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Wake and Break

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It really fucks with Derek's head that Marti is of legal drinking age now, mostly because in the back of his head he still has a constant, low level feeling of alarm whenever she's not in his direct line of sight, which is possibly leftover trauma from the time she saw an Orange Julius sign at the mall and bolted straight out of Derek's arms, disappearing without so much as a "be right back, Smerek!" into the Sunday afternoon food court crowd. She'd been seven at the time and it took almost an hour, three security guards, and a small squadron of concerned, nearby parents to locate her again, hiding from all the commotion beneath an empty sunglasses kiosk only eight feet away from the pizza stand they'd been standing in front of in the first place. Derek still has nightmares about it. He also never told the parents about it, either - to this day, George and Nora probably think Derek gets antsy in shopping malls because of all the gothy teenagers.

Marti does not care for Orange Julius anymore, as far as Derek's aware. Mostly she drinks protein shakes with weird shit like kale and goji berries in them - their mother's influence, mostly - and occasionally, vodka Red Bulls. That's got to be Casey's influence, because it sure as fuck isn't Derek's.

"They taste like candy bars, and I don't understand why you're so judgmento," Marti says. "Judgmentío. Judgamenté."

"None of those are actual words," Derek informs her helpfully. Another thing that fucks with Derek's head is that Marti usually drunk dials him when she's walking home from the bar at night, which is sweet in one sense and deeply sad in all others. Derek will take it, though. "Are you sure you were actually studying Spanish, the last four years? Maybe they were all teaching you Latin or something and you didn't notice."

"No, I'm pretty sure it was Spanish," Marti says, sounding slightly out of breath, clearly walking quickly - wherever it is that she's currently walking. The overprotective eighty-nine year old grandpa that lives in Derek's head wants desperately to ask if she needs a ride home, but Derek's been keeping that shit under control for most of the phone call so far and he's not about to blow it now. "I'm only sure because when I went to Bolivia people mostly understood me. Mostly."

"Oh, right, Bolivia," Derek says. "Hey, tell me that story again about how you tried to order toast from room service three mornings in a row and they kept sending you ice water. That was very charming."

"Shut up," Marti says. "I was younger then."

"Ah yes, the long ago days of two years ago."

"Shut up," Marti says again, then gives a mournful sigh so loud it sounds like the speaker itself is rattling. "Lyd and I broke up."

As if Derek didn't already know that from the extremely obvious, passive-aggressively sad Instagram posts Marti's been making all week. "Sucks, dude. Sorry."

"Yeah." Marti huffs, her voice wavering like she's jumping over something. "She said I spent too much time at my internship which is bullshit, but whatever. I think she was sleeping with someone else."

"Ah, kiddo," Derek says, wincing, "not every girl you break up with was cheating on you. Come on."

"She was cagey about where she was, for weeks! Texting on her phone constantly!"

"Trying to think of how to break up with you?" Derek suggests. "Asking friends for ideas? Making preemptive appointments with grief therapists on your behalf?"

"Whatever," Marti grumbles. "There was a girl from her philosophy class she was pretty cozy with on Snapchat - "

"Smarti, seriously," Derek interrupts, because it's best to cut this shit off early before Marti spirals into some truly unhinged, Reddit-influenced ranting, "you were dating her for what, three weeks? Maybe four if you count the wishy-washy period after your first real date? Think about it seriously for like ten seconds and tell me you would actually care if she were seeing someone else. You weren't even calling her your 'girlfriend' yet."

"It's the principle of the thing," Marti says, but he can tell she's mostly deflated now. Drunk and deflated - Derek kind of wishes he had offered to go pick her up. He could've cheered her up a little, maybe. "Can I stay at your place this weekend?"

Derek leans his forehead back against the wall of the bathroom, where he's retreated to take this middle-of-the-night phone call, and sighs. "Sure."

"It's just because my roommate's boyfriend is in town again and they're probably gonna fuck in the shower all weekend. Ugh," Marti says. "Hets."

Derek dwells for a mournful second on his own weekend heterosexual fucking plans, and then sighs again. "It's no problem, you know you can come stay with me whenever. Seriously."

"I know." Marti sounds mournful again. The thing is, Derek knows his sister very well, which is sometimes an inconvenient thing, because it prevents him from allowing her to lie to him about how she's feeling. The other thing is, part of why he knows her so well is because she's a miniature version of himself, which is a realization that brought a healthy amount of guilty pride with it, since Derek is just egocentric enough to be happy about his influence on her and also self-aware enough to worry about what that means for her emotional future. A mixed bag, all in all. "It's not because I'm sad. I don't need you to cheer me up or anything."

"Nah, I know," Derek says.

"But I would appreciate some gelato," Marti says. "If you happen to stop by that store I like."

"I got some pistachio a few days ago," Derek says. Specifically, in preparation for this exact situation, which is always inevitable when Marti breaks up with somebody. The Instagram posts are always a nice heads up for the incoming need for Italian ice cream. "I was in the neighborhood for work, and I had a craving."

"Nice," Marti says. True to form for their shared dysfunction, she doesn't acknowledge that she knows Derek is being nice to her, just like Derek isn't going to acknowledge that he knows that she knows, and so on and so forth in perpetuity. "Okay, I gotta go. I just got back to my building and I gotta piss like a racehorse."

"Are you saying that because you're actually inside of your building, or because you just see your building in the distance?"

"I'm inside my building, Dad. My God," Marti says. To her credit, the echo-y tone of her side of the line indicates that she's in an elevator, which means she's not lying. Derek's shoulders relax, minutely. "Listen, I'll call you in the morning. I have to pass out now."

"Drink water," Derek says, unable to help himself.

"I will drink something," Marti says ominously, and hangs up. Derek sighs, pinching the bridge of his nose, and pushes the door open to the bedroom.

Casey's pretending to sleep on his side of the bed, her hair falling out of its post-sex ponytail and spilling over the pillow in a floppy, L-shaped pile. Derek pretends to humor her pretending, tiptoeing back over in the dark to plug in his phone to the charger on the nightstand, and then flops down on top of her so suddenly she shrieks. "Derek!"

"Oh my God, you're naked," he says, aghast. Casey sputters with half-laughter half-outrage, attacking him with hands and both knees until he wheezes with effort, rolling over onto the mattress next to her. "What are you doing in my room naked?! Are you having another one of your episodes?! Are you - oh fuck, ow - "

"Just for that I'm not letting you shower with me tomorrow," Casey says, elbowing him over to the (wrong) side of the bed. Derek grins, snagging her wrist and kissing the palm of her hand, tangling their feet together beneath the weighted blanket, which makes her blush. It's truly amazing, the things that really embarrass her. She once surprised Derek at his office wearing a long coat and nothing underneath but a pair of garters and some heels, and kept her cool the entire time, meeting the receptionist's gaze without so much as a flinch, but when Derek calls her "baby" in public, or squeezes her hand beneath the dinner table at their parents' house, her face turns as red as a tomato. "Was that Marti?"

"She and Lyd broke up," Derek says.

Casey makes a forlorn sound, half-muffled against the pillow. "Oh no."

"I told her she could stay here this weekend."

"Oh no," Casey repeats, with a much sharper type of disappointment this time.

"I'm sorry." Derek pulls her close by her wrist, which Casey facilitates by rolling over until she's half on top of him, her knees on either side of his hips. Derek groans, pressing his forehead against her shoulder. "She's upset. She wasn't going to admit it but I could tell. I know you had all these plans, I'm really sorry - "

"Well, plans can wait," Casey says, running one hand through his hair soothingly. Derek sighs again, closing his eyes. It's rare that Casey stays overnight at his place, so rare nowadays in fact that Derek always feels like they're running on borrowed time. He always feels frantic, on the edge of desperation, when she's here. Like if he closes his eyes for too long, she'll disappear. "If she needs you, she needs you."

Do you need me? Derek wants to ask. He doesn't. "Can we do it next weekend instead? What's your schedule like?"

Casey's fingers clench in his hair briefly, before she relaxes, smoothing it down against his ear. "I have that meeting in New York. I'm taking a red eye next Friday, and then coming back Saturday afternoon."

"Saturday and Sunday then. You can stay here, I'll pick you up from the airport - "

"Emily's already got dibs on that. She has this whole - I don't know, thing about airports. It's cute." She doesn't have to explain that getting out of Emily's company to go see Derek will be next to impossible. Derek scowls. "Week after next?"

"I'm in Oregon all week for that conference," Derek says sourly. "I told you that."

"I thought that was in July?"

"No, that's the job interview. And that's in Nebraska, not Oregon." Derek pushes at her waist slightly, and she rolls off of him immediately, her face apologetic, and a little sheepish. "Which we still haven't talked about. By the way."

"I - it's so far away still. I just figured - "

"If you just ignored it, I would tell them no?"

"You haven't even had the interview yet," Casey snaps. "And don't try to tell me you actually want to live in Nebraska."

"I want to live in the States," Derek tells her honestly, frustrated and sore, like he always feels when she acts like she doesn't know what he's trying to talk about. As if he's just picking a fight because she can't come over next weekend, like they're sixteen years old and they don't know what they're doing. "And you know I don't exactly have a whole lot of choice. I go where they want to hire me. That's how it works. You know that's how it works."

"You could stay at U of T," Casey says weakly. "You still have a year of funding left."

"Casey, you know I can't do that either."

"There are so many other schools that you could potentially get hired at, I just don't think you should - I don't know, count on this one. You just had your defense - there's still plenty of time for you to apply and find something."

"We shouldn't talk about this right now," Derek says, shaking his head to cut off whatever she's about to say, before she can even open her mouth. Her face falls into a little moue of distaste, which Derek has historically tried and failed not to find cute. "Case, no. I mean it. We're shelving it. It's the middle of the night and your tits are out. We can't have a conversation about our future when your tits are out."

"My tits actually enhance every conversation that they're present for, I thought," Casey says, frowning down at them. "What, they don't put you in a responsible mood?"

"Not particularly," Derek says, laughing darkly. Casey scoots a bit closer again, almost apologetically, hitching her thigh up higher on his hip. She's a little sweaty beneath the blanket, both from the oppressive warmth of the bed and their earlier shared exercise, and Derek shivers at the way their skin sticks together. "What time do you work tomorrow?"

"Meeting at eleven. So I don't technically have to go in until then." Casey smiles. "Why, did you have something in mind?"

"Well, your tits are already out," Derek says. "That's half my plan right there, already done."

"Grad school has truly taught you to plan ahead," Casey says, smiling. "I never thought I'd see the day."

"Me neither," Derek says honestly, and kisses her. Casey angles her chin, opening her mouth obligingly, and Derek thinks that it's probably the only feeling in the world that's worth anything, the way he feels when she scrapes her teeth along his bottom lip, moaning into his mouth, holding onto his neck like she's afraid she'll fall over if she lets go. He feels a terrible number of things every day of his life, but none of them really matter. This is the only one that does. The combination of lust/love/affection/desperation that curls up in his gut whenever she kisses him like this - yeah, that's it. That's the only one.

"Mm - Derek," Casey says, the words mushed up against his cheek. Derek presses his teeth to her neck, his hands on her bare back, and pretends he doesn't hear. "Derek, seriously - what time do you work?"

"Doesn't matter," Derek mumbles.

"Baby, it's almost three AM, you're gonna be exhausted - oh shit - "

"Listen Case, I'm having a conversation with your tits right now, please don't interrupt," Derek says.

Casey leans back on the pillow, cheekbones flushed. "Um, I noticed." Swallowing thickly, she arches up into his hands, an instinctual movement that makes Derek feel wound up inside, like a coiled spring. "Derek, don't you - oh yeah, like that, that feels nice - don't you think it's a little unhealthy that we distract ourselves from important conversations with sex?"

"No," Derek says.

Casey's face twists up skeptically. "But - "

"You know I've been thinking that you should probably start calling me 'doctor' in bed," Derek interrupts. "You know - for accuracy's sake."

"I would literally die first," Casey says on a gasp, which trails off into a weird, half-laugh, half-moan that makes Derek grin.

"Never say never, honey," he says confidently.

 

 

 

 

 

Marti barges in like a stormcloud, carrying a harassed rosemary plant beneath one arm and a ratty duffel bag under the other. Then she dumps both on Derek's kitchen counter and drains the remaining half of Casey's fancy orange juice straight out of the carton.

She burps as she tosses it in the garbage. "God, I was thirsty," she says, wiping her mouth. "Let's do pizza for dinner."

"Is that what the rosemary's for?"

"No, I just didn't trust Kayla's idiot boyfriend not to kill it while I was gone."

Derek pokes at the plant with some skepticism. "Is it supposed to be this dry?" A twig breaks off in his hand and crumbles into some vaguely aromatic dust.

Marti shrugs. "I followed the directions on the little tag thing."

"Jesus." Derek's going to have to watch over this kid for the rest of his fucking life. She's going to end up living in a sketchy month-to-month rent basement and eating spaghetti out of a can, otherwise.

Casey had cleared out most of her stuff from public sight before she'd left, knowing Marti's proclivity to snoop, but Derek still has several mild heart attacks in the first hour or so of her presence in his house. He orders her a bacon and chicken ranch pizza and optimistically parks her in front of the television while he hops on a conference call he couldn't get out of, and in the twenty minutes it takes him to finish she breaks into his bedroom, posts a photo on Snapchat of a pair of Casey's underwear she found in the bottom of the laundry basket, rearranges his DVD shelf and posts on Snapchat again about the Ken Burns collection (that Casey had, naturally, left there), and starts a group text with him, Edwin, their father, and (weirdly) Edwin's ex-girlfriend Mona (apparently they still hang out). She names it the 'smerek has a secret girlfriend' discussion club and spams all their phones with pictures of Derek's fridge.

tooooo suspicious. there are VEGETABLES in here. balanced food groooooops, she texts, with approximately eighteen eye emojis.

APPALLING, comes Edwin's reply. He never texts in anything but all caps and he lives on his phone; Derek doesn't know why he's surprised at the speed of his reply. WAS THAT A THONG ON YOUR SNAPCHAT SMARTS. DOUBLE APPALLING. CANNOT BELIEVE OUR BROTHER IS SUBJECTING U TO SUCH AN UNSANITARY HEDONISTIC ENVIRONMENT.

wow, says Mona, with a gif of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

Guys please don't text me about thongs when I'm at work. Thanks. Dad.

DAD FOR THE EIGHT MILLIONTH TIME U DON'T HAVE TO SIGN EVERY SINGLE TEXT MESSAGE THIS IS NOT AN EMAIL AND WE ARE YOUR CHILDREN NOT YOUR COLLEAGUES

I'm actually not one of his children, says Mona, with a gif of Zooey Deschanel from New Girl making a face.

It's polite, Edwin. Can the girls see these texts? Nora says she hasn't received anything. Dad.

family, my family, Marti redirects, let's focus our attention on what's really important here, namely: the presence of a WOMAN in derek's house. a GIRL who has been BUYING HIM VITAMINS. Attached to this text is a damning image of Derek's bathroom cabinet which contains a bottle of lube in plain sight that, hilariously, none of them seem to have noticed, and yes, a bottle of gummy vitamins. (Derek doesn't actually eat them, but Casey likes them as a midnight snack.)

Can Derek see these texts? Dad.

I'M FAIRLY CERTAIN THAT'S WHY SHE CREATED THE GROUP CHAT DAD, TO BUG DEREK

poor derek. A gif of Ray Liotta laughing.

"I am going to throw you off the roof of this house, Marti!" Derek hollers, the second he hangs up his call. He can hear her cackling like an evil witch, out in the living room. "Stay the fuck out of my room! Christ!"

Marti, in response, texts the chat a picture of one of Casey's almond milk coffee creamer bottles that she has quite obviously dug out of the recycling bin.

GOOD GOD IS DEREK SLEEPING WITH A HEALTH FOOD PERSON

Mona sends a gif of a small dog turning his face away from a stem of broccoli.

Good for him. What's her name, Derek? Dad.

Blocked and reported, Derek sends, and then mutes the conversation. Marti throws the coffee creamer bottle at his head and calls him a coward.

"Who is the guest in this house? Who invited herself over to be comforted through their grieving process?" Derek asks, tugging her physically by her shirt collar back to the untouched pizza in the living room. "Sit down right there young lady and cram that greasy Domino's pizza straight in your face hole. I don't want to see you move until at least half of it is gone."

Marti, grumbling, eats half a slice, her boots propped up on Derek's coffee table. "Party pooper," she says, with her mouth full. Derek grimaces at her with his own mouthful, and they make gross faces at each other for a few seconds before part of Marti's bite falls out of her mouth and onto her shirt and Derek kicks her in the shin until she cleans it up. "Seriously, who is it? Don't try to deny it. You've been weirdly nice to everyone lately, we all know you're getting laid."

"None of your fucking business," Derek replies.

"Is it embarrassing?" Marti grimaces. "Oh my God, did you get back together with that Chloe girl?"

"No," Derek says. "It's just none of your fucking business."

"It's a student, isn't it?" Marti badgers. "Holy shit. Mom's gonna kill you if you're sleeping with some eighteen-year-old undergrad. What's the matter with you?"

"Smarti, drop it," Derek says, letting an edge creep into his voice. Marti blinks at him, nonplussed. "It's not a student, and I don't want to talk about it, I mean it."

"Is she married?" Marti frowns. "Oh, is it a guy? Are you questioning? Because I always had a feeling about you and that roommate you had a couple years ago, the weed dealer with the goatee - "

"Marti," Derek snaps, and she frowns at him again, falling silent. "C'mon. Please."

"Okaaaay," Marti says, angling her chin away. Derek instantly feels bad for snapping, at the look on her face. "Sorry, dude. Sheesh."

It's incredible, it really is, because Marti did learn this from him - going completely over the top, then getting her feelings hurt when she's rightfully chastised - but it still works like a charm on Derek, every time. More fool him, or something like that. "Smarts, I'm just not ready to tell people yet. Can you cut me some slack? Please?" He nudges her shin with his foot, and she rolls her eyes, chomping resentfully on her pizza slice. "I'll tell you when I can. Promise."

"It's really not a student?" Marti asks skeptically.

"No! Why does everyone always think I would sleep with my students?"

"Don't know," Marti says, muffled through a glob of cheese and bacon. "Must be something in your, uh, personality."

Derek only just resists the urge to push her off the couch.

It becomes abundantly clear, over the next few hours, that Derek's estimation of her level of heartbreak was actually way off base. Marti has a habit of acting like she doesn't have any emotions at all other than "irritation," "caffeinated glee," and "stoned," but she has their mother's poker face, which is to say: none. He'd really thought that Lyd wasn't that big of a deal, but apparently she was, because the more annoying she becomes, the more apparent it is that she really is genuinely heartbroken.

Still, there's sympathy, and there's whatever the fuck she does to his garbage disposal. Derek was holding out hope for the security deposit on this place, but he should probably give up on the entire concept of security deposits altogether at this point. (Does anyone ever get them back? He suspects that's a myth.)

They watch two episodes of Game of Thrones, which goes terribly - Marti starts sobbing uncontrollably the second Sansa graces the screen, then refuses to explain or allow herself to be hugged and yells at him for being weird - and then Derek attempts to convince her to go out somewhere with him, to get dinner or coffee or something, which is also a disaster. Marti seems excited about it at first, runs upstairs to change her clothes and get ready, gets distracted by something in his guest bathroom, and then he finds her twenty minutes later sitting on the edge of the tub, smoking a puke-green vape pen and crying again.

"Oh my God," he says, deeply disappointed. Marti makes a hurt noise and throws an empty toilet paper roll at him. "Smarti. You're killing me. Please let me give you a fucking hug."

"Fuck off," Marti says wetly, and shoves him out of the room so she can lock the door and cry some more. Derek, heroically, spends the next half hour talking gently to her through the door and texting Casey desperately for advice.

Just let her know that you're there for her and that you're not judging her for having emotions, Casey sends him. And remember that I love you. You're a good brother, you got this

Derek's not sure why she always tells him that she loves him when he asks for advice, like he's about to ship off to 'Nam or something, but it does make him feel better, pathetically. Not that he'll ever admit it. are you trying to psychologically condition me into being a more emotionally supportive person? bc I've noticed that you say some sappy shit like that every time I do something you approve of

I'm not NOT trying to do that, Casey sends. Love you. When she's ready to talk, don't call her out on the weird stuff she says, just let her vent. You're so sexy, I've been thinking about last night all day. xox

you are TOTALLY trying to dog train me. i am a creature of the wild case & you cannot housebreak me

Encourage her to do some self-care, make her do some things that she enjoys. Can't wait to see you baby, I'm so proud of you.

Derek sighs, rubbing the bridge of his nose. Fuck. love you too, he texts back, like an idiot. (There's a word for this, and it's not a fun one.)

"Sorry," Marti says, when she finally emerges. Derek blinks at her wearily from the floor, holding out his hand silently. She huffs and hands over the vape pen. "I had a, uh. A moment."

"No shit," Derek says. He tosses the pen down the stairs, ignoring Marti's weak protest entirely. "Sit down with me, right here, for a second."

Marti grumbles, but sits, wiping her face with the back of her hand and smearing her eyeliner even more.

"Look at me," Derek says, and Marti heaves a great sigh, leans hard into his shoulder, and looks. "Don't ever bring a fucking vape pen into my house again."

Marti huffs. "Okay. Fair."

"Secondly," Derek says, squeezing her close, one arm around her shoulder. "If you were willing to talk to us about yourself a little more - or like, ever - it might not be so bad for you when you, you know, experience emotion."

"I know," Marti grumbles, but she sounds a little wobbly, like she might cry again. She promptly buries her face in his chest, as if it doesn't count if he can't see it. "I was projecting about the girl you're fucking. I know. I'm sorry."

"Hey," Derek chides weakly, and Marti apologizes again wetly, crying in earnest now into his shirt. "Oh, come on. It's okay."

"I really liked her," Marti manages, in-between great, heaving sobs that just about break Derek's fucking heart.

Now this part, Derek's gotten better at. It takes a long time for Marti to calm down enough to get her up off the floor, but he's a PhD student, so his tolerance for high-level stress and emotion has gotten a lot wider. It's the little things.

An hour, a pint of gelato, and a reluctantly-purchased bottle of wine from Postmates later, Marti finally falls asleep, and Derek texts Casey a picture of his guest bathroom. The cabinet has been rifled through at length and the contents strewn all over the counter, there's mascara stains on every single one of the hand towels (the fact that he has those at all is another dead giveaway as to Casey's status in his life, not that Marti noticed that either), and for some reason she'd crushed the bottle of hand soap with her boot, leaving a big, lavender-scented puddle of soap on the bottom of the tub (and all over the floor, although Derek can see the wadded-up pile of toilet paper in the trash can from where she'd tried to clean it up. Kudos to her for attempting, at least).

Poor Marti, Casey texts.

poor derek, Derek sends back. I've got two more days with her until she has to go back to campus for class

:( love you, is the immediate response, and Derek sighs heavily again. This was really not how he'd wanted this weekend to go.

 

 

 

 

 

What Marti had left out, in her drive-by updates on her life, was that she and Lyd had actually been "talking" for a few months in the lead-up to the actual dating period. "Not dating," Marti explains haltingly, over sympathy chocolate waffles the next morning, "but not not dating either. Pre dating. Lots of emotion and no sex, basically."

"Oh, Jesus," Derek says, wincing in sympathy. "Why the hell didn't you tell me? You acted like she was just this hot girl you met at a party, I had no idea you actually...you know. Cared about her."

"I was trying to be cool!" Marti buries her face in her coffee cup. "I thought if I acted like it wasn't a huge deal then it wouldn't be a huge deal, which was a shitty plan, I guess. Now I know."

Derek frowns, and nudges the syrup bottle closer to her elbow encouragingly. Marti blows her bangs out of her face and drenches her last few bites with it.

"It's like, there was all this build up," Marti explains, scraping patterns into the syrup on her plate with her fork, "and it was kind of intense, right, like we would talk every day, and I got really used to telling her, you know. Emotional stuff. I've never done that before! I mean, you know how I am."

Derek can't help but laugh. She glares at him half-heartedly.

"Yeah," she says defeatedly, "you know. So when we finally kissed and made it official and everything, I thought it would be like - so much easier than it was. As easy as it was when we were just friends, you know? Or officially just friends, anyway. But it was harder. Suddenly there was all this pressure and she would get mad at me for the weirdest stuff - stuff she never got mad about before! - and she didn't really want to like, kiss me or touch me in public, which made me feel really bad sometimes - "

"Oh, fuck that," Derek blurts, then winces internally. Marti doesn't seem phased, though.

"It was just new to her," she says tiredly. "I think I was her first girlfriend. Her first anything." She slumps in her chair. "And then she got really distant, and I know you think I'm being ridiculous but I really do think she was talking to someone else. I saw some things on her phone...and I wasn't snooping! I just, you know, you look over sometimes and see what someone's typing - and then she bailed on this party I wanted to go to and told me she had homework, but I saw on someone's Snapchat that she went to a bar, and - "

"Ah, kiddo," Derek says, as she starts to haltingly cry again. "Come on. Not in front of the waffles."

Marti sticks out her chin and determinedly swallows the tears back. "And then she says it's my fault, like I'm the one neglecting her. As if I couldn't tell that something was off right away. It's like - it's like she wanted the lead up to dating, but not the actual dating. It was great for her when we were just, you know, flirting and having all these long, emotional conversations, and I was telling her she was beautiful all the time and how much I wanted her, but the second I'm there in person, asking to like, hold her fucking hand or whatever - it was like, no! Too much!" Marti sniffles miserably, rubbing her face so hard her cheeks flush red. "I could've understood if she got freaked out. If she'd just told me that I would've backed off, but she picked this huge fight and told me it was because of me, because I didn't have time for her. Like, what the fuck?!"

"She could've handled that better, yeah," Derek says, attempting to be diplomatic.

"And she hated my car!" Marti blurts, slamming her fork down on the table.

"What?! Screw that," Derek says. Marti drives The Prince now, with twice as much reverence as Derek had ever mustered. (Somehow.)

"I know! She said it looked trashy."

"Smarts," Derek says, tugging her chair closer so he can hug her again. It's the most they've hugged in one day since she graduated from middle school, probably. "I mean this in all seriousness, and I'm one month away from a doctorate in psychology, so you know you can trust me. Right?" Marti nods, biting the corner of her lip. "She can go fuck herself. You feel me?"

Marti laughs, a sound which quickly devolves into a sob. "Yeah."

"No, come on. Say it."

"She can go fuck herself," Marti says weakly, then clears her throat. "Go fuck yourself, Lyd."

"That's the spirit." Derek kisses the side of her forehead. "Let's do something stupid today. We could egg her house?"

Marti snorts, still crying a little. "She lives on the eighth floor of an apartment building."

"TP her parking lot then," Derek says, wiping the tears away from her cheeks. His heart twists a little, thinking of little seven-year-old Smarti, hiding beneath a sunglasses kiosk. She'd been so little, and so scared. "Or we could just watch reruns of Cheers all day and eat junk food. Whatever you want."

"You're the one who likes Cheers," Marti says, tucking her head against his shoulder again. "I wanna watch rom coms."

"Really?" Derek sighs, pained, and grunts at the sucker punch Marti lands right in his solar plexus. "Fine. For you. But don't tell Edwin."

"I'm totally gonna tell Edwin," Marti says, cry-laughing some more into his shirt. "You can't stop me."

Derek just sighs again. She's right about that.

 

 

 

 

 

"So she's better," Casey says, asking a question by stating the answer she's hoping for, like she always does.

Derek snorts, eyeing Marti's prone figure on the couch. She's been angrily watching You've Got Mail for an hour now, alternating between throwing Cheetos at the television and burying her face in one of his couch cushions and moaning. "A relative term. Better as compared to yesterday? Yes. Maybe."

Casey sighs sympathetically. "I didn't know it was serious. She made it seem like it wasn't serious! Did you know?"

"Of course not."

"That kid, I swear to God," Casey says, with angry affection. Derek can hear her breathing a little heavily, in-between sentences, like she's out of breath. He pictures her walking along the bay, towards the food truck she eats lunch at every day like clockwork - climbing the stairs back up to her office, which she takes over the elevator at least once a day, "to keep in shape" (as if her near-fanatical dedication to yoga and equally-adventurous sex drive doesn't take care of that). It makes him feel like shit, sometimes, to think about what he wants to ask her to do. She has a favorite bakery, close friends in the city (finally), she's living close to Emily again, she loves her apartment. She has house plants and a great job and the people at her coffee shop know her name. It took her a long time to get all of these things. She's not great with change, and risk makes her anxious. She's just now getting to a place where she's comfortable, and deep down, Derek really does feel like a bastard.

An interview in Nebraska isn't the end of anything, and it's not even a guarantee of a job, she's right about that. But if it's not Nebraska, it'll be somewhere else. Derek's always sort of felt like he was skating by on borrowed time with her - sneaking in beneath her garage door, ducking under her fences, bracing for the moment when she wakes up and realizes there's this weird, sad asshole walking around and making a mess in her space. The fact that they've kept it secret doesn't help, the fact that she hasn't even told Emily doesn't help. She says she loves him, but does she want him? Does she want a life with him? Derek has a sinking feeling about that answer. It's never felt so real until now, though.

"She was embarrassed I think," Derek tells her, a little hoarsely through the sudden tearing in his chest. It's hard to talk to Casey when she's not right there in front of him, for this reason. It's much easier not to think about it when she's standing two feet away, smiling. "She didn't want us to know that she was, uh. Feeling things."

"Sounds familiar," Casey says wryly. "I wonder who that reminds me of. No, don't tell me! Some guy I know. Terek? Lerek? Herek Yerek Bo-Berek, banana-fana fo-ferek, fee-fi-mo-merek - "

"Please don't use your elementary school teacher voice on me right now, I can't get a boner with my sister in the house," Derek requests.

"Oh, gross," Casey says. "It gives you a boner when I sing?"

"Casey, light of my life, fire of my loins," Derek says, grinning when she makes another disgusted noise, "there are very few things that you do that do not give me boners. Puking is one. Nagging is another. But other than that, all bets are off."

"This explains a lot," Casey says, her voice dropping a few notches in register. "For example, the time you walked in on me shaving my legs in your bathroom and you lost your mind and begged me to let you fu - uun time at the beach last weekend! Oh, hey Marcia!" She coughs suddenly, and her voice goes a little muffled. Derek bends over double, laughing. "Didn't see you there, ha ha. No, just my boyfriend." Derek grins, a little painfully, pressing his face into the wall and feeling like he'd like to simultaneously punch himself in the face and give himself a handshake, somehow at the same time, if possible. "Crap, Derek, I forgot I was at work. Hold on a second."

"Tell her I said hi," Derek says, craning his head to check on Marti. She's still face down on his couch, either crying or laughing, he's not totally sure. Maybe both. Either way, she seems distracted, thank God.

"Sorry," Casey says, sounding a little harried, after a muffled conversation that Derek didn't even attempt to eavesdrop on. He grins, thinking of how red her face must be. "That was your fault."

"Was not."

"Was too! You get me all worked up like this on purpose."

"Oh sorry, Case, I didn't know that 'boner' was one of your sexy turn-on words now," Derek says, guffawing loudly. Casey makes an irritated noise that's already halfway to a laugh, so he knows she's not really all that annoyed. "Hold up, I was drafting some sexts to send to you while you're in New York. Need to make some edits now - "

"Don't you dare," Casey says, and then pauses, significantly. "I like those the way they are, thanks."

Derek has to bury his face in his arm again, overwhelmed.

"Listen, I have to go," Casey says. "Text me though. About Marti. And if you can get away from work this week, you should come over. I was gonna make cupcakes at some point, I have all these eggs I got at the farmer's market that I have to use up."

Derek swallows several times before he replies. "During the week? You want me to come over on a school night?"

"I mean, I sleep over at your place all the time during the week," Casey says, sounding defensive.

Derek grinds his fist into the side of the wall. "Yeah, but that's mine. You never let me come over to yours unless - "

"Just - text me," Casey interrupts, "I love you."

Derek's throat dries up.

"Um," Casey continues, sounding awkward now, "so yeah. Talk to you later."

She hangs up before he can muster up enough brain cells to reply. Shaky, a little turned on, and fairly gobsmacked, Derek slaps his own cheek a few times and then shoots off a text: love you too. I'm coming over Monday and I expect chocolate.

Casey sends him a heart emoji back. It's deeply stupid, the way that little pink heart makes him feel. Just profound stupidity, really.

Marti greets him with a sad moan and a kick to the shin, when he shoves her feet out of the way so he can sit down. Onscreen, Meg Ryan is doing something charming. Derek grimaces at the television and snatches the bag of Cheetos before Marti can grab another one to throw.

"So nice of you to redecorate," he says, shoving a few in his mouth and kicking his feet up on the coffee table. "Even nicer of you to clean and dust after the movie's over. You're really such a considerate houseguest."

"Fuck you," Marti mumbles. She sounds half-asleep. "Were you talking to your girlfriend?"

Derek shrugs, and turns up the volume on the television.

"Oh my God," Marti says, irritated, "you can totally tell me, you know. I can keep a secret."

"That's a reach," Derek mutters.

"I can! That was one time! Come on." Marti drags herself upright, leaning hard against the back of the couch, nudging her knees painfully into Derek's arm. He grunts, slapping her away, which only makes her poke him harder. "I'm being serious, Smerek. It's big, right? It's a real thing."

Derek pauses the movie. "Smarti," he says hesitantly, and her face lights up.

"I knew it! I knew it. You would never let a girl get comfortable here if it wasn't real," she says. She clasps her hands beneath her chin. "Tell me something about her, at least. Tell me...her hair color. Her shoe size. Come on! I can see it in your face, you're in love with somebody."

Derek shakes his head. If she could really see it in his face, she would've been saying something about this much earlier than now. Family dinners, all through college, strained summers back home while Casey and Derek avoided each other and avoided everyone else in the process, and everyone just thought it was business as usual. It's either extremely impressive or very depressing that nobody's noticed anything over the years, and Derek has hesitantly settled on the conclusion that it's probably both. "I said I didn't wanna talk about, Smarts, come on."

"Not anything?" Marti pleads. She shoots a resentful look at the TV. "It's not like it's gonna make me feel worse. You know, you don't really talk to me about your life either," she finishes, her voice turning the corner into accusation. "Way to lead by example, big bro."

"Unfair," Derek says, rolling his eyes.

"But true!"

"Fine." Derek huffs, turning to look at her, making a big production out of clearing his throat. "If you insist...she wears size seven shoes."

Marti smacks him.

"What? You asked!"

"Would you just work with me here please?" Marti says, in exasperation. "I told you all that stuff. Now you gotta tell me some stuff. That's how it works, Smerek."

She always reminds Derek of their mom, when she gets that look on her face. He sighs. "Please don't tell Dad and everybody. I mean it."

"Okay." She looks sheepish. "That was kind of mean yesterday. The group chat. Sorry."

Derek pats her on the forehead. "I would've done the same thing, probably." She snorts, batting his hand away. "It's not new. It's old and new, I guess. Been coming for a really long time."

Marti doesn't say anything, but she props her chin on her knees, her face bright and intrigued.

"We sort of jumped into it...I don't know." Derek rubs his palm against his forehead. "We always knew it was there, but the timing was never right. She was dating someone, or I was, or school was busy, or whatever." Derek thinks painfully of the first time they'd gotten even close to acknowledging it out loud, which had been at Simon's fifth birthday party. Their conversation had been interrupted by Nora, who came looking for Casey to help with the cake, and found them staring at each other so intensely in the kitchen that she instantly assumed they were fighting. Being lectured by his stepmother, in a conversation that referred to the girl he was in terribly depressing love with as his sister about two dozen times (Nora and George had dropped the "step" long before that) was demoralizing to say the least. He grimaces. "And other things got in the way too, I guess."

Marti nods solemnly. "But you're together now?"

"Yeah. I don't know." He shakes his head. "She helped me a lot, through school. She was the one who told me to apply for the PhD. I wouldn't have done it without her." And that's the truth. Also partly why it's particularly frustrating that Casey isn't onboard with moving, since it sort of feels like this whole academia thing - that Derek still thinks of as a long-form joke, sometimes - was kind of her idea. "I mean, yes. Yes, we're together. But I can't get...any promises out of her. I know she loves me, but does she want to commit to me? No clue."

Marti clicks her tongue. "That's a long time to keep a secret, Smerek," she says, so carefully neutral it makes Derek wince. "It's someone...we know, isn't it?"

Derek keeps his eyes on the TV. "Well, yeah."

Marti doesn't say anything for a long minute. "Okay," she says after a second, and then abruptly gets up off the couch. "Okay." She turns on her heel and strides out of the room.

Derek blinks at Meg Ryan for a few more seconds, and when Marti doesn't come back, he scrambles up off the couch himself and follows her up the stairs. "Smarti, wait a second, just - "

She flaps her hand at him, walking with purpose down the hallway and into Derek's bedroom. Derek feels his stomach drop in panic, and feels an old urge to do something really stupid - the same panicky instinct that always made him do things like jump off a stage or dress up like a unicorn or take Casey to prom last minute - but Marti stops short at the doorway and turns, waiting for him to catch up, and the impulse fades. (He actually is an adult now. Allegedly.)

"Derek," she says, sounding very serious, "can I go in here for a second?"

"What? No," Derek says instantly, "fuck you. Why?"

"I just wanna look for something real quick."

"Fuck you," Derek blurts again, shifting his weight nervously from one foot to the other.

Marti squints at him, leaning her weight against the doorknob to reach up on her tip toes. "Smerek."

"No."

"Smerek."

"No!"

"Smeeeeeerek - "

"Fuck you, fine," Derek yells, throwing his hands in the air. Fuck it. Fuck it, why not? It's not like Casey's going to move to Nebraska with him anyway. It's not like he ever really thought he was going to get to be with her forever, going to get her for real. It was always just borrowed time, and he knew that, he knows that, goddamn it. Fooling himself into hoping for otherwise was just really fucking stupid. "Go. Look. Whatever!"

Marti looks sympathetic, her face softer than he's seen it in awhile. "Smerek," she says again, kinder this time, and tugs on his wrist. "Come on, it's just me."

Derek takes one deep breath, and then another one. "Fine," he says, looking down at their feet, at Marti's raggedy old house slippers that she's had since she was like sixteen. The sight is such a familiar one, so integral to the life they'd had back in London, when they were all young enough to be living in George and Nora's house, falling all over on top of each other all the time - it makes Derek's breath go short and puffy in his chest. He lets his head fall backwards in defeat. "Fine."

Marti squeezes his wrist, bracingly, and pushes inside. Derek takes a very long minute in the hallway, counting to ten over and over, before he follows.

She already knows, clearly, because she's gone straight over to the bookcase underneath the window. It still makes Derek freeze in dread to see her kneeling there though, running the tips of her fingers over the spines of Casey's books. Advanced copies, all of them, every novel Casey's worked on over the past few years - and of course there's Casey's book too, the stupidly good fantasy novel that had sold moderately well in the age 20 - 25 new adult market. Derek has two copies of it - one that he bought at a bookstore, a brand new hardcover still in pristine condition, in its fancy dust jacket, and another galley copy that she'd given him before it was published, one of the first copies that she'd received in bound form. Marti pulls it out reverently, gentle with its cracked spine and wrinkled pages, and flips it open to the front cover. The books alone would be damning enough, but the handwritten message on the dedication page - there's no explaining that away.

Derek covers his face with both hands, defeated. Dumbass. He's such a dumbass.

"I fucking knew it," Marti mutters, almost to herself. Derek lets his hands fall so he can glare at her. "What? I did. You're the good friend." Marti gestures to the dedication page. "We all thought she was talking about Emily, you know. But Nora still thinks it was a boyfriend. She and Liz have a running bet on whether it's Drew, or that guy she dated in college, the one who moved to Los Angeles."

Derek's chest tightens at the memory of that guy. "Chris. His name was Chris."

"Right," Marti says absently. "But it was you. Of course it's you." She laughs a little, staring at the page. Derek's stomach twists in discomfort, knowing she's reading Casey's note, resisting the urge to snatch it out of her hands. "You know, I noticed these books when I was in here earlier, obviously, but I didn't…" she closes the cover gently. "I didn't get it."

"Marti," Derek says, after a beat. "You can't tell anyone." He stops, mustering his courage, his voice coming out pained. "Please."

Her head snaps up. "What kind of fuckhead do you think I am? Of course I'm not gonna tell."

Something loosens, deep in Derek's chest.

"But, like, Derek," Marti says, sliding the galley back into place on the shelf with uncharacteristic care, "she's gonna break your fucking heart."

Derek sinks down on the edge of the bed. "I know."

Marti instantly crawls over to him until she's kneeling on the floor next to him, and wraps her arms around his legs. Derek laughs and kisses the top of her head, and they sit there for a minute in a weird hug, both of them pretending they don't really need it.

"I can't help it," he says, after a long minute. "Half my life, Smarts. You know what I mean?"

"I know," Marti mumbles. She sounds very sad, and very young. "I could see it, I could always tell. I didn't know if you knew, though."

"I'm a good liar."

She squeezes his legs. "Don't say that."

"I am." It's the truth. "She won't do it on purpose. I know she loves me. I'm just not sure…"

Marti squeezes his legs again, so tightly it startles him. He laughs again, leaning down to wrap his arm around her back.

After a long, much-needed minute, she lets her arms loosen again, and leans her cheek against his knee. "I could tell Dad and Ed that you're sleeping with a married lady."

Derek laughs again, surprising himself with the strength of it.

"I mean seriously, I could've been helping you cover this whole time. I'm a good liar too, you know!"

Derek winces. "I know," he says, sobering again. He squeezes her shoulder, leaning down to press their foreheads together. "You get that from me. Sorry."

Marti huffs, pushing his head back with her own playfully, like they used to do when she was little, and she would crawl around the house pretending she was a jaguar. The game was always best when she would let him catch her, and he'd get down on his hands and knees and growl at her right back, pressing their foreheads together and making ridiculous sounds until she collapsed into a pile of giggles on the kitchen floor, out of breath from all the running and growling and laughing. "Don't say sorry for that. Don't you dare."

"Okay," Derek says, nudging her away. "Sorry."

"Don't say sorry for saying sorry."

"Sorry for being sorry about being sorry then," Derek says.

"Aaand, we're done with that bit," Marti says, climbing to her feet. "Come on. Time for booze."

"Hard to argue with that," Derek says.

 

 

 

 

 

"Can I tell Casey I know?"

Derek knocks back his water glass of wine with no small amount of desperation. "No."

"Oh come on."

"Literally, I will kill you," Derek says, shoving her hand away from his arm, where she's been poking at him incessantly. "I'm gonna fucking tell her. But don't you dare tell her until I tell her, or I'll push you into a lake full of alligators, Marti, I swear to God."

Marti wrinkles her nose. "Do we even have alligators in Canada?"

"I'll find some," Derek vows, refilling his glass.

Marti's halfway to drunk herself, leaning hard against the kitchen table, cheeks flushed. But she hasn't mentioned Lyd all afternoon, so that's a victory, Derek supposes. Yet again, he throws himself on the metaphorical sword of embarrassing confessions about his personal life in order to make his little sister smile. Fuck it all. "Are you ever gonna tell Dad?"

Derek swallows half his new glass in one go, in lieu of answering.

"Okay," Marti says, nodding with solemn drunkenness, "I'm sure that'll work out for you."

"Shut up."

"You shut up."

"Shut up twice and fuck your mother," Derek says.

"Shut up times infinity and your mother is my mother," Marti crows, looking triumphant, "so you just fucked yourself. Hah."

Derek sighs. "And we wonder why she never wanted us to come visit her at her school."

"Now that you're a big time fancy doctor of psych, you can rub it in her face," Marti says cheerfully. "Who cares about biology? You're like, a scientist of people's heads."

"I'm a social psychologist, Smarts."

Marti looks blank. "So what."

"So I study culture, dumbass," Derek says with a sigh. "How many times do I have to explain this to you? How many times? One more time? Okay - "

"Ohh, so like, you're the kind of psychologist that would've done that Stanford Prison Experiment," Marti says.

"Wow, so funny," Derek says flatly, shooting her a dirty look over her laughter, "not at all the eight hundredth time you've made that joke. Still just as funny. You're the queen of wit."

"Okay but you are though," Marti says. "Literally you are. I Googled it."

"I study cults," Derek says, and she cackles again. "Or that was my dissertation, anyway. Also shut up."

"So you're like, a glorified true crime podcaster?" Marti asks, squinting. "Did they really give you a bunch of money to write a super long essay on the Manson Family?"

"You know what," Derek says, reaching over and plucking the wine bottle right out of her hands. "You don't deserve this. This is mine now."

"I thought your dissertation was on internet movements or something," Marti says, casually getting up from the table to get a new wine bottle from the fridge, to replace the old one. Derek rolls his eyes at her back.

"Yeah, I mean, yes, specifically on communities or political movements that use tactics similar to cults in order to recruit new members using the internet, and how that impacts the group dynamics of - okay, fuck you, fine," Derek says, as Marti begins to pretend snore loudly, right next to his face. "And what are you planning on doing with that Spanish degree, Senorita Venturi? Move to Bolivia and open a coffee shop?"

"I think I wanna be a translator," Marti says, grinning at him. She pours herself a fresh glass, and waits a second for dramatic effect. "Mom's getting me an interview with the dean at Stanford. She thinks I should get one of those things too. The thing you have. The doctor thing."

Derek laughs in her face, which would be very rude, if she weren't giggling too.

"I know, it's fucked up, isn't it," she says. She only wobbles a little as she drinks, bracing herself against the table. "I might try it though. I can always stop after the masters if I don't like it."

"You probably don't need a PhD to translate stuff," Derek says. "Me, I'm fucked if I don't find another school to hire me. Nobody wants to hire a guy who spent the last seven years studying white supremacists on the internet. It's creepy."

"Do you really want to teach, though?" Marti asks skeptically.

"I don't mind it." Derek smiles proudly. "I'm totally the cool teacher. You should see how many chili peppers I have on Rate My Professor."

"I'd rather not," Marti says, with an eye roll. "No, but I mean - "

"I know what you meant. And yes." Derek wiggles his glass at her. "Research. That's what I want to do. That's how she convinced me, you know. To do the thing. The doctor thing." He sways a little, feeling a little weakened at the memory. Casey, with that short bob hairstyle she'd had at the time, that always made Derek want to bite her neck. Sitting in his dorm, her hand on his knee, gushing about his psych grades and shoving pamphlets about the PhD track program in his face. All her fault, really. Derek's a weak man when it comes to things that make Casey proud of him. "I never really...pictured it for myself, but I'm good at it, you know? It's good. It's interesting, and I think I'm doing a good thing, as shitty as it's been to work on it, talking to those people all the time." He trails off, momentarily, feeling more than a little drunk. "But if it helps, if I can help...I want to be the sort of guy who helps. You know? I'm good at talking to people, making them feel comfortable. That's how I got all those interviews. And I'm good with the students, you know, I can sort of...see what their problems are, and puzzle out the answer. It's fun." He shrugs. "Not a very stable job field. But it's an area of research that's kind of in demand. I'll be alright." He thinks of Casey again, and sobers, the same well of despair opening back up in his chest.

"I'm fucking proud of you, you know," Marti says, very seriously. "I've never told you that, but I am."

"Thanks," Derek says quietly.

"And it suits you. It calms you down, makes you feel more confident. We can all see it."

Derek doesn't say anything, squinting down into his glass. He's not sure if it's the work, or Casey, that's done that. He's not looking forward to finding out.

"Casey's good at her job too," Marti says neutrally.

Derek sighs in frustration. "I know. You think you're saying something? I know." He shakes his head. "There are no publishing jobs in fucking Lincoln, Nebraska. Trust me, I get it."

Marti holds up her hands, placatingly. "Okay. We don't have to talk about it."

"Who's talking? You're the one who keeps poking at it."

"Yeah, yeah. Sorry." Marti taps her nails on the table as she drinks, eyeing him over the rim of the glass. "Were you together...last year at Christmas? When Nora sprung that blind date guy on her at dinner?"

Derek tilts his head back, closing his eyes.

"Jesus," Marti says, blowing out a long breath. "Sorry, dude. That's fuckin' wretched."

"Yeah, well. It's not her fault, considering we're keeping it a secret. And it's not like Casey didn't shut it down right away."

"Still." Marti swirls the wine around in her glass, biting her lip and looking hesitant. "You had to sit there and like, watch. Have dinner with them."

Derek shrugs again, looking away. He's used to that. He's lost track of how many Casey boyfriends (or potential boyfriends, rather) have sat in that chair, eating Nora's lasagna and laughing at George's jokes. It's not like Derek isn't fucking used to it.

"They would understand, probably," Marti says hesitantly. "It would definitely be...really weird at first, with Simon and everything, and Dad would probably get mad that you lied for so long. But if they knew how much you - "

"Stop it," Derek says quietly, and takes a drink of wine. Marti's mouth snaps shut so quickly it's almost audible. She nods, tilting her glass at him in apology.

They drink in silence for a few minutes, staring into the same patch of space. Derek has a thought, about them doing this in twenty years - middle aged. Maybe in forty years, even - elderly. He knows it'll happen, no matter where life takes them. He and Marti - it's the one thing he's never doubted. She's rock solid. He's never even had this kind of confidence in his father (and let's not even mention his mom).

"Well," Marti says, to finally break the silence, "you definitely win. Me and Lyd? That's nothing, man, compared to this."

"Thanks," Derek says dryly. He drains the last of his wine. "So. Do you feel better?"

Marti snorts loudly, laughing.

"You're welcome," he says proudly, leaning across the table and shaking the glass at her for a refill. She only spills a little, as she pours.

"I think I wanna be in love," Marti says thoughtfully, skipping her own glass to take a pull straight from the bottle. "I think I wanted to be in love more than I actually was. Not that I was in love with Lyd, not yet. But...you know what I mean."

"Sure." Derek laughs, a little bitterly. "It kind of sucks, you know."

"Yeah."

"But," Derek says, thinking of that little pink heart. "It also doesn't."

Marti smiles at him softly. "Yeah," she agrees.

 

 

 

 

 

On Monday, at Casey's, Derek gets there before she's home from work and eats two whole cupcakes before he even takes his coat off, standing up at the sink in her kitchen. He's had a key to her place for six months or so, but he's not sure he's ever actually used it. He was starting to get a little hopeful that that meant she wanted to live with him.

"Really?" Casey says skeptically, when she floats into the apartment, leaving a flurry of keys/purse/coat/gloves behind her in a long trail from the doorway. She's not really mad though, Derek can tell. "I was saving those for later."

"Was I supposed to do something weird with them?" Derek asks, blocking the fridge with his body and pulling her close, holding her face still and kissing her nose just to make her laugh. She sounds tired, but she's smiling. "I'm not sure how to incorporate cake into sex. Frosting, maybe, but - "

"I meant after dinner, perv," Casey says, giving up on the fridge and leaning hard against his chest instead. She's definitely tired. "I made them yesterday because I missed you."

That sentence just takes his breath away. Derek closes his eyes for a second and just doesn't say anything, stars bursting beneath his eyelids.

"Were they good, at least?"

"Well, yeah. Did you put coffee in them?"

"Espresso. Yeah."

Derek kisses her ear, tugging on her earring with his teeth. Then he kisses the edge of her cheekbone, and then her temple. She shudders hard, pulling at his shirt collar with her fingers, rubbing her nose against his cheek.

"Delicious," he says, and she shudders again. When he pulls away to grin at her, her cheeks are flushed.

"Fine, okay," Casey says, tugging at his shirt. "We can skip dinner."

"I didn't even ask!"

"Yes you did," she says, and shrugs out of her cardigan. Derek laughs and catches it before it hits the floor, following her out into the living room, tossing it over his shoulder. It smells like her perfume.

They eat three more cupcakes as they watch Trevor Noah, and then half of one more gets smeared all over Casey's stomach in a haphazard attempt at food sex that turns out to be more uncomfortable and awkward than Derek had been hoping. Casey seems to be into it right up to the point that she notices the chocolate being ground into her carpet, at which point she shrieks and pushes him off, half-laughing as she tries to scold him, and makes him clean it up while she showers as punishment. Derek wields her carpet cleaning brush with skill and alacrity, and he doesn't even have to break out the bleach to get it done. It's not his first rodeo.

"You were kind of quiet about yesterday," Casey says, as they crawl into bed. Derek feels sort of fragile, doing the things they always do when they get ready to go to bed, but here in Casey's place instead of his. It feels like he's doing something wrong, something illicit - it reminds him of the one and only time that they'd had sex at Nora and George's house - in the guest bedroom, when everyone else was gone, frantically and a little hysterically. They'd both agreed afterwards that while it was very hot, the anxiety alone had probably shaved years off their lives and ultimately, no orgasm was worth the near panic attack they both had when the cat knocked a bowl over in the hallway and made them both leap for their clothes like they were being chased. "Did everything go okay with Marti?"

He's already decided he's not going to tell her Marti knows yet. Not tonight, at least. It's a conversation for a weekend day, when they can scream at each other about it for a while and then fuck it out on his dining room table. "Yeah. She was just…" he shrugs. She's gonna be mad. He already knows she'll be mad. The last time they had even a close call to getting found out by their family, she freaked out and refused to even speak to him for two weeks. He's not putting it off, exactly (except for how he is), but he's not looking forward to that, so sue him.

"She's okay though," Casey says, stating the answer again. "She'll be fine."

"Yeah." Derek rolls in close, feeling weird in her bed. The sheets are all wrong, the window's on the wrong side of the room. But Casey is Casey. She smiles at him, wraps her leg around his thigh like she always does. She'd braided her hair after her shower, and the tail of it leaves a little damp spot on the pillow next to Derek's cheek. "What time do you work tomorrow?"

"I don't," Casey says. "I took a personal day."

Derek frowns, running his hand down her collarbone thoughtfully.

"I know you only have one class in the afternoon, and I just thought…" she shrugs, looking conspicuously nonchalant. "I know you want to talk. We should talk. Plus with the New York trip later this week, they were going to give me an extra day anyway."

"We could go to breakfast," Derek suggests carefully. "When was the last time we went to Lady Marmalade?"

"Probably the last time we had a serious relationship talk," Casey says dryly. Derek grins a little, remembering. Yeah, probably. "Derek. You know I love you, right? Like, do you believe me, when I say that I love you?"

Derek stares at her, struck by the question. "Yeah, baby, of course I do."

"Yeah?" Casey reaches up and presses her palm against his cheek, looking him in the eye. "Is that the truth?"

Derek thinks about it for a second, since it seems like that's what she wants him to do. "I do." He knows. He can feel it, whenever they're together. "Case, I knew that like...years ago. That was never the question. I've known it since we were, what, twenty?" He grabs her wrist and turns his face to kiss the center of her palm. Her fingers curl, brushing the tips of his forehead, and sure enough - she's blushing, when he pulls away to look. "Do you believe me?"

"Yes," Casey says instantly, not even hesitating.

"I know I don't say it as often - "

"That's why I believe it," Casey says. "You're different from me. You say it differently. I know you mean it because it feels like you, when you do."

Derek nods, burying his face in her neck. He doesn't really trust himself to speak.

"And it's not always just the words, you know," Casey says softly. "You say it other ways, too. I always hear you."

"Shut up," Derek mumbles, and she laughs. "Let's have sex now."

"No, we were doing a sappy thing," Casey complains, laughing again when he indulges himself and bites her neck. "Don't give me a hickey. I'm meeting Rick Riordan in five days, I can't have a hickey."

"Isn't that the Artemis Fowl guy?" Derek mumbles, resolving to ignore her completely and give her several visible hickeys, just on principle. The trick is, he knows, doing it at the right moment, when she won't notice.

"No! Percy Jackson," Casey says, huffing like that's obvious. "He's really friendly. I spoke to him on the phone when we were setting up the meeting. I have so many questions, I hope I get to talk to him one on one at some point," she says, trailing off into a sigh as she tilts her neck, to give him better access. "Seriously, no hickeys."

"Yeah, yeah," Derek grumbles, rolling her over with his hips so he can get on top. She squeaks a little, but goes easily enough, grinning up at him as her head hits the pillow. "What's the current record again?"

"You know the current record," Casey grumbles, rolling her eyes.

"No I don't. I forgot." He grinds his hips down suddenly, making her yelp. "You're the smarty pants. So much better with numbers - "

"You are a literal scientist," Casey replies, hitching one of her legs up on the bed for leverage and twisting her hips vindictively, rubbing herself against him. Derek almost loses his balance, one arm shooting out to grab the headboard, eyes going half-mast. She grins triumphantly.

"So you're finally gonna call me 'doctor,'" Derek says, only a little breathless.

"Yeah, that's a negative," Casey says, a little breathless herself. She pants for a second, holding onto the arm braced by her waist, tossing her head to get her braid out of the way. "And it's three."

"Three!" Derek leans down and kisses her nose. "That's nothing. We can beat that."

"Three in one night is not nothing! I couldn't even walk afterwards."

"Well, I heard you had a personal day coming up," Derek says generously. "And you know, some women can get up to like, ten. I've heard. Not that I've been going around giving other women orgasms - "

"You better fucking not," Casey says, hitching her other leg up too. Her thighs are probably one of the modern day wonders of the world, Derek thinks. Definitely in the top twenty list of humanity's miracles. "I hate when you go down on me for so long though, it makes me feel awkward."

"Literally, you are the most neurotic person I've ever met," Derek says, scoffing. "'I hate when you go down on me.' Jesus fucking Christ, Case - "

"I don't know what to do with my hands!" Casey cries. "And I get really sensitive, and it takes forever, and honestly I know it makes you feel like an Olympian sex god or whatever - "

Derek snorts with laughter, half-collapsing on top of her and burying his face in her neck again. Her legs come up automatically, hooking around his waist and squeezing in a move that always feels stupidly affectionate.

" - but I really do only need one or two, at most. Swear," Casey says, craning her neck to kiss his ear. "I think if we ever get to four you might actually kill me."

"You're so weird," Derek says, feeling the warmth in his chest float upwards and expand, like a balloon that never stops inflating. He always thinks, oh this is it, this is the most I can ever feel for this freakazoid goody-two-shoes nerd and then she says something like, I don't know what to do with my hands! or Derek, please don't edit your sexts because I like them fine the way they are, and he discovers previously unearthed, subterranean levels to his devotion. "I love you."

"I love you too," Casey says, wiggling a little and knocking him on the lower back with one heel. "Get up and fuck me. You're heavy."

Derek sputters, hitching himself back up on his hands again. "Okay, bossy, you wanna be on top tonight all you have to do is ask - "

"No! I'm so bloated today, I don't want you to look at my upper arms," Casey says, and Derek dissolves into laughter again. "Don't laugh! You ass."

"Your upper arms are beautiful," Derek swears, and ludicrously, she blushes.

"Okay, whatever," she grumbles. Derek just grins at her, hopeless and hopelessly. As he's always been. "Kiss me."

"Sure," Derek says, leaning in. "Why not."