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The Last Time

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“This is the last time you tell me I’ve got it wrong
This the last time I say it’s been you all along
This is the last time I let you in my door
This is the last time, I won’t hurt you anymore”

The Last Time – Taylor Swift ft. Gary Lightbody

 

July, 2009

Derek found her sitting on the deck by the lake, moonlight shining on top of the water and reflecting off her bleached hair, making it glow silvery. He approached her slowly, something about the stillness of the scene making him try to be gentle with his steps on the wood. It cracked when he was close enough to touch her shoulder, and she stiffened slightly, before relaxing once again. She could probably tell it was him.

He sat beside her, flinching as his legs submerged in the cold water. Casey was looking off into the distance, a thoughtful look on her face. He examined her profile for a few seconds, before speaking up.

“Are you going to New York?”

Casey sighed, running a hand through her hair. Derek thought it looked – okay like this, shorter and lighter. It made her look… different, older but in a good way.

“I don’t know,” she said, still not looking at him. He wondered if she felt guilty, although she didn’t really have a reason to feel so. Probably.

“Well, you should probably decide soon, we– Queen’s expects you to confirm your enrollment in mid August.”

She hummed, her thumb going to her mouth to chew anxiously on her fingernail. Derek averted his eyes. A chilly breeze ran through the air and he gritted his teeth to fight a shiver. And it was at that moment that he realized, with mild surprise, that he was… kind of upset.

It wasn’t that he wanted her in college with him – if someone had asked him two months ago if he would like going through another four years of living with Casey, he would have laughed in their face. But now, they were supposed to go to Queen’s. Both of them. He’d already gotten used to the idea, she didn’t get to just… change his plans.

“I mean, I… want to go,” Casey whispered, hesitantly.

Derek snapped his gaze back to her, “You want to go dance with Jesse?”

Casey frowned, dropping her hand back to her side. It fell dangerously close to his, and he debated quickly in his mind whether he should move it away before deciding against it – stupid shit like that had been infesting his mind for some time now, annoyingly making him question his behavior around her. She finally looked at him, a confused (and weirdly irritated) look on her face.

“I want to go dance. Jesse didn’t even cross my mind… not like that.”

And yeah, a guy wouldn’t really weight on her decision to change her future, he didn’t know why the hell he brought up Jesse either.

“Okay,” he said, his voice sounding calm even if his throat felt like it was closing up for some reason. He had that talent, nonchalance was an art he’d perfected with years of practice.

Casey suddenly got up, splashing water everywhere, and started pacing around the deck, muttering to herself.

“Casey,” Derek said, rolling his eyes.

“It’s just, there so much to consider! They will probably revoke my scholarship if I defer a year,” she was saying, her voice getting louder and then lower as she got close to him only to pace away again.

“Casey.”

“But, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. It’s dancing professionally! In freaking New York!”

“CASEY!”

She came to a halt next to him, breathing heavily. Derek patted the wood next to him, indicating for her to sit down. Casey glowered at him for a second before complying, forcing a smirk out of him. She never liked doing what he told her to.

“Now breathe and relax, Spacey.”

But instead of relaxing, she turned to him, hands gripping the edge of the deck. “What do you think I should do?”

Derek startled at that. She was asking him what she should do? Shouldn’t she know better by now? He watched her for a couple of seconds, frowning slightly. “I think you should do whatever you want.”

Casey shook her head, “No, I’m asking what you think.”

“You want to know what I think?”

She shrugged, but her movements came out spastic instead of nonchalant. Casey still had a lot to learn. “Can’t hurt to know your opinion.”

“Shouldn’t this be a question for Emily? Or your mom?”

“I’m asking you.”

That was a little unusual. Casey was the meddler, the one that got into everybody’s business and made other’s problems her own. She was just wired like that, and Derek suspected it was a mixture of her annoying need to help and please everyone and her neurotic desire to control absolutely every aspect of life.

Derek, on the other hand, tried to steer clear of Casey’s problems. They always seemed insignificant, but involve him in them and suddenly everything snowballed into a major shit-show. He really couldn’t tell why she wanted his – out of everyone else’s – opinion on a life changing matter.

She made bad decisions on her own, that was a given. He could give one primary example – Truman. And okay, the second time had kind of been his fault, the stupidest fucking thing he had ever done in his life, and proof of what could happen when Derek meddled into Casey’s problems. He especially didn’t like to think about the Truman incident, it triggered an emotion he swore he wasn’t capable of feeling.

“My opinion is that you should do what you really want.”

Casey rubbed her temples, “That is not an opinion, Derek.”

He narrowed his eyes at her, “Are you asking me what I think you should do, or what I want you to do?”

She met his gaze with wide eyes, “Want?” Her voice came out barely above a whisper. Derek suddenly noticed how close they were sitting. They were always too close, too comfortable in each other’s space, but he had never felt as aware of it as he did now. It was as if the seriousness of the moment managed to somehow amplify the intensity of the blue in her eyes, the smell of her perfume and the smoothness of her skin.

He realized then that he had to play this right, because he wasn’t ready to lose this closeness to her yet. He quickly weighted his options in his mind, looking for the best way to reach his goal. Casey used reverse psychology when she wanted to convince him of something, but he was a gambler. He was always all in or all out, and he decided that honesty was the best way to go about this.

“I don’t want you to go,” he said, watching her expression. Her pink lips parted in surprise, and he realized he enjoyed the look of shock in her face a little too much. No, he definitely couldn’t lose this yet. He wanted to have the opportunity to explore the different ways he could surprise her, the different emotions he could manage to paint on her face, and that would be hard to do if she was a country away.

“Why?” she asked, softly.

He shrugged, “We are supposed to be in this together, the whole college thing.”

She raised an eyebrow skeptically, “Since when do you care for having me around?”

“Look, I’m just saying everything will be easier with a familiar face around,” he said, raising his hands in a noncommittal gesture, “However hideous that face might be,” he added with a smirk, for good measure.

Casey snorted, “Don’t you think it’s a little insensitive to deny me of my dreams for your own comfort? I thought you didn’t want to mess with my dreams.”

“Since when has dancing in New York been your dream, anyway?” Derek countered, “Like, three hours ago? I thought college was your dream. Becoming a lawyer and all that.”

Casey blushed inexplicably, and he wondered if it was because of him calling her out, or for the fact that he knew about her dreams. She shouldn’t really be surprised, he knew everything about her.

“I can still do all of that,” she said, indignantly, “And you are being very hypocritical, considering you wanted to ditch college to go backpacking through Europe like, two months ago.”

“Yeah, and you told me I should go to college,” he said, triumphantly.

“But that was because – “

“Because…?”

Her cheeks colored again, and Derek allowed himself to smile amusedly. “I care about your education!” She exclaimed.

He shrugged, “I could have started a year later.”

“Well, I – I could start a year later too,” Casey said, quietly, looking over to the lake again.

Derek nodded, “And you should do that if that’s what you really want,” he said, pulling his legs out of the water. “But you asked for my opinion, so there you have it.”

Casey stayed silent as he got up, her frown deepening.

Derek squeezed her bare shoulder, she shivered. “Just think it over, Space Case.”

And then he left her there with her own thoughts, feeling pretty good about his odds.

 

---

 

September, 2009

Casey woke up to a familiar noise coming from Derek’s room. It was normal to hear moans coming from the other side of the wall for a varying of reasons she didn’t really want to think about – but this particular kind of moan was different, and she knew it all too well by now.

She got out of her bed, the cold floor chilling her through her bare feet. She tiptoed out of her room and rounded the hallway, gently pushing Derek’s door open. He was lying on his bed, tossing and turning, occasional pitiful noises coming from his mouth.

Derek had nightmares. Casey had discovered it not long after moving in to his house in London, but it was always a shock to see him so vulnerable. The first time it had happened, she had grabbed his shoulder, waking him up. He had startled, looking at her with wide eyes, and her own heart had jumped at his abrupt reaction.

“Get out,” he had simply croaked out, and Casey had bolted out of his bedroom, and they never spoke of it again.

The next time it had happened, Casey tried to ignore it, because he had obviously felt invaded when she had woke him up last time, but he sounded so distressed through the vent that connected their rooms, she couldn’t help but get out of the bed and go over to his room. This time, she had tried to be gentler, maybe a little shake would keep him from startling, but would snap him out of the nightmare.

She had gently put her hand on his shoulder, but he still looked like he was suffering, so she had called, very lightly, “Derek,” and he had opened his eyes, looking straight at her. Casey immediately removed her hand from his shoulder, and started backing away, but before she could reach the door, Derek’s hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.

Casey jumped, “Sorry,” she’d said.

“It’s okay,” he said, quietly. He let go of her wrist, his eyes still on her face. She hovered on the doorway, and then leaned against the frame, waiting for him to say something else, or kick her out. He didn’t say anything though; he just lay back on the bed and kept his gaze on the ceiling. Casey lingered until he closed his eyes before slipping out of his bedroom.

And so, from then on, every time he had a nightmare, Casey went to wake him up. She would sit on his floor or the edge of his bed until he closed his eyes or fell asleep, and then she would quietly retreat to her own bedroom, and they’d never talk about it.

This was the first time he had a nightmare since they had moved into their apartment in Kingston, and it came with louder moans and groans, and even some words. It was normal for Derek to talk in his sleep. He usually mumbled ‘mom’ a lot. Sometimes ‘Smarti’ or ‘dad’, and every once in a while she would even catch an ‘Ed’. It was very heartbreaking, and it totally contrasted with his whole ‘cool guy’ persona.

“Mom,” he was saying now, “Please.”

Casey came into the room, and tiptoed her way through the boxes he still hadn’t unpacked lying on the floor. She sat on the edge of his bed and gently touched his arm, “Derek.”

He startled, which was normal when the nightmares were this bad. He looked at her and then around, disoriented, before he seemed to understand where he was.

His eyes fell on her again, “What time is it?” he asked, in a raspy voice.

“I don’t know,” Casey said, with vague surprise. They never really talked when this things happened, she knew Derek probably thought that the less they interacted the less real the moment was, and the less he had to admit that her presence brought him some kind of comfort.

Derek lay looking at the ceiling with his arm bent behind his head, his bicep bulging slightly. Casey’s eyes lingered on it for a second too long. He was growing up kind of fast these days, filling out and leaving the scrawny kid behind.

When her eyes snapped back to his face, he was looking at her intently, and for some reason she felt caught. She was glad for the darkness.

“Is it always about your mom?” she asked, not knowing why. Something about this moment felt different, she felt safer here than she had ever felt in his room back home, for some reason.

Derek kept his eyes on her for another moment before sighing, “It’s that day,” he said, and she assumed he meant the day his mother left. “Sometimes she takes Marti and Ed with her. Sometimes she just takes me. Sometimes it’s my dad that leaves. Sometimes they are both gone, and leave the kids with me.”

Casey felt a shiver run down her spine, “Shit, Der.”

He smiled slightly at her swearing. She didn’t get why he liked it so much when she swore, she kind of hated foul language. She thought he maybe found it funny.

“You can’t say my brain is not creative genius,” Derek joked. Neither of them laughed.

Silence fell upon them again, and Casey guessed he was going to try and go back to sleep now. She pulled her legs up on the bed and bent them, placing her head on her knees.

But Derek’s voice defied status quo again, “Why do you always stay? You think you can protect me from the night monsters or something?” he asked, in an amused voice.

Casey felt her face heating up at him calling her out, “If there was such a thing, I would feed you to them,” she said, avoiding the question.

Derek snorted, and then the room got quiet again. It was so silent she could hear a watch ticking somewhere in the room, probably buried beneath the clothes strewed across the floor. She could feel his eyes on her, and she didn’t know why he was being so interactive tonight.

“Well, if you’re gonna stay then you might as well get in,” Derek declared, and Casey watched wide eyed as he scooted away from her, lifting the sheets slightly to allow her in.

“What?” she asked, mouth hanging open and cheeks pinking again.

She could see Derek rolling his eyes in the dim moonlight, “I don’t think I’m falling back asleep anytime soon. You sometimes pass out sitting up. It’s stupid, just get in,” he said, patting the mattress next to him.

Casey got in without saying a word, her eyes never leaving his face. She caught the way his eyes widened slightly, as if surprised she was actually doing it. Sometimes she felt as if he was testing her, but she never knew on what exactly.

She lay on her back, leaving a respectable distance between their bodies. The bed was warm with Derek’s body heat, and she didn’t want to think about how cozy and inviting it felt.

“Did you have to look after Edwin and Marti a lot when you were a kid?” she asked after a while.

Derek shrugged his shoulders, staring at the ceiling. “Just the usual, I let Marti crawl into my bed, and covered Ed’s ears while the ‘rents fought.”

Casey frowned, “They fought a lot? Your parents seem so… laid back. And they have a very good relationship from what I’ve seen…”

“They didn’t have a great relationship when my dad found out my mom was sleeping with a coworker,” Derek said, calmly.

Casey felt her eyes bulging out of their sockets, “What? Abby?”

“I don’t know, I never asked,” he replied, “But I could hear them arguing about it when they fought. Mom was never even home back then. I don’t know how he found out. They are better off now. I think they would have separated regardless.”

Casey sat on this new information silently. It was rare for Derek to open up to her, but she always valued those moments. They made her heart feel like it was growing in size, her insides warming up.

“I’m pretty sure my dad had an affair,” she said, quietly.

Derek turned to look at her profile.

“I’ve never said that out loud before,” she whispered, feeling guilty.

An awkward silence fell between them. Then, Derek spoke up.

“Are we gonna sleep or talk about our fucked up childhoods all night?” He asked, softly, with no malice. And Casey knew exactly what he was trying to express. He just didn’t know how to comfort her, and she didn’t really want him to, she just wanted to share something with him because he had shared something with her. She could hear from his tone that he understood what they were doing right now. He was just… trying to be nicer. She knew him.

Lying next to him, she randomly remembered a night from a few years ago, when her mom and George had gotten into a big fight. She had tucked Marti in, and Casey had told her she loved the Venturi’s. The little girl had asked her if she loved Derek too, and Casey had been shocked for a few seconds. Because she was always so busy with how much she strongly disliked Derek to ever wonder if she even loved him. And she had found that she did, of course she loved him.

For all of his annoyingness and insufferableness, he had also a heart of gold, and a huge sense of loyalty, and just watching him with Marti showed you how kind and sweet he could be. He brought out the best in her, her passion, competitiveness and her wild side. He was easy to love.

She now felt that same love, only different. She lay there, confused, as Derek’s breathing evened out and engulfed her thoughts. Her heart started beating faster, and she could feel that love growing stronger, more intense – terrifyingly fast and mercilessly.

All their moments together, all the build up and weird feelings she had pushed away for so long were swarming her all at once, forcing her to see what was always there. How she chased the high of arguing with him, how she ultimately decided she couldn’t go to New York because she didn’t want to miss the chance of experiencing her first year of college with him.

Her eyes widened in the dark.

Oh, shit.

I’m in love with him.

 

---

 

December, 2009

In the history of asshole boyfriends, Derek had thought that Casey could never top Truman. Obviously, he was wrong, since her judgment seemed to worsen with age.

There were many things wrong with Kyle – the first one being that his name was Kyle – but the worst being that apparently he was another asshole who thought it was okay to hang out with other women while being with Casey.

The rumor reached his ears from a group of girls on his Econ class, and he was fuming for the entire rest of the lecture, anxiously looking at the clock and waiting for the class to be over. He practically flew out of his seat when the professor dismissed the class.

He stalked angrily towards this dick’s dorm room, and practically punched the door down with his fists, impatiently waiting for him to open it.

“Derek? What the hell are you doing?”

He wasn’t expecting Casey to be there for this. As he looked at her, all innocent and unassuming, he wondered if he should do this with her present. Contrary to popular belief, Derek didn’t like seeing Casey get hurt. He had already seen it happen too many times, and he couldn’t fathom how not a single one of her stupid boyfriends could treat her with the respect she deserved.

The moment he saw Kyle appear behind her, though, he was angry all over again. So, he did this with Casey present anyway.

Derek threw all the accusations of Kyle being with other girls in his face, steadfastly avoiding looking at Casey’s expression, afraid of seeing her hurt. If he had to screen all of her dates from now on to make sure she never dated a jerk that would break her heart again, he would. Anything to not see her hurt. He didn’t know when she became so important to him.

Obviously, Kyle denied everything and started with a rant of his own, about how Derek seemed to interfere in Casey’s life way too much, and how it was impossible to connect with her if he was always present. Some bullshit like that.

In the end, the asshole asked. “Who’s it gonna be, Casey? This jerk or me?”

Derek was suddenly, for an unknown reason, overcome by fear. He’d never compared himself to Casey’s boyfriends. He tried to keep their love lives as much separated as he could – and terribly failing most of the time, but he still never imagined himself in a position where he had to actually hear Casey picking someone over him. The silence as Kyle waited for Casey’s answer was deafening, and Derek kept his gaze down, unable to look at her.

“Derek,” she called.

He looked up at his name, waiting for her to follow it with a ‘get out’ or something, but instead she followed it with, “Let’s go.”

What?

What?” Kyle exclaimed in disbelief.

Casey took a step towards Derek in the small dorm room living room. “You asked me to choose, I choose Derek. Every single time. Now, we’re leaving. Enjoy those other girls, asshole.” She grabbed Derek’s arm, and he numbly followed her out of the dorm and to the quad, his brain still trying to process what the hell had just happened.

She sometimes did things that completely threw him off. Things that left him breathless, and confused and wondering what the hell, why would she do that? Why would she stand between himself and a football-playing giant? Why would she help him write and sing a song for his girlfriend? Why would she take the fall for him, when the party was his idea?

Why would she pick him over her boyfriend?

“God, can you believe that jerk?”Casey was saying, hair blowing wildly with the wind. She had left her coat back at Kyle’s dorm, Derek noticed absentmindedly.

He suddenly realized they had stopped walking, and Casey was looking at him with big, concerned blue eyes, snapping her fingers on his face to get his attention.

“Are you okay?” she asked. Was he okay? Was she? Shouldn’t she be crying by now?

“Uh, why did you… why did you do that?” he asked, dumbly.

Casey frowned up at him, “You said he was cheating on me.”

Derek shook his head. “You chose me.”

“Why wouldn’t I choose you?” she asked, looking confused. “I mean, it’s you,” she said, matter of fact. There was a pause where he was too stunned to reply, and she blushed furiously. Derek’s eyes took in the shade of red, fascinated, and it was the first time he didn’t feel like teasing her for it.

“I…”

Casey reeled away from him, indignant. “You’d choose a terrible girlfriend over me!?”

Derek’s stupor wasn’t about that. If he thought really hard about it, he had chosen Casey over several girlfriends. It was just this… feeling, as he looked at her. It was hitting him like a ton of bricks, the realization that he’d follow her everywhere she went, that he couldn’t imagine living without those bright blue eyes, couldn’t fathom the possibility of wanting anyone that wasn’t her.

He wanted her.

He’d always thought he had pretty clear what he wanted, ‘what Derek wants, Derek gets’. He couldn’t believe it had taken him so long to see that the thing he’d always wanted the most, was Casey.

“De-rek!” she snapped, angrily.

He brought his attention back to the present moment, to Casey standing in front of him on the freezing quad, the lovely shade of red on her face. Derek smiled slightly, bringing up a hand to tuck a lock of hair behind her ear. She shivered, and he suspected it had little to do with the cold.

“Of course I would choose you, Spacey,” he said, “We are in this together, after all.”

Casey huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and clearly fighting a pleased smile. “Well, good. Now, let’s get out of here, I’m freaking freezing.”

He happily followed.

 

---

 

January, 2010

A song came on the radio. It was ‘The Reason’, by Hoobastank, the first few lyrics of the song enveloping the car and Casey quietly sang along, her fingers drumming on the steering wheel.

“God, this song is awful,” Derek said, his hand reaching out towards the console to change the station.

Casey caught his hand in midair, and he immediately wrenched it out of her grasp. She frowned.

“I like this song!” she said, ignoring the painful jab she felt when he flinched away from her touch. “The lyrics are beautiful.”

It was the late afternoon, and they were doing the trip back to Kingston from London after spending the holidays back home. It had been a cold, but sunny day, snow glittering on the sides of the road. The sun was setting, and she tried really hard not to look Derek in the eyes, because right now they were doing that thing brown eyes did during the golden hour, where they seemed to melt in the sunlight and look like liquid gold. It was honestly distracting, and it made her want to count all the different shades of colors in them, and she was going to crash the car and kill them, so she kept her gaze determinedly on the road.

Derek snorted, “The lyrics are cheesy as fuck. Can’t say I’m surprised you like them.”

Casey’s grip tightened around the steering wheel, annoyed. He had been acting so weird lately. She’d thought that they were finally in a stage of their relationship where they were almost friends, comfortable enough around each other. But ever since December he seemed to have a regression in character, and he was back to being his normal asshole self. She was seriously growing tired of it, especially when her own feelings towards him were already so complicated.

“What crawled up your ass these past few weeks?” she snapped, unable to help herself.

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Derek smirk at the phrase she used, because that phrase was his, and he always took some kind of pleasure in knowing she was picking up his filthy vocabulary.

“I’m serious!” she insisted, “You’re being ruder than ever and I will not have it!”

Derek just rolled his eyes, “We’ve always been like this Space Case. I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

She shook her head, “No, we were making progress. You were being nicer.”

“Is it so hard to believe that sometimes it just becomes exhausting being around you all the time?” he snapped.

Casey breathed heavily for a second, hurt by his words, but reminded herself that Derek was hardly ever mean by nature, he’d only said that because he knew it would piss her off. She shot him a quick look. “I think you’re full of shit. I think something happened that made you like this.”

“Like what?”

“Like an insensitive asshole jerk?” she offered.

“You should stop looking for answers you don’t really want to know,” Derek muttered. And that was it.

She slammed her feet on the breaks, making Derek snap forward. “What the fuck are you doing!?”

Casey slowed down the car, and then got off the road, parking on the snow by its side.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Derek repeated, once they’d fully stopped.

She turned to him seriously. “You’re going to tell me what’s wrong.”

Derek slumped against his seat, eyes rising heavenwards and letting out a long suffering groan. “Why me?”

“De-rek.”

He turned back towards her angrily. “Why do you always do this? Why do you care so fucking much about what I say or do? Why do you always need to know!?”

Casey stared at him, shocked by his outburst. They stared at each other unwaveringly in the dead silence of the car, and his eyes were melted gold again. She let her eyes scan through his face. He wanted to know why she cared so damn much? There was only one way to let him know.

She went for it. She launched herself towards him, hands reaching out for his face so she could kiss him properly, but she didn’t count on one important issue.

She hadn’t taken her seatbelt off.

The seatbelt locked with her abrupt movement, and stopped her short halfway towards Derek. He stared at her with wide, disbelieving eyes.

“… Were you seriously about to hit me right now?”

Casey’s cheeks turned red, and her jaw dropped. “What? I wasn’t going to hit you!”

He looked at her skeptically, “You were, weren’t you?”

“Shut up, I wasn’t going to hit you, you moron! I was going to kiss you!”

Silence fell in the car again.

Derek stared at her with a blank expression on his face. “… What?”

Casey covered her face with her hands, mortified. “I was going to kiss you,” she said, voice muffled by her fingers. “Stupid seatbelt,” she then realized the enormity of what she just admitted, Derek’s condemning silence embarrassing her further. “Oh, god, please forget it, let’s just never speak ever again.”

There was another beat of silence in which she waited, afraid, before Derek’s boisterous laughter filled the car.

“De-rek!”

“Oh, my god,” he gasped between chuckles, “You – you are such a klutz.”

Shut up!”

Casey wanted to die. Seriously, forget about college and law school, she was done with life.

Suddenly, she felt her seatbelt snapping free. She looked over at Derek with wide eyes, and found him looking back at her with his sexy– annoying, smirk.

“What?” She asked, warily.

“I’m still waiting for my kiss,” he said, his grin widening.

“Derek,” she whined, “Please don’t make fun of me, I’m mortified enough.”

“I’m not making fun of you,” he said, still smiling but sounding dead serious. “The seatbelt’s off. Come here.”

She stayed put, disbelieving. Derek rolled his eyes and let out a low chuckle, grabbing her arm and tugging her towards him. He stopped when their faces were inches apart.

Casey stared at him, but his eyes were on her mouth, making her stomach flip.

“Well?” he whispered, and she felt his breath against her lips.

She kissed him.

 

---

 

September, 2010

Derek ran his fingers through Casey’s soft hair, watching her exposed back rise and fall on his bed beside him, lost in his thoughts.

They were in his dorm room, not even two weeks into their second year of college, and they were already back at it again. He seriously hoped last night hadn’t been a gigantic mistake.

Because their first go at it was a disaster.

The first months had been something akin to one of those terrible rom com movies she loved so much – two lovesick idiots, cooking and laughing together, in between making out and fucking, dancing around in their apartment and fighting the rest of the time.

And as most things they did together went, the downfall came hard and fast. Living together while trying to balance a relationship and still being, essentially, the same people that used to drive each other crazy in some pretty bad ways was what led to a messy breakup. A bunch of messy breakups, if he was being honest.

The emotional whiplash that came with going from lovey-dovey honeymoon phase, to wanting to kill each other and vice versa was exhausting, and after finally deciding that they didn’t work and breaking up for good when summer came around they begged his dad and Nora to let them live in separate dorms for their second year, and then proceeded to avoid each other all summer. He hadn’t even gotten around to telling her he loved her.

The thing about being in love with Casey, though, was that it wasn’t something one could just get rid of. And if watching Sam moping, Max getting benched from the football team because of anger issues, and Truman crying the second time she dumped him wasn’t proof enough of that, Derek had to learn it the hard way.

Derek had been in love before, at least he thought so. With Sally, everything had felt exciting and new, it was getting to know each other every day and learning to discover and love that person. And after some time of being apart, it had been as easy to gradually fall out of love as it had been to fall in.

With Casey, everything was old. He felt like she was part of him, like she would always be in him, and that she herself was a missing piece of himself just walking around the world, leaving him with a dull ache every time she was away. Loving Casey was painful, and impossible to ignore or get over. Looking at her from afar, and knowing how good they could have it but how terribly bad it all had ended made Derek finally realize what people meant in movies when they said, ‘I love you so much, it hurts’.

Last night, they had bumped into each other at a party in some frat house. At first he had run into her friend Tasha, who still gave him the stink eye for a reason unknown to him. She was one of the few people in college that had known them as a couple and not as step siblings, but now every time he ran into her she looked at him like he was gum on her shoe.

Then, he saw her. She was leaning against a wall, some frat boy chatting her up. Derek tried to ignore the situation, he really did. But he only lasted all of ten seconds before he was sauntering over to her, leaning against the wall beside her and effectively distracting her from the other loser, who ended up stalking away from them with an annoyed huff.

He didn’t really plan for the rest, but one thing led to another. They hadn’t really talked to each other one on one since before the summer, and arguing somehow led to making out, and that led to the growing urge to get the fuck out of that party.

And so they ended up back at his place.

He had missed her so much. But they had really crashed and burned the first time. He really hoped she wouldn’t freak out and regret it once she woke up, because Derek couldn’t imagine ever regretting spending a night with her, consequences be damned.

Casey started to stir under his fingers, and she slowly turned around to face him. He held his breath until she smiled.

“Hey.”

He laughed through his nose, “Hi.”

 

---

 

March, 2011

“Remind me again why you’re here,” Casey said, annoyed, as her eyes scoured through the shelves of jewelry the shop had to offer.

You asked me to come,” Derek said, looking everywhere but at the shelves.

“Yeah, but you were supposed to help me, which you’re not doing,” she argued as she moved away from the section of the store they were at to go look somewhere else. “So, I don’t know why you’re here.”

Derek shrugged, “You said you were going to buy me lunch after.”

Casey rolled her eyes. She had been elected to buy the present for her grandmother’s 70th birthday – well, she had offered to do it, but her mom was always busy with work and Lizzie didn’t get Gran’s style quite like she did anyway, so basically, they needed her to take over.

The job was harder than she had expected though, considering nothing in this jewelry shop – or any other they had already scoured through in all of Kingston – had quite what she was looking for.

And Derek wasn’t helping at all. Honestly, it was a little stupid on her part to think that he would, but she liked having him around (don’t tell anyone she said that) when he wasn’t being such a pain in the ass.

“God, I won’t be able to find anything and my mom is going to be so disappointed, and Gran will hate us –“

Derek’s hands came to her shoulders, giving her a reassuring squeeze. “Reeelax Space Case,” he said, massaging slowly. Casey’s head dropped back against his chest. “We’ll find something, it’s just a gift.”

Casey laughed incredulously, “Just a gift? Have you met my grandmother?”

“Yeah, I have,” he said, his hands sliding down her arms. She shivered. “It explained a lot of the crazy.”

She threw her hand back to hit him lightly on the chest, “Jerk.”

Derek semi collapsed against her back, placing his chin on her shoulder and making her tilt dangerously forwards. The shop keeper eyed them disapprovingly from the front desk. Derek moaned in her ear, “Caaaasey, I’m hungry.”

Casey struggled against his weight, “God, you’re such a baby.”

“If you don’t feed me soon, I’m gonna have to eat you.” He bit her earlobe. Casey sucked in a breath.

They weren’t dating. Not even close. But living separately had done wonders for their relationship. They were mostly back to normal, if you weren’t counting the making out and… other stuff they did now, but still not dating. Casey wasn’t sure she even wanted to date him officially again, they seemed to work so much better like this anyway.

Of course there was a big part of her – the controlling, label-loving part of her – that wanted to define what they were. Ever since that party from last semester they were in this sort of hooking-up-but-still-not-exclusive weird limbo that was obviously just going to end up with her getting hurt. She knew herself better than this, but when it came to Derek, her judgment always seemed to be clouded.

Her inner thoughts stopped suddenly, when she saw them. Sitting on one of the shelves were a pair of sapphire earrings, glinting vibrant blue in the white light of the display.

“Oh my god, that’s it!” She exclaimed, making Derek jump away from her.

“What is it now?” he groaned, long-suffering.

Casey pointed towards the earrings. “Sapphires, Derek! It’s the perfect gift for Gran!”

“Sa– what now?”

She rolled her eyes, “A precious gemstone, Derek.” She got closer to the shelf to show the earrings to him. “I love sapphires so much, Gran’s engagement ring used to have diamonds and sapphires,” she sighed dreamily, looking up at him with sparkly eyes, “It was so elegant, the most beautiful ring I’ve ever seen. And Gran loved it so much, it’s the only thing she remembers of my grandfather fondly. She still has it.”

Derek kept staring at her for a little longer, his chocolate eyes boring into hers. Then he cleared his throat, and looked away. “Well, can you buy them now so we can finally go eat something?”

Casey bounced slightly on her feet excitedly and waved the shop keeper over with enthusiasm. The old woman rolled her eyes and made her way towards them.

“Finally, freedom!” Derek exclaimed once they walked out of the store.

Casey rolled her eyes at him, “Come on, let’s get some food in those four stomachs of yours.”

“Yeeesss,” he said, stretching. Then, he grabbed her hand, intertwining their fingers in full display for the entire city to see.

Like she said, weird limbo.

 

---

 

October, 2011

Derek stared Emily down unwaveringly. Casey was upset, locked in a bathroom, and apparently it was his fault, so there was no way in hell he was backing down. He was getting in that bathroom even if it meant he had to kick down the door.

They were in London, in a house party. Derek had come with Sam, and was surprised to find Casey and Emily already there. Things were tense between himself and Casey lately, ever since a stupid fight they’d had at her dorm, and every little thing he did now seemed to only make her angrier.

‘What the hell did you do now?’ Emily had asked him, accusingly. Hell, if he knew. His relationship with Casey had seemed better than ever before their fight, but now he was starting to suspect he had done something more than just that argument to upset her so much, he just didn’t know what.

Emily narrowed her eyes at him, and then sighed, moving away from the bathroom when she realized he was not relenting. Derek leaned against the door and knocked.

“Case?”

There was a loud bang against the door, making both Derek and Emily jump. “Go away!”

“Case, come on. Let me in,” he called.

This time, he was met with silence from the other side of the door. When he was fairly sure that she wouldn’t thump on the door again, Derek leaned closer again. He thought he heard a quite sob coming from inside.

Given the urgency of the situation, he had no other option than to use the big guns. He knew Casey, and for some reason, she couldn’t resist him when he said, “Please?”

A beat, he held his breath, and then the sound of the door unlocking. He sighed in relief, turning the doorknob and quickly getting inside the bathroom before she could change her mind. He closed the door immediately behind him and locked it again, to ensure they wouldn’t be disturbed.

Casey was leaning against the sink, her hand gripping at the edges. Her face was puffy and tear stained, traces of mascara on her cheeks. She was wearing that cute little black top of hers that accentuated her cleavage in all the right ways, and Derek thought it was a true testament of how he felt about her when his eyes only lingered below her neck for a second before meeting her bright blue eyes.

Derek cleared his throat, “What’s wrong?”

She just crossed her arms over her chest and huffed. He sighed in frustration, leaning back against the door. They stared at each other for a while before Derek finally broke the silence.

“Okay, you have to talk to me. I can’t fucking guess what you’re thinking, Casey. I want to make this right but I can’t if you won’t talk to me.”

Casey’s face scrunched up in annoyance, and he knew she always hated when he was being the mature one in a situation. “I hate you,” she said.

Derek exhaled slowly through his nose, his hands going to his hips. “Great, I see this is going to be an easy conversation.”

She snapped, uncrossing her arms. “Well, I’m sorry I can’t be easy enough for you!”

Oh for fuck’s sake –

“What does that even mean?”

“I don’t know!” she yelled, “You tell me!”

Derek shook his head. “Why don’t you start by telling me what I did to get you so damn mad.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “You can’t think of a single thing you did that could have bothered me,” she deadpanned.

The look in her eyes teleports him to half an hour ago, when a cute redhead had approached him in the kitchen of the house, and he had looked up to see Casey standing in the doorway, catching that same look on her face that she was giving him now. She had bolted out of the kitchen, and he immediately lost whatever little interest the other girl had initially sparked in him. He couldn’t even remember her name.

Was that why she had gotten so upset, because another girl was flirting with him? He wasn’t even being actively flirtatious back. Sure, he was naturally charming, but he didn’t feel like he was doing anything wrong, since him and Casey hadn’t exactly determined what the hell was going on between them. Honestly, he didn’t know what they were, he was only sure of one thing –

“We are not exactly dating, Case,” he said, slowly.

Casey’s eyes flashed with hurt, “I know that, can you leave now?” she snapped, pointing towards the door.

Derek stood his ground. “You never said anything about wanting to be exclusive before.”

She crossed her arms over her chest, scoffing. “It’s nice to know where you stand on it, though.”

“You never asked either!” he defended, because this wasn’t his fault, this was literally the first time she had brought it up in any capacity. In fact, Casey seemed so comfortable with their new arrangement that Derek had been starting to think that she really didn’t want any kind of serious relationship with him again. And that was fine – okay, no, it sucked – but he was willing to take whatever she could give him.

“And you didn’t care to ask,” she said, dejectedly.

He took a step forward, crowding her further against the sink. “Stop with that, I’m trying to have that conversation now.”

She stayed quiet, refusing to look up at him. Derek took another step, now standing directly in front of her, leaving Casey trapped between himself and the sink.

“Case,” he called, softly.

She looked up at him, eyes bright with tears, vulnerable. “I don’t want to keep doing this,” she choked out, gesturing between the two of them, “If you want to be with other people.”

Derek’s words basically tripped over each other in the rush to get them out, to get that look off of her face. “Done, no other people.”

Casey frowned, a stray tear that was caught in her eyelashes rolling down her cheek. “That’s it? Just like that?”

He reached out and thumbed the tear away, relishing in the way she shivered when his hand went to the back of her neck, keeping her close to him. Out in the party, the song switched to an all too familiar tune, and he almost groaned at the fucking timing of it all.

It was fucking ‘The Reason’ by Hoobastank. The song that was playing in the car when she’d first kissed him, the song that she would play and sing off key just to annoy him when they were living together. He would sometimes join in with her, both ironically and not. It was so familiar and so them by now that he couldn’t help but think, lamely, that it was their song. And who even played that kind of songs at a party anyway?

If Casey could hear it in the background, or if she was even paying attention to their surroundings, it didn’t show, because her eyes were solely locked on his, her face full of something so akin to hope it made it hard for him to breathe. She was so fucking beautiful.

Derek shook his head, trying to focus on their big conversation instead of getting lost on her, as it so often happened to him. “I just don’t get what you want,” he said, in a low voice. “If you wanted me and only me, wouldn’t you have said something before? You seemed so okay with the way things were that I just thought that… you were.” He didn’t know if he was making any sense.

Casey seemed to understand. “I just didn’t want to ruin it,” she whispered back, “Because we were doing so good like this but…” she trailed off.

His fingers tangled in the hair at the nape of her neck, bringing her closer, their chests bumping. “I didn’t want to ruin it either,” he confessed.

“It’s not enough anymore,” she said, her eyes falling to his mouth.

Derek bit his lip, and Casey licked hers, “You want more?” he whispered, stealing a soft kiss before backing off a little so he could look into her eyes.

She avoided his gaze, looking off to the side, but her hands came up to his waist and fisted on his shirt.

Derek used his other hand to tilt her chin back towards him. “Because I could get behind that,” he said, “We could give it another shot, but you have to tell me what you want.” As dysfunctional as they were, he would suffer through the whole mess all over again if it meant he got to be with her fully.

Casey kissed him again, this time making it last longer. He breathed her in, and deepened the kiss, letting his tongue tangle with hers for a moment before pulling away again, barely able to restrain himself from kissing her more. She met his gaze, eyes shining darkly with desire and something more.

He decided to shoot his shot, “Case, I want more.”

She closed her eyes, and he rested his forehead against hers. “I love you,” she whispered, and the rest of the world faded away.

Derek was pretty sure he made a noise in the back of his throat that he’d never made before. He felt as if the entire universe was exploding behind him, leaving white noise ringing in his ears. He wanted so badly to say it back, but his throat closed up, so he crashed his lips to hers again, kissing her hungrily, pushing her harder against the bathroom sink, as if he could somehow manage to melt into her.

He couldn’t believe he’d have to remember another big moment with that damn song playing in the background.

“I love you too.”

 

---

 

December, 2012

Fresh out of college, they planned a trip to Cancun with Sam and Emily. They spent their days on the beach, enjoying the warm weather and the sun, celebrating the new stage of their lives they were entering.

In the next few years, Casey would remember 2012 as their best year. They were so in love and so at peace, it was difficult to hide their relationship from Sam and Emily. A part of her suspected that they already knew that something was going on, but neither of them said anything. Derek wasn’t even trying to antagonize her, and spending those days under the sun with her friends and her boyfriend were some of the happiest moments of her life.

On their way from the hotel to the beach, they always passed by a little tattoo parlor, designs displayed on the glass in view for the street, and there was a particular design of a tribal that always caught Casey’s attention for some reason. It was delicate, with intricate black lines, and the whole ensemble made it look very harmonious. She thought that if she ever got a tattoo, she wanted one pretty like that.

On one of the last days of their vacation, Casey and Derek made a stupid bet. It was one of those occasions that brought out their competitive sides, and they were both pretty passionate about it. Sam and Emily decided not to engage, because they knew better than to get tangled up in their antics. Derek being his usual self, offered to make the bet more interesting.

“Okay, if I win,” he said, leaning dangerously towards her under their beach umbrella. Casey didn’t bother moving back. “You get that tribal you like so much tattooed.” Sam and Emily both went ‘Uhhh’ dramatically at the idea.

Casey’s mouth dropped. “De-rek! I don’t want a tattoo!”

Even with his sunglasses on, she could tell he rolled his eyes. “Yes you do, and why are you so worried anyway? If you’re so sure you’ll win.”

Casey narrowed her eyes at him. She was sure she would win, after all. “Fine. Then, when I win, you’ll get it tattooed.”

Sam and Emily both snapped their gazes towards Derek to catch his reaction. He raised his eyebrows. “Your tribal?”

My tribal.” She smirked.

Derek’s tongue poked his cheek as he assessed, and she bit her lip, not for the first time reminding herself that Sam and Emily were present and she couldn’t just jump him.

“Deal,” he said at last, extending his hand for her to shake.

As it turned out, in the end they both lost. It was a stupid bet anyway, but they both felt so strongly about it. Casey was ready to drop the whole thing, but Sam and Emily insisted on some kind of punishment for both of them.

“Why don’t you both get it done? After all, that was the bet in the first place,” Emily suggested.

Casey looked at her friend in disbelief. “What? I’m not getting matching tattoos with Derek.”

Derek snorted, “They are so not matching tattoos.”

Sam raised an eyebrow, “I think that’s the literal definition of matching tattoos.”

“Whatever,” Derek said, shooting his best friend a look. He then turned to Casey. “If you’re a pussy and don’t want to get it, then fine by me, I won. You are forgiven from the bet.”

She immediately saw a challenge for what it was. “I’m not a… a wuss!” She narrowed her eyes at him when he smirked at her reluctance to say the other word. “Plus, how do you want to explain to the family that we got the same tattoo done?”

Derek shrugged. “We’ll just say it was to remember an unforgettable trip. Or, you could just get it somewhere non-visible. If you had the guts to do it, of course.”

They all stared at Casey as she bit her lip. Getting a tattoo with someone was a big deal. As much as she loved Derek, she didn’t know if she wasn’t going to regret it in the future. But, at the same time, there was a big part of her that really wanted to give in and live dangerously for once.

She gave in. “Fine, I’ll just get it over my heart, it’s meaningful.”

Derek snorted. “Beautiful.”

Sam and Emily cheered in excitement and they headed to the tattoo parlor.

“Where are you going to get yours?” she whispered to Derek as Sam and Emily signaled to the artist which tattoo they were getting.

Derek threw her a smirk that made her heart stop. “Same place.”

Casey’s cheeks flushed with the implications. “De-rek. Everyone will see it there!”

He laughed. “And where exactly do you want me to get it, my ass? Plus they are never going to see yours, so it’s not a big deal.”

She clamped her mouth, and pouted up at him. He started leaning closer when Sam came over to them, making them jump apart.

“The guy said that Casey’s tribal is a half of this other one.” He extended a sheet of paper with a design of a very similar looking tribal, only a little less delicate and bolder, with a couple more lines than the one Casey had liked. It looked more cool than beautiful, and something in her mind immediately screamed that it was perfect for Derek. “You could each get a half, isn’t that cute you guys?” Sam teased. Casey’s cheeks pinked and Derek shoved his shoulder, but the smirk on his face made him look endlessly amused.

The three of them turned to her again. “What do you say, Case?”

“Fine,” she sighed.

Emily squealed in excitement and Sam chuckled, while Derek’s smirk widened into a smile. Casey reluctantly smiled back.

Back at her hotel room she shared with Emily, Casey stared her new tattoo on the bathroom mirror. It actually looked… really good, and she was happy that it was in a mostly hidden place, making it more intimate.

There was a knock at the door. Casey pulled her shirt back down and went to open it.

Derek snuck into the room the second she opened the door, and she wasn’t even done closing it before his mouth was on hers. They didn’t get too many moments alone, what with their friends being around all the time, so Casey immediately responded, indulging for a few blissful moments.

She forced herself to break away from him. “Emily will be back any minute.”

He moved his mouth to her neck, and she bit her lip to hold back a moan. Two weeks was too long without this.

“Don’t worry about her, I sent her and Sam away. They won’t be back for a while.”

Casey managed to break away from him, and she took a couple of steps back so that she could think clearly. His eyes followed her hungrily.

“Where did you send them?”

He waved his hand dismissively, “The details don’t matter Space Case, we have to make most of this little time.”

Casey shook her head. “You’re the worst, you know that?”

Derek grinned widely, walking towards her again. “I’m not a perfect persooon,” he sang loudly.

Casey laughed out loud, “Oh, my god.”

“There’s many things I wish I didn’t doooo.” He hooked his fingers around her short’s belt loops and pulled her towards him.

“Shut up, someone will hear you.”

“Oh, I’m not the one who’ll have to be quiet.”

Casey raised her eyebrows, “Oh? I thought you said we didn’t have that much time.”

His hands managed to get under her shirt, pulling it off in one swift motion. “Baby, you’re really underestimating me. I think two weeks is definitely too long if you’ve already forgotten exactly how good I am.”

She reached for his belt. “You’ll have to remind me then.”

And so, they made the most of that little time alone. Mouths exploring, and chests brushing, hearts beating in sync beneath matching tattoos.

 

---

 

March, 2013

“Mmm De-rek,” Casey groaned, pressing her face further into the pillow. Derek’s soft snoring carried on, and she pushed at him weakly, refusing to open her eyes, “D, your phone.”

Derek sighed in his sleep and rolled over, turning his back on her. Casey tried to ignore the annoying sound of his ringtone, counting down the seconds until it would inevitably stop. Only it kept going on and on and what if it was important? That thought alone made it impossible for her to ignore the situation any longer. Groaning, she sat up in bed and leaned over Derek’s body to reach for his phone on the nightstand. She squinted at the bright screen in the darkness, an unfamiliar number flashing back to her.

Casey put the phone to her ear, collapsing against the bed’s headboard. “Hello?” she mumbled, eyes closed.

An unsure, masculine voice came from the line, “Um hi, is this Derek’s phone?”

Casey sat up straighter, her hand landing on Derek’s pillow, causing him to stir. She cleared her throat, “Yes, who is this?”

Casey?”

It was as if a bucket of ice cold water had been poured over her head, the recognition of George’s voice on the other end of the line chilling her to the bone. She was suddenly wide awake and panicking, she shoved Derek hard with her hand and he woke up at once, sitting up next to her in alarm.

“W-what is it?”

Casey turned on the bedside lamp and handed him his phone, already hyperventilating. Derek took it with a worried look in his face, squinting at it in confusion before putting it to his ear. “Hello? Who is this?” He met her eyes, wide eyed, “Dad? Why are you calling me from an unknown number?”

Derek immediately caught on to the problem, and Casey could see him getting nervous. Her thoughts started on a spiral of fear, thinking of the shock in George’s voice when he realized it was her, and worrying about whatever it was that he thought she was doing with Derek’s phone this late at night.

“That wasn’t Casey dad, what are you on?” Derek said, tone clipped, “Ew, Dad. Please.” She ignored the tug of hurt she felt at his words. This was what she wanted, they couldn’t let themselves be found out, least of all this way. She knew George was in Toronto for work, and she couldn’t bear the thought of having to face him now, unprepared in Derek’s apartment, with her freaking pajamas still on.

She watched for what felt like ages until Derek’s shoulders sagged in relief and he gave her a thumbs up, indicating the crisis had been aborted. She sighed, leaning back against the pillows, heart still hammering. She tuned out as Derek continued with his conversation, but tensed up again when she saw him throw her a weird look.

“You can sleep on my couch. Where are you?” he said. Casey sat up on her elbows raising her eyebrows in question. Derek frowned at her, “Uh, sure… Let me just, drop… Crystal off and then I’ll be right there.” Casey snorted at the unoriginal name choice. Knowing this probably meant that George needed a place to stay the night for some reason, she got out of bed and started quickly getting dressed and gathering her stuff. She had to get up ridiculously early in the morning and she would probably be a zombie all day in class tomorrow, but it had to be done.

Derek pressed his phone against his chest, and asked her in a low voice, “What if we… told him?”

Casey stopped, pants halfway up her legs, “What?”

He swallowed, looking at her with intense brown eyes. She recoiled unconsciously. “Maybe it’s time,” he said.

She shook her head, vigorously, and shimmied to get her jeans all the way up. “Derek, no. Absolutely no. It’s 2 am, you’re gonna give him a heart attack, are you insane?”

Derek sighed, “Casey, you have to get up crazy early and it’s been long enough – "

No, Derek.” She interrupted, maybe a little too forceful. “Just take me home.”

Something inside her constricted at the look on his face, “Fine,” he said. He took his attention back to the conversation and Casey felt a mixture of dread and guilt churn inside her belly. It was that look he had given her, something akin to maximum disappointment and exhaustion. It was that look on his face that let her know –

– This was the beginning of the end.

 

---

 

June, 2013

He’d always thought it would be her, the one that would break them up for good.

He didn’t think he would ever be strong enough to let her go. But as time passed, and the reality of their situation became clearer, there was less and less space to deny the truth. Casey was never going to be ready to tell the family. She just didn’t want to. She was comfortable were they were, loving each other in secret as if they were criminals, as if their relationship was something shameful, a bad habit she needed to hide. But Derek couldn’t live like this anymore.

It took months for him to finally gather the courage to do what was best for both of them. Neither of them deserved to live like this. He wanted more for his life, even if it meant to leave her behind.

He was done.

It was the most painful thing Derek had ever gone through in his life. He’d never be able to forget the way Casey’s face fell when he told her that he needed to talk to her. And Derek realized that the reason her face fell was because she already knew what was coming. It was like they were both waiting for the other shoe to drop, and this was the moment.

Derek never thought it would be him.

She tried to argue against it. She cried her eyes out, and by the end of it, Derek was crying too. The moment the first tear rolled down his cheek, Casey stopped fighting him. It all came down to the fact that when asked if she would be willing to tell the family so they wouldn’t break up, she couldn’t answer him. And Derek wasn’t going to force her, he loved her too much to do that.

They accepted to break up and be mature about it for the sake of the family.

The problem with that logic came two weeks after the break up, when Casey asked him to cut all ties to each other.

“I can’t do this,” she said, wiping the tears from her cheeks. “I think we need some space.”

Derek swallowed thickly, feeling an immeasurable fear at the prospect that she didn’t even want him in her life anymore. “We said this wouldn’t come in between us or the family,” he said, “And now you’re saying that you don’t want to see me anymore.”

Casey shook her head, sadly. “Not forever, I just need some time apart. I can’t see you every day, see you with other women. I just can’t. I need to move on.”

He hadn’t even thought of other women, but he figured she was right. The idea was for them to move on from each other and live real lives. He couldn’t imagine the pain of seeing her with anybody else, either, so they agreed that being friends wasn’t an option right now. They came up with a system to take turns for family gatherings until they were ready to see each other again and then, they parted ways.

It was time to move on.

 

---

 

January, 2014

“I’m telling you, Casey. This is a great opportunity. You’d be working with the most respected professionals and it’s a great chance to expand your horizons.”

Casey sipped on her drink as she listened to Sharon’s proposal. The offer was certainly tempting, especially considering everything that had been going on in her life lately. Casey really felt like she needed a change of pace, a change of scenery.

She really liked Sharon; she was her best friend within the law firm and a true ally. She always had her back, ever since Casey had started working there, fresh out of college and entering law school, working her way up. Sharon was also Casey’s superior, and she had contacts all over the place, so when word came out that they were looking for a candidate to send overseas to England, Sharon immediately recommended Casey. It was touching, really.

However, at the same time, there were other issues weighting heavily on Casey’s mind.

“I don’t know, Sharon.” Casey adjusted herself on her seat at their table, “I mean, don’t get me wrong, the offer does sound amazing but… England? It’s just so far away.”

Sharon merely shrugged, “So what? The requisite is a year, tops. And then you can come back whenever you want to. You can even come and visit while you’re living there! I just don’t see what the big deal is.”

Casey bit her lip, looking away from her coworker. In truth, the big deal was the one problem she could never really get rid of. The one problem she’d had since she was fifteen.

“It’s just,” Casey said, sheepishly. “There is someone here, that’s all.”

Sharon raised her eyebrows, “Someone? God Casey, please tell me it’s a secret kid.”

“It’s not a kid,” Casey chuckled.

Sharon sighed heavily, “You’re going to pass up on an opportunity like this… for a man?”

Casey looked away from her friend, towards the rest of the crowded bar. She knew that Sharon had a point, passing up an opportunity like that for a man you weren’t even on speaking terms with was stupid, but the thing with Derek… it was more complicated than that.

When Derek had broken up with her eight months ago, she’d been devastated. She couldn’t get out of bed during the first week, her heart completely shattered. The fact that he had just… given up on her hurt more than she cared to admit, it was like a hole had opened inside her chest, and she had been bleeding from there ever since.

So yeah, at first it was terrible, but then… Casey actually took time to focus on herself, and she realized that she really needed the time away from him. She needed to find out who she was without Derek, because she’d been with him for her entire adult life, so she had to figure out what she really wanted. She took that time to look after herself and focus on her career, and along with this new drive and perspective, came other revelations.

What she found? She still wanted him. Those months without him helped her realize that Derek was the love of her life, and she finally understood where he was coming from with the break up. It must have been excruciating, being with someone who wasn’t ready to give you everything, someone who was afraid to love you freely. Casey knew Derek loved her, even while he was breaking them up. She could feel how much it hurt him, she just couldn’t understand why. But now she saw things more clearly.

Casey knew what she wanted. She wanted him back. And she was ready to tell the family too, even if it still gave her enough anxiety to last for years. She was almost 24 years old, she had to stop being scared of what her mother would think and start living the life she always wanted, let herself fully experience the love she had always dreamed of. She never fully wanted to believe it, but she couldn’t deny that a part of her always knew that that person, the one she was supposed to be with, was Derek.

Of course, she still had some doubts, that’s just who she was, she’d always worry and wonder. But her doubts had never been about Derek, but about the uncertainty of the future. She could see her future more clearly now, and the only person she saw herself with was him. So she was ready to get him back, she’d spent weeks mulling it over in her head, and she was determined that if she had to declare her love for him in front of their parents, she would. She was ready.

Casey turned her attention back to Sharon, smiling. “It’s not just a man, it’s… Look, have you ever let something amazing pass you by?”

“I believe that’s what you’re doing right now,” Sharon said, gravely.

“Listen, I’m saying that he… he could be my future,” Casey assured, “I wasn’t ready before, I was too scared, but if there is one thing I want in my future, it’s him. And I think I need to stay here for that. I need to work on that.”

Sharon’s features softened, and she smiled warmly at Casey. “Okay, I think I can see what you mean…. Just tell me you’ll think about the exchange program, because you’re really the best candidate, and Casey? It could be very good for you.”

Casey nodded, understanding what she meant. These months of self reflection had been enlightening, but hard. Casey had suffered, and trying to live her life though heartbreak was difficult to conceal. So Sharon had noticed something was off with her.

Casey picked up her glass from the table only to realize that it was empty.

“I’m gonna get us more drinks,” Sharon announced, shaking her own empty glass.

Casey settled back against the booth as she waited, her head swarmed by thoughts of Derek. She was totally about to reject a great job opportunity for him. She really was. And that was so not like her, she never took risks like this. There was something so… exciting about finally taking that kind of leap. She wondered what Derek would think about the bold decision.

Feeling giddy, she reached inside her purse for her phone, aching to send Derek a text, and ask him if he would meet her after she was finished here.

She frowned as she stared at her phone screen. There was already a message from Derek there. Casey calmed down a little when she realized it was a message on the family group chat, not for her individually.

… And then, she opened it.

Derek: ‘Hey, I’m bringing my girlfriend over on Saturday. She’s excited to meet you all ;)’

By the time Sharon came back with their drinks, Casey was still staring at her phone screen, her vision blurring with tears as Derek’s text got buried in their family’s excited replies. Her friend’s face grew concerned as she took in Casey’s expression, “Casey, what’s wrong?”

Casey took a deep, shaky breath and put her phone away.

“Tell me about England.”

 

---

 

It was some time after breaking up with Casey that Derek came to the conclusion that he was a fucking 24 year old widower. He felt like one, growing an ugly beard, sporting poor personal hygiene, not wanting to leave his apartment ever the fuck again.

He then had to remind himself that the sole reason he had broken up with Casey was so that he could live an actual life, and not a secret. So he forced himself to get out of bed, and go out and live. At first he wasn’t really looking for anything, he just didn’t have the energy to be with someone else. He was flinching away from other women’s touches, feeling like he was betraying a memory.

Like he said, a 24 year old, fucking widower.

And then he met Claire. It was probably six months after the breakup, and in the beginning she was just a way to blow off steam, a beautiful woman who was easy to be with, who didn’t ask for too much, just his company. They started seeing each other more and more, and he became comfortable around her. He felt like he could trust her, and open up. She was like a friend – even though he knew she wasn’t – but he thought that if he had to be with someone else, it might as well be with someone like Claire. She was smart, funny, and kind, and she wanted him even when he didn’t have much to give, so he figured she was a right choice.

Derek noticed that Claire was in love with him, like really, very much in love with him. He didn’t tell her about Casey, or their long ass relationship, but he felt like Claire knew in some level that Derek wasn’t 100% emotionally available, but still accepted him as he was. And that was something he needed so much, a person that just wanted him for him, even with all the crap that came with it.

She didn’t ask for much. She wanted him to meet her parents and he somewhat reluctantly did, because he was good with parents, and why the hell not. She then wanted more space in his apartment, so he gave her a drawer in his closet, because she was his girlfriend and he liked her enough, and why the hell not.

She then wanted to meet his family… and that was more complicated.

He had a family reunion in London coming up, and Claire wanted to go. She said she was excited, because Derek talked about his family a lot, but he hadn’t really talked about a certain member of his family, and he didn’t think it was going to go over very well.

They discussed about it. Claire was set on going. Derek was really hesitant. On one hand he knew it was most likely a terrible idea. On the other hand, he hadn’t really brought a girlfriend home since high school. Claire was his first real girlfriend; someone Derek could actually see a future with, because no other woman had ever been able to put up with his bullshit, Casey was always it for him and every single one of them seemed to know that.

He kind of wanted to live that life, the adult life, with a girlfriend he could actually introduce to his family freely and without any trouble.

She convinced him.

Seeing Casey again for the first time in eight months was like a painful punch to the gut. Derek had to hold his breath for a few seconds as he took in the sight of her, sitting on the couch at their parent’s house in London. She looked every bit as beautiful as ever, and it made his heart ache.

The whole exchange of pleasantries and hello’s was so awkward it was painful. Casey acted like a robot, like they were strangers. Derek didn’t know what to do with the entire situation.

He watched as Casey fidgeted in her seat, playing with her food, not engaging in conversation with anyone at the table. She addressed him and Claire politely, coldly. Everyone was starting to notice something weird was going on, because they all knew Derek and Casey, and this was definitely not how they acted. Eventually, even Claire caught on the tension and the discomfort, and it was slowly becoming unbearable.

So, when Casey got up to grab the dessert from the kitchen, Derek squeezed Claire’s thigh briefly and got up from his chair, going after her. She didn’t spare him a glance when he entered the kitchen, just kept on sorting plates and spoons.

“Hey,” he said, softly.

Casey continued on with her task, undeterred.

“Are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” she snapped, still not looking at him.

Derek positioned himself opposite from her by the kitchen island, his hands setting on the table top. “You know, you have no right to be acting all pissy.”

That statement made her look at him, meeting his eyes for the first time in the whole night. “Excuse me? I’m not acting pissy. I’m being civil.”

Derek shook his head, “You’re acting like a nutjob. You’re freaking Claire out.”

Casey’s eyes grew stormy, and she squared her shoulders. “Oh, I’m sorry, am I making your girlfriend uncomfortable?” She whisper-shouted at him, “I’m sitting there with my whole family, my ex and his girlfriend and she’s uncomfortable?”

Derek’s heart squeezed guiltily in his chest. He knew this was a mistake, he shouldn’t have brought Claire here, it was too soon.

“I thought we were gonna be mature about this,” he muttered.

I’m the one being immature?” Casey hissed, raising her voice. “You’re the one who came in here to pick a fight.”

“I’m not picking a fight,” he hissed back, “I’m just saying that if you keep acting like that, you’re going to give yourself away to the fam. Wouldn’t want to let them know how you feel now, would ya?”

Something flashed in her eyes, gone too quick for him to analyze. Then, she scoffed. “Please Derek, don’t act all butthurt now, you’ve obviously moved on.” Her voice cracked a little, and Derek felt it like a painful punch to the gut.

“What were you expecting me to do?” he defended, almost forgetting to keep his voice down. “Wait around till you decided crazy time was over and that you were ready for another go? Nah, I’m not doing that anymore. So yeah, I moved on.”

Deep down, he knew he would never be able to completely move on from her, and that was all the more frustrating.

Casey reeled back, blinking rapidly. “Fantastic,” she snarled, voice watery. “Then, instead of standing here talking crap about our relationship, why don’t you go over there and bother your girlfriend, instead?”

“Yes, my girlfriend,” Derek shot back, and he didn’t know why he was being such and asshole, he hadn’t treated Casey like this in years, but right then he felt threatened for a reason he couldn’t quite discern. “The first real girlfriend I’ve had in years. Wonder why that was?”

“Are you trying to hurt me?” Casey snapped, a tear escaping and rolling down her cheek.

It was his turn to reel back away from her, “What the fuck?” his voice came out higher than he intended, “When have I ever wanted to hurt you?”

Casey stayed silent, openly crying now. And god, what the hell was wrong with him? He hated making her cry.

As they continued staring at each other, Claire’s voice carried from the living room. “Are they always like that?”

Casey hurriedly wiped her cheeks, looking away from him. “Let’s go back.”

“No, wait. I’m not trying to hurt you,” Derek insisted, his voice wavering.

“Sure,” She said, noncommittally, grabbing the dessert from the table. “Could you please bring the plates?” her voice was back to the zombie-like cold civility from before.

“Casey.”

She ignored him, walking out of the kitchen. He followed after her and sat back down on his chair, feeling like a zombie himself.

Derek tried to concentrate on the conversation at the table, but he couldn’t take his eyes off of Casey. She looked like she was spiraling down, and his heart was beating erratically in his chest, the desire to run away growing stronger by the minute. He felt Claire’s hand on his thigh and he turned to her with a forced smile, her beautiful laugh filling the room as she kissed his cheek.

“I’m moving to England.”

It was like a record scratch. Silence filled the room as everyone turned to Casey, her own expression fixed solely on Nora, who was in the process of choking on her food. “What?”

As the table debated on her leaving, Derek just watched her, not being able to decide on the emotion that was overpowering him. He felt a mixture of rage and pain, of wanting her gone and being on the verge of begging her to stay. It was New York all over again, except this time he didn’t have any right to try and make her stay.

Casey didn’t look at him once, and he finally dropped his eyes to his own plate. Claire’s soft hand grabbed his under the table and squeezed. He didn’t know what she thought of the situation, but she could probably tell that he was upset. She had taken the time to get to know him like that, out of truly caring for him. She loved him. He squeezed back as he risked a glance up at Casey for the last time. She was still looking away from him. Derek lifted Claire’s hand to his lips and kissed it.

It was probably for the best.

 

---

 

September, 2014

Casey went to sleep all jittery, head on cloud nine and adrenaline still pumping through her veins. She couldn’t keep the grin off her face as she laid in the dark, because this was the first time someone had made her feel something since Derek. She closed her eyes, reminiscing on her date with Zachary, and the parting kiss he had given her.

Her heartbeat had actually quickened, she’d felt a small shiver go down her spine, and she’d actually enjoyed it. Maybe it wasn’t that much of a reaction, but it was something. She hadn’t felt something for someone else in years, and the prospect of moving on was just too exciting. Oh, how she needed to move on.

She suddenly jolted awake at the sound of her phone ringing. She patted the top of her nightstand with her hand till she reached her phone, and squinted at the bright screen till she could read the caller ID.

Derek.

Casey’s heart somersaulted inside her chest and her stomach knotted, and that was too much of a reaction for someone who had just been rudely woken up. She took a few deep breaths to calm herself down and looked towards the digital clock on her nightstand. 2 am.

She bit her lip as her finger hovered over the screen, indecisive. Why was he calling? They hadn’t spoken since that fight in the kitchen, and she doubted he was just calling to catch up. Maybe someone in the family was in trouble?

She picked up.

“H-hello?” she greeted, voice raspy with sleep.

She was met with silence from the other line. She could hear breathing, and she instantly knew it really was Derek calling. Casey wondered if he’d even bothered to check what time it was in London before calling, and decided that he probably hadn’t. He wouldn’t care if he woke her up either way.

After a few seconds of silence, she tried again. “Derek?” She heard his breath hitch, and she panicked, “Is everyone all right?”

A beat, an exhalation, and then, “Yeah.”

The mere sound of his voice distorted by static shouldn’t have been enough to make her almost drop the phone. They stayed silent for another moment and then she couldn’t take it anymore.

“You know, London is really beautiful,” she said, breathlessly, “You’d really like it here. It’s the perfect city to film.” Casey went on, rambling about the weather and the city’s history and architecture, filling the silence. Before, in Kingston and then in Toronto, Derek used to pull out his camera to film the streets, the people, her. He liked it especially when it was cloudy, because it gave the ‘perfect lighting’ as he would say. Yeah, he would like London.

When she run out of places she had visited, she asked, tentatively, “You still there?”

“Yeah.” His answer came, immediately.

Casey waited for a few moments, and after realizing he wouldn’t speak any further, she started telling him about her job, and how good she was at it, how great she was doing in England, and how happy she felt. All of it was true; she felt really content, and just being there on the phone with him made everything almost perfect.

When she quieted again, they stayed in the line for a solid minute, hearing each other breathe. Casey looked over to the clock again. 3 am. She had rambled on for an hour. She didn’t know what it meant, or why Derek had originally called, but somehow, she was happy that he did.

“Derek,” she said after a while.

She heard him inhale, “Sweet dreams, Case.”

And then he hung up.

 

---

 

May, 2015

It was a sunny day in Toronto. Marti had come to stay with Derek for the weekend, and they were enjoying their last day together out and about in the city, exploring.

They passed by a classy jewelry shop and Marti stopped dead in her tracks, practically gluing her face to the glass, eyes easily attracted by shiny objects even at 15. Derek rolled his eyes and hung back a little, mentally preparing himself for when his sister inevitably begged for him to buy her a new pair of earrings, when something flashing blue caught his eye.

It was a ring, sitting on one of the illuminated shelves of the showcase. It was delicate, with a diamond in the middle and flanked by two rows of little glittering blue stones. Immediately, a pair of shimmering blue eyes appeared at the front of his mind, looking up at him in excited glee.

‘Sapphires, Derek!’

He remembered that time a few years ago, when he had gone with Casey to buy a gift for her grandmother. She had talked about how much she loved jewelry with sapphires, and Derek had been stunned to realize how much the stone reminded him of her own eyes.

Suddenly, that ring on the showcase had a face, a name and last name. It had an owner, and it felt like a crime that it was just sitting there in a shop, where someone else could come and buy it, when there was no way it could ever be anyone’s but hers. Now that he could so clearly picture her face when she saw it, sapphire blue eyes glimmering with joy and touched tears, it felt so utterly disturbing that another person could come and claim it for themselves.

Derek was pulled out of his reverie when he felt Marti’s eyes burning holes on the side of his head. He wrenched his eyes away from the ring to look at her. Her eyes were wide with disbelief.

Suddenly, he felt caught. It wasn’t like his little sister could read minds, exactly, but sometimes he felt like he couldn’t keep a single thing from her, like she always knew what he was thinking anyway.

“What?” he asked, defensive.

Marti’s jaw dropped. “Oh, my god.”

What?”

Marti pointed towards the shelf. “You’re looking at engagement rings!”

He snapped his gaze back to the shelf and sure enough, there were more diamond rings than just the one that had caught his attention. “Pfft, no I’m not,” he said, anyway.

“Yeah, you are,” Marti accused, somewhat excitedly. “Wow, Claire? I mean, I know you like her but I kinda always thought it would be…” she trailed off.

Derek’s stomach dropped guiltily. Oh right, Claire. It turned out Marti couldn’t read minds after all.

He shook his head, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Smarti.”

His sister smirked knowingly, an expression extremely similar to his own smirk, and he never noticed how annoying it was before now. “I was gonna ask you for some new earrings, but you’re obviously saving up,” she commented, slyly.

“I’m not saving up,” he said, rolling his eyes.

Marti started walking away from the shop. “Whatever you say, Smerek,” she teased. Derek’s eyes lingered on the ring for another moment before following her.

After that, that goddamn ring wouldn’t get out of his fucking mind for a second.

He started walking passed the shop twice a day on his way to and from work, heartbeat quickening every time he looked towards the showcase, worrying that the ring wouldn’t be there anymore. He heaved a sigh of relief every time he saw it shining there, still available for purchase. The shop owner probably thought he was stalking her at one point.

He thought about it incessantly day and night, and after a week of that routine Derek couldn’t take it anymore. He entered the shop, and bought the ring on impulse, going straight home after. He sat there in his living room staring at the box for an hour, not even caring about the fact that it would take months for him to finish paying for it.

I’m a fucking idiot. He could not believe he just bought a fucking engagement ring for a woman that was an ocean away, and not even speaking to him.

He had called Casey a total of three times since she’d left. It was at times when he missed her so much it became unbearable, and he just needed to hear her voice and know she was okay. He mostly let her ramble, feeling lulled by her soft tone, but he could feel how awkward it got in some moments. He didn’t know how to talk to her in this situation, it seemed like things had ended so badly between them, the last time he’d seen her he had made her cry. And it wasn’t like she was calling him herself; it was always him reaching out, so obviously Casey didn’t really want to talk to him. She wanted to move on, and he should let her do just that. He was with Claire after all.

Derek shoved the ring deep inside his nightstand drawer, and tried to forget about it. It was so goddamn stupid to have bought it anyway; it wasn’t like he could just give it to her as a gift – it was clearly an engagement ring, for fuck’s sakes. But he couldn’t bring himself to sell it either, because even if he never planned on giving it to Casey, it was hers. He couldn’t see anyone else wearing it on their finger, that ring was made for Casey, and if she wouldn’t have it, no one else would either.

He threw himself into his work, and kept moving forward with his life. He made sure not to call Casey again, no matter how much his brain wouldn’t shut up about her. He knew he would never fully get over her, he had already accepted the fact that there was simply no falling out of love with Casey, but he would have liked to at least be able to live without her in the back of his mind for a goddamn second.

As if the universe hated him, around that same time Claire started dropping hints about proposing. The first time he caught on what she was doing, his heart literally jumped to his throat, and he felt extremely guilty. He thought about the very real, very expensive ring sitting in his nightstand drawer, meant for another woman, and Derek wondered what the hell was wrong with himself.

He had a great woman right there with him, one that wasn’t on another country, not speaking to him. One that wasn’t ashamed of dating him, one that wasn’t his freaking step-sister. And still, he couldn’t stop thinking about Casey.

Already overwhelmed with guilt and shame, a quick trip back home to London was the last straw.

‘Casey is coming home next week.’ Lizzie’s words rang through his head incessantly day and night. Casey was coming back.

Casey was coming back. He was going to see her, he could –

I could have her back.

He swatted that thought away like a fly at least ten times a day. Get a fucking grip, Venturi! You made a decision, now stick with it.

The next few days after that visit, Derek felt like he was on suspended animation. He went through the motions, but his mind was on another plane of existence entirely. He dealt with Claire as best as he could, but his girlfriend wouldn’t stop stating how much she would like to get married, and asking him if he wanted to have kids in the future, and he didn’t even know how this idea had become so ingrained in her brain.

She came over to his place after work on a Friday, wearing her nicest clothes and high heels, and she looked stunning, and Derek didn’t look at her twice. He listened to her, rambling on and on about her day, still thinking about the ring, and Casey, Casey, Casey. And she was coming home in two days, and he still loved her so fucking much, and he wanted to see her so badly, and he was such an idiot, and Claire didn’t deserve this.

The ringing in his ears was getting louder, and he was pretty sure that back in his bedroom his nightstand was catching on fire, and if he didn’t say something the entire apartment would burn down, and he wasn’t sure if he and Claire would make it out.

“Claire.” It came out as a whisper, but somehow, it made her rambling stop at once.

“What is it, baby?” she asked, her voice full of concern.

“We need to talk.”

 

---

 

June, 2015

Men gathering?” Sam asked, amusedly, as he shoved another pizza slice in his mouth.

“Those were my dad’s exact words,” Derek said, taking a drink from his beer. Sam was visiting in Toronto. His best friend had moved to Vancouver shortly after college, and they didn’t get to see each other very often.

“That’s cool, I guess,” Sam said. His expression turned a little hesitant. “You haven’t been to London in a while, right?”

Derek shrugged, avoiding his eyes. “Lots of shit going on at work.”

“Right,” Sam nodded slowly, “And it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that Casey and her boyfriend are living there.”

Derek’s grip tightened around the bottle in his hand. “That’s just a plus,” he said, lightly.

They stayed in silence for a minute, Derek pointedly avoiding looking at his friend. Sam broke the silence.

“So… this British dude, she had him pretty well hidden, huh?”

Derek rolled his eyes. “I guess?”

“I mean, even Emily didn’t know about him.”

“Oh?”

Sam put a hand on his shoulder, forcing Derek to wrench his eyes away from his TV to look at his friend in the eyes. They were full of concern. “D, are you okay?”

“Samuel,” Derek said, warningly.

So, Casey hadn’t come back from England alone. Things hadn’t gone as he’d expected, not that Derek had many expectations – he had just broken up with his girlfriend and bought a fucking engagement ring, no big deal.

He tried not to think too hard about it. It had just caught him by surprise, seeing her walk through the front door with Zachary trailing behind her. All in all, it just meant that Derek would have to readjust his entire life once again. In the meantime, he preferred staying the fuck away from London.

He was only going to his father’s stupid ‘men gathering’ in the backyard because he had called and threatened Derek, in case he was considering skipping out on yet another family event. So, whatever, he was going. He could deal with Zach.

He wasn’t so sure about Casey, though.

“Why the hell did you break up with Claire?” Sam asked. He was using that lecturing voice, the one he used when he was trying to knock some sense into Derek, and he hated it every single fucking time. He wasn’t a teenager anymore, he made decisions and he owned up to them, he didn’t need to think long and hard about it, or explain himself to anyone.

“Why does everyone keep assuming that I broke up with her?” Derek snapped, because people loved accusing him of shit – ‘Oh, Derek, why? You were so happy; she was so in love with you. Why would you ruin that?’. He pointed a finger to his chest, emphasizing his point. “She could’ve broken up with me! I could be broken hearted!”

Sam gave him a look. “Dude. That woman believed you hung the fucking moon. She was ready to marry you in an instant. She did not leave you.”

Derek huffed, looking away from Sam and back towards the TV again. “Whatever.”

“Plus, I never said that you weren’t broken hearted,” Sam muttered, and Derek just knew he was talking about Casey. Derek had never told a soul about Casey, but Sam knew him too damn well. He probably knew even before Derek knew it himself. Still, he never brought it up, because he knew better than that.

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Derek asked, threateningly.

Sam wasn’t faced. “Claire,” he said, and Derek narrowed his eyes at him. “I didn’t say breaking up with her didn’t leave you broken hearted.”

Derek held his gaze unwaveringly for a few seconds. “Right,” he conceded, dropping his eyes. “Well, I’m not. Broken hearted, I mean.” By anyone.

Sam took his beer to his lips again, his eyes dropping towards Derek’s chest, where his tattoo was peeking out from under the neckline of his v-neck shirt.

“If you say so.”

 

---

 

When Zach had told her that he was going to a ‘men gathering’ that George had organized back at their house, she had laughed, picturing poor Zach trying to socialize alone with the male portion of her family and a couple of the neighbors. What would he even talk to them about? Zachary didn’t even like sports, and he sure as hell had never even watched a hockey game before in his life.

But she was grateful that they had included him. She knew Ed was in town, so he would probably try to make Zach feel comfortable. Zachary seemed excited to go, though, so she just let him be.

When she went to pick him up that afternoon, she did not expect to run into Derek. She actually didn’t expect him to be in London at all. He came out of the kitchen just as she walked through the front door, and when he saw her, he grinned so big it made her slightly dizzy.

She had given up on hoping her feelings for him would ever go away. She loved him, and she always would. It was like he was in her; she literally had him tattooed on her skin, her heart beating underneath. Casey just hoped the pain would become something more of a dull ache with time, and that she would be able to fill the hole he left on her soul.

Casey eyed him suspiciously as he approached her. She could tell that he had been avoiding her since she came back to Canada, so his apparent gladness to see her all of a sudden was weird.

“Casey!” he sprung his arms wide open, “Fancy meeting you here,” he said, in a bad fake British accent.

“Derek.” She smiled warily, “I haven’t seen you in a while.” I haven’t been alone with you in almost two years.

Derek smirked. He slid his eyes over her up and down in that lazy way he always had, and she had to grit her teeth in an attempt to stop herself from taking another step towards him.

She got filled with fear when she realized that this is what it would be like for the rest of her life, trying to fight against the pull she felt towards him. And she almost missed Claire being there for a minute, because at least that way she wouldn’t have to deal with Derek looking at her like that at all.

“Yeah, I’ve been busy,” he said, still smiling in that unnerving way. “You know, Zach is such a great guy, we just had the funniest non-verbal conversation.”

Casey tensed up at once, “What? What do you mean non-verbal?” And she must have been really fucked up, if the first thing she wanted to do was grab Derek’s face and pull up his shirt in search for bruises, instead of worrying about her actual boyfriend.

Derek chuckled, “I wouldn’t fight your boyfriend Casey, who do you take me for?” He looked between her eyes, his brown ones gleaming with mirth.

She swallowed hard, still wary but somewhat relieved, “Oh. Then…?”

Derek cocked his head to the side, assessing her. She instantly felt her entire body heat up, because she knew that look. His eyes scanned her face for a second, and then dropped unceremoniously down her neck, towards her chest. She felt her breath hitch, and then his eyes went back to hers, holding her gaze intensely. “I thought you were gonna get it covered up,” he said, lowly.

Casey felt the dread like a shiver down her spine, instantly understanding what he meant. “What did you tell him?” she whispered.

“Nothing,” he whispered back, eyes still boring into hers. “There was no need. He’ll probably have some questions, though.”

She couldn’t speak, her senses overwhelmed by his close proximity. She could smell his cologne, mixed with the sweat from being outside all afternoon. He had a slight sunburn coloring his nose and cheekbones, and he was so damn attractive, she hadn’t seen him in so long and she just – couldn’t speak.

“Don’t worry, Space Case. I’m sure he thought they were just friendship tattoos or something. Right?”

Casey took a deep, shaky breath, reminding herself that she was here for her boyfriend, who apparently saw Derek’s tattoo and freaked out. That was something she would deal with on her own. She couldn’t let Derek mess with her right now. She had to set him straight.

“They are just tattoos. They don’t mean anything,” she managed to say, her voice wavering.

Derek’s smirk widened, and he didn’t even flinch at her insensitivity, because he knew her, and he didn’t believe a word she said. “Now Casey, are you trying to hurt me?”

Casey stayed silent, eyes unable to leave his. She couldn’t trust herself to speak this time, remembering that time in the kitchen before she left, when she had said the same thing to him. He had hurt her, that time, even if he hadn’t meant to.

Derek finally, finally, released her eyes and stepped away from her. “Well, I’ll be on my way. See you around, Spacey.”

Casey stood there, facing the kitchen, unable to move yet. She heard his steps as they neared the front door, and she spoke up, without turning around to look at him.

“So then you… you didn’t cover it up,” she left the ‘either’ part out of the sentence. She was pretty sure they both could still hear it, though.

He was silent for a couple of seconds, and she smiled at being able to catch him off guard, at least once.

“No, Case.”

And then he was out the door.

 

---

 

February, 2016

Casey bumped into Derek one Saturday, on her way back home from a walk around the park. His hair was ruffled by the wind and his cheeks were red from the cold, and as always, her heart started pounding uncomfortably inside her chest.

“Hey,” he said, awkwardly, his hand going to the back of his neck.

She crossed her arms over her chest, looking up at him critically. “Hi.”

Casey was still mad at him for how shitty he’d been acting lately. Ever since she had come back from England he’d kept his distance, she’d only seen him a handful of times in nine months, and every time they were in the same space, he was an absolute jerk to her. He was like high school Derek times ten, meaner and more annoying. She knew, deep down, that it had something to do with her and Zach. She knew that she and Derek could never have a normal, amicable relationship again, but she expected him to at least act civil. She was only grateful he wasn’t treating Zach like crap too.

But the thing that had officially angered Casey monumentally had been the stunt he’d pulled in his car, back in London, when he had basically tortured her with their song.

They had all been visiting for her mother’s birthday, and Casey and Zachary had gone to the mall to buy an extra, last minute present because she thought the one they had gotten wasn’t good enough. Derek and Marti had come to pick them up and take them back to the house, and ‘The Reason’ had come on the radio. Derek had let it play, with Marti and Zach present, just to fuck with her. And what was that even about? What did he want to prove? He had broken up with her, he was the one who didn’t want her anymore, so why was he acting like she was the one who had broken his heart? She’d had to move on too, and she had, sort of. She was remaking her life, and as he had once said to her, he didn’t get to act all pissy about it.

Even Marti had been treating her coldly, and Casey wondered if Derek had told her something about their relationship. In which case, it would of course be a lie, because for once, Casey hadn’t done anything wrong! Then again, that kid always knew too much for her own good, so maybe Derek hadn’t said anything. She surely wasn’t going to confront her about it. Her only comfort was that when they had finally gotten to the house after the car ride from hell, her littlest sister had come behind her and wrapped her arms tightly around Casey, making her melt on the spot. No words were exchanged, because much like her oldest brother, Marti had somehow grown up to be emotionally constipated, but Casey felt the apology all the same.

Back in the present, Derek cleared his throat. “What are you doing out?”

Walking, Derek,” she said. “Some people like going for walks in the mornings, which leads me to wonder what you’re doing out before twelve.”

He rolled his eyes at her. “I had work. How’s Zach?”

It seemed like he’d meant for it to be an innocent question, but Casey immediately tensed up, and he cringed.

“He’s in England, visiting his parents.”

“Oh,” Derek coughed, “Cool.”

Casey waited another moment, and when he didn’t add anything further, she started backing away from him. “Well, as nice as this wasn’t, I have to go –“

Derek grabbed her arm, making her stop in her tracks. “Look, Case.” She looked pointedly at his hand on her arm and he let go. “I’m… I’m sorry. For how I’ve been treating you, you know, lately.”

She wanted to say that she didn’t care and leave him there, regretting his actions, but she could never pretend with him. Her shoulders sagged. “Why have you been acting like that?” she asked, accusingly. “I thought we were good.”

He sighed, relieved that she was being receptive. “We are. I’m sorry.”

“You can’t treat me like that,” Casey added for good measure, when in reality, her voice was already ten times softer.

“I know,” he said, sincere.

“Okay,” she agreed, uncrossing her arms. A younger Casey would have demanded an explanation, but this Casey knew there were things about them, complicated things, that were better left in the past, like water under a bridge.

Derek pointed to a coffee shop across the street from where they were standing. “How about I buy you coffee, as a peace offering? That sound good?”

Casey felt a smile tug at the corners of her lips, “Okay.”

Hanging out with Derek again after so long was… refreshing. It felt like coming home, in a way that coming back to Canada hadn’t really done for Casey up until now. They talked over a late breakfast, and caught up. She ached to ask him about Claire and what had happened there, since every time she’d spoken to her mother while in England, Nora had talked about how the pair seemed to be growing ever so closer, but she didn’t think it was her place to ask.

It kind of hurt, that they couldn’t regain that relationship where they used to tell each other everything. There had been a time in which Casey was the person who knew Derek best in the entire world, and vice versa. They hadn’t only been lovers, they were best friends. It hurt, but they always knew what the risk was when they started their relationship. They were exes now, and as much as it sucked, that closeness would never return.

She had missed him so much, not just seeing him, but being around him. They still had great chemistry (that would never go away, obviously), they could talk for hours on end and never get tired. Casey knew that despite the way she felt about him, and all the bitterness that now inevitably fell upon them, Derek would always be her favorite person in the entire world.

Casey wasn’t surprised to find that every time they would unintentionally brush against each other, familiar sparks would ignite her skin, leaving it tingly all over. As always, his smile was still intoxicating, and his voice still lulled her whenever he spoke, either telling a story from work or just exchanging small talk. She could listen to him reciting the freaking phone book and still be enthralled. God, if there was any doubt before that she still loved him after all this time, there wasn’t now.

Afterwards, he accompanied her home, chatting animatedly all the way. Just as they reached her apartment building, Derek cracked a joke about Edwin and his latest romantic failure, and Casey laughed so hard she doubled over, tears of mirth pressing against the corners of her eyes. When she straightened up, she found him smiling happily back at her.

It was out of her mouth before she could stop it. “Do you want to…?” She trailed off, her thumb pointing backwards towards the entrance of her building.

Derek raised his eyebrows.

Casey’s eyes widened. “I mean…” Oh fuck, what did she mean? It certainly sounded like she was propositioning something more than what she strictly wanted, which was just to keep hanging out with him. She’d missed him so much, she didn’t want to say goodbye just yet, but she couldn’t come up with an excuse for inviting him into her apartment fast enough. It wasn’t like she could invite him in for coffee because they’d literally just had coffee, for crying out loud! “Uh, I mean, do you want to…?”

“Yeah?” Derek prompted, biting his lip, clearly trying not to smile. Casey’s cheeks warmed, she always secretly found it insanely attractive when he teased her, and she was getting really inappropriate thoughts as his eyes kept boring into hers.

The spell was broken when a voice called, “Casey?”

Her eyes widened as Zachary came from behind Derek. “Zach! Hi, what… are you doing back so early?” She laughed awkwardly, feeling weirdly caught when she hadn’t really been doing anything wrong.

“I got an early flight back,” Zach replied, eying Derek with a weird expression on his face. “Hi, Derek.”

“Hey, Zach,” Derek said, nodding his head towards the other man.

A beat of silence, then Casey mentally kicked herself. “That’s so great!” she exclaimed suddenly, making both men, who were still staring at each other weirdly, jump.

Derek cleared his throat, “Well, I’ll be on my way then,” he said, already backing away from them.

“Yeah,” Casey breathed, feeling a familiar mixture of relief and disappointment. He was gone before she had the chance to say goodbye.

Later that night, while finishing up dinner, Casey watched Zach’s uncharacteristically quiet behavior as he picked at his food.

She cleared her throat, “So, how are your parents? And little Sophie?”

“They are fine.”

Casey sighed, “Zach, are you okay?”

She waited in silence for a few moments, and then Zach put down his fork, meeting her eyes from across the table. “What was Derek doing here today, Casey?”

“I told you, we ran into each other and went for coffee.”

Zachary nodded, staring down at his plate. He stayed quiet for a beat, and then, “Did you sleep with him?”

Casey reeled, shocked. “What?”

He met her eyes again, “Did you sleep with him?” he repeated the question, slower.

Casey stared at him, confusedly. Zach… knew about Derek. Not everything by a long shot, but he knew there was something there, ever since the whole tattoo thing. He never really brought it up, though. Casey assumed the fact that she and Derek were together in the past had been obvious to him, but apparently she was wrong. She cleared her throat, uncomfortable. “Well, I – “

Zach raised a hand to stop her, “I’m not asking if it’s ever happened, because let’s face it, it has. I’m asking if it happened today, or while I was gone.”

Casey stared at him, aghast. He thought she would actually ever do that to him? She was a faithful girlfriend, she had always been there for him, and he knew how much she despised cheating of any kind. She felt really strongly about it, so the fact that he would even suggest it…

“Are you being serious right now?” She asked, evenly.

He sighed in frustration, running his hand through his reddish-blonde locks. “Look, I know that feelings don’t just go away, but…” he trailed off and Casey just stared at him, at a loss. She didn’t know why she wasn’t defending herself more vehemently, but she couldn’t find her voice right now.

Zach reached over and covered her hand with his. She hadn’t noticed how hard she was gripping the tablecloth until his warm fingers touched hers. He looked at her with sad eyes, “I know that feelings don’t just go away,” he said again, softer. “But, Casey… The star crossed lovers’ thing may seem romantic on paper – and I know you are a romantic by nature – but it’s unrealistic.”

Silence fell upon their little kitchen, and Casey felt herself start to detach from the situation, something that often happened to her when she got overwhelmed. The sound of water drip-drip-dripping from the sink was distracting her, and she made a mental note to have it fixed. Lizzie would kill her if she knew she let water go to waste in her own house.

Zach’s other hand gently cupped her cheek and she realized she had missed some of what he had said, “… He’s your step-brother, Casey. Your parents would never be okay with it, and you share a brother, for god’s sakes!” Casey flinched at the slightly raised tone, bile rising in her throat. “He doesn’t even treat you right, love. He’s awful to you. You could never have something real with him, and it’s time for you to face that.”

The sound of the water dripping was getting muffled under the noise of rushing blood in her ears, and she gripped the tablecloth tighter. Zach run his thumb over her hand, “But this, us. Casey, we can have something real. I love you, more than anything and anyone in this world. You should focus on what we have, because we are something real.”

She felt a tear run down her cheek and he thumbed it away. She couldn’t quiet place the emotion that had provoked its escape. “Don’t worry honey, I forgive you,” Zach said, “Just tell me that you understand it, that you can see my point.” He looked at her hopefully.

Casey removed her hand from under Zach’s, “I think you should sleep on the couch tonight.”

 

---

 

July, 2016

Derek’s official decent into insanity started with the sound of his doorbell ringing. He opened his apartment door to find none other than Casey’s boyfriend standing there. And then his whole life went to hell.

He knew that Zach didn’t really like him. The other man was putting on an act just as much as he himself was, acting civil for Casey’s benefit. And they had never really been alone before, especially not at Derek’s apartment, so he knew the guy was up to something almost immediately.

It felt like slow motion, Zach pulling out a black velvet box from his jeans pocket, and opening it to show him a sparkly ring. “I don’t want to be rude, Zach, but this all seems so sudden, I barely even know you,” Derek had said in a mechanical voice, while he felt his entire world come crashing down around him.

Zach laughed loudly at his joke, “It’s just that you know Casey so well, I just wanted your opinion on the ring before I gave it to her.”

He went through the motions. He said the ring was perfect for her – it wasn’t, it was too big and too flashy, and Casey would pretend she loved it and wear it every day, but feel forever disappointed – and counted down the minutes until Zach decided he was done fucking with him (because he was, he was fucking with Derek and they both knew it), and right after the man left, Derek proceeded to get black out drunk and smash his TV with a baseball bat.

He sat on his bed, his nightstand’s drawer open and the fucking ring he had bought last year still there, because of course he hadn’t sold it or got rid of it like any other fucking normal and respectable person would have. He’d kept it, and sometimes he would open the drawer and look at it like the masochist he was and wonder, what if. If his teenage self could see him now, he would fucking hurl at the sight.

Derek got pretty tempted to toss the ring in the garbage that night, but something ultimately stopped him from doing it. It still reminded him so much of Casey. That ring was just hers in all its diamond and fucking sapphire glory. Hell, he should have given it to Zach – he knew for sure that Casey would love it.

Yeah, nah. He still wasn’t that much of a pussy.

The next few weeks were absolute shit. He was prepared to see Casey in London for the family dinner Zach was going to propose to her, on the 31th of July. But what he wasn’t ready for was for Sam and Emily to claim that they were going to be in Toronto a week before the event, and of course they wanted to hang out with both him and Casey because “Come on, you guys! We haven’t been all in the same city since Cancun!”

So they went to a stupid karaoke night at bar, and he treated Casey like crap the entire night. It had been too long since he was such an ass, but he was fucking losing it. One week. One week and she would be engaged to someone else.

He tried to ignore the hurt look on her face, he just needed to get all this anger out of him, and there was no other way he could cope right now. He’d given up on her and he’d lost her, and she kept slipping further away from him every moment, so why not speed up the process?

He should have known she would take revenge. On such a damn golden opportunity too, getting on stage and singing their fucking song to him with the sweetest smile on her face, not having any idea of how much damage she was actually doing.

Derek ended up storming out of the bar, getting into a fight with Sam and all but confessing his fucking feelings for the first time to his best friend, because he had stopped bulshitting Sam a long time ago, and he couldn’t live with this any longer.

He wasn’t sure he even cared anymore, he wasn’t going to fight for Casey or anything. She didn’t want him. She hadn’t wanted him then, and she didn’t want him now. So he was just going to survive that family dinner and then spend the next year figuring out a way to skip out on their wedding.

Who knew? Maybe he could run away to England this time.

So now he was here, in London, on the eve of the proposal, at his father’s stupid barbeque, along with the entire neighborhood, apparently. When had George and Nora gotten to be friends with all these people, anyway?

He was on edge ever since Zachary had shown up at his door and ruined his fucking life, but he knew he only had himself to blame for this. He tried to shake those thoughts away immediately. He didn’t fucking need a guilt trip right now, what he needed was a goddamn beer.

As if reading his mind, the man of the hour appeared beside him, carrying two beer bottles. He offered one to Derek, and he looked at it for a second too long before finally taking it. He could feel Casey’s hot gaze on them, but he refused to look up at her. Instead, he distracted himself with Edwin, who was walking away from the grill carrying to burgers and a beer in his hands at the same time, a true Venturi talent, balancing food and drinks.

“So, how have you been?” Zach asked, casually taking a sip from his drink.

Derek resisted the urge to roll his eyes, but willed himself to remain calm. “Good. A lot going on at work, but mostly fine.”

“Good,” Zach said, nodding appreciatively. “How long has it been since you’ve been in London, anyway?”

This is exactly what Zachary did. He pretended to be nice, and that he wanted to have a normal conversation with him, when really, he was just prodding and looking for a way to break him. Derek never really knew what the guy was looking for, but he knew it was always, always about Casey. Right now, he was obviously putting emphasis on the fact that Derek didn’t come to London much anymore, and that it was primarily to not run into him and Casey. Everyone knew that, but no one talked about it, because they all knew better. Except for this dick, that always looked for a way to make him snap.

“I don’t know, honestly,” Derek said, clenching his jaw, “Maybe January.”

“That’s a really long time.”

“Like I said,” Derek remarked, with a pointed tone, “I’ve been busy.”

“Hmm,” Zach hummed, “Can I ask you something?”

Derek took a deliberate moment to answer, taking a pointed gulp of beer as if giving the other man a silent warning. “Shoot.”

The warning wasn’t clear enough, apparently.

“Why Casey?” Zach asked.

“Pardon?” Derek’s hand tightened around the bottle he was holding, and he absently wondered if it could break.

Zach looked him straight in the eyes. “It seems to me that you could have any woman you wanted. So, why Casey?”

Derek willed himself to take a deep breath. He had to remember where he was – family backyard, the whole neighborhood there, his family there, Casey is here. He couldn’t snap, not when he had managed to be patient for so long. He’d dodged this asshole’s attempts to rile him up before, he could do it again just fine.

“Look, Zach. I don’t owe you any sort of explanation about anything,” Derek said, speaking slowly and very clearly so the other man could get it through his thick skull, “I think things are pretty clear between us, so why don’t you just back off.” Before I knock your fucking teeth out.

Zach stared at him for a couple of seconds, calm. He was always so weirdly calm around other people, and a complete mess of a puppy around Casey. Derek didn’t know if it was an act to get on her good graces, or if he truly loved Casey as much as he claimed. He hoped he did.

“See, that’s the thing, Derek. I don’t think you’re quite clear on how things are.”

And it was that fucking condescending way in which this dick was talking down to him that finally made Derek snap. He suddenly forgot about where he was completely, tired of being civil. “Really? And how are things?”

Zach took a step closer to him, lowering his voice. “I want you to listen very carefully.”

“Oh, I’m all ears,” Derek drawled sarcastically, now itching for this.

“I hope you enjoyed all those moments you had with her,” Zachary said, all charm gone. “Because time’s up. I want you to get away from her. All you’re good for is confusing her and causing her pain. I know you may feel some sort of entitlement to her because you were her first everything.” He lowered his voice again, enunciating very clearly. “But keep this in mind, Derek – after tomorrow, I’ll be the only one, forever.”

It was as if his fist had a mind of its own. It shot out before Derek could think it through, and landed satisfyingly and painfully on Zachary’s nose. He had enough sense to move back before Zach’s own fist connected with his face, landing on his shoulder instead, and then he dropped the beer in his hand and prepared to punch him again because that look on his face was only adding fuel to his anger.

Derek had never gotten into a physical fight outside of a hockey rink before – wrestling with Sam didn’t really count – he just never really resorted to violence. He had always been a smart mouthed guy, better at outwitting than punching. But now he was moving forward to grab the front of Zach’s shirt – only for another hand to grab the back of his own shirt, pulling him away from Casey’s boyfriend roughly.

“What the hell are you doing!?” his father’s voice hissed loudly next to his ear. Derek struggled against him, itching to punch Zach again. The man in question was inspecting the blood in his hands with a slight frown on his face, and it gave Derek an enormous sense of satisfaction that he had made him bleed.

The good feeling was short lived though, because Casey was suddenly standing in front of him, red faced. “What in the fuck, do you think you’re doing!?” And yep, Casey swearing – always a bad sign, but Derek was so fucking angry himself he was beyond caring anymore.

As Zachary floundered for excuses for his bad behavior, Derek took the opportunity to remind Casey that she was not his mother. She was not his fucking anything. He suddenly realized how ridiculous it was to keep standing there, in the eyes of his whole family and neighborhood, being held back by his father and having Casey lecture him as if he was a child. He didn’t need any of this shit.

Derek shook his father’s grip off and snatched his car keys from a table. “I’m out of here.”

Casey turned her full wrath towards him, her hair almost standing up. “Where do you think you’re going!?” she shouted, “I’m not done with you!!!”

Derek looked her straight in the eye, hoping to god he was conveying how much he meant this, “Oh, but I am, I’m done.”

If it was possible, Casey turned even redder. “Excuse me?”

Derek just shook his head and stalked away from the scene, towards the backdoor of the house. People moved out of his way, and he could hear Casey calling his name, but he ignored her, dead set on getting the fuck out of there.

He wrenched the door open and got inside the house, passing through the kitchen in mere seconds and storming through the living room towards the front door. Casey’s voice kept calling his name, but he kept on walking. He was not even going to go grab his stuff from his room, because fuck this. He needed to get out.

He heard the back door slam closed just as he was opening the front door, “Derek!” Casey screamed after him. He got out of the house.

“DE-REK!” He stopped in his tracks at the front steps and closed his eyes, waiting for her to catch up to him. He wasn’t going to stop, but the pure anguish of her scream was impossible to ignore. He could never turn away from her pain.

He heard Casey come out of the house after him and close the door behind her. He turned around. Her face was still red and her eyes were filled to the brim with unshed tears, shining brightly in the dim light of the porch.

“What do you want from me, Casey?” he asked, throwing his arms out in frustration.

“Anything but this,” she said, voice strained.

“I don’t know what else I can do,” he said truthfully, with a shake of his head.

“I thought we were good?” she asked, tears falling from her eyes, “I don’t understand what’s going on!”

“Well, we’re not,” he snapped, “I’m sorry, we’re not good. I can’t be near you or him anymore.”

Casey made a pained noise, “Did Zach say something to you? I’ll talk to him –“

“I don’t want you to say anything to him,” Derek cut her off, “I don’t want anything from you.”

She was full on crying now, and Derek fucking hated himself so much. “Do you hate me?” she asked, “Is this how we end? With you hating me?”

His heart clenched, it wasn’t her that he hated. “We ended three years ago, Casey.”

“Because you left me!” she shouted, making him reel back, “You left me, Derek. And you moved on first!”

“You think I don’t know that?” he shouted back, because he was well aware of the fact that all of this was his fucking fault, he didn’t need to be reminded. He didn’t need to know how much she blamed him, because he already blamed himself enough.

“Then why are you punishing me?”

Derek run a hand through his hair, breathing in raggedly, “How am I punishing you? You have a boyfriend, a great job and a career in the making,” he said, calmer. “Your life is pretty great, Casey. And none of those things involve me, so how am I changing anything?”

Casey nodded, still crying. “Right,” she snapped, but it sounded like she wasn’t very convinced of what she was agreeing to.

“And I don’t, I can’t hate you. I’ve tried, I just can’t. It’s quite the opposite, and that’s the problem. I can’t be fucking near you anymore.” He now understood why she had been so adamant on not seeing him when he had broken up with her. He didn’t think he could ever be happy if he had to see her all the time, happily married to someone else. He couldn’t do this anymore.

“What do you mean?” she whispered.

Derek was pretty sure she knew what he meant, but this was Casey. She needed everything spelled out to her in order to believe it. She needed to be sure of absolutely everything, she’d never been able to leave things well enough alone. It was one of the things that drove him absolutely crazy about her, both in a bad and a good way.

Later, he would probably feel a little guilty about compromising Casey’s morals, but if after tomorrow Zach was truly going to be ‘the only one, forever’, Derek needed at least a last goodbye.

He took a deliberate step towards her, his eyes holding hers the whole time. She stiffened slightly, eyes growing a little wide with understanding of what he was about to do. He gave her all the time to back away, push him off of her, or slap him. But she stayed in place, watching his movements.

Derek cupped her face and crashed his lips to hers, hard. Casey kissed him back immediately, fiercely matching his every move, and he couldn’t recall a time when they had ever been out of sync. It had been so long since he’d felt this, the reckless desperation they put into the kiss. It reminded him of the first time they had kissed, but this was the last time, and Derek was determined to make it count.

He tried to tell her everything he couldn’t through that kiss, he gripped her hair and squeezed her hip and he was telling her he loved her, he was screaming it through his touch and he hoped she got it, that she understood. That it didn’t matter if they weren’t together, if she chose another man and another life, she was always going to be it for him.

And Derek could feel it from her too. He could feel her love through the kiss, it was all in the way she held him, how she kissed him like she was starving, like he was her air. She loved him, and that made it all suck even more. She loved him and yet, she still wouldn’t choose him.

She abruptly pushed him away from her, hands fisted on the front of his shirt, and she started crying harder than before, burying her face in his shirt and breaking his fucking heart for the millionth time.

He focused his gaze somewhere beyond the top of her head, trying not to breathe lest he caught the scent of her shampoo. “One for the road,” he whispered, and left her there, on the front porch of the place they’d once called home.

He got into his car and drove.

 

---

 

The last time Casey had kissed Derek, three years ago, she hadn’t known it was the last time. It was a goodbye kiss, funnily enough, a simple peck on the lips before she had gone to work that day. Sometimes, she would close her eyes just so that she could remember what his lips had felt like. If she had known it would be the last one, she would have made it last longer.

Tonight she had gotten a second chance at that last kiss. But even knowing it was the last time didn’t make it easier. It somehow made it worse.

After Derek had gotten in his car, she had wandered aimlessly through the streets of London. It was a hot night, the last two days of July still carrying a raging summer with them. She cried her eyes out, rejecting everyone’s calls – about a dozen from Zachary, her mother, and Lizzie, some from George and one from Edwin and Marti each.

She just didn’t know why she couldn’t escape this feeling. She was truly losing hope of ever being fully happy again, and the thought was so depressing that she just didn’t want to go home. She didn’t want to come back and face her family after the shame of the scene they had mounted back at the house, in front of the whole neighborhood, oh my god. She just hoped she could stay out long enough for everyone to be asleep by the time she came back.

And god, she couldn’t face Zachary – she had just freaking cheated on him, and yet she still couldn’t find it in her battered mess of a heart to feel sorry about it. She hated people like her, she was disgusting, a terrible human being. And yet the only thing she felt bad about was how things were left with Derek.

‘Is this how we end?’ she had asked him. Apparently yes, it was. A fucking tragic ending, like the ones that left her crying in her room in the dead hours of the night when she was a teenager, finishing a book. When had she become a star crossed lover? She’d always believed in destiny. Was it written for her to fall irrevocably in love with her step-brother, and suffer about it forever?

Was she supposed to be one of those sad people, that got married and had children, and then cried when they were alone, mourning a missed opportunity over a bottle of wine on a Saturday night?

The future was getting darker by the second, just like the streets around her. People were starting to disappear inside their houses, and her feet were hurting more than her heart, so she started dragging herself back home, back to face reality. Did it truly matter the face she bore while doing so?

The lights were all off in the McDonald-Venturi household when she slipped through the front door, except for the kitchen light, probably somebody grabbing a glass of water. She hurried quietly up the stairs; she didn’t need more confrontation than the one that was surely already waiting for her in her old bedroom. Casey ignored the painful jab she felt as she held her breath while walking past Derek’s empty room.

She found Zach sitting on her bed, waiting for her, gripping his cell phone.

“Casey,” he said when he saw her, getting to his feet.

Casey closed her bedroom door behind her, leaning back against it. Zachary stopped in his tracks in front of her, taking in her surely puffy and red face. He stayed silent for a moment, before she whispered, “What did you say to him?”

Zach grabbed hold of her upper arms, “Casey, where were you? I’ve been worried sick – “

“Out,” Casey snapped. He let go of her arms and took a step back. “What did you say to him?” she asked again, more forcefully.

His head sagged, his hands coming to rest on his hips as he stared at the floor. “I just told him to leave you alone. Reminded him that all he ever did was hurt you, and that he should just stay away from us.”

What? Are you insane?” Casey hissed.

Zach looked at her with pleading eyes, “I know, it was stupid –“

“You think?”

“I’m sorry, Casey,” Zach said, hurriedly, “I don’t know why I said that to him, you know how he puts me on edge – “

Casey cut him off, furiously. “I don’t care. You don’t say shit to Derek, you hear me? Never again. Leave him alone.”

Zach took a step towards her, his voice dropping, looking every bit as ashamed as he claimed to be. “I’m sorry, I promise it will never happen again.”

Casey sighed, tiredness getting the best of her. Her head was pounding from all the crying and she just wanted to go to sleep.

“Fine, let’s go to bed. I’m exhausted.”

He nodded, and she quietly opened the bedroom door again, slipping out of the room to use the bathroom. She heard a door close upstairs.

Later, Casey lay awake, Zachary’s soft snoring engulfing her guilt spiral. She couldn’t do this anymore. If there were any doubts before, what had happened tonight just confirmed that they would never fully work. He had left his whole life back in England to be with her, he didn’t deserve to settle for someone that couldn’t fully love him back. She didn’t love him enough to be happy with him, but she did love him enough to want better for him.

And she… she was probably going to be alone until she found someone that could truly make her feel an ounce of what Derek did.

Or maybe she would just be alone.

 

---

 

August, 2016

Casey woke up on the early morning of the first day of August to the insistent noise of Emily’s doorbell. Immediately, she realized that her head was swimming, the alcohol she’d drank last night taking revenge on her poor skull. She kept her eyes closed, trying to block out the memories from the catastrophe that was last night’s family dinner, but she couldn’t keep the thoughts away.

Zachary had proposed.

While she was preparing herself to break up with him, he was preparing himself to propose to her.

In front of her whole family. And George’s video camera.

Casey had to reject a proposal in front of her whole entire family.

And god, Zach’s reaction had been terrible. The things he had said to her, in front of her parents and little siblings – calling her a cheater, accusing her of being in love with Derek.

Accusing her of sleeping with Derek, her step-brother, in front of her whole family.

She couldn’t help but think about how it all regressed from three years ago, when she had been ready to profess her love for Derek in front of her entire family if that was what it took to get him back. God, how fucked up things were now.

So, the Zachary and Casey arc was officially over. She had hoped she could have at least saved something, and have an amicable relationship with him, but that was completely out of the window now. Everything was destroyed. Casey wondered if Zach had gone back to Toronto after Edwin – freaking Edwin, had thrown him out of their house.

Casey, on her part, had ran out through the backdoor the second all six pair of eyes had turned to her. She ran and she didn’t stop until she reached Emily’s house – thank god she had moved back to London two years ago.

She had cried, and cried, and gotten stupidly drunk on tequila (she hated tequila) and Emily was finally able to get all the truth out of her. Casey had finally admitted that she loved Derek to another soul for the first time in seven years. It had been unavoidable, and Emily already knew anyway. Everyone knew, they had to know. They couldn’t be so blind.

Casey had been so blind for so long, it was time to finally stop running and face her destiny. She and Derek were it. And if she had to kick down his door to get him to listen to her, she would.

She was finally falling back into sleep when the door to Emily’s guest bedroom was thrown open violently.

“CASEY! Wake up, wake up!”

Casey startled, “W-what?”

Emily pulled the covers off Casey’s body. “Get your ass out of bed, your Prince Charming is here!”

Casey sat up weakly, still unable to open her eyes. “Who?”

“Derek!”

Casey’s eyes snapped open, “What!? Derek’s here?” She threw her legs over the side of the bed and stood up, a sharp flash of pain coursing through her hangover-y brain. “Nnghh god,” she winced.

Emily nodded vigorously, “Yes! He’s at the front door, now go brush your teeth and hair!”

Casey panicked, “I don’t have my toothbrush here!”

Emily looked horrified, “Use your finger! No – wait, I have a new one! Use that one! Hurry!”

Casey rushed through pulling her jeans on as Emily frantically brushed her hair, making her hiss in pain whenever she pulled through a knotted strand, and all of it was made worse by her raging hangover. She then rushed to the bathroom, wincing at the bright lights and how terrible she looked while she brushed her teeth and washed her face.

She did all of this so fast that she didn’t really have time to register that Derek was, in fact, waiting for her at Emily’s front door. She almost fell down the stairs and tripped on the carpet before reaching the door, and then she forced herself to stop. And breathe. And think.

What the hell was Derek doing here, anyway?

She opened the door.

There he was standing, with his ancient leather jacket on, and his messy hair, and a slight shadow on his chin and cheeks, dark circles under his eyes.

He was fucking beautiful. Derek Venturi, the love of her life.

“You look like crap, D,” she said, leaning against the door frame.

He smirked, “You look hangover.”

“I am.”

“Vodka?” he guessed, examining her closely. Her heart jumped.

“Tequila.” She grimaced.

Derek laughed through his nose, “Damn.”

Casey cracked a smile, heart still pounding painfully despite the light conversation. “What… are you doing here?” she asked, shuffling a little on her feet.

He looked at her for a few seconds and then sighed, “Edwin and Marti practically kicked me out of my apartment. They told me what happened. I couldn’t… stay away,” he said, tentatively.

Casey shivered in the morning air, “So, it was Marti? She convinced you to… come?” To come for me?

Derek smiled fondly, “It was Ed, actually, the one who convinced me. Which is… weird.”

“Oh.” She didn’t know what else to say.

Derek’s hand went awkwardly to the back of his neck, “Yeah, oh.”

Silence fell upon them.

“Oh, for the love of god!” Casey jumped as Emily appeared beside her, pushing her out of the house, “Just leave already! Stop wasting time on my fucking doorstep.”

The door slammed behind Casey.

Derek coughed awkwardly, “Wanna get breakfast?”

 

---

 

The coffee shop was mostly empty; they were the only ones sitting down, with few people coming in and out to grab their own breakfast. As they sat there with their bagels and coffee, another awkward silence fell between then. It was so weird, because they never let silence stand between them for too long. They always found ways to fill it, be it with arguments or teasing or with light banter, they always had some sort of back and forth going on.

In the end, it was Derek that cut to the chase, of course. Casey was taking a sip of her coffee when he flat out stated, “We really fucked everything up.”

She choked a little on her coffee, and Derek smiled slightly as she managed to cough out, “Yeah.”

He sobered up some, his face solemn. “Look Case, I’m sorry… about everything.”

“Me too,” she said, “God, we did everything so wrong.”

Derek nodded, and proceeded to take some gulps from his own cup, and Casey took that time of silence to take the courage to say what she had been keeping inside for three years.

“I understand,” she blurted. Derek’s eyebrows furrowed in questioning. Casey kept her eyes on his styrofoam cup, soldiering on through the hardest part. “I understand why you decided to break up with me.” His face shifted slightly, and she knew she had his full attention. “I even understood it back then, after some time. I wasn’t ready to fully commit, and I wasn’t going to face those fears if we kept going on like we were.”

Derek just stared at her, apparently at a loss. That didn’t happen often. She waited nervously for him to fully take in what she said, and then he said, warily. “I have… regretted that decision many times since.”

Despite her heart jumping at that admission, she shook her head. “I needed it. It… it helped me realize that what we had was more important to me than anyone else’s opinion on it. That I wanted a future with you…” She swallowed, meeting his eyes, “That I wanted you.”

He put a hand up, “Wait, what are you trying to say here?”

Casey started rambling, “I just. I guess I got there late and – you know how I’m fast and smart for some stuff but I’m kinda slow for others and then – I mean, when I was going to… tell you – well, then there was Claire.”

Derek, who had been listening to her rant with varying expressions of confusion, finally seemed to understand what she was trying to say. His face morphed into something akin to shock and he lifted his hand again, “What? You –“ He shook his head, brows furrowing, “Let me get this straight, you’re telling me… that when you finally came around to telling the family… I was with Claire?”

“I…” Casey hesitated. She could see the direction his thoughts were taking. Derek didn’t really do all the guilt and blaming himself thing, but she could clearly see in his eyes that he was just waiting for her confirmation to properly beat himself up.

“Casey,” he urged.

She sighed in defeat, “Yeah, I was going to try and get you back… and then you were with Claire.”

Derek shoved his face in his hands, and Casey heard a string of muffled, incoherent swearing coming from him on the seat across from her. She wasn’t telling him because she wanted to blame him, or make him feel guilty. She just wanted him to know the truth. She didn’t want any more misunderstandings between them. She just wanted him to know that he’d always been it for her.

“Derek,” she called softly, trying to make him snap out of it.

Derek’s hands slid up his face and got in his hair, pulling slightly at the reddish-brown strands and getting it messier than before. He finally looked up at her, his face showing pure frustration. “God, you went to England.”

“I couldn’t watch you with her,” Casey said. Derek started shaking his head again. “But, Derek, it was good for me. I grew so much, I needed it. Everything turned out the way it was supposed to, I know it.”

Derek leaned back against his seat, staring at her seriously. “How can you be so sure? The way I see it, I single handedly just wasted three years we could have been…” he trailed off, shaking his head again.

“We both made mistakes. What matters now is that…” she trailed off now, losing nerve.

“What?” he prodded.

Their eyes met. “I still love you,” she said, quietly.

Derek’s eyes softened, the corner of his mouth lifting slightly. “I know, I love you too.”

The relief hit her like an ocean wave, and she closed her eyes for a few seconds, feeling tears pressing against the corners of her eyes. “And I want to be with you,” she added. Here goes nothing. “I want to try again.”

He nodded, taking his time to answer. He looked into her eyes for a long while, looking for something she didn’t know. Then his head sagged with a relieved smile, grabbing hold of her hand that was resting on the table. “God, me too.”

 

---

 

They decided they weren’t ready to face the family yet. Not because they didn’t want them to know, but because they wanted to enjoy this for themselves, and test everything out. Derek had the brilliant idea that the best place to sort their whole situation out in was Cancun. Casey had been skeptical at how this whole theory worked, but she had excitedly bought the plane tickets on her Iphone, sitting at the passenger seat of Derek’s car as they drove to Toronto, both jacked up on caffeine and less than 4 hours of sleep.

He waited for her in the car as she packed her things in her apartment, because they knew there was a big possibility that Zach would be there when they got there. But Casey had come back to the car teary eyed, telling him that the apartment had been emptied of all things Zach.

They flew out that same day, and they spent their entire first day in Cancun locked in their hotel room, having to deal with more pressing matters than the beach right now, like getting all their sleep in, and getting reacquainted with each other’s bodies.

They spent the whole month of August lazing around at the beach, talking their relationship out, and coming to the conclusion that they weren’t going to crash and burn this time. They were older, and better at communicating, and they both knew what to expect, and they were finally, for the first time, on the same page.

They mainly ignored everyone’s calls, just sending reassuring text that they were, in fact, alive and they were, indeed, together.

On one of their last days of vacation, they decided to stay at the beach until night, the stars shining infinitely above them, the quite sound of the ocean lulling them on their little moment.

“Let’s get married,” Derek said, lying on his back in the sand. He’d been thinking about it for quite some time now. He waited for Casey’s reaction.

She hummed, “Okay. Do you wanna do it right now, or…?” she said, amusedly.

He chuckled, rolling on his stomach to get closer to her. “Hell yeah, let’s find a priest.”

“Really?” she asked, blue eyes big and sparkling.

“I mean, as tempting as it is… Are you sure you don’t want like, a real wedding?” he eyed her knowingly.

She huffed, “I’m not entirely superficial, you know?”

He reached over and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear, “I know, baby.”

Casey smiled, and scooted over closer to him, laying her head on his chest. She stayed silent for a moment before saying, “Okay, no, I definitely want a wedding.”

Derek laughed, “I knew it.” Casey huffed again. He looked up at the stars, “Plus, if we really eloped, Marti would kill us.”

“Yeah, and my mom would cry for years.”

They both laughed, hands intertwining over Derek’s chest. Casey’s index finger traced the black lines of his tattoo.

“I’m serious, though,” Derek said quietly, after a while. “I think we should get married.”

“Me too,” Casey said, matching his tone. “I want to get married.” He tightened his arm around her.

They stayed quiet for a few more moments, basking in the peacefulness of it all. Suddenly Casey sat up, looking down at him with a grin.

“What?” he asked her, amused.

Her grin widened, “Derek Venturi, will you marry me?”

Feeling the entire world expanding, the stars shining behind her and her eyes twinkling down at him, Derek sat up, kissing her soundly on the mouth for a long moment. He broke the kiss, pressing his forehead against hers.

“Yeah, sure, why not?”

 

---

 

October, 2016

There is a video, treasured within Derek and Casey Venturi’s home. Casey plays it every anniversary, if only to see the end. It’s a video of a simple wedding, small but beautiful.

“My son is getting married!” George says in the opening shot, his beaming face full of pride. Nora laughs appreciatively behind the camera.

Edwin appears by his father’s side, a walkie-talkie in hand, “I’m getting everyone in position,” he speaks into the device. He gives a short, nervous smile to the camera before turning to George and Nora seriously, “Hey, you guys should really get in your seats in the next…” He looks at his wrist watch, “Two minutes. Otherwise Emily’s going to kill me. And then, Casey is going to kill the rest of you, so get moving people!” he then scurries somewhere else.

“Someone’s a little stressed,” Nora says cheerfully.

“Well, Casey can drive the best of us crazy,” Marti says, appearing in the frame. She’s wearing a short, sparkly purple dress, her hair pin straight and shiny. Abby comes over and fixes the strap of her daughter’s dress, then smiles a little awkwardly at the camera.

George laughs, “Planning a wedding in a month will drive the best of us crazy.”

“I just don’t know how she got Derek to plan a wedding,” Abby says.

Marti scoffs, “Derek didn’t do anything. He just lazed around and only got any work done when Casey threatened his life.” The girl laughs fondly, “He looked vaguely traumatized after his fitting for the suit and pants.”

Abby and George both laugh, and Nora says, “Any messages you want to leave for posterity?”

“Congratulations, Derek and Casey!” Abby says, “I wish you a lifetime of happiness, baby, you’re going to be an amazing husband.”

“I hope to be an aunt soon,” Marti winks at the camera. George scowls at his daughter while Abby and Nora laugh, the frame shaking.

The camera then shifts towards the altar, where Derek is casually laid back against the wall, chatting with Sam, his best man, and Ralph, who’s apparently ordained to perform weddings (long story). They are all wearing very similar looking tuxes, Derek’s slightly more important looking than the other two men.

“And there’s the groom,” Nora says. All three of them look up, Sam and Ralph with easy smiles and Derek with a grimace.

“You know we paid a guy to do that, right? Like, a shit ton of money,” Derek says, pointing with his thumb towards the camera man, who’s at the makeshift snack bar beside the altar. He hasn’t started his own video yet.

“It’s your wedding day!” Nora exclaims, “You need to have this kind of raw footage, don’t you want to say something for posterity?”

Derek groans, while Sam looks entirely too amused.

“No comment,” Derek deadpans, his hand coming up to cover the camera.

“Aw come on, man,” Sam says, throwing an arm around his shoulders. The camera turns to him. “I want to say, congratulations dude! I hope you watch this while you change diapers, longing for your never-to-return-again youth as a single man.”

Nora makes a noise of disapproval and Derek snorts, pushing Sam off of him as the other man laughs.

“I’m just very happy I’ll be marrying you guys!” Ralph says, “Thanks again, Case, for letting me do it.”

Derek stifles a laugh in his fist, and looks straight at the camera for the first time, “Yeah, thanks, babe.” He puts a hand on Ralph’s shoulder. “She was so excited when I told her you officiated weddings.” Sam snorts.

“I won’t disappoint you,” Ralph says with a wink, making finger guns at the camera, “I wish you both the best, always.”

“Aw, that’s so sweet, Ralph.” Nora gushes. Ralph smiles widely, while Sam hides a laugh behind a cough and Derek rolls his eyes.

Edwin’s voice calls loudly, “Everyone sit down! It’s about to start!”

The shot shifts, while Nora moves away from the altar and goes to sit next to George and Simon on their chairs.

“Simon, do you want to say something for Derek and Casey?” Nora asks.

The kid, adorable in his little suit just gives a thumbs up to the camera, and George ruffles his hair.

Nora snorts, “Thank you, son. I’m sure they’ll love that.”

The camera is now facing the double doors at the start of the aisle. Soft music plays, and Lizzie comes in through the doors, followed closely by Emily. They are both wearing matching gigantic smiles and silky pale pink dresses. Lizzie winks at the camera as she walks by Nora and then both girls take their spots at the altar.

When the music swells, and it’s Casey’s turn to walk down the aisle, her face radiant and her arm looped around Dennis, the shot stays on her for only a few seconds – just enough to take in the simple, but beautiful white dress, the light catching something blue glittering on her ring finger. Then, it quickly switches to the altar again, and zooms in on the groom.

Derek’s face says it all.

 

The End.