What is so funny?”

“You!” he replied.

“What did I do?”

“I mean, it was just last week you were saying I was your best friend,” he replied with a shrug. “I mean, you can’t just tell a guy something like that and then take it back. I thought I meant something to you, Casey.”

“I think you hurt his feelings, Casey,” Sam said with a smirk. Casey rolled her eyes and sipped from her mug again.

“Derek Venturi doesn’t have feelings,” she said with a small sneer.

“Can we rewind please,” Emily said, turning to Casey. “Derek is your best friend? Uh, what about me?”

“Wow, Casey, I never pegged you for a two-timer,” Sam said as he refilled his mug. Casey gasped, choking on her coffee slightly.

“I am not a two-timer!”

“I don’t know. Emily thinks she’s yours best friend but then here’s Derek saying that you said he was your best friend,” Sam said with a shake of his head. “Sounds a lot like two-timing. Good thing my best friend is loyal.”

“Derek? Loyal? Please,” she said with a roll of her big blue eyes.

“Hey, I’m not the one going around tell multiple people that they’re my best friend,” Derek said.

“Emily is my best friend. Emily!”

“Then what you told me was a lie?”

“Wow, a best friend cheater and a liar. I’m shocked, Casey. Shocked,” Sam chimed in. Casey threw a washcloth at him and smirked when he almost spilled his coffee.

“Can we please stop talking about Casey’s infidelity? My heart hurts enough as is,” Emily said with a dramatic sigh. She laughed and bumped her hip against Casey, smiling softly.

“Yeah, there are more important things to talk about,” Sam said with a serious nod. “Like, my unanswered question – do I get awesome Derek Venturi make-outs if I need a fake boyfriend?”

“Sam, are you finally admitting that you’ve always had a thing for me?” Derek asked with an excited smile. Sam rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“You wish,” Sam replied.

“It would be totally okay if you did. You wouldn’t be the first to fall for the Venturi charm and you definitely wouldn’t be the last,” Derek explained with a generous smile. Sam laughed and patted Derek on the back.

“Sorry, Der, but I know your tricks and they have no effect on me,” Sam said. He looked at the clock over the stove and cursed under his breath. “We’ve got to get going, Em, if we want to get back to London at a decent hour.”

“Do we have to?” Emily whined.

“Dude, I have that essay due Tuesday morning that I haven’t even started yet. Yeah, we have to,” Sam said with a groan. “You want a ride, Casey? I mean, since all of Emily’s stuff is at your apartment anyways?”

“Yeah, thanks Sam,” Casey said as she finished off her coffee and put the mug in the sink. “I’ll wake Vicki up, grab my stuff from Derek’s room, and then we can go.”

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Sam said. Casey nodded and walked out of the kitchen, Derek’s eyes unintentionally following her movements. “Dude, if you stare at her any harder you’re going to put an eye out.”

“You do know that makes no sense, right?” Derek replied turning back to Sam. Sam shook his head and followed Casey out of the kitchen, patting Derek on the shoulder on his way out. Derek rubbed his face with both hands and turned to the coffee pot. He needed another cup to get going. Of course, Sam had finished the last of the coffee without telling anyone. Derek clenched his jaw and went about making another pot.

“You really like her, don’t you?” Emily said softly. Derek turned to look at her, nodding slightly. Emily smiled. “You know, it makes total sense.”

“What? Me liking her?” he asked. “Because as far as I’m concerned, it’s total fucking madness.”

She laughed and rinsed out her mug, leaning against the sink with her arms crossed, “I meant why relationships just never seemed to work out for you.”

“What?”

“Other than Sally, you just weren’t really there, you know?”

He turned to her, a fresh pot of coffee brewing and frowned. He licked his lips and said slowly, “Is that what you thought? That I wasn’t really there when we were together?”

“It was part of the reason why I broke up with you. I mean, other than the whole going to different schools thing,” she said with a shrug. “You tried. I could see you were trying but I wasn’t stupid, Derek. You weren’t really there with me.”

“Emily,” he started.

“Don’t worry about it. Ancient history!” she said with a smile. “I just – I think about it now and I can see it.”

“See what?” he asked with a slight tremor in his voice. She took a step towards him and smiled softly.

“It was always Casey,” Emily said. “It was either complaining about Casey or pranking Casey or worrying about Casey. It just clicks now.”

“It was not always about Casey,” he denied, knowing that that wasn’t entirely true. Emily laughed and shook her head.

“Whatever, Derek,” she said as she turned towards the living room. He could hear Vicki talking with Sam and he was sure that Casey was ready to go.

“Emily,” he called out. She paused and looked at him over her shoulder. “I do have a shot, though, right? I mean, with your insider information – you think I have a shot?”

Emily laughed, “Yeah, pretty sure you do.”

***

“Venturi,” Coach called from the stands. “Get over here.”

“Sure thing, Coach,” Derek replied before waddling over to him. He looked over his shoulder and watched the rest of the team file into the locker room. Rich gave him a thumbs up before disappearing behind the double doors.

“Listen up, Venturi,” Coach started, hands on his hips and a frown on his face. Derek felt his stomach drop slightly. It hadn’t been his best practice but he didn’t think it was worth a sideline chat. It hadn’t been that bad. “I’m thinking about making you captain.”

“What?” Derek asked, convinced that he’d heard wrong.

“Captain, Venturi. I’m thinking about making you captain but I’m only doing it on one condition,” Coach replied.

“Anything,” Derek agreed quickly and he would follow through. He’d been craving the captain’s position since the semester before but didn’t actually think he’d get it until at least his junior year.

“Stay on the straight and narrow. Keep those grades up, Venturi. Grades up and no violations this year,” Coach said with a stern look. “I don’t want any reports floating across my desk about alcohol violations or failed classes or fights - nothing. Got it?”

“Of course, Coach,” Derek replied with a small nod. Coach glared at him for a minute more, probably trying to scare some sense into him, before waving him away. Derek smiled before hobbling back to the locker room, his smile growing with every passing minute.

“Der – what did Coach want?” Rich asked when Derek sat down to take off his skates.

“Wanted to talk about the captain’s position,” Derek mumbled, keeping his head down. Rich sat down next to him and leaned over, trying to get a glimpse of Derek’s face. “What?”

“Just checking for any visible head wounds,” Rich replied with a smirk. “Wanted to make sure you weren’t imagining things.”

“Dude, I’m not kidding. If I can keep my grades up and stay out of trouble, I’m in,” Derek replied with a laugh.

“Damn, that’s pretty fucking awesome!” Rich said with a big smile. “Too bad it won’t work out.”

“What the fuck, dude? Way to give me your vote of confidence,” Derek said with a frown. He yanked off his practice jersey and started to undo his pads.

“I’m just saying – staying out trouble is do-able. It’s the grades that I’m questioning,” Rich said. “We all know you almost got kicked off the team last semester for your grades.”

“Well, that won’t be happening again,” Derek snapped, shoving his pads in his locker.

“Oh right, you’ve got the genius girlfriend now,” Rich said with a smile. “How are things going with the clinger?”

“She’s not a clinger – she was just being a bitch that night,” Derek mumbled with a small frown. “And things are fine.”

“You sure about that? Cause Mike says that Debbie and Casey are pretty tight buds,” Rich said with a shrug. He stood up and grabbed his backpack from his locker, slinging it over his shoulder. Derek stopped unlacing his pants and turned to Rich with wide eyes.

“What?”

“Yeah, man, Mike has the same literature lecture as them – they sit next to each other, share notes. I think he said they were working on a project together,” Rich said with a shrug.

“Okay,” Derek said with a small nod. He looked around the locker room, spotting Mike by the sinks. “Mike!”

“What?” he called over his shoulder, not bothering to stop styling his hair.

“Why the hell are you talking about my girlfriend to the fucking team?” Derek asked.

Mike finished his hair and turned around, crossing his arms and shrugging, “Dude, harmless observations. That’s it.”

“Right,” Derek said with a nod. He finished taking off his pants and pulled his jeans on. “Harmless observations or not, I don’t need Casey becoming the topic of locker room conversation. Got it?”

Mike rolled his eyes but nodded, “Sure thing, D.”

“Great, now walk with me and tell me everything you know about Casey and Debbie,” Derek said with a small frown.

***

“Casey?” Derek asked as he walked into her apartment. For once, he’d actually remembered the passcode to get into the building and hadn’t bothered wasting any time announcing himself before coming upstairs.

“Derek?” she asked, stepping into the doorway of her bedroom. Her hands were on her hips and she had her hair tied up in a bun. He paused for a second, totally distracted by how short her shorts were and how good she looked in his t-shirt. He was really glad that she had decided to keep it for herself.

“Hey,” he said softly. He smirked slightly and shrugged off his backpack, dropping it by the couch. “I needed to talk to you.”

“Casey? Is that Derek?” Debbie asked from the bedroom. He swallowed loudly and waited for his ex-girlfriend to show herself. She stood behind Casey, resting her chin on Casey’s shoulder. “Hey, D.”

“Deb,” he said with a nod. He turned back to Casey and gestured for her to follow him into the hall. “I need to talk to you.”

“Derek, we have this huge project to work on. I really don’t have time right now,” Casey said with an irritated sigh. He rolled his eyes and gave her a tight smile.

“It will take, like, two minutes,” he said slowly.

“Go – we need a break anyways. My brain is turning into mush,” Debbie said, pushing Casey towards him. Casey groaned and crossed the apartment towards the front door, pulling on Derek’s arm. He grabbed his backpack, dragging it with him as he followed her out of the apartment. She slammed the door behind her and leaned against the opposite door, crossing her arms.

“What do you want, Der-ek?” she said with a sigh.

“What are you doing with Debbie?” he asked quickly, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“That’s why you’re here? God, grow up,” Casey said. He groaned and pushed his hair back from his forehead.

“It’s just – it’s Debbie, okay? She’s like a chick version of me. She doesn’t just do things without a reason,” he said.

“We’re working on a project together, Der-ek. Nothing else is going on,” she said, leaning forward slightly.

“You don’t know that!”

“I do know that! We haven’t even talked about you! At all!”

He blinked and took a step back, leaning against the front door, “At all?”

“You are so self-centered,” she said with a sneer. “Not everything is about you, you know.”

He pouted and looked away, “I just wanted to make sure.”

“Come on, Derek. Why are you really here?” she asked with a sigh. He looked down the hall and frowned. “Der-ek. Tell me.”

“I was…I was worried that she was trying to,” he cut himself off, clenching his jaw and looking down at his shoes.

“What?”

“Steal you from me,” he mumbled, not looking up. He groaned again and pushed himself away from the way. It sounded so much stupider after saying it out loud. He couldn’t believe that he was worried about it – that he’d actually let Mike’s clearly exaggerated tale of a budding classroom affair get to him. (He was going to have to get back at him at some point.) “Whatever. I’ll see you later.”

“Where the hell did you even get an idea like that from?” she asked, trying to hold back her laughter. He rolled his eyes and kicked at the ground.

“Mike. He’s a guy on the team,” he said slowly. “He’s a douchebag on the team.”

“Mike? Red hair, really terrible skin?”

“That’s the one.”

“He’s in my literature lecture,” she said, crossing her arms. “He always makes the crudest jokes.”

“Yeah, well, he might have exaggerated some of Debbie’s behavior,” Derek mumbled, looking at her briefly. “Whatever. It was stupid and I’m stupid for believing him. I’ll talk to you later.”

He started to walk away when she grabbed his arm and pulled him back to her. She was smiling, big and bright, and he knew that she was laughing at him. They weren’t really together – despite what people thought. He was stupid for worrying in the first place.

“Hey,” she said softly, pulling him so that he was looking at her.

“What?”

She bit her lip as her eyes roamed his face. He was probably blushing which didn’t help anything at all. She shook her head quickly, before leaning up to kiss him. He froze. She’d never kissed him before and definitely not when they were alone. She pulled away slightly but he followed her, capturing her mouth with his own. He cupped the back of her neck and opened his mouth over hers, wanting to devour her whole.

She pulled away, pressing her forehead to his, “You’re an idiot.”

“Yeah, yeah. So you say,” he replied with a small smile that he quickly suppressed. She was turning him into a sap and it needed to stop. He stepped back from her, letting his fingers trail down the side of her neck. “Study session soon? I have a test next week that I know I’m going to need help with.”

“Yeah, for sure,” she said with an awkward smile. He nodded and turned to march down the hallway, waving at her over his shoulder.

“Later, Spacey,” he said, trying to ignore the smile that was on his face.

Chapter Text

“You need to go back because I don’t understand a word you just said,” he said, rubbing his eyes. Casey groaned and laid her head on the coffee table.

“You’re just not listening!” she shouted before sitting up. “I know your brain is damaged from being dropped on your head too many times as a baby but this is ridiculous, Der-ek. Do you even pay attention when your professor is talking?”

“I was not dropped as a baby!”

“Have you ever seen George carry something without dropping it at least once?”

He paused and frowned, “You have a point but that has nothing to do with why I’m not getting this.”

“Really? Then what is it because I’ve explained this three different ways and you’re still not getting it,” she said with a raised eyebrow, looking far too smug for his liking. He frowned and shook his head. He was going to murder her. He knew he was.

“And I’ve told you three fucking times that you don’t make any fucking sense,” he shouted, standing up.

“It’s not my fault you can’t understand basic English, Der-ek!” she shouted back, standing up as well. She stomped around the coffee table to poke him in the chest. “You’re the one who wanted my help, remember?”

“The only reason you’re helping me is so I’ll keep pretending to be your boyfriend, remember?” he snapped, getting into her face. She narrowed her eyes at him and huffed a little. “Oh, don’t have anything to say about that, do you?”

“Oh shut up, Der-ek,” she said with very little force behind it. He smirked and looked down at her mouth. When he looked back at her eyes, they were wide and she was retreating. He frowned and watched her take a step back. She looked around the room and wiped her hands on her pants. “Let’s try again.”

“Or we could take a break,” he muttered still bothered by her behavior. She sat back down on the floor and started pulling her notes together. “Casey?”

“Yeah?” she asked, looking up at him with an overly cheery smile.

“What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing’s wrong, why?”

“You’re being weirder than usual,” he said with a shrug. He sat down on the couch again and leaned back, spreading himself out. He stared her down and raised an eyebrow.

“I’m not acting weird, Der-ek,” she snapped, shoving her notebooks into her backpack.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“I’m getting my stuff together.”

“I can see that! Why are you getting your stuff together? We’re not done studying,” he said slowly with a roll of his eyes. “If I fail this test – it’ll be your fault.”

“Derek, I’m tired and hungry and we’ve been at this for hours,” she said slowly, zipping her backpack shut. She rubbed at her eyes and stood up. “If you haven’t gotten it by now then you are never going to get it. I could be spending my time working on my course work versus wasting my time on a lost cause.”

“Way to have zero faith in me, Case,” he grumbled, crossing his arms and pouting a little. She rolled her eyes and laughed. She reached across the coffee table and grabbed his hand, pulling at him until he was standing up. “What are you doing?”

“We are going out,” she said with a smile. “We have been studying for hours and I am hungry and you need a drink. So, come on, Venturi.”

“Wait, I need to savor this moment,” he said with a smirk. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

“What is there to savor, exactly?”

“Casey McDonald, the keener queen, is willing to ditch studying in order to buy me, Derek Venturi, a drink,” he said, keeping his eyes closed. “This is a monumental moment. I only wish I had my camera out so I could film it.”

She snorted and rolled her eyes. She poked him in the ribs, tickling him slightly. He, honestly, could not help the giggle that slipped out of his mouth. He opened his eyes and saw her bright, mischievous smile. He held up both hands and slowly started walking backwards to his bedroom, “Casey. Don’t you fucking dare.”

“What?” she asked with an innocent shrug. She kept walking forward, pushing him further into his room. Her smile grew a little brighter before she lunged at him. He tripped over something (he really needed to pick up his room) and landed on the floor with Casey on top of him, her tiny hands up his shirt and tickling his sides. Derek laughed hysterically and struggled to grab her wrists.

“Casey, stop it!”

“Oh what? The great D-Vent can’t handle a little tickling,” she replied with a smug smile. She squeezed his sides and sat up with a triumphant grin.

He stared at her through narrowed eyes, taking in her flushed cheeks and her pleased smile. He shook his head before leaning up and grabbing the back of her neck, pulling her down so he could kiss her. She gasped against his mouth and he took the opportunity to press his tongue into her mouth. She slid her hands up his chest and wrapped her fingers around the back of his neck, leaning into him and the kiss. He gripped her hip with his other hand, squeezing a little too tight but he knew that if he didn’t hold on tight then she would slip through his fingers like fucking smoke.

God, she tasted like coffee and mango and he didn’t know how he survived all those years living in the same house without trying to kiss her. As it was, he could barely handle the few days where he couldn’t kiss her – at least not like this, not like he wanted to.

He rocked his hips up and smirked a little when she clutched his neck a little tighter. He did it again but this time she pulled away with a gasp. She was staring at him with wide eyes and a trembling lip. He frowned and slid the hand that was around her neck to her cheek, rubbing his thumb over her blushing cheek, “Casey?”

“Why did you do that?” she asked. Her voice was soft and if they weren’t so damn close he was pretty sure he wouldn’t have heard her.

“Why did I do what?” he replied. He knew what she was asking – what else could she be asking about? But he wanted her to say it. For whatever reason, he wanted her to say it.

“You know what!” she said with a frown.

“Fuck’s sake, Casey,” he said with a groan, dropping his hand from her face and laying his head back down.

“Don’t curse at me! Why did you kiss me?” she snapped. He rubbed his face with one hand before sitting up, shifting her in his lap and wrapping both arms around her waist.

“Why does it matter? I did it. It’s a thing that happened – that’s been happening fairly often, if you haven’t noticed,” he said slowly.

She looked away from him, her frown deepening. He sighed and rested his head against her collarbone, brushing his lips against her warm skin. Briefly, he wondered if she wore the low-cut shirt on purpose. If she knew that it would drive him crazy or if it was a subconscious decision. She shrugged a little, trying to get him to move his head but he stayed where he was.

“Der-ek!” she snapped. “You can’t just kiss me whenever you feel like it.”

“Why not?” he asked. “I mean, it’s not like you have a boyfriend.”

He could practically feel her rolling her eyes as she spoke, “You just can’t! You’re always doing this. Kissing me and touching me and it’s against the rules, Derek!”

He leaned back and frowned at her, “Rules? What rules?”

Her eyes grew wide and she struggled to get off of his lap. He let her go, laughing a little when she tripped over her own feet as she stood up. She wiped her hands on her jeans and looked around the room, at anything other than him, while she spoke, “No rules. Nothing. I’m just hungry. Um. Food. Let’s go get food.”

He stood up and stepped closer to her, putting a finger under her chin so that she would look at him. Her entire face was bright pink and it made him think about the many times in high school when he’d gotten her to look just like this. It was always a prank or a well-placed jibe as they were walking through the halls. He’d never noticed before how fucking pretty it was. The red when she was angry and the deep pink when she was turned on – those were great but this was a totally different thing. There was probably something wrong with him for being so attracted to her when she was embarrassed – when she was vulnerable like this. She trembled slightly when he slid his hand along her jaw to cup the back of her neck. Oh yeah, he was one twisted dude.

“Casey, did you make up secret rules?” he asked with a smirk. It seemed like the type of thing she would do. Fucking keener.

“Secret rules?” she asked softly before snorting. “Of course not!”

“You’re a terrible liar,” he said, taking a step forward. She took a step back, twisting her neck so that his hand slipped off, and he raised his eyebrows.

“Really, Case?”

“What? Maybe I like my personal space,” she snapped, putting her hands on her hips.

“Wow, a really terrible liar,” he said with a laugh, walking up to her and cornering her behind his bedroom door. She raised her hands to his chest and, for a second, it looked like she was about to push him away. He frowned slightly but it quickly shifted to a smirk when she balled her hands into fists and dropped them to her sides.

“What are you doing, Derek?” she asked softly, staring at his chest.

He leaned to the side a little so that he could catch her eye, “I’m trying to kiss you.”

“Why?”

“Because I like kissing you and you like kissing me.”

She looked up and glared at him, “No, I don’t. I do it because I have to.”

“You kissed me the other day,” he pointed out. She frowned and pouted a little. He couldn’t help but lean forward and catch that pouty bottom lip between his teeth. He sucked it into his mouth and smirked in satisfaction when she moaned a little. He pulled away slightly, letting go of her lip with a pop. He leaned back enough to take in her closed eyes and labored breathing. “See? You like kissing me.”

“Shut up, Der-ek,” she snapped, her eyes flying open. She glared at him for a minute more before grabbing the back of his head and pulling him down into a kiss. He smiled against her mouth and stepped forward until her back was pressed to the wall behind them, bracing himself with both hands against the wall on either side of her head.

He pressed his tongue against her lips and waited patiently for her to open up for him. She sucked his tongue into her mouth and bit on it lightly before pulling back slowly. He was pretty sure his eyes rolled into the back of his head and he could see his common sense running away at full speed. He slid his hands down the wall until he was cupping her ass and lifting her up slightly. She wrapped her strong, dancer legs around his hips and pulled him closer to her.

He ground up into her, feeling the heat between her legs through both of their jeans. She whimpered slightly and he dragged his mouth down her jaw. He wanted to see how many different sounds he could make tumble out of her kiss swollen lips. He bit at the spot where her shoulder met her neck and sucked. He hoped that he left a mark that she won’t find until later, after she’d gone home, and that looking at it made her wet.

“Der-ek,” she said in a breathy sigh that he burned into his memory. He looked up and smirked at her flushed cheeks.

“You totally like kissing me,” he said before leaning back in to capture her mouth. He kissed her slow as he pressed her hard against the wall. She sighed into his mouth and he swallowed it down greedily. He could spend hours doing this – kissing her and cataloguing the different sounds she made. He wanted to do this for hours.

“Derek,” she mumbled between kisses. He moved a hand from her ass to the wall, bracing himself so he could press himself more fully against her. “Derek.”

“What?” he asked with a huff as he pulled away slightly. She licked her lips and he felt it against his mouth. It just made him harder and he leaned forward, kissing her lightly before running his tongue along her bottom lip. She sighed again and he swallowed it down again, keeping it deep in his gut. He wanted to keep all the parts of her that she’d let him sneak away with.

“Someone’s knocking on the door,” she said slowly. He rolled his eyes and rocked his hips against her, smirking when her eyes fluttered shut slightly.

“Ignore it.”

“I can’t.”

“They’ll go away.”

“But what if they don’t?” she asked.

“God-fucking-dammit,” he grumbled before letting go of her and stepping back so she could lower her legs. He glared at her for a solid minute before marching to the front door and throwing it open. “What the fuck do you want?”

“Wow, Derek, wound tight are we?” Rob asked with a laugh. “Not getting enough loving from the missus?”

“Really, really bad timing Rob,” Derek said through clenched teeth. “Go home.”

“Dude, it’s fucking Thursday! It’s hockey night,” Rob complained. “You never cancel hockey night.”

“Yeah, well, I’m canceling now,” he snapped, moving to close the door.

“Rob?” Casey asked as she came out of his bedroom. Derek groaned and rolled his eyes before glaring at Rob.

“Oh! Shit. I did not mean to interrupt,” Rob said with a smirk. Derek gave him a tight-lipped smile. “I will just watch the game somewhere else.”

“Did you two have plans?” Casey asked with wide eyes. She’d fixed her hair and lip gloss in the time since he’d left the bedroom. Whatever spell she had been under before was definitely over. Fucking perfect.

“Thursdays are hockey and beer night,” Rob explained, holding up the six-pack he had in his hand. He took a step back and held a hand up, smiling slightly at the two of them. “But if you two already have plans. I am more than willing to just go home. I’ll text the guys about the move of location.”

“You don’t have to do that! I was just leaving,” she said with a small smile. She avoided looking at Derek and walked around the living room, gathering the rest of her things.

“Casey,” Derek said softly, stepping towards her. She flinched back from him and held up a hand. He frowned. One step forward and two steps fucking back.

“It’s fine. I’m just going to get something to eat and go home,” she said. “We weren’t really getting anywhere anyways.”

He stared at her with a frown. They weren’t getting anywhere? Of course they were, weren’t they? And he knew that she was talking about the studying – he knew that but it didn’t change the sinking feeling that he had in his gut.

“Where are you going to eat?” Rob asked. Casey paused and looked at Derek for a second before shrugging and smiling at Rob. “Well, there’s this place that has great burgers. We could all go.”

“But – but your game?” she asked weakly. “I don’t want to intrude.”

Rob smiled smugly at the two of them, puffing his chest out, before saying, “That’s the beauty of my idea – they have huge fucking TVs everywhere.”

“Oh god, it’s a sports bar isn’t it?” Casey asked with a frown.

“The best sports bar in Kingston!” Rob said with a laugh. He leaned against the doorframe and crossed his arms, holding the six-pack with two fingers. “It’ll be fun and you’ll get to meet some of the guys. We’ve been dying to meet the girl who got Debbie Monroe off of Derek Venturi’s mind.”

“Rob,” Derek said with a groan. He shoved his hands in his pockets and glared at Rob while he spoke, “You don’t have to come Casey. I’m sure there are other things you want to do instead of hanging out with a bunch of puck heads.”

“Actually,” she said. “I wouldn’t mind some company.”

He turned to her with raised eyebrows, “You sure?”

“Yeah,” she said with a shrug as she meandered across the room towards him. Something about her innocent smile made him nervous. The last thing he wanted to experience was ‘Adoring Girlfriend 2.0’. “Shouldn’t your girlfriend meet your teammates?”

“Yes! Girlfriend is on my side! You can’t fight the girlfriend,” Rob said with a smile. “Trust me, I’ve tried and I have always lost.”

“Yeah but that’s you,” Derek said with a smirk. “I am Derek Venturi and I always get what I want.”

Casey put her chin on his shoulder and wrapped her arms around his waist. She whispered in his ear, “But what about what I want?”

He closed his eyes and cracked his neck, ignoring the chills that went down his spine. He turned his head towards hers, keeping his smuggest smirk on his face, “And what is it that you want, princess?”

“Sports bar,” she says softly, her lips over exaggerating each syllable. He raised an eyebrow and couldn’t resist leaning in to kiss her softly. She squeezed his waist for a second, her lips stiff under his, before relaxing and sighing a little. When fucking butterflies started fluttering in his stomach he knew. He was in too deep and there really wasn’t any going back, was there?

“Sports bar it is, then.”

“See?” Rob said with an awkward laugh as he scratched the back of his neck. “Can’t defeat the girlfriend.”

***

“So you’re the girlfriend?” Toby asked Casey before sipping from his beer.

Casey frowned slightly and nodded, “I’m the girlfriend who has a name.”

“A name?”

“Yeah, you know, the thing your parents give you when you’re born? It’s on every major document of your life,” she said quickly, glaring at him. “It’s Casey, by the way.”

“Casey?” Toby repeated before leaning across the table towards her. Derek tensed a little in his seat. It had been an awkward fifteen minutes since the guys had shown up at the bar. They weren’t pleased that hockey night had moved somewhere they’d actually have to pay for beer but Derek had glared them into submission.

“Yes. Casey,” she said. She turned to Derek and raised an eyebrow. “Are they all this thick?”

“Hey!” Toby shouted leaning back with his hands raised. “Just checking you out. Making sure you’re good enough for our shining star.”

Derek didn’t miss the sarcasm in Toby’s voice and, from the way Casey narrowed her eyes, she hadn’t either. Derek scratched the back of his neck and took a long swig from his beer. He should have ignored her and never answered the door of his apartment.

“The real question should be – is he good enough for me?” Casey asked with a smirk. She leaned against him and put her hand on his thigh. His heart did not to beat a little faster. It didn’t because it was just a hand on his thigh and he was Derek fucking Venturi. Hands on thighs shouldn’t phase him in the least. “Because we all know that I’m way out of his league.”

Rob laughed and spit some of his beer all over Gerry before shouting, “I like Casey! Casey stays!”

“Dammit, Rob!” Gerry shouted, wiping at his shirt. “Can you fucking say it and not spray it?”

“Oh no, I think you hurt Gerry’s feelings, Rob,” Derek said with a laugh.

“Please don’t call me Gerry,” Gerry whined. “It’s Gerald. How many times do I have to tell you that it’s Gerald?”

Derek rolled his eyes and turned to Casey. She was messing with her phone (using both hands and leaving his thigh feeling obnoxiously cold) and chewing on her bottom lip. He leaned over her shoulder, trying to see who she was texting, as he said, “So, Case, this is the team. Or some of the team. The ones I like anyways.”

She looked up and turned her phone over in her lap, “Huh?”

“Who were you texting?” he asked. She flicked her eyes down to her phone quickly before looking up at him with narrowed eyes.

“Were you trying to read my texts?” she asked. He rolled his eyes and took another sip from his beer. The guys were all watching the game and talking amongst themselves.

“Just curious about what’s so damn interesting when I’m being nice enough to actually introduce you to my friends,” he said slowly turning back to her. She was so fucking close to him. How did he not notice how close she was to him? He was always aware of Casey but somehow she’d snuck up on him. She was doing a lot of that lately.

She looked up at him and bit her lip, shaking her head slightly, “Just Jesse.”

“Jesse?” he asked with a raised eyebrow. He shouldn’t care about Jesse. Jesse was in New York and Casey was in Kingston with him. But then he remembered the many late night phone conversations that were could be summed up as ‘Jesse is the best’ speeches and his gut clenched. “You still talk to him?”

“Of course I do. We broke up but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends,” Casey replied.

“I beg to differ, Casey,” Toby interrupted. Casey rolled her eyes and turned to Toby, giving him a dry look. “You can’t be just friends with an ex.”

“Why not?” she asked, crossing her arms. Derek settled into his chair, getting comfortable to watch the show. Toby thought he was hot shit but he’d never dealt with Casey McDonald.

“Because one of you is going to still have feelings which will inevitably taint any possibility of a friendship,” he explained.

“The man has a point,” Derek said just to be that guy. And if he was trying to slip back into ‘annoy Casey’ mode rather than ‘obsess over the fact that Casey is texting her ex even though she had been making out with him not even half an hour ago – and yes he knows that making out doesn’t equal feelings but that is not the point’ mode, then that was a secret he was going to take to his grave.

“You’re friends with Debbie,” she pointed out. The entire table burst into laughter, Derek included. “What?”

“Debbie and Derek are not friends,” Rob said, wiping at his eyes.

“Then what are they?” she asked.

“Fuck buddies,” Gerry said.

“Exes who are still hot for each other,” Toby said with a shrug. “Honestly, I’m surprised that they haven’t gotten back together again by now.”

Derek stiffened a little at Toby’s suggestion but quickly shook it off. If she could text her ex, then he could talk about his. That was a fair exchange, right? It wasn’t like he had feelings for Debbie anymore and he was positive that she didn’t have feelings for him either. Jesse, on the other hand, was probably waiting patiently for Casey to come back to him. Totally different situations. So, really, she was in the wrong for once.

Rob smacked the back of Toby’s head and frowned, “Really dude? In front of his actual girlfriend?”

“What? I’m just making an observation,” Toby said, rubbing his head.

“No, you were being an asshole,” Rob said. He turned to Casey and smiled. “Toby’s an ass – spoiled brat who isn’t the center of anyone’s universe here in the real world. Feel free to smack him on the head when he’s acting out. It resets his processors.”

Casey laughed and shook her head, “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Do not hit me,” Toby said, pointing his finger in Casey’s direction.

Casey raised an eyebrow at him, “Don’t be an asshole and you won’t get hit.”

Everyone laughed and Toby frowned, leaning back in his seat for a minute before standing up and marching away. Derek watched him leave with a raised eyebrow. Toby could be so sensitive sometimes. Casey leaned forward the second he was out of earshot and asked, “Okay. What the fuck is his problem?”

He rolled his shoulders when she dropped the f-bomb. The hand that had been resting on the back of her seat fell to the small of her back. He spread his fingers and stared at the way it looked – almost spanning the width of her. She shivered slightly and shifted in her seat. He slid his hand to her side, squeezing a little before jerking her towards him a little more so their thighs were pressed together. She looked at him over her shoulder briefly before turning back to the guys.

“Toby is just a prick. Too smart for his own good,” Rob said with a shrug.

“It’s not just that, though. He wants the captain’s position but Derek’s the one who’s actually being considered,” Gerry explained. “But yeah, he’s a total prick with too much knowledge and zero social skill.”

“Sounds like someone else I know,” Derek mumbled, squeezing her side again. She looked up at him and glared a little before turning back to the guys. He smiled slightly and slid the tips of his fingers under her shirt. She tensed for a second before relaxing again.

“So, Toby is a jealous, jerk who should just be ignored?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

Gerry smiled and nodded, “She’s quick. I like her. I second Rob’s motion. Casey stays!”

“Aw, thanks guys,” Casey said with a pleased smile. She leaned back into Derek and crossed her legs, shoving her hands between her thighs. Derek smirked at her before looking at the guys.

“So, who’s going to make sure Toby isn’t pissing off someone bigger than him,” Derek asked before touching his nose. “Not it.”

Rob touched his nose quickly, smirking at Gerry who was left groaning, “Do I have to?”

“The last time we let him wander off after a hissy fit, he ended up with a broken cheek bone and coach almost had a heart attack. Yes, you have to, Gerry,” Derek said with a laugh. Gerry flipped him the bird before getting up and wandering off into the bar.

Rob looked between Casey and Derek for a few minutes before standing up and announcing that he was going to the bathroom. Once he was away from the table, Casey pried Derek’s hand from her waist and scooted away from him, “Are we going to talk about it?”

“Talk about what?” he asked. His fingers twitched a little on the warm wood of the bench. He slid his hand towards her and brushed his knuckles against her thigh. He didn’t know when touching her stopped being about annoying her and about satisfying some possessive part of him that he didn’t want to acknowledge. He didn’t want to be possessive over her – she wasn’t his, wasn’t an object he could piss on and claim – but that didn’t stop him from touching her whenever he could.

“What happened in the apartment,” Casey said, shifting her thigh away from him. He rolled his eyes and put both hands on the table, linking his fingers together into one fist. His knuckles were slightly white from squeezing so hard. Did she always have to talk things through? Really? Couldn’t she just let things be?

“What’s there to talk about?” he asked slowly. “I kissed you. You kissed me back. Rob fucking ruined it.”

“What’s there to talk about?” she repeated. “We were in private, Der-ek!”

“Trust me, I know that.”

“You’re not listening! There was no reason for you to kiss me! It was just you and I back there and you fucking kissed me!”

“You really shouldn’t curse, Casey. It’s unbecoming of a lady,” he mumbled with a small smirk. He wanted to kiss her now, wanted to lay her down on the bench and kiss her until she forgot her own name. He rolled his eyes at himself – like that was going to happen anytime soon.

“Don’t change the subject! Why the fuck did you kiss me?” she snapped.

“I told you. I like fucking kissing you. What more do you want?” he said through clenched teeth. He really regretted making her curse that one night. It was like that thing with the dog and the bell – Pavlov’s bell (he paid attention sometimes in class, he really did). Except instead of drooling, he popped a fucking boner.

“What more do I want? I want answers, Der-ek! I refuse to believe that one day you just woke up and instead of thinking ‘how can I piss off Casey today’ you started thinking ‘how can I kiss Casey today?’” she snapped.

“Not everything has a logical explanation, Space Case!” he yelled, drawing more than one odd look from the other customers. He took a deep breath and lowered his voice, “I don’t know why it happened or when it happened but kissing you is pretty fucking awesome. Why the hell can’t you just accept that at face value?”

“Because kissing isn’t just kissing for me! It means something! It has to mean something and I don’t want to be reduced to just some casual kissing buddy of yours!” she yelled, standing up a little so she could tower over him. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back down so that she was sitting. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders so she couldn’t try to run away from him again.

“Who the fuck says anything about our relationship is casual?” he asked softly, sliding closer to her on the bench. She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms, turning away from him. He grabbed her chin and turned her so that she was looking at him. His eyes drifted to her mouth as he slid his hand along her shoulders to the back of her neck. Her cheeks turned that shade of pink that told him that she was embarrassed – his cock definitely twitched a little at the sight.

“What’s the matter, Case? You want something more than just kissing?” he asked softly.

“That’s not what I said,” she replied softly before looking away from him. He tilted her face back towards with him with one finger and smiled slightly.

“Pretty sure that’s what you said,” he said. His smile turned into a smirk. “At least that’s what you implied – that you want to be something more, that you want this to mean something more.”

“I didn’t imply anything,” she snapped but she didn’t pull away from him. He rolled his eyes and leaned in a little. She didn’t flinch back but she tensed slightly.

“Why do you always tense up like that? I’m not trying to hurt you,” he mumbled, frowning slightly.

“No, you’re just trying to use me,” she said. He blinked and leaned back again.

“You think I’m using you? For what?” he asked with a snort.

She rolled her eyes and looked away again, “What do you think?”

He leaned into her, whispering in her ear, “Listen princess, if all I wanted was a make out buddy then it wouldn’t be you. There are a lot of chicks who are a lot easier to deal with than you.”

“Who? Like Debbie?” she asked softly, still looking away from him. He blinked and grabbed her chin, turning her back to face him. He didn’t move back, leaving his mouth was an inch away from hers when she was facing him. All he could see was the blue of her eyes and for a second he forgot what it was that he was going to say.

“Yeah, like Debbie,” he said softly. “But it’s not Debbie that I want, Space-Case.”

“Don’t lie to me.”

“Why the fuck would I lie about that?”

“I don’t know! You’re the liar! You figure it out.”

“Listen, fucking ignore Toby,” he said, brushing his mouth against hers. “Debbie and I are nothing.”

“Don’t do that,” she whispered against his mouth.

“Do what?”

“Act like you’re the boyfriend placating his jealous girlfriend,” she replied before leaning up and kissing him softly.

“But that’s what this is, isn’t it?” he said with a smirk before kissing her a little harder. “You’re my fake-me-out girlfriend. I’m your fake-me-out boyfriend. You’re jealous. I’m placating you.”

“That’s not what we are,” she said, nipping at his mouth. “You know that’s not what we are.”

“Then what are we, Casey? Why do you care about my relationship with Debbie at all if that’s not what we are?” he asked, leaning his forehead against hers and closing his eyes. His heart was pounding out of his chest. She hadn’t denied being jealous. That was something, right?

“Because if she’s what you want and I’m holding you back,” she said slowly. “Then that’s not fair.”

“And what about you?”

“What about me?”

“Is this little arrangement keeping you from someone, Casey?”

“No,” she whispered before kissing him properly and grabbing the back of his neck, her fingers digging into his hair. He leaned into her, kissing her slow and thorough before pulling away again.

“Are you sure? Jesse isn’t waiting for you in New York?” he asked. His stomach clenched as he waited for her answer. He didn’t know why he even bothered asking but if she could be jealous about his ex then he could do the same, right? Because even if Casey was here with him in Kingston, Jesse got to experience a side of her that Derek wasn’t sure he’d ever get to experience – not if she kept going hot and cold on him. He couldn’t help being envious of that, couldn’t help thinking Jesse was a moron for letting her slip through his fingers. When you got something good, something really worth it, then you fucking fought to keep it – you didn’t let go.

“There’s no one waiting for me in New York,” Casey whispered before biting her lip. She tugged on his hair slightly before continuing, “He met someone. That’s all. They had their first date tonight.”

He nodded and kissed her again, squeezing her hip and sucking her bottom lip into his mouth. He sighed a little and relaxed into her mouth, pressing his tongue against her lips. She opened up for him immediately and he squeezed the back of her neck a little tighter. She didn’t taste like coffee anymore. There was beer and sweet potato fries with brown sugar on her tongue now but underneath he could taste something kind of bitter and earthy. He pressed his mouth against hers harder, letting his tongue seek out that flavor which he was pretty sure was just Casey.

“Alright, love birds!” Rob announced as he came back to the table. “God, alone for five minutes and look at you two.”

Derek groaned a little and pulled away to glare at Rob. Could his timing be any worse? If Derek didn’t know better, he’d think that Rob was waiting around specifically to ruin his hard-won moments with her.

Casey dragged her hand out of his hair and rested it on the back of his neck. She gave it a soft squeeze that made his eyes roll to the back of his head before clasping both hands in her lap. He missed her warmth as soon as it was gone. Derek slid his hand that was still wrapped around her neck down to her side and moved the hem of her shirt so his fingers touched her bare skin. He shoved his pinky under the waistline of her jeans and settled into the bench, pulling her with him.

“Shut up, Rob, or do I need to remind you of the time we got kicked out of that bar in London because you and Becca couldn’t keep your hands off each other?” Derek asked with a smirk. Rob rolled his eyes and sat down in his chair.

“That was a year ago. A year! And we hadn’t seen each other in two months. What’s your excuse?” he said with a laugh. Derek laughed and shook his head. “Speaking of getting kicked out though. Toby punched someone. He’s waiting outside with Gerry.”

“Are you fucking serious?”

“Dude, I don’t know why we invite him anywhere anymore,” Rob said with a groan. “But we should probably head out?”

“Yeah, yeah, let me go pay my tab,” Derek said with a sigh. He stood up, arm slipping from around Casey’s waist. He grabbed her hand and pulled her with him until they were in a dark corner, ignoring the bar entirely. He cupped both sides of her face and pulled her into a hard kiss. She wrapped her arms around his waist and kissed him back just as fiercely before pulling away with a gasp. He continued to kiss her, moving down her jaw to her neck and sucking at the spot that made her whimper.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she whispered, holding his head to her neck. He sucked hard for a second, pressing his tongue to her skin, before pulling away and looking her in the eye.

“Tell you what?”

“That you’re up for captain. Why didn’t you tell me?”

He shrugged and leaned in for another kiss. She turned her head and he groaned, “It’s not that big of a deal. It’s not even certain yet.”

“But you still should have told me,” she replied with a frown. He closed his eyes and cracked his neck, taking a step back. She instantly wrapped her arms around her stomach, effectively shutting him out of her personal space.

“Why should I have told you?” he asked, shoving his hands into his pockets.

“Because I’m your family?” she asked. “Because it’s exciting? I mean, do you really need another reason other than it’s a chance for you to brag?”

“Casey,” he groaned rolling his neck. He hadn’t told anyone outside of the team. He didn’t want to jinx it just yet. He would have told her when it happened. If it didn’t happen, then there would be nothing to tell.

“I should go home,” she said with a disappointed sigh.

“Yeah,” he said. He couldn’t understand what she expected from him. “You probably should.”

“Girl’s night with Vicki and Debbie,” she explained. She was staring at him with big blue eyes and it felt like she was expecting something from him but he didn’t know what.

“Girl’s night, huh?” he asked with his usual smirk. “Does this involve pillow fights and experimental kissing?”

“Pig,” she mumbled but it didn’t have any fire behind it.

“Oink oink,” he said with a smile. She rolled her eyes and shoved her hands in her pockets.

“Whatever, Derek,” she said. “Text me when you want to study again.”

“Yeah yeah,” he said with a wave. “Text me when you take that stick out of your ass.”

“Asshole,” she said with a small smirk before walking away. He watched the sway of her hips and felt a slight twinge in his chest. He was so fucking screwed.

Chapter Text

Casey stormed through her apartment door, her cheeks burning. Things had definitely gotten out of hand with Derek. They always seemed to get out of hand with Derek. She dropped her purse by the door and shrugged her jacket off, hanging it on the coat rack. She pressed her forehead to the closed door and groaned slightly. She wasn’t supposed to be kissing him and talking about relationship-type things with him. It was a business arrangement. That was it.

“Casey?” Vicki asked coming out of Casey’s bedroom. Casey spun around and smiled awkwardly.

“Hey Vicki,” she said with probably a little too much pep. She cringed before taking a slow breath. “Sorry I’m late.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Vicki said with a shrug. “I’ve been keeping Debbie entertained.”

“Entertained? In my bedroom?” Casey asked with a raised eyebrow. “What exactly is so entertaining in my room?”

“Have you seen your shoe collection?” Debbie shouted from the bedroom.

Casey’s chest tightened as she rushed to her room, “What size shoe do you wear?”

“Calm down, Casey,” Vicki said with a laugh as she followed. “No one is stretching out your precious shoes.”

“I’m the same size as you,” Debbie said with a laugh as she admired a pair of wedges that Casey had bought on a whim. “How was studying with Derek?”

“Ugh – I honestly do not know how I helped him graduate,” Casey groaned, throwing herself onto her bed. “It’s like trying to teach a brick wall psychology.”

“It couldn’t have been that bad,” Vicki said, sitting down at Casey’s desk.

“Until you’ve tried to teach him something, I do not want to hear your opinion,” Casey muttered.

“Well, you are the one who decided that dating him was a good idea,” Debbie pointed out. She held up Casey’s least favorite, but still cute, boots and asked, “Do you mind if I try these on?”

“Go for it,” Casey replied. “And you have no room to talk – you dated him too.”

“Yeah but he’s a hottie and, when his head isn’t firmly shoved up his ass, he’s a pretty awesome boyfriend,” Debbie said with a shrug as she pulled one boot on and stood up. She twisted her ankle back and forth before hobbling towards Casey’s mirror to inspect them further. “Thank god he dropped the sports management thing though. If you think he’s bad now as a film studies major then there’s no way you could have handled him when he was freaking out about accounting and statistics.”

Casey sat up with a frown, “He changed majors? When?”

“Last semester,” Debbie replied with a shrug. “I think he was burning himself out with school and hockey and me. The change really helped.”

“He didn’t tell you?” Vicki asked, picking at her nails. “He’s such a weirdo sometimes.”

“Totally,” Casey mumbled before shaking her head. “Alright – enough about that moron! This is a girl’s night right?”

“Of course!” Debbie said with a laugh. She sat back down on the ground with a grunt and yanked Casey’s boot off her foot. “Could I borrow these boots at some point?”

“You can have them,” Casey said with a shrug. “I never wear them anymore.”

Vicki frowned and crossed the room to Casey’s bed. She put her hand on Casey’s forehead and muttered under her breath, “You don’t have a fever.”

“Why would you think I have a fever?” Casey asked with a laugh as she batted Vicki’s hand away.

“Do you not remember the incident with the red kitten heels?” Vicki replied as she sat back down in the desk chair.

“We were twelve!” Casey said with a shocked gasp. “Besides, we totally agreed to never mention that night again.”

Debbie sat down on the ground and pulled the boot off of her foot, hugging it to her chest. She looked between the two cousins and raised an eyebrow. She waited a few seconds for someone to explain to her but when Vicki and Casey continued to just glare at each other Debbie asked, “Okay, who is going to share with me the incident with the red kitten heels.”

“No one because it is a moment that should never be mentioned,” Casey said through clenched teeth. “Ever again.”

“Casey is a control freak,” Vicki said not turning away from Casey. “She doesn’t like it when other people plan certain events and borrow certain shoes.”

“You didn’t plan anything! You just let people show up to my house,” Casey said.

Debbie looked between the two of them and laughed a little, breaking their starting contest. Vicki started laughing as well and it wasn’t long before Casey joined in with them. The three of them laughed for a few minutes until Casey’s sides ached. She laid back down onto her bed with a sigh and turned to look at Debbie. She was curled in a ball with her arms wrapped around her waist and was gasping for air. Casey smiled softly and said, “You know it’s not that funny.”

“You two,” Debbie said before laughing some more.

“Us two what?” Vicki asked, wiping at her eyes and panting slightly. She smiled at Casey before spinning the chair to face Debbie.

“You two are too much,” Debbie replied with one last chuckle. She rolled over onto her back and smiled up at the ceiling. “I can’t stand any of my cousins. I don’t know how you two do it.”

“Trust me,” Casey started as she stood up from the bed. “It’s a very new thing. Wine?”

“Can’t have a girl’s night without wine, Case,” Vicki said with a laugh. She stood up as well and followed Casey into the kitchen. “Pretty sure there are rules about it and everything.”

“Well, I definitely don’t want to break any rules,” Casey said with a laugh, pulling the fridge open.

“Have you ever broken a rule before?” Vicki asked as she rested her arms on the counter and turned to look at Casey. “And, like, gotten caught and suffered the consequences and all of that?”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Casey said as she pulled out a bottle of white wine and moved to the cabinets. “Not everyone is proud of getting in trouble, Vicki.”

“I’m just saying that it doesn’t hurt to get in trouble every now and then,” Vicki replied with a shrug. “Back me up here, Debbie!”

“I’m going to have to side with Vicki on this one, Case,” Debbie said with a small sigh as she leaned against the counter. She gave Vicki a small wink that made Casey raise her eyebrows at the two of them.

“I don’t like this whole ganging up on Casey thing that’s going on right now,” Casey said with a small pout. She took out three glasses and poured wine into each. “You do remember that I was your friend first, right Debbie?”

“Hey now,” Debbie said with a laugh, holding her hands up in surrender. “I’m not choosing sides. Just pointing out that it’s okay to let loose every now and then.”

“Yeah, Spacey! Loosen the knots and live a little,” Vicki shouted, holding her hand out for a glass of wine.

“Can we not with the ‘live a little’ bit?” Casey asked, handing the glass to Vicki. “I am perfectly content living my life the way I have been, thank you very much.”

“You sure about that?” Vicki asked, sipping from her glass. “I mean, things couldn’t be that exciting or anything. And really how long is Derek going to stick around if you keep on being boring old Casey?”

Casey frowned and handed a glass to Debbie. She didn’t like what Vicki was implying. Not that it should matter considering she wasn’t actually with Derek. She didn’t want to be with Derek. She didn’t want to keep Derek’s interest. She didn’t. Maybe if she told herself that over and over again it would actually stick.

“Clearly there is something about ‘boring old Casey’ that Derek likes, though,” Debbie said with a soft smile at Casey. “It’s not like you’re that boring anyways. Always love a good old Casey freak out.”

“Oh my god, you’ve experienced one of those and you’re still here? You still want to hang out with her?” Vicki asked with wide eyes. She gently touched Debbie’s forearm. “You are a saint.”

“What is that supposed to mean!” Casey snapped before taking a very large gulp of her wine. She suddenly remembered why she hadn’t spent that much time with Vicki over the years. She always was good at pushing Casey’s buttons. Casey honestly didn’t know why Derek and Vicki hadn’t teamed up to drive her absolutely crazy. Between the two of them, Casey had no doubt that it would next to no time at all before she was in a looney bin.

“They aren’t that bad!” Debbie said with a laugh. She smiled at Vicki for a long minute before turning back to Casey. “You’re cute when your cheeks get all red and your eyes get all wide.”

“That does not happen!” Casey replied with an outraged laugh before turning to Vicki with an uneasy smile. “Does it?”

“Totally happens,” Vicki said with a shrug before taking another sip of wine. “But apparently it works for D.”

“A lot of things work for D,” Casey muttered before taking another too large gulp of wine. The more she thought about Derek, the more she realized how ridiculous she’d been acting. She kept falling for that stupid pouty mouth and those stupid warm hands. It didn’t meant anything to him. He’d made that perfectly clear. Kissing her – holding her – it didn’t mean anything. So why should it mean anything to her either?

“Am I sensing some bitterness?” Vicki asked with a wicked twinkle to her eye. “Who did Derek flirt with this time?”

“What makes you think that he was flirting with someone else?” Casey asked, trying to fight back the blush she knew was creeping up her cheeks.

“Because it’s Derek,” Vicki replied.

“Actually, he was pretty good about not flirting with other girls while we were together,” Debbie said slowly. She kept her eyes on her wine glass and ran the tip of her index finger along the rim.

“Really?” Vicki asked with a raised eyebrow. Even Casey found it hard to believe that Derek hadn’t flirted with other girls while he was with Debbie. He’d been crazy about Sally but that definitely had not stopped him from flirting with other girls. Casey didn’t think there was anything on this planet that could stop him from flirting.

“Yeah,” Debbie said with a shake of her head before looking back at them. She was smiling brightly but it didn’t seem to be reaching her eyes.

“Do you miss him?” Casey asked softly before sipping at her wine. She grabbed the bottle from the counter and poured some more into both Vicki and Debbie’s glass before pouring the last of it into her own.

“Sometimes,” Debbie replied with a shrug. “I mean, we were together for almost a year – on and off, of course, but still a year is a year.”

“What happened?” Vicki asked, turning to face Debbie.

“Vicki!”

“What?”

“You can’t just ask that,” Casey hissed with an apologetic smile towards Debbie.

“Why not? I mean, it’s not like they’re getting back together or anything!” Vicki replied. She smirked slightly and leaned towards Casey. “Unless the reason is something far more interesting.”

Casey leaned back and blinked a couple of times. She licked her lips and cleared her throat before saying, “What are you implying, Victoria?”

“Victoria? Oh my, the plot thickens,” Vicki said with a chuckle.

“Plot? What plot? There is no plot for thickening,” Casey said quickly shaking her head. She didn’t know why she was so nervous. It’s not like she even knew about Debbie and Derek. Or that he’d switched majors. Or that he was up for Captain. Honestly, it’s not like she knew anything about him anymore.

“Come on, Case,” Vicki said with a small sigh. “I mean, it’s okay if you were the other woman. It happens.”

Casey choked on her wine and pressed a hand to her chest. She glared at Vicki’s broad smile and adamantly avoided looking at Debbie. This was not how she had hoped girl’s night would go. Taking a moment to catch her breath, Casey said softly, “Sorry, cousin V, but not all of us are home wreckers.”

Vicki’s smile dropped and she quickly looked down at her glass. Casey instantly regretted opening her mouth but then again, it wasn’t like she was lying. That’s what Vicki had done. Casey may be over it but that didn’t change the past, did it?

“I dumped him,” Debbie announced loudly. “Not because he cheated or anything like that. Not even remotely close to anything like that. He was . . . in love and I . . . wasn’t. It didn’t seem fair.”

“Wait a minute,” Vicki said, putting her glass down and turning to Debbie fully. “You dumped Derek because YOU weren’t feeling it?”

“Yeah,” Debbie said with a shrug. “No biggie. He understood.”

“I never thought I would see the day,” Vicki muttered before letting out a long sigh.

Debbie laughed and looked between Casey and Vicki with a raised eyebrow, “What?”

“Just,” Casey said before pausing and sipping from her wine glass. She had no idea how they got back onto the topic of Derek – let alone Derek’s relationship with Debbie. Sure, there was a part of Casey that desperately wanted to know what they were like as a couple and what had happened but she didn’t think she had the right to ask while she was playing the role of doting girlfriend. “It’s Derek. Derek very rarely gets dumped and it’s definitely not because he’s the one in love and the girlfriend in question is not.”

“I don’t get it,” Debbie said. “I get that he was a stud back in London and all of that but no guy is so great that he’s never been dumped.”

“Ask any girl that we went to high school with and you will find a plethora of differing opinions,” Casey said with a shrug.

Debbie shook her head and looked down at her wine glass. She ran her finger along the edge and mumbled, “It’s not like I really wanted to break up with him. I just . . . I didn’t want to lead him on, you know?”

“Okay then what’s with the constant back and forth?” Vicki asked. Casey coughed loudly, wanting desperately to change the subject. Vicki rolled her eyes and blatantly ignored her. “I’m just saying that if you don’t want to lead someone on then why bother with the back and forth? That seems just as cruel if not worse.”

“I don’t know. I didn’t love him but I couldn’t really stay away either,” Debbie said before shaking her head and finishing off her wine with one long swig. “Whatever. He’s majorly happy now and that’s what matter right?”

“Of course!” Vicki said with a quick look at Casey. “Happiness is key.”

“Right,” Debbie said, nodding her head solemnly. Casey snorted a little and sipped from her glass. “Is that nay-saying that I am hearing, Miss McDonald.”

“There is no nay-saying from this part of the kitchen. Just,” Casey started before shaking her head. “Happiness is hard.”

“Nobody said it was easy,” Debbie replied with a shrug.

“Definitely not easy,” Vicki muttered before finishing her glass of wine. “Is there more wine?”

“Yeah,” Casey replied turning back to the fridge. She knew she had another bottle of white wine somewhere in her overstuffed fridge. She definitely needed to go through the shelves and toss anything that had gone bad. She sniffed at a container of left overs that had obviously been left behind by Derek at some point. The more she shifted through the stuff in her fridge the more she realized there were a lot more Derek-type items. When had that happened?

“You getting lost in there, Spacey?” Vicki asked with a small laugh.

Casey rolled her eyes and grabbed the bottle of wine that had been shoved against the back of the fridge. She smiled tightly at Vicki, shaking the bottle slightly, and said, “Of course not. When did Derek start shoving his crappy food in my fridge?”

“Um,” Vicki said before shrugging. “I don’t know. I mean, he’s here all the time. It makes sense.”

“Right,” Casey replied, shaking her head. “Of course.”

“I mean, you have things at his place, right?” Vicki asked innocently enough. She reached across the counter and took the wine bottle from Casey’s limp hand and twisted off the top.

“Not really,” Casey mumbled. It was true. She didn’t leave things there and he didn’t exactly buy things for her to make her more comfortable at his place. The more she thought about it the more she realized that he did absolutely nothing to make her comfortable at his place other than turning the thermostat up. Jerk.

“Don’t even stress about that,” Debbie said, waving her hand. “He never let me keep things at his place.”

“That’s just weird. If you ask me,” Vicki said with a sly little smile before filling all three of their glasses.

“No one asked you,” Casey snapped. She didn’t want to think about Derek anymore. Not about Derek or any of the little clues that she was picking up on. She didn’t want to see the ways that he wasn’t integrating her into his life. Or anything that made her regret even more the various make out sessions that they had shared that night.

“Whatever – Derek is just Derek. Take him or leave him,” Debbie said with a laugh. Casey sighed and smiled softly before sipping from her glass. Maybe it was nearing that time when she should leave him?

“And you left him!” Vicki shouted with a silly giggle.

“Someone is enjoying the wine,” Debbie said with a smirk and a wink at Casey. “So, Vicki, what’s your story?”

“Story? Who says that there is even a story?” Vicki asked, looking down at her sweater and picking at some lint.

“It’s you,” Casey said with a laugh. “There is always a story with you.”

“What does that even mean?” Vicki asked, looking up at Casey. “Maybe this time there isn’t a story.”

“I’m pretty sure there’s a story, cousin Vick,” Casey replied with a slightly smug smile. “I mean, it’s not every day that you drop out of university.”

“You dropped out?” Debbie asked with a raised eyebrow. “Now that is what we a call a thickening of the plot.”

“It’s not a big deal! People drop out all the time,” Vicki said through clenched teeth.

“Come on, Vicki,” Debbie said, tilting her head to the side. “It’s just us girls. Whatever happened – we won’t judge you.”

“Why do you think that something happened? Maybe I just wasn’t cut out for the whole school thing?” Vicki snapped, slamming her wine glass onto the counter.

“Be careful!” Casey shouted. She reached towards Vicki’s glass but her cousin quickly snatched it back.

“I wasn’t going to break it!” Vicki said before sipping from her glass. “Chills, cousin Case.”

“Hey, no worries! If you don’t want to talk about it then we don’t have to,” Debbie said with a laugh. She touched Vicki’s arm gently and smiled a little. “Trust me. We all have things we don’t like talking about.”

“Thanks, Deb,” Vicki replied softly. She smiled a little before clearing her throat and looking at Casey. “Alright, cousin Case. I think we need something a little harder than just wine!”

Casey rolled her eyes but turned around and opened a cabinet. She had a bottle of rum that she hadn’t opened. It was a goodbye gift from one of the dancers in her company. They had all laughed when Casey had pulled the bottle out. Casey had never been a big drinker so the probability of her even opening the bottle was unlikely. Casey sighed when she remembered what the tag had said – ‘good luck dealing with your crazy stepbrother, hope this makes it a little easier.’ She turned back to Vicki and Debbie with a large (and obviously fake) smile. She shook held the bottle up and said, “Who’s ready to get weird?”

Vicki groaned and rolled her eyes before saying, “That is the last time that I’m letting Derek show you Workaholics. The last time.”

Casey pouted and dropped her arm, letting the bottle hang down by her side. Debbie laughed and elbowed Vicki in the side. She gave Casey a bright smile and said, “Let’s get crazy!”

***

“Spacey!” Derek shouted, jolting Casey awake. She sat up in bed for a second before pressing her palm to her forehead and lying back down. “Fun night?”

“What do you want?” Casey mumbled, squeezing her eyes shut but realizing that only made her headache feel about a thousand times worse than it already did. She licked her lips. Her mouth felt like it was full of cotton and her throat felt like sandpaper. “Water.”

“Was that a request?” Derek asked. She felt him sit down on the bed. The motion of the mattress sinking just the slightest made her stomach churn.

“Please,” she whimpered, curling into a ball on her side. She pressed her face into her pillow and wrapped an arm around his waist without thinking. “I can’t move.”

Derek laughed and patted her hand lightly before pulling her arm away from him. She felt him get up and heard him wander out of the room. Casey let out a slow breath and turned her head away from the pillow, cracking her eyes open just the slightest. She didn’t know where Vicki or Debbie had ended up. At some point everything just turned into a blur.

There was rum. She knew that.

A lot of rum.

Too much rum.

“One glass of water for the hung over space cadet,” Derek announced much too loudly as he walked into the room. Casey groaned again and shoved her head under the pillow. Her brain couldn’t handle all the noise let alone Derek in all of his Derek-ness. “Sorry was that too loud for your delicate ears?”

“Der-ek,” she ground out not moving her head from under the pillow. It was better there. She could ignore the pounding of her head and Derek in her room and the fact that he was using her.

That’s why she’d drunk so much, as much as she hated to admit it. He was a jerk. A jerk that kissed her just because he had no one else to kiss. She couldn’t remember when she’d made the decision to be mad at him but she was mad as hell. He didn’t get to waltz in and out of her apartment. He didn’t get to treat her like she was anything other than his annoying stepsister.

“Girl’s night get a little crazy?” he asked softly, sitting back down on the bed. He put the glass of water on the nightstand and pulled her pillow away.

“Go away,” she mumbled, keeping her eyes closed.

“Wow, Case. I thought you were a morning person,” Derek said with a small chuckle. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and she couldn’t help the shiver that followed. She needed to not react to him like that. He needed to stop touching her. They needed to go back to being just step sibs.

“I think we should plan the break up,” she muttered. The words slipped out before her brain could catch up to what she was saying but it was true. They should plan it. They should start planting those seeds that implied they weren’t going to last for much longer.

“What?”

Casey slowly opened her eyes and looked up at Derek. The lights were off in her room but the sun light that crept in around her curtains still made her head pound. Sighing, she rolled onto her back and closed her eyes again. She licked her lips and said softly, “You heard me.”

“Yeah but that doesn’t mean I fucking understood,” Derek snapped. The bed shifted as he stood up and Casey could hear him pacing back and forth in front of her bed. “Because, call me crazy, but I think you just said we should plan the break up.”

“We should,” Casey said. She sat up and clutched the bed for a second as the room spun. She swallowed down what could have possibly been vomit and let out a slow breath. Opening her eyes, she turned and looked at him. Her heart started to pound a little harder. He was wearing that stupid purple plaid shirt that she liked so much. On anyone else it would have looked ridiculous but it looked great on him. Clearing her throat, Casey continued, “I mean, it’s not like we can keep this up for much longer.”

He snorted and turned towards the bed, hands on his hips. He sucked his bottom lip in between his teeth and stared at her. Casey tried not to back down. She didn’t back down from Derek and this wasn’t any different from any other argument that they’d had. Sure, she was basically dumping him but that didn’t matter. None of it mattered because they weren’t together and Derek was being Derek. He saw a girl who was (for whatever reason) willing to kiss him and he was taking advantage of it. If anything, she should be mad at herself for falling for it – for falling for him.

She’d had a plan dammit! What had happened to her rules?

“Don’t think you can keep it up, Case?” he asked softly. She raised an eyebrow and shook her head.

“You know that’s not why,” she answered. Derek smirked, letting his now red lip slip out of his mouth. He took two slow steps towards the bed and Casey felt her gut clench up. He had that look in his eye – the one that usually meant he was up to something. Something that she probably was not going to like.

As if there was ever anything that Derek did that she liked. There was a flash of his mouth latched onto her neck and his hands squeezing her hips but she pushed the image to the very back corner of her mind.

“I’m pretty sure that is exactly why,” he said as he leaned down, resting both hands next to her thigh. Casey swallowed the lump in her throat and shook her head instantly regretting it when her headache began to throb some more. “What’s the matter, Case? Realized that I’m too much man for you?”

“Hardly,” she said with a scoff. She pulled her legs in and turned her entire body, leaning against the wall and staring at him through narrowed eyes. “I don’t even know why you’re putting up even the slightest fuss. I thought you’d be happy to be free of me.”

“Why? So I can go pursue some non-existent relationship with Debbie?” he snapped. “I told you last night – this thing that we’ve got going on isn’t holding me back from anything or anyone.”

“That’s not what this is about.”

“Vicki is still here.”

“So? If it’s believable then she won’t even question it,” Casey said with a shrug.

“But –“ he started before she cut him off.

“Why are you even fighting me on this? It’s not like we’re actually breaking up,” Casey practically shouted. She covered her mouth and looked at her bedroom door with wide eyes. Leaning forward, she whispered, “Are Vicki and Debbie still here?”

“No, they ran out for breakfast,” he mumbled.

“Thank god,” Casey said before she relaxed. “Come on, Der-ek. This is the only logical way to get out of this. I don’t know why you’re putting up such a stink!”

“You’re dumping me! Why wouldn’t I put up a stink!” he shouted, leaning back and shoving his hands into his hair.

“I’m not doing anything right now!” she replied, scooting forward on the bed. “All I’m saying is that we should start planning how to end this. And stop acting like we’ve actually been a couple this whole time when we both know that isn’t true!”

“What the hell do you call it then?” he snapped before pressing his lips together and turning away. Casey blinked for a second and stared at his back. She honestly had not expected this kind of reaction from him. She thought he would be ecstatic to get out of this. Casey sighed and rubbed her temples. She was too hung over for this and definitely overthinking things.

“Look, just think about it,” Casey mumbled. “It’s the easiest way out of this without telling the truth. We break up. You stay away for a while. I pretend to be upset. Everything goes back to normal.”

“I don’t even know what to say to you right now,” Derek said, turning towards the door.

“Why are you taking this so personally? It’s not like any of this actually means anything to you!” she yelled, clenching her comforter in her fists.

Derek spun around on his heel and stomped back to her. He grabbed both sides of her face and kissed her. Casey squeezed her eyes shut and tried to ignore the way his lips sent currents of electricity that danced all along her skin before rounding over her big toe and high tailing it straight for her crotch.

His mouth softened after a second and she felt like she could breathe again. He pulled his mouth away the tiniest bit and whispered against her lips, “You’re a fucking idiot.”

Casey groaned and pushed him away. She wiped at her mouth and closed her eyes. She didn’t want to fall back into that. He was such a jerk – such a tremendous jerk.

“Still want to break up?” he asked. Casey could hear the smirk in his voice and it drove her crazy. She opened her eyes and glared at him. Yup – there was that stupid fucking smirk.

“Yes!” she shouted. “I don’t know what’s wrong with you this morning but I don’t want to be stuck in a pretend relationship with you for the rest of the semester!”

“Fine! Then we’re broken up!” he shouted back, the smirk quickly falling from his face. His cheeks were bright red and his hands were clenched in fists by his side. “You want it so fucking bad then it’s done. Rip it the fuck off like a Band-Aid.”

“Der-ek!” Casey shouted. “It’s no good if Vicki isn’t here!”

“Just fucking tell her what happened! I don’t give a shit anymore, Case,” Derek snapped. He turned on his heel and stormed out of her bedroom.

Casey stared at the spot where he had been standing and tried to remember that this was all part of the plan. It was a good thing. This is what she wanted. She repeated that over and over again in her mind but it didn’t stop the aching in her chest or the burning in her eyes. Shaking herself, Casey jumped up and followed after him.

He was struggling to put his jacket on when she grabbed his arm and made him turn around to face her. He looked over her head but didn’t try to leave. For whatever reason (stop lying to yourself Casey – you know why), that made her chest ache a little less. She licked her lips and tried to think of something to say but he was pretty damn good at avoiding eye contact. She huffed a little and slid her hand to the back of his neck. Finally he looked down at her but his eyes were cold and emotionless. She was reminded a little too much of the way he’d looked at her on her first night in the Venturi house.

She didn’t think before leaning up and kissing him lightly. She slid her fingers into the hair at the base of his skull and pulled slightly, making him gasp a little into her mouth. She followed after his stupid soft lips and nipped at them lightly. He grabbed onto her hip and squeezed a little too tight but she didn’t mind because he was kissing her back now.

His tongue darted out and gently swiped along her bottom lip but she kept her mouth shut. She wasn’t going to get carried away. She refused but when he did it again she couldn’t help the way she relaxed against him. She couldn’t help the way her mouth opened under his or the way her tongue pressed against his. She couldn’t help any of it. Maybe if she kept telling herself that it would make it all true.

She pulled away slightly and pressed her forehead against his. Both of her arms had wrapped themselves around his neck and she was standing on her toes a little. So much for not getting carried away. She gave his mouth another soft peck, whispering, “Why did you come over?”

“There’s a game this weekend,” he whispered back. His eyes were closed and his hand on her hip tightened a little before relaxing and sliding along her lower back. “It’s in London. Thought we could visit the fam. Maybe hang with Sam and Em.”

“Oh,” she said softly. “That sounds like fun.”

“Yeah,” he replied, nodding his head a little. “Hey Casey?”

“Yeah?”

“Morning breath is not good on you,” he said with a little smirk.

Casey groaned and pulled away from him, pushing at his shoulder. She covered her mouth and rushed into the bathroom. When she looked in the mirror Casey grimaced. There were dark circles under her eyes that looked a little too much like smeared make-up. Her hair was sticking up in eight different directions and her lips were bright red from Derek’s kisses. Sighing, she turned the sink on and looked at Derek in the mirror as he stepped into the doorway.

“So, we still breaking up?” Derek asked. His tone said that he was still the cocky jerk that she knew but his face was too serious. It was way more serious than she was used to.

“We weren’t breaking up this morning to begin with,” Casey said with a shake of her head. She got her toothbrush wet and turned the sink back off. “I just said that we should think about it.”

“Okay, well it’s been thought about and I’m thinking the answer is no,” he snapped.

“Der-ek!”

“Cas-ey!”

“Vick-i! Deb-bie!” Vicki shouted. Casey jumped and turned around as Vicki walked up to the bathroom door. “Hey, love birds. We come bearing gifts!”

“Casey, you have to try these baguettes!” Debbie announced as she stepped up next to Vicki. She wrapped an arm around Vicki’s shoulder and pushed at Derek’s side playfully. “Morning, D.”

“Deb! Vick!” Derek said with a sly smile. “I was just telling Casey about the away game this weekend.”

“Away game?” Debbie asked. She held the white paper bag that she was holding out towards Derek, smiling when he shoved his hand in took out a piece of baguette. “Is this a party away game or a normal away game?”

“Definitely party,” he replied around a mouthful of bread.

“Der-ek! Chew and then speak!” Casey snapped. He winked at her before opening his mouth to show her his chewed food. “You’re disgusting.”

“Aw, aren’t they cute?” Vicki asked with a laugh. She leaned her head on Debbie’s shoulder and smiled brightly. “How you feeling, Case?”

“Ugh. Terrible!” Casey replied, leaning back against the sink. “How are you two so chipper?”

“We, unlike a certain someone, can hold our liquor. That’s how,” Vicki replied with another laugh. She was nothing but laughs this morning. Derek looked between Debbie and Vicki with a raised eyebrow before shaking his head.

“Have some baguette. It’ll help,” Debbie said, holding the bag out to her. “Alright, so, party away game? You know I’m down.”

“Where is the game and why are we saying that it’s a party?” Vicki asked.

“There are the games that matter and then there are the games that don’t,” Derek replied with a shrug. “This game in London is one that doesn’t matter, so we party!”

“Nice,” Vicki said with a nod. “Are we going, cousin Case?”

“What kind of girlfriend would I be if I didn’t?” Casey said with a forced smile. She stared at Derek, knowing what he was doing. If he thought that forcing her into the role of supportive girlfriend was going to distract her from the breakup plot then he was definitely wrong.

Definitely.

Chapter Text

“Casey, have you even talked to Derek since Sunday?” Emily asked with a sigh. Casey rolled her eyes and cradled her cell phone between her ear and shoulder. She was sorting through her backpack, which was a total disaster, to try and find the notebook that had the guidelines for the paper that was due in two weeks. “I mean, I get that he’s a jerk but I don’t exactly think you’re being fair right now.”

“How am I not being fair, exactly?” Casey snapped, throwing her bag to the ground. She grabbed her phone and pressed her free hand to her forehead.

“It’s not like he actually said he was using you or anything,” Emily mumbled making Casey groan. “Oh don’t be like that! He didn’t. You just assumed that that was what he was doing!”

“And it’s a safe assumption to make! It’s Derek! I don’t think he could ever say anything remotely sincere to me. It’s not part of his genetic makeup,” Casey replied. “Besides, I’m still mad at him.”

“You are not mad at him,” Emily said softly. “I think the last thing on your mind right now is being mad at Derek.”

“And how exactly do you know what’s on my mind right now?”

“Um, maybe because I’m your best friend and I spent a good chunk of my adolescent years pining over one Derek Venturi,” Emily replied with a laugh. “I still have the file on him that I made in high school which includes the color coded notes about your relationship with him. Trust me, Casey, I know.”

“There’s a section about me in your Derek files? Really?”

“Yeah,” Emily said like it was nothing. “I mean, you were a huge part of his life – still are. Of course I had to catalogue your relationship.”

“What relationship? We couldn’t stand each other – still can’t stand each other,” Casey said, trying to ignore the petulant whine in her voice. She sounded like a twelve year trying to deny a crush. Pathetic.

“Keep telling yourself that,” Emily said with a laugh. “My point is – knowing you and having that file and knowing Derek makes me an expert at interpreting your crazy, weird attraction to each other.”

“I still can’t believe you kept it after all this time,” Casey said as she wrinkled her nose. Naturally, she was going to ignore Emily’s little comment about weird attractions – of which there were none! “Are you sure that you’re over him?”

“Trust me, Case. I am way beyond over – besides, you’ve totally got dibs on him now,” Emily said.

Casey groaned again and leaned back against the kitchen counter. She stared at a spot on the stove top that she’d missed during her cleaning frenzy the other night. It was probably pasta sauce from Saturday night. She should probably clean it. If she didn’t it was going to bother her. She knew that much about her. When things were messy it bothered her. It would explain why everything about Derek bothered her. He was the epitome of messy.

“Em, I think I fucked up,” Casey said softly.

“Whoa, f-bombs? Already? I didn’t think the situation was that dire,” Emily said with a laugh.

“It is though! I’ve broken all of my rules, Em! All of them!”

“Rules? You made rules? For what?”

“For not falling for him,” Casey mumbled feeling incredibly stupid. She slid down and sat on the kitchen floor, stretching her legs out in front of her. She leaned forward and grimaced when it hurt just trying to reach her toes. She needed to stretch more. Really, what she needed was to get back into a dance studio.

Emily laughed and Casey rolled her eyes. The laughter did not help the stupid feeling that was growing in her chest. When she’d finally stopped laugh, Emily mumbled, “God, you two are going to be the death of me.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Casey whined. “There is nothing wrong with making rules! Rules are good!”

“You can’t make rules to not fall for someone and definitely not someone like Derek Venturi,” Emily said with another laugh. “I mean, you’re always breaking rules for him or with him. Why would this time be any different?”

“I don’t know!” Casey replied. She fell to the side and rested her temple against the cold tile floor. At least the floor was still spotless from her obsessive scrubbing the other day. “I thought it would help.”

“You know it’s okay to like him, right?” Emily said slowly. “There’s nothing wrong with liking him.”

“Emily!”

“Casey!”

“What does it matter if I like him or not? It’s not going to go anywhere,” Casey said, sounding obnoxiously pathetic.

“Why wouldn’t it go anywhere?” Emily asked. Casey sighed and sat up, scooting so her back was pressed against the cabinets. One of the handles dug into her lower back but she didn’t try to get more comfortable.

“Um. Because we’re step-siblings. Because we share one biological sibling. Because he’s Derek and he’s a jerk. Because I’m much too smart to get into a relationship with an emotionally stunted 5’11” child,” Casey listed.

“Okay. The family stuff? Totally valid points but you two aren’t related by blood. I mean, the step part is pretty damn important, right? It’s not like anyone has ever thought of you two as brother and sister,” Emily said.

“Tell that to our parents!” Casey said.

“Come on, Casey! You don’t think of him as your brother. That’s what matters isn’t it?” Emily replied with an exasperated sigh. “I know he doesn’t think of you as a sister. Liz and Ed don’t either otherwise they would be super freaked by this whole thing, right?”

“Okay but your little list does not include Mom and George now does it?” Casey replied.

“True but they just want you to be happy and what if Derek is the thing that makes you happy?” Emily said but Casey could the slightest bit of doubt slipping into her voice.

“Since when has Derek Venturi ever made me happy?” Casey asked.

“God, Casey, stop being like this! He makes you happy – I’ve seen it,” Emily snapped. She let out a slow breath and Casey suddenly felt guilty for laying all of this on her best friend. “Look, you like him and it’s okay. Just don’t punish him for it.”

“I’m not punishing him for anything!”

“Then why have you been avoiding him for the past week?” Emily asked.

“Because I don’t want to like him! Liking him is not an option, Emily. This whole thing isn’t permanent and if I like him then I’m the one who ends up getting burned,” Casey explained.

“You don’t know that!” Emily shouted.

“Yes, I do! Just because I like him doesn’t mean that he likes me – it doesn’t mean anything other than I’m a glutton for punishment,” Casey replied, her throat getting tight. She felt like she was going to cry. She swallowed the lump in her throat and closed her eyes, shaking her head. The last thing she wanted to do was shed any tears over Derek fucking Venturi. She was better than that. She knew she was.

“So you do like him?” Emily asked, catching Casey off guard.

“That’s what you pick up on? Really, Em?” Casey snapped.

Emily laughed and Casey could see the smug little smirk that she knew was on her best friend’s face right now. They’d all spent way too much time with Derek.

“I mean, you finally admitted it. It’s kind of a big deal,” Emily replied.

“No its not! And it’s definitely not the most important thing that was said in that sentence,” Casey said while she picked at the scab on her knee. She’d fallen the other day. She’d thought that she’d heard Derek’s laugh and when she turned to see if it was him she’d tripped over her own damn feet. It hadn’t been him, anyways.

“To me it was,” Emily replied. “Look, don’t freak out over this. Just – just go with the flow.”

“Go with the flow? Have you even met me? When have I ever gone with the flow?” Casey replied with a snort.

“It’s never too late to start,” Emily said.

“Yeah, well, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” Casey said. She could practically hear Emily rolling her eyes on the other end of the phone line.

“You are a human. Not a dog. You are perfectly capable of learning new things,” Emily said slowly.

“Says you.”

“I do say so. Chills, Case. Chills,” Emily said. “I’ve got to go. Are you done having a melt down?”

“I think so. For now,” Casey replied.

“Good,” Emily said. “It’s all going to work out. I know it.”

“You know it?”

“I’m Emily Davis I know things,” Emily replied before hanging up the phone.

Yeah, Casey thought, she knew how to drive a girl crazy. Emily really had spent too much time with Derek.

***

“Case! Open the fucking door!” Derek shouted through the crack in the doorway. She’d gotten in the habit of putting the chain on the door when she got home from classes. She told herself that it was for extra security, which she had been way too lax about, but really she just didn’t want Derek barging in whenever he wanted – like he was trying to do right now. “I’ve left you alone for a fucking week, you can’t still be having a hissy fit.”

Casey walked into the living room and crossed her arms, tapping her foot impatiently. She glared at the sliver of brown eye that she could see and said, “Hissy fit? Is that what you think this is?”

“Well, what else could it be? It’s not like I’ve actually done anything wrong in the past week, Space Case,” he replied slowly as if that were obvious. “If I remember correctly, you’re the one who wanted to break up. If anything, I should be mad at you!”

“I didn’t want to break up that morning, Der-ek!” Casey shouted, dropping her arms and squeezing her eyes shut in irritation. She didn’t even want to look at him right now. How could she ever think that there was anything even remotely likeable about him?

“Come on, Casey,” Derek said, lowering his voice. “Let me in.”

“Why? Why would you think that I’d even want to see you?” Casey snapped, her eyes flying open. He was giving her that look – the one he gave her when he knew she was lying. She didn’t like it. She didn’t like anything that had happened over the past few months.

Derek sighed and closed his eyes. He wrapped his fingers around the door and seemed to relax into the door frame. She could barely hear him when he spoke, “I talked to Emily, you know.”

“Did you?” Casey asked, feeling her throat get tight. Emily wouldn’t say anything, would she? Casey knew that Emily was a bit of a busy body and a gossip but she wouldn’t tell Derek about Casey’s feelings, would she? There was no way that he knew.

“She told me why you’ve been such a bitch,” he said with the slightest bit of a smirk on his face.

“Excuse me?”

“I’m not using you.”

“What?”

“I said – I am not using you,” he repeated, enunciating each syllable as if she were stupid and couldn’t understand English. “When I kiss you, it’s not out of convenience or anything like that. You’re not just some mouth to me.”

“I don’t want to talk about this,” Casey snapped before spinning on her heel and heading towards her bedroom.

“Well, I do!” Derek shouted after her.

Casey stopped and turned back around, walking up to the door and pressing her face against the space between the door and the doorframe. She narrowed her eyes at him. Of course he didn’t move away from the door, leaving their mouths barely an inch apart. She licked her lips and tried to ignore the feeling of his warm breath on her cheeks. She asked slowly, trying to keep her voice even, “Since when do you want to talk about anything?”

“Since right now,” he said softly, looking down at her mouth.

“That’s too bad. You can’t always have things your way, Der-ek!” Casey snapped, pulling away from the door.

“Dammit Casey, I am offering to talk to you about feelings and shit!” Derek shouted, kicking at the door.

“What feelings! You don’t have feelings!” Casey said as she backed away.

“It’s like talking to a fucking brick wall,” he muttered, looking down at his shoes and shaking his head.

“You know what? Why don’t you go talk about your “feelings” with someone who cares?” Casey said with a sneer.

“Fucking hell, Casey! I am trying to tell you something. You. Not someone else but you.”

“Well, I don’t want to hear it! Now go away, Der-ek!” she shouted before storming into her bedroom and slamming the door shut.

“Fine!” he screamed into the apartment before slamming the front door shut.

“Fine!” she screamed back to the empty apartment.

***

“How long do you plan on giving Derek the silent treatment?” Debbie asked as they piled into the Prince. Casey rolled her eyes and adjusted the driver’s seat. He always tilted the seat so far back. He was taller than her but this was ridiculous. He was practically laying down while driving.

“Who says I’m giving him the silent treatment?” Casey asked, turning towards Debbie sitting in the back seat. “Have you talked to him?”

“A little,” Debbie mumbled, shrinking back into the seat.

“Casey, you look like you’re going to kill her,” Vicki said as she climbed into the front seat. “Chills.”

“I am not going to kill anyone,” Casey said primly, turning back around in her seat. She gripped the steering wheel in her hands and ignored the way the leather creaked a little. “I was just asking a simple question.”

“Pretty the sure the flames shooting from your nostrils implies that it was more than just a simple question,” Vicki said with a smirk. She shut the door and put her seat belt on before leaning forward and turning the radio on. Derek’s crappy music blared through the car, making Casey clench her jaw. “It’s not like it was a secret or anything.”

“What was a secret?” Casey asked, getting nervous. She shifted in her seat and tried to relax her shoulders. There was nothing to be nervous about.

“You and Derek being in a fight,” Vicki replied like it was obvious. She messed with the radio for a few more minutes, getting nothing but static. “What is wrong with this thing?”

“It’s shit and it’s old – I swear, it only gets music that Derek likes,” Debbie muttered from the backseat. She rifled through her purse for a second before pulling out a tape adapter and her iPod. “Just use this.”

“Why did he even keep this hunk of junk?” Vicki said with a shake of her head. “I mean, how is it even still running? Shouldn’t it have burst into flames by now?”

“You’d think so,” Casey muttered as she adjusted the rearview mirror. Debbie was staring at her with pursed lips and for whatever reason, it made her nervous. “Whatever. Pick something fun to listen to. We need to get on the road.”

“What’s the rush exactly?” Vicki asked as she scrolled through Debbie’s iPod.

“I told mom that I would be home for dinner tonight,” Casey said as she pulled away from their apartment building.

Debbie leaned forward and rested her chin on the back of Vicki’s chair. She reached forward and plucked the iPod from Vicki’s fingers, ignoring her shout of protest. Debbie’s voice was strangely calm as she asked, “Does your mom know about you and Derek?”

Casey looked at Debbie out of the corner of her eye and shook her head. She knew that agreeing to dinner was, maybe, a bad idea (it was definitely, definitely a bad idea) but at least with the fam she wouldn’t have to pretend that her and Derek were an item.

“Of course not,” Casey replied – snapped, actually. Debbie’s eyebrows rose a little bit before she sat back down in her seat. “What?”

“Nothing,” Debbie replied quickly, turning to look out the window. She handed the iPod back to Vicki and settled into the backseat. Casey narrowed her eyes at the girl sitting in her backseat. It was not nothing. Casey could see it all over her face. Debbie slowly turned back to Casey and jumped the slightest bit when she realized that Casey was still watching her. Debbie tried to smile but it came off as more of a grimace. “It’s just – weird, you know? I mean, Der might have never mentioned me to you but I definitely met your parents. They seemed pretty cool. Cool enough not to freak about you two, you know?”

Casey nearly slammed on the breaks. Debbie had met her mother. Debbie. The secret girlfriend that, apparently, everyone but Casey knew about. Why had no one told her?

“You met my mom and George?” Casey asked slowly. She suddenly felt even more closed off from Derek than before. It was one thing that he had changed his major and hadn’t told her immediately. She was in New York. She had her own life. But now? With the captain’s position. The secret girlfriend. The secret girlfriend meeting their parents in secret. It was all too much and if her feelings of irritation with one Derek Venturi were fading (which they weren’t) that was quickly stopped in its place.

Derek Venturi was a dead man.

***

“So where did you dump the lovebirds?” Derek asked as they walked up the front door. Casey hadn’t said much to him after picking him up from the hotel the team was staying at. She didn’t understand why he was wasting school money on an extra hotel room for him when he could have just stayed with the fam. It was probably the inner (and not that deeply buried either) ego.

“At Emily’s apartment,” Casey said. She was proud of herself, keeping most of her answers to one word – maybe three at the most. She was still determined not to speak to him. He was an ass and he didn’t deserve her attention. She turned to him with narrowed eyes when what he said finally sunk in. “Wait. What? Lovebirds? Who?”

Derek rolled his eyes and knocked on the door. He dropped her bag at her feet and shoved his hands into his pockets. Heaven forbid anyone seeing him actually being decent to her. She stared at the bag with a small frown – he was being decent. He had been decent ever since she’d picked him up. She shook her head and looked at him. Decency now did not make up for the lack of decency in the past. That was for damn sure.

“Vicki and Debbie,” Derek said like it was obvious.

“They aren’t lovebirds,” Casey said with a scoff. Derek was so stupid sometimes. “You do know it is possible for two people to be friends without there being a romantic interest, right? You do have experience with that, right?”

“Wow,” Derek said with a small smirk. “Guess that silent treatment is over, huh?”

“What? Of course not!” she snapped. She turned on her heel and stuck her nose in the air a little, determined to go back to ignoring him. She looked at him out of the corner of her eye and straightened her spine when she saw his victorious little smirk. She huffed and turned back to him. “What are you talking about lovebirds?”

“If you haven’t figured it out yet then I’m not going to ruin the surprise,” Derek said with a laugh.

“Der-ek!” Casey said as the door opened.

“I definitely have not missed hearing that scream,” George said with a good humored smile on his face. He opened his arms and pulled Casey into a hug. “Hey kiddo.”

“Hi George,” Casey mumbled into his chest. She inhaled deeply and sighed in contentment at the familiar smell of home.

“Dad,” Derek said when the two of them separated. “When’s dinner?”

“And you haven’t changed much since I last saw you,” George said with a sigh. “You too cool to give your old man a hug?”

Derek looked around them at the street before shrugging with a smirk and pulling George into a hug. He laughed a little and mumbled, “As long as no one sees. Can’t ruin my rep.”

George laughed and tousled Derek’s hair before letting go and stepping back. He swung his arm out and said, “Welcome home, kids.”

“Casey!” Liz shouted as she rushed down the stairs and flung herself into her sister’s arms. Casey smiled and squeezed Lizzie tight. “Why didn’t you just come inside?”

“Gee, Derek, would you care to explain why we didn’t just use our keys to get inside?” Casey asked, not letting go of Liz.

“I told you, I didn’t lose them – they just got misplaced,” Derek replied with a groan.

“Misplacing something usually implies losing something,” Lizzie pointed out with a small laugh.

“I swear, I didn’t lose anything! I took Casey’s keys for a very specific reason – it’s not my fault that they were misplaced. She probably moved them during one of her cleaning frenzies in my apartment,” Derek said, leaning against the closed front door.

“Derek – how many times do we have to say that taking important things – like keys – is not allowed as far as pranks go?” George asked with an exasperated sigh. He shook his head before smirking slightly and leaning towards Derek. “What did you have planned? Was it going to be a good one?”

“George!” Casey shouted as she finally pulled away from her sister. “Don’t encourage him!”

“Yeah, George, don’t encourage me,” Derek mocked. He rolled his eyes and turned back to George whispering something that made George clap his hands with glee.

“Those two are never going to grow up,” Liz said with a shake of her head. “I can’t believe he’s still pulling pranks.”

“Believe it, sister,” Casey said, shaking her head.

“Whatever – is that what took you so long? I thought you would have been here like an hour ago,” Lizzie said.

“No – he lost those weeks ago. I’m late because someone insisted on staying in the hotel with the team,” Casey said, sneering a little at Derek. “I had to pick him up first and you know Derek – never on time for anything.”

Casey tucked a strand of loose hair behind Liz’s ear and smiled softly. Liz had grown up so much. The blonde and purple hair was gone (a definite improvement as far as Casey was concerned) and so were the teeny-bopper punk rebellion clothes. With her hair cut short and jeans and a t-shirt, Liz looked so much like the little girl she was when they’d first moved in but at the same time not. It was hard to wrap her head around.

“Do I not get a hello or are you two going to keep staring at each other? Is this some strange McDonald thing that I’ve yet to witness or something?” Derek asked.

“You are such a brat,” Casey said with a roll of her eyes. “You were too busy regaling George with your idiotic plan to even say hello first!”

“Actually. It’s a pretty good one,” George said with a small chuckle. When Casey glared at him though, the chuckle died in his throat. George cleared his throat and stood up straight, donning his patented ‘I’m trying to be a stern father figure’ face. “And very immature – Derek, you shouldn’t harass your sister so much.”

“Step-sister,” Casey said on principle. “And thank you George.”

George blushed and kissed Casey’s forehead, murmuring, “Anytime, kiddo.”

Liz rolled her eyes and turned to Derek, nodding once, “Derek.”

“Lizard,” he replied just as seriously. The two of them stared at each other for a minute before smiling and wrapping their arms around each other. “I like the haircut.”

“Yeah?” Liz asked. She pulled away and patted her hair. “Mom hates it.”

“I do not hate it,” Nora said as she walked out of the kitchen with an orange faced toddler perched on her hip. “What I hate is that you went and got it done without even telling me first.”

“Mom, I am perfectly capable of making hair decisions on my own,” Liz said with a roll of her eyes. She walked over and took Simon into her arms. She ran a finger over his chubby cheek and tasted whatever it was. “Someone was enjoying their sweet potato goop today, weren’t they?”

“If only he could get more in his mouth than on his face,” Nora said with a sigh. She ran her fingers through Lizzie’s hair and turned to Casey, holding her arms out for a hug. “I smell like sweet potatoes and baby powder but do you think you could tolerate it long enough to give your mother a hug?”

Casey smiled and walked to her mother, wrapping her arms around her small frame and squeezing tight. She kissed the top of Casey’s head and sighed, “I’ve missed you, Space Case.”

“I’ve missed you too,” Casey mumbled, squeezing just a little tighter. “Sorry for taking so long to visit.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself, really,” Derek said as he walked past the two of them towards the kitchen. “I mean, what kind of daughter are you? Not even visiting your own mother! Terrible.”

Nora laughed and pulled away from Casey top snag the back of Derek’s shirt. She pulled him into a reluctant hug and kissed him on the cheek before cupping his face. She swayed his head back and forth, smiling at the groan that came out of his mouth.

“Like I ever hear from you, Mr. Hockey Star,” she said before patting his face and walking into the kitchen. “You two have great timing – dinner is almost ready.”

Casey and Derek both looked at each other with wide eyes. Casey swallowed the lump in her throat and asked, “Did you . . . um, cook?”

Nora cackled and George chuckled slightly. He walked past the two of them, putting a hand on Casey’s shoulder before whispering, “She ordered Chinese.”

“Oh thank god,” Derek said with a relieved sigh.

“I heard that!” Nora shouted from the kitchen.

***

“Casey,” Nora started with a small sigh. “Please don’t antagonize your brother like that.”

“Step-brother,” Casey snapped before looking apologetically at her mother. “And I wasn’t antagonizing him. Der-ek just thinks that because we’re back home he can act like he’s king of the castle when he’s not.”

“I’m sorry but I don’t remember us ever talking about any sort of abdication on my part,” Derek said through a mouthful of food. “Besides, aren’t you not talking to me right now?”

Casey huffed and sat up straight, pulling her mouth into a thin line, before saying, “Ed, tell your obnoxious brother that I wasn’t talking to him – I was talking about him.”

“Really, Case? Aren’t we a little old for that?” Derek asked, dropping his fork loudly onto the table. Casey looked at him with a raised eyebrow and smirked just the slightest. She was enjoying how annoyed he was that she wasn’t talking to him. It hadn’t been nearly as enjoyable as when they had been at school. There was too much space and she couldn’t see how deeply it was getting under his skin.

“Casey,” George started with an awkward chuckle. “Tell us how classes are – are you fitting in? Making friends?”

“Oh yes!” her mom said with a smile. “How’s the apartment? You never sent me any pictures.”

“Casey? Making friends? Be real, Dad,” Derek said with a snort. He picked his fork back up and continued eating, glaring at his plate the whole time.

“Actually, I’ve made a few friends – some kids from class. Debbie,” Casey said softly, keeping her eyes on Derek’s face.

“Oh, Debbie!” Nora said enthusiastically. “How is she? I always liked Debbie.”

Derek’s grip on his fork tightened and Casey felt a rush of satisfaction. She turned to her mom and moved the food on her plate around innocently enough, “I didn’t realize that you knew Debbie, Mom. I certainly knew nothing about her when we met.”

“Derek didn’t tell you about Debbie?” Liz asked, speaking up for the first time. She gave Derek a look that he blatantly ignored. “That’s super weird. I mean – you even introduced her to Edwin.”

Edwin looked up from his plate with a mouth full of food and shook his head, giving Casey an apologetic shrug. Casey shook her head and stabbed a piece of broccoli. Nothing about this made any sense. If Edwin was deemed worthy to know about Debbie then why wasn’t Casey? It’s not like she could have sabotaged his relationship with Debbie from an entirely different country. It’s not like she would even want to do something like that anymore.

“Why would you introduce Debbie to Edwin – who’s gross – and not Casey, Smerek? I mean, Casey at the very least showers regularly,” Marti said around a mouthful of food.

“Marti, don’t talk with food in your mouth,” Nora said with a sigh.

“I shower regularly!” Edwin shouted, spewing bits of half chewed food in front of him. Marti and Lizzie made gagging noises and laughed, Marti’s mouth still full of food but at least she wasn’t spitting it everywhere. Edwin blushed a little and swallowed his food before murmuring, “Sorry.”

“This is why you’re supposed to chew your food before speaking,” Nora said with a sigh. “So we can say it and not spray it.”

Marti rolled her eyes and swallowed her food before continuing, “I mean, you were totally in love with Debbie, right? Casey is a keener but she’s not bad enough to ruin whatever it is you have going with Debbie.”

“There’s nothing going on with Debbie – not anymore,” Derek mumbled. He turned to his little sister. “And what would you know about ruining relationships, huh?”

“I’m just pointing out the obvious,” Marti replied, staring her older brother down. They gave each other matching smirks and Casey felt a shiver run down her back. If their parents thought they were off the hook with bad kids once Derek had gotten out of the house, Casey could tell by Marti’s smirk that they had another thing coming.

“And what is the obvious?” Casey asked. Marti turned to Casey with raised eyebrows. “What? I mean, I certainly don’t get it. Am I missing something?”

“You’re totally missing something,” Marti said with a chuckle.

Casey waited patiently for Marti to continue but her sister just went back to eating her fried rice, looking down at her plate with a pleased smile.

“Right,” Derek said softly before clearing his throat and smirking again. “Hey Case, tell Nora all about your love life.”

Casey stiffened and scrunched up her mouth. Her teeth were clenched when she said, “You know I’m not seeing anyone, Der-ek.”

“Love life?” Nora asked. She peered at her daughter with wide eyes. “Are you dating? Already?”

Casey turned to her mother and asked, “What do you mean already?”

“I’m just saying that it . . . usually takes . . . longer . . . for you,” Nora said slowly with a nervous smile that made her face look stretched and her teeth look feral.

“I could be dating! I could be going on dates all the time!” Casey said, slightly indignant. It reminded her a little too much of Vicki’s analysis of her dating patterns.

“Oh sweetie, there’s nothing wrong with being single for a little while,” Nora said, patting Casey’s hand in what was probably supposed to be comforting but felt way too condescending. “You and Jesse were . . . so serious. It’s understandable.”

Casey pouted and turned to Derek with narrowed eyes. What was the point of even bringing up anything about her love life? Especially when he knew that the closest thing she had to a love life was him. She tried to push away that thought – tried to push away the stupid little butterflies in her stomach that burst into flight at the thought of Derek being her love life. Derek was not her love life. A big old NOT.

“See, Casey? I told you – it’s understandable that someone with your condition would wait before pouncing on the next unsuspecting soul,” Derek said with false sympathy. Casey opened her mouth to snap something back at him (she didn’t know what but it was going to be a good one – she could feel it) when he turned to George. “Tell me, old man, think Simon’s got the makings of the next Venturi hockey star?”

“Uh – excuse me – the current Venturi hockey star is sitting right here,” Edwin said with a small chuckle.

“You didn’t even make the team, Ed,” Liz said.

“That’s because they couldn’t see my raw talent!” Ed snapped, with a sidelong glance at Derek. Casey rolled her eyes. She’d thought that by now he would be over his hero worship of Derek.

“What raw talent? The ability to fall before you even get on the ice?” Marti mumbled into her glass of water before she took a large gulp. When George cleared his throat, Marti looked at him with wide eyes and the patented Derek Venturi look of innocence. Oh yeah, their parents were in for a ride with that one.

“Since when do you even care about hockey?” Casey asked. “What happened to the part time job that you got at the mall?”

“I still have it,” Edwin replied with a shrug. “And you know, it’s never too late to get in the game.”

“To get in the game, you have to know how to play the game,” Liz said. “Besides, you’re, like, a month away from being promoted. You’re not going to have time for hockey.”

“A promotion!” her mother said with a wide smile. “You didn’t tell us that you were up for a promotion!”

“It’s no big deal, Nora,” Edwin mumbled with a pleased little smile. “It’s just a shift lead position. It doesn’t even come with a raise or anything.”

“Still, Ed, that’s great!” George said, gently punching his son in the shoulder. “I’m proud of you!”

“Speaking of announcements,” Derek started, giving Casey a small smirk before turning towards George. “I have a little bit of an announcement to make myself.”

Casey could feel her eyes getting wider by the second. There was no way – no fucking way – Derek was going to do what she thought he was. He wasn’t that stupid. Casey knew he was kind of dumb but just plain old stupid?

“An announcement?” Nora asked, looking between Casey’s panicked expression and Derek’s smug smirk. “What kind of an announcement?”

“The important kind,” he said slowly before looking at Casey again with a raised eyebrow. “The life changing kind.”

Liz’s eyes darted between her sister and her step-brother. Casey could feel the concern oozing off of her little sister in waves. It wasn’t needed because Der-ek was not that stupid. Casey clutched the seat of her chair with both hands and sat up a little straighter. She didn’t back down from Derek’s challenging eyes.

There was nothing to be worried about.

Maybe if she told herself that enough times she would believe it. Like Tinkerbell – if she clapped her hands and said there was nothing to worry about enough times Derek would turn into a responsible and sensitive adult. And maybe one day pigs will fly and it’ll rain cherry soda.

“Actually,” Derek said before running his tongue along his bottom lip – a movement that Casey definitely did not follow with her eyes. “I mean, it’s more about me and Casey than anything else. Me and Casey. Love lives. Those kind of things.”

“Love lives? How can you guys be involved in each other’s love lives? That’s crazy talk,” Ed said, a little too loudly. He winced slightly when his voice cracked.

“Real smooth, Edwin,” Marti said with a laugh but she looked at Casey with both eyebrows raised. Casey grimaced slightly – they hadn’t told Marti, hadn’t even really thought about telling Marti. She knew something was up. She always knew when something was up. It didn’t help that Casey had a terrible poker face.

Liz laughed nervously across from him and Casey saw the look of slight pain on Edwin’s face. Someone just got kicked under the table – that was for sure. Liz looked at Derek with her best death glare but Derek never took his eyes off of Casey.

“What’s going on?” George asked with a slight laugh. All four of them turned to look at George for a split second, making him sit back a little. “That was weird. What’s with you guys?”

“Yeah, Der-ek, what’s with you?” Casey asked, through clenched teeth. Casey couldn’t help it when her foot shot out under the table and connected with his knee. It was a reflex, a defense mechanism.

“Ouch, Case,” Derek mumbled with a frown.

The table was silent for a few minutes before Simon’s baby babble came pouring out. Nora and George both turned their attention towards the toddle, cooing like parents of a baby are wont to do. Casey used the moment to mouth at Derek, “What the fuck are you doing?”

He shrugged and laced his fingers together to make a resting spot for his chin. He smiled brightly at Casey and she felt her blood begin to boil.

“Der-ek!” Liz hissed, turning towards him. When he looked at her, she shook her head and made it quite clear that if he said anything he was going to have to deal with her. Derek rolled his eyes and turned his attention back to Casey.

“Is someone going to tell me what’s going on?” Marti hissed, leaning forward a little. The ends of her long air, brushed against the gravy on her mixed vegetables but she didn’t pay it attention. She was too busy directing her glare at both Derek and Casey. “I want in.”

“Not now, Marti,” Edwin mumbled, pushing her back with one hand.

“I hate when you guys do this,” Marti grumbled.

“Later,” Casey whispered across the table, her eyes darting between her parents. “Promise.”

Marti looked up briefly and nodded once.

“Should you tell them the good news or should I, baby girl?” Derek asked, poking his tongue into his cheek and clearly trying to hold back his laughter. Casey stiffened and ignored the way she shivered slightly when he called her baby girl – she didn’t like that. Pet names were demeaning and he knew it and what the fuck was he thinking using it at the dinner table with their PARENTS??

Nora looked up from Simon and at Casey with a frown before turning to look at Derek. She had that skeptical mom look on her face – the one that said she knew something was up and she was going to find out. She put her elbows on the table and rested her chin on her balled up fists. With a saccharine smile, mom asked, “So you two have pet names for each other now?”

“No! Of course not!” Casey shouted with a nervous laugh and another kick to Derek’s shin. “Der-ek is just being a jerk. He knows how much I hate pet names.”

“Aw but pet names are so sweet. I thought everyone wanted me to be sweeter to dear, old Casey. I mean think about it - what’s jerky about calling someone baby girl? Especially with the news that I have to share with the whole family,” Derek said with an innocent look on his face. He turned to her mom with a small smirk on his face. “I mean, you’ve always wanted us to get along, right? Let me tell you, we are definitely getting along – really, really getting along now.”

“Funny, all I see is the same old Casey and Derek bickering,” George said with raised eyebrows. “What’s going on you two?”

“Don’t you want to tell them, baby girl?” Derek asked, emphasizing every syllable of the fucking pet name.

“Stop. Calling me. That,” Casey hissed, leaning forward a little. She couldn’t take this. There was no way that he was this cruel. (Who was she kidding – of course he was. He was Derek fucking Venturi. And when did her potty mouth get so bad? Naturally, she blamed her step-brother. Bad influence.)

“Derek, stop teasing Casey,” her mom said, she put a hand on Casey’s shoulder and gently pulled her back so that she was relaxed in her chair again. Casey hadn’t even realized that she had moved forward at all. “
"It’s just Derek being Derek, sweetie, don’t let it bother you.”

“He’s not bothering me,” Casey said with a sniff. She turned to look at her mom with a smile. “He never bothers me anymore – not even on my radar.”

Nora raised an eyebrow at her and shook her head, “If you say so, Casey.”

“Oh, we both know how much I bother you,” Derek said, wiggling his eyebrows in a way that was too suggestive for the dinner table.

“Der-ek!” Casey shouted.

“Derek, leave your sister alone,” George said with a tired sigh.

“Step-sister,” Casey snapped.

“Same difference, right?” Derek replied with a raised eyebrow. Casey sneered at him and picked her fork back up. She should finish her dinner – the nice dinner that her mother had paid for – but her stomach was in knots. She didn’t know what Derek’s problem was. There was teasing and then there was being an unmitigated ass. Clearly, he was favoring the latter tonight and Casey was not enjoying it.

“Anyways – what was your big announcement, Derek?” Nora asked as she wiped some spit from Simon’s mouth. She smiled at the toddler and Casey felt her stomach knot up some more.

Same difference. It was totally the same difference with Simon sitting at the table – inevitable proof that they were siblings in some fashion. Maybe he really believed that. Maybe that stupid two word sentence had finally struck home with him – almost two years later.

And maybe she was overthinking things.

But looking up at Derek, she felt that maybe she wasn’t.

Derek caught her eye and smirked softly. He wiggled his eyebrows at her again and she felt herself blush the tiniest bit. That definitely made her blood boil. He shouldn’t be making her blush. Not in front of their family and definitely not with something as silly as a suggestive eyebrow wiggle. Grow up, Casey.

“Really, Casey should be the one telling you guys,” Derek said, leaning back in his chair. “It’s all her fault after all.”

“Really?” Nora said, turning to Casey. “What’s the big news?”

“I have no idea what he’s talking about,” Casey replied. Any trace of a blush was gone and her eyes were narrowed into slits. She was getting emotional whiplash from the way her mood kept fluctuating.

“Of course you do! I never could have done it without you!”

“Derek, stop making things up.”

“I mean, all those long nights. Just you and me. How could you forget such special moments?” Derek asked, pressing a hand to his chest and feigning hurt.

“Der-ek!” Casey snapped. “Stop being stupid.”

“Casey, don’t call Derek stupid,” George said, almost mechanically as if the bickering put him on instant peace-keeper mode. “Derek, stop harassing Casey.”

“Fine. If you insist, baby girl, I will share,” he started before pausing dramatically. He kept his eyes on Casey and poked his tongue into his cheek. “I made team captain!”

“Oh, Derek!” Nora gushed, sitting up straight and clapping her hands. “That’s fantastic!”

“You made captain!” George shouted. He leaned down the table, trying to grab Derek, and knocked over a water glass in the process. Waving his hands back and forth, he stood up and walked around the table to throw his arms around Derek’s neck. “I’m so proud of you!”

“Alright. Alright,” Derek said with a pleased smile as he pried George’s arm from around his neck. “I’m amazing. I know.”

“Please don’t inflate his ego any more than it needs to be,” Casey muttered, glaring down at her plate.

“Is that possible?” Marti asked with a big smile. “It’s already the size of London – can it get any bigger?”

“Oh thanks, Smarti,” Derek said with a roll of his eyes. “Glad to know you’re proud of your big brother.”

“Don’t even! You know I’m proud of you,” Marti replied with a laugh. “Good job, Smerek.”

“But you said it was all thanks to Casey? I’m missing something here,” Edwin said. He patted Derek on the back. “Oh and congratulations, I guess. I mean, you had it in the bag right? So, it’s not like you’re surprised or anything.”

“Edwin, I think you can be a little more supportive than that. This is a big deal,” her mom said, shaking her head at Ed. She turned to Derek and smiled brightly. “And we are all very proud of you, Derek. Aren’t we?”

Liz and Ed looked at each other before shrugging. Nora sighed and shook her head, “You two.”

“What?” Liz asked with a small smirk. “I mean, like Ed said. We all knew it was going to happen eventually, anyways, right?”

“We can still be excited for him,” George said. “Come on, you two. Familial support and all of that.”

“I’d just like to point out that this familial support very rarely extends to things that Liz and I do,” Ed grumbled.

“Edwin!” Nora said.

“We always support you two,” George said.

“I’m not talking about you two,” Edwin said with a pointed look at Derek.

“What?”

“You’re so self-centered,” Casey said with a shake of her head.

Her heart was pounding and she felt stupid – why would Derek say anything to their parents? She was such a sucker and he was probably going to gloat for days on end. Looking up at him through narrowed eyes, Casey suddenly remembered why she had hated him so much in high school.

Jerk.

“But what does Casey have to do with any of it?” George asked.

“Huh?” Derek replied, mouth hanging open.

“You said it was thanks to Casey – what did Casey do that helped you get captain?” George asked before smirking slightly. “She start giving you skating lessons or something?”

“Please, like the space case could skate more than four feet without falling down,” Derek said with a laugh.

“Hey, I happen to be a great skater!” Casey said.

“It’s true,” Liz said with a nod. “But then again – Casey is usually great at things.”

“Thanks, Liz,” Casey said with a bright smile. She could always count on her little sister.

“Oh no – we might have to start worrying about Casey’s ego now,” Marti said with a smirk. “Pretty sure Derek’s can’t handle the competition.”

“Hey! My ego is not that big,” Casey said through a pout. “I work really hard to be good at things.”

“Yeah, like freaking out, over thinking, studying, panicking – those are all things you can work on, right?” Ed mumbled into his plate. He looked up sharply and gave Casey a small smile. “Did I say that out loud?”

Casey pursed her lips and replied, “Yeah, Ed. You did.”

“Nice one, Ed,” Derek said, clapping his little brother on the back. He smirked at Casey before turning towards George. “Case helped me pick up my grades – never would have gotten it without her help.”

“Oh that’s nice,” her mom said, smiling at Casey.

“Yeah,” Derek said, looking at Casey again. “I told you we were getting along a lot better now. Best of friends, practically. Isn’t that right?”

“Right,” Casey said in a small voice before looking down at her plate. She really was not hungry anymore.

***

“You can’t seriously still be mad at me, Case,” Derek said with a small laugh. Her grip on the steering wheel tightened and she clenched her jaw. “It was just a joke. Lighten up.”

“Whatever, Der-ek,” Casey muttered before she reached over to turn up the radio. Maybe if it was loud enough she could drown out his obnoxious presence and forget that he was even there. That’s what she wanted right now – to forget that Derek Venturi even existed.

He reached across the middle console and put his warm hand on her thigh. She could feel the moist heat through her jeans and it made a shiver crawl up her spine. He wasn’t supposed to be doing that. She wasn’t supposed to be reacting that way. This was not how this was supposed to go. Casey reached down and pried his hand from her thigh and turned to shoot him a quick glare before focusing on the road again.

“Fuck, Casey,” Derek groaned, leaning back in the seat. “Why the hell are you trying to upset me right before a game? What the hell is your problem?”

“My problem?!?!” Casey screamed. She turned the wheel hard and pulled the car over, slamming into park. She turned in her seat and glared at Derek.

“Jesus, Casey! You could have –“ he started.

“You. You are my fucking problem! Everything is a fucking joke to you!” she yelled effectively cutting him off. She slapped the radio off and tried to take a deep breath. She was overreacting. She knew she was. She’d been overreacting for the past week. It was very clear to her now but that boiling anger that only he seemed capable of sparking wasn’t going to let her shrug this off. “All you do is make jokes and mess with people and keep secrets!”

He turned in his own seat and stared at her like she was the stupidest person on the planet. He licked his lips and took a deep breath, opening his mouth to speak but she started yelling again, “No! No! You don’t get to brush this off – you don’t get to brush my feelings aside with a joke! That’s all you do. You have no consideration for anyone else.”

He pressed his mouth into a thin line and glared at her. He looked out the windshield and let out a slow breath. He turned back to her with a bright smile that didn’t touch his eyes. She opened her mouth to say something but he shouted, “Stop talking for five fucking minutes.”

“Der-ek!” Casey yelled, her mouth hanging open in shock.

“Just! Stop talking,” he said, covering his face with both hands. He groaned loudly and dragged his hands down his face, making a grotesque face at Casey that had her jerking back a little. “Listen. I don’t know what the hell crawled up your ass this week – I don’t think I even want to know. Clearly, you’re having one of your stupid paranoia spaz attacks but could you do me the smallest bit of a favor?”

Casey crossed her arms and clenched her jaw. She raised her eyebrows at him when he didn’t continue speaking. He wanted her to be quiet. Well, she’s doing that now – hell, she could do that for another week if that’s what he wanted. Rolling his eyes, Derek continued, “Could you keep your stupid conspiracy theories to yourself? At least until after the game?”

Casey gasped and dropped her arms, sitting up straighter. She slammed her mouth shut and huffed a little before turning to face the windshield again. She took a deep breath and said slowly, “They aren’t conspiracy theories, Der-ek. You tease and prank and torture me. You keep things from me. You laugh at me when I’m upset and talk down to me, making me feel stupid for even feeling that way in the first place!”

“Oh my god, Casey! I’ve always teased and pranked you! Why the fucking hell does it make a difference now?” Derek shouted.

“Because you’re supposed to be my boyfriend!” Casey screamed, squeezing her eyes shut. She was panting, the sound of her ragged breath the only sound that filled the quiet car. Slowly she turned to Derek. She shouldn’t have said that. He wasn’t her boyfriend. He wasn’t anything to her but Derek, her stupid step-brother.

He was staring at her with wide eyes. His mouth was pressed into a thin line and for a split second she thought that he looked like an emoji. She choked a little on the nervous giggle that wanted to escape from her mouth and tried to keep a straight face. He narrowed his eyes at her and licked his lips.

“Is that what this is about?”

“What?” Casey asked. She leaned back a little, trying to run away from this entire situation. She should have kept her mouth shut but of course because it was Derek any thought of self-control went right out the window.

“I’m not your picture perfect boyfriend, so you’re finally flipping out,” Derek said like it was obvious.

Casey snorted and shook her head, trying to come up with some way to refute that. It wasn’t true. She didn’t expect him to be a perfect boyfriend. They weren’t even dating and there was no way that Derek could ever live up to her expectations of a real boyfriend. He just wasn’t capable of that and she didn’t want him to be because then that was a totally different issue. An issue that she was perfectly content ignoring as long as she could. She cleared her throat and said softly, “That’s not true. That’s not what this is about.”

It didn’t even sound convincing to her own ears.

“Yes it is,” he replied, sounding like he’d just discovered the atom. As if all the mysteries of the universe were finally open to him now that he had come up with this silly nonsense. “It makes sense. I mean, you’re Casey – there’s no way that you aren’t sizing me up throughout this whole thing. You’re just checking out the goods beforehand, aren’t you?”

Casey scoffed and rolled her eyes and tried to ignore the burning in her chest. She tucked her hair behind her ear and said, “Don’t be ridiculous.”

“It’s not ridiculous and you know it!” Derek shouted. “Oh my god. You were boyfriend test running me, weren’t you? Wow, Case. I knew I was a stud but I never thought you’d fall for the Venturi charm. I mean, if I think about it logically, it was inevitable. You put up a good fight.”

“I have NOT fallen for anything!” Casey shouted. “Are you seriously that full of yourself that you think I’d ever want to date you?”

“I mean,” he continued, ignoring her entirely and scratching his chin. “It finally makes sense why you said my name to Vicki. I’m a little disappointed in myself that it took me almost three months to figure it out.”

“Der-ek!” Casey shouted. She took a deep breath and turned to look at him. “Listen to me very closely – you are crazy. I wasn’t sizing you up. I have no interest in you that way at all, okay?”

“You know I can always tell when you’re lying,” Derek said with a smirk before leaning towards her a little. “It’s okay, Casey. I am irresistible.”

“Stop it!” Casey shouted, pushing him back a little. “I don’t want you Der-ek! I don’t know what the hell I was on about, okay? You’re not my boyfriend – you’re not even close to being boyfriend material. I mean, come on! I want someone who can actually care about something else besides himself! Someone who doesn’t keep secrets or drive me crazy! Someone who is decidedly not Derek fucking Venturi!”

The car was eerily quiet without her shouting. Derek was staring at her with a blank face and she felt her stomach drop. Of course none of what she said was true. She wanted him. She really really really did but he was Derek and she was Casey and there was just no way in the universe that the two of them could be together.

“Derek, I –“ she started before he cut her off.

“Shit, Case, take a chill pill. No one said anything about turning this freak show into a permanent display,” he said with a laugh. He turned and sat back in his seat, crossing his arms. “Trust me, the last thing I want is you as an actual girlfriend. I mean, it’s not like you’ve changed much since high school – still a total social outcast and still a total keener. My rep has suffered enough as is.”

Casey inhaled deeply and sat up straight. He was. Such. A. JERK.

“You are such a fucking ass, Derek Venturi!”

“Oh what, you can sit there and ream me a new one but I can’t say anything back?” he said with a scoff. “Don’t dish it if you can’t take it, princess.”

“You’re the one who started all of this! Excuse me for defending myself,” she snapped.

“How the hell did I start this? You’re the one who gave me the silent treatment for a week and then flipped out on me before my game. The game, by the way, that I am going to be late for if you don’t start driving right now.”

“Ugh! I can’t stand you. I cannot wait until Vicki leaves so we can be done with this,” Casey mumbled as she righted herself in the driver’s seat.

“Oh we won’t have to wait until Vicki leaves to end this,” Derek snapped. “Tonight. You and me are breaking up.”

“What?” Casey asked, gripping her steering wheel. He didn’t say that. There was no way – not after the huge fuss he put up when she’d first suggested it.

She put her blinker on and slowly merged back into traffic. She didn’t know what to say. It was bound to happen eventually but she thought that she’d have more time to plan it. That she would be able to prepare just the tiniest bit before they did it.

“At the post game party – we’re breaking up,” Derek said. “You’ll finally be rid of me. I’m sure you’re thrilled. You can run back to New York to your precious Jesse. Or maybe that one guy Geoff! You two were nerding out pretty well that one time. I’m sure he’s always up for some desperate keener sex, right? Lights off and dressed from the waist up.”

“You’re disgusting,” she hissed with very little venom but a lot of hurt.

“Good thing you won’t have to put up with me much longer.”

“Great thing. I’m thrilled. Ecstatic even,” she snapped, feeling like she was going to be sick.

“Oh that’s nothing compared to how I’m feeling,” he replied with a small laugh. “You have no idea how many lovely ladies will be thrilled to hear that the D-man is back on the market.”

“Good for them – I’ll make sure I send them all a courtesy letter telling them to stay far, far away from you,” Casey said with as much false pep as she could muster.

This was a good thing – definitely a good thing. This was a thing that was good. They would break up and then she wouldn’t have to see him for a few weeks and things could get back to normal.

Good thing.

Good.

Thing.

Sighing, she wondered when she’d see that flying pig.

Chapter Text

“Okay,” Marti said. “Explain this to me one more time.”

“Marti – there are only so many times I can explain it,” Casey said, rubbing her forehead. The cheering crowd and loud announcer had given her a massive headache and Marti was not helping.

“You know it’s a really stupid plan, right?” Marti asked. She had her hands shoved in her pockets and kept anxiously looking towards the locker room doors, waiting for Derek to come out. He’d gotten slammed into the rink wall in the last five minutes of the game – he looked barely coherent as he was helped off the ice.

“I am fully aware of how stupid it is,” Casey said. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind Marti’s ear and smirked slightly when she shook her head, letting it free again. “But I told you – I panicked and now this is where we are.”

“I mean, if you wanted to date Derek I’m pretty sure all you had to do was say something to him,” Marti explained with a shrug.

“Don’t you think – wait, what?”

Marti looked at Casey like she was stupid and sighed before repeating herself, “You didn’t need to come up with some crazy plan to get Derek to date you. I’m pretty positive that all you had to do was ask him out or something – I don’t know how this dating thing works but you get the point.”

“Who said I wanted to date Derek?” Casey asked. Her throat felt tight and she was sweating under her sweater. Was she really that transparent? There was no way – Casey hadn’t seen Marti in months and the last time Derek definitely was not around.

Marti rolled her eyes and turned back to the locker room. She chewed on her bottom lip for a few seconds before turning back to Casey. Furrowing her eyebrows, she asked, “Have you two done it yet?”

“Marti!” Casey shouted, drawing a couple looks from the last few stragglers in the rink. Casey smiled awkwardly at them before turning back to Marti. “Why in the world would you ask something like that?”

“Come on, Casey,” Marti said with a roll of her eyes. “I’m double digits now – I know about things.”

“How?” Casey snapped. This was not a conversation that she wanted to have with her little sister. It was definitely not a conversation she wanted to have about Derek of all people.

“TV. Movies. School. Pick one,” Marti mumbled. She was staring at the entrance to the boy’s locker room. When she turned back to Casey, her eyes were big and worried. “What’s taking him so long?”

“I don’t know,” Casey muttered. She frowned slightly before shaking her head. “Are you sure you don’t want me to take you home? It’s getting late – you should’ve just gone home with mom and George.”

“I haven’t seen either of you in months, I want to get as much time with you guys as possible before you disappear again,” Marti said. She sighed and took a couple steps towards the locker room before turning back to Casey. “You should go and check on him.”

“I can’t go check on him,” Casey said, her voice high and thin sounding. “That’s the boy’s locker room – I’m not allowed.”

“Please, Casey?” Marti asked. “He should’ve come out by now.”

“Just be patient, Marti,” Casey said, walking over to Marti and wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “He’s fine.”

“If you go check on him, I’ll tell you why Derek never said anything about Debbie,” Marti said quickly, pulling away from Casey. She had her mouth pressed into a thin line and stared up at her older sister with wide eyes.

“How would you know why he didn’t say anything?” Casey asked, skeptical of Marti’s supposed insider knowledge. She knew that Derek and Marti were close – she was still the only McDonald-Venturi kid that Derek was actually nice to – but she doubted that Derek would share something like that with her.

“Don’t worry about how I know – do you want the info or not?” Marti snapped, sounding like her brother in the worst possible way.

Casey pursed her lips and looked up at the locker room. It would only be a minute – what’s the worst that could happen in a minute? If nothing else, he would walk out just as she was going in and she would be able to avoid the entire situation. Besides, there was no way that he could still be mad at her. With the way he played, Casey figured that he had worked off any irritation that he had felt towards her.

It wasn’t like Derek was ever going to actually tell Casey why he’d never mentioned Debbie. This might be her only chance to finally know. Casey chewed on her lip and sighed. Did she want to know though? Did she care?

She did.

She totally did.

“Fine,” Casey muttered before marching towards the locker room. She took a deep breath before pulling the door open, turning to look at Marti one more time before heading in. Her little sister was shooing her away, her face serious with worry. Casey waved her hand at her and walked into the locker room.

“Derek?” she called, taking a half step down the hallway. “Are you okay?”

Sighing, she walked down the hall until she saw lockers and benches. She paused for a second and craned her neck trying to see if anyone was there without actually stepping further into the locker room. She jumped when she heard a locker slam shut. Trying to ignore the pounding of her heart (and it was totally because she’d been scared not because she was going to be alone with Derek), she shook her head and muttered under her breath, “Der-ek.”

Running her fingers along the tile of the wall, Casey slowly stepped into the main room. A corner of her brain pointed out that this was the part when the crazed serial killer would come out and kill the pretty blonde – except she wasn’t blonde anymore and her life was not a movie.

“Derek?” she called out again.

“Casey?” he replied, stepping around the corner. The first thing she noticed was his dripping wet chest. He’d probably just finished taking a shower. A shower. Which meant that he was in just a towel. Wet. In a towel and staring at Casey like she’d grown a second head in the last five minutes. Casey squeaked and turned around quickly.

“Sorry! Sorry!” she said, covering her burning face with both hands. “Marti was worried about you.”

“Marti’s still here?” he asked. His voice was oddly neutral. So much for not being mad at her anymore.

“Yeah – she wanted to wait for you. I guess she misses her older brother or something,” Casey replied quickly. “But you’re okay and I don’t need to be here anymore.”

“You can leave now,” Derek said slowly. “I didn’t pass out in the shower or anything.”

“Good,” Casey said but didn’t move to leave. “Because Marti was worried.”

“Just Marti?” he asked, his voice a little closer to her than it had been a few seconds ago.

“Please – like I was worried about you,” Casey scoffed and resisted the urge to turn around. She lowered her hands and shoved them in the pockets of her jacket. “I swear nothing bad ever happens to you.”

“Oh I wouldn’t say nothing – I’ve got you as a sister, now don’t I?” Derek asked. She could feel him standing right behind her. She could feel his breath on the back of her neck, making her skin crawl. She told herself that it was from revulsion but the way her heart pounded said something completely different. She wasn’t going to turn around though. There was no way. She didn’t know what game he was playing but she refused to participate.

“Step-sister,” she replied, her voice slightly breathier than she intended.

“Whatever,” he mumbled. Casey rolled her eyes and turned around finally, determined not to let that slide.

“It’s not whatever,” she snapped, stopping short in her retort when she saw the large bruise blossoming on his side. “Der-ek!”

“What?” he said, looking down at the bruise. He rolled his eyes and turned back to his gym bag that was sitting on the floor by the showers. “It’s just a bruise.”

“How do you know that?” she asked, following after him. “It could be a bruised rib or worse – a broken one! You could be seriously injured.”

“Casey, chills,” he mumbled as he bent over to pick up his bag. He winced slightly and Casey rushed forward, putting a hand on his unbruised side and helping him to stand up straight. He brushed her off and bent down to grab the bag again, clenching his jaw to hide the wince. He was so damn stubborn. “I’m fine. I don’t need your help, okay?”

“Could have fooled me,” Casey muttered, as she stepped back. “But if you insist on being a stubborn asshole then fine – suffer for all I care.”

“I’m not suffering – you’re so dramatic,” he murmured. “Besides, I thought you weren’t worried.”

Casey stiffened slightly and snapped, “I’m not worried! I told you – Marti was the one who was worried. I’m just looking after you for her – the last thing she wants is to see you all banged up.”

“You’re still a terrible liar,” he said with a chuckle and a wince. “If you’re going to stand there pretending like you don’t give a shit then you can go. I can really do without the keener induced headache.”

Casey stared at him for a second, trying to decide what to do. She should just go back out to Marti. Derek was fine – just a little slower than usual. She’d fulfilled her half of the deal.

Casey sighed and walked towards Derek. She was practically whispering when she asked, “Do you need help?”

He looked at her over his shoulder and shrugged. Sitting down on the bench, Derek let out a long sigh and Casey was sure that he was going to refuse. He was going to give her some smart ass comment and she would get mad and leave. It’s what they did best, after all. He looked at her again and nodded once, saying, “Alright. Fine. But you don’t tell anyone about this. Anyone.”

“Trust me, there’s no one that I would want to share this little bit of my ridiculous life with,” Casey muttered, smirking slightly. He rolled his eyes and reached out to snatch up the shirt that was hanging out of his bag. He threw it at her face, chuckling when she failed to catch it.

“Whatever, keener, we both know you wanted to check out my body,” he said. “I mean, you can’t fully test ride the would-be boyfriend without seeing him shirtless, right?”

Casey frowned and twisted the shirt in her hands. Yeah – he was still mad at her. She didn’t know why she was surprised. They were both really good at holding grudges.

“About that – you know . . . you know that’s not what I’m doing, right?” Casey asked slowly. She licked her lips and looked down at her feet. She felt stupid even saying any of this out loud. She didn’t have anything to feel bad about. He was the one who had been the jerk. He was the one who had jumped to conclusions. He was the one – he was the one who wanted to break up now.

“Whatever, Casey. It doesn’t matter,” he said with a sigh. “Are you going to just hold my shirt or are you going to help me put it on?”

Casey swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded. She took a step forward and unraveled the shirt from her nervous hands. At least it was a button up and she wasn’t going to have to worry about stretching him too much. She opened the shirt and took a step towards him, throwing it over his shoulders. He kept his eyes down as she ran her fingers gently down his arm and wrapped her hand around his wrist. She asked softly, “Do you really need help with this part?”

“Of course not,” he grumbled before looking up at her quickly. He looked away again and slowly moved his arm, pulling her along with him before wincing. “But I’m ready to be out of this fucking locker room.”

“Language,” she replied as they slipped his arm into the sleeve. He snorted and she rolled her eyes as she moved to his other arm. “You curse too much.”

“And you don’t curse enough,” he mumbled. “I thought we went over this already?”

“Well since we’re home, I thought you needed some reminding to watch your mouth,” Casey replied. She wrapped her fingers around his other wrist and pushed his arm through the sleeve. “The last thing we need is for Marti to pick up your bad habits.”

“Trust me, if Marti has fuck in her vocabulary it’s not because of me,” he replied with a small smile. Casey smiled back and stepped away from him once his arm was through the sleeve. He looked down at his bare chest and sighed before starting to button up his shirt. “Are you ready for tonight?”

“Is there a way to prepare myself for whatever it is you have planned?” Casey asked. She shoved her hands into her jacket pocket and turned to look at the locker room door. She had been in here for a while now – she wondered in Marti was worried about her too now. “I should get back to Marti.”

“What makes you think I have anything planned?”

“You’re the one who wants to break up tonight,” Casey snapped. She shook her head and turned towards the locker room door. She didn’t want to be in here anymore. There really wasn’t any point. He was fine and Marti was waiting by herself in an empty ice rink.

“It’s not real, remember Case?” he said with a small sneer. “Isn’t that what you told me last week?”

Casey stood up straighter and shook her head. She marched towards the door, shouting over her shoulder, “Marti and I will be waiting in the car.”

***

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Marti asked from Casey’s old bed.

“Do what?” Casey asked as she examined her outfit. The top seemed too fun considering what she was getting ready to do but then again she wasn’t supposed to know that Derek was going to dump her, was she? Would it be weird if she showed up in something a little more demure? The team has won after all – shouldn’t she be celebrating? “Liz, is this top too much?”

“Too much what?” Lizzie asked, distractedly. She was reading a book for school and hadn’t even looked up when Casey had asked.

“Too much for getting dumped,” Casey said, chewing on the inside of her cheek. She did have the dark blue top that had longer sleeves – that was always an option and it was cold outside.

“That – are you sure you want to get dumped?” Marti asked, throwing a pillow at Casey’s back. “And don’t change – your boobs look better in that shirt.”

“How do you know they look better?” Casey asked, looking down. “And don’t say boobs – it’s vulgar.”

“What? Would you rather I say tits?” Marti asked with a smirk. Liz let out a bark of laughter before coughing and muttering an apology.

Casey turned to look at her littlest sister and shook her head muttering, “How in the world is my mother going to handle you?”

“I don’t know – she handled you just fine,” Marti said before sticking her tongue out. Lizzie laughed a little longer and harder at that one. “At least one McDonald has a sense of humor.”

“I have a sense of humor! I just don’t find insults very funny,” Casey replied with a sniff before turning back to the mirror. “Do I care if my boobs look good, though? I mean, getting dumped over here!”

“Don’t do it,” Marti replied.

“Don’t do what?”

“Don’t get dumped.”

Casey turned around and looked at Marti with a raised eyebrow. She didn’t know what Marti’s problem was – Liz and Ed seemed to be on board with ending the whole charade but Marti was pretty resistant.

“What’s with you?” Liz asked, putting her book down. She looked at Marti, matching Casey’s skeptical look. “I mean, it’s not like this was going to last forever and they’ve already been fighting. It’s actually perfect timing.”

“Except for the whole neither of them actually wants to break up thing,” Marti said with a roll of her eyes.

“You didn’t see Derek earlier, Marti,” Casey mumbled. She shook her head. “He was pretty adamant.”

“Yeah because you guys were fighting! People say things they don’t mean all the time when they’re fighting!” Marti shouted. “I know him and I know that he didn’t mean it.”

“How Marti? How can you know? How can you know anything about any of this?” Casey snapped. She turned to her little sister and glared at her. “You keep saying that you know but you don’t actually, do you?”

“I do know!” Marti replied. She stood up on her knees and glared back at Casey. “It’s not my fault that the two of you are too damn stubborn to tell each other.”

“Language!”

“Whatever, Casey,” Marti said with a roll of her eyes and a groan. She fell back onto the bed and covered her face with her hands. “You know why he didn’t tell you about Debbie? Because he was waiting.”

“Waiting for what?” Casey snapped. What was there to wait for? He apparently didn’t need to wait to show her off to the family even though Debbie didn’t love him back. What was it about Casey that made him wait? Probably too embarrassed by his keener step sister or something as equally stupid and immature.

“For you to come back to him – for you to choose New York or him,” Marti replied like it was obvious. “How could he tell you about Debbie when he didn’t know if you were ever going to come back? What if that was the thing that kept you away? He didn’t want you knowing, okay? He didn’t want to take the risk.”

“But he loved her! Every single person who knew them as a couple knew that he loved her!” Casey shouted. “You’re not making any sense, Marti.”

“Yeah, Marti,” Lizzie said. She had put her book down and was looking at her sister with raised eyebrows. “I’m not following.”

Marti groaned and closed her eyes. She let out a slow breath and said, “If Casey came home then Derek wasn’t going to stay with Debbie. It wouldn’t have lasted because Casey was there – actually there. He could prank her and tease her and be around her. Skype chats aren’t much to work with. I mean, when you look at his other girlfriends that’s what happened. He got wrapped up in Casey and wasn’t there 100% and then they broke up.”

“That doesn’t answer anything,” Liz pointed out. “I mean, he still loved Debbie. How could he love Debbie but secretly want Casey. He’s not that deep, Marti. I don’t think he’s capable of that kind of emotion.”

Casey snorted and gave Liz a grateful smile. Marti’s theory (and that was all Casey would call it – a theory, there was no way any of it was true) was ridiculous. She refused to listen to it – let alone believe it.

“You’re both morons, you know?” Marti snapped. “Of course he loved Debbie! But it didn’t matter if he loved her or not because at the end of that day it was Casey. Why is that so hard to see?”

“Marti,” Casey said with a sigh. She was wrong. Derek didn’t get wrapped up in Casey. Hell, when he was in a relationship, Casey could barely remember seeing Derek let alone Derek focusing on her.

“Don’t ‘Marti’ me,” Marti snapped. “You didn’t see it from my perspective. Come on, Liz, you know what I’m talking about!”

“I mean, yeah Derek was all about the pranks and stuff but that doesn’t mean that he was more invested in Casey than his girlfriends,” Lizzie mumbled. She chewed on her bottom lip for a second before shaking her head. “Even if he did that in high school, that doesn’t mean he was doing the same thing with Debbie. He really loved her. Even I could see it.”

“You’re not listening!” Marti shouted. “Derek loved Debbie. Yes. That’s true. But deep down it’s always been Casey! It’s been Casey since high school!”

“Marti, this isn’t funny,” Casey mumbled. Her stomach was twisting up and her heart was pounding. Marti didn’t know what she was talking about. “If that was true – which it’s not – then he would have done something by now. Derek doesn’t just wait when he liked someone, we all know that.”

“Same difference, though,” Marti mumbled.

“What?” Lizzie asked.

“How do you know about that?” Casey said. She hadn’t told any of her siblings about the late night conversation that seemed to smooth out her relationship with Derek. They’d really started becoming friends that night – Casey had felt the shift and she had been so pleased with it. If that was what had held Derek back, then maybe it hadn’t been such a good thing. Not that Casey would have been ready to accept that a year ago.

“I told you – Derek does tell me things,” Marti replied with a sigh. “Look – all that stuff doesn’t really matter. What matters is that neither of you two want to break up!”

“Of course they want to break up!” Liz said with a scoff, rolling her eyes. “Look – I don’t get this whole same difference stuff and I don’t really buy your whole theory about Derek having feelings for Casey. But I do know that they bicker non-stop and it’s a miracle that they’ve lasted this long. Breaking up is probably a good idea.”

“We aren’t that bad,” Casey mumbled, pouting a little bit.

“You see that pout?” Marti asked, pointing at Casey. “That pout clearly says that she doesn’t want to break up.”

Lizzie looked at Casey for a brief moment before turning back Marti with a shrug.

“What about Derek? I don’t see a pouting Derek here for you to point at – your little hypothesis is unproven as far as I’m concerned. Until you get Derek to admit it in front of witnesses, I’m never going to believe that he was ‘waiting for Casey’ or something silly like that,” Lizzie said. Marti rolled her eyes and groaned before falling back on the bed and covering her face. Lizzie shook her head before turning back to Casey with her no-nonsense look in full gear. “And you.”

“Me?” Casey asked, feeling suddenly nervous.

“Yeah, you,” Liz said. She crossed her arms and looked at Casey, waiting for the inevitable burst of truth that she knew she could get with that look.

“So maybe I like him,” Casey mumbled before covering her face and groaning. She dropped to the ground and pulled her knees to her chest, sliding her hands into her hair. “I like him. Stupid fucking Derek.”

“Language,” Liz said automatically. Casey looked up with a smirk that quickly dropped when she saw the blank look on Liz’s face.

“What?”

“You actually like him?” Liz asked slowly. Casey nodded once before frowning. Why was she even telling her sister about this? Sure, she didn’t really keep secrets from Liz but still – there was a certain level of weird telling her biological sister that she had the hots for their stepbrother. “Wow.”

“Wow? That’s all?” Marti asked. She jumped up from the bed and threw herself at Casey, knocking her backwards. “I’m so proud of you.”

Casey instinctively wrapped her arms around Marti and asked, “Why? I basically just admitted to incest.”

“It’s not incest if you’re not related by blood,” Marti replied quickly. She pulled away from Casey and gave her a bright smile. “It’s just exciting. I mean, you two have been dancing around it for years and it’s finally happening.”

“What are you talking about? We haven’t been dancing around anything. There’s nothing to dance around!” Casey protested. She stood up and dusted her pants off. Shaking her hair out, she marched to her bag and pulled out the blue shirt. There was enough nonsense going on in this room – she didn’t need to worry about looking good to get dumped.

“Don’t change tops!” Marti complained.

“Why not? He’s dumping me and there is nothing being danced around and none of this matters and who cares why he didn’t tell me about Debbie? Because it’s never going to happen and all this is doing is messing with my head!” Casey snapped. She didn’t turn around as she ripped off the pink baby tee and shoved her head through the neck hole of the blue shirt. She shouldn’t be taking this out on Marti. Marti hadn’t done anything other than be excited for her. All Marti did was be honest with her which was more than she could say for another Venturi that she was not going to think about anymore.

“Don’t let him do it!” Marti snapped back, standing up.

“Marti, its Derek. When have I ever been able to stop him from doing something?” Casey asked. She looked at Liz for support but there was doubt all over her face. “Oh, come on! You both know that I’m right.”

“I mean, I agree with you – it’s really hard to get Derek to not do something but you’re good at it,” Liz replied slowly with a shrug. “I still don’t believe any of this. I mean, you liking Derek makes some sense. You did date Truman and he was like an evil Derek clone.”

“Lizzie!”

“Casey! It’s true!” Lizzie shouted back. “But that doesn’t mean that Derek feels the same.”

“At least you agree with me on that one,” Casey muttered before kneeling down to sift through her bag for her makeup. She might not want to look too appealing but that didn’t mean she wanted to look ragged either.

“He might not feel the same,” Lizzie said slowly. There was a certain amount of hesitation in her voice that made Casey pause in her hunt. She turned slowly to look at her little sister. “But if anyone can make him reconsider this dumping thing – if anyone could . . . I don’t know . . . wear him down, I guess, it’s you, Casey.”

“Wear him down?” Casey asked with a raised eyebrow. Lizzie shrugged and laughed softly.

“I told you I was right!” Marti shouted. Lizzie and Casey both turned to Marti with a credulous look. Marti sighed and rolled her eyes. “Kind of right.”

“Knock, knock,” Nora said as she pushed open Casey’s door. “What’s Marti right about?”

“Everything – as usual,” Marti replied with a pointed look at Casey.

Casey glared at her little sister and crossed her arms, saying, “Nothing – as usual.”

Nora looked between the two girls before shaking her head and leaning against the door frame. She smiled softly and looked at Casey for a minute before asking, “What’s going on with you and Derek?”

Casey turned back to her mother quickly and stood up straighter. Her eyes were wide and knew that she looked guilty. Nora raised both eyebrows before standing up straight. She crossed her arms and smirked slightly as if she had won something. Casey opened her mouth to say something – anything to end the staring contest that was going on between herself and her mother. Her eyes met Lizzie’s large worried ones for a second before she blurted, “I can’t tell you!”

Nora leaned back a little and chuckled. She looked at Lizzie who shrugged and tried to smile even though it came off as more of a grimace.

“Smooth, Casey,” Marti groaned.

“What?” Casey whined, looking at Marti. Marti just shook her head and turned to Nora with an innocent smile.

“Is this that part in our lives where you keep secrets from me, Case?” Nora asked with mock hurt on her face. “I thought we’d avoided that whole debacle in high school.”

Casey gasped and put a hand on her chest, taking her mother’s teasing a little too seriously. Nora rolled her eyes and stepped further into the room, resting her hands on Casey’s shoulders. She smiled softly and stared into Casey’s eyes with the all-knowing mom look that Casey had slightly feared when she was younger. Based on the way her heart was pounding, Casey realized that she wasn’t totally over that fear.

“Lizard, what’s going on with Derek and Casey?” Nora asked.

“Why are you asking me?” Lizzie replied, her voice cracking just the tiniest bit.

“Because I want to see Casey’s reaction when you lie,” Nora replied.

“Moth-er,” Casey groaned, pulling away with a roll of her eyes. “There’s nothing going on.”

“If you say so, Casey,” Nora replied, a trace of skepticism in her voice. She stared at Casey for a moment longer before her eyes grew wide and she smiled brightly. “Oh!”

“Oh?” Casey asked, turning back to her mom. She didn’t like the way Nora had said oh. It was an oh of discovery – as if she finally understood what was going on. Was Casey really that transparent?

“Nothing,” Nora replied with a sly smile. Casey’s throat clenched and she felt her eyes grow to the size of saucers.

“Mom,” Lizzie said, sitting up straighter. “What’s oh?”

Nora turned to Lizzie with a bright smile as she clasped her hands together excitedly. She opened her mouth before slamming it shut and shaking her head. She looked like a five year with a secret. They all knew it was only a matter of time before she burst.

“Nora, whatever you’re thinking – you’re wrong,” Marti said slowly, matching Lizzie’s upright position.

“And how do you know that?” Nora asked, turning to Marti with a smile and a hand on her hip.

“We established this already, I’m always right,” Marti replied with a sigh.

“Well, I’m pretty sure my mother’s intuition is never wrong,” Nora replied. She giggled and bounced a little, waving her hands in front of her face. “Okay. Okay. Are you guys trying to get Debbie and Derek back together?”

Casey felt like the wind had been knocked out of her. There was relief coursing through her veins, of course. She wasn’t found out. That was definitely a good thing but that didn’t change the weird sense of disappointment that was rushing through her as well. Was it such a foreign idea that she was the one who wanted Derek and not someone else?

Who was she kidding? Of course it was.

“Yes!” Casey said loudly. She forced a smile onto her face and nodded enthusiastically. “You caught us.”

“That’s so nice,” Nora said with a sweet smile. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind Casey’s ear. “It makes me so happy that you two are getting along better.”

“Like he said – we’re practically the best of friends,” Casey replied, forcing the words out around the lump in her throat. She blatantly ignored the look that Marti gave her after that.

***

They could hear the pounding music and laughter as they walked up the stairs to Sam’s apartment. Derek had his hands shoved in his pockets and had avoided looking at Casey for most of the ride over. Casey hadn’t tried to start a conversation either. What could she say? Everything that Marti had said was still flying through her head, making her dread this party even more than she had been before.

She reached out and knocked on the door, clenching her hands into fists. She looked at Derek out of the corner of her eye and quickly turned away when he turned to look at her. He continued to stare at her and Casey knew that she was blushing. She hated blushing – especially when she had nothing to blush for.

“Hello hello hello!” Toby shouted as he opened the door. His cheeks were pink and he had a beer in one hand. He smiled brightly at Casey, not paying Derek any attention. “Casey!”

“Hi Toby,” Casey muttered. She tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and tried to smile. “How’s it going?”

“Better now that you’re here!” he replied, his smile getting a little lopsided. He stepped to the side and waved both of them in still ignoring Derek.

“What took you so long?” Emily asked as soon as Casey walked through the door of the apartment. She pushed Toby away and closed the door behind them. When he’d made a sound of protest, Emily simply held her hand up. “I have been waiting for hours surrounded by drunk hockey players.”

“We’re not that bad,” Toby muttered before walking away. Emily rolled her eyes and scoffed.

Casey shrugged and gritted her teeth when Derek pushed past her into the very crowded room, high fiving a few people as he disappeared. Emily looked between the two of them and frowned. “What’s with you two?”

“Nothing,” Casey snapped as she shoved her purse at Emily. Emily took it with both eyebrows raised and at least waited for Casey to take her jacket off before giving her the fess up look. “We’re ending it tonight.”

“Excuse me?” Emily shouted. A few people turned to look at them for a second before going back to their own celebrations. They traded purse for jacket before Emily grabbed Casey’s wrist and dragged her through the crowd. “Get out of the way! Emergency best friend session!”

“Emily!” Casey shouted, trailing behind her. She tried to give the people Emily had shouted at an apologetic smile but most of them had simply moved without a second glance at the two of them. “Where are we going?”

“To Sam’s room,” Emily replied over her shoulder before opening the door that had a pride flag with a very large pot leaf in the middle.

“Subtle,” Casey replied before shutting the door behind them.

“I love that thing – his roommate hates it but is too much of a coward to say anything,” Emily replied before turning to Casey with her arms crossed. “What did you do?”

“What makes you think I did anything?” Casey asked, taking a step back and flinching slightly when her lower back hit the door knob.

“I’m sorry,” Emily replied with a soft smile. “What did Der-ek do?”

“Emily,” Casey said with a groan. She shook her head and ran a hand through her hair. “It’s a good thing.”

“How is getting your heart broken a good thing?” Emily asked with a sad sigh.

“My heart is not going to be broken!” Casey replied a little too harshly. She sighed and closed her eyes, taking a moment to collect herself. “He doesn’t want me like that – it’s a good thing because I don’t need to fall any deeper than I already have. I’ve told you before – it could never work out between us.”

“Casey,” Emily started but Casey held up her hand. She tried to smile and shrugged.

“It’s fine, Em,” she said. She’d heard enough on the topic from Marti. She didn’t need to hear the same things all over again from Emily.

“But it’s not!” Emily replied with an indignant stomp of her foot.

“Look – how about this – I don’t give you shit for telling Derek I was mad at him because I thought he was using me,” Casey said, giving Emily a pointed look. At least she had the decency to look embarrassed. “And you don’t give me shit for letting Derek end this whole thing.”

“Fair enough,” Emily muttered. “But for the record – I was only trying to help and I don’t agree with this course of action at all. And I think you two are really cute and I can’t believe that either of you are being so stupid about this whole thing.”

“Done?” Casey asked.

Emily paused for a second before blurting out, “And at the very least you should have worn a sexier top to make him realize what he’s missing out on – the blue eyeshadow is not enough for once. Now I’m done.”

Casey laughed and rolled her eyes, “Thanks, Em.”

“What are best friends for?” Emily replied before pulling Casey into a hug. “I have double chocolate fudge ice cream in the freezer for the aftermath. And wine. Lots of wine.”

“Thank you,” Casey replied before pulling away. She smiled at Emily one last time before turning and opening the door, running right into Derek’s chest. She glanced up at him before turning to look at Emily with wide eyes. He hadn’t been eavesdropping had he? There was no way. “Derek.”

“Where have you been?” he snapped. Casey blinked and leaned away from him. “God, you’re a nightmare sometimes, you know?”

“What’s your problem?” Casey asked, trying to push away the burning hurt in her chest. She was almost positive that this was it. This was the moment but she wasn’t ready. Despite her insistence that this was a good thing she wasn’t fucking ready. She just wasn’t.

“I don’t – Case, I’m starting to think it’s you,” he said slowly. He clenched his jaw and he looked at Emily for a split second before shaking his head and turning to walk away. “I’m not doing this now.”

Casey watched him walk away and took a deep breath before following him. She grabbed his arm and made him turn around to look at her. He pulled away and shoved his hands into his pockets, glaring down at her. Casey swallowed the lump in her throat as her eyes flicked around the faces in the room. She saw Vicki sitting in the corner, whispering something to Debbie. It was now or never.

“Not doing what now, Der-ek?” Casey snapped, trying her hardest to seem annoyed. She doubted that it was working but hurt would definitely work as well considering what was coming next.

“You know – you’ve had a serious stick up your ass for the past two weeks,” Derek muttered.

“Excuse me?” Casey said, leaning back a little bit.

“You won’t speak to me. You won’t see me. You pick fights before hockey games,” he listed off. A few people turned to look at them and Casey’s heart started to pound. She didn’t like that they were being watched. She didn’t like it one bit. It had to happen of course but that didn’t change the embarrassed blush that was creeping up her cheeks.

“I don’t have to see you every minute of the day, Der-ek, and you’re the one who was being an ass!” Casey snapped.

“I’m supposed to be your boyfriend and you treat me like some annoying chore that you have to take care of and you know what? I think I deserve to be treated better than that!” Derek shouted.

“You deserve better? Are you kidding me? All you do is make fun of me and prank me and embarrass me! You’re rude and thoughtless and I cannot believe you think I don’t treat you well!” Casey replied, honestly shocked that he would say something like that.

“I’m joking! At least what I do is funny and isn’t serious!” Derek relied. “The least you could do is pretend to give a shit about the things that interest me.”

“Oh yeah? Like switching your major without even telling me or the girlfriend that you kept a secret while I was in New York? Those kinds of things that you don’t even tell me about?” Casey hissed. Her blood was boiling. It was supposed to be fake, wasn’t it? If it was supposed to be fake then why was she so fucking angry?

“God, when are you going to let that go? It’s in the past – it doesn’t matter, Casey!” Derek shouted. Casey took a step back at how loud he’d gotten before clenching her jaw and taking another step towards him. She wasn’t afraid of him and she wasn’t going to let it go until she got an answer. It was ridiculous. Sure, he’d said that it had just slipped his mind but girlfriends don’t just slip your mind. Especially not girlfriends that were as important Debbie seemed to be.

Whatever Marti said didn’t matter. That was Marti. She wouldn’t be satisfied until she heard it from Derek himself.

“Of course it matters! You can’t keep secrets from someone you’re in a relationship with! That’s not how you build a lasting commitment, Der-ek!” Casey shouted back. “How am I supposed to trust you when you keep secrets?”

“I’m not keeping anything from you! Jesus Christ,” he groaned, rubbing his face with both hands. “That was before we even started this joke of a relationship. I don’t see how it makes a difference now.”

“So this whole thing is a joke to you?” Casey hissed. She narrowed her eyes and clenched her fists, trying not to claw his eyes out. He was so infuriating!

“Why is that the part that you fucking cling to?” Derek snapped. “How about you take your head out of your paranoid ass and just accept the fact that I fucking love you and that we’re together and be fucking happy about it? Why the fuck do you have to over think everything?”

Casey’s mouth slammed shut and she took a step back. He didn’t say that. There was no way. Derek was panting and she watched as he realized what he had said. Casey’s lip trembled and the silence of the room was deafening – some jackass has stopped the music. All the better to hear them argue, she supposed. Everyone was staring at them – waiting for her to do something and she was frozen because this wasn’t happening. It wasn’t.

“Casey,” he said softly, reaching a hand out. Casey stepped back and shook her head. His face dropped and he looked down at his shoes for a second before turning and walking away. Casey watched his back before straightening her spine and turning to look at the crowd around her.

“What?” she shouted. Everyone stiffened for a second before turning back to their conversations. The music started back up and the crowd seemed to close in around her again. Casey let out a slow breath and closed her eyes. That had not gone how she had expected. At all.

“Casey?” a soft voice asked. Casey spun around and looked at Debbie. Casey didn’t know when she had snuck up on her. She guessed that it didn’t matter.

“Sorry about that,” Casey mumbled. She rubbed her hands on her thighs and looked away. “I don’t . . . I don’t really know what just happened.”

“Pretty sure you’re boyfriend just said he loved you,” Debbie replied with a soft smile. She reached out and grabbed Casey’s hand, pulling her towards the screen door behind her. “Come on – you need some fresh air.”

“Fresh air is good,” Casey muttered. She bit her lip and choked back the panic that was growing in her chest. So he did say it. That was a thing that happened. Other people heard him say it. It was real and it was out there in the world.

Casey giggled a little. It wasn’t real. Not real the way Jesse had said it. Not real in the way Casey wanted it. But real in that those were words that he had actually said in front of people.

The cool air of the night made it a lot easier to breathe. Casey took a deep breath and sat down in the lawn chair that was propped against the wall. Debbie leaned against the railing and looked down at Casey with a soft smile. She took the rolled cigarette from behind her ear and put it between her lips. She lit the tip and inhaled deeply, keeping her eyes on Casey.

“Do you love him back?” Debbie asked as she exhaled. Casey sniffed and realized it was a joint that Debbie had lit.

“Do I have to answer that?” Casey replied softly. She watched Debbie take another hit, watched the way her eyes drooped and her shoulders relaxed. “Do you mind if I hit that?”

Debbie raised her eyebrows and held the joint out to Casey with a small smirk. Casey reached out but Debbie pulled back a little asking, “Are you sure about this? Vicki said you don’t smoke.”

“Not usually,” Casey said with a shrug. “But I think tonight is a pretty good one to change that.”

Debbie shrugged and handed the joint to Casey. Casey let out a slow breath before bringing the joint to her mouth. She inhaled deeply, holding it in for a second before coughing out the smoke. She handed it back to Debbie and tried to blink the tears from her eyes.

“You okay?” Debbie asked.

“Fine,” Casey croaked. She pressed a hand to her chest and watched Debbie take another. They passed the joint back and forth in silence until Debbie flicked the tiny butt away.

“So now that we are officially stoned,” Debbie said as she sat down on the ground, leaning her head back against the railing. “Are you ready to talk about what just happened?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to talk about what just happened,” Casey replied. She’d sunk down in the chair, her head tilted back and her legs tucked under her. “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready to talk about anything that has to do with Derek.”

Debbie laughed, a high pitched sweet sound that made Casey smile. She looked at Debbie and sighed, “I’m not surprised he loved you. That at least makes sense.”

“Even if you didn’t know about me until three months ago?” Debbie asked with a raised eyebrow. Casey shook her head and smiled at the way her hair swayed across her face. It felt like her brain was swishing between her ears and it was kind of nice to be a swishy bottle for once. Anything would feel better than being keener Casey with a crush on her step-brother who like to lie about things like being in love with her.

“Even if Derek is a sneaky jerk who keeps secrets from me when I told him everything!” Casey said, her voice rising with each syllable. “I mean, who does that? Who doesn’t tell his step-sister about his girlfriend?”

“The guy who just confessed his love while insulting you at the same time?” Debbie offered. Casey groaned and leaned her head back again. “Listen – he’s a jerk.”

“I know that!”

“He’s a jerk but he wouldn’t say it if he didn’t mean it,” Debbie said, softly. She leaned forward and grabbed Casey’s foot, swinging it back and forth a little. “It’s okay for your boyfriend to love you.”

“Yeah but it’s not okay for your step-brother to love you,” Casey grumbled.

“But that doesn’t matter to you guys, right?” Debbie asked. She leaned back against the railing and stretched her legs out, propping her feet up against the leg of Casey’s chair.

“Of course it matters!”

“Why?”

“Because it’s Derek and we have a little brother – a biological brother – and how are we ever going to explain any of this to him? Or our parents?” Casey asked. Her chest was burning and her head was getting lighter. She probably didn’t need to smoke so much but she refused to panic. She absolutely refused. “And it’s not fair that all of this is so easy for him!”

“How do you know it’s easy?” Debbie asked.

“Because it’s Derek and it’s always easy for him. It’s always been easy for him,” Casey whined. “He’s never had to deal with stupid emotions that he worked so hard to ignore. He didn’t break every rule in the book. He doesn’t have any problem faking any of this. And you want to know the worst part?”

Debbie was staring at Casey with wide eyes but it didn’t click. None of it was clicking for Casey because her head was full of him and it was pouring out of her mouth and she didn’t even realize it.

“He kisses me like it means something – like its real! Who does he think he is? He just grabs me and it feels like I’m going to explode but its Derek! How am I supposed to trust any of it? I mean he really sounded like he actually meant it when he said it – I almost believed him. Hell – I wanted to say it back but how could I? In front of all of those people and -”

“Casey,” Debbie said, cutting Casey off. Casey slammed her mouth shut and looked at Debbie again, her cheeks getting redder and redder by the second. Debbie opened her mouth but the screen door opened loudly as Derek stepped out onto the porch. Debbie’s eyes flicked between Casey’s bright red cheeks and the intense look on Derek’s face. She tried to smile but it came out as more of a grimace. “What’s up, Der?”

“Wanted to talk to Casey,” he mumbled before frowning slightly. He bent down in front of Casey and tried to catch her eye but Casey kept looking away. For the second time that night, the thought that he had been eavesdropping flitted through her mind but she pushed it away. “Are you stoned?”

“Like it’s any of your business,” Casey snapped, turning to look at him. He was smirking and it was completely and totally insufferable. “God, you’re such a jerk.”

“I just never thought I’d see the day that Casey McDonald got stoned at a college hockey party,” Derek said. “I would say I’m impressed but it’s you – so you probably hacked up a lung and whined about it the whole time.”

“Actually, she took it like a champ,” Debbie said, pulling Derek’s attention away from Casey long enough for her to stand up.

“Hey, I wanted to talk to you,” Derek said, reaching out to grab Casey’s wrist.
Casey flinched back and shook her head. She opened her mouth to say something when Debbie spoke, “Hey, Case, since you’re up – mind grabbing me a beer?”

“No problem,” Casey replied, grateful for the chance to get away. She gave Debbie a small smile and quickly rushed into the house before Derek could stop her.

She went into the kitchen and grabbed a Jell-O shot off of the counter. She decided that she’d had enough of her brain for one night as she poured the little pink drink down her throat. Besides – it was a party, time to live a little right?

Chapter Text

Derek watched Casey disappear into the kitchen and sighed. He needed to talk to her about what had happened – how he’d kind of meant it and that he knew that she kind of wanted him to mean it. He could see it all over her face as soon as the words were out of his mouth.

Breaking up had been a bad idea. Clearly, he couldn’t do it. Instead, he spouted stupid words about love that made her clam up and shut him out. It was ridiculous. Wasn’t the girl supposed to swoon or something when you said that you loved her? Of course, Casey would be the one to do the exact opposite.

“Derek,” Debbie said, pulling him from his thoughts. “What the hell are you doing?”

“What?” Derek asked, turning to look at his ex. She was still sitting on the ground, leaning against the railing. Her eyelids were droopy but the look on her face was dead serious.

“What. The hell. Are. You doing?” Debbie asked again, stretching the question out. “You’re completely ruining whatever chance you have with her.”

“What are you talking about?” Derek snapped. He sat down where Casey had just been and rested his elbows on his knees.

“God, you must really think I’m stupid or something,” Debbie said with a laugh. She sighed and closed her eyes before continuing, “Derek, I’m saying this as your friend and someone who you used to fuck, you have got to up your game!”

“What are you talking about?” Derek asked. He didn’t want or need advice from his stoned ex. He definitely didn’t need advice from someone who had no idea what the hell she was talking about.

“You two aren’t really together – at least. Not yet,” Debbie said like it was obvious. Derek stared at her with wide eyes. There was no way that she knew that. Derek hadn’t said anything and he knew that Casey hadn’t said anything. Debbie opened her eyes and laughed at Derek’s shocked expression. “Relax – you guys are really good at pretending but I have really great hearing and Casey doesn’t whisper so well.”

“How long?” Derek asked. His throat was tight and he was way more nervous than he should be. What did it matter if Debbie knew? They were going to end it right? That was the whole game plan for tonight – he was going to dump Casey and they were going to go about their lives like none of this had happened.

Of course he’d fucked that up. Typical.

“Since the beginning?” Debbie said with a shrug.

“And you’re just mentioning it now?” Derek snapped. He stared at Debbie with wide eyes. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“Dude, you told me months ago!” Debbie snapped back.

“I did not!”

“You did so!”

“When?”

“The party - the one at Rob’s? I walked in on you two?” Debbie said, leaning forward a little with a raised eyebrow. Derek racked his brain, trying to find the moment that she was talking about. Finally he remembered wanting to reassure Debbie and them kissing and Casey catching him. Derek groaned and covered his face with both hands. “There it is! I mean, it didn’t make the slightest bit of sense at the time but I figured it out.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Derek mumbled through his hands.

“I don’t know - I thought you would remember or something,” Debbie replied with a shrug. “Whatever. I’ve been trying to help you.”

“Help me?” Derek said with a laugh. He dropped his hands and glared at Debbie. “How the fuck have you been helping me?”

“Uh - hello! I’ve been distracting Vicki for you!” she shouted.

Derek rolled his eyes and said, “Liar. You have the hots for Casey’s cousin.”

“Okay. So. Distracting her is like a side effect but that’s so not the point! I’ve been trying to give you the opening that you so desperately need, Der,” Debbie replied. She sat up straight and sighed. “Look – I don’t know why you two are putting on this whole charade. I don’t get it but I’m sure you’ve got your reasons. One thing I do know? You fucking meant it when you told her that you loved her.”

“Great, fucking great,” Derek mumbled. He rubbed his mouth with the back of his hand. He turned to look into the apartment, grimacing when he saw Casey talking to Toby. She was laughing and had a hand on his forearm. It made the hair on the back Derek’s neck stand up straight.

“Just listen to me, you need to go after her right now before you lose your shot,” Debbie hissed, pulling his attention back to her. “She’s a fucking mess over this dude.”

“And what am I supposed to do about that?” Derek replied. He leaned forward a little and clenched his hands into fists. “I mean – look at her. She looks fine to me.”

“Oh. My. God,” Debbie groaned. “Have you two always been this dense? Shit. Go back inside, Der-ek.”

“Why? What’s the point? She didn’t say it back!” Derek practically yelled. God. He had forgotten how fucking crazy Debbie drove him. She was always doing this – always pestering until he gave into whatever it was that she wanted at the time.

“To show her that you’re actually a decent guy? To be there for her when she’s out of her element? I don’t know. I’m high. Just go after her and make her believe it!” Debbie shouted. She stood up and pushed at him a little. “Go. Inside. You’re killing my buzz and she is talking to that guy too much. Go.”

“You know, you’re kind of a nightmare when you’re stoned,” Derek said as he stumbled a little. Debbie rolled her eyes and sat down in the chair that Derek had just vacated.

“I’m a fucking delight,” Debbie said with a laugh. She sighed and closed her eyes, leaning her head back. Derek sighed and looked down at his ex. He didn’t want to admit that she’d given him solid advice. Derek Venturi didn’t need advice when it came to women, right? Then again Derek Venturi didn’t shout that he loved someone in the middle of a party while trying to dump his fake girlfriend.

“Whatever, Debs,” Derek said. He shook his head and turned back to the patio door. Toby was leaning over and saying something in Casey’s ear. She had a smile on her face but it wasn’t touching her eyes. Those big blue, stupid eyes that were locked on him. “Now or never, Der.”

He reached for the door but fell back a step when Vicki stepped into view. Her hands were on her hips and she looked furious. Derek turned to look at Debbie who looked a little too pleased that her obviously pissed off would-be girlfriend was heading his way.

“Do something,” he hissed. Debbie just held up her hands and shook her head.

“You dug this grave yourself, bro,” she said with a laugh as Vicki slid the door open.

“What the fuck is wrong with you? Are you fucking stupid or something?” Vicki screamed as she stepped onto the porch, pushing Derek back against the railing. “Are you really that fucking thick?”

“Hi Vicki. Nice to see you too. Thanks - it was a team effort after all,” Derek grumbled, crossing his arms and looking away from her.

“Hey,” Vicki snapped, grabbing his chin and making him turn to look at her. “You said it to me years ago and I am going to say it to you right the fuck now - no one treats Casey that way. No one.”

“Oh fuck off, Vicki,” Derek said, yanking his chin from her hand. “You don’t fucking know what you’re talking about.”

“Yes I fucking do!” Vicki shouted, pushing at Derek again. The railing dug into his back and he looked at Vicki like she was crazy.

“Are you trying to push me off the fucking balcony?” Derek snapped.

“I’m trying to push some goddamn sense into you! Casey is the best fucking thing in your life right now and you’re fucking it up because you’re fucking scared,” Vicki hissed, her voice sounding thick and almost like she was about to cry. She wiped at her eyes violently and growled under her breath. “I can’t fucking believe you Derek Venturi. I really fucking can’t.”

He didn’t need this shit. He knew he fucked up. He got that. He didn’t need to be reminded, AGAIN, of his massive fuck up. A fuck up that he wanted to fix but Vicki was stopping him from doing just that. She stood in front of him, seething, but Derek refused to back down. He looked at Debbie, hoping that she would step in and distract Vicki so that Derek could go do what he needed.

Debbie was watching Vicki with sad eyes. There was something there that Derek didn’t understand. Something that Debbie knew that Derek didn’t. Something that made her stand up and move to Vicki, wrapping her arms around Vicki’s waist. She whispered something in Vicki’s ear before kissing her temple.

“You want to know why I left Toronto?” Vicki asked Derek suddenly. He didn’t. Not really. It was Vicki and her shit and yeah, she was Casey’s cousin but that was as far as Derek’s connection with her went. He opened his mouth to tell her that but she cut him off. “I met someone - this guy who seemed kind of fantastic. It was crazy. I mean, the closest that I ever came to a relationship was Truman and that was years ago.”

“Vicki,” Debbie started but Vicki shook her head, wrapping her hand around Debbie’s wrist.

“Look - the point is - I fell for him and I didn’t know how to handle it and he didn’t know how to handle it. Cause surprise surprise, I’m just like Case when she’s gaga for a guy. I threw my all into it - everything I had I gave to him and he threw it in my face. Two years and it was like I never even existed,” Vicki continued. She stared at Derek with her big eyes, a different color but so fucking similar to Casey’s. “So I get it. I get the freaking out and the lashing out and trying to end it before you get in too deep.”

“And how do you know that’s it?” Derek snapped. He didn’t want Vicki’s sob story and her big Casey-clone eyes. Actually, he preferred screaming and angry Vicki. He didn’t know what to do with this Vicki who was so fucking open and laying herself bare in front of him. What was he supposed to do with this?

“Come on, Derek,” Vicki said with a roll of her eyes. “I know you better than that. Just. Fix this. Don’t run away from her.”

Derek clenched his jaw and looked away from the two of them. He wanted to fix it. He was going to fix it before they got in his way. He didn’t know how he was going to make Casey believe him but he would figure it out - figure her out. He had always been good at that.

“I’m going inside,” Derek said softly. He turned back to Debbie and Vicki with raised eyebrows. “Unless you two want to lecture me some more?”

Vicki held her hands up and turned to Debbie, pressing her face into Debbie’s neck. Debbie smoothed down Vicki’s hair and glared at Derek. Derek held his hands up with his eyebrows raised. He didn’t do anything. He didn’t make Vicki confess her stupid story. He didn’t make Vicki upset or anything. He refused to believe that he was in the wrong here.

He stepped around the couple and reached for the door. Casey was still talking to Toby, still had a smile on her face. It looked more forced than earlier but that didn’t matter because it was still on her face. He knew that Casey didn’t like Toby. Hell, no one really liked Toby. But the fact that she was tolerating him bugged Derek. He tried to shake the irritation off but it still clung to him.

“Derek,” Vicki said, touching his shoulder. He half turned to her with an eyebrow raised. “You break her heart and I’ll beat the shit out of you.”

Derek rolled his eyes and turned to open the door, walking back into the party. Of fucking course, he was immediately stopped by Emily and Sam. They both had their arms crossed and were frowning. Derek groaned and rubbed his face with both hands. He did not feel like dealing with this. He had things to do – keeners to win over. Debbie had already given him the speech, he didn’t need to hear it for the third fucking time that night from these two.

“Bro,” Sam started before bursting into laughter. He stepped forward and wrapped Derek in a hug. “You are a fucking mess.”

Derek sighed and patted Sam on the back, muttering, “Thanks, Sammy. Really insightful.”

Sam pulled away with a smile and patted Derek’s cheek. Derek peeked over Sam’s shoulder and groaned slightly. Casey’s attention was entirely on Toby and she was laughing. He couldn’t see Toby’s face but he was sure that the fuck was smug as hell.

“Do you really love her?” Emily asked, pulling Derek back to the two people in front of him. Her eyes were wide and her mouth was a thin line. He’d never seen Emily look so serious – she wasn’t even this serious when they’d broken up.

Derek licked his lips and swallowed the lump in his throat. He’d yelled it out loud – announced it to the whole party but he didn’t know if he was ready to tell Em. And if he wasn’t ready to tell Em then how in the world was he supposed to be ready to tell Casey?

“Yeah,” he croaked. He coughed, clearing his throat and repeated himself, waiting for Emily’s reaction.

She licked her lips and nodded before punching him in the chest. Derek gasped and pressed a hand to where she had hit him. It didn’t hurt but it definitely had caught him off guard.

“What the fuck, Em?” Derek snapped. He peeked around her shoulder again and sighed in relief that Rob had joined Casey and Toby’s duo. He had that stupid grin on his face that he always got when talking about his girlfriend.

“You’re a fucking moron,” she hissed. She stepped closer to him and snapped her fingers so that his attention was back on her. “What the hell did you think that little display was going to accomplish? And the whole breaking up thing? What the fuck was that?”

“Whoa – breaking up? Is that what that was supposed to be?” Sam asked. He looked between Emily and Derek and sighed. “I’m so out of the loop on this.”

“I wasn’t thinking,” Derek said through clenched teeth. “Look, I want to fix it but I can’t do that if you’re giving me a lecture, Em.”

“You seriously think you can fix it tonight?” Emily asked with a scoff. She shook her head and turned to Sam as if he had some answer to Derek’s behavior.

“Hey, don’t look at me. I didn’t raise him,” Sam said with a shrug. He looked over his shoulder at Casey before turning back to them. “Whatever you have planned, dude, it better be good because she’s heading this way.”

“If only I had a plan,” Derek muttered under his breath as Rob and Casey joined them.

“Derek! Look who I found sulking in the kitchen with the prince of doom and gloom,” Rob announced, with an arm around Casey’s shoulders. She gave Rob a tight smile and did a damn good job at avoiding Derek’s eye.

“Since when am I the prince of doom and gloom?” Toby asked, following the two of them and holding two drinks in his hands. He handed one to Casey and smiled softly at her. “I thought I was the resident asshole of the team.”

“Pretty sure that would be Derek,” Casey muttered before sipping her drink. She looked at him over the rim of her solo cup and raised an eyebrow. She was smirking and for a split second Derek thought she might have moved past that little scene that they had caused. Maybe tonight wasn’t going to be a total disaster.

“Bro, I’m pretty sure you’ll be sleeping in your own apartment for the next few weeks,” Rob said with an awkward laugh.

“What in the world would give you that impression, Rob?” Casey asked, giving him an innocent look. She pulled away from his arm and swayed just the slightest bit. Derek raised an eyebrow and looked at Emily who was frowning at Casey.

Sam smiled and plucked the cup from Casey’s hand, ignoring her protests. He took a long gulp, clearly draining most of the cup, before handing it back to her and said, “What? I was thirsty and I don’t want to share germs with Toby.”

“And what’s wrong with my germs?” Toby asked. “I’m hygienic.”

“I mean, resident assholes implies otherwise,” Sam said with a big smile.

“It’s totally possible to have a clean asshole,” Casey said before bursting out laughing. Derek smirked and bit his bottom lip. She was so fucking cute when she was tipsy.

“I’m going to take that as Casey McDonald actually defending me,” Toby said with a laugh.

“That was not me defending you,” Casey said, turning to Toby. She scrunched up her nose and shook her head, smiling softly. There was a sparkle in her eye that made Derek’s chest clench. Why was she giving Toby sparkle-eyed smiles? She didn’t like Toby. She’d never liked Toby. Toby was not worthy of sparkle-eyed smiles.

“I’m pretty sure that was you defending me. Drunken defense is still defense,” Toby said softly. He smiled down at Casey and Derek was 95% sure that her cheeks started to turn pink. That specific shade of pink that had been solely because of him the past three months. That specific shade of pink that he loved. That specific shade that he definitely did not want Toby to be the cause of.

“Sure you even know what defense is, Tobes?” Derek muttered, turning away from the two of them. It was probably stupid mouthing off like this. It was definitely stupid but he couldn’t stop himself. Not when Casey was all flirty with her blue eyeshadow and pink cheeks and tiny hand reaching out for Toby’s forearm. “Sure didn’t seem like it tonight.”

Rob clapped Derek on the back, gripping his shoulder tightly, and chuckled, “Oh, Derek. Always with the jokes.”

“Too bad they aren’t very funny,” Toby replied finally turning away from Casey. “If I remember it correctly, I wasn’t the one who was getting into fights with the other team, captain.”
Derek sucked on his teeth and turned to Toby slowly.

“Come on, guys,” Sam said, stepping between them with a nervous smile plastered across his face. “Parties are supposed to be fun, right?”

“You know, Tobes, one day your little hissy fits over not being captain are going to get really boring,” Derek said. He ignored Sam and the look that Casey was giving him and Rob’s hand on the back of his neck. His blood was boiling. He’d really had enough of Toby for one night.

“Yeah and one day you’re actually going to prove to me that you actually deserve all the shit that you get,” Toby replied, taking a step away from Casey. “You’re team captain. You’re popular. You have a pretty killer girlfriend. But have you earned any of it, Derek?”

“Toby, man, come on,” Rob said softly, taking a step in front of Derek. He was frowning and his eyes kept flicking to Casey.

“No, it’s fine Rob. If Toby wants to be a jealous prick instead of going out there and actually getting something for himself then that’s fine,” Derek said with a bright smile. “I mean, can we really expect anything else from him? Whining is all Toby seems to be good for anymore.”

Derek should have expected the fist. He really, really should have but of course he was too busy mouthing off. He was too busy trying to get Casey’s attention in the worst way possible. He was too busy being Derek the Almighty to know that he might have crossed the line.

“What the fuck Toby!” Casey shouted but Derek could barely hear her over the pounding blood in his ears. Derek moved his jaw back and forth - at least it wasn’t broken. Then again, it was Toby, the kid liked to fight but that didn’t mean he was any good at it.

Derek spun around, fist swinging at Toby, before he could think about it. Casey shrieked when Derek’s fist connected with Toby’s nose, breaking through his rage. He stared at Toby with wide eyes, his fist still clenched and throbbing. There was blood. A lot of blood. But through it Derek could see Toby start to smile.

He looked at Casey, knowing that his eyes were probably just as wide as her blue ones. He licked his lips and said her name, barely above a whisper, “Casey.”

“About fucking time,” Toby murmured before he threw himself at Derek, knocking the wind out of him. Derek barely had enough time to throw his arms up as he hit the ground, trying to block Toby’s sloppy punches.

This is not how he had planned on this night going.

“Toby stop it!” Emily yelled from somewhere above them. “Sam do something!”

“What?” Sam snapped.

Derek groaned when one of Toby’s punches slipped past his poor defense. Toby’s triumphant laugh was enough motivation for Derek to surge forward, knocking Toby back. Derek stumbled to his feet for a second before throwing himself down on Toby, grabbing his teammate by the shoulder with one hand and trying to punch him with the other. Toby had enough sense to turn his head away at the last second and Derek smashed his hand into the ground.

“God-fucking-dammit!” Derek screamed, grabbing his throbbing fist with his other hand and clutching it to his chest. Toby smirked a little too broadly at that and Derek quickly forgot that he’d probably broken at least one knuckle before punching Toby again. The splash of red the spilled from Toby’s lip and across Sam’s floor gave Derek a serious rush of masculine satisfaction.

“Der-ek!” Casey screamed again, breaking through the haze.

Derek looked up at her with wide eyes, shouting, “What, Casey?”

“Stop. It,” she replied through clenched teeth.

“Are you fucking kidding me, right now?” Derek snapped. He looked down at Toby’s dazed face before pushing himself up and marching over to her. “You can’t seriously blame me for this, can you?”

“I am not talking to you about this when you have someone else’s blood on your hands,” she replied quickly. Her words were clear and sharp, nothing like the rosy cheeked tipsy Casey from a few minutes ago. Now her cheeks were a violent shade of red and for the first time in a long time, Derek didn’t find it drop-dead sexy. In fact, he found it kind of terrifying, if not totally infuriating. He was not the bad guy here. For once, he was the victim.

“You’re a fucking piece of work, you know that?” he snapped. He clenched his fist and hissed when pain shot through his arm. He looked down at his knuckles and saw more blood than there should have been considering how small the cut on Toby’s lip actually was. Pulling his hand up, he inspected it and noticed the gaping cut on his knuckle. Fucking buck-toothed fucker. “Fuck.”

“Give me your hand,” Casey said softly. Derek looked at her through narrowed eyes and clutched his hand to his chest, turning away slightly. Casey rolled her eyes and reached out towards him but Derek flinched backwards. “I’m not going to hurt you, Der-ek!”

“How am I supposed to know that?” Derek replied with a petulant pout. Casey rolled her eyes and waited patiently for Derek to give her his hand, which of course he did. She looked at it with a worried pout, sucking her bottom lip into her mouth and making his dick jump in his pants – an absurdly inappropriate response.

“Come on, I’ll clean this up for you,” Casey mumbled, not taking her eyes off of his hand.

“Alright,” Derek replied with a shrug. He turned to look at Sam but he was kneeling next to Toby, snapping his fingers in his face. “Is he going to be alright?”

“Do you care?” Casey snapped.

“He should be fine,” Sam replied over Casey. “I mean, you did kick his ass but he’ll be okay.”

“I guess that’s a good thing,” Derek mumbled.

“Definitely a good thing, I mean, could you imagine Coach’s face when you explain this one? I mean, it’s bad enough that you got into a fight - but with a teammate?” Rob said with an awkward laugh. He stepped over Toby’s prone form and patted Derek on the back. “Are you okay, dude?”

“Yeah, of course,” Derek replied with a pathetic attempt at a smile. He hadn’t thought about their coach. At all. They were already going to have a meeting about the fight on the ice. That had been bad. But a fight with a teammate? Derek might as well kiss that captain’s armband good bye. “Nurse Casey is going to patch me up and I’ll be good as new.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about, bro,” Rob said, seeming way more serious than the situation called for. “It’s not like you to start fights, man. You got me worried.”

“I’m fine, Rob,” Derek repeated. He looked at Casey briefly before turning back to Rob with a tired sigh. “It’s just been a . . . long weekend.”

“Right,” Rob said not entirely convinced. Rob looked at Casey and squeezed the back of Derek’s neck. “You’ll sort him out, right Case?”

“Of course,” Casey said and Derek could hear a tiny bit of softness in her voice that he had not been expecting. “I always do.”

“Not always,” Derek muttered with a pout. Casey rolled her eyes and turned away from him, leading him through the throng of people to the bathroom. They had gathered a little crowd during his. . . fight, if you wanted to call it that, with Toby but for the most part people seemed to have ignored them. Hockey players just being hockey players and all of that stupid bullshit. Derek just hoped that he could still hold a hockey stick after this.

Sam’s bathroom was small with barely even any room for Derek’s long legs as he sat on the toilet. Casey shut the door behind him and leaned back, sighing. She crossed her arms and stared at him with sullen eyes. Derek tried to keep eye contact, tried not to back down, but the utter distaste he saw there made him shrink back like the coward that he actually was.

“You’re an idiot,” Casey muttered. “I don’t even know why I bother with you.”

“Because I’m charming and sexy and you can’t get enough of me?” Derek asked with a hopeful smile. Casey scowled and stood up straighter.

“God, you are so full of yourself! You don’t even care that you just beat up one of your teammates, do you?” Casey asked. “What kind of captain does that make you?”

“Hey, Toby hit me first!” Derek snapped. “Are you seriously going to give me shit for defending myself?”

“That was not self-defense, Der-ek! That was you being an egotistical jerk,” Casey said. She took a step towards him, dropping her arms and balling her hands into fists. “Not everyone has to like you or like that you’re captain of the team. That doesn’t give you the right to antagonize someone until they hit you and then play the victim!”

“Play the victim? You think that was just so I could play the victim?” Derek shouted back, standing up. “Derek Venturi is not a victim.”

“Then what was that, huh? Some stupid male pissing contest? Let’s see who has bigger balls or something equally dumb and male?” Casey screamed.

“He was being an ass!”

“He was being Toby! Toby is an ass. He’s always an ass! What made it any different this time?”

“He was HITTING ON YOU!”

Casey stepped back, her mouth slamming shut. Derek was panting and he felt like such a fucking idiot. He was an idiot. The look on her face told him that he was a fucking idiot.

“We’re not together, Derek,” Casey said softly but she didn’t sound convinced.

“But they don’t know that,” Derek replied, gesturing towards the bathroom door and the rest of the party. They didn’t know. But he did and she did and he should have just kept his fucking mouth shut.

“That’s so not the point,” Casey replied with a shake of her head and a bitter chuckle.

“Then what is the point?” Derek snapped. He squeezed his hands into fists and flinched slightly when pain shot through his arm.

“Dammit, Derek,” Casey hissed. She grabbed his wrist and pulled at him until he had his hand in the sink. “Let me fix this for you.”

“Whatever,” Derek said with a frown. He was still mad and so was she. He knew her well enough to see the sharp line of her shoulders and the way her jaw was clenched. She was fucking fuming but she was too good of a person to not take care of him. That’s who Casey McDonald was and he fucking loved her for it.

She frowned a little as she gently washed the blood off of his knuckles. Her fingers were gentler than he thought they would be considering how mad she was. He flinched slightly when her nail scraped against a piece of loose skin. Casey stopped instantly and looked up at him with wide eyes. She opened her mouth, getting ready to say something when Derek blurted, “I’m sorry . . . I’m . . . sorry about tonight. It shouldn’t have – it shouldn’t have gone that way and I just.”

“Derek – what are you talking about? We agreed to the breakup,” Casey said, her voice even but her grip on his wrist tightened slightly.

“I know! I know that but I didn’t . . . I don’t . . . maybe I don’t like seeing you all hurt and shit.”

Casey snorted and rolled her eyes, dropping his hand to crouch down and look through the cabinets for a first-aid kit or something. Derek could barely hear her with her head in the cabinet under the sink when she said, “And since when do you care about whether or not I’m hurt?”

“Really? Come on, Casey. I’m too tired to play this game,” Derek said with a sigh as he sat back down on the toilet. He looked at his hand and grimaced. It wasn’t bleeding anymore but it wasn’t pretty. He could just imagine how terrible a glove was going to feel over it.

“What game, Der-ek? We’ve been over this a thousand times – it’s not real,” she said, her voice the same even tone. He hated it.

“The way your face crumbled sure looked real,” he muttered under his breath, staring at his hand.

“I’m a phenomenal actress.”

“Whatever you say, Spacey . . . look, there’s something else,” he said, finally looking down at her. If only she would take her stupid head out of the stupid cabinet so he could at least see her face, so he could try to gauge what she was feeling.

“What?” she asked as she stood up. She kept her eyes down as she took his hand, letting her hair fall in front of her face. She rubbed antibacterial ointment on it and bit her lip when he started to bleed again.

“About what I said,” he said. His heart was racing but it was now or never right? Though part of him desperately wanted to cling to never and run wild with it.

“What you said?” she asked, reaching back under the sink for bandages. He grit his teeth. Of course she’d act like she didn’t know what he was talking about. Was it so hard to ask the universe to let him fall for someone who would be easy to deal with? Was that asking too much?

“Yeah – what I said,” Derek repeated, feeling some of his courage fade.

Casey stood up and took his hand again, starting to wrap his knuckles with gauze. Derek licked his lips and kept his eyes on the way her fingers held the gauze in place. She’d painted her nails – a bright red that clashed with the rest of her outfit and was distinctly not Casey. Derek wondered if Vicki had prompted her to do it. It looked like a Vicki color. Casey tucked the loose end of the gauze and patted his hand gently, “Alright – that should be okay until we get back to the hotel.”

Derek looked up at her with wide eyes, “You’re coming back to the hotel with me?”

“Well, I was going to give you a ride, yeah,” Casey mumbled. She kept eye contact with him for a minute before turning away and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “I’m staying at the house with the family.”

“Oh,” Derek said, feeling himself deflate a little. He stood up, crowding her space a little but it was a small bathroom. Besides, crowding her space seemed to be the only way to get her to actually talk to him anymore. She could always run away when they were on campus or in one of their apartments but at least when they were in a tiny space where he could feel the heat coming off of her she couldn’t totally ignore him.

“But you were saying something – about what you said out there?” Casey asked, keeping her eyes firmly planted on his chest.

“Right,” Derek said, his voice barely above a whisper. Casey dragged her eyes up his torso and looked at him. Derek was probably insane – driven there by his favorite step-sister, of course – but he thought he saw something there. He thought he saw something that kind of, in his deluded mind, looked like hope.

If there was a rational side of Derek, he had vacated the building because before he knew it, he was leaning forward. His lips touched hers and he swore that she sighed into his mouth before grabbing the collar of his shirt and pulling him closer. He grabbed the back of her neck with his good hand and pushed her back until her ass hit the sink.

God, if only he could get her to see how he felt just by kissing her. He knew that if she would just feel it – if she would just let him show her – then she would know and he wouldn’t have to say a word. Derek was so much better at doing – at showing, than at using words. He could barely tell her that he tolerated her without it coming out as some sarcastic remark that always made her huff and stomp away. How was he supposed to tell her that he loved her?

She whimpered slightly when he sucked her bottom lip into his mouth, running his tongue back and forth across it. She had that stupid mango lip gloss on again. It was still sickly sweet and he still fucking loved it.

Casey pulled her mouth away from his for a second, a second too long to be honest, to catch her breath before leaning in and kissing him again. Some of the urgency left her mouth and she kissed him slowly, sweetly. Derek wanted to say that he liked this better. She’d never savored his kisses before. She kept dragging her lips back and forth against his mouth before giving him teasing little pecks. It was driving him crazy.

Derek tightened his grip on the back of her neck and pulled her against him tighter, pressing his mouth to hers fully. She whimpered again and her hands flexed against his shirt. He raised his bandaged hand and touched a finger to her cheek, lessening the pressure on her mouth. She moved towards his hand as he dragged his finger down her cheek, her neck, her chest. He brushed the back of his knuckles against the underside of her breast and leaned back slightly.

Her cheeks were flushed and her mouth was hanging slightly open. Her eyes opened slowly, almost as if she didn’t want to open them at all. He stared at her, trying to take it all in. Her eyes were cloudy – the blue morphing into a hazy gray that he only ever saw after kissing her. The tip of her tongue darted out to wet her lips and Derek couldn’t help the smirk that slipped onto his face. She was fucking gorgeous.

“About what I said,” he started again. His voice was raspy and low but he didn’t think he could say this any louder. He was pretty sure that if he did then the world would crumble around them. It was the only logical result of telling Casey McDonald that Derek Venturi was in love with her that he could think of.

“I don’t care,” she replied quickly, shaking her head. She pulled at his shirt and leaned up to brush her lips against his mouth again. He could feel every syllable against his mouth as she said, “I don’t care. Just. Just kiss me.”

“Casey,” he said, leaning back again. Her eyes were heavy and whatever glimmer of hope that he thought he saw was totally gone. He didn’t know what he was looking at anymore. “I just . . . I want to explain.”

“There’s nothing to explain,” she said before kissing him again. He hand slid from the back to her neck to her upper back, pulling her closer.

Sighing, Derek pulled away again, “There is, though.”

“Derek,” she said, the threat of a whine in her voice. “I’m kissing you. You’re kissing me. Are you really going to try and ruin this right now?”

“I’m not trying to ruin anything,” Derek said. “I’m trying to tell you something.”

“It was an act, I know,” she snapped, closing her eyes and pulling away. “You don’t need to explain.”

“Casey,” he started but was cut off by the door opening.

“Casey!” a perky red head shouted, throwing herself into the bathroom.

“Becca, babe, come on,” Rob said, following behind her. His voice was irritated but the fond smile that he had on his face said otherwise. “I told you they were having a private moment.”

“Um, I’m sorry but he just cussed her out in front of a room full of people,” Becca said with a frown. She smacked at Derek’s shoulder and pushed him out of the way. “He doesn’t deserve private moments right now.”

“Come on, Becca,” Rob pleaded, reaching for her arm. “I told you that I’d introduce you later. Now is so not the time.”

“Now is definitely the time,” Becca snapped, pulling away from Rob and pushing herself even more into the tiny bathroom. “Don’t think I didn’t notice the way no one stood up for her - you included Robert. She needs a friend.”

“Full names? Really?” Rob said. He rubbed at his face and crossed his arms, leaning against the doorframe.

Becca rolled her eyes and turned to Casey, saying fiercely, “I would have beaten the shit out of him if I could have gotten there fast enough. No one should talk to their girlfriend like that. No one.”

“Babe,” Rob groaned, leaning against the bathroom door frame. He gave Derek an apologetic smile and shrugged. “Hey man. You know Becks.”

“Yeah,” Derek mumbled. “I know Becks.”

“Well, I don’t know Becks,” Casey said with an awkward smile. She ignored the desperate look that Derek shot her way and held her hand out. “I’m Casey – Derek’s girlfriend.”

“Becca – Rob’s better half,” Becca said with a laugh, grabbing Casey’s hand before pulling her into a hug. “I am so happy that I finally get to meet you. Rob has told me so much!”

“All good things, I hope,” Casey murmured. She held onto Becca for a few minutes – longer than a first meeting hug. Derek felt a wave of guilt wash over him. Casey was a hugger but this was different. Derek could see it. This was a desperate hug – this was a hold me together hug – and it was Derek’s fault.

“Definitely good things,” Becca replied, shooting daggers at Derek. “I mean, anyone who could turn Derek around is good in my book. Even if it looks like it was temporary.”

“Come on, Becks,” Derek said, rolling his eyes.

Becca stepped away from Casey and poked Derek in the chest. Rob sighed and covered his face. Derek held both of his hands up in surrender, not entirely sure what it was that he was surrendering to.

“You’re a jerk, Derek Venturi,” Becca snapped. Derek sighed and rubbed his good hand over his face. “You finally get a girlfriend who is decent and what do you do? You pick a fight with her at a party in front of the whole team and then – and then! You get punched in the face by your own teammate!”

“Hey! Debbie was decent!” Derek pointed out in a desperate attempt to defend himself.

“Oh please, you and Debbie were great,” Becca said with a roll of her eyes. “Breaking up constantly and fighting and doing that stupid ‘friends with benefits’ thing but come on. Casey is the real deal and I can’t believe no one at Queen’s is brave enough to actually say anything to your face!”

“Becca,” Casey said, touching her shoulder lightly. Derek looked at Casey. Her eyes were wide and for the millionth time that night, he realized that he had no idea what she was thinking. “It’s fine. We’re . . . we’re okay.”

“I don’t know,” Becca replied, not looking away from Derek.

“Come on, you just met me,” Casey said with a laugh. “You’re not even at Queen’s, so you don’t know.”

“I know what Rob tells me and I know Derek,” Becca said with a pout. She looked at Rob who just shook his head. “What?”

“I told you not to say anything,” Rob muttered.

“And when have I ever listened to you?” Becca asked with a laugh.

“You don’t see them,” Rob said, a small smile creeping onto his face. “They’re sweet. I promise.”

“Well what I saw wasn’t sweet,” Becca said with a pout. She turned her big brown eyes to Casey. “Are you sweet?”

Casey’s eyes grew to twice the size they normally would as Becca stared at her. She looked between Derek and Becca. It was clear to Derek that she was at a total loss for what to do. Derek frowned and turned away from the two of them, glaring daggers at Rob. Rob just shrugged and smiled brightly, “It’s why I love her.”

“Yeah,” Derek muttered before pushing past Rob. He knew what Casey would say - he definitely knew what she would say after the disaster of a breakup and his little fight with Toby. They weren’t sweet. They had never been sweet. If Rob thought they were sweet then it was definitely just because Derek was a fantastic liar.

The party was winding down and Derek couldn’t help but be disappointed that he’d missed most of it with all of the stupid drama that had happened. Most of the team was gone, leaving nothing but University of Western kids. They all kept a clear distance from him and it made sense. Why would anyone who didn’t know him want to spend time with the guy who made his girlfriend cry and got into a fight with a teammate within the span of an hour.

“Well,” Sam said as he walked up to him, draping an arm across his shoulders. “If any of my friends liked you before, they definitely don’t now.”

“I wasn’t that bad,” Derek said with a roll of his eyes.

“Dude, I can see it on your face. You know you were that bad,” Sam said with a laugh. Derek shrugged Sam’s arm off of him and started towards the kitchen. He needed a shot. Or three. “Oh come on! Don’t be that way.”

“Be what way?” Derek asked, trying to play the innocent card.

“A colossal ass,” Sam said like it was obvious. “I mean - the fight with Casey and then the fight with Toby . . . after beating Western’s hockey team? Not exactly the best way of making friends.”

“I’m Derek Venturi. Since when do I need friends? Especially friends that are hours away at a totally different school?” Derek asked as he inspected a bottle of vodka. It was cheap which meant it was probably gross but beggars couldn’t be choosers, right?

“You wound me, D. You wound me,” Sam said, pressing his hand to his chest. He leaned against the counter next to Derek with his arms crossed. He had that stupid ‘I’m analyzing you and about to say something insightful that you don’t want to hear’ face. Derek hated that face. “I think she loves you too.”

“Don’t.”

“I think she does but the whole you being Derek and her being Casey thing is freaking her out,” Sam continued. He watched Derek take a shot before taking the bottle from him. “And drinking isn’t going to wash away the memory, bro. You told her you were in love with her. Deal with it.”

“I have dealt with it!” Derek snapped, reaching for the bottle. Sam held it above his head and leaned back a little. “Samuel Richards.”

“Hiding in the kitchen taking shots is not dealing with it,” Sam said. He put a hand on Derek’s chest and pushed him back slightly with a raised eyebrow.

“She doesn’t believe me, Sam,” Derek said with a sigh. He pulled himself up on the counter and rested the back of his head against the cabinets. “I said it and I know she doesn’t believe me.”

“Did you tell her that you meant it?” Sam asked. He copied Derek and sat on the counter as well.

“And when was I supposed to do that?” Derek asked. He closed his eyes and tried to stay calm. Everything seemed like a total fucking disaster but that didn’t mean he couldn’t salvage it, right? “I don’t think she wanted to hear any of what I had to say on the matter.”

“So you didn’t tell her and you didn’t try,” Sam said. He shook his head and stared straight ahead for a minute before laughing and turning towards Derek. “How have you ever gotten a girlfriend ever?”

“Hey man, I never said that I didn’t try,” Derek snapped. He pouted and rubbed at a spot on the counter. “I mean, it’s not easy telling someone you love them when they think you’re nothing but a liar.”

“She doesn’t think that,” Sam said with a sigh. “I mean, it’s Casey. She knows you better than that.”

“Whatever, Sam,” Derek replied. “I just want to try and forget that this whole night even happened.”

“Tough luck because I am never letting you live this one down,” Sam said before clapping Derek on the back and hopping off of the counter.

“What exactly is there to live down? Pretty sure I made enough of an ass of myself,” Derek said.

“Um shouting that you’re in love with your stepsister in front of a huge crowd of people and then getting into the most pathetic fight I’ve ever seen definitely falls into the category of things you can never live down,” Sam said in a huge rush. Derek stared at him with wide eyes, trying to wrap his head around what it was that Sam said. “Dude - just know in like ten years after you and Casey have gotten your shit together and are nicely settled I’ll be there with this memory.”

“You’re a jackass, Samuel Richards,” Derek said.

“And I’m your best friend!” Sam said with a large smile. “And what do best friends do when hearts have been stomped?”

“I don’t know,” Derek replied, a small smile creeping onto his own face. “Act like a jerk and kick me while I’m down?”

“Yeah, I did that already but what do best friends do post-kicking?” Sam said, looking at Derek expectantly. When Derek didn’t answer, Sam groaned and covered his eyes with one hand. “I’ll get you massively stoned. I get you stoned, Derek. God. We’ve been friends how long?”

“I knew that one,” Derek said quickly. “I just wanted to know if you knew.”

“You’re so full of it,” Sam shouted over his shoulder as he left the kitchen.

Derek sighed and closed his eyes again. This night had definitely gotten away from him but that didn’t make a difference. He could still save the day. He knew that he could. He just needed to find the right words and explain to Casey what had happened - how he felt.

“Derek,” Casey said, scaring the shit out of Derek. He jumped slightly and bumped the back of his head against the cabinet again. Casey smirked and had the decency to not laugh out loud at him. “Sorry.”

“It’s just a few more brain cells down the drain,” Derek grumbled. “Not like I need them or anything.”

“I don’t think you can afford to lose anymore, to be honest,” Casey replied with a small laugh. Her cheeks were pink and Derek didn’t know if that meant she wasn’t mad at him anymore or if Becca slipped her another drink or two. “Listen. I wanted to talk to you.”

“Yeah?” Derek replied. He didn’t like conversations that started that way. They usually didn’t go in his favor. Ever.

“About tonight,” Casey said. She licked her lips and gave him a tight-lipped smile - the one that she used when she was trying to keep her emotions in check.

“I’m sorry about that,” he said again, hoping that she believed him this time.

“Not about that,” Casey said with a shake of her head. She bit her bottom lip and looked down at her hands. “Just - this night. It’s made some things painstakingly clear to me.”

Derek’s heart was pounding. Maybe she got it. Maybe that moment (and it was definitely a moment - no one can tell him otherwise) actually sunk in and she fucking got it.

“Yeah?” Derek asked, his voice barely above a whisper.

“I can’t do this anymore,” she said slowly. “It’s over. I’m done.”

Derek stared at her with wide eyes at a total loss for words. She was dumping him. In a kitchen. At a house party. In fucking London.

“What?”

“I’m done, Derek,” Casey said with a shrug. He guessed she was trying to be nonchalant but he could see the slight tremor in her bottom lip. This wasn’t as easy as she wanted it to be. So why bother doing it at all?

“But - but Vicki,” Derek stammered. It was a half ass excuse but it was all he had left without screaming in her face that he fucking loved her.

“After the show we put on she won’t be surprised,” Casey said. “Thank you though.”

“Thank you?”

“For putting up with this for so long,” Casey said with a small laugh that sounded painful. “For basically helping me save face in front of Vicki. You didn’t have to and I appreciate it.”

“Right,” Derek said. He cleared his throat and leaned back against the cabinets. “What are brothers for, right?”

“Right,” Casey said. Derek tried to ignore the way that his heart clenched when she didn’t correct him. “I’m gonna go home. Do you still need a ride?”

“What?”

“A ride back to the hotel?”

“Oh - no,” Derek mumbled. Casey stared at Derek for a minute too long, making him shift under her big, blue eyes. He wished that he could come up with some sort of sarcastic remark. Anything to make her not look at him like that. “What?”

“Are you okay?”

“Fine. Drunk. Probably,” Derek said. Casey sighed, accepting his answer at face value. “I guess I’ll see you at school, yeah?”

“I don’t know,” Casey said with a shake of her head. “It would probably be best if we didn’t see each other for a while. You know. Really sell it that we’ve broken up.”

“Right.”

“Okay.”

“Well, guess I’ll see you when I see you then,” Derek said, trying to smirk but knowing that it was an epic failure.

“Yeah. Be safe, Derek,” Casey muttered before turning and walking out of the kitchen.

“Always am,” Derek called after her. He stared at the entrance to the kitchen for a minute, trying to process everything that had happened in the last 24 hours. How the hell had he managed to ruin everything so perfectly? How the hell had it all gone to shit?

Fuck.

Chapter Text

“What did you do!” Marti screamed as soon as she barged through his hotel room door with Lizzie following behind her. Derek groaned and covered his head with a pillow. His head was pounding and there was no way in hell that it was later than nine in the morning. On a fucking Sunday. “Get up and tell me what you did!”

“Why are you here?” Derek grumbled into the pillow. At least Rob stayed with Becca tonight and his crazy little sister wasn’t waking up someone other than him.

“Because you fucked up!” Marti screamed.

God. Why was she screaming? Why was anything happening? He should be allowed to sleep until Coach came down the hall banging on doors.

“Language,” Lizzie said. Derek felt the weight of someone sit on the edge of the bed and then someone was pulling at his leg hairs.

“What the fuck!” Derek shouted as he pulled his legs deeper under the covers. “Go away.”

“No!” Marti yelled before jumping on his back and yanking the pillow from off of his head. “Tell me what you did!”

Derek growled and rolled over, knocking Marti off of him. Liz was staring at him with that stupid penetrating glare that Derek was now convinced was just a McDonald trait. He didn’t back down, though. His head was pounding and he was pretty sure he was going to puke before the morning was over but he wasn’t fucking backing down. He’d already backed down from one McDonald in the last twenty-four hours. He’d be damned if he did it twice.

“She was crying when she got home,” Liz said softly. “She was crying and she wouldn’t tell us what happened.”

“So what? You decided to ambush me?” Derek snapped.

“You weren’t answering your phone,” Liz replied like it was obvious.

“Cause I was asleep!” Derek shouted and then winced when pain flared behind his eyes. He was never drinking again. Ever. “You both know I don’t wake up before eleven on weekends.”

“She was crying,” Liz repeated like that would explain anything to him. She dumped him. What right did she have to run home crying? What right did she have to make him the bad guy in all of this?

“I didn’t DO anything!” Derek shouted, ignoring the flaring pain this time around. “For fucking once, I didn’t do a damn thing. Not that it’s any of your business.”

“She’s my sister - she’s our sister,” Liz said through clenched teeth. “Of course it’s my business when she comes home sobbing.”

“Derek,” Marti said, sounding more serious than any ten year old should be. “What happened? I thought . . . I thought you guys were going to finally get it right.”

“Yeah, well, per usual we didn’t,” Derek grumbled. He sighed and laid back down on the bed, covering his eyes with his arm. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Tell us!” Marti shouted.

“Stop yelling at me!” Derek shouted back. He sat up and glared at his little sister. “How did you even get here? Neither of you drive.”

“Edwin drove,” Liz said like it should have been obvious.

“And where is my traitorous brother?” Derek asked, knowing that he sounded like something from Game of Thrones.

“In the hallway, where it’s safe,” Ed shouted through the door. “I told them this was a bad idea.”

“How much did they pay you Ed?” Derek asked, rolling his eyes.

“Twenty bucks,” Liz said with a smirk. “He’s cheaper than a cab.”

“And how did you guys get into my room without a key?” Derek asked.

“Rob,” Liz answered, again sounding like it should be obvious.

“Rob?”

“He came by the house to give Casey the room key. Should have seen the look George gave him,” Liz said with a laugh. Derek groaned. Perfect.

“What happened?” Ed yelled from the hallway again.

“Edwin stop being a coward and come in,” Liz snapped, turning towards the door. She rolled her eyes when Ed creeped in with a sheepish smile on his face.

“Self-preservation is not a sign of cowardice. It’s a sign of intelligence,” Ed said with a sniff, turning his nose up in the air. Liz rolled her eyes and shook her head. There really was no hope of his little brother ever being any semblance of cool.

“Chicken shit,” Marti grumbled.

“Language,” Liz muttered before turning back to Derek. “What happened?”

“She dumped me,” Derek muttered. The kids looked at him with wide eyes and the silence of the room was deafening. “What?”

“There’s more to it,” Ed said with a furrowed brow.

“Why? Why does there have to be more?” Derek groaned.

“Because you didn’t see her,” Ed said with a shake of his head. “This was, like, Truman level tears.”

“Truman level, huh?” Derek said quietly, looking down at the dingy hotel comforter. His stomach clenched up and he was sure that he was going to be sick. The part of him that was still in denial that this was his life said it was just because he was hungover. Maybe if he clung to that he could believe it. Because Derek wasn’t supposed to make her cry like that - no one was supposed to make her cry like that.

“Did you guys fight?” Marti asked, scooting closer to Derek. “Is that what happened?”

“Of course we fought,” Derek said with a snort. “It’s what we do best.”

“Derek,” Liz said. He looked up at her and saw more compassion there than he thought he would get. “What happened with the break up plan?”

“I fucked it,” Derek said. “Another thing I’m really good at doing - fucking up pretty simple, straight forward plans.”

“Simple plans like pretending to date the step-sister you supposedly can’t stand?” Edwin said. He raised his eyebrow at Derek, resembling his older brother more than anyone in the hotel was comfortable with.

“Whatever,” Derek said. “We made the agreement. You guys helped. We made it work until we couldn’t do it anymore.”

“But - but she didn’t want it,” Marti said, the threat of a whine in her voice. “Neither of you wanted to break up!”

“Come on, Marti,” Derek said with very little force behind it. “It couldn’t last forever.”

“Why not?” Marti whined. “Why couldn’t this have lasted?”

“Because it’s Casey and I’m Derek and we are definitely non-mixy things,” Derek said with a shrug. He was making excuses but what was he supposed to do? He wasn’t going to pine. He wasn’t going to open his heart up to his little siblings (he’d done enough of that with Marti over the past year). That’s not what Derek Venturi did.

And what does Derek Venturi do?

He buries that shit so deep there’s no way in hell anyone will ever find it.

“You’re so stupid,” Ed muttered. “I mean, I get it. It’s Casey. She’s kind of a nightmare.”

“Hey!” Liz shouted, glaring at Ed. “Rude.”

“Oh come on! We all know that she can be a handful,” Ed said, rolling his eyes. “You can save the obligatory sibling defense for someone else, Lizzie.”

“What’s your point, Ed?” Marti asked.

“My point is Casey’s a nightmare but Derek could always handle it. He’s handled it since they were fifteen,” Ed said with a shrug. “So all this shit about non-mixy things is stupid and Derek is stupid for trying to make us believe that that’s how he really feels.”

Derek looked at Edwin with a raised eyebrow. Did his little brother really call him stupid? To his face. He watched as the realization dawned on Ed and his eyes grew comically wide. Ed looked at Derek and shook his head, getting ready to go into grovel mode. Derek was tempted to let it happen but then again he was, kind of, proud of the little creep. Not that he would ever admit it out loud.

“Don’t worry about it, Ed,” Derek said.

“See! He’s clearly mourning his loss!” Ed shouted, waving his hands at Derek. Derek wondered when he would ever grow out of this lanky phase he’d been stuck in for the past year. “I mean, the real Derek - the Derek that we all know and love - would never have let that slide.”

“Are you really going to complain that you got out of beat down?” Derek asked with a laugh.

“Look,” Liz said, giving Derek her best no-nonsense look. “We get it. You care about her. It’s okay to be upset that it ended this way.”

“What is with the family hallmark moment shit?” Derek asked, raising his voice probably a tad too much. They were just trying to help but they all should know that pestering him was the last way to try and get him to open up.

“You have to stop being such a heartless jerk,” Marti snapped. “God. We’re trying to be here for you even though, clearly, you don’t need it. Casey dumped you and you’re acting like it was nothing!”

“It wasn’t real!” Derek yelled. “It wasn’t fucking real and she never felt anything and she left. She fucking left me because she was done pretending and fine. Whatever.”

“It was real!” Marti screamed. She stood up on the bed with her hands clenched in fists at her sides. “It was real and you know it! Stop acting like you don’t care about her! It’s stupid and you’re being stupid!”

“Marti, chill out,” Derek said, wrapping his hand around her tiny wrist. He tugged on her lightly, trying to get her to sit back down but she yanked her arm away from him. Derek sighed and looked at Liz and Edwin. They were looking at each other and having one of those silent conversations that they were so good at. Without another word, the two of them stood up and left the hotel room. “They are so creepy when they do that.”

“At least you don’t have to live with them,” Marti muttered. She sat down on the bed, bouncing once before pulling a pillow to her chest and burying her face in it.

“Come on, Marti,” Derek said softly, tugging at the pillow gently. Marti didn’t look up and Derek sighed. “Smarti. Please.”

“If falling in love with someone is like this then I don’t want it,” Marti muttered. Derek jerked back like she’d bitten him and stared at his little sister with wide eyes. She’d always been perceptive - knowing when they were keeping secrets, knowing that Derek liked Casey before Derek even knew - but he didn’t think she could be that good.

“Who said anything about love?” Derek asked with a smirk, trying to play it off. As if he could play it off.

Marti looked up at him with a frown and sighed. She stared at him with a miserable look on her face, her frown getting deeper and deeper by the second. Derek sighed and looked down at his lap. He knew that face a little too well. He’d seen it enough times when his mom and dad had been fighting. Marti was little but she knew things were bad.

“What’s all this about Marti?” Derek asked softly. He looked up and tugged on a chunk of her hair, trying to get her to smile or at the very least to drop the frown.

“I don’t want to watch it happen again,” Marti mumbled. Derek stared at her with wide eyes. They’d never talked about it. Their parent’s divorce. It just never came up. Marti never asked what happened. She never asked why mom had packed up her clothes and her books. She didn’t throw fits when they were carted off to Abby’s apartment for the weekend (unlike Derek who tried to go on a hunger strike that first weekend until Mom made his favorite blue cheese burger). She was so young when it happened, adapting quickly to the new arrangement. Then there was Nora and Marti seemed fine.

“Marti, it’s . . . it’s not the same,” Derek said slowly. “Casey and me. It’s not the same as mom and dad.”

“You all think I don’t remember anything but I do,” Marti said, sounding more miserable than Derek could handle. He wrapped his arms around his little sister and pulled her close, kissing the top of her head. She buried her face in his neck, mumbling against his skin, “I remember them screaming at each other. I remember how you locked yourself away for a week when mommy left. I remember it and I don’t want it to happen again.”

“Hey,” Derek whispered. “Dad found Nora. Mom is off being a mega keener dork. They’re happy and we made it through it all. It’s not going to happen again.”

Marti pulled away from Derek and sighed. She opened her mouth to say something before closing it again and frowning. He fucking hated that frown. She was a kid. She shouldn’t have a frown that deep on her face. He poked her nose, making a squelch sound. It was definitely a baby move but he hoped that it would at the very least disrupt the frown.

Marti rolled her eyes and Derek saw the corners of her mouth perk up in what was the beginnings of a smile. He smirked, pleased to know that even if he was a shit fake boyfriend he was still a pretty okay big brother.

“You love her,” Marti said suddenly, snapping him out of his self-congratulatory moment. “Don’t try and tell me that you don’t. I know that you do. And it’s okay.”

“It doesn’t matter if it’s okay or not, Smarti,” Derek said. “She doesn’t love me.”

“Yes she does, Smerek,” she said. Her voice was so soft and tender. It almost sounded like she was trying to be gentle with him. His bratty little sister was trying to be gentle with his feelings. When had the world gone so incredibly wonky? “She does and it scares the shit out of her.”

“Language,” Derek said without thinking before rolling his eyes. Marti smirked a little before leaning forward and hugging him again. “I don’t know what to do, Smarti. I don’t know if I can fix this one.”

“You have to try, Smerek,” she replied. “At the very least. You have to try.”

***

Derek waited exactly two hours, forty three minutes, and eighteen seconds before heading to Casey’s apartment.

Not like he was watching the clock the entire time, sitting on his couch and trying to talk himself out of rushing there as soon as possible.

Not like he thought about her and only her since the kids left his hotel room, all of them giving him that look. The one they gave him in high school when he went too far with a prank and they wanted him to fix it.

Not like he was thinking about her even when coach told him that they were going to have a very long discussion when they got back to campus.

Not like any of that.

His heart was pounding when he knocked on the door. He looked up and down the hall, waiting for someone to answer. He knew that Casey didn’t have class, dance team practice, or any study groups. Not on a Monday. On Mondays, she would gather all of her planners and sit in the middle of the floor while she color coded her schedule and made a list of assignments that were due that week. She had to be home.

He raised his hand, getting ready to knock again when the door opened. Vicki stared at him for a minute before slamming the door in his face again. Derek stared at the door, trying to grasp what just happened.

He knocked again and leaned both hands against the door frame, trying to hear what was happening on the other side of the door. Of course he couldn’t hear anything but he tried anyways. Maybe he would catch the high note in Casey screaming his name before she came barging towards the door to tell him to fuck off.

The door opened again, scaring Derek. He backed away quickly and tried to ignore the blush on his cheeks from being caught. Vicki stepped out of the apartment and closed the door behind her, crossing her arms. Derek stared at her with an eyebrow raised. He wasn’t here for a lecture from Vicki. He was here for Casey.

“You can’t see her,” Vicki said before Derek could even open his mouth. “I told you to fix it. You didn’t. You made it worse. You don’t get to see her.”

“Come on, Vicki,” Derek groaned. He covered his face with his hands and tried to push down his temper. “I’m trying to fix it now.”

“You can’t fix it now,” Vicki snapped. She leaned forward and glared at him. “She doesn’t want to see you.”

“See dumped me!” Derek yelled, throwing his hands down and staring at her. He heard a door open down the hall. Probably that nosy old lady that lived at the end of the hall. She had always given Derek the stink eye when he passed her in the halls. “Did she tell you that?”

“Of course she told me!” Vicki yelled back.

“Then why are you fucking punishing me?” Derek snapped. The door slammed shut at the end of the hall and Derek rolled his eyes. He knew it was only a matter of time before the building’s security guard made his way up here. Derek knew that grumpy old witch wasn’t going to just let him yell in her hallway.

“Because you were supposed to fix this! You were supposed to be a good boyfriend and reassure her that you meant it!” Vicki shouted back. She pushed at Derek’s shoulder and stepped forward. “You weren’t supposed to hurt her, Derek.”

“And what about me?” Derek snapped, his voice lowering to almost a whisper. “What about me being hurt? Or does that not matter?”

Vicki looked at him through narrowed eyes for a minute before her face softened. She looked down the hall, chewing on her bottom lip. She looked so much like Casey that it made Derek’s stomach knot up. They really were like twins sometimes, even if they both hated it. Shaking her head, she turned to him and sighed.

Derek nodded and turned away, heading down the hall to the elevator. He didn’t want to hear it. He knew what she was going to say. Casey was hurt worse than him. Casey was the victim here. Even if she dumped him. Even if she’s the one who freaked out. It was always Casey who was the victim. Derek Venturi didn’t have a heart so how badly could he be hurt, right?

Sometimes, he really hated his king of the world persona. He really fucking did.

***

“Derek if you don’t open this door I’m going to fucking knock it down,” Rob yelled through the door before pounding on it again. Derek sighed and pushed himself up from the couch. He stared at the door for a minute, trying to decide how serious Rob was about breaking the door open and how much it would cost to fix it if he did. “Derek fucking Venturi. This is it, man. Last warning.”

Derek groaned and marched over to the door. He looked through the peephole and banged his head against the door once when he saw Rob gearing up to ram it with his shoulder. Bracing himself for what he knew was probably going to be an attempt at a heartfelt moment, Derek unlocked his door and stepped to the side, inviting Rob in with a swing of his arm.

“About time, dude,” Rob said with a grateful smile. He bent down and grabbed the carry-out bag sitting next to Derek’s door and walked into the apartment. Derek shut and locked the door behind him, letting out a slow breath before turning around. Rob was sitting on the couch, pulling out containers of food. “I figured you haven’t had a chance to get to the store so I got take out.”

“Thanks,” Derek mumbled, scratching the back of his neck. He hadn’t gone to the store yet. How Rob always knew when Derek was out of groceries, he would never know. “Golden China?”

“You know it, bro,” Rob said with a smile. He held up a container of what looked like kung pao chicken, waving it back and forth. “I got you your favorite.”

Derek smirked slightly, before grabbing the container and throwing himself into his chair. Rob handed him a fork and for a few minutes the apartment was filled with the sounds of them eating. At least, Rob had the decency to wait until Derek had food in his body before starting in on the heartfelt moment.

“Alright,” Rob said around a mouthful of food. “You and Casey are through?”

“It would appear so,” Derek mumbled. He shoved a huge forkful of chicken into his mouth and actively avoided Rob’s eyes. “Guess the party was the last straw or something.”

“Yeah, I can see that,” Rob replied. Derek turned to his friend with a frown. He got the feeling that his initial assumption was wrong. This wasn’t going to be a heartfelt moment. He had the growing feeling that this was going to be another round of make Derek feel like shit for hurting Casey’s feelings. “Don’t look at me like that, man. You were a fucking dick that night. Not only to Casey but to the fucking team.”

“I barely even talked to the team at the party,” Derek replied. He was going to ignore any and all comments about Casey. He’d been kicked enough over the break up. He didn’t need to hear it again.

“Getting into a fight with one teammate is being a dick to the whole fucking team, Derek. I get that Toby is an ass but he’s a teammate and we’ve got to respect that. Especially you,” Rob snapped. He glared at Derek for a minute before turning back to the carry out bag. He pulled out another container and busied himself with it for a minute, shoving what looked like broccoli in his mouth. “You’re captain for shit’s sake.”

“Yeah, well, I’ll apologize or something,” Derek mumbled, knowing that he wasn’t going to do a damn thing. Not for Toby at least. The team? Maybe. But not Toby.

“Bullshit,” Rob said with a shake of his head. He pointed at Derek with his chopsticks for a minute before shaking his head and going back to his food.

“What?” Derek snapped. Not getting reamed a new one for Casey was great and all but he definitely didn’t need a lecture about how shitty of a captain he turned out to be. He was going to be getting plenty of that when he met with coach later that day.

Rob rolled his eyes and finished chewing before saying, “Look. I get it. Toby is a dick and he totally deserved getting his nose broken. I’ve wanted to do it a million times before. You know that but what I want isn’t always good for the team. You’ve been off on the ice, man, for a week now. And then you got into a fight on the ice? And got boxed? I mean, what is going on dude?”

“I don’t know,” Derek said with a sigh. He rubbed his face and leaned his head back. He knew what it was and it was stupid and he didn’t like thinking about it. But at the end of the day, it was Casey - the potential lack of Casey in his life, the never ending migraine that was caused by Casey, the recycled conversations of how shit of a person he was because of Casey. Everything was off balance because of Casey and it didn’t seem like anything was going to be getting better any time soon.

“Look. Derek,” Rob started before pausing. His brow was furrowed and he was chewing on his bottom lip. “I don’t. I don’t know what happened with you and Casey. I don’t know what happened and I’m not going to try and tell you how you should be dealing with it. But you can’t take it out on the team. You can’t take it out on the ice.”

Derek rolled his eyes and poked at his food. He took a huge bite and said, “I wasn’t taking it out on the team.”

“Dude. Chew and then speak,” Rob said around his own mouthful of food. Derek smirked and shoved more food in his mouth. “I just want you to be okay.”

“I’m okay,” Derek said, knowing that it didn’t sound anything close to being believable. “I swear I am. I’m more than okay. I’m fucking fantastic.”

“I was there, you know,” Rob said with an irritated sigh. “I saw the fight. I know what you said. You don’t have to pretend like I’m just some random. I’m your friend.”

“I know that,” Derek said. He sighed and looked down at his lap. “It’s just . . . I am tired of trying to figure it out - figure her out, you know? She doesn’t love me. That’s the end of it.”

“But how do you know?” Rob asked.

“I don’t know - maybe it’s the fact that she dumped me?” Derek asked with a roll of his eyes. “You don’t dump someone if you love them.”

“If you’re scared you do,” Rob said with a shrug. “When Becca said she loved me for the first time, I went ghost on her.”

“You what?” Derek asked, sitting up straight. He’d never heard this story - never even knew that anything had ever been wrong in Rob’s fairytale romance.

Rob smiled softly and rubbed the back of his neck. He looked at Derek out of the corner of his eye before clearing his throat, “Yeah. I mean. We were in high school and it was senior year. She said she loved me right before graduation. I freaked, man, I totally fucking freaked.”

“But, dude, it’s Becks,” Derek said dumbly.

“Yeah, it’s Becks, so she hunted me down and reamed me a new one. Said that if I didn’t feel the same way the least I could do is have the balls to say it to her face. So I get it - freaking out when it gets to be too much,” Rob said with a nod. He turned to look at Derek for a minute before smiling. “And if I know Casey then I know she’s definitely one to freak out when it gets to be too much.”

Derek laughed despite himself and nodded his head in agreement. Casey definitely had a tendency to freak the fuck out when things got too heavy or didn’t go according to plan. But then again. All of this had gone according to plan, hadn’t it? They’d tricked Vicki. Casey had saved face. Derek got his tutoring. Nothing had gone awry.

Except for the whole falling in love thing but that was him and not her. That was all him and she didn’t believe him anyways, so going ghost on him didn’t make any sense.

“She’s . . . she’s not in love with me though,” Derek mumbled before frowning. It didn’t feel any better admitting that to Rob than it did when he admitted it to Marti. But when was anything about getting dumped supposed to feel good?

“How do you know?” Rob asked softly. “She didn’t say that she didn’t love you, right?”

“No,” Derek said, drawing the word out. “She didn’t.”

“So how do you know?”

“She just doesn’t,” Derek snapped. “And even if she did, what fucking difference does it make? She still fucking dumped me. She still won’t see me or talk to me.”

“Dude, it’s been what? Less than twenty four hours? Give her time,” Rob said softly. He gave Derek a hesitant smile that made Derek’s stomach clench up into knots. He didn’t want to be thinking about this. It didn’t help anything. It definitely didn’t help him move on or whatever the fuck he was supposed to be doing now that he wasn’t Casey McDonald’s boyfriend. “Look. I’m just. I just want you to be okay, dude.”

“I know that,” Derek said softly. And he did. He knew that Rob was coming from a good place even if it felt like rubbing salt in the wound. “I just. I can’t keep thinking about it. I just can’t.”

“Fine, then we aren’t going to think about it anymore,” Rob said with a nod. He turned and reached into the bag that the food had been in. When he turned around he had the stupidest grin on his face. “Guess who is the best person in your life right now?”

“You?” Derek asked with a raised eyebrow.

“Oh yes,” he said, nodding his head once. “And do you know why I’m the best person in your life?”

“You bring me food?”

“Yes but I also produce,” he shouted before whipping out a game case. “The Xbox reboot of Babe Raider!”

Derek burst into laughter and clapped his hands. Rob bowed a little before getting up and putting the game in. He sat back down on the couch and held out a controller for Derek. Derek wiped at his eyes a little before dive bombing onto the couch, engulfing Rob in a bear hug, “Thanks dude.”

“Anytime, Der,” Rob said, patting Derek’s back. “Now get off me so I can kick your ass at this game.”

***

“Do you know why you’re here Venturi?” Coach Hanlon asked. He leaned forward in his chair and folded his hands together. Derek shifted in his chair, clutching the arms of the chair until his knuckles turned white. He looked at Toby for a second, hating the way he was relaxed and comfortable. “Venturi, I asked you a question.”

Derek snapped his head to Hanlon. He licked his lips and cleared his throat before saying, “Yeah, coach. I know why I’m here.”

“And why are you here?” Hanlon asked. Derek tried not to roll his eyes. He knew this was part of the whole intimidate Derek into an apology strategy. He knew that Hanlon was serious but it was just a little cliche for Derek’s standards.

“I am here,” Derek started before pausing. He glanced at Toby again and clenched his jaw when he saw the smug smirk on his face. “I am here because Toby is a little shit who couldn’t take a joke.”

“Hey fuck you, Venturi,” Toby snapped. He sat up straighter and jerked forward half an inch. Derek smiled, showing all of his teeth like a fucking shark. Sucker.

“What’s the matter, Toby? Still can’t take a joke?” Derek asked, leaning forward slightly. He lowered his eyes a little and let his smile slip into a satisfied smirk. “I mean, you did get knocked around a little hard. I’d understand if you’re having trouble grasping the concept. A joke is when someone says something in order to make people around him laugh.”

“Venturi! Montgomery!” Hanlon yelled. Derek leaned back into the chair, feeling much more comfortable now that Toby was getting yelled at as well. He knew he was in the wrong but that definitely didn’t mean he didn’t enjoy the company in shitsville. “Alright. I am going to say this once: get your shit together. Immediately. I will not - do you hear me? - will not tolerate this kind of bullshit on my team. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, Coach,” Derek said slowly. It felt stupid but he knew that’s what he needed to say. He knew that to at the very least try and salvage his relationship with Hanlon he was going to have to suck it up and apologize. He was going to have to go against everything he stood for as a Venturi and be nice to fucking Toby Montgomery.

“See, you say you understand Venturi but I don’t believe you,” Hanlon said. Toby snorted, pulling Hanlon’s attention away from Derek. “Something funny, Montgomery?”

“No, sir,” Toby replied instantly, sitting up straighter in his chair.

“Are you sure? Cause you don’t seem to be taking this seriously,” Hanlon said with a frown.

“I am, Coach,” Toby said softly. His cheeks turned pink and Derek couldn’t help but take some satisfaction in that. “I swear I am.”

“Good because you’re both benched for the rest of the season,” Hanlon said quickly. Derek’s heart dropped into his stomach. Benched? There was no way that Hanlon was that cruel. No fucking way. “I gave you both chances - more fucking chances than either of you deserve. I thought I’d made it clear - no fights while on my team - and what do you knuckleheads do? Fight each other.”

“But, Coach,” Toby started.

“I don’t want to hear it, Toby. I told you the last time you showed up to practice with a black eye that if you got into another fight, you were benched,” Hanlon snapped. Derek raised his eyebrows and sank into his chair. He didn’t know that. For a second (and it was a very short second), Derek actually felt bad for goading Toby into a fight.

“I’m sorry, Coach,” Toby said, looking down at his lap. “I just - lost my cool and it’s not like Venturi was being level headed either.”

Derek rolled his eyes and remembered exactly why he’d been more than willing to fight Toby.

“We’re talking about you, Toby,” Hanlon said softly. “Look. You two are some of my best players. I hate to bench you but I can’t let you run amok without consequences.”

“Right,” Derek snapped, his irritation rising. He didn’t want to get snippy with coach, didn’t want to be mad at all, but it seemed like the better option. He was pretty sure the second the anger stopped surging through his veins, he would just be an empty shell.

“Derek, I’m taking captain away from you,” Coach said slowly. Derek nodded and swallowed the lump in his throat. “You can get it back - you both can get your positions back but you need to work for it. I’m not just going to give it back.”

“How?” Derek asked, resorting to one syllable words. He didn’t think he could manage anything more than that without totally losing his cool.

“Whatever is sour between you two, fix it. Show me that you’ve fixed it on and off the ice,” Coach said, looking at Derek for a long minute before turning to Toby. “We’re a team. We can’t have our damn team at each other’s throats. We need to save that for the other team.”

“Coach,” Toby started. He was sitting up straight and his mouth was in a thin line.

“Yes, Montgomery?”

“I . . . I . . . nevermind,” he said slowly. Coach stared at Toby for a minute before nodding.

“Alright - get out,” Coach snapped, dismissing them both.

Derek didn’t waste any time leaving the office. He wanted to get as far away from this whole situation as he could. He didn’t want to think about Casey. He didn’t want to think about hockey. He didn’t want to think about Toby. He just didn’t want to think at all.

“Derek!” Toby shouted, following after him. “Derek, wait!”

“What, Toby?” Derek snapped, turning around to face him. “What the fuck do you want?”

“I want a fucking apology,” Toby replied, coming to a stop in front of him. “I’m fucking benched because of you.”

“No, Toby, you’re benched because you’re a fucking prick. You’re benched,” Derek snapped, stepping into Toby’s space. “Because you’re an envious little shit who thinks he can right all of those imaginary wrongs with his goddamn fists.”

“Fuck you,” Toby hissed.

“Yeah. Fuck me. Fuck you. Fuck everything,” Derek replied with a sardonic smile. He patted Toby on the shoulder and turned away, walking back towards his apartment building. He needed a drink. Or maybe five.

***

Derek groaned and pushed himself up and out of his chair when the ‘Are you still watching?’ message came up. Of course he was still watching. He was almost done with House of Cards. He wasn’t going to just give up now. Then again, it was a good time to walk away. He was due for a shower at the very least.

He looked around his room and sighed. There were take out containers everywhere. He was sure that if someone came in here they would seriously wonder if he’d lost his mind. Maybe he had. He hadn’t left the apartment for anything other than classes in weeks. There was no hockey practice, no Casey, no parties to entice him away from his wallowing.

Derek scratched his chest before wandering into the bathroom. He rubbed at his chin while he inspected his reflection. He was growing a beard. He knew that Casey would fucking hate it - knew that everyone would probably hate it if he actually gave anyone time to talk to him.

He ran his hand through his hair and walked away. He needed a shower. A long hot shower would fix him right up.

“Who the fuck are you kidding, Venturi?” he grumbled as he peeled his shirt off. He reached into the shower, turning the knob to get the water flowing. He closed his eyes and leaned his head against the wall while the water warmed up. He was just so fucking tired. The kind of tired where sleep and relaxation didn’t help. It was the kind of tired that was bone deep that snuck up on you and you didn’t know it was there until it was too late.

He started to unbutton his jeans when there was a knock on the door. Derek groaned and dropped his head, pressing his chin to his chest. He fixed his pants, turned off the shower, and marched out of the bathroom, “Who the fuck is at my door?”

He didn’t think to look through the peephole before snatching the door open. He wished he had. He really fucking wished that he had.

“Derek,” Casey said shortly, looking him up and down. Derek stared at her, taking in the way her hair was pulled back into a tight bun and how tiny she looked in her baggy sweater. “What is that on your face?”

“Excuse me?” Derek snapped, reaching up to stroke his beard. It was patchy and thin but it was his.

“Are you growing a beard?” she asked, ignoring his sputtering. She frowned at him before scrunching up her nose in disgust.

“What do you want?” Derek snapped, latching into the doorframe. If he squeezed so hard that his knuckles were red and angry, he didn’t notice.

“God, are you always this foul?” Casey asked, rolling her eyes. She bent over and lifted a paper bag that was resting by her feet. She held it out and looked at him with wide eyes. When he didn’t move, she shook the bag at him. “Are you going to take this or what?”

“What is it?” he asked, still not reaching for the bag. He knew what it was. Of course he knew. It had to be whatever stuff he’d left at her place. She was getting closure. This was Casey getting closure and it made him feel sick.

“It’s not a bomb, Der-ek,” she said with a sigh. “It’s just some things you left at my place.”

“Right,” he said, staring at the bag. Maybe if he didn’t take it then she would just leave and he could forget that this had ever happened. Casey waited for another minute before rolling her eyes. She slipped under his arm into the apartment, leaving Derek to stare into the empty hallway. This was not fucking happening.

“Oh my god, Derek,” Casey said from his living room. “When was the last time you cleaned?”

Derek clenched his jaw and turned around. She had dropped the bag on the couch and was wandering around his apartment, picking up trash. Derek rolled his eyes and marched over to her, grabbing her by the upper arm. She dropped the trash and gasped in outrage, “Der-ek!”

“Get out,” he snapped. He opened the door and pulled her out, shutting the door behind them. “Go home, Casey.”

“God, Der-ek, you didn’t have to man-handle me like that!” she shouted, fixing her shirt.

“Why are you even here?” Derek snapped. “Why the fuck do you think you can just barge into my fucking apartment like you fucking own it!”

“I was just returning your stuff, Der-ek,” she replied sticking her nose up in the air. “It's not my fault that you're living like a pig.”

Derek covered his face with both hands, groaning into his palms. This wasn't happening to him. There was no way that this was what his life had turned into. When he dropped his hands, Casey was still standing there with big, shiny eyes. Derek felt himself deflate slightly as he asked, “Why are you doing this to me?”

“I’m not . . . I’m not doing anything,” Casey replied, looking down at her shoes. Her voice sounded thick and it made Derek’s skin itch. “I just thought you’d want your stuff back.”

“Casey,” Derek said softly, reaching out to her. He brushed his fingers over her cheek. She leaned into his hand for a second before pulling away. “About this . . . whatever this is.”

“There is no this,” Casey snapped, looking up at him. “This is what you wanted right? Derek Venturi back on the market and all of that. That’s what you said, right? In the car before the game, this is what you wanted!”

“Are you - are you fucking kidding me?” Derek asked, his mouth falling open. She was not going to throw that shit in his face. He wasn’t going to let her. “Don’t throw that shit at me.”

“But it’s what you said - it’s what you wanted,” Casey replied with an even voice. “Plus, we both know that this couldn’t last - that there was no way that we were going to be able to keep it up.”

“God, just listen to me,” Derek snapped, reaching out for her again. “I was angry, okay? I was so fucking pissed off.”

“It doesn’t matter, Derek,” Casey said, pulling away from him again. She started walking away from him, turning around and walking backwards so she could keep talking to him. “None of it matters because none of it was real. I gotta go.”

“Casey!” Derek shouted. She gave him a tight smile before turning back around and turning around the corner to the elevators. “Goddamn it!”

He turned back to his apartment and stormed through the door. He was so fucking sick of this. He was sick of these stupid feelings that burned through his chest when they didn’t even touch Casey.
Derek paced across his living room before making a decision.

He was going out tonight.

He was going to get hammered.

And he was going to get laid.

Enough sitting around his apartment feeling bad for himself. Casey didn’t want to listen. Fine. She didn’t want to see what was right in front of her face. Fine. He didn’t fucking need her anyways.

He fished his cell phone from out of the couch cushions and called Rob, “Robert - gather the troops. The Venturi is going out.”

“Robert? The Venturi?” Rob said with a laugh. “Dude. What are you even talking about?”

“For the love of,” Derek muttered, squeezing his eyes shut. “Just get the guys and meet me at the bar.”

“Alright, dude, but you’re not going to be talking in third person all night are you?” Rob asked with another laugh.

“Just do it, Rob,” Derek snapped before hanging up. He seriously needed better friends.

***

“So,” Rob said, staring at Derek.

“Yeah?” Derek asked, sipping from his beer.

“When are you cutting that thing off of your face?” Rob asked with a smirk. He sipped from his beer before bursting into laughter and turning around to lean against the bar. Derek rolled his eyes and stroked his beard. He liked it even if it didn’t seem to be a hit with the peanut gallery. Sipping from his own beer, he mimicked Rob and surveyed the crowd. It wasn’t too packed but it was a Wednesday. A couple members of the team had come out - Gerry, Brian, and Josh. Derek was grateful that any of them wanted to hang out at all.

“How’s being captain?” Derek asked, turning towards Rob. He’d heard about Coach’s decision a few days after he’d gotten benched. It made sense. Rob was definitely the kind of guy that could lead a team.

“It’s okay,” Rob said with a shrug. “You know how it is.”

“Yeah,” Derek replied, trying to push down bitterness that was crawling up his throat. The whole point of the night was to relax and try to be normal. He wasn’t going to do any of that if he was going to be bitter and nasty when it wasn’t even Rob’s fault.

“Listen, man,” Rob said. “I didn’t, like, ask Hanlon for this. You know that right?”

“Of course, dude, of course,” Derek said with a small smile. “I fucked up, right?”

“Oh my god, are you two having a moment or something?” Josh shouted as he walked over to them. “Derek Venturi has ventured out of his cave. We should be celebrating!”

“Ha. Venturi venturing,” Gerry snickered as he walked up to them as well.

“Shut it, Gerry,” Derek grumbled, finishing off his beer. “And it’s just a bar, bro, it’s not that big of a deal.”

“Oh come on! You’ve been moping ever since Casey dumped your ass,” Josh shouted, leaning towards Derek with a big smile. Yeah, Josh was definitely leaning towards being very drunk. “It’s time to get fucked up and then get fucked.”

“God, Josh, can you be any more of a heathen?” Gerry asked, rolling his eyes. He grabbed Josh by the shoulder and pulled him back a little. “We’re just happy to see you out and about, dude.”

“Thanks, Gerry,” Derek said with a smile when Gerry rolled his eyes. “Where’s Brian?”

Josh pointed over his shoulder to where Brian was leaning against one of the high top tables. He was talking with some brunette. Josh watched their teammate for a minute before turning back to Derek with a smirk.

“I think Brian’s beating you, Der,” he said before lurching forward and pressing himself between Derek and Rob. He raised a hand, trying to flag down a bartender. “You better up your game if you’re trying to go home with someone tonight.”

“I didn’t realize this was a competition,” Derek muttered as he watched Brian lean towards the brunette. She rolled her eyes at him and smirked before shaking her head. She turned to look around the bar, her eyes landing on Derek. She watched him for a minute, long enough for Brian to notice that he’d lost her attention.

Brian said something to the girl’s profile, clearly trying to pull her attention back to him. She smiled at Derek, bright and happy. Derek couldn’t help but smile back. He jerked his head once, inviting her over. He probably shouldn’t. Brian was trying really hard but it wasn’t really Derek’s fault if he struck out, right?

“Are you seriously doing this right now?” Gerry asked, throwing an arm around Derek’s shoulder.

Derek looked at Gerry from the corner of his eye. It's not like he was purposely snagging Brian's attempted conquest. She clearly wasn't into it. No one could ever say that Derek didn't wait for consent.

“Oh my god, you are,” Gerry said with a roll of his eyes. “Whatever dude.”

“Oh come on,” Derek said with a snort. “It's not that bad.”

“Whatever you have to say to sleep easy at night,” Gerry said with a laugh. Derek flipped him off and turned back to the table the brunette was sitting at.

She was talking to Brian again but her eyes kept flicking over to Derek. He tried to give her his most charming smile and was rewarded with a small smile. At least the beard didn't throw off all of his sex appeal. He finished his beer and started towards the table.

“Derek,” Brian said as Derek walked up. His tone clearly said back off. Derek just smirked and pulled up a chair of his own.

“You done harassing this lovely lady, Brian?” he asked. Brian rolled his eyes and turned to the brunette, mouth hanging open like he was going to say something.

“Hey Derek,” the brunette said, ignoring Brian.

Derek turned to her with a raised eyebrow. She knew his name. That was interesting. He stared at her for a minute trying to place her face, hoping she wasn't some drunken one night stand that he never called back.

“Shawna?” he asked, hoping that it was the right guess. She rolled her eyes. Nope. Wrong answer. “We met at Rob’s party.”

“Yeah and you ditched me after flirting with me for an hour,” she replied with an amused smile. “And it's Sarah.”

“Sarah. Hey Shawna was kind of close,” Derek replied, glossing over the fact that he'd apparently been an ass. But if he remembered the night correctly he knew that was the night of the Stepford Girlfriend routine from Casey. It made sense that she hadn't been able to hold his attention.

“Not even,” she replied with a laugh. He leaned towards her, ignoring the huff that came from Brian. He'd recover.

“Well do I get a second chance?” he asked, biting his bottom lip. Sarah blushed and it made Derek feel like a hundred bucks.

“You think you're so slick,” she replied, shaking her head.

“There is no think. I know,” he said.

“Well I guess I'll just disappear,” Brian said before pushing away from the table. Sarah and Derek watched him walk away before turning to each other and giggling.

“I think you hurt his feelings,” Derek said.

“I'm pretty sure you were the one who interrupted,” Sarah said, narrowing her eyes at him.

“Yeah but you were already shutting him down. I just . . . sped the process up a bit,” he said with a shit eating grin.

“You are terrible,” she said with a laugh. Her smile kind of caught Derek off guard. He couldn't help but smile back. “So. What was her name?”

“Huh?” Derek asked the smile falling off his face quickly.

“The girl who had all of your attention that night?” she asked before sipping from her drink.

Derek swallowed the lump in his throat and looked around the bar before answering, “Casey.”

“And what happened to Casey?” she asked around the thin straw sticking up from her cup. Derek watched her tongue struggle to pull it back into her mouth when it slipped.

“She dumped me,” he said softly.

“Is that why you've got the nasty grief beard?” she asked before reaching out and gently tugging on the bottom. Derek chuckled and nodded. “Well I'm sorry that Casey dumped you but I'm not gonna be your rebound.”

“What makes you think I want you to be my rebound?” Derek asked, raising his eyebrow.

“Oh what? You just came over here for riveting conversation?”

“Maybe I was saving you from Brian,” he offered knowing that it was lame.

“Look. I don't want to be a rebound. They never end well,” she said suddenly serious.

“Okay,” he said.

“But you can take me home,” she said, hopping off her chair.

“I thought you didn't want to be a rebound?” Derek asked, standing up. He looked back at the bar and saw Rob watching him closely. He had that disapproving frown on his face. Derek turned his back, pushing the obnoxious guilt that he felt in the bottom of his stomach. He was single. He could take other girls home.

“I'm not going to fuck you, Derek,” she said with a shrug.

“Then what's the point of coming home with me?”

“Aren't you tired of sleeping alone?”

Derek stares at her. He was. Not that he shared a bed with Casey often but it happened enough that he'd gotten used to it. What Sarah was offering wasn’t exactly what he'd gone in search of but it still sounded good.

It wasn't a permanent fix but maybe it would help. Just a little.

Derek didn't answer but he held his hand out for Sarah to grab. She smiled softly and laced her fingers through his.

Yeah.

Maybe it was going to help.

Derek was going to try.

Chapter Text

“How long do you plan on avoiding Toby?” Sarah asked from her corner of the couch. She had papers all around her and her laptop balanced on one knee, putting up the appearance of being in full-blown study mode. She wasn’t even looking at him when she asked. Derek hated when she did that.

“As long as I want. Why?” he replied from the doorway to the kitchen. He crossed his arms and leaned against the doorframe, waiting for her to continue. He’d been spending enough time with her that he knew she wasn’t done.

“Because it’s been almost two weeks and you haven’t done anything. The guys are starting to worry,” she replied like it was obvious. “Not to mention I’m a little over the whole being the in between girl.”

“Maybe you should try minding your own business then?” Derek suggested with a frown. “And since when are you the in between girl?”

“Since you started ignoring Gerald’s calls,” Sarah replied, ignoring his little insult. She was really good at that. He missed bickering with someone who actually was capable of feeling things. (She felt things. He knew she felt things but she was too good at keeping her cool even when he was being an asshole.) “He decided that calling me was a better idea. I’m over it now.”

“So tell him to stop calling,” Derek replied, pushing away from the doorway and heading towards the couch. He threw himself into his chair and grabbed his textbook from the ground. He had a paper due by the end of the week and he’d barely started. (He wasn’t going to even acknowledge that he sounded like a certain step-sister.)

“Or you could actively try to be captain again,” Sarah said with a sigh. She looked up from her laptop and stared at Derek with wide eyes. “Come on, Der. You can’t be okay with the way things are.”

“Of course I’m not happy about it but I’m not going to fight it,” Derek grumbled. He was off the team. Casey still wasn’t willing to see him. And if Sarah didn’t back off and let him work, he was probably going to fail his stupid psych course. “I have other things to worry about.”

“See, I would believe that if you actually did stuff other than pretend to work on homework and stalk Casey’s Facebook,” Sarah said with a laugh. She put her laptop down next to her and walked over to him. He kept his face turned down, actively ignoring her. She thought she knew all about him. She didn’t.

“Maybe you should take your own advice?” Derek said with a smirk. He glanced at her briefly before looking back at his book. “I mean, when was the last time you talked to David?”

“I thought we weren’t going to bring David up?” Sarah asked, closing his book and straddling his lap.

“Well since you brought up my ex, figured I was allowed to bring up yours,” Derek replied, leaning back. He put his hands on her waist and raised his eyebrows at her. “Fair play and all of that.”

“See here’s the difference between your ex and my ex,” Sarah said, resting her hands on his shoulders and smirking slightly. “My ex is out of the country, exploring Europe and not thinking about me. Your ex is five blocks away, obsessing over you.”

“And how do we know that either of those things are true?” Derek asked. He slid his hands under her shirt and squeezed her sides gently.

“I haven’t heard from him, Derek. You know that. When was the last time you heard from Casey?” she asked with a raised eyebrow. “Oh that’s right. This morning. Reminding you about the paper you aren’t working on now.”

“Sending me annoying keener texts doesn’t mean anything. She still won’t see me,” Derek snapped. He let go of her waist and leaned back in his chair, covering his face with both hands. “Don’t go looking for things that aren’t there, Sarah.”

“Whatever, Venturi,” she replied as she stood up and went back to her corner of the couch. “I’ve got to get home. Are you going to be here sulking when I get back?”

“I am not sulking,” Derek said with a pout. He crossed his arms and glared at her. He wasn’t sulking. He was being a good student. He was focusing on his school work. That’s what he was supposed to be doing and with finals coming up. He thought that, at the very least, Sarah would be proud of him. “I’m studying.”

“I’m pretty sure studying includes actually looking at a different text book every now and then,” Sarah said with a laugh as she put her laptop away and pulled her sweatshirt back on. (Actually it was his sweatshirt and he hadn’t known that they were in the clothes sharing stage of whatever it was they were doing. They weren’t dating. They weren’t fucking – what they did at night after a few drinks didn’t count as fucking. Not when he stared in her eyes and she whispered his name like it was a prayer.) He made a disgruntled noise and shook his head. She didn’t know what she was talking about. “You’ve been ‘studying’ the same book for three hours now and I don’t think you’ve actually turned a page once.”

Derek opened his mouth to say something but Sarah was opening the door and Toby was standing there with his hand poised to knock. Sarah smiled brightly at him and Derek tried to not take it as an act of betrayal. She smiled like that at all of the team – even Brian who was still bitter that she’d gone home with Derek instead of him.

“Hey Sarah,” Toby said with a smirk. Derek clenched his jaw. He regretted inviting her to the many team-bonding events that Rob had insisted on hosting since becoming captain. Rob had said that girlfriends or friends who were girl shaped and shared clothes were invited. (“The girl you’re with shows what kind of person you are and we need to be accepting of all the different parts of you to actually be a team,” Rob had said with a serious nod. He was taking his psychology major too seriously.) He didn’t think inviting Sarah would lead to big bright smiles and being on first name basis with Toby of all fucking people.

“Hey Tobes,” Sarah said with a smile. She looked at Derek over her shoulder and smirked. Derek rolled his eyes and sunk into his chair even further. This was her fault. For sure. “What are you doing here?”

“Well,” he started before looking at Derek over her shoulder. “I wanted to try and talk things out with Venturi.”

“Oh, isn’t that funny? We were just talking about that,” Sarah said with another sly look at Derek.

“Oh my god,” he mumbled. Derek stood up and walked to the door, leaning against the frame with one hand and wrapping his free arm around Sarah’s shoulders. “You two are really not slick.”

“Well, what do you expect me to do when you won’t answer my texts?” Toby snapped. “You might be okay being benched but that doesn’t mean that I am.”

“See this is your problem, Toby,” Derek said with a simpering smile. “Always such a little shit. You know I heard smiling more can help improve your mood.”

“Wow,” Toby said with a short laugh. He shook his head and looked down the hallway, resting his hands on his hips. For a split second, he looked like Casey when she was trying to be all serious and guilt-trippy. He wondered if they were hanging out now that she didn’t have to pretend to be Derek’s girlfriend. “You know, I was seriously hoping that we could work this out. I really was.”

“Oh look at the time! I have a thing. So. Yeah. I’m going to leave you boys to it,” Sarah said with an awkward laugh. She gave Derek a long look before slipping from under his arm. She waved at Toby, giving him a bright smile that Derek thought should have been saved for Derek, before walking down the hallway.

“When are you coming back?” Derek shouted after her. She shrugged, not turning back to look at him. He sighed and leaned back against the doorframe, crossing his arms and staring at Toby. Toby stared back at Derek for a minute before rolling his eyes. “Come on, then. Might as well get this over with.”

“About damn time,” Toby muttered before taking a step towards the door. Derek held his hand up, pushing Toby back half a step. Toby looked up, his eyes already burning with irritation.

“Look,” Derek said, cutting off whatever it was that Toby was gearing up to yell at him. “I’m going to say this once. You come in here it’s to actually talk. Don’t come here expecting to yell at me about how you’re supposedly a better player or whatever. We’re going to be big boys about this and actually talk, got it?”

“What makes you think I want to do anything other than play at being big boys?” Toby asked with an exasperated sigh.

“That. That right there,” Derek said, pointing at Toby. “Get your fucking attitude in check, bro.”

“I’m not the only one with an attitude problem!” Toby snapped, curling his hands into fists at his sides.

“I might have an attitude but I’m not the one itching for a fucking fight,” Derek snapped back. He heard his voice echo through the hall, making him cringe slightly. He lived in a college apartment building but that didn’t mean his neighbors appreciated hockey players fighting in the hall. “Just – don’t be a dick and come inside.”

Toby sighed and squeezed through the small gap that Derek left between himself and the doorframe. Derek took a deep breath and followed after him, thinking of the ice and the sound of a cheering crowd as he shut the door. Toby stood in the middle of Derek’s living room, his hands shoved in his pockets, looking awkward as hell. It almost made him feel sorry for the kid. Almost.

“You can sit down or whatever. Just not in my chair,” Derek said as he walked into the kitchen. He didn’t look at Toby to see his reaction to his one demand. He was sure that Toby was cursing Derek to hell for being a control freak or something. Derek sighed and tried hold back the irritated groan that wanted to slip out. He wasn’t the control freak in the Venturi-McDonald clan. That much was for sure. “Do you want anything to drink?”

“Look, man,” Toby said, following Derek into the kitchen. “I just want to get this over with. We don’t have to pretend to be friends or whatever.”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know that offering you a glass of water warranted being friends,” Derek snapped with a roll of his eyes. He was going to lose an eye one day with the number of times he rolled them. That was a thing, right? Losing an eye because of sheer irritation. He would probably have to look up but it was bound to happen. Probably this morning. It would just pop out and hit Toby in the face. Maybe there would be screaming involved. Toby screaming of course. Not Derek. Derek doesn’t scream.

“I think you’re a dick,” Toby said, crossing his arms and standing up straight. “You’re a dick and you’re lazy and I don’t think that charm and good looks should be enough to get the captain’s position.”

“Fine,” Derek said through clenched teeth. “You’re a puck hog and sloppy as hell on the ice. You have serious anger management issues. You’re full of shit. You’re rude. You’re not a team player, on and off the ice. You don’t take constructive criticism. Do you want me to go on?”

Toby narrowed his eyes at Derek and exhaled loudly through his nose before continuing, “You’re manipulative. You don’t take anything seriously. You’re a shitty friend, a shitty teammate, and a shitty boyfriend.”

“You don’t know when to back down,” Derek snapped, taking a step forward.

“You give up without a fight,” Toby said, stepping forward as well. “I mean, did you even fight for Casey?”

“See? That. Right there,” Derek said, pointing a finger at Toby. “That’s a really good example of you not backing down.”

“At least I fight for what I care about! You just laugh it off and hope everything falls into your fucking lap!” Toby shouted, stepping forward so that Derek’s finger was pressed against his chest. He dropped his arms and curled his hands into fists. Derek rolled his eyes. He definitely felt the right one get a little wobbly. Maybe Coach would feel partially responsible when his eye popped out. It was Coach’s fault that Derek was even having this conversation at all.

“Oh and what? You suddenly care about Casey? Is that what all of this is about?” Derek asked with a humorless laugh.

“It’s not about just her!” Toby shouted. “It’s about you, Der-ek!”

“Fuck you, Toby!” Derek shouted back. He pushed at Toby’s chest, smirking when the other boy stumbled a little bit. “You’re a pathetic little shit. You know that? Always so fucking jealous of everyone around you. So fucking envious that you can’t even accept what you’ve already got. Were you an only child, Toby? Is that what this is? Didn’t learn how to fucking share or whatever? I thought Rob was just teasing but maybe he had a point? He is a psych major after all.”

“Go to hell, Venturi,” Toby hissed, stepping forward to get in Derek’s face. “You’re a selfish child. You don’t appreciate a damn thing you have. The whole fucking team loves you. Even when you’re a prick. You had a girlfriend who fucking looked at you like you were the fucking sun. And what? You were single for less than a month and you’ve already moved on? What the fuck am I supposed to respect about you, Venturi, huh? What?”

“She dumped ME!” Derek screamed, ignoring everything else. “She fucking dumped me after you spent the entire fucking night hitting on her. So what I do to fix the shitty feeling I get from that is none of your fucking business.”

“Yeah cause fucking someone else is a great way of fixing things, right Der? Just like screaming at me and blaming me for your failed relationship is fixing your standing with the team?” Toby snapped, burying his hands into his hair and pulling. “You are so infuriating!”

Derek clenched his jaw and stared at Toby for a minute before lunging at him. It probably wasn’t the best idea considering the only reason they were stuck in this situation in the first place was fighting. It didn’t click at that moment for Derek though. He didn’t know what else to do. Talking wasn’t going to solve any of their problems. Neither of them were words people. They were action people and this was Derek taking action.

Toby hit the ground with a loud groan. Derek smirked slightly before grabbing Toby by the shoulders. He lifted him up slightly and pushed him back down, throwing his weight into it. Toby’s eyes flew open and he coughed a couple of times before pushing at Derek’s chest. Derek leaned back but he didn’t get up. He wasn’t going to give Toby the chance to fight back. Not yet, anyways.

“Get the fuck off me, man,” Toby groaned, laying against the floor. He covered his eyes with one hand and tried to catch his breath before shoving at Derek again with half the muster. “Seriously. You’re heavy.”

“Rude,” Derek snapped. He crossed his arms and stared down at Toby, waiting for the other boy to open his eyes. He wasn’t getting off. Not yet at least, not until they’d reached a point where they could exist in the same space. For a split second, he felt like he was with Casey again fighting over something stupid. “Look. I miss playing. I miss winning. I can’t do either if you insist on making things harder than they need to be.”

“I’m not trying to make things difficult!” Toby yelled, sitting up a little. He propped himself up on his elbows and glared at Derek. “Believe or not but I want this stupid thing over just as much as you.”

“Is that why every time you see me, you try to pick a fight?” Derek asked, raising his eyebrow. Toby looked away, his thin face scrunching into a frown. Derek sighed and rolled off Toby, laying down next to him. He wasn’t giving up. Derek never gave up. It was just that Toby was scrawny and having him between Derek’s thighs was more than a little uncomfortable. Derek stared up at the ceiling for a moment before turning his head to watch the way Toby’s face de-scrunched from its previous frown.

Toby turned and looked at Derek, his face softer than it usual was when he turned his big brown eyes on Derek. Toby licked his lips and started to frown again. Over what, though, Derek had no idea. He figured he would never know what it was that ran through Toby’s mind. He was perfectly okay with that.

“You know I had the biggest crush on you,” Toby said suddenly. Derek knew that his eyes were the size of saucers. This wasn’t the confession that he was looking for. Not that he had been expecting a confession. He figured Toby didn’t like him for the same reason that guys like Truman didn’t like him. “Yeah. After that first party last year – the stupid toga party that Rob threw after watching Animal House over and over again. I was done for.”

“That’s . . . I’m sorry?” Derek said with a small shrug. He wasn’t sure what he was apologizing for. He was used to girls confessing their feelings but he’d never actually had it happen with a guy before. The thought made him frown. Was he really only attractive to guys like Toby? He was going to have to ask Sam about it at some point.

“Yeah right – the great Venturi is sorry for being awesome enough for me to actually like him,” Toby said with a snort. He shook his head and sat up. “It was stupid and I don’t feel that way anymore. So. Whatever. I told you and now you know and yeah.”

“Is that why you’re an ass? Because you liked me?” Derek asked, trying not to laugh. It was a little too middle school to do anything else.

“Shut up. It’s not because I liked you. It’s because you’re the worst and I still fell for you,” Toby replied with a roll of his eyes. “Don’t let it get to your head, Venturi.”

“I would never,” Derek said, schooling his face into an expression of shock. “And I am not the worst.”

“You’re a pretty terrible,” Toby said with a laugh. He turned and looked at Derek over his shoulder, eyebrow raised. “I don’t like you, Venturi.”

“No, you love me,” Derek replied with a snort. Toby rolled his eyes and shook his head. Was Derek really worthy of so much eye rolling? “So, flirting with Casey? Was that legit?”

“Yeah,” Toby said, nodding a little. He had a tiny smile on his face.

“You know it’s never going to happen with her, right?” Derek asked. He didn’t like that goofy smile. It was one thing for Toby to like him. He could deal with that. He didn’t think he could deal with Toby liking Casey as well. At the back of his head a tiny voice whispered that it was because he could see Casey liking someone like Toby back.

“Why? Cause you called dibs?” Toby asked with a snort.

“No cause she’s my step-sister,” Derek snapped. Toby turned back to him with both eyebrows raised. Derek rolled his eyes and held up his hand. “We met when we were fifteen. She’s not my sister, bro.”

“I wasn’t going to say anything,” Toby said but Derek didn’t believe him. He must have seen it on Derek’s face. “I swear.”

“Whatever, Toby,” Derek said with a sigh. He sat up and put a hand on Toby’s shoulder. “So you don’t like me anymore?”

“Not in the least,” Toby replied but he didn’t shrug Derek’s hand off. That was something, right?

“That’s fine. I don’t like you either,” Derek said with a shrug. He squeezed Toby’s shoulder and stood up, holding a hand out for Toby to grab. “I figure as long as we keep it quiet, Coach will let us back on the team.”

“And how exactly do we show him that we’re ready for that?” Toby asked, ignoring Derek’s hand to push himself up from the ground. Derek rolled his eyes. Eye-rolling was definitely contagious. “I’m not going to pretend to sing kumbaya with you and then hate you in secret.”

“That’s not what I’m saying,” Derek replied. Why was Toby always so difficult? It didn’t have to be this way – he didn’t have to be this way. Derek had hoped that they’d truly had a breakthrough moment. (And that was definitely the Casey voice that had made a home deep in the back of his mind.)

“Then what are you saying?” Toby asked, crossing his arms and glaring at Derek. “Because I’m not really seeing a solution here.”

“For fuck’s sake,” Derek muttered, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ll fucking talk to Rob, okay? Rob will believe me and he’ll be able to convince Coach and then we’ll be back on the ice.”

“Are you sure?” Toby asked, narrowing his eyes at Derek.

“Oh my god!” Derek shouted, throwing his hands up in the air. “Just let me deal with this, okay?”

“Whatever, Venturi,” Toby said with a shrug. “I’ll trust you on this. This time.”

“Gee, thanks,” Derek replied with a sneer. He stared at Toby for a second longer before walking past him and towards the front door. “Look, I’ll take care of it. Now. I know I’m, like, the love of your life or whatever but get out.”

“You’re not going to be a dick about this whole lapse in judgement that was my crush, are you? Cause I didn’t tell you so that you could use it against me,” Toby asked, quietly. He gave Derek a long hard look that seemed to crawl under Derek’s skin.

Shaking the feeling off, Derek answered, “Dude. I don’t give a shit if you liked me. If you seriously think that I would like be a dick over the fact that you have good taste – or had good taste, then you really don’t know me at all.”

“Okay.”

“Okay?”

“Okay,” Toby repeated with a nod. Derek nodded as well and opened the door to his apartment, gesturing for Toby to get the fuck out. “Thanks, Derek.”

“No problem. Get out,” Derek said, nodding towards the hallway. Toby shook his head and made his way out of the apartment. Derek watched him walk down the hall, arms crossed over his chest. “I’ll see you at Rob’s end of the semester party!”

Toby just waved once over his shoulder before rounding the corner. Derek shook his head and went back inside. He locked the door and leaned his forehead against the cool wood. He was going to kill Sarah next time he saw her.

***

Rob’s house was throbbing with people. Derek didn’t know how many people had been invited versus the people that had just showed up. He was sure that things had definitely gone beyond Rob’s control, judging by the steady flow of people coming in and out of the living room. Derek highly doubted that things were going to quiet down anytime soon.

“You better enjoy this,” Sarah said as she thrust a drink under Derek’s nose. “I might have killed a couple of freshman trying to get to the booze cabinet.”

Derek smiled and took the red solo cup with one hand, wrapping his other one around her upper arm and pulling her to him. She smiled at him, bright and kind of sloppy. He could tell by the droop of her bright green eyes that she’d definitely gotten distracted by a joint or two during her search for a drink.

“Happy end of the semester, Venturi,” she said with a small giggle before leaning up and kissing him softly. He smiled against her lips and increased the pressure of the kiss, sliding his hand down her side. She giggled again and pulled away from him slightly. “Let’s go have fun.”

“Are you not having fun, now? Do we need to go somewhere else to have fun?” Derek asked with a dirty smile. She laughed again, stepping back and shaking her head. “Hey now. Who said you should step away? I know I didn’t.”

“I want to dance and get spectacularly drunk and then, maybe, we can go somewhere else for fun,” Sarah said with a dirty smile of her own. He smiled brighter, pressing his tongue into his cheek. “Now that’s the face that I want to see!”

“I have a face?” he asked before sipping his drink. He knew it was a stupid sounding question but he was feeling the beer that someone had pressed into his hand shouting chug when he first walked through the door. He wasn’t going to be asking intelligent questions right now.

“Oh, you definitely have a face. It's hidden underneath eight feet of grief beard but you have a face,” Sarah replied with a laugh before surging forward and kissing him again. He stumbled back, bumping into someone behind him. He barely noticed before laughing and grabbing Sarah by the waist, kissing her back.

“Der-ek!” a very familiar voice shouted from behind him. Derek pulled away from Sarah slowly, turning around to look at Casey’s livid face. “You spilled wine all over my dress!”

“Casey?” Derek asked, staring at her. She was there. In front of him. At Rob’s party. Of course she was at Rob’s party. Of course she was. That made perfect sense.

“Yes. Casey. That is my name,” she snapped, glaring at him for a second before looking down at her dress. Derek’s eyes trailed down her chest (and if he wanted to high five himself for not getting stuck on her cleavage then that was between him and God) towards the red spot on her stomach. It wasn’t that big and honestly, who wore a baby pink dress to a rager? “You could try apologizing, you know.”

“It’s not that bad,” Derek mumbled still staring at the spot. She kept poking at it as if that would make the spot go away. He wanted her to stop staring at the spot and to look at him again. He hadn’t seen her big blues in so long. It felt like forever. He licked his lips and dragged his eyes back up her frame (maybe for a split second he got caught on her cleavage but he was only human), “Casey.”

“Casey?” Sarah asked, standing on her toes and propping her chin on Derek’s shoulder to see Casey for herself. “The Casey?”

“Yeah,” Derek said. She had looked up at Sarah’s voice but he couldn’t turn away from her even if his sort-of-girlfriend-shaped person was pressed against his back. Casey looked between Derek and Sarah, her eyes getting wider by the millisecond, before settling on Derek. She arched her eyebrow at him, clearly expecting an introduction. “This is Sarah.”

Sarah held her hand out to Casey over Derek’s shoulder, saying, “We totally met already.”

“We did,” Casey said, looking at Sarah’s extended hand with a confused look on her face. Sarah’s arm dropped after a couple of seconds before wrapping around Derek’s chest. Casey looked at Derek for a second her eyes wide and questioning. She turned back to Sarah before Derek had a chance to figure out what the question was. Casey shook her head slightly and put a bright smile on her face. Derek could see that it didn’t touch her eyes. “At Halloween.”

“You remember?” Sarah asked with a laugh. She stepped around Derek and gave Casey a soft smile. “I thought you were totally hammered that night.”

“I wasn’t hammered, per se. Definitely tipsy though,” Casey said with an awkward laugh. She looked at Derek for a second, she was frowning but Derek couldn’t figure out what was going on in her head, before turning back to Sarah. “How have you been? How’s David?”

Sarah looked down for a second when Casey mentioned her ex. Derek looked between the two women and tried to wrap his head around what was happening in front of him. They knew each other. They knew each other and Casey knew about David and Derek had no idea what they were talking about. He couldn’t remember Halloween. Casey might have been tipsy that night but he had been blackout.

“Oh, you know, we never. We never really worked it out,” Sarah said slowly. She blinked and looked back at Casey with a smile. “But it’s okay. Moving on and all of that.”

Casey gave Derek another unreadable look before plastering that fake smile back on her face and turning back to Sarah. She wiggled her eyebrows in a way that Derek guessed was supposed to be suggestive but made him think of Groucho Marx, “I can see that.”

“Right,” Sarah said, nodding once. Casey’s face fell. Maybe she has expected a laugh from that. It wasn’t funny but then again Casey wasn’t the best at telling jokes. The three of them stood there, looking at each other for a few more minutes. The party raged around them but Derek couldn’t even hear it over the pounding of blood in his ears.

Casey was here.

Sarah was here.

Derek was standing between Sarah and Casey and they knew each other. He had the sinking feeling in his stomach that his night had just turned to shit.

“Derek!” someone shouted from behind him, dragging Derek out of his panic induced state. Far enough, at least, that he could turn away from the two women in front of him. Becca smiled at him brightly, her eyes darting back and forth between Casey and Sarah. For the first time ever, he didn’t think she was enjoying his embarrassment. Her eyes were too big and panicked. Clearly, he was way more hammered than he thought he had been. “Rob was looking for you.”

“Rob?” he asked, dumbly. He stared at Becca not really comprehending her. She kept looking at Casey and Sarah with that bright smile on her face that made her face look stretched and pained. “He wanted. Me?”

“Yeah, he wanted to talk to you. About a hockey thing. Somewhere else. That’s not there. Come on,” she said, grabbing his hand and pulling him away. He thought he heard Sarah snort slightly under her breath at Becca’s bad excuse. Because it was a bad excuse. They never talked hockey at parties like this. It just wasn’t done.

He turned back to Casey and Sarah, mouth hanging open, with nothing to say. It wasn’t like they were paying him any attention. They were both looking at each other, tight smiles on their faces. For a split second, Derek wondered if they were going to fight over him. He shook his head and as Becca pulled him fully into the crowd Derek heard Casey ask, “So you’re with Derek now?”

His stomach flipped. That was a conversation that should not be happening. Not the first time that he’d seen Casey since she had come to get her stuff. Not with Sarah. Not at some stupid party that he didn’t even really want to be at anymore.

Becca dragged him through the crowded living room into the bedroom that Casey and Derek had made out in the first time he’d dragged her to a hockey party. Derek looked around, the memory of his lips on her skin rushing through his brain.

“So that was awkward,” Becca said, sitting down on the edge of the bed.

“Rob?” Derek asked, turning to Becca. He still had the red solo cup in his hand and some of the drink sloshed over his knuckles. He licked at his hand and chugged down the rest of his drink, cringing slightly at the bitter warm beer.

“Oh – he talked to the coach. You and Toby should be okay when we get back from winter break,” Becca said with a wave of her hand. Derek stared at her for a minute longer, waiting for the actual reason why she had pulled him aside. “What? You totally needed saving from that awkward situation. I mean. Who wants to be stuck between their ex and their current boo-thang? I was doing you a favor.”

“You don’t do me favors,” Derek mumbled before leaning back against the closed bedroom door. He should have ate something before coming to the party. The few drinks that he’d had on an empty stomach were starting to make his head spin.

“You’re right but you’re kind of pathetic when you’re in mourning,” Becca replied with a shrug and a wicked smile. “As hilarious as that whole spectacle was, it was just too much to bear. I mean, I had to step in. Out of pity, you know?”

Derek rolled his eyes and slid down the door until he was sitting down. That felt better. Loads better.

“You looked as horrified as I felt so I don’t think you actually enjoyed it all that much. You’re not as evil as you like to pretend,” Derek mumbled, closing his eyes and rest the back of his head against the door. Becca snorted and Derek could imagine her rolling her eyes. No. She definitely wasn’t a total monster. “Rob must really love you.”

“Almost as much as you love Casey,” Becca said softly. Derek opened his eyes and stared at Becca. She was smiling down at her lap. It was that goofy smile that people in love sported when thinking about their significant other. Derek wondered if he ever smiled like that when he thought about Casey. “Oh you definitely have had that look.”

“I said that out loud?” Derek asked, licking his very dry lips.

“Yeah, you did, drunky poo,” Becca said with a laugh. The smile slipped off her face slowly as she looked up at him. She sighed and gave him a pitying look that he hated instantly. “Look. I don’t like you. You know that but. Don’t give up on her, okay?”

“She gave up on me,” Derek said, trying to ignore the whine in his voice. Becca snorted and Derek sighed, sinking further down along the door and stretching his legs out.

“Stop being a baby,” Becca said with a sigh. “She’s scared. I know Rob talked to you about this and Sarah is cool and all but she doesn’t deserve being used as a rebound.”

“I’m Sarah’s rebound from David,” Derek said slowly. He rubbed his eyes and pushed himself back up. “You actually like Sarah?”

“Yes, I actually like Sarah,” Becca said with a roll of her eyes. “That’s not the point though.”

“What is your point?” Derek asked with a sneer.

“Casey loves you. I could see it from across that fucking packed room,” Becca said with an annoyed sigh. “She loves you and she’s terrified of it. I mean. I would be too if I were in love with my step-brother.”

“You know?”

“You know Rob can’t keep a secret,” Becca said with a laugh. “Not that it matters to anyone. At least, not anyone at school.”

“But my parents,” Derek said with a slow nod. He hadn’t thought about the sibling thing in so long. It had been a non-issue from the second the sibs didn’t freak out when Derek and Casey brought up their whole . . . arrangement.

“Right,” Becca said with a nod. “Imagine how terrified she is.”

“Terrified,” Derek repeated. He didn’t like the idea of Casey being scared of caring about him. It wasn’t that bad. He wasn’t that bad, was he?

“Give her time, Derek,” Becca said, getting up and standing in front of him with her hand out. “Just give her time.”

Derek stared at her hand for a second, before grabbing it and pulling himself up. Becca patted him on the shoulder and gave him a small smile. If he were more sober, he would probably try to savor this moment. It wasn’t often that Becca was kind of nice to him and it was definitely something that deserved savoring.

“Why are you being so nice?” Derek asked, keeping hold of Becca’s hand. He stared at the bracelet that was dangling off her wrist. It had a charm. A hockey puck. Rob. Rob gave her that. That was sweet.

He was still drunk. Definitely.

“It happens sometimes, don’t think about it too hard,” Becca said with a shrug. Derek nodded and licked his lips, looking her in the eye again. She gave him another pitying smile and Derek decided that he could benefit from maybe being a little drunker. This was definitely a night that was all about not thinking too hard. Becca seemed to get that, squeezed his hand, and pulled him out of the bedroom back into the swirling mass of people, shouting about getting another drink.

“Becca!” Rob shouted as he stumbled down the hall. His cheeks were pink and he had a goofy smile on his face. “I was looking for you.”

“Right here, babe,” Becca said with a goofy smile of her own. She dragged Derek forward and pushed him into Rob’s open arms. “I was saving your boy here. Now I need to go and try and save someone’s dress. A hero’s work is never done.”

“Saving him?” Rob asked over Derek’s shoulder. He wrapped his arms around Derek’s waist and leaned back a little to look Derek in the eye. “Did you need saving? Wait. Do you have dress that needs saving?”

“I’m not wearing a dress. Casey and Sarah know each other,” Derek said simply, shaking his head. Rob’s eyes widened for a second before he burst into laughter. Derek frowned and put his hands on Rob’s shoulders. “What?”

“I knew that, dude,” Rob shouted in Derek’s face. He cupped both of Derek’s cheeks and laughed again. “Oh you beautiful idiot.”

“Hey!” Derek replied, trying to pull away. Rob snorted and kissed Derek on the forehead. “You’re drunk.”

“Damn straight I am,” Rob said. He patted Derek’s cheeks and pushed him off, turning to where Becca had been just a moment ago. “Where did Becks go?”

Derek shrugged, looking around him for the obnoxious redhead. She probably wandered off while Derek had his moment with Rob. She did have a dress to save, right? Maybe she was saving Casey’s dress. Rob groaned and marched off through the party, shouting Becca’s name into the noisy house. There was no way that he was going to find her that way but Derek wasn’t going to be the one to try and stop him.

Derek laughed softly and stumbled back towards the living room. The party had doubled in size since he’d been dragged to safety. Derek was sure that the only way this party was going to end was with the cops being called.

He leaned against the wall for a second, wondering if he should try and find Sarah. The throbbing crowd of people around him told him that that idea was a lost cause. He wasn’t going to be finding anyone at this party and for a second he was happy about it. He rubbed a hand over his face and smiled at the short brunette that eyed him up and down as she walked by.

He probably shouldn’t be smiling at other girls. Not tonight. Not ever, really. Not if he was going to keep being in love with Casey which seemed to be his fate for the foreseeable future. Half of him wondered when he stopped minding while the other half knew he had never minded at all.

“Bro! Shots!” one of his teammates shouted, grabbing his shoulder and shaking him slightly. He couldn’t remember the kid’s name at the moment. Big green eyes and crooked teeth. Darrel? Marcel? Something that ended in an el-sound.

Derek didn’t have to worry about it too hard though because el-sound-kid was pressing a shot glass into his hand and pouring the sloppiest shot on the planet. He was shouting something but Derek couldn’t keep track of what he was saying. He looked at Derek with a huge smile before shouting and tipping the bottle back, taking his shot straight from the spout. Derek laughed and took his own shot, grimacing when the cheap vodka burned the back of his throat.

El-sound-kid shouted again and patted Derek on the shoulder before sipping from the bottle again and stumbling back into the crowd. Derek laughed when he tripped over his own feet but managed to keep the liquor bottle upright.

“Venturi!” Debbie shouted as she pushed her way through the crowd. Her smile was huge and her eyes were bright as she walked up to him. Derek could see the tell-tale signs that she’d smoked a blunt or two that night. “Where. Where is my girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend?” a high pitched voice said from behind Debbie. Derek shifted his gaze from Debbie’s elated smile to Casey’s wide eyes. She looked between Derek and Debbie for a second before purposefully turning her glare to Debbie. Derek continued to stare at her, marveling at the way her cheeks seemed to turn pinker by the moment.

“Vicki,” Derek shouted at Casey, hoping that she would turn that intense pink glare towards him. Casey’s frown tightened a little bit but she didn’t turn to him. He knew that she’d head him but he wasn’t satisfied. Leaning towards her and toppling over Debbie in the process, Derek whispered against her cheek, “Vicki is Debbie’s girlfriend.”

“I heard you the first time, Der-ek!” she snapped, turning towards him finally. He gave her a sloppy smile and leaned against Debbie a little more. She was an excellent prop and he was sure that if she wasn’t there to hold him up he would have fallen right into Casey. “God, you smell like booze.”

“It’s a party, Case,” Derek said with an exasperated sigh. He pushed himself up and swung his arms out, nearly smacking some random kid in the face. “Everyone smells like booze.”

“I don’t smell like booze,” she said, sticking her nose in the air. Derek laughed, throwing his head back before leaning down and pressing his nose to her neck. He was pushing it. He knew he was but he was also drunk and she wasn’t stopping him.

“You smell a little like booze,” he whispered against her skin, smirking when she shivered.

“Der-ek,” she said so softly that he was surprised that he could hear her. “I probably wouldn’t smell like booze if SOMEONE hadn’t spilled my wine all over my dress.”

She pushed him away and took a step back. Derek blinked before snorting, “That wasn’t my fault.”

“You bumped into me which spilled my wine down the front of my dress. How is that not your fault?” Casey snapped. Her hands were balled into fists at her sides and her pink, pink mouth was pressed into a thin. She was so pissed and he had missed it so much.

“Who drinks wine at a kegger?” Derek asked, rolling his eyes. He looked down at Casey’s dress to try and see the damage. It probably wasn’t even that bad, knowing how much of a drama queen Casey could be. But it wasn’t the same dress. It had been pink. To match her nails. Because Derek noticed things like that now. Of course. “You changed.”

“Of course I changed! Becks gave me a dress since someone ruined the one that I wore here!” Casey snapped, crossing her arms. “At least some people are considerate.”

“You two are fucking train wreck,” Debbie shouted, pushing herself between them again. She laughed loudly in his face as he frowned. “Where’s my girlfriend? Where’s your girlfriend?”

“Girlfriend?” Derek asked, trying to wrap his head around the word. He didn’t have a girlfriend. Debbie had the girlfriend.

“Sarah?” Debbie asked, rolling her eyes.

“She’s not his girlfriend,” Casey said, keeping her eyes on Debbie. Derek raised his eyebrows and tried to hold back the smirk that was growing on his face. “They’re fuck buddies.”

“How do you know that?” Debbie asked, shooting a glance at Derek.

“I do talk with people, you know,” Casey replied, sounding way too offended. “I was socializing. You know. That thing you insisted that I needed!”

“I said you needed to get out and out of your head,” Debbie said, smiling slowly. “That didn’t mean chatting up Derek’s fuck buddy.”

“I was not chatting her up!” Casey replied. “She’s nice. We met at Halloween.”

“I don’t remember Halloween,” Derek mumbled but the two women in front of him ignored him.

“You do realize that when Vicki and I said to dip your toes in the moving on waters that we meant, like, meeting new people? Like people who are not attached to Derek?” Debbie asked, waving a hand at Derek. Casey rolled her eyes and huffed, turning her head away from Debbie and scanning the crowded room. “Okay. Yes. Hockey party may not be the best place to do that but so not the point.”

“There are moving on waters?” Derek asked, expecting to be ignored again. But this time, Casey actually heard him and turned to him with big eyes. “You need moving on waters?”

“No,” Casey snapped, standing up straight. She shot a glare at Debbie for a second before turning back to Derek. “There’s nothing to move on from, right?”

“Is this a weird fake relationship thing?” Debbie asked, looking between the two of them.

“Debbie!” Casey snapped, turning away from Derek again.

“What? He knows that I know. You just didn’t know that he knew that I know,” Debbie said with a laugh. “Remember that F.R.I.E.N.D.S episode?”

“This is not a sitcom!” Casey snapped.

“Could have fooled me,” Debbie muttered before turning away from both of them. “Look, you two are being dumb. I’m going to find Vicki and then I’m going outside to get massively high. You two do what you want.”

“Who needs to be found?” Vicki asked as she stepped up behind Debbie, wrapping her arms around Debbie’s waist.

“Not you,” Debbie replied, sinking back into Vicki’s embrace. Vicki smiled and kissed Debbie’s cheek, making her girlfriend squeal. “Smoke?”

“Yes please,” Vicki mumbled against Debbie’s neck. Derek stared with a small smile on his face. They looked happy. Happy was good. He didn’t want to look at Casey. He didn’t want to know how she felt about them being happy. He didn’t want to risk seeing the heartbreak that everyone claimed she was suffering from.

“Are you coming, Casey? Derek?” Vicki asked, pulling away from Debbie. She gave Casey an expectant look that made Derek raise his eyebrows.

“Casey doesn’t smoke,” he said without thinking. He grabbed Vicki’s attention for a few seconds before she was rolling her eyes. “What? It’s true.”

“She does smoke. She smokes with me,” Debbie said, stepping forward and throwing an arm around Casey’s neck. She pulled Casey into an awkward side hug, giving Derek a challenging look.

“Since when does she smoke with you?” Derek asked, knowing the answer was the party after that game. The party when he’d tried to dump her.

“Well, if someone wasn’t such a jackass and got himself dumped – you would know the answer then, wouldn’t you?” Vicki asked, stepping forward and wrapping her arm around Casey’s neck from the other side.

Casey closed her eyes and sighed, shifting in the awkward hold that Vicki and Debbie had her in. He stared at her until she opened her eyes again, raising his eyebrow at her. She sneered at him and shook her head. She wrapped her arms around Vicki and Debbie’s waists, turning her sneer into a weak smirk. Throwing his hands up in surrender, Derek took a step back. He wasn’t going to try and argue with Casey’s false bravado.

He laughed slightly before muttering, “Hey man. I’m not trying to fight you on this.”

“Good, then you can come along,” Vicki said, giving Casey a large cheesy grin. Casey rolled her eyes and shrugged, slipping from their grasp. Vicki shrugged and gave Derek an equally cheesy grin. “Great. We’re in agreement. Let’s go.”

Vicki didn’t wait to hear back from anyone before shoving through the crowd towards the backyard. Derek watched her plow through drunk party-goers for a second before turning to Debbie. The love-sick smile that she had on her face was enough to make up for getting ambushed by a bunch of drunk women. He was definitely going soft in his old age.

“She’s going to pout if we’re too far behind her,” Casey said with a sigh, turning between Derek and Debbie. Debbie laughed and nodded before turning towards the crowd of party-goers. She waded through, dancing her way across the room. Derek grabbed Casey’s arm just before she slipped away into the party. She was probably planning on losing him somewhere in the throng of people. Her big, bright eyes and the way she was frowning told Derek that’d caught her.

“What?” she said in a short burst of air. He pulled her close, ignoring the sensible part of him saying this was probably a bad idea. She pressed a hand against his chest and looked up at him with wide eyes. “Der-ek.”

“I love it when you say my name,” Derek said, throwing his head back dramatically. It was supposed to be a joke. It was a bad one but the way she snorted in disbelief was close enough to a laugh that it was worth it. “Hey, baby-girl.”

“Don’t call me that,” she said back actually rolling her eyes this time. She wasn’t yelling at him so maybe that meant something. Something good. He wanted it to mean something good.

“Are we – are we okay, Space Case?” he asked softly, leaning down towards her. Her eyes widened and she jerked back from him, pushing at his chest gently with her hands. Derek’s heart sank. “I wasn’t going to kiss you.”

“I know that!” she snapped, pulling away from him entirely and swiping at the strand of hair that was stuck to her lip gloss. Derek couldn’t help the giggle that slipped out of his mouth as he pulled it free. She set her mouth in a frown and glared at him, snatching away any sort of merriment that he’d had just a moment ago.

Groaning, Derek shifted his feet before wrapping a hand around her waist to pull her forward again. She resisted him for a second before he was pulling both hands back, holding them up in surrender. He sighed as he said, “Fine. I won’t fucking touch you. I just. I need to know.”

“Know what, Der-ek?” she snapped, turning her head towards the backyard. Right. Vicki and Debbie. They were waiting. With weed.

“Are we – like, are we okay?” he forced himself to ask. He needed to know. Anyone who knew him in the past few weeks knew that he needed to know. He figured between tonight and going home for break – this was his chance to know if she was actually as heartbroken as everyone made her out to be.

“I don’t know, Derek,” she replied so softly that Derek barely heard her. “I just don’t know.”

“How do you not know?” Derek asked. He frowned down at her for a second before turning towards the rest of the party with a frown. He thought about dragging her to some dark corner to ask her about it but Debbie was wading her way back to them through the crowd. Just over her shoulder, Derek saw Sarah following close behind. Fuck. “I thought it wasn’t real.”

“It wasn’t,” she replied crossing her arms and trying to shut him out. She shook her head and stared at her feet. Her shoulders were tense and it almost made him feel bad for her. “It. Wasn’t.”

“Then why are you acting like it was something real?” Derek asked, stepping into her space again. “Was it real?”

“You’re drunk,” she snapped just as Debbie pushed through the crowd.

“Uh. Hello. Marijuana outside,” Debbie said with an awkward laugh. She looked between Derek and Casey, eyes wide, probably expecting some huge blow out between the two of them. “Also. I found your girlfriend.”

“Derek?” Sarah asked, looking between Casey and Derek with the same expectant look on her face. Derek sighed and closed his eyes for a second. “Everything okay?”

“Over break,” Derek said, ignoring Sarah. He shouldn’t ignore her but he wasn’t done with this conversation. He wasn’t done with Casey. God. He didn’t know if he ever would be.

“What?” she asked, stepping away from him. Derek ignored the look that Debbie was giving him and grabbed her wrist.

“We’ll talk about it. When we go home to London. For break. We’ll talk about it,” he said, trying to be as clear as he can. He thought he was being clear. He hoped he was being clear.

“Over break,” she said quickly, giving him a tense nod that he didn’t necessarily believe. She smiled at him a little – a thin smile that didn’t reach her eyes – before turning and disappearing into the crowd.

“Little pushy there, Derek,” Debbie snapped once Casey disappeared into the crowd. Derek turned to her with raised eyebrows. Pushy? He was being pushy?

“Pushy?”

“I mean; did she look like she wanted to talk about it?” Debbie asked, crossing her arms. She shook her head at Derek for a second before turning towards where Casey had disappeared. “She’s still sensitive, you know?”

“I know,” Derek said, nodding in agreement. “That’s why she’s going to talk to me about it during break.”

He sounded so eager and he kind of hated himself for it.

“Derek,” Debbie said with a sigh. She raised both hands up, shrugging slightly. She looked at Sarah briefly before shaking her head and heading into the party after Casey and her girlfriend.
Derek turned to Sarah, eyebrows still raised. Maybe she had an answer. Maybe he’d know if he weren’t sobering up and exhausted. He was ready for break.

“You two are going to be fine. You’ll talk about it during break and it’ll be fine,” Sarah said with a wave of her hand. He didn’t believe her. She sounded like she didn’t even believe herself. At least, she was trying though. She wrapped an arm around Derek’s waist and pulled herself closer. She played with the collar of his shirt, pulling him down so she could kiss him softly. She didn’t pull away when she whispered against his mouth, “She really didn’t want to come but Vicki made her.”

“How is that my fault, though?” Derek asked, not worrying about how she knew that. She had probably talked with Vicki. Sarah was good at talking to people – a skill he clearly had not honed as well as he thought he had.

“It’s not but she’s hurt and embarrassed and you’re pushing on something she doesn’t want to talk about,” Sarah replied quickly before kissing him and pulling away.

“How do you know all that?” he asked simply for lack of something better to say. She was right. Of course she was right.

Sarah smiled at him, reaching up to ruffle his already messy hair. He frowned and leaned back, trying to fix whatever damage she had caused. She laughed at him outright and pulled him down into another kiss. This one was longer and sweeter, her mouth open against his. He could taste the hints of the joint that she’d smoked already and the bitter vodka underneath.

“Come on,” she said against his mouth, pulling away. “There’s a new season of Orange is the New Black that is screaming our names.”

Derek smirked slightly and nodded. He could go for some Netflix. He looked back towards the back of the house but Sarah gently touched his chin, turning him back to her.

“Don’t let other people ruin whatever ways you choose to fix yourself,” Sarah muttered. Derek furrowed his eye brow and stared at her. She wasn’t making sense. She stared at him intensely for a second before giggling. “I don’t even know.”

“Okay. Good,” Derek said with a laugh. He wrapped his arm around her neck and pulled her towards the couch they’d dropped their jackets on when they’d gotten there. “Come on, Miss Fix It. Let’s go home.”

“Lesbian prisoners, await!” she shouted, raising a fist into the air. She got a few strange looks that made Derek laugh even harder. It was nice to laugh.

***

“Dad! Nora!” Derek shouted as he shoved his way into the house. The house was weirdly still considering the number of people living there. “Anyone?”

Derek heard a baby start to cry upstairs and flinched. That would explain why the house was so still. Derek locked the door behind, turning the lock as slowly as he could to try and minimize the amount of noise that filtered through the house.

He pressed his forehead against the door as he heard feet stomping down the stairs. Bracing himself, Derek turned around with his best smile on his face. He was met with a very upset Simon being shoved into his arms. Marti’s face was pink when she hissed, “You try getting him back to sleep. I fucking hate babysitting.”

“Language,” Derek said automatically, bouncing Simon on his hip. “And you used to love getting to be big sister.”

“Yeah, well, I’m smarter now,” Marti said with a sneer. She stretched and smiled at him. “Welcome home, Smerek. Fucking missed you.”

“Language – god you’re 11 why do you have such a potty mouth?” he asked, rolling his eyes. He knew it was his fault but he would probably deny that until the day he died. The last thing he wanted was for Casey to be right about him being a bad influence. “And I missed you too, you brat.”

“Hey – you don’t have to keep calling me out on my language. Casey won’t be home at all this break and I’m pretty sure dad and Nora are just used to it at this point,” Marti said with a laugh, making her way to the couch.

Derek stood at the door, mechanically rocking his little brother. Casey wasn’t coming home? But she had said – not even a week ago – she had said they would talk.

“Casey – she’s not coming home?” Derek asked, trying to make his voice sound normal. Simon was settling against his shoulder. He was too tired to put up too much a fuss. Derek suddenly felt he could emulate that kind of exhaustion just now. Especially when it came to Casey.

“Visiting her dad in New York with Lizzie, didn’t she tell you?” Mati asked, not picking up on how thin his voice was. He shouldn’t be surprised. Casey was a pro at avoiding things she didn’t want to deal with, wasn’t she? If she hadn’t been before, she’d certainly learned the skill recently and learned it well.

Fucking keener.

“No, she didn’t,” Derek said with a shake of his head. He shifted Simon, murmuring under his breath when his brother started to fuss. He was so much heavier now than the last time Derek had been home. Who knew babies grew so quickly?

“She didn’t tell you?” Marti snapped, her face turning that bright red again. “I can’t. Are you kidding me?”

“Sorry?” he replied, sitting down next to her on the couch. Simon tucked his head under Derek’s chin as he leaned back into the couch.

“What are you apologizing for? She was supposed to tell you,” Marti snapped a little too loudly. She froze for a second when Simon fussed again before rubbing his face against Derek’s chest and settling back in. “I don’t know how you get him to sleep so fast. You’re like never here.”

“It’s a brother thing,” Derek said with a small smirk. Marti rolled her eyes and settled into the couch next to him. She rested her cheek on his shoulder and stared at the TV. “I’m fine, Marti.”

“Are you sure?” she asked, in that little sister voice she saved just for him.

“Pretty sure – I’m going to be,” he replied and it was true. He was going to be.

He was officially done with Casey McDonald. So that was a good head start, right?

A tiny voice whispered at the back of his head that he was truly fucked. He was getting sick of that little voice.

Chapter Text

Casey stared at her laptop, trying to ignore Debbie’s glare. It had been going on for at least twenty minutes at this point but Casey refused to budge. If Debbie thought glaring at her was going to make Casey talk about the party then she was sorely mistaken.

“I just,” Debbie started before shutting her mouth. Casey could hear her teeth click with how abruptly Debbie had stopped talking.

“What?” Casey asked after another minute of strained silence filled the room. She didn’t look away from the very interesting article she was trying to read about medieval calligraphy so she counted it as a win.

“You lied,” Debbie said. “You looked him in the face and you lied.”

“What was I supposed to do? He wasn’t letting it go,” Casey snapped, finally turning to Debbie. “I thought you wanted me to move on? How am I supposed to do that when he’s right there?”

“How are you supposed to do that when you’re texting him every other week because you’re a freak who has his schedule memorized? That’s the real question,” Debbie snapped, narrowing her eyes at Casey. Casey shrank back a little bit, feeling the slightest twinge of guilt. “I mean, you love him. Like. You love him, love him.”

Casey rolled her eyes and turned back to her laptop. Whatever guilt she had been feeling instantly melted away as a whole new surge of annoyance at Debbie rushed through her veins. She wasn’t having this conversation again. She was tired of this conversation.

“And he loves you, loves you,” Debbie continued. She was just as bad as Derek and refused to take a hint. “But here you are. Sitting on your couch while he’s in London waiting for a conversation that’s never going to happen.”

“Never is an awfully long time, Debbie,” Casey mumbled as she reread the same sentence for the tenth time. She was barely making any progress this way but she didn’t want to give up and she didn’t want to talk about Derek. Hadn’t she mentioned that already?

“You crushed his soul, Case,” Debbie said.

“I did not!” Casey shouted, slamming her laptop shut. “Derek is fine. Derek has Sarah now.”

“We both know the only reason he’s with Sarah is to try and get over you!” Debbie said, throwing herself back into the couch cushions. She crossed her arms and glared at Casey. Casey tried not to shift under Debbie’s stink eye but she wasn’t doing that great of a job at it. “I just don’t get you, Spacey.”

“What is there to get? Derek is not who I want to be with and now he has a new . . . person and that’s the end of it,” Casey said with a shrug. She didn’t even believe herself.

“You’re such a terrible liar, I am shocked that Derek believed you at the party,” Debbie said with a shake of her head. She sighed and pushed herself up from the couch. “Look, I’m tired of repeating myself. And I get it. Being unsure about someone. It happens. But you’ve gone through your crying phase and now you’re in some weird limbo of moving on. Time to figure out what you really want, Case. Derek deserves that much.”

“Since when are you the defender of Derek Venturi?” Casey snapped, looking up at her. “Since when do you even care who I decide to be in a relationship with?”

“Since you fucking started this stupid emotional self-flagellation thing! I thought I would support you as best as I could but this is ridiculous!” Debbie snapped back. She sat back down on the couch and grabbed both of Casey’s hands. “You love him. Don’t fucking argue with me. You love him and instead of being with him you’re clinging to some ridiculous idea of who you used to be.”

“What does that even mean?” Casey asked with a tired sigh. She was tired of thinking about Derek, of talking about Derek. Everything seemed to be about him. It was exhausting.

“It means that the Casey who went to New York to dance for a year - the Casey who was the keener queen back in London – would never be okay with loving Derek. On principle alone. But you’re not that person anymore. We grow, we change. It’s all part of being human,” Debbie said softly. “And the person you grew into, the person who’s my friend, fucking loves Derek Venturi and wants to be with him.”

“So what? So what if I want to be with him? It doesn’t mean anything!” Casey shouted, standing up and marching to the kitchen. She needed a drink. Or five. “You and Vicki keep guilt-tripping me into talking about my feelings but what difference does talking about them make? God. I’ve talked about my feelings for years and it’s gotten me nothing!”

“It could get you Derek,” Debbie snapped, following Casey into the kitchen. She took the wine bottle that Casey was struggling with from her hands and put it on the counter. Debbie took Casey’s hands into her own and sighed, smiling slightly. “I mean, I know Derek is the worst with a capital W but he’s not that bad.”

“What if,” Casey started before taking in a shuddering breath. “What if I really screwed up? What if I lost my shot? What if he really has moved on?”

“Oh. My. God,” Debbie said, squeezing Casey’s hands. “You both should be paying me as like a couple’s therapist or something. I can’t keep doing this shit for free.”

“You are not my therapist! This is not therapy!” Casey whined, pulling her hands free. She crossed her arms and pouted at Debbie. She was getting a little tired of people teasing her about her internal struggles. She deserved the slightest bit of sympathy, didn’t she?

“He loves you, you dipshit!” Debbie shouted with a laugh. She smiled at Casey and grabbed the back of her neck, shaking her slightly. “He is stupid in love with you and you’re worrying about losing your chance like a dumb.”

“Debbie!” Casey shouted, pulling away.

“You know he does! I don’t know why you’re acting like it’s not true,” Debbie snapped. They’d been over this. More than enough times but Casey was sure the world would end before she really believed it. It just wasn’t possible in the world of Casey McDonald. But then again. It was there – he was there. Maybe Debbie was right. Maybe this Kingston Casey could have this and it not end badly.

“I fucked up,” Casey muttered, covering her eyes and groaning.

“Casey fucked up?” Vicki said as she walked into the apartment. “I didn’t know the greatest keener of all time fucked up.”

“She’s had a revelation,” Debbie said, rolling her eyes in fond exasperation.

The revelation? Does she see the light?” Vicki asked, tossing her bag onto the couch and crossing the living room to wrap her arms around Debbie. She smiled brightly and pressed a loud kiss to Debbie’s cheek. Debbie squealed slightly and playfully batted at Vicki’s arm around her waist.

Casey made herself look away. They were happy. They didn’t need to see the hungry look on her face. Yeah. She had definitely fucked up.

“She has seen the way of the Lord and is ready to accept his gifts,” Debbie replied before bursting into laughter. Vicki rolled her eyes and kissed Debbie’s cheek again before turning to Casey.

“So are you over this whole stupid being broken-up with Derek thing?” Vicki asked, crossing her arms. Casey sighed and rubbed at her eyes. She was so tired all of the sudden. “I’m taking that sigh of defeat as a yes.”

“I thought you were okay with what happened between us?” Casey asked – whined was a little more accurate. She pouted a little and gave Vicki her most pitiful puppy eyes. “You said you supported me.”

“Yeah, of course I’m going to say that when you’re grieving and I was okay with it,” Vicki said, raising her eyebrows at Casey. “But then you stayed miserable and kept texting him and I don’t know. It didn’t seem like you were even on board with this whole anti D-man campaign.”

“D-man?” Casey asked with a smirk.

“I’m test running it,” Vicki said with a shrug. “And you are not changing the topic.”

“And what is the topic?” Casey asked, standing up a little straighter. Couldn’t Debbie jump in and stop Casey from having to have the same conversation again? Couldn’t they do that couple thing where they just told each other what happened after going home?

“You’re taking Derek back,” Vicki said with a smile. She pinched Casey’s cheek, laughing slightly. “You’re taking him back and opening your heart to love.”

“Opening my heart to love?” Casey asked as she batted Vicki’s hand away.

“So maybe one of my co-workers is one of those self-help book junkies,” Vicki said with a laugh.

“How else do you think I finally got her to commit?” Debbie asked with a smirk. She rested her cheek against Vicki’s shoulder, wrapping an arm around her girlfriend’s waist. “I got Joe to quote passages about being open to love and change until it sunk in.”

“You did not!” Casey said with a laugh. Debbie’s smile grew and she nodded. “I can’t believe you! I can’t believe I’m just hearing this, by the way. Don’t think that I’ve forgiven either of you for keeping secrets!”

“Come on, it wasn’t that big of a secret,” Vicki said, looking down. Casey rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. “Okay so maybe it was a huge secret but the whole new relationship plus maybe being bi was kind of terrifying.”

“But I’m your cousin,” Casey whined slightly. “I took it super well when Sam came out.”

“But you didn’t cry when Sam came out,” Vicki replied, rolling her eyes.

“Yeah well Sam coming out didn’t come with declarations of ‘Casey I think she’s the one,’” Casey replied, kicking at Vicki’s shin. “What else was I supposed to do?”

“The one?” Debbie asked, a sappy smile spreading across her face.

“Shut up, you,” Vicki replied, kissing Debbie quickly on the lips before turning back to Casey. “Besides, you were the one with the secret love of Derek for how long before you two finally got it together?”

Casey swallowed the lump in her throat. Because it was a lie. Whatever answer she came up with would be a lie and Vicki had been so honest with Casey over the past week. How was she supposed to lie about this whole thing now?

“When is Liz supposed to get here?” Debbie asked, steering the conversation away from Derek and relationships in general. Casey gave Debbie a grateful smile that she hoped Vicki wouldn’t read into too much.

“I’m supposed to get her at the bus station in about an hour,” Casey replied. She turned away from the two of them to go back to the couch. She had an hour before seeing Liz, which could be an hour she could use to finish reading the article on calligraphy. She needed the distraction. “Are you going home for break, Vick?”

“Probably – for a few days at least,” Vicki said as she rustled through the kitchen. “I’ll tell mom about dropping out, so don’t even ask.”

“I wasn’t going to say a word,” Casey mumbled with a smirk. She looked at Vicki over her shoulder and smiled slightly. “Have I told you lately how happy it makes me that we’re finally friends?”

“Oh my god, don’t get sappy on me McDonald,” Vicki said with a laugh.

“Wouldn’t want to feel anything, now would we?” Debbie said as she walked back into the living room. She sat down on the couch next to Casey and leaned her head against her shoulder. Casey kissed Debbie on the forehead and smiled brightly at her. “Oh god, don’t include me in this sappy ‘I’m glad we’re friends’ moment.”

“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Casey replied, rolling her eyes and shrugging her shoulder until Debbie sat up straight. “Even if it is true.”

“Hey,” Debbie said, bumping their shoulders. “I’m happy about it too.”

“Good,” Casey said with a smile. She opened her laptop and sighed contentedly. What Debbie had said, about Casey being different, was right. She was a different person and that person – the one who walked away from university to dance in New York, the one who could look at Derek Venturi and not gag – wasn’t so bad. Casey could handle being that person as long as she had her friends around her. She knew it.

“Well, since we’re on the love boat train,” Vicki said as she sat on the floor by the coffee table. She propped her chin on her hand and sighed, looking at Debbie for a long minute before turning to Casey. “I’m moving out.”

“What?” Casey asked, sitting up straight. She closed her laptop again and looked at Vicki with wide eyes. She knew it was only a matter of time before it happened. Vicki couldn’t keep sleeping in Casey’s living room forever. It didn’t mean she was even remotely prepared for it.

“And she’s moving in with me,” Debbie said softly. Casey turned to look at Debbie for a brief moment before turning back to Vicki. They were moving in? Already?

“What?”

“I’m moving in with Debbie,” Vicki said slowly as if Casey were a child. “We talked about it and we’ve agreed that it was a good idea.”

“Who is we? We did not talk about this!” Casey snapped. Her happy-go-lucky feelings were quickly fading away. “There was no we!”

“We as in Debbie and I,” Vicki mumbled, looking down at the table. “Debbie and I talked about it.”

“And what about me?” Casey asked, her voice tiny and thin. “What were you just going to move out and not tell me?”

“I was going to tell you,” Vicki said, looking up at Casey. She looked earnest. She looked guilty. But it wasn’t enough for Casey. “I am telling you. Right now.”

“Oh, gee, thanks. At least you’re telling me instead of me coming home to an empty apartment. I guess I should be grateful,” Casey snapped.

“Casey,” Debbie said softly, touching her arm.

“Don’t,” Casey said, pulling away. “I think you should leave, Debbie. I want to talk to Vicki alone.”

“Don’t be mad at Debbie,” Vicki said.

“It’s fine,” Debbie said, standing up. “I need to get home anyways.”

“Debbie,” Vicki said, standing up as well. She gave Casey a disapproving glare before going to her girlfriend. Casey sniffed and looked down at her lap. She wasn’t going to feel guilty this time. She felt guilty when she’d dumped Derek and that had eaten at her for weeks. She refused to let a new batch of guilt eat away at her. There wouldn’t be anything left of her when it was done.

“It’s fine,” Debbie said, softly. “She’s allowed to be upset. I’ll see you later.”

“Yeah, alright,” Vicki replied. Casey heard them kiss and her throat clenched. She was being a bitch. Fucking hell.

“Debbie,” Casey said, looking up. “I’m not mad.”

“I know,” Debbie said, pulling away from Vicki with a far too understanding smile. “Have a great holiday. Don’t forget to text me all about New York!”

Casey nodded and gave Debbie a tight smile. Debbie sighed and turned to Vicki. They stared at each other for a minute, having a silent conversation that Casey wasn’t a part of, before she left the apartment. Casey looked down at her lap, waiting for Vicki to say something.

“Well, that went well,” Vicki said with a bitter laugh. Casey sighed and pressed her forehead into her hands.

“I’m sorry,” she mumbled, knowing it wasn’t enough. She never seemed to be enough anymore.

“I mean, I figured you would freak out,” Vicki said, ignoring Casey’s apology. “You’re Casey. You’re not capable of not freaking out.”

“I know I didn’t react well,” Casey started.

“Don’t,” Vicki snapped, cutting her off. “I mean, I’ve barely been here and you haven’t said a word. I’ve basically moved in with Debbie already and you haven’t noticed.”

“I knew you were spending time with her,” Casey said slowly. “That didn’t automatically translate to you moving out. It’s not like I knew that you two were even together like that.”

“Oh my god,” Vicki said, throwing her head back and staring up at the ceiling. “If you hadn’t been so caught up in your bullshit with Derek maybe you would’ve actually asked about how I’m doing.”

“Excuse me?” Casey asked, standing up from the couch.

“You heard me, Casey,” Vicki snapped. “For the past two months it’s been all about you and Derek. We all have lives, Casey. We can’t all be enthralled with the gripping saga that is your love life.”

“I never asked you to be enthralled!” Casey shouted, walking over to Vicki. “I never asked you to be so involved in my life, Vicki! You’re the one who showed up in Kingston with next to no warning!”

“Because I needed help!” Vicki replied. “I came to you because I needed help!”

“But when I need help I’m being dramatic and demanding?” Casey snapped, rolling her eyes.

“God, why are you even mad at me right now?” Vicki asked with a groan. “I’m getting my own space, I’m moving out. It’s not the end of the world!”

“You’re leaving me! You’re leaving me and without you around, I’m going to be alone,” Casey shouted, feeling her chest burn. She huffed, annoyed with herself, and turned to sit back down on the couch. She felt pathetic. Vicki was right. She was dramatic and demanding but Vicki had caught her totally off guard. She hadn’t seen Debbie and Vicki being together coming and she clearly hadn’t seen this coming. Was it any wonder that she hadn’t been able to predict falling for Derek?

“Come on, Casey,” Vicki said with a sigh. She sat down next to Casey on the couch, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “You’re not alone.”

“I know,” Casey said with a sigh. She leaned into Vicki and wrapped her arms around her cousin’s waist. “I just. I’m going to miss having you around.”

“I’m gonna miss you too, Space Case,” Vicki said softly. She kissed the top of Casey’s head. “But I’ll come over whenever you want.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah – I mean, think of it this way,” Vicki said, shaking Casey back and forth. “Now you can have all the loud sex you want once you and Derek make-up.”

“Vicki!” Casey shouted with a laugh. She pulled away slightly and gave Vicki a withering glare. “I’d much rather have you around than have loud sex.”

“Oh, cousin Case, your priorities are seriously out of whack,” Vicki replied with a laugh.

***

“You can stop glaring at me, Liz,” Casey said. She clenched the steering wheel until her knuckles turned white. “I’ve already been told off by Debbie and Vicki, so you can save it.”

“I would expect something like this from Derek but not you, Case,” Lizzie said slowly.

“I’m not allowed to freak out? I’m not allowed to panic?” Casey asked, turning to look at her sister briefly before turning back to focus on the road. It had been an awkward first hour of a six hour drive. Liz had refused to say anything. Apparently, she’d gotten a call from Marti – a very angry call from Marti explaining exactly what it was that Casey had done.

“This isn’t you panicking. This is you playing games. I would have expected games from Derek, Case. Not you,” Lizzie said with a shrug. “I thought you were better than this.”

“I’m not playing games,” Casey said softly. “I just . . . took a little while to figure out what I wanted.”

“But you knew you wanted Derek months ago,” Liz said, crossing her arms. “What is there to figure out?”

“Just because you want someone doesn’t mean you should be with them,” Casey said slowly. She looked at Liz out of the corner of her eye and sighed. “I wanted to be sure.”

“Well, Marti thinks you blew your chance,” Liz said.

“Vicki and Debbie don’t think so,” Casey said, ignoring the sinking feeling in her stomach. She hadn’t lost her chance. She couldn’t have.

“But they’re not with him right now, are they?” Liz asked, looking at her sister with a raised eyebrow.

“Well, I don’t believe it,” Casey said, shaking her head. “I can still fix this.”

“If you say so,” Liz said but Casey knew that she didn’t believe her.

“Since when are you so invested in me and Derek anyways?” Casey asked. She hadn’t talked to her little sister about the disaster that was her love life much. Even if she had, Liz had never been one to get all that invested in Casey’s relationships.

“I might not get it,” Liz said after a long minute. “Because it’s Derek and it’s you and it’s weird and you used to hate each other and how do you even reconcile who you guys used to be with what you’re feeling now?”

“Because the step-sibling thing isn’t weird enough?” Casey asked. Liz shrugged and looked out the window. “Trust me, Liz. I’m having all of those same thoughts because he is Derek and it is weird but . . .”

“But?”

“But I don’t know. Maybe I’m different now then I was in high school,” Casey said with a slightly watery smile. She was not going to cry. It was not going to happen. Liz stared at her for a second before looking back out the window.

“You’ve never been this way about a guy before, Casey,” Lizzie said slowly. “Except maybe Truman. I think he was the closest you ever got to being reckless for a boy.”

“I’m not being reckless!” Casey snapped. With Truman she might have been. Going off to parties in other cities. Yelling at her mom. It hadn’t been pretty and Casey wasn’t proud of it.

“You know what I mean,” Liz said with an exasperated sigh.

“Fine. But you didn’t answer my question.”

“You’re my sister and I’ve never seen you so into someone and so freaked out by it at the same time. I don’t know. I think you really like Derek and I think he really likes you,” Liz said. “I think you could, maybe, be happy with him. Maybe. And if I can help you be happy? Then that’s just me being a good sister.”

“Thanks Lizzie,” Casey said softly, feeling genuinely touched. She reached over and tugged on a loose strand of Lizzie’s hair. “The best sister.”

“Whatever,” Lizzie replied, rolling her eyes and tucking the loose strand behind her ear. “Do you know if Dad’s girlfriend is going to be around or if she’s visiting her family again?”

“Fingers crossed she’s visiting her family,” Casey muttered. It wasn’t the best change of topic but, at this point, Casey was willing to talk about anything other than Derek - even their father’s jailbait girlfriend.

“She’s not that bad, Case,” Liz said with a sigh.

“She’s, like, five years older than me,” Casey said with a scoff. “What could they possibly have in common?”

“I don’t know but you didn’t like George when Mom first started dating him, remember? And look how well that turned out,” Liz said. Casey knew she was trying to put on a brave face but Liz was chewing her bottom lip and picking at her nail polish. Both were nervous ticks that she’d never grown out of.

“George isn’t the same age as me,” Casey said with a sigh. “Plus George actually tried to get to know us a little bit before marrying Mom.”

“Do you think Dad is going to marry Cindy?” Liz asked, sitting up straight. Casey snorted and rolled her eyes. She couldn’t see her father marrying anyone at his age. Then again, she hadn’t seen her mother having a third child either. “I mean, it’s been a year.”

“She hasn’t even met us yet - not really,” Casey said. “Dad can be . . . neglectful but he wouldn’t marry someone who’s never even met his children yet.”

“If you say so, Case,” Liz muttered, looking out of the window. Casey sighed and slouched down in the seat. It was going to be a very long car ride.

***

“Casey! It is so good to see you!” Cindy said when she opened the door. She grabbed Casey’s upper arms and pulled her into a huge bear hug before pushing her to the side to let Liz inside as well. “Oh my goodness, Liz look at your hair! I love it!”

“Thanks,” Lizzie muttered, with a small please smile. She let Cindy pull her into a hug and even hugged her back. “Is Dad home?”

“He had to run to the office - an emergency with one of his clients,” Cindy said, frowning slightly. Casey raised an eyebrow at Liz before Cindy slapped an obviously forced smile onto her face. “You know how your father can be!”

Casey sighed and looked around the apartment. Not much had changed in the year since she’s been here. There were more pictures of Cindy, more of her little touches throughout the apartment - a vase of flowers on the dining room table, throw pillows, artwork on the walls. They weren’t bad changes so Casey couldn’t complain, could she?

Cindy smiled awkwardly at Casey and rubbed her hands together. She didn’t know what Cindy was expecting from her so she tried to smile back. That didn’t seem to help Cindy out much since her smile began to fall. Casey sighed and put a little more effort into her smile, “So. Cindy. Are you going to be around for the holidays this year?”

“Oh yes!” Cindy said with a small nod. “I gave my parents a vacation to the Bahamas for Christmas this year, so I’ll be around this year. Mother always complains about how cold it gets in Vermont during winter. I thought a little sunshine would be nice this year.”

“Right,” Casey said with an awkward laugh. What kind of person sends their family away for the holidays? “I’m sure they were thrilled.”

“Oh no,” Cindy said with a laugh. “My mother was furious. Thought I wanted to get rid of her for the holidays. Decided that she likes her show dogs more. She’s not a very pleasant woman but she’s my mother.”

“Oh,” Casey said softly, not expecting that burst of honesty. “That’s. I’m sorry - that’s crummy.”

“You grow up with it, you tend to build up a bit of a callous,” Cindy said, shaking her head. She smiled brightly when Lizzie walked back into the living room. “Lizzie! Seriously, I cannot get over how cute that haircut is.”

“Thanks,” Liz said with a smile. “Mom hates that I cut it so short.”

“I can’t image why,” Cindy said with a laugh. She tucked a loose strand behind Liz’s ear and patted her on the shoulder. “So what do you girls want to do? I figure it’s girl’s night until your dad gets home.”

“I’m pretty beat from the drive,” Casey said , waving her hand. She wasn’t trying to avoid spending time with Cindy. She really was tired. But she couldn’t help the little spark of guilt when Cindy’s face dropped. “I was thinking maybe just eating something and then heading to bed.”

“I already called dibs on the bed next to the window,” Lizzie said with a smug smile. “All my stuff is piled on that one.”

“What? Why do you get the window bed?” Casey asked, rolling her eyes. “I’m older, I should get first pick.”

“Clearly your old age is getting to you, since I got there first,” Liz said with a wicked laugh. Casey laughed and picked up her suitcase. She kissed Liz on the forehead as she walked by.

“You have been surrounded by too many Venturis, Lizard,” Casey said before walking down the hallway.

“I’m going to order sushi, if you don’t mind Casey?” Cindy called after her. “You like sushi, right?”

“Liz is a vegetarian,” Casey said, rolling her eyes. If Cindy was going to date her father at the very least she could know that about his children.

“Oh I know - this place has a excellent vegetarian menu. You’d be amazed at the vegetable rolls that they make,” Cindy replied quickly. “I’ll just place the order.”

“Fine,” Casey called back before walking into the guest room and shutting the door. At least this apartment had a guest room. Casey remembered when she was younger and her dad had a one bedroom apartment. At the time Casey had turned it into a game for her and Liz, building pillow forts in the living room until Dad got home from whatever work emergency he had to rush off to. It didn’t seem as fun now that she looked back on it.

At least Cindy didn’t seem that bad. Trying too hard for sure but she seemed nice. Casey’s dad deserved nice, didn’t he?

Casey sat down on the bed and rubbed her face. Visiting her dad always brought up a slew of emotions she was rarely prepared to face. She had worshipped him when she was younger. He was her Dad. He taught her the importance of hard work and being honest and being devoted. But he was never there. It was all half memories of him having to leave or missing a recital or showing up late and missing her solo. Casey used to make excuses for it but the excuses stopped after that night in London and her epic failure of a dinner.

But he was trying now, wasn’t he? They’d spent the last two Christmas holidays together. She’d gotten to wake up and open presents with her dad and her sister. She had missed her mom and George and everyone else of course but it was such a treat getting to spend the holidays with her dad. Casey would have to start lying to herself about something other than her feelings for Derek if she said that Cindy had nothing to do with it.

“Are you purposely trying to not like Cindy?” Liz asked from the doorway. Casey sighed and rolled her eyes, falling back on the bed. “I mean, if you are, I get it. She’s dating Dad and you tend to be overprotective but that doesn’t make it right, Case.”

“I’m not trying to dislike her Liz,” Casey said softly.

“Then what is your deal?” Liz asked, walking into the room. She opened her duffel bag and rifled through it until she pulled out a sweatshirt. “I mean, she’s really nice and she obviously wants you to like her.”

“She is really nice but how long do you think she’s going to last? I mean, Dad has had girlfriends before,” Casey said. She knew she was grasping at straws but she didn’t really have anything else to hold onto. She was being a brat.

“Yeah and how many have made an effort to actually get to know us?” Liz asked with a snort. She pulled the sweatshirt on and laid down on the bed next to Casey. “What’s up, Casey? You’re not usually this hard on new people.”

“Yeah but how many of those new people are dating our dad?” Casey replied. She curled onto her side and pressed her forehead to Liz’s. “It’s just weird. I mean, we’re finally getting a chance to get to know him again and it’s mostly because of Cindy. What does that say about Dad?”

“If you’re mad at him for not being there, then why don’t you take it out on him? It’s not Cindy’s fault,” Liz said softly.

“I know it’s not her fault but I shouldn’t have to feel grateful to a third party that my dad is finally paying attention to me,” Casey replied with a frustrated groan. “Why is this so hard?”

“Because you have a tendency to make things harder for yourself then they have to be?” Liz said with a laugh.

“Girls? I’m going to head out to get the sushi,” Cindy said as she walked into the room. She stopped short looking at the girls on the bed, smiling softly. “Do you need me to grab anything while I’m out?”

“It’s ready already?” Casey asked as she sat up. “That’s fast.”

“Well they only do carry-out and by the time I walk there, it should be ready,” Cindy said with a shrug. “I hate driving in the city and usually end up walking.”

“I could drive,” Casey offered, sitting up. She looked down at Liz and rolled her eyes at her sister’s self-satisfied smirk. She could try, couldn’t she, without someone rubbing it in her face? “I mean, we could, like, hang out for a bit before getting food, right?”

Cindy’s whole face lit up and she nodded enthusiastically, “Of course. I would really like that Casey.”

“Great,” Casey said. “Let me change out of these jeans and we can chat or something.”

“Sure, of course,” Cindy said with the first real smile of the afternoon. As soon as she walked out of the room, Liz sat up with a pleased smile.

“What?”

“Nothing.”

“Not nothing.”

“I think I like this new Casey,” Liz said as Casey sifted through her own duffel bag, looking for yoga pants.

“New Casey?” Casey asked, knowing she probably wasn’t going to like whatever it was Liz was going to say.

“Yeah - this Casey who can admit she’s wrong and do something about it. I wish I could see when she finally makes an appearance around Derek,” Liz said with a laugh. Casey rolled her eyes and threw her balled up jeans at Liz’s face. Yeah, Casey was interested to see what she would do too.

***

Casey held her sides as she giggled. Liz was staring at her from across the room with wide eyes and Cindy was laughing along with her. She was more than willing to admit that it had been a bad joke - a stupid play on words that she would never ever repeat - if she could breathe.

“I think you’re going to end up on the floor if you keep laughing like that,” Liz said as she daintily sipped from her water glass. Casey sighed dramatically and reached a hand out to push herself back onto the sofa. She had definitely slipped dangerously close to the ground. Maybe it was the wine going to her head.

“We have a very soft carpet to cushion your fall,” Cindy said. Her voice was high pitched and reedy. Casey knew that if she looked over at her father’s girlfriend she was going to burst out laughing again. “I swear. Having fallen around this apartment plenty of times myself, I can attest to the softness of that rug.”

“I am never hanging out with you two sober again,” Liz said with a sigh. She snuggled into the armchair that she had claimed as her own and smiled at Casey.

“We have only had two bottles of wine,” Casey said, trying her hardest to sound like the stern older sister she was supposed to be. “That’s nothing.”

“That’s a bottle each!” Liz said with a snort. She rolled her eyes and turned to Cindy. “Are you going to try and pretend that you’re totally sober?”

“Of course not, but I am not drunk and that’s what matters,” Cindy said, sitting up straight and tossing her red hair over her shoulder. “A lady is never drunk, simply tipsy.”

“Excuse me, if I’m drunk does that mean I’m not a lady?” Casey asked, reaching for her glass of wine on the coffee table. She was sure that she could reach it without having to actually get up. She’d seen Derek do it enough times that she should be a professional at it.

“Eight years of prep school and etiquette classes would say no,” Cindy said with a laugh. She sighed and pushed her hair behind her ear. She glanced at the clock on the wall and frowned. “Your dad should be home by now.”

“Wow, it is late,” Liz said, glancing at the clock herself. Lizzie shrugged and looked at Casey with her eyebrow raised. This wasn’t anything new for the two of them. Casey wondered why it sounded like something new for Cindy. “But that’s dad for you.”

“What?” Cindy asked, looking at Lizzie with a confused frown.

“Dad does this. Works late when we visit. You get used to it,” Lizzie said with an attempt at an unaffected shrug. Casey knew better though. Liz could pretend to be nonchalant about the whole thing for Cindy’s sake but she wasn’t fooling Casey.

“Really? That’s bizarre,” Cindy said with an awkward laugh. “He’s been cutting down on his hours lately. I may have complained. Once. Twice. A few times.”

Casey laughed and shook her head, “It’s just us being here is freaking him out. He’s a good dad when he finally faces it but it always takes at least a day.”

“Well. That’s just unacceptable, isn’t it?” Cindy said. She was pulling at her bottom lip slightly and her eyebrows were furrowed in concentration.

“It’s just Dad though,” Casey said with a shrug. “Nothing to worry about. He’ll be fine tomorrow.”

“I just don’t understand how you’re so accepting of this,” Cindy said as she stared at the remains of their sushi dinner.

Casey shrugged and finished her glass of wine. There wasn’t really much to be done about it at this point, was there? Casey was an adult and Lizzie was pretty close to being one herself. They were used to the whole process of being systematically ignored until their father could wrap his head around being a dad again.

“Well, I'm not okay with it and I'm going to say something,” Cindy said with a firm nod. She looked determined and Casey had had too much wine to try and change her mind. Lizzie have Casey a knowing look before standing up and stretching.

“You have fun with that. I'm going to bed,” Lizzie said. “Thanks for dinner, Cindy.”

“Huh? Oh yes, of course, sweetie,” she said with a soft but distracted smile.

“I'll be there in a minute, Liz,” Casey said with a small wave of her fingers. Liz patted the top of Casey's head like she would a small dog as she walked by. Casey whimpered and batted at her sister, smiling a little as Liz giggled. “Good night.”

“Night,” Liz shouted over her shoulder. Casey smiled and turned back to Cindy.

“It's nice. That you have each other,” Cindy said. She sighed and looked around the living room before frowning. There were half full containers of sushi and used soy sauce packets all over the coffee table. They had not been neat while stuffing their faces.

“Do you have any siblings?” Casey asked as she stood up. She gathered the empty plates and used chopsticks into a pile, carrying them into the kitchen.

“Oh no. It's just me,” Cindy said as she followed behind Casey, carrying what was left of the sushi. “I've always wanted a sister though.”

“It's not that great,” Casey said with a smirk.

“But you have brothers,” Cindy said with a small laugh. “Maybe brothers aren't so bad?”

“I have step-brothers,” Casey said on reflex, emphasizing the step part.

“Same difference though,” Cindy said with a shrug. Casey groaned and rolled her eyes. She was so tired of hearing same difference - even when it was coming from her very own mouth.

“You know I didn't even meet him until I was 15?” Casey started, not really expecting an answer. Cindy opened her mouth to say something but Casey kept on talking. “I mean I'm taken away from everything I know. Everything that I LOVE and shoved into a house with smelly, disgusting boys who are infuriating! And I'm supposed to automatically think of him as my brother. Please.”

“I mean I'm sure no one actually thought that,” Cindy said with an awkward smile. Casey snorted and turned the sink on. She always felt better when she was cleaning.

“Of course they did. Because that's what happens when you blend households right? We all Brady Bunch out and everything is fine! Wrong. Very very wrong,” Casey replied, dropping the plates into the sink.

“So you don't get along with your stepbrothers then?” Cindy asked slowly. Casey stopped what she was doing and turned to stare at Cindy.

“I never said that. I love Ed. It took forever to get past the smell,” she replied with a shrug. She knew she was changing the subject. Trying to change the subject. Cindy was not buying it. At all.

“But what about the other one? You have two brothers,” Cindy said. Her tone clearly said that she knew that she was toeing a line.

“Derek.”

“Right. Derek. What about him?”

Casey turned back to the sink and continued washing the dishes. She didn't even know how they'd gotten to this point. She didn't want to talk about Derek. Hell. She didn't even know if she could talk about Derek as anything other than the man she was in love with. How was she supposed to face her mother or George if she couldn't even talk about him casually with her father’s girlfriend?

“Nothing. Nothing about him,” Casey said quickly, shaking her head. “He’s just. He's Derek.”

“That's not vague or intriguing at all,” Cindy said with a laugh. She nudged Casey a little with her hip. “Come on. I thought we were, you know, being friendly.”

“There's being friendly and there's being nosy,” Casey snapped without thinking. Cindy stiffened next to her and Casey felt instantly guilty. They were being friendly and Casey was ruining it. “I'm sorry. That was rude.”

“No, it's fine,” Cindy said, shaking her head slightly. She moved away from Casey a little bit and continued putting away the sushi. “Mother always said I never knew when to keep my nose out of other people's business.”

“I shouldn't have snapped,” Casey said, feeling worse than dirt. “My relationship with Derek is . . . complicated and I'm not used to talking about it. At least. Not with adults.”

“Sweetie, hate to break it to you but you're an adult,” Cindy said with a smirk. Casey rolled her eyes and shook her head. “But I get it. If you don't want to talk about it that's fine.”

“No. It's not that. I want to talk about it. I do,” Casey said slowly. “It's just. Hard. And complicated.”

“So something involving Derek is complicated and hard to talk about?” Cindy said just as slowly. Casey knew she was getting it. Or getting something. There was no way that Cindy was hearing this and not coming to conclusions of her own. Cindy’s eyes widened and her mouth fell open just a little. “You and?”

“No?” Casey said with a wince. “I mean sort of? It's complicated.”

“Oh. Hmm. Yes. Okay,” Cindy said. She pressed her lips together tightly and stared at the counter for a minute before looking up at Casey with bright eyes. “I don't understand but I support you and just hope that you're being safe.”

“Being safe?” Casey asked, dreading the answer. She had been vague, sure, but she didn't really come off as that type of girl did she?

“Oh dear. Safe, yes. He is after all family and this could be very upsetting for your parents - you and your brother,” Cindy said softly, wincing slightly when she said brother. She was trying to be gentle and supportive and understanding. Casey could see it in her face but it didn't help.

“STEP brother,” Casey said, probably a little too loudly. “He is my step brother. We are not related by blood at all. Not even close.”

“My mistake,” Cindy said quickly. “It slipped. I just had gotten so used to thinking of you two that way.”

“Well stop thinking that way,” Casey relied sharply. “Besides, I am not having sex with Derek fucking Venturi. Oh my god.”

To be honest, she wasn't opposed to the idea anymore but she didn't need her father’s girlfriend thinking she was just sleeping around with her stepbrother.

“Well you said it was complicated?” Cindy said with a weak smile.

“So you automatically jump to sex?”

“So maybe I read Flowers in the Attic too many times as a teen,” Cindy said with a shrug. “You were the being all cagey!”

“Flowers in the Attic is about incest!” Casey hissed.

“I'm sorry,” Cindy hissed back before taking a step back. She let out a slow breath and tried to give Casey a reassuring smile. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you or anything like that.”

“Fine,” Casey replied. She paused for a minute before rolling her eyes. “And I'm sorry for being snappy.”

“It's fine,” Cindy replied. “Now. Derek. You're not sleeping with him.”

“Definitely not.”

“Dating then?” Cindy asked with raised eyebrows. Casey shook her head. “Not dating. But wanting to date?”

Casey nodded and sighed. She rested her elbows on the counter and pressed the heels of her hands into her eyes.

“And he wants to date you?” Cindy asked. Casey shrugged. She didn't know. (In reality she knew. Of course she knew but was she ready to fully admit to fucking up and possibly ruining the chances of him wanting to date her back? Of course not. Baby steps. She needed baby steps.) “Have you two . . . talked about this thing?”

“Talking with Derek isn't exactly the easiest thing on the planet,” Casey grumbled. She stood up straight, throwing her hair back dramatically. “I mean. There have been like half conversations that never get finished. Or that I wouldn't let us finish. It was just so hard to wrap my head around Derek as boyfriend and not Derek as annoying step brother.”

“The two things aren’t exactly mutually exclusive,” Cindy said with a awkward laugh. Casey could tell that the topic still made her uncomfortable. Who could blame her? If someone who only slightly knew Derek and Casey as siblings was freaked out how were her parents going to react?

“They might as well be,” Casey said softly. “I just. He's so. Ugh. I don't know. He's Derek and I want him so bad and I don't even know if he still wants me back and here I am, hiding, instead of facing it like an adult.”

“Trust me, sweetheart,” Cindy said, patting Casey’s shoulder. “There are plenty of adults who would rather run and hide than deal with their problems. You're not that unique.”

“Gee, thanks,” Casey said, rolling her eyes. “That makes me feel loads better.”

“Well what can I say to make you feel better?” Cindy asked with wide eyes. She was being totally sincere and it was adorable. Casey could see why her dad was with Cindy in the first place.

“I don’t know - do they sell self-help books for falling in love with your step-brother?” Casey asked with a sad smirk.

“In love with your step-brother?” Dennis McDonald asked from the doorway to the kitchen. Both Casey and Cindy jumped slightly before turning to face him.

“Dad!” Casey said with a too-bright smile. He didn’t smile back. He just stared at her with wide eyes. Casey turned to Cindy, looking for any kind of help, but she was like a deer caught in the headlights. “When did you get home?”

“A few minutes ago,” he said slowly. “I think we need to talk, Casey.”

“Talk? No. No we don’t need to do that,” Casey said with a wave of her hand. “We really really don’t.”

“We really really do,” he replied, frowning slightly. Casey remembered that frown from when she was younger. It used to mean he was disappointed in them but it’s been so long that Casey isn’t sure if it means he’s disappointed in her or if he’s uncomfortable playing the role of stern father figure. “In the morning. You and me are going to have a chat.”

“In the morning?” Casey asked, feeling her chest relax slightly. At least she was going to have time to prepare herself for whatever it was her father wanted to say. She knew it was going to be about Derek and her feelings for him. There was no way that they were going to talk about anything else. The more she thought about it, the more she wished he would just talk to her now. The anticipation was bound to kill her.

“In the morning,” he repeated before turning to Cindy. “Bed?”

“Sure, honey,” Cindy replied with a hesitant smile. Dennis nodded once before turning and leaving the two women in the kitchen. “We are so fucked.”

“You’re telling me,” Casey replied with a sigh. “You’re telling me.”

***

Casey stared down at her mug of coffee, watching the way the milk swirled through the black drink before she stirred it together. Her father was sitting on the other side of the dining room table, reading his paper. He wanted to have breakfast together. Or at least, he'd wanted to have breakfast with Casey. Cindy had taken Liz to her favorite cafe around the corner. They were supposed to be ‘bonding.’

Casey would much rather be bonding right now than waiting for her dad to say something. Anything. Casey glanced up but Dennis McDonald was staunchly avoiding her eyes, staring down at the newspaper in his hand. Casey sighed and let her chin drop to her chest for a second. She was going to have to be the bigger person here, wasn’t she?

Tossing her hair back, she looked up at her father, “So. How’s the world doing?”

It was a lame opening but she wasn’t going to bring up Derek first. She might have to be the bigger person to get the conversation started but she didn’t have to be THAT big of a person. Her father, who apparently was very good at not being the bigger person (her mother had clearly been right about that), ignored her. Sighing, Casey sipped at her coffee before speaking.

“So I’m sort of dating Derek. Or. I was. We broke up,” Casey mumbled before grimacing. “I dumped him. We didn’t break up. I freaked and I dumped him.”

Finally, Dennis McDonald put his newspaper down and looked at his daughter. Casey waited for him to say something. He had to have something to say. He was a McDonald. McDonald’s couldn’t keep their mouths shut if it killed them. It was a fatal flaw, really.

“So you dated your brother?” he said after what felt like an eternity of silence. Casey groaned and covered her eyes with her hand. She bit back the step-brother retort and, for the first time in the history of ever, kept her mouth shut. Maybe there was hope after-all for the chatter box McDonalds. “Is this a delayed rebellion thing? Are you finally acting out? Getting back at me for leaving your mother?”

“Uh - mom left you,” Casey snapped. So much for keeping her mouth shut. She sat up a little straighter and looked her father in the eye. “And this is not a rebellion thing. This . . . thing that I have with Derek - used to have with Derek has nothing to do with you.”

“So you just woke up one morning and decided that incest was a good idea?”

“He is NOT my brother!” Casey replied through clenched teeth. This wasn’t going well and, really, what had she expected? This couldn’t go well. There was no way. “He’s never been my brother.”

“Casey,” he said, leaning forward. “This isn’t like you. Derek isn’t like you.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Casey replied with an incredulous laugh. “You think I don’t know how stupid it is to fall for him? Or how stressful? God. This isn’t easy for me, Dad.”

“You hate Derek. You hate guys like Derek,” he replied slowly.

“People change.”

“Oh, so Derek’s changed, has he?” Dennis replied with a healthy dose of skepticism mixed into his voice. Casey shrugged and started pulling on the ends of her hair.

“No. Not really,” she mumbled, feeling stupider by the minute. He hadn’t changed. He hadn’t matured or suddenly become the open and caring person that Casey had always told herself that she wanted. But that didn’t stop her from loving him. That didn’t stop her from laughing when he made stupid jokes or smiling when she caught him looking at her out of the corner of her eye or blushing when he brushed his hand across the small of her back. “He hasn’t changed but, maybe, I have.”

“Obviously,” he replied with a frustrated sigh. Her dad frowned and looked down at the table. This whole conversation was going badly. Then again, what had she expected? She could only imagine what it would be like to tell her mom or George. If her would-be father was freaking out, then what were her active in her life parents going to think? “Have you told your mother? Or Derek’s father?”

“Mom and George?” Casey asked in a small voice. She scoffed slightly and gave her dad a wry smile. “What do you think?”

“So, not only are you dating -”

“We are not dating!”

“Were dating Derek but you’re keeping secrets as well?” Dennis asked, sounding more and more disappointed with every word. Casey felt about ten inches tall. “I don’t like this, Casey. I don’t like this one bit. He’s clearly not good for you.”

“Not good for me?” Casey asked, leaning back slightly. “I’m sorry but since when do you know what’s good for me? If I remember correctly - the few times that you actually came to visit you spent most of the time talking to Derek! You like Derek!”

“I liked him just fine when he was your brother!” Dennis snapped, slamming a hand down on the table. “I don’t like him as the boy who is inspiring my daughter, my intelligent and should know better daughter, to keep secrets from her parents.”

“He is not my brother!” Casey shouted, standing up.

“Casey, sit down,” her dad said. Casey shook her head and crossed her arms. She was not going to be treated like some teenager trying to piss off her estranged father. “Why are you being so difficult about this? Why won’t you see reason?”

“Reason? What reason? You haven’t reasoned once. All you’ve done is condemn and question everything about me as a person,” Casey said slowly. “You don’t even know Derek anymore. So how can you judge?”

“I don’t have to know Derek to judge. I’ve known plenty of boys just like him. Boys that use girls and then break their hearts and walk away like it was nothing,” Dennis said just as slowly, just as calmly. He gave Casey a serious look, waiting for something. “I don’t need to know Derek because I know you Casey.”

“Barely,” she mumbled under her breath, looking down at the wood grain floor.

“Excuse me?”

“I said barely. You barely know me, Dad,” Casey said a little louder. “If you knew me, you’d know that I don’t rush into relationships. Ever.”

“Oh, so you thought carefully about dating Derek? Made and pros and cons list? Thought about all of the consequences and went ahead with it anyways?”

“Yes! I did all of that and I still fell for him! He is rude, impulsive, arrogant, and immature. He refuses to admit when he’s wrong. He doesn’t say sorry. He’s selfish,” Casey said before sitting down with a sigh. “But. He’s funny. He can be sweet. He can be romantic. He makes me happy, Dad.”

“Does he?” Dennis said softly. She nodded, shifting under her father’s examining gaze. “And you dumped him? Even though he makes you happy?”

“Its . . . complicated,” Casey said slowly. “It’s very complicated.”

“More complicated than the fact that you’re step-siblings?”

“Yes?” Casey said with a cringe. She shook her head and licked her lips. “I don’t really know how to explain it.”

“I don’t see how it can be worse than what it already is, Casey,” he said. Casey could tell by the look on his face that he was trying to be compassionate, understanding even, but it just made Casey feel worse. She knew that eventually she was going to have to explain this . . . thing with Derek to someone outside of her immediate circle of friends. She had just hoped that it would be someone other than her parents. Like a therapist. Or a priest. Or anyone who couldn’t openly judge her for how stupid she could be. And would take it to the grave.

“It’s . . . so . . . Vicki . . . I -”

“Casey.”

“I told Vicki that I was dating Derek so she wouldn’t make fun of me and then she came to visit and she hasn’t left and so we pretended to date except it was like we were really dating and I don’t know how it happened but I love him,” Casey said quickly, not pausing to take any breaths. “I love him.”

Slowly she looked up at her father. She didn’t know what to expect. Condemnation. Disappointment. Disbelief. Anything other than her father’s grin and stifled laughter. Casey stared at her father with wide eyes, waiting for his laughter to subside. At least someone found her life amusing.

“Are you done?” Casey asked, not bothering to try and hide her annoyance.

“I’m sorry but,” he replied, pausing to catch his breath. “That is ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous.”

“Thanks for the compassion and sympathy,” Casey muttered.

“How do things like that even happen?” he asked before bursting into laughter again.

“Dad!” Casey shouted. “It is not that funny. I am in the middle of emotional turmoil.”

“I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” he said, coughing and trying to appear serious. “It’s just. Casey. How did this even happen?”

“I don’t know,” Casey groaned. “You know how crazy Vicki makes me! I just blurted it out and next thing you know it’s practically real.”

“But was it real for Derek?” he asked. Casey shrugged and looked down at the table. “Did you even ask?”

“Well.”

“Casey.”

“What? Five minutes ago you were all ‘this is wrong’ and ‘incest’!” Casey replied, going on the defensive.

“And that wasn’t fair of me,” Dennis said. “I’m sorry but that was quite the bombshell to come home to.”

“I know. Trust me, I know,” Casey replied.

“You didn’t answer my question, Casey,” he said with a pointed look. Casey raised her eyebrows and tried to look innocent. From her father's incredulous look, she knew it wasn’t working. “You can’t know how he feels if you don’t ask.”

“But what if he doesn’t feel the same? What if I was right and it was all fake? I mean, he is already dating someone else,” Casey said, knowing that was a weak excuse. Derek’s best method for getting over someone? Date someone else. Casey knew that but it didn’t make her feel any better about the situation.

“You want to know what your mother and I’s biggest problem was?” he asked. Casey blinked at the sudden topic change. Neither of her parents talked about the divorce. Not openly, at least. “Communication. We loved each other but eventually we just stopped talking to each other. We just didn’t know how to.”

“So what? You think I need to communicate with Derek more?”

“If you love him like you say you do - if you want to keep him? Then yeah, Space Case, you need to talk to him,” Dennis said with a soft smile.

“So, you’re okay with this?” Casey asked hesitantly. “You’re not mad at me?”

“No, I’m not mad,” he said with a shrug. “I’m not okay with it either.”

Casey’s face dropped.

“It will take time,” Dennis said, reaching across the table to hold Casey’s hand. “But if you’re happy. Then that’s what matters, right?”

Casey smiled slightly before getting up and throwing her arms around her father’s neck. She pressed her face into his shoulder and whispered, “I love you, Dad.”

“I love you too, Casey,” he replied, returning her hug. “I’m sure it goes without saying that if he breaks your heart, I’m taking a hit out on him.”

Chapter Text

“So your dad knows?” Jesse asked before sipping his coffee. Casey nodded with a grim smile. “And your mom still doesn’t know?”

“Were you always this slow on the uptake?” Casey asked with a smirk before reaching across the table for the mimosa carafe. Jesse laughed and Casey smiled. This was nice. Calling Jesse and making brunch plans had been a last minute idea but, since she was in New York, how could she pass up the chance? “Seriously though. How have you been? For one day, I would like to not talk about my crazy love life.”

“Considering that I had a brief starring role in your crazy love life, I don’t think it’s that bad,” Jesse replied with one of his sweetest smiles. Casey couldn’t help the blush that crept onto her face. She might not have feelings for Jesse anymore but that didn’t mean she was immune to his charm. “But I’m good. Out of work, right now, but you know how it is.”

“I thought you were signed on for the full season in that one show?” Casey asked, leaning back in her chair. She poked at her meal with her fork and couldn’t help but glance at her phone for the hundredth time that morning. She didn’t know what she was expecting. She hadn’t texted Derek since getting to New York, so why would he be texting her?

“Ah yes, the one about food?” Jesse said with a laugh. “Season long contracts only last as long people are buying tickets.”

“That’s a shame,” Casey said.

“Well, since I wasn’t particularly fond of dancing around in a hot dog costume, I don’t mind too much,” he said. He took another bite of his salad, following her eyes when she glanced at her phone again. “Are you expecting a call or something? That’s like the thirtieth time that you’ve looked at your phone.”

“What? No. Of course not,” Casey replied with an awkward smile. She leaned forward and rested her chin on her hand. “So tell me about Marjory.”

“That was not a subtle change of subject,” Jesse replied, wagging his finger at her. “Seriously, what’s with the phone?”

“Nothing,” Casey said, shaking her head. Jesse crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair, waiting patiently for her to spill. How did everyone in her life know to do that? That silence was the easiest way to make Casey McDonald break? Groaning, she rolled her eyes and scanned the rest of the restaurant. “I haven’t heard from Derek since vacation started.”

“Have you reached out to him?”

“No.”

“Then why are you expecting him to reach out to you?”

Casey shrugged and looked down at the napkin in her lap. She sighed before tossing the loose hair strands from her bun out of her face. She wasn’t going to hide from her feelings anymore. If anything, her defense of Derek to her father was proof of that. She couldn’t back down now just because it was Jesse.

“I’m . . . you know how I can be, Jesse,” she said slowly. “And you know how Derek can be.”

“Stubborn. All around,” Jesse said with a nod. Casey rolled her eyes but couldn’t help the small smile that was on her face. “And cowardly.”

“Cowardly?” Casey asked, looking up. She narrowed her eyes and wouldn’t let herself be swayed by Jesse’s teasing smile.

“You’re both cowards - too afraid of your own feelings,” Jesse said with a shrug.

“Oh and you know so much about Derek now, huh?”

“Casey, I have listened to my fair share of Derek rants. Trust me - you’re both afraid of your feelings,” Jesse replied with a raised eyebrow. Casey pouted before shrugging her defeat. “If you want to talk to him then you need to text him.”

“I thought we weren’t talking about my love life anymore,” Casey mumbled before picking up her fork again and shoving a large amount of salad into her mouth. Edwin would be proud (maybe not about the salad part but definitely the amount of salad that ended up in her mouth).

“Yeah, well, it seems impossible not to talk about it,” Jesse said with a forgiving smile. “Besides, it's so much more interesting.”

“Mo’ iner’stin’ dan Mrjry?” Casey asked, still chewing her salad. Jesse grimaced before laughing.

“You’ve been hanging out with Derek way too much,” he said, handing her a napkin. “Chew first.”

Casey blushed slightly and took the napkin, wiping at her mouth. She chewed a little more, glaring at Jesse the whole time. Clearing her throat after swallowing, she said, “I said - more interesting that Marjory?”

“Nothing is more interesting than Marjory,” he replied with that sweet smile again. “She’s really something, Case.”

“I would expect nothing less for you,” Casey said with a definitive nod. Jesse laughed again and shook his head. “Hey. I’m serious. It might not have worked out with us but I’m really happy that you’ve found someone. I like seeing you happy.”

“And when are you going to find someone? When are you going to get that kind of happy, Case?” Jesse asked.

“A girl’s life is not defined by her relationships, Jesse,” Casey said, rolling her eyes. “I can find that kind of happy on my own, thank you.”

“Yeah, you can. You totally can,” Jesse said. “But it doesn’t hurt to have that person who will always be there for you. Especially when you already have him and just need to give him a chance.”

“I am going to give him a chance.”

“Are you?”

“Yes.”

“Then why don’t you text him?” Jesse asked. He stared at Casey expectantly and when she didn’t answer he reached across the table and snatched up her phone.

“Jesse!” she shouted, not caring about the stares that earned her. She reached across the table, trying to grab her phone back. “Give that back to me!”

“I can’t believe you haven’t changed your password,” he mumbled as he unlocked her phone. “I would think that being around Derek all the time would make you extra vigilant about stuff like that.”

“Do not text him!” Casey snapped. She clutched the edges of the table and tried not to scream. This wasn’t happening. There was no way this was happening.

“Let’s see,” Jesse said. “Dear Derek - I want your hot bod. Please sex me up when I get home. Better yet. Meet me in New York.”

“You did not!”

“Really Casey?” Jesse asked, looking up at her for a minute with an incredulous look. “You think I would send something like that?”

“Well,” she said, leaning back. She could feel her cheeks burn with embarrassment. “What did you send?”

“You can see for yourself,” he said, handing her phone back. Just as she grabbed it, the text alert went off. He’d answered. Fast, too.

Spacey breaking the standoff first. Who would have thought?

Casey huffed and rolled her eyes. She looked at what Jesse sent - a simple ‘hey, how’s your break?’ - and groaned. Was it too much to expect an actual reply? Why did Derek always have to be such a smart ass?

“Please tell me that you’re going to text him back?” Jesse asked when Casey hesitated for too long. She looked at him with a small frown. She wasn’t sure. She should. The new and improved Casey would. Wouldn’t she? At the very least, the old Casey would never back down from the clear challenge that Derek’s text was presenting. “Casey.”

“What?”

“Text him back,” Jesse said with a firm nod. “It’s just a text message.”

“It’s never just a text message,” Casey muttered, shaking her head.

“Don’t give me that coward bullshit,” Jesse replied, rolling his eyes.

“You can’t tell me that the first time you texted Marjory that you didn’t freak out because a text is never just a text,” Casey replied, shaking her head.

“Fair point but we had just started talking then - you and Derek have known each other since you were fifteen and you’ve already been dating for what? Four months?”

“Fake dating.”

“Still dating,” Jesse said not letting her wiggle her way out of this one. Casey pouted a little and looked down at her lap. “Look - I’m not trying to be mean here. I just. You should be happy, Case. And before you go off about how you don’t need a man to be happy - wouldn’t it be nice, though? Wouldn’t it help?”

Casey sniffed loudly. She wasn’t going to cry. She refused. God. She was such an emotional wreck sometimes. But how else was she supposed to react when her ex (probably the nicest guy that she’s ever dated) was telling her to go off and be happy with someone else? Sure he had moved on, they had both moved on, and it wasn’t this grand romantic gesture but it still touched her, still made her a weepy mess.

“Oh god, you’re going to cry? Don’t do that,” Jesse groaned before laughing.

“I am not!” she shouted, smiling slightly. “I have a cold. It is winter, you know.”

“Right - the neat freak has a cold,” Jesse said, sighing. He looked at his watch and sighed again. “I have an audition to get ready for and you have a text message to obsess over. Oh, the busy lives we lead.”

“I am not going to obsess,” Casey muttered. Jesse didn’t believe her, she could tell from his pleased little smirk. Then again, she didn’t believe herself either. “I’m going to try and not obsess.”

“Try is good,” Jesse said before standing up and putting his jacket on. He shoved his hands in his pockets and smiled at Casey. “I’m happy we’re friends, you know? Like. This could have been so ugly and it wasn’t and I just. I really appreciate it, Casey.”

“Oh my god,” Casey said with a sniff. She stood up and hugged Jesse tightly. “You’re just determined to make me cry today, aren’t you?”

“It's not my fault that you cry quick,” Jesse mumbled into her hair. He pulled back and wiped away a tear on her cheek, smiling softly. “You’re coming to my New Year’s Eve party right?”

“Wouldn’t miss it,” Casey replied with a nod. “I mean, how else am I going to meet and subsequently judge Marjory?”

“Don’t judge her,” Jesse said as he stepped back, shoving his hands in his pockets. Casey smirked and pulled her jacket on. “Okay - don’t judge her too harshly.”

“Got to make sure she’s good enough for you,” she said as she tucked her phone into her pocket. “But don’t worry about it. I’m sure she’ll pass my exam with flying colors.”

“I don’t think anyone can pass your exams, Casey,” Jesse said with a laugh. “Except maybe Derek.”

“Ugh - as if Derek can ever pass an exam ever,” Casey replied on instinct. Just because she was in love with him didn’t mean that she was suddenly a total moron - a natural test taker, Derek was not.

“He seems to be passing yours,” Jesse said with a shrug. Casey raised an eyebrow at him, waiting for some sort of explanation. Jesse rolled his eyes. “Come on, Case. We all know that Derek is the exception to almost all of your rules.”

“You’re going to be late for that audition,” Casey replied. She was not getting into this right now. Jesse sighed and kissed her on the cheek.

“Text him back, Casey,” Jesse said as he walked backwards towards the door of the cafe. “And don’t be late to my party!”

“When am I ever late?” she replied as he left. She sighed and looked down at her phone, Derek’s unanswered text taunting her.

***

“You know you can’t sleep forever,” Liz said as she bounced on Casey’s bed. “Presents aren’t going to open themselves.”

“I am perfectly aware of that, thank you,” Casey grumbled into her pillow. She didn’t want to move. She just wanted to stay curled up in her warm blankets for the rest of her life.

“You know, you and Cindy really need to lay off the wine,” Lizzie said, poking at the back of Casey’s head. Casey groaned and swatted at her sister. She did not need to ‘lay off the wine.’ It wasn’t her fault that Cindy had far too many bottles of good wine and no one to drink it with considering Dennis wasn’t a wine drinker.

“It was one bottle,” Casey mumbled, turning on her side to face the wall. She pulled her blanket up and covered her head. “One bottle, Liz.”

“Yeah and you’ve been in bed for, like, ever,” Lizzie said. Casey groaned as she started bouncing on the bed again. She knew it was only a matter of time before Liz kneed her in the side. “Come ooooooon.”

“Elizabeth, you are sixteen. What kind of a teenager doesn’t sleep in? Huh? You’re doing your age group a serious disservice right now,” Casey said with a huff. She threw the blanket off of her head and flopped over onto her back. She glared at Liz’s bright smile. How the hell was she this peppy? “What time is it?”

“A little after eight,” Liz said before flopping down on the bed next to Casey. “Happy Christmas, Casey.”

“Merry Christmas, Lizard,” Casey said, rolling onto her side to kiss Liz on the forehead. “Did you wake up Dad and Cindy?”

“Not yet,” Liz said, rolling onto her side as well. Casey pulled the blanket over the both of them. “I was thinking we could try Skyping Mom?”

“You want to Skype Mom?” Casey asked, raising an eyebrow. Liz shrugged and looked down a little. “Are you homesick, Lizard?”

“Maybe,” she mumbled. “I mean, this is the second Christmas in a row that we haven’t spent with the fam and I don’t know. Like, I know it’s the only time we get to see Dad. I just. Think it would be nice.”

“It is nice,” Casey said with a smile. She tucked a bit of bedhead behind Liz’s ear. “Want to use your laptop?”

“Sure, it’s in the living room,” Liz said with a smile. She nodded once before crawling from under the blanket and scurrying out of the room. Casey let out a slow breath and rolled over onto her back.

Blindly, she reached for her phone on the bedside table. Jesus. It really was a little after eight. She remembered a time when getting up early was easy for her but over the past semester she’d gotten a little too used to sleeping in. Sighing, she started sifting through her various apps.

Her Facebook wall was covered in holiday greetings. Emily had posted a video of it snowing in Newfoundland. Sam had posted a video of shirtless Santas doing the Jingle Bell Rock number from Mean Girls . Mom had posted the scribbled note that Simon had written to Santa.  It was nice. It made her feel all fuzzy on the inside.

Her phone buzzed in her hand and Casey nearly dropped the thing onto her face. Who the hell was texting her this early? She knew that it was Christmas but, save for an apocalypse, she didn’t know anyone who would be awake this early. Maybe it was Mom. She had made a promise to try and text more.

Merry Christmas - D. Vent

Casey stared at the screen not comprehending what she was reading. Of course, in an intellectual sense, she knew exactly what she was reading.

But it was a text.

A text from Derek.

Derek Venturi had texted her.

Again.  

She hadn’t texted him back after brunch with Jesse. She hadn’t known what she could possibly say that would make whatever this thing between them was any better or less confusing. And now he was texting her seasonal greetings? Sure they had always put their feuds on hold for the holidays (or as on hold as they were capable of) but she was sure that this time was different. It had to be different, right?

And since when did he sign his texts D Vent?

Casey chewed on her bottom lip and stared at the text message. She should text back. It was just common courtesy, wasn’t it? She didn’t want to be rude. Then again, it was Derek. She was sure there was some ulterior motive even if she couldn’t figure out what it could possibly be.

She did drop her phone this time when Liz swanned back into the room laptop in hand. She raised an eyebrow at Casey before sitting down on the edge of the bed. She already had Skype up and a very tired looking Edwin was smiling softly.

“Merry Christmas, Casey,” Ed mumbled. He yawned before resting his forehead against the keyboard. “How are your holidays?”

“It’s not that early, Edwin,” Lizzie said with a roll of her eyes. “I bet Simon has been awake since at least five.”

“Try four,” Edwin groaned. “Four in the fucking morning.”

“Wow,” Casey said with slightly impressed nod. “I’m sure he was just excited about Santa and all of that.”

Edwin sighed and looked up, rubbing at his eyes. He had what looked like a mustache growing on his face. Then again, Casey could have been wrong. It looked an awful lot like dirt as well.

“What is that growing on your face?” Liz asked with a choked off laugh. “Is that supposed to be facial hair?”

“Hey! Don’t knock the stache,” Edwin said, covering his upper lip self-consciously. “It’s still growing in.”

“You call that growing?” Liz asked before bursting into a full belly laugh. “God, I can’t imagine what Marti must think of it.”

“She’s visiting Mom, so she hasn’t had any commentary. Not that there should be any. Cause it’s manly. I’m being fucking manly,” Edwin grumbled.

“Language, Edwin,” Nora said as she leaned into the camera frame. She smiled brightly at Liz and Casey. “Merry Christmas, girls!”

“Merry Christmas, Mom!” Lizzie said with a big smile. “I miss you.”

“I miss you too , Lizard,” Nora said with a soft smile. “Christmas just isn’t the same without you girls here.”

“I think it’s better,” Ed muttered, lifting his head slightly. Nora batted at the back of his head playfully. “I’m kidding.”

“Of course you were,” Nora replied, shaking her head. “How’s New York? How’s your father?”

“They’re both fine,” Casey said with a shrug. “You know Dad. He’s always working but Cindy’s been around. She’s nice.”

“Cindy?” Nora asked with a raised eyebrow. Casey rolled her eyes. “I didn’t know that Cindy was going to be around.”

“Well, she’s trying to, like, get to know us?” Liz said looking at Casey to back her up.

“Yeah, she’s really trying,” Casey replied. She couldn’t help the slightest feeling that she was betraying her mother by liking her father’s newest girlfriend. “She even called Dad out on working so much.”

“Yeah!” Liz said, nodding her head. “It was kind of funny, actually. His face got all red. Kind of like Casey’s face when Derek is . . . you know, being Derek.”

“My face doesn’t turn red,” Casey mumbled, knowing that none of them heard her over their own laughter. “Come on! It does not.”

“It totally does,” Derek said as he stepped up behind Nora. He scratched his collarbone and blinked at the computer screen. “Don’t you McDonalds ever sleep? It’s not even ten.”

“Not everyone likes sleeping the day away, Der-ek,” Casey snapped without thinking. It was amazing how quickly she went on auto-pilot when it came to him. He leaned down and raised an eyebrow at her. Casey tried to push down whatever shade of red her cheeks were turning. She knew it was happening. He smirked and stood up straight. It took everything in Casey not to scream at him about . . . anything just to make that stupid smirk disappear.

“See? Red,” Lizzie said with a laugh before poking her cheek. Casey batted at her little sister and did her best to ignore the thin stretch of Derek’s stomach that she could see when he went to scratch his chest. “Where’s George?”

“Trying to feed Simon breakfast,” Nora said. She stood up and looked over her shoulder, pressing a finger to her lips. “Though they are a bit quiet.”

“Quiet is good right?” Casey asked with a grimace. She’d been away from home too long. She knew that quiet was rarely a good thing in the Venturi-McDonald household. Quiet usually meant the calm before the storm.

“Quiet usually means he gave up and is asleep at the counter,” Nora mumbled. She smiled at the girls again before hurrying away from the laptop. Casey released the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.

“So what? You can Skype but you can’t answer a simple text message?” Derek snapped. He leaned down and glared into the camera. Casey rolled her eyes.

“Are you guys going to fight? Because if you are I’m going back to bed,” Edwin mumbled. Derek batted at the back of his head and shoved Edwin out of the chair. “Derek!”

“No, Edwin, we are not going to fight,” Casey said in her ‘Casey knows best’-voice. It was practically perfect after years of living with the Venturis. “It’s Christmas. We don’t fight on Christmas.”

“Convenient since you’re in the wrong for once,” Derek muttered. Casey glared at him for a second before turning away from the computer. “You can ignore me all you want. Doesn’t make any difference, Case.”

“Come on Derek, Casey is right. No fights on Christmas,” Liz said, shifting slightly next to Casey. She nudged Casey with her shoulder, gesturing at the laptop. Casey rolled her eyes and turned back to the computer with a small smile. She wasn’t going to pretend that she was overly thrilled to be Skype-ing with Derek at that moment but she could pretend for Lizzie’s sake. “See? We can be nice, can’t we?”

“Hey! I am always nice,” Derek snapped. Edwin snorted from wherever he landed after Derek had pushed him of the chair. Derek looked down with a frown and a few seconds later Edwin groaned. “I am a goddamn delight.”

“Goddamn delights don’t kick people, Der-ek,” Edwin snapped as he stood up, rubbing his stomach.

“Whatever, it’s not going to even bruise,” Derek replied.

“I thought there was a truce in the spirit of the holiday?” Edwin whined. He lifted his shirt and poked at his side. It was a little red. Derek was right. It probably wouldn’t bruise.

“The truce is with Casey,” Derek said, smirking at the computer screen.

“The truce is for everyone,” Liz corrected, sighing. “I just wanted a nice Skype call with my family on Christmas. Is that too much to ask?”

“Have you forgotten who your family is?” Casey asked with a laugh.

“Christmas miracles can happen, right?” Liz asked with a small pout. Casey frowned and glared at the computer.

“Der-ek! Can you, for one minute, just be decent? You’re making Lizzie pout,” Casey snapped without thinking. She grabbed the laptop from Liz’s lap and balanced it in her own. She wanted to be able to look Derek in the eye while he tried to get out of this one. Edwin and Liz groaned at the same time while he glared back at Casey.

“Of course this is my fault, right? Perfect, fucking, Casey can do no wrong!” Derek replied. “Nothing is ever Casey’s fault. It’s always Derek. Mean, old Derek.”

“It’s not my fault that you can’t be mature for five minutes on Christmas of all days!” Casey said. Liz groaned even louder but Casey ignored her. Was this how she wanted her first conversation with Derek since the end of the semester party to go? Of course not! But he was so damn infuriating! What else was she supposed to do?

“I’m immature? Me? You’re the one who texted me first and then couldn’t even text back! At least, I was adult enough to fucking put this bullshit behind us and text back!” Derek shouted.

“That wasn’t even me!”

“What?” he asked, frowning in confusion. Casey groaned and covered her face. She hadn’t meant to say that. “What do you mean that wasn’t you?”

“Jesse,” she mumbled. Lizzie inhaled deeply next to her, making Casey jump slightly. She’d totally forgotten that she wasn’t alone. God. She wished she was alone so there weren’t any witnesses to the meltdown that was about to happen.

“Jesse.”

“Yes, Jesse,” Casey said, uncovering her face. She felt guilty. Like she’d been stepping out on her boyfriend. Which was ridiculous because it was Jesse and Derek and it wasn’t like that with either of them! “We got brunch. He thought it would be funny. I don’t know.”

“You got brunch?”

“Are you just going to repeat everything that I say?” Casey snapped. She glanced at the laptop screen and sighed. He had that ‘I’m too cool for you’ look on his face. “Oh, don’t do that!”

“Do what?” Derek asked. The way he quickly slipped into nonchalance would always drive Casey crazy.

“You know what!” Casey snapped. “You going all ‘cool guy’ to avoid having a real conversation.”

“A real conversation? Is that what we’re having?” Derek asked with a snort. He stood up and leaned down so that he could still see the laptop screen. “I just have one thing to say to you Casey: so much for this thing not holding us back from anything, huh?”

Casey frowned, confused as hell. What was he talking about? She couldn’t even ask him because a second later he was storming away from the laptop. Edwin slid back into the frame, checking over his shoulder every few seconds.

“What the fuck was that?” he asked after he was sure Derek wasn’t going to be storming back into the room anytime soon. “I mean, I’ve seen you guys fight but that was like . . . mega weird.”

“Very much full of weird,” Liz agreed. She touched Casey’s shoulder slightly. “Casey?”

“Huh?” Casey asked, pulling her eyes away from the computer screen.

“Are you okay?” Liz asked. Her face was all twisted up with sisterly concern and that hurt more than whatever had happened with Derek. Casey didn’t answer, just wrapped her arms around Liz’s shoulders. The laptop fell onto the bed, forgotten for a moment, as she hugged Liz. “Casey?”

“I’m so sorry for fighting on Christmas,” Casey mumbled against Liz’s hair. “That was totally not fair to you.”

“It’s fine,” Liz replied, awkwardly patting Casey’s shoulder. “But are you okay?”

Casey leaned back and shrugged. Liz stared at her for a second, waiting for something to happen but Casey didn’t know what she was expecting. Casey wasn’t going to cry and scream. She wasn’t going to do much of anything. She knew this was going to happen. She knew it and yet she engaged with him anyways. She hadn’t said any of the things she had meant to say and then he had been so . . . Derek that she’d gotten mad and totally forgotten.

“I’m fine,” Casey said, putting extra emphasis on fine. Liz raised an eyebrow at Casey. Casey rolled her eyes. “I swear. I am totally fine.”

***

“I am not fine,” Casey whined into her cup. She sipped at the punch with a pout as she leaned against the balcony railing.

“You’re overthinking things,” Jonas said next to her. He took a puff of his cigarette and wrapped his free arm around her shoulders. “At least I know it wasn’t New York that made you a neurotic mess.”

“Ha. Ha. Very funny,” Casey replied. She finished her drink and eyed Jonas’s cigarette. She had smoked a little while she was part of the company. It was hard not to when 93% of the people she had spent time with were serious cigarette smokers.

Jonas must have seen her eyes wander to his hand because in the next moment, he had thrust the cigarette at her. Casey took it gingerly and took the tiniest of puffs. She had never gotten the hang of inhaling instead she just held the smoke in her mouth for a moment before blowing out. She handed it back to Jonas. She was moping but that wasn’t an excuse to fall back into bad habits.

“I don’t know why you’re even crying over this guy - he sounds like a jerk,” Jonas said with a shrug. He raised an eyebrow at her when she didn’t argue. “See? Even you know that he’s a jerk.”

“Yeah, he’s a jerk but he’s my jerk, you know?” Casey mumbled. She went to sip from her cup again before remembering that it was empty. She pouted and tipped the cup upside down, catching the last drop of punch on her tongue. “I’m not drunk enough.”

“You’re pretty drunk,” Jonas said with a laugh. “But since I am so charitable, I will go and get you another drink.”

Casey smiled brightly and handed Jonas her cup. He kissed her forehead and headed back inside to the loud party. Casey turned around and watched Jessica try to do a spin in the very small, very crowded apartment. Her hair whipped around her face and everyone burst into laughter when she landed on her ass. Booze and professional dancers usually ended up with a lot of people flat on their asses.

Jesse was winding his way through the party, a solo cup in each hand. He laughed at Jessica and whispered something into the ear of a short girl with bright pink hair. She laughed and leaned up to kiss Jesse’s cheek. That was probably Marjory.

Marjory with the bright pink hair and the doc martens and the thick, ugly glasses and who looked nothing like what Casey expected. She was sure that Marjory was nice. Jesse liked her so nice was a given, right? But she wasn’t a dancer or anything artsy for that matter. Jonas had said she was into computers which made sense with the hair and the boots and the not looking like Jesse’s type at all.

Then again, when she pictured Jesse’s type she still pictured herself. Which was not a thought that she wanted to be having right now. Especially since Jesse and Marjory were heading towards the balcony door.

“Casey!” Jesse shouted over the party music as he walked onto the balcony. “I come bearing booze and Marjory.”

“Hooray for booze!” Casey said taking the cup from Jesse. Marjory raised an eyebrow at Casey, making her blush. “And yay for Marjory?”

“Much better,” Marjory said with a smirk. She wrapped an arm around Jesse’s waist and rested her head on his shoulder. Casey gave them a tight smile before taking a massive sip from her drink. “So, Casey. You’re back in Canada, like, permanently?”

“Casey is the responsible one and went back to get her degree,” Jesse said, wrapping his arm around Marjory’s shoulders. He sipped from his cup and pulled her in a little closer. “Fuck, it is cold out here.”

“Thus the jacket,” Casey said, pulling at her collar with one hand. “But yeah. I went back to Canada for school. It was always part of the plan.”

“Weird that you would delay the whole college experience just to dance in the company,” Marjory said, tilting her head slightly. Casey tilted her head back and narrowed her eyes. She was drunk. She knew that but that didn’t mean she couldn’t see passive aggressive current girlfriend talking to the ex-girlfriend tactics. She wasn’t totally dense.

“Once in a lifetime opportunities, you know?” Casey said slowly with a tight smile. Marjory mimicked her smile and that’s how they stayed for at least thirty awkward seconds.

“Right. So. New Years!” Jesse said, trying to break the silence. Casey looked at him with a raised eyebrow. Jesse shrugged. “Any resolutions?”

“I always thought resolutions were so silly,” Marjory said as she adjusted her glasses. “I mean, if you're going to make a change just do it. What's the point of waiting until the end of the year to make a promise that you probably won't even keep?”

“I don't know,” Casey said with a frown. “I've always found the ending and beginning of a year to be inspiring. It's a time of change so why not commit to changing yourself? It's the ultimate motivation.”

Marjory snorted and raised her eyebrows at a Jesse, “I can see why you liked her.”

Casey didn't think it sounded like a compliment. Jesse kind of sighed and rolled his eyes. Marjory snorted and shook her head. She gave Casey a tight smile before turning around and heading back into the party. Casey wasn't entirely sure what just happened but she could feel the beginnings of a guilt spiral forming in her chest.

“What was that?” Casey asked, pointing at the closed balcony door. Jesse frowned before shaking his head and trying to smile. “If me being here is weird for her, I can go.”

“No. No. You don't have to go,” Jesse said, touching her shoulder gently. His smile relaxed a little more and looked a little more natural on his face. “She's just a little grumped out. This wasn't supposed to be such a big party. I swear, she's way more friendly any other time.”

“If you say so,” Casey said with a raised eyebrow. She sipped her drink again and turned to look at the city skyline. “God, I'm still super jealous that you managed to snag such a great view.”

“Apparently, I have a knack for real estate as well as dancing,” Jesse said as she came up to stand next to her. He leaned against the railing and crossed his arms. Casey turned to look at him with a soft smile.

“I'm glad you're happy, Jesse,” Casey said softly, nudging his shoulder with her own. “Of all the people I know you are, like, one of the most deserving of happiness.”

“Speaking of happiness,” Jesse said with a little smirk. “Have you talked to Derek?”

Casey groaned and pressed her forehead to the railing. The cold actually felt good for a minute.

“I'm taking that as a no?”

“We talked,” Casey said into her scarf. “More like we fought.”

“Aren't like 93% of all of your conversations fights, though?”

“But this was, like, a major, no playing around fight,” Casey said as she stood up straight. She finished her drink and pouted down at the empty cup.

Jesse laughed at her and wrapped an arm around her shoulders, “Come on. I need a beer pong partner.”

“Oh but I'm terrible at beer pong!” Casey whined. Jesse just laughed and pushed her back into the apartment.

***

Two games of beer pong, three shots, and a glass of wine later and Casey was back on the porch trying to unlock her phone. The ball was dropping soon and she needed to call Derek. She wanted to ring in the new year with him even if he was an insufferable ass.

Casey stared at the phone through narrowed eyes. The call was going through and Casey knew that he probably wasn't going to answer. Why would he? He probably was attached at the mouth to some leggy blonde or something equally shitty. Cause he was shitty. And she needed to tell him that. And then she needed him to make her laugh because this was not the happy night that she had originally thought it was going to be. And he could make it better. Even if he was shitty. Which he was.

“Casey?” Derek asked as he looked down at his phone. There was the faint throbbing of music in the background and people shouting. “Is your hair purple?”

“That’s what you focus on?” Casey asked with a snort. She gently touched her purple wig and looked at herself in the phone camera to make sure it was sitting right. Satisfied, she glared at Derek. “So typical.”

“Why are you facetiming me, Casey?” Derek asked with a sigh. “Shouldn’t you be off finding a prince charming for your perfect New Year’s Eve moment?”

“I can’t just call you to wish you a happy new year?” Casey asked. She licked her lips and took a deep breath. The fresh air was definitely helping with the lightheadedness. “I just. I want to be nice.”

“You want to be nice?” Derek asked with a snort. “Casey, since when are you nice to me?”

“Maybe it’s my resolution,” Casey said with a pout.

Derek rolled his eyes and looked away from the phone. There was someone else there with him. Casey couldn’t tell what they were saying but Derek was smiling and it kind of hurt. Because he hadn’t smiled when she called and, honestly, what was she even doing? She was drunk and she was cold and Derek was smiling at someone who wasn’t her.

And she was drunk. And cold. And so fucking stupid.

“Aren’t resolutions supposed to start after the ball drops?” Derek asked, looking at his phone again. Casey shrugged and blinked at him. Why had she thought this was a good idea? “Seriously, Casey. What is with you? You’re being way weirder than usual.”

“I just want to be nice to you,” Casey blurted. She licked her lips and looked at the party going on inside. Everyone was laughing and having a good time. And here was Casey being pathetic in the cold. “I just. Want to be nice.”

“Are you drunk?” Derek asked with a small chuckle. Casey looked back at her phone with a frown. Derek rolled his eyes at her. “I can’t believe you drunk dialled me. This is amazing. Belated Christmas present, maybe?”

“Why do you have to be like this?” Casey asked with a frustrated groan. “Look I know things are weird or whatever but you don't have to be like this!”

“You're totally drunk,” Derek said with a pleased smile on his face. And that’s when she noticed that he’d shaved. The giant animal that had been growing on his face was gone and he was smiling at people who weren’t her.

“You shaved.”

Derek snorted and rolled his eyes, “And you talk about me noticing random shit.”

“But I, kind of liked it,” Casey muttered, pouting a little bit. “Well, maybe not liked it. Cause, honestly, who even likes that lumberjack look? But I was getting used to it.”

“Good to know you are, in fact, human and capable to relaxing every now and then.”

“Stop being a jerk!”

“I'm not being anything other than me, Casey,” Derek said before looking away from his phone again. He smiled again at someone off screen. Casey groaned and rubbed at her eyes. “I mean, this is what you wanted right? Us back to normal? Fighting and pretending like the past six months didn't happen? Because nothing happened, right? It was all a fucking act.”

“Der-ek,” Casey said softly. Her eyes burned slightly. She blinked to try and force the tears back into her eyes. She was not going to be some drunk, weepy girl calling some boy on New Year’s Eve. She wasn’t.

“What Casey? Why did you call? Did you want to ruin my fresh start, too?” Derek snapped. He was angry now. Properly angry. None of that nonchalant, jerk bullshit from before. “What more do you fucking want from me? I fucking tried. Alright? I tried to talk to you. But you wouldn’t listen so I’m done, okay? I am done with all of this.”

“I’m listening now,” Casey said with a desperate gasp. This wasn’t how this conversation was supposed to go. Why couldn’t she get this right with him. “I swear, I am listening now.”

“Why don’t you go and listen to Jesse, Casey?” Derek asked with a tired sigh. Casey shook her head and bit her lip. Her wig slipped a little, covering her eyes.

“No,” Casey said. “Look, I’m sorry that things are such a mess. But there is nothing going on with Jesse. I swear.”

“What makes you think I care?” Derek asked. Most of the emotion had drained from his voice. He was the same unbothered asshole that Casey had despised in high school.

“I know I made this worse than it has to be. I know that,” Casey said, swallowing the lump in her throat. She could do this. She needed to do this. “I”m sorry for . . . freaking out but it’s all very freaky!”

“Well, it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s over,” Derek said. “It’s over and we can both pretend that none of this happened.”

“But I don’t want to pretend that none of it happened!” Casey shouted. “I don’t want that. Not anymore.”

Derek stared at her through narrowed eyes. He didn’t believe her. Casey could see it all over his face. She licked her lips and opened her mouth to say something else. Anything else that might fix this. She could hear the two parties starting to countdown. She turned and looked inside, pulling her bottom lip between her teeth again.

“What do you want Casey?” Derek asked. She looked back down at her phone. “Why did you call? Why do you keep doing this to me?”

“I love you, Derek,” Casey whispered.

“What?” Derek practically screamed at the phone. Casey flinched slightly and closed her eyes. Not the reaction that she was hoping for. “Repeat that for me?”

“I said,” Casey said, clearing her throat a little. Okay, so this wasn’t the plan (like she even had a plan to begin with) but that didn’t mean she was going to back down now. They were on three inside the party and couples were pairing up for the midnight kiss. “I said that I love you.”

“That’s what I thought,” Derek said with a firm nod. He looked down at the camera for another minute before the screen went blank. He’d hung up. He’d fucking hung up on her.

Everyone inside was cheering and kissing . The ball had dropped. She’d rung in the new year with Derek even if it wasn’t what she had been expecting. Casey rubbed her eyes and looked down at her phone one more time. It was still blank and he wasn’t calling back and what could she do now?

Happy fucking new year.

Chapter Text

Casey’s head was pounding, a steady knocking sound that was throbbing behind her eyes. She groaned and covered her head with her pillow. She didn’t want to be awake let alone alive right now. Not if that knocking was going to continue.

“Casey? Hun?” Cindy whispered as she creaked the bedroom door open. Casey pulled the blanket over the pillow and curled into a tight ball. She didn’t know what time it was but she knew that there was no way that it was late enough for her to be awake yet. In fact, she barely remembered getting back to the apartment.

“Go away,” she whispered through her chapped lips. Her voice was muffled by the blanket but it still sounded too loud to her ears. “For the love of god. Go. Away.”

“Sweetie,” Cindy said as she sat down on the bed gently. Casey's stomach churned at the slight movement. “You really need to wake up.”

Casey pulled her head from under the blanket and pillow to glare at Cindy but the room was too bright. The curtains were pulled back and sunshine was streaming into the room. Casey groaned again and rolled onto her stomach.

“I don't want to,” Casey muttered miserably. She was never drinking again. Ever.

Cindy huffed out a sigh before standing up. Casey relaxed into the bed, fully intending to fall right back asleep. She just needed to sleep this hangover off. There really wasn't any other solution.

“Wake up, princess,” said a very familiar voice. Casey's eyes shot open and she sat up quickly. She turned and stared at Derek standing in the doorway with wide eyes. He was here. In New York. In her room.

Casey opened her mouth to say something and felt her stomach lurch, “Oh god.”

She stumbled out of the bed and pushed past Derek, sprinting for the bathroom. She was pretty positive that she heard Derek snort but she didn't have time to worry about him. Especially not when her entire body was heaving.

Casey wrapped her arms around the toilet and pressed her cheek to the cool porcelain. She licked her lips and grimaced at the taste of beer and whatever the hell she had eaten when she'd gotten home. She refused to open her eyes and look in. Her stomach just couldn't handle it.

“Here,” Derek said softly as he placed a wet towel on the back of her neck. Casey sighed in relief and released her grip on the toilet. Derek handed her a glass of water and sat down, resting his back against the closed bathroom door. Casey sipped her water and brushed a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “So, you have nothing to say?”

“Why are you here?” she asked softly. Her throat hurt from puking and she knew that her breath was terrible. She probably looked a mess too. She definitely hadn’t taken her makeup off before bed. Derek rolled his eyes and shook his head. “Well?”

“Do you remember calling me last night?” Derek asked softly. He was looking at the ground and it made her nervous. Derek wasn’t one to avoid eye contact. Real, meaningful conversations? Emotions? Decency? All things he was a professional at avoiding but eye contact? Not so much. When Casey took too long to answer, Derek continued, “Cause you did. You were drunk. But you said something. Something important.”

“Derek,” Casey said, closing her eyes. Of course she remembered what she had said. It was the last thing that she really remembered before blacking out.

“And, you know, we've done this back and forth - real or not real bullshit for months,” Derek continued. “And it's getting old. It's gotten old.”

“And?” Casey asked. She wasn't sure if she was going to puke again or if she was just nervous.

“And,” Derek said with a heavy sigh. He finally looked up at her and Casey didn't think she'd ever seen him look so serious. “Did you mean it?”

Casey’s throat was tight and she wasn’t sure if she could form words. She just nodded once before looking down at the ground. She couldn’t look him in the eye. Not when she wasn’t sure how he was going to react. Last night he’d hung up on her. He’d hung up and then driven six hours to confront her to her face. A tiny part of Casey hoped that this all meant something, something good, but she couldn’t find comfort in it.

“Goddammit, Casey,” Derek groaned. “You can’t. You just can't.”

“Can't what, Derek? Can't fall for you? Well too bad. It happened,” Casey practically hissed. She was hungover and tired and this was not how she wanted to be woken up.

“That's not what I'm saying,” Derek said through clenched teeth.

“Then what are you saying?” Casey asked. She threw the washcloth that was on her neck to the ground and scraped her hair back into a neater ponytail.

“You can't keep playing these games!” Derek snapped. “You can't keep tugging me back and forth!”

“I'm not playing games! This has never been a game to me, Der-ek!” Casey said with a disbelieving laugh. “How could any of this be a game to me? I’m not like you, Derek. I can’t just throw caution to the wind and act like nothing touches me.”

“God, you are so full of shit!” Derek shouted. Casey’s mouth fell open in shock. “You don’t fucking listen Casey! You have never listened!”

“I’m listening right now!” Casey screamed back. Her temper was flaring and Derek’s own anger was just feeding into it.

“No, you’re not!” Derek screamed. He snapped his mouth shut and looked away from her. His hands curled into fists and his jaw clenched. For a few minutes, the only sound that filled the bathroom was their heavy breathing. “I tried to tell you before. I tried to tell you and you wouldn’t listen. And you’re not listening now.”

“You’re the one who’s not saying anything,” Casey said slowly. She could feel herself start to shake she was so furious. “You. You acted like the past few months were nothing. They were just some chore that you had to get through. You treated me . . . you made me feel something and then. And then you just. You ruined it by being you - by being the usual Derek asshole. And now I’m the bad guy for what? Trying to protect myself?”

“From what, Casey? What about me is so damn terrible that you have to fucking protect yourself?” Derek snapped. He looked at her again with wide eyes. “I tried. No. Fuck that. I was a good fucking boyfriend to you. What more do you want?”

“God, I want something real!” Casey snapped back. “I want something real. Something that’s going to last, Der-ek!”

“And what? You couldn't have that with me? I’m not the lasting type? Is that it?” Derek asked with a sneer.

“You’re my step-brother, Derek! We share a biological brother!” Casey screamed, squeezing her eyes shut. She could feel herself start to choke up but she pushed the feeling away. She was not going to cry. There was nothing to cry about. “What was I supposed to do? This. The way I feel. It wasn’t supposed to happen. I had. There were rules and I broke all of them.”

Derek was silent for a minute before bursting into laughter.

“Der-ek!” Casey screeched.

“I can’t believe you had rules,” Derek said. He gasped for breath for a second before smiling at her. “Yes, I can. I totally can.”

“Well, I’m glad you can find the humor in all of this,” Casey said with a pout. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the bathtub. “None of this is funny, Der-ek!”

“You’re right,” Derek said with a sigh. “None of this is funny. The fact that I’m here. That I fucking drove all the way from Kingston to New York because you said you loved me? Not funny in the least.”

Casey looked away from him, suddenly embarrassed. Her head was still pounding and her mouth tasted like vomit. She shouldn’t be having this conversation right now. She shouldn’t have said what she said last night. There were a lot of shouldn’t’s in her life right now.

Derek slid across the bathroom floor, crowding Casey against the bathtub. Casey held her breath and tried to ignore the pounding of her heart. He was so close now and she couldn’t help but look him in the eye. He was still smiling slightly and that did nothing to help her nerves.

“Derek?” she asked, her voice barely above a whisper. He frowned and waved a hand in front of his face.

“You seriously need to brush your teeth,” he replied. Casey huffed and tried to push him away from her. He really didn’t need to drive all the way to New York if all he planned on doing was insulting her. Derek laughed and held onto her upper arms, pulling her closer. “But I’m willing to make the sacrifice play right now.”

“The sacrifice play?” Casey said, her voice barely above a whisper. Derek smirked a little and leaned forward to kiss her. Casey flinched and turned her head, letting his lips fall on her cheek. Derek stayed close to her, breathing softly against her cheek. “Derek?”

“You flinched,” he whispered, pulling back slightly. Casey turned her head to look him in the eye. She opened her mouth to say something but Derek was pulling further away. He was frowning and Casey hated it.

“It’s not that easy, Derek,” Casey said. She licked her lips and let out a slow breath through her nose. She could be calm about this. She could be collected. “You can’t just show up at my door and expect me to just . . . I don’t even know what you were expecting. But whatever it was, it’s not that easy.”

“When has anything ever been easy between us?” Derek asked, rolling his eyes. His hands were still on her arms and it was making her feel hot all over. She pulled an arm free and started playing with her hair. “Look. I . . . I don’t do feelings.”

“Trust me. I know,” Casey muttered.

“You never let me finish,” Derek groaned before pushing himself away from her.

The space made it easier to think, made it easier to listen. She could never listen when he got that close to her. But she rolled her eyes and huffed because that’s what she was supposed to do in this situation. While everything seemed to have been turned upside down at the very least she could do this. She crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows at Derek, urging him to continue. He sighed and rubbed at his chin. “It takes a lot for me. To do feelings.”

Casey licked her lips and clenched her pajama pants in her fists. Her heart was pounding as if she had just run a mile. Whatever calm she had a moment before was quickly fading away. And Derek wouldn’t look at her. He kept staring at the bathroom floor. Casey scooted forward slightly, still out of reach, but just the tiniest bit closer to him. Derek looked up briefly, eyes scanning over Casey’s face quickly, before he looked back down at the floor.

“And out of everyone in my stupid life, you’re the one who always seems to get me to do feelings,” Derek said with a slightly bitter laugh. He looked up again and the small smile on his face was anything but bitter. There was a sweetness there that she wasn’t used to. Or rather, that she had refused to see. Because that’s what all of this was right? Casey trying not to see him like this. Casey trying so hard to stay step-siblings. She was so stupid sometimes.

“Not always good feelings though,” Casey said softly because she couldn’t help herself. It had been established a long time ago that Casey McDonald was a glutton for punishment. She didn’t want to disappoint.

“That doesn’t matter,” Derek said, waving his hand. Casey opened her mouth to protest. Because it did matter. Of course it mattered. How could it not? “It doesn’t matter because there are good feelings too, Case. I mean, how could there not be?”

“So there are good feelings, so what?” Casey replied.

“Why are you being so fucking stubborn about this?” Derek snapped, his patience clearly wearing thin. “I am trying to tell you something big and you’re just. You’re being very you about it.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Casey asked.

“You know exactly what it means. I’m trying to be honest with you and you’re acting like this is all some sort of prank,” Derek replied through clenched teeth. Casey rolled her eyes and stood up. She didn’t look at Derek as she went to the sink to finally brush her teeth.

“It’s not like you’re actually saying anything, Der-ek,” she said, turning the sink on. She felt better doing something even if it was as basic as brushing her teeth. At least she wasn’t pushed into the corner of her father’s guest bathroom while Derek badgered her.

“It’s not my fault if you’re not listening, Cas-ey,” Derek said, mocking her. Casey rolled her eyes and spit into the sink.

“Maybe try just saying it instead of dancing around the topic. How about just saying it, Der-ek?” Casey said before turning the water back on. She leaned over and slurped at the water, swishing it in her mother before spitting it back out. When she stood back up, Derek was standing directly behind her.

“I love you,” he said simply. She stared at him with wide eyes, unsure of what to say. She had toothpaste foam on the corner of her mouth and her makeup was still smeared and her hair was a rat’s nest and this was not the way that this moment was supposed to happen. “You’re obnoxious and bossy and a neat freak and judgmental as hell but I love you.”

“Der-ek!” Casey shouted. He smirked and shrugged a shoulder. She frowned and wiped at her mouth. “Take it back.”

“What?” Derek asked.

“I said - take. It. Back,” Casey said slowly. Derek stared at her like she had grown a second head. “You can’t just say it like that all wrapped up in insults!”

“Oh but saying it while drunk is so much better?” Derek said with a raised eyebrow. “This is so typical. Can't even tell you how I feel without some sort of critique.”

“What is that even supposed to mean?” Casey said, sneering a little. She knew what he meant. She knew that she'd flubbed this moment but she wasn't going to back down. Not to him.

“Look. This is how I do things. How I've always done things. And just cause I'm in love with you doesn't mean that's gonna change,” Derek said. He crossed his arms and smirked a little. “This isn’t one of your fairytale romances, Space-Case.”

“You are the absolute worst!” Casey hissed. “You can’t even take this seriously!”

“What is there to take seriously, Casey?” Derek replied. His mouth thinned out to a frown and he stepped towards her, crowding her against the bathroom sink. “We’ve already established that the idea of you and me in love is crazy. But here we are. Living in this crazy old world.”

Casey rolled her eyes and tried not to smile. He traced her jaw with a finger and leaned in even closer. The edge of the counter dug into her lower back and she could feel his breath on her cheek. She couldn’t help the small shiver that went through her. She licked her lips and looked at Derek through her lashes. He was smirking now and looking at her lips. He was going to kiss her and she was most definitely going to let him. It had been too long since he’d last kissed her and she was yearning for it.

He brushed his mouth against hers and Casey nearly rolled her eyes again. They’d been at each other’s throats for months now. She was tired of teasing and waiting. She pushed her mouth against his, wrapping her hands around his forearms. Derek fell into her a little, pressing her harder into the edge of the sink. Her mouth opened the slightest bit from the pain and he took the chance to pull her bottom lip into his mouth. Casey whimpered slightly and slid her hands up his arms and over his shoulders until she could dig her fingers into his hair. He grabbed her hips and squeezed.

“Casey!” her father yelled, pounding on the door. Casey pulled away from Derek, knocking her head against his nose. Derek groaned and let go of her. “Open this door, young lady!”

“Dad!” Casey yelled back. “You are going to break the door!”

“Then open it!” he replied without hesitation. Casey closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

“It’s all good, Space-case,” Derek whispered, pressing his forehead against hers. He bent down and kissed her again, swift and hard, before turning around and opening the door. “Morning Dennis!”

“Der-ek,” Casey said through her teeth. Her father was standing on the other side of the doorway, eyes narrowed in suspicion and hand raised to bang on the door again.

“Derek,” her dad said, before turning his eyes to Casey. “Casey - can I have a word?”

“Of course,” Casey replied, trying to swallow the lump in her throat. She cleared her throat and shook her head a little. “What’s up?”

“In private?” he asked with a pointed look at Derek. Casey sighed and gave Derek a small nod. Derek kissed her on the forehead and gave Dennis a salute before slipping into the hallway. Casey braced herself against the sink and stared at her dad with raised eyebrows.

“Well?” Casey asked, knowing that she wasn’t going to like what her dad had to say. There was no way that he had anything nice to say about Derek showing up unexpectedly at his door. Especially not after her little confession.

“Can you not look at me like I’m the bad guy? I haven’t even said anything yet,” he replied, crossing his arms and leaning against the door frame. “You know he can’t stay here.”

“I wasn’t going to ask if he could. I didn’t even ask him to come here,” Casey said with a shake of her head. Maybe she could shake the tension out of her voice. Maybe she could be normal about this but it seemed nearly impossible.

Derek was here. He was here in New York and he loved her back. Nothing was ever going to be normal again.

“Did you two . . . figure everything out?” Dennis asked before clearing his throat. Casey smirked slightly. At least she wasn’t the only one that was uncomfortable with this situation. “Is it settled?”

“I don’t know,” Casey said with a shrug. Some things were settled. Like the fact that Derek loved her back. That was definitely settled but it didn’t clear up any of the other questions. Oddly enough, she wasn’t super bothered about those other questions. She knew she would care eventually but for now, knowing that her feelings were returned was more than enough.

“That smile doesn’t say I don’t know,” her dad said with a sigh. He rubbed a hand down his face. Casey could hear Lizzie and Derek laughing from their room and it made her feel warm on the inside even if it made Dennis grimace. “You have to talk to Nora and George.”

“You think I don’t know that?” Casey said with a huff. The thought of George and Nora was like a bucket of cold water being dumped on her good mood. Casey blinked at her dad. Of course she was going to have to tell her mom and George. If this was going to be something real - something worth all of this ridiculous drama - then she would have to tell them.

And it was real. It was ridiculously real despite fighting it for months - despite fighting with him for months. The thought made her smile again and based on her father’s raised eyebrow it was just as goofy as she imagined.

“What?” Casey asked, trying to push her smile away.

“You’re sure about this?” he asked with all of the fatherly concern Casey was sure that he could muster. He was definitely out of practice so either way Casey was impressed. “You’re . . . I don’t know. Happy?”

“Yeah,” Casey said with a small nod. “Yeah. I am.”

“Fine,” Dennis said with a dramatic sigh. Derek shouted something from their room, followed swiftly by a burst of laughter from Liz, and Dennis flinched slightly. “He still can’t stay here.”  

***

“Thanks a lot man,” Derek said with a nod as he dropped his jacket by the couch. Jesse smiled at Derek before raising his eyebrows at Casey. Casey shrugged and slid off her own coat.

“I’ll be staying at Marj’s place for a few days anyways. So it’s no problem for me,” Jesse replied with a shrug and a friendly smile. He was taking this with so much more grace than Casey could have expected but then again, it was Jesse. “How long are you going to be in New York?”

“Huh?” Derek said, turning away from one of the many dance posters that Jesse had on the walls. He looked at Casey for a second before he answered. “I have to be back in Kingston in a few days for hockey practice.”

“Short trip,” Jesse replied with a nod. He raised his eyebrows at Casey again before clapping his hands. “Right. So, the bedroom is in the back. Casey has my key and knows where everything is. Let me know if you need anything else.”

“Yeah, sure,” Derek said with a nod before wandering around the corner. “Bathroom this way?”

“Yeah!” Jesse shouted after his retreating back. Once they heard the bathroom door close, Jesse turned to her with wide eyes. “What the fuck?”

“I know!” Casey hissed back. “He just showed up. Like at my dad’s door. At some ungodly hour this morning.”

“That is so romantic,” Jesse said with a small smirk. Casey rolled her eyes. “Oh, come on. You can’t tell me that your heart didn’t get all fluttery.”

“I was very, very, very hungover,” Casey said. She tried to listen for sound from the bathroom. She didn’t want to be caught gossiping about this morning when Derek came back to the living room. “But yeah. I guess it was kind of romantic. For Derek, at least.”

“So you guys talked it out? Confessed your feelings? Devoted yourselves to each other?” Jesse asked. His small smirk was growing into a full-blown mocking smile and Casey wasn’t sure if she liked it or not.

“Shut up,” Casey muttered. Sure they had talked. Kind of. Feelings had been confessed. Kind of. Casey wasn’t sure that she knew any better where she stood with Derek than she did a day ago. “We talked. A little.”

“A little?” Jesse asked. The toilet flushed and the sink turned on a second later. “What does that even mean?”

“It means we talked a little. Look -”

“It’s complicated,” Jesse said, cutting her off. Derek rounded the corner a second later and looked at Casey with the smallest of smiles. Casey stared at Derek with wide eyes. She was sure that he had heard every word and even though they hadn’t said anything that wasn’t true - hell, they’d barely said much at all - she felt guilty.

Jesse looked between the two of them with raised eyebrows before shaking his head,   “Yeah, well, I have a cast meeting that I need to go to. Casey can show you where everything is and she has my number if she can’t find anything and you have the spare key.”

“Thanks Jesse,” Casey said, wrenching her gaze away from Derek. Jesse shrugged and grabbed his backpack before heading towards the door. He gave Casey a quick thumbs up before the door shut behind him.

The silence was deafening. She was alone with Derek. Properly alone with him for the first time in months. The thought, for the first time since all of this started, didn’t frighten her. Instead, she found herself filling with anticipation.

“I knew you’d think me driving here in the middle of the night to confess my feelings was romantic,” Derek said, reminding her just how obnoxious he could really be.

“You were eavesdropping?” Casey asked, turning on him with narrowed eyes. He smirked at her and poked his tongue into his cheek in the exact way he knew pissed her off. “So this was all some . . . calculation? Some act to what? Catch me off guard?”

“Shut up,” Derek replied before bursting into the brightest smile she’d ever seen. He crossed the two steps it took to get to her and pressed his mouth to hers. He cupped the back of her head and pulled her close with the other.

Casey gasped against his mouth and moaned when he slipped his tongue in. Her hands rested on his shoulders but she slid them up his neck to dig into his hair when he sucked her bottom lip into his mouth.

“You can’t just tell me to shut up like that, you know,” she said, pulling away for a second. She was gasping for air as he continued kissing his way down her neck.

“Well, you have to learn to trust me. Maybe then I wouldn’t have to tell you to shut up,” he murmured before sucking at the spot below her ear that made her squirm. Casey rolled her eyes and scratched her nails against his scalp.

“And dates. I want dates,” she said, ignoring him. He stood up straight and kissed her mouth again, short circuiting her brain. They kissed slow and sloppy, more like smearing their mouths against each other’s than kissing. “And. Uh. Ro-romance.”

“Like driving eight hours to confess my feelings?” he whispered against her lips.

She pulled back a little and looked at him. His lips were puffy and red from kisses but she could see the circles under his eyes too. She cupped his cheek and brushed her thumb along his cheekbone. She licked her lips and nodded, “Yeah. Something like that. What are we doing, Derek?”

“Right now? I was trying to make out with my girlfriend,” he replied, leaning in to kiss her again.

Casey turned her head at the last second so that his lips landed on her cheek, “Girlfriend?”

“Yeah,” he whispered against her cheek. He kissed the corner of her mouth. The tip of her nose. Her other cheek. “Girlfriend.”

“Our parents,” Casey started, trying to ignore the way her heart soared. It was such a small thing to get excited over but she couldn’t help it. Hell, it almost made her more excited than the thought of him loving her back.

“Are totally not what I want to be thinking about right now,” Derek muttered with a small chuckle. He pressed his forehead to hers and sighed. “I am, kind of, in the middle of something here, Case. Don’t ruin it.”

“I’m not trying to ruin anything!” Casey snapped.

“No. You’re just Casey-fying it. Like usual,” he snapped back with a groan. He pulled away from her and frowned. “Can we bask for five minutes before dealing with all that other shit?”

“All that other shit happens to be our family, Der-ek!” she said, stepping away from him slightly.

“Yeah and they aren’t here right now. It’s you and me. Alone. Like properly alone in months,” Derek said. He stepped into her space again, making her look up at him. He pressed his hands together as if in prayer. “Can you, please, for once in your life just chill out and go with the flow.”

“No!” Casey shouted, shoving at his shoulder. “We did everything your way before and now we get to do it my way!”

“Yeah and what is your way, Casey? Talk the issue to death?” Derek asked with a sigh. He raised an eyebrow at her and crossed his arms. “Do you want to sing a song about it or something?”

“You are unbelievable,” Casey said with a short laugh. “I thought that this . . . whatever it is we’re doing meant something. That maybe - just, maybe, you were ready to be grown up about this. I guess I was wrong.”

“Oh my god! Nothing pleases you!” Derek shouted. He squeezed his eyes shut and pinched the bridge of his nose. He took a deep breath before looking at her again. He sat down on the coffee table, resting his elbows on his knees and leaning forward slightly. “Alright. Talk.”

“Talk?”

“Talk. You want to talk about this,” he said gesturing between the two of them. “You want to talk about us. Let’s do it. Let’s talk.”

“Oh,” she said softly. She hadn’t really expected him to give in so easily. She was always ready for a fight when it came to Derek. “Um. Right. Us. Is there an us?”

“I would fucking think so,” Derek said with eyebrows raised. “I mean, I drove eight hours. I talked about my feelings. If that doesn’t make us a . . . us, then I don’t know what does.”

“I want us to be an us,” Casey said quickly. She needed to just get it out there. She was tired of secrets and half-truths. All of that had been what had gotten them into this mess in the first place. “I think we make a good us.”

“I think so, too,” Derek said with a small smirk. Casey smiled back for a second before clearing her throat.

“But if we’re going to be an us, then you need to stop with all of the cool guy stuff,” Casey said, standing up straight. “You have to talk to me and take me seriously and treat me with respect.”

“You don’t have any faith in me as a boyfriend. Even after all these months,” Derek said with shake of his head.

“I just thought it needed to be said, Der-ek,” Casey replied. “I kept my mouth shut for months and I refuse to do it anymore.”

“Months, huh?” Derek asked, amusement filling his eyes. Casey rolled her eyes. Of course that’s what he picked up on. “How many months?”

“Seriously?” Casey asked. She huffed a little and crossed her arms. Derek stood up and mimicked her, crossing his own arms. “It’s not like it matters, Der-ek.”

“Damn, it was a while, huh?” he asked as he rocked back on his heels. “No one can resist the Venturi charm.”

“Oh please,” Casey said. She was half tempted to pretend like she was going to throw up. But that would have been childish and Casey was determined to be the grown up in this situation. Still. She couldn’t help but ask. “When did you know?”

“Know what?”

“That this,” she gestured between them and wondered if she would be able to ever talk about them in even remotely adult terms. “Was something real. Something that you wanted.”

“Since Sam and Emily visited,” he replied without hesitation. “Before that probably but yeah. Back then, I knew.”

“Why didn’t you say anything?” Casey asked. She shook her head, trying to make sense of this. “Why would you stay quiet? Even when I asked. I asked you if this was holding you back. Why didn’t you say something then?”

“Hey - I answered your question. Now answer mine. When did you know?” Derek asked. He took a step towards her and Casey stepped back without thinking. The back of her legs hit something and she fell backwards into an armchair. Derek looked down at her with a smirk. “Good to know that your clumsiness is finally making an appearance.”

“Shut up,” she grumbled as she struggled to sit on the arm. Derek reached out for her hand and pulled her forward until she was standing in front of him. He pressed her hand to his chest and wrapped his arm around her waist.

“When did you know?” he asked softly. Casey licked her lips. She glanced at his lips and didn’t think before leaning up to kiss him. He kissed her back for a second, sweet and gentle. His hand squeezed hers before he pulled away. “Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not,” Casey said, shaking her head a little. Strands of her hair got caught on his stubble and it gave her an excuse to touch his cheek. “I knew then. When they visited. I knew before but I knew for sure then.”

“Good,” he said, one side of his mouth tilting up a little. He leaned down and kissed her again. She leaned into him and wrapped her arm around his neck. She didn’t want to let go. Not this time.

She squeezed her hand tighter against his chest. She dug her nails into t-shirt, wishing that she could feel his skin against her palm. He slid his hand under her shirt and gripped her side tighter. She pressed against him from thigh to chest and it still didn’t feel close enough.

Gasping for air, she pulled away from him. Her mouth felt clumsy as she whispered, “Clothes.”

“Clothes?” Derek whispered back. She could feel his smirk against her lips. “What about clothes?”

“Der-ek,” she said through clenched teeth. She leaned forward and nipped at his bottom lip. It was puffy and red from her kisses.

“Come on, princess. Full sentences now,” he said before kissing her again. Casey whined a little into the kiss, wiggling her hips against his. “I know you can do it.”

“Don’t tease,” she whispered back. She lifted up on her toes, trying to press every single curve of her body against his. She didn’t want to have to say it - or anything at all. She was done with talking. Talking was exhausting and the feel of his lips on hers was so much better. She tugged on his shirt again, “Off.”

“I like this cavewoman side of you, Case,” he muttered as he pulled away. She wobbled for a second, the chill of the apartment shocking her slightly without his heat pressed against her. He pulled his shirt off and tossed it to the side. He raised an eyebrow at her and nodded towards her chest. “Your turn.”

“My turn?” Casey asked knowing full-well what he meant.

“Your turn,” he repeated.

Casey took a deep breath and pulled her own shirt off. She held it to her chest for a second, watching Derek with wide eyes. His pupils were blown wide and his eyes looked black. He swallowed once before reaching forward and tugging the shirt from her clenched hands.

“Shit,” he whispered.

He slid a hand between her bare breasts, over her collarbone to the back of her neck. He pulled her forward and kissed her again. Her nipples pressed against his bare chest and she shivered.

She thought about that night months ago when Derek had fallen onto a bed with her. Remembered the way her stomach had twisted into knots but she couldn’t find it in herself to stop him. She’d wanted him to wrap his mouth around her nipple. Wanted him to stop teasing her and do something - anything - to get rid of the bundle of nerves building inside of her.

That feeling was back and stronger than ever. She wanted him. She wanted him so badly that her head felt fuzzy. Like she’d done too many pirouettes and she was still waiting for the room to settle.

His mouth moved down her neck, leaving sloppy wet kisses on her feverish skin. The back of her thighs hit the armchair again and she reached back to try and balance herself. He kissed the top of her breast and dragged his lips over her chest before kissing the top of the other. He had to know what he was doing to her, had to feel her heart pounding in her chest.

His lips wrapped around a nipple and Casey’s brain short circuited. She closed her eyes and threw her head back, gasping. He pressed his tongue to her nipple and flicked the tip before sucking loudly. It was obscene and it made her throb between her thighs. He let her nipple go with a pop before moving to the other one and giving it the same treatment.

“Der-ek,” Casey whined softly, rubbing her thighs together a little. He looked up at her with a smirk before dropping to his knees. He kept his eyes on hers as he planted kisses just above her jeans. He slid his hands up her thighs and tucked the ends of his fingers into the waistband of her jeans. Casey licked her lips and swallowed the lump in her throat.

He popped the button and pulled down the zipper. His eyes drifted over her bare chest, making her skin tingle, before resting on the plain, white band of her underwear. He moved to yank her pants down when Casey put out a hand.

“Hey,” she croaked. Derek looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. She rolled her eyes and cleared her throat. “Fair’s fair. If mine are coming off, then so are yours.”

“Fair’s fair,” he said, voice just as hoarse and croaking as hers had been. He cleared his throat and Casey was positive that there was the faintest of blushes on his cheeks. At least she wasn’t the only one that was being affected by this. He stood up with a cocky grin and wiggled his eyebrows at her. “Want to see my naked body, Casey?”

“Shut up and strip,” Casey muttered as she wiggled out of her jeans. Derek watched her through hooded eyes for a second before he started struggling with the fly of his jeans. Casey bit her bottom lip before reaching forward and pulling him towards her by the belt loop. “Nervous, Venturi?”

He was definitely blushing now. Casey couldn’t help but lean up and kiss him softly. She deftly unbuttoned his pants, internally rolling her eyes at his button fly. He would probably deny it if she said anything but Derek was definitely the hipster of the family.

Once his fly was undone, Casey slid her hands around his waist and pushed her hands into the back of his jeans. She grabbed his ass with both hands and squeezed. Derek jumped a little before biting at her bottom lip in retaliation. Derek wiggled his own hips until his jeans pooled around his feet.

“Happy now?” he asked against her mouth. Casey nodded. “Good. Now. Back to what I was doing.”

He dropped back down to his knees and pressed his mouth to her fabric covered vagina. Casey gasped and leaned back onto the chair arm again. She stared down at Derek with wide eyes as he pressed open-mouthed kisses against her. She could feel the warm, wet heat of his mouth and it made her groan. She reached down and ran a hand through his hair, scraping her nails against his scalp. He moved her underwear to the side and slid his tongue up the middle of her before wrapping his lips around her clit and sucking hard.

“Fuck,” she whispered, pressing her pelvis forward into his mouth. He mumbled something that she didn’t catch but he was tugging on her underwear, rolling them down her hips without dislodging his mouth from her clit. “Holy shit.”

“Language,” Derek muttered when he came up for air. He rolled her underwear down her thighs and she kicked them off to the side. Derek spread her thighs open and stared at her vagina for a second before pressing a soft kiss to the inside of her thigh. “You have such a good looking pussy.”

“Der-ek!” Casey said, trying to close her legs. He rolled his eyes and held her thighs open. He licked up her middle again, pausing to plant a smacking kiss her to clit. Casey squirmed a little, flinging one leg over Derek’s shoulder as he licked into her. The sounds that he was making were filthy and made Casey moan.

She grabbed his hair again, pulling him closer to her. He opened his mouth wide and pushed his tongue inside her. He reached under her and grabbed onto her ass, lifting her other leg over his shoulder. She dug her heels into his shoulders and whimpered as he swirled his tongue around her clit. His moaning had grown louder, and she could feel it vibrating through her.

“Oh god,” she moaned. She curled her toes and felt a tightening in her stomach. “I’m cl-close. So close.”

He wrapped his lips around her clit and sucked hard, gently worrying it with his teeth. Casey’s mouth fell open in a silent shout as her orgasm raced through her. She tensed for a second, desperately rubbing herself against Derek’s mouth as she chased down that euphoric feeling, before relaxing completely with a sigh. She gently worked her fingers out of Derek’s hair and slid her legs from his shoulders.

“What just happened?” she huffed on a small laugh.

Derek looked up at her with a laugh of his own. His mouth was shining with her juices and his hair was sticking up in a million different directions. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and stood up. Casey jumped back and squealed when she fell backwards into the chair.

“I mean, I know I’m good at that but I’m not that good,” Derek said with a laugh. Casey huffed and held her hand out for Derek to help her up. He smiled and grabbed her hand, yanking her forward. He grabbed her at the waist once she was up and tossed her over his shoulder.

“Der-ek!” she screeched, flailing a bit. “Put me down!”

“Bedroom?” he asked, ignoring her. She kicked her feet and Derek smacked her on the behind. “Never mind. I’m sure I can find it.”

“I can’t believe you’re carrying me to the bedroom like a Neanderthal,” Casey muttered as she crossed her arms. It wasn’t a long walk, just down the hall and across from the bathroom. She looked down and tried to control her smirk at the sight of Derek’s bare ass moving with each step he took.

“You got your cavewoman moment, now I’m having mine,” Derek replied as he put her down. Casey opened her mouth to say something but Derek cut her off. “Just. Stop. Let me do this.”

Casey grabbed his hand and moved it from her mouth, narrowing her eyes at him, “Do what?”

“This,” he said, leaning forward to kiss her again. He slid a hand around her waist and pulled her against him. She sighed into his mouth and rested a hand on his bare chest. She could feel his boner poking her in the thigh, reminding her just what they were doing.

“Derek,” she whispered, pulling away from him slightly. “We’re naked.”

“You noticed that, huh?” he asked with a smirk. He trailed his hand up her side, his fingers barely touching her skin. She shivered slightly and tried to take a steadying breath. “Kind of needed, you know?”

“We’re naked,” she repeated. He cupped her breast in his hand and kneaded slightly. She licked her lips and tried to organize her thoughts. She was trying to make a point. “In Jesse’s apartment.”

“Can we not say exes name’s right now?” Derek muttered. He leaned down to kiss her again but she turned her face away. That didn’t stop him though and he trailed kisses down her neck.

“Der-ek!” Casey said, pushing at his chest a little. He stepped back a little and looked at Casey with raised eyebrows. Casey huffed and crossed her arms over her chest. She shifted a little and tried to cover as much of herself as possible. She kept her eyes on his face and adamantly tried to not look down. “This is Jesse’s room.”

“Your point?” Derek snapped.

“This is weird,” Casey said with a shake of her head. “Jesse could come home and this is his bed and this is just weird.”

“You didn’t think it was weird when I had my face pressed into your vag,” Derek replied with a smirk.

“You are such a pig,” Casey said with a shake of her head.

“Do you seriously think that Jesse left us here – alone – and expected nothing to happen?” Derek asked. He slowly raised his hand and waited for Casey. When she didn’t flinch back, he cupped the back of her head. “Come on, Case. Let me make love to you.”

Casey swallowed the lump in her throat before surging up and kissing him. His face had been so soft, so earnest. She’d never seen him so serious, so open, and it made her blood sing. He walked her backwards until she sat down on the bed. Derek stood above her, panting, and Casey was left face to face with Derek’s boner. The fact that he had managed to stay hard spoke to just how badly he wanted her and it excited her.

She didn’t think too hard before leaning forward and placing a chaste kiss to the tip. Derek inhaled sharply and Casey looked up at him through her lashes. He was biting his bottom lip and there was a flush on his chest. Casey licked her lips and opened her mouth, taking him into her mouth.

“Jesus Christ,” Derek breathed out. His hand hovered by her face and she took as much of him into her mouth as she could. Gently, he touched her cheek as she hollowed out and pulled back. “Jesus fucking Christ.”

“Language,” she said after letting go with a loud pop. She licked the underside of his dick and swirled her tongue around the head again.

Derek let out a shaky breath before angling his pelvis away from her. She leaned forward a little, chasing after him, but he put a hand on her shoulder to hold her back. Casey looked up at him with raised eyebrows. His chest was pink and he was panting. He glared at her through his hair before shaking his head.

“Don’t say a word,” Derek muttered. Casey tried to look innocent as she scooted up the bed, pulling her knees to her chest. She wrapped her arms around her shins and watched Derek pull himself together.

“I would never,” Casey said with a smile. “Just never expected this.”

“Expected what?” Derek asked, putting his hands on his hips. His boner was still jutting out, begging for attention but neither of them seemed to be in as much of a rush as they had been a second ago. Casey wanted to laugh at how absurd this whole thing was.

“Just Derek Venturi, king of all things sexual, losing his cool,” Casey said with a shrug and an amused smirk.

“King of all things sexual, huh?” Derek replied, completely ignoring the rest of her sentence. And, honestly, what else did she expect? Backhanded compliments went right over Derek’s head. He always clung to the compliment part and ignored the backhanded-ness. “Didn’t know I had that reputation.”

“You don’t,” Casey said, trying to save face. Derek climbed onto the bed and slowly reached out a hand, running his finger up her shin. “You wish you had.”

“Whatever you say, Casey,” he replied, voice low and sultry. He wrapped his fingers around her wrist and pulled her arm away from her legs. Casey slowly unfolded for him, holding her arms open for him. His smile softened as he kissed her ankle, the inside of her knee, her thigh. A nip at her stomach, her breast, her neck. By the time he reached her mouth she was quivering with anticipation. “Hey there.”

“Hey,” she whispered into his smile. She wrapped her leg around his waist and pulled him down towards her. She felt his hardness just barely rub against her. She bit her lip and looked down.

“You’re not a virgin, right?” Derek whispered into her hair as he dipped his hips down a little brushing against her again.

“Der-ek!” Casey huffed, releasing him from her legs grasp. She pushed at his chest until he rolled onto his back. He was laughing and that made her even more annoyed. Casey sat up and glared down at him. “You’re such a jerk.”

“I was trying to be gentleman-ly. You know?”

“No, I don’t know,” Casey said rolling her eyes.

Derek grabbed her by the waist and dragged her over him. She settled herself on top of him, dragging her vagina along the length of him. He grasped her hips and hissed slightly.

“Gentleman-y?” she asked. She didn’t want him to lose focus. Not yet at least. He smiled and looked at her through his eyelashes. He urged to her to move and she ground herself against him.

“You know. How fast. How hard. All that stuff that makes a girl’s first time good,” he mumbled. His eyes dragged down her body and rested at that point where she was teasing him. “Goddamn your pussy is good looking.”

“You are such a pig,” she said with a shake of her head. Casey reached between them and took hold of him, guiding him to where she wanted him most.

“Condom?”

“Birth control,” she replied before sinking down and taking him in. Her mouth fell open with a satisfied sigh. She stayed still for a second, getting used to the feel of him inside of her. Derek’s eyes were closed and he was mumbling something under her breath. “What are you saying?”

“Huh?” he asked, eyes opening for a second before closing again. He squeezed her hips and lifted his hips slightly. Casey gasped at the feeling of him pushing in even further. “I need you to move.”

Casey slowly lifted up, letting him out of her inch by inch before sliding back down just as slow. Derek hissed and pushed up into her, urging her to move faster until she was riding him. Casey moaned and tilted her head back, closing her eyes and letting every feeling run through her. Derek was still muttering something under his breath and his fingers would probably leave bruises on her hips but she didn’t care. How could she care when her entire body felt like it was on fire?

“Fuck. Fuck. I’m not gonna last,” Derek groaned out. He sat up suddenly, wrapping an arm around her waist. He kissed her shoulder and her neck before pressing his forehead to her collarbone. Casey wrapped her arms around his neck and moaned at the change in angle.

Casey could feel Derek start to shake. His panting grew louder and Casey could finally understand the litany of her name and curse words that Derek had been saying since they’d come to bed.

Casey clenched around him and bounced up and down. She was desperate to find her own release. Beneath her Derek had stopped breathing. She felt him tense as  he pulsed inside of her. Casey’s mouth dropped open as she continued to move.

She pressed down, grinding her clit against his pelvic bone. There was a high pitch whine coming from her mouth but she couldn’t be bothered to care. Not when Derek whispered in her ear, “Come on, baby girl. That’s it.”

She gasped and flexed her toes as her orgasm washed through her. Her limbs suddenly loosened as her stomach grew warm. Her heart was pounding but everything else about her body was perfectly calm.

She let go of Derek and fell back towards the bed. Derek still had his arm around her waist so she dangled for a moment before he let her go. He fell back towards the bed as well, crushing her feet.

“Ow,” she complained as she dragged her feet free. She made sure to kick him in the side at least once.

“If you just experienced anything half as good as what I just did, then that didn’t even hurt,” Derek muttered with a laugh.

Casey looked up at him and smiled before dropping her head back down, “Fucked out is a good look on you, Der-bear.”

“Case-y,” he growled, sitting up. He looked down at her with a filthy smirk on his face. “You can’t say things like that.”

“What?” She asked with wide eyes. “Fucked out?”

Derek narrowed his eyes before leaning down to kiss her. He paused for a second as he struggled to move his legs behind him so that he was laying on top of her. Once he was situated, he gave her a quick peck on the cheek before laying his head on her breast.  

“What?” she asked with a laugh.

“I’m too tired,” Derek sighed, relaxing onto her. Casey rolled her eyes and wrapped her arms around his shoulders. She could feel his smile against her skin.

“I need to pee,” Casey whispered after a few seconds of silence.

“Real classy, Casey,” Derek said and he pushed himself up.

“Like you’re one to talk about class,” Casey replied as she got out of bed. She didn’t wait for Derek to say anything as she rushed across the hall to the bathroom. She shut the door and quickly pressed her hands to her mouth to hold in her laughter.

She shook her head and looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was a mess and her cheeks pink. She touched the love bite on her shoulder and repressed a shudder. She could feel his . . . stuff beginning to seep out of her and made a face.

She could contemplate everything that had happened later. When she didn’t feel quite so . . . sticky.

When she was done in the bathroom, Casey went back to the bedroom to find Derek passed out.

She sighed in what she could only describe as relief. She could put off thinking about it a little longer. So much had happened in the past twenty four hours that she didn’t have the energy or brain power to deal with it all.

For now, sleep seemed like the most logical path forward. She crawled into the bed next to Derek and curled into his side. She pulled the comforter over them and closed her eyes.

Sleep wasn’t far off. She found herself dozing off second later when she heard Derek whisper, “I love you.”

Chapter Text

Derek groaned and squeezed Casey’s thighs a little tighter. She let out a loud gasp and weakly pushed against his head. Derek gave her clit a parting kiss before kissing his way back up her body. She was smiling with her eyes closed and it made his heart do a little back flip.

“I don’t think I can go anymore,” Casey mumbled. Derek couldn’t help the bit of pride that he felt at how wrecked she sounded. “You know we can’t just stay here forever.”

“I wasn’t planning on staying here forever,” Derek replied. He flopped down on the bed next to her, wrapping an arm around her waist. He kissed her shoulder and pressed his face into her neck. He knew she was right but he wanted to revel for just a little while longer.

“Do George and Nora know that you’re in New York?” Casey asked. Her voice cracked a little when she said Nora’s name and it made his stomach drop a little. He knew that, despite whatever Casey felt towards him, if this whole thing didn’t go over well with Nora that it would be over before it even got a chance to really begin.

“George knows,” Derek muttered. He’d had enough clarity of mind to text George before leaving Kingston.

“George knows you’re here? Then mom knows too,” Casey said with a sigh that sounded a little too sad for his liking. “Did he ask why you were driving here at midnight?”

“He never texted me back,” Derek replied, keeping his voice as calm as he could. He knew where she was going with this. “I didn’t tell him about us, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

“Maybe,” Casey said with a shrug. She rubbed her face and took Derek’s hand in her own. She laced their fingers together before kissing the back of his hand. “I’m going to take a shower.”

She swung her long, long legs over the edge of the bed and stretched. Derek leaned forward and nipped at her side. He quickly kissed the spot and said as sensually as he possibly could, “Want some company?”

“I think that would defeat the whole point of taking a shower, Derek,” Casey said with a soft laugh. She pushed his face away from her side and rushed across the hall to the bathroom. He heard the door lock behind her and sighed.

He laid back down on the bed and rubbed a hand over her face. She was probably freaking out. There was no probably about it, actually. He knew Casey and he knew that she was freaking out. It was to be expected. Derek tried not to take it personally, tried to remind himself that she needed to process. Casey wasn’t him. She couldn’t just adapt the way that he could.

A sneaky voice at the back of his mind, that sounded suspiciously like Sam, said that he was finally growing up.

His stomach grumbled and Derek was reminded that he’d barely eaten since getting into New York the day before. He stretched and sat up, scratching at his head. He was pretty positive that he’d left his pants in the living room. He might have been growing up a little but he couldn’t help the feeling of deep satisfaction knowing that Casey hadn’t really given him the chance to get out of bed. Not that he had been complaining or trying to get away.

Derek stumbled back into the living room as Casey started singing in the shower. He paused for a second and rolled his eyes when he realized she was singing some showtune. He definitely had not missed the showtunes, that much hadn’t changed between them.

He searched through the pockets of his jeans until he found his phone. Naturally the damn thing was dead. Derek groaned and looked around the living room for a phone charger. He plugged his phone in and pulled his jeans on as it turned on.

He was sure there was going to be at least a couple from his dad but he was not expecting the way his phone blew up.

There was a string of missed phone calls from Ed and Liz. A few text messages as well. Derek was pulling them up when he heard keys in the front door. Derek frowned and turned just as Liz burst through the door followed closely by Jesse.

“Lizzie?” Derek asked. “What are you doing here?”

“What am I?” Lizzie started before cutting herself off. She looked around the living room, taking in their discarded clothes and Derek’s shirtless state. “Ew. So much ew.”

“I’m just gonna not go in my bedroom right now,” Jesse said as he scratched the back of his neck. He gave Derek something that resembled an apologetic look. “She insisted that I bring her over since she couldn’t get a hold of you.”

Derek rolled his eyes and grabbed his shirt off the ground. He yanked it over his head and made sure that his pants were buttoned.

“I repeat,” Derek said, knowing that it wasn’t going to be anything good. “What are you doing here?”

“Where is your phone?” Lizzie snapped back. “I’ve been trying to reach you for hours now.”

“It died,” Derek muttered, scrolling through his text messages. “What’s the emergency?”

“Mom,” Lizzie said.

“Nora?” Derek asked, frowning.

“She knows,” Lizzie said.

Derek felt his stomach drop. He knew it was inevitable that their parents would find out. Of course they would. But he figured it would be from them directly. When they were ready. Cause right now? So not ready. Not even close.

“How?” Derek practically yelled.

“If someone had just answered their phones this wouldn’t even be a problem,” Liz said with a huff.

“How is this my fault!?” Derek definitely yelled that time.

“You know what? I’m gonna brave my bedroom,” Jesse said with a nod before walking down the hall.

“Dad couldn’t get in touch with either of you when you left his place,” Lizzie started to explain. “So because he’s all weird about this and totally incapable of dealing with his daughters himself.”

“Focus,” Derek snapped when he sensed an anti-Dennis rant coming on.

“Sorry,” Lizzie said with a shake of her head. “Anyways, he called mom and spilled the beans and she’ll be in New York this evening.”

“What?” Casey asked as she stepped out into the living room. Her hair was wrapped up in a towel and she was wearing one of Derek’s shirts as a dress. He wasn’t sure wear she had even gotten it. “Mom knows?”

Lizzie’s face kind of crumbled and she nodded. Derek watched the way that Casey’s face mirrored Lizzie’s. None of this was good. At all.

“Do you,” she started before pausing and clearing her throat. She looked at Derek for a second before blushing and turning away. “Have you talked to her?”

“No,” Liz said. “Edwin texted. Said that she didn’t seem mad or anything.”

“Not mad is good right?” Derek asked. That crestfallen  look hadn’t left Casey or Lizzie’s face. In fact, it seemed to deepen.

“Not mad usually means disappointed,” Casey mumbled. Derek flinched slightly. Disappointment was definitely keener kryptonite.

“Maybe not? Remember that time she wasn’t mad or disappointed? After that party. The one that Vicki threw?” Lizzie pointed out, brightening up a little bit.

“Yeah, I remember,” Casey said before biting her bottom lip. “She said she was so relieved that nothing terrible had happened that she’d forgotten to be mad.”

Lizzie cringed.

“So maybe not the best example but she could be okay with this,” Lizzie said. Derek knew she was trying to be optimistic but it was barely working.

“Derek?” Casey asked, turning to him. Derek stared at her. Why was she calling on him? “Well?”

“Well what?” Derek asked. He knew this was some sort of test. He knew that he was supposed to be showing her that he was capable of dealing, of being there for her.

He seriously doubted that he was.

“What are we going to do?”

“Talk to her?” he asked trying to come up with the most Casey-like answer. Talking was always Casey’s go-to.

“Talk to her?” Casey repeated, raising an eyebrow.

“I mean. She’s family, right?” Derek continued slowly. “She would have found out eventually. You know. If we. You know.”

“Right,” she agreed. “You know. If.”

Lizzie looked between the two of them and groaned, “You were supposed to talk about this.”

“It’s only been a couple of days,” Casey said with a wince. “We’ve been . . . preoccupied.”

“So gross,” Liz said.

“Grow up,” Derek muttered. He turned to Casey and raised a hand to his mouth.

“That’s his scheming pose,” Lizzie said, pointing at Derek. Derek rolled his eyes and smirked at Casey. Casey smiled softly and walked towards him.

“She has a point,” Casey said. He mimicked his stance and raised his eyebrow. “This is your scheming pose.”

“Good thing all my schemes tend to be brilliant,” he said, smirk growing into a smile.

“I think this is grosser than you two having sex,” Lizzie said. “I’m going to find Jesse.”

She marched between them and down the hallway. Derek watched her walk away before turning to Casey. He reached out and cupped her cheek, “You’re not freaking out?”

“I’m totally freaking out,” she said with a small laugh. She covered his hand and let out a sigh. “But this . . . thing is real, right? It’s worth it.”

He stepped close to her and cupped her other cheek, “I think so.”

“Me too,” she said just as soft. “It’s just. There’s still so much to talk about.”

“Always with the talking, McDonald,” he said with a chuckle. “How about we just play this one by ear. You know. Let it happen organically.”

“Pretty sure our organic is what led to a major meltdown between us,” Casey said, tilting her head to the side. He frowned.

“That was definitely not organic,” he said with a shake of his head. “That was way structured. Fake relationship? Come on.”

She sighed and shook her head, “I’m serious, Derek.”

“I am too,” he said, tilting her chin up. “You know I’m no good with words. It’s so not my strong point.”

“Pretty well established.”

“Thanks,” he said. “But I’m serious too. About this. About us.”

“So what am I supposed to tell my mother? Your father when he inevitably reaches out?” she asked, blues eyes big and pleading.

“Whatever you tell her. About us. I’ll support,” he said with a shrug and his patented, easy going smile. The one he knew pissed her off in high school but got her kind of hot now. “You tell her we’re together. Done. You tell her we’re still working it out. Shitty but also done.”

“Derek,” she said, shaking her head. Her cheeks turned pink and there was a pleased smile in her face. “You can’t just trust whatever I decide. We should decide it together.”

“Case,” he said, cupping her face and tilting it up at him. “I tried pushing you into what I wanted. Remember that? Led to us breaking up at a hockey party.”

“Fake breaking up,” she muttered because she just couldn’t let go of that distinction, apparently. Derek rolled his eyes.

“That was a break up of the highest order,” he said, raising his eyebrows. “At that point, that shit sounded like a breakup and fucking felt like one too. I call ‘em like I see ‘em.”

“Language,” she said and he knew it was entirely to annoy him. He pulled her forward to kiss him.

“I guess I gotta keep saying it,” he muttered before kissing her again. “But I love you, keener. I’m sticking with you.”

“If this is you being romantic,” she said, reaching up to grab her wrists. “It’s definitely going to take some getting used to.”

“Yeah, well,” he said, shrugging. “I do have a way with words.”

“So lame,” she said, scrunching up her nose at him. “But thanks.”

“Come on,” he said, pulling her into a hug. He peeked at her shirt and frowned. “I thought I lost this shirt.”

“I might have . . . kept it. After borrowing it once,” she mumbled, pressing her face into his shoulder.

“You mean it wasn’t in your closure box?” he asked, feeling way too proud of himself. She groaned and sunk down in his arms a little. “Oh yeah. Totally knew what that was. Like I said. Real breakup.”

“Can we not talk about that until after we’ve dealt with my mother?” she asked meekly. “One major relationship hurdle at a time, please.”

“Whatever you want, Space Case,” he said with a laugh. “Whatever you want.”

***

“If I have to watch you pave the room one more time, I’m gonna hurl,” Derek said as he lounged on the couch. Dennis was sitting in his armchair, hands constantly shifting between being folded on his lap and propping his chin up. Between the two of them, Derek was starting to feel anxious.

“She should be here by now,” Casey said, shaking her head. She chewed on her thumb nail and turned to look at Derek. “Cindy and Lizzie left like an hour ago.”

“It’s New York,” Derek said with a shrug. “We both know traffic can be a nightmare.”

“I’m sure they’re on their way back now,” Dennis said, softly. He had been doing that since they walked through the door, hand in hand. It was kind of getting on Derek’s nerves. “It’s fine.”

“Fine,” she repeated, frowning at him. She hadn’t said much to her father. Nothing more than a long sigh that seemed to hit home more than anything else.

“Sit down, Casey,” Dennis said with a mini sigh of his own. Between the sighing and pacing and the anxiety, Derek didn’t know how either of the McDonalds survived.

Casey sat down next to Derek, placing a hand on Derek’s thigh. Without thinking about it, he grabbed her fingers and gave them a small squeeze. Dennis sighed again on the other side of the room.

“Can you pass out from sighing too much?” Derek muttered into Casey’s ear. She didn’t even bother fussing at him, she was that distracted. “It’ll be fine, Case.”

She turned to him with those big blue eyes that drove him nuts and tried to smile. It was a pretty sad excuse but he was going to take it. The lock in the front door quickly killed whatever sense of ease Casey was trying to portray. Dennis was out of his chair in an instant, heading towards the front hall.

“Whatever you want,” Derek reminded Casey softly. Casey nodded and squeezed his fingers tight. “You’re not getting rid of me, McDonald.”

Casey opened her mouth to say something but Nora’s voice calling her name cut her off. She pulled her hand from his and stood up quickly. She didn’t even look at him as she rushed into the hallway. Derek tried not to take it personally, tried not to panic. But knowing that they were about to talk to one of their parents about their sexual, definitely non-sibling relationship was starting to get to him.

“Derek?” Cindy said as she stepped into the living room. She gave him a tight smile, all teeth and big eyes. It made her look like a blonde shark. “They’re, um, talking in the office. Nora wanted to talk to Casey alone first. Dennis is with them, of course.”

“Right,” he said, nodding. Made sense. Attack the weakest link first.

“She didn’t seem upset,” she said, keeping that shark smile on her face. He guessed it was supposed to be comforting. It wasn’t working. “That’s a good thing, right?”

“Nora can be of the silent rage, apparently,” Derek said with his own tight lipped smile. “Where’s Liz?”

“Playing referee,” Cindy said. She bit her lip and looked into the hall. She let out a sigh and turned back to Derek. “Do you want a drink?”

“Like an alcoholic drink?” Derek asked, raising an eyebrow. Maybe he was warming up to the shark smile.

“I could use one,” she said with a small smile that was seriously lacking in shark-like qualities. “You’re of age. It's been a wild couple of days. Plus, it’s five o’clock somewhere.”

“You might be the coolest addition to the McDonald clan,” Derek said with a laugh. Cindy smiled at him, a little bright and hopeful. Maybe he was jumping the gun with this one. “Too soon?”

“I mean,” Cindy said with a shrug, leading him to the kitchen. “It has been a couple of years but maybe we figure out your situation first?”

“Maybe that’s a good idea,” Derek said with a laugh. He sat down at the breakfast bar and waited while Cindy put together two vodka and juices. She handed one to Derek before taking a large gulp of her own drink.

“So you’re serious about Casey?” Cindy asked, diving head first into the relationship conversation. She wiped at her mouth and stared at Derek with wide eyes.

“Is everybody going to question my intentions?” Derek asked with a small laugh. He sipped his drink and sighed. Cindy shrugged and waited for his answer. “Yes. I am serious about Casey.”

“We’re just looking out for her,” Cindy said, leaning across the bar. She covered one of his hands with her own, squeezing it a little. “You have quite the reputation.”

“Really regretting that now,” Derek hugged out. Cindy laughed and patted his hand.

“True love's course never did run smooth,” she said, voice taking on a sing-song sweetness that made him roll his eyes.

“I am so tired of people quoting Shakespeare at me,” Derek muttered. He took a large gulp of his drink right when Nora walked into the kitchen. He choked a little and Nora raised an eyebrow at him.

“Derek, if you’d like to join us,” she said before turning and leaving without another word. Derek looked at Cindy for any sort of help but she just shrugged and continued to sip her drink. She gave Derek a little wave as he walked down the hall.

The office was everything you’d expect from a New York hot shot. There’s the mahogany desk and the plush leather armchair in the corner. The family picture on his desk and a bar cart in the corner. He slapped a smirk on his face and turned to where Dennis was leaning against a bookshelf, “Very nice, Dennis. Very Godfather. I approve.”

“Thank you?” Dennis asked, frowning.

“Derek, can you please be serious?” Casey snapped. She was sitting on the corner of the desk and very, much on the edge of a breakdown. Her eyes were wide and glaring at him from across the room.

“I was just paying Dennis a compliment,” Derek said with a shrug. “No need to get all worked up about it.”

“Derek, Casey, maybe we can pause on the usual bickering? Just for today?” Nora asked, her voice cheery and annoyed all at the same time. “Kind of want to get through this whole my children dating each other thing first.”

“Your child and your step-child,” Casey said through her teeth. She glared at her mother sitting in the armchair. Derek sighed and rolled his eyes. He seriously doubted his presence was going to diffuse the situation at all. “There is a difference, Mother, and you know it.”

“Not to me, there isn’t,” Nora said, voice cheery and throat strained. She looked at Derek and gave him a smile that seemed to make her seem more pissed off than anything else. “And what do you have to say for yourself?”

“Me?” Derek squeaked, cracking under her crazy eye. Casey huffed and rolled her eyes again. Even Dennis seemed disappointed. Derek cleared his throat and gave it a second go. “Look, Nora, I care about your daughter. I really do.”

“You care about her? As what? Like you should? As a sister?” Nora prodded, hands clutching the arms of the chair. Her knuckles were practically white with how tight she was holding on.

“Like I should?” Derek said with a shake of his head. “Who ever said I was supposed to see Casey as a sister? We met when we were fifteen and we made it pretty clear from the beginning that we were barely siblings.”

“Fine, you were kids who didn’t like having to mix families,” Nora said, waving a hand at her. “I can accept that but you both changed - your relationship changed! I watched it happen. Your father and I both did.”

“Yeah, it changed. We stopped hating each other. Doesn’t mean I ever saw Case as a sister, Nora,” Derek said with a shrug. He chanced a glance at Casey, saw that her eyes were glued to him and glassy. He was never going to make it through this if she started crying.

“Fine, you stopped hating each other. I can accept that,” Nora said slowly. She folded her hands in her lap and stared at Derek with wide eyes. “What I cannot accept is this idea of a romantic relationship between the two of you.”

“Why not?” Derek snapped. Casey was clearly trying to warn him off with her eyes but Derek wasn’t going to be intimidated by Nora. “We’re both adults and I can guarantee that Casey has thought this through enough for an army of concerned moms.”

“But have you thought it through?” Nora asked. Derek paused, trying to formulate an answer that went beyond no shit Sherlock . Too long of a pause for Nora’s taste, apparently. “I didn’t think so. Not that I’m surprised.”

“Mom, that’s not fair!” Casey said, coming to Derek’s side. She kept her arms crossed over her chest but she bumped Derek with her shoulder. At least she hadn’t abandoned his side of the argument in the face of parental disapproval.

“What’s not fair, Casey,” Nora said through clenched teeth. “Is getting a phone call from your father telling me that you’ve decided that dating your brother is a good idea.”

“Step-brother,” Casey and Derek snapped at the same time. Derek smirked and looked at Casey out of the corner of his eye. She looked even more tense than when he first came into the room. He reached out and grabbed her shoulder, trying to massage some of the tension away. Casey stepped closer to him and Derek slid his hand along her shoulders, cupping the back of her neck and continuing with his one-handed massage.

“Same. Difference,” Nora insisted. She closed her eyes and let out a slow breath before smiling at the two of them. “Look, if this is some rebellion thing, then I understand. But you’re both growing up and it’s time to start acting like adults.”

“Wow,” Derek said, rolling his eyes. Casey grabbed his forearm, probably trying to warn him or something but he was a little tired of having people tell him how he’s supposed to be feeling. “Look, Nora. I love you like a mom. Hell, you’ve been more of a mom to me the past few years than the woman who pushed me out. But I’m not going to just sit here while you question Casey’s intelligence. I mean, my intelligence - I think we can all agree - can be pretty questionable but Casey doesn’t do anything without making a list and checking it twice.”

“That’s Santa,” Casey muttered next to him. Derek turned to her with wide eyes. “Sorry.”

“My point is: Casey McDonald, your daughter, doesn’t do rebellion and she definitely doesn’t do anything without thinking it through first. And believe me, when I say, that she has thought this through to death,” Derek said, turning back to Nora. “Me? I’m a wild card. I think we all know that but when I commit to something I commit. And, I’m committed to your daughter.”

“Is that so?” Nora said, raising an eyebrow at him and smirking slightly. She looked at Dennis and tilted her head at him, a thin but pleased smile spreading across her face. Derek narrowed his eyes at her and looked between Nora and Dennis.

“Yeah, that’s so,” Derek replied, feeling like he was suddenly missing a key plot point.

“Good,” Nora said, turning her thin smile on Derek. She tilted her head back a little and looked down her nose at Derek. “That’s what I was hoping you would say.”

“What you were hoping?” Derek repeated. He looked at Casey but she looked just as confused as he was. “I’m missing something, aren’t I?”

“Derek,” Nora said, shaking her head. Her smile softened a little. “I do not approve of you and my daughter dating. I simply don’t.”

Derek opened his mouth to protest. To say something to change her mind, anything. He looked at Casey’s wide eyes and trembling bottom lip and felt his heart clench. Nora held her hand up, “But I also know my children and, yes Derek, I consider you one of my children. I know Casey. So, while I don’t approve and in my mind you are brother and sister regardless of how you think of each other, I’m not going to try and stop you.”

“You’re not?” Casey asked, her voice small and thick with unshed tears. Her hand reached out for Derek’s arm, nails digging into his bicep.

“No,” Nora said, shaking her head. She crossed her legs and leaned forward, looking at Dennis. “When your father called. We talked. A lot. He. He told me about the conversation that he had with you, Casey. And Derek’s right. I know my daughter. I know you would never rush into something this . . . big.”

“Mom,” Casey said softly, openly crying now. Derek rolled his eyes. She was such a sap. He loved her for it.

“It’s not the relationship I ever wanted or expected for you two,” Nora said. She licked her lips. “You’re my children. I raised you. In my head, you are brother and sister. But.” She paused to look at Dennis who nodded with a small smile. “But I can try to understand that you do not see yourselves that way. It will take time. So. So much time. But I will get there. Okay?”

“Okay,” Casey said with a happy laugh. She crossed the room and wrapped her arms around her mother. Nora smiled and pressed her face into Casey’s hair. “Thank you, Mom.”

“I love you, sweetie,” Nora replied, her own voice feeling a little thick. Derek smiled and looked over at Dennis. Who was crying. Derek sighed and tried to find something else to look at. “And I love you Derek.”

Casey pulled away from Nora and looked at him, wiping her cheeks. She held her arms out to her and Derek rolled his eyes. Holding his hands up, he backed up a step, “I am good on the happy tears hug, Case.”

“Der-ek,” Casey huffed, pouting a little. “Please? Just this once?”

“Oh my god,” he groaned. He shoved his hands into his pockets and stepped forward so that she could wrap her arms around him. He smiled a little and pressed his cheek to her hair. “Don’t think we’re making this a habit.”

“Shut up, Derek,” Casey muttered, squeezing him a little tighter.

“So, that’s all settled then?” Lizzie said, popping up from behind the desk. Derek jumped a little in Casey’s arm, turning to look at her. “What? I was not about to be caught in the crosshairs of all of,” she gestured wildly at all of them, “that. Besides, I’ve had Ed and Marti on speaker phone the whole time.”

“Heeeeeeeeey,” Ed said awkwardly through the phone.

“I was not missing this, okay?” Marti said.

“You,” Nora huffed. “Edward and Marti, we are going to talk about this when I get home.”

“Yes, Nora,” Ed said, sounding resigned but not the slightest bit guilty. “Dad may or may not have been listening as well.”

“George!” Nora shouted, her mouth thinning out. “George Venturi, you answer me.”

“Hey honey,” George said through the phone. “I’m guessing your visit to New York is going well?”

“Where is Simon?” Nora asked with a roll of her eyes. “All of my children are on the phone but one, George.”

“He is at Taekwondo,” George said and Derek could hear the proud smile in his voice. “I followed the calendar and the phone reminder that you set.”

“Of course you did, honey,” Nora said with a small laugh.

“So, uh, Dad,” Derek muttered. “Me and Case. Nuts, right?”

“Very,” George said with a laugh.

“But it’s, you know, cool?” Derek said, smirking at Casey. She rolled her eyes but he could still see the tension in her shoulders. He pulled his hands from his pockets and started to rub Casey’s shoulders.

“Of course,” George said easy enough. “I mean. Not. Of course of course but. I can’t stop you can I? Just be smart. Wear a condom!”

George laughed awkwardly and everyone groaned. Casey pressed her face to his chest and Derek laughed. He kissed the top of her head and smiled, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. Nora made eye contact with him and he tried to tell her through his eyes that he was going to do this right. She must have gotten it because she smiled and nodded.

“So, what are you two going to do about Vicki?” Dennis cut in, effectively ruining the sweet family moment. “Not to be a buzzkill.”

“And yet you powered through anyways,” Derek muttered. Nora rolled her eyes at him and Casey pinched his side.

“I say honesty is the best policy,” Nora said, clapping her hands together. “Especially since you two are together now.”

“They haven’t talked about it,” Lizzie said with a roll of her eyes.

“They haven’t talked about it? Are you kidding me?” Ed shouted through the phone.  

“What do you mean they haven’t talked about it?” George asked.

“They what!” Marti screamed through the phone.

“We were a little distracted because someone was being dramatic,” Derek snapped at the phone.

“I was not being dramatic,” Nora said with a huff. “My eldest daughter was being seduced by a skirt-chasing cad. I was being a mother.”

“A dramatic mother,” Derek replied.

“Der-ek,” Casey warned. He looked down at her and raised his eyebrows. “Maybe don’t poke the bear?”

“I’m not,” he said with a lazy smirk. “But they all have a point.”

“And that would be?” she asked, smiling softly.

“We together, keener?” he asked back. The rest of the room didn’t seem to be paying any attention to them. Marti was arguing with Lizzie about something. Nora and Dennis were having their own conversation. Derek didn’t actually expect anything other than total chaos when it came to his family.

“I thought that was obvious at this point,” Casey replied, raising her eyebrows at him. Her eyes were still bloodshot and her face still blotchy from crying but the brightness of her smile overshadowed all of that. “I mean, with the heartfelt . . . confessions and tears and our parents know.”

“I didn’t want to presume,” he replied before leaning down to kiss her.

“Gross, they’re kissing. I think that settles that,” Lizzie said.

“But it doesn’t settle what to do about Vicki,” Dennis repeated. “I agree with Nora. Honesty is the best policy.”

“Do we have to tell her anything? It’s all a moot point, isn’t it?” Casey grumbled.

“Are you, Casey McDonald, actually advocating not fessing up to our mistakes?” Derek replied. “I don’t think I’ve ever been so proud.”

“He’s already a bad influence on her,” Dennis said, pointing at them. “What did I tell you, Nora? Bad influence.”

“Oh, stop it, Dennis,” Nora said, waving her hands at him. “You can’t not tell her. She deserves to know considering she was the catalyst for all of this.”

“I like to think this was a long time coming,” Marti chimed in over the phone.

“You’re still on the phone?” Derek asked with a groan. “Don’t you guys have lives or something?”

“Is this not a family meeting?” Marti asked. “I thought this was a family meeting.”

“This totally has family meeting vibes,” Lizzie said with a serious nod. “Is this not a family matter?”

“I don’t think my love life should be a family matter,” Casey said, pulling away from Derek to glare at Lizzie.

“Really? Could have fooled me when you brought Ed and me in on this,” Liz replied, raising an eyebrow. “Ed?”

“Yeah!” Ed shouted. “Do you know the emotional scarring I’ve had to endure thinking about you two as, like, a couple? It’s gross.”

“Thank you, Ed,” Casey said, rolling her eyes. She crossed her arms and huffed. “I suppose the right thing to do would be to tell Vicki that we’ve been lying to her all semester.”

“Yeah, the right thing but not the easy thing,” Derek said because he couldn’t help himself. Casey didn’t even bother looking at him. He could feel her eye roll through her skull. “I mean, she might already know. I mean, Debbie knew right? So, how many secrets can they keep from each other?”

“Wait. Debbie, your ex-girlfriend, Debbie knows?” Nora asked with raised eyebrows. “And what does she have to do with Vicki?”

“Uh, well, they . . . know each other,” Derek said, looking at Casey for any sort of help. He was not about to add outing his cousin to his of things done on this trip. “They’re friends?”

“Friends,” Nora said. She nodded and shook her head. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that if you are going to start this relationship, you should start it in the best way possible. In honesty.”

“Mom, have you been reading your self-help books again?” Lizzie asked with a slight sneer.

“It was a long train ride,” Nora said, sitting up straight. “And it doesn’t make it not true.”

“Thanks for the advice, Mom,” Casey said, reaching out to take Derek’s hand. “It means a lot.”

“Thanks, Nora,” Derek said, lacing his fingers with Casey’s.

“This all sounds so sweet,” George said. “But, uh, Der. Hockey starts this week. And you’re in New York.”

“And I am driving back tomorrow,” Derek said with a sigh. He gave Casey a side smile. “Can’t mess up being captain again.”

“You didn’t tell me,” Casey huffed. “Why did you tell me?”

“Again, I was a little distracted by other things,” he replied, poking his tongue into his cheek. He raised his eyebrows and felt a rush of want go through him when her cheeks turned pink. “But, yeah, I have to head back tomorrow. When are you supposed to come back?”

“We’re here till the end of the week,” Casey said. She bit her lip and looked at her mom. “At least, that was when I needed to take Liz back by. Unless. Mom?”

“Don’t ask me,” Nora said, holding her hands up. “Talk to your sister. I need to head back tomorrow morning. I can’t leave George alone for too long. You know that.”

“I can handle it,” George said over the phone.

“George, what time is Simon’s class over?” Nora asked with a sigh.

“Right now,” George said, sounding slightly panicked. “And I am leaving right now. See you tomorrow, honey.”

“Love you,” Nora said with a small smile. She looked at Liz and raised her eyebrows. “Well, Lizard? What do you want to do?”

“I want to stay till the end of the week, like I was supposed to,” Liz said slowly. She gave Casey an apologetic smile and shrugged. “I like spending time in New York. But I can totally take a train home.”

“And how are you paying for this train ticket?” Nora asked.

“Dad?” Liz asked, turning to Dennis with wide eyes.

Dennis stood up straight and crossed his arms, clearly caught off guard for a second. He nodded and smiled tentatively at Liz, “Of course, Lizard. Love having you around.”

“Thanks Dad,” Liz said with a bright smile that she instantly squashed down. She turned to Nora and tried to appear a little more serious and aloof. “See? All good.”

“Well,” Nora said, trying to suppress her own smile. They were all trying to keep a straight face, to be honest. “Alright then. Just keep in touch. You know the drill.”

“Of course, Mom,” Liz said with another smirking smile. “I’m gonna go talk to Ed. So. Bye.”

She put the phone to her ear and scurried from the room, whispering furiously. Casey turned to Derek with wide eyes and her bottom lip caught between her teeth. He tucked a strand of hair behind her ear and smirked slightly. Nora stood up and gestured to Dennis until the two of them left the room, the sound of the door closing behind them filling the room.

“So, our parents are, if not cool with it, then willing to be cool eventually,” Derek said slowly. “That’s some pretty good news, right?”

“Definitely good news,” Casey agreed. She put a hand on his waist and stepped closer to her. “So, we’re doing this?”

“We’re definitely doing this, space case,” Derek replied. He leaned down and cut her off before she could finish saying, “Der-ek.”

Chapter Text

Oh my god , guys. It’s done. It is finally done. After four (jesus - almost five years) years working on this monster of a fanfiction, I can finally say that it’s done.

I’m sorry if some of you find the ending abrupt or want more of our favorite pair of dumbs to ever dumb. As much as I love Casey and Derek and Vicki and Debbie and Rob and Sam and Emily and all of the other amazing characters that grace the lines of this story, I have nothing else to say. To continue this story would be embarking on another long, drawn out journey that I just don’t have in me. I hope you all can understand.

Thank you to every single reader that has been there since day one. Thank you for each reader that I’ve picked up over the years. Thank you for every single comment and kudo and bookmark and message. You have no idea how much each and every one of your fueled this massive labor of love.

But the largest thanks goes out to my one-time beta reader. The Derek to my Casey. The co-parent of this fic. Rolly. Without her, this story would never have come to exist. Without her, this story would have been abandoned years ago. From what started as reading a bad fake-dating fic. That turned into a headcanon session. Which ultimately turned into a brainstorming session that resulted in a three page long fic outline with as many tropes as humanly possible.

Rolly encouraged me when I was tired of writing. She got me excited with every new turn that we took these two lovebirds on. She came up with new plot bunnies that made this fic go from six chapters to twelve to twenty until we ended up where we are today.

Thank you so much!