Derek stared where Casey sat sideways on the couch, her knees pulled up to her chest as she chatted animatedly with Ralph and Emily. Despite the crumbly Christmas cookie in one hand and the cup of cocoa in the other, she gesticulated wildly as she spoke. He had tried—and failed—most of the evening to ignore her, to stop watching her. It was a lost cause. No matter where he went in the room, like magnets, his eyes traveled back to where Casey sat, rosy-cheeked and smiling.
"This was a good idea," Sam said, announcing his presence at Derek's side.
Since they were all back in town for their last Christmas of their college careers, Ralph had decided that they needed to have a mini-reunion at his house. College had provided them with regularly scheduled breaks that, more or less, overlapped with everyone else's. Now that they would soon be moving into the "real" world, time together would likely be fewer and further between. Not that they would necessarily lose touch with one another (though it was always a possibility). However, making time to visit when they were all headed in different directions would make it harder to find time for each other, especially all at once.
It was a good idea, Derek had to admit.
For one, he was always a supporter of a good excuse for a party. In fact, he held the belief that one did not need a reason to host a party. For two, it was nice to spend time with his friends. Maybe he was freaking out a little bit about the end of his college career and about having to become an adult, find a job, and become a "responsible adult," whatever that meant.
"You don't think so?"
Derek shook his head. "Nah, it was good. Though, I do wonder at his taste in inviting Spacey along." It was a half-hearted attempt, at best. Judging by the way his best friend eyed him, Sam was not buying the bullshit he was peddling. It didn't look like he'd even considered window shopping for it. It was probably for the best. Pretending was exhausting, and tonight Derek didn't have the energy for it. Not when she wore that dumb, oversized sweater she loved so much and sat nestled in a fuzzy blanket looking relaxed and like an ad for Monogamy and Having a Family.
"Have you told her?"
Turning away from Casey, he turned his focus onto Sam. It was easier to ignore the pangs of longing squeezing his chest when he didn't stare directly at her. Though the sensation was familiar at this point—a constant presence in his life, even when she wasn't nearby—there were some days it was near unbearable. Derek would have to look away, lest his chest burst right open in a terrifying reenactment of that scene from Alien. That certainly was no way to profess one's love. Today was one of those days. "We're planning to move in together after school."
Sam arched his brows. "Sounds like the perfect time to tell her, then." It seemed logical; Derek had even considered it.
Shaking his head, Derek sipped his apple cider—spiked, of course, but only a little. "What she hasn't told anyone else is that she's being offered another job on the other side of the country. I already have a job lined up in Belleville. I don't have one lined up in Victoria." A whole forty-three hours away. "It's not even a guarantee at this point, but I know she wants this job more."
"You don't want to make her choose."
Supposing Casey felt the same way, confessing his feelings could add some conflict to her decision making. He knew she'd weigh out every factor, even if it was a job she really wanted. He would hate it if he was a reason she stayed, not to mention the guilt he'd feel at adding more stress. It was already eating away at her that it's so far from their family.
"I could do the long-distance thing," Derek continued, "for a while, until I found something over there or something else changed. I just… want her to choose, first."
Sam nodded, sipping his own drink. "That's fair."
"Although, it doesn't feel right to start something just as she's moving off, either." Derek glanced down at his mug. "I could find a job out there, eventually. I've even been looking, just in case." The job he had lined up after school was not his dream job—but it was a job. It's temporary, a stepping stone to where he wanted to be. If another decent-paying job cropped up, Derek had no problem giving up this job to be closer to Casey. It wouldn't mean giving up his dream, like her refusing the job in Victoria would be for her.
Slowly, his eyes drifted back to Casey. When she glanced his way, she scrunched her nose and smiled when she caught him looking. Lifting her mug in his direction in a silent toast, her eyes twinkled, and the smile widened. He noted that her hands were tucked further into her sleeves, just her fingers poking out. Her drink must still be too hot. Smiling back, Derek mimicked the action, taking a small sip in tandem with her.
He could feel Sam's eyes on him, watching this exchange. He spoke slowly. "Have you considered that, maybe, she's already factoring you into her plans?"
"Nah." Considering that was too hopeful, and Derek had always been a realist.
No way would list-making, has-to-rationalize-everything Casey McDonald would be planning her future around whether Derek Venturi would still be in her life.
Interrupting their conversation, Ralph cupped his hands around his mouth to give a quick shout. "Time for presents." Meaning that their party would be wrapping up soon. In just a short time, Derek would have to climb back into the car with Casey and go back to pretending that he doesn't imagine what it would be like if they were together.
A flurry of exchanging followed Ralph's announcement as their high school peers traded gifts. He watched as Noel gave Casey a small, wrapped package that she accepted with a huge smile. She and Emily exchanged gifts, squeals, and one very tight embrace. Finally, though, Casey made her way over to him. "Merry Christmas Eve, Der," she said lightly.
"Merry Derekus," he corrected.
She hit him on the arm, light and ineffectual. Then, face quite pink, she shoved a tiny gift back into his hands. "You have to open it up high," she instructed, gesturing above their heads, "to get the full effect."
Curious, Derek set his now-empty mug aside. Carefully, he pulled out the bits of tissue paper, tossing them aside. Holding the gift bag up high, he reached inside, expression shifting from amused to confused when his hand met leaves and branches. It took a moment to realize the plant he'd pulled from the bag was mistletoe.
When he dropped his gaze down to Casey—still holding the mistletoe over their heads—her face had turned a deeper shade of red. "I think you're supposed to kiss me now," she said, voice wavering. Her eyes, however, stayed locked on his.
"Those are the rules," he managed to get out. He'd worry about being embarrassed at his voice cracking later.
Casey bit her lower lip, an action that would drive lesser men to his knees (Derek barely managed to stay upright as it was). "Only if you want."
He snorted. Lowering his arms, he dropped both the mistletoe and the gift bag to the floor. Ignoring Casey's indignant protest at his treatment of her gift, Derek gathered her in his arms, pressing his lips to hers in a heated kiss.
In his short time on this earth, Derek has kissed a lot of girls. Some of those kisses had been terrible. Others had been fantastic. However, nothing compared to kissing Casey. He'd always known they had chemistry—anyone with a pulse could tell that they have chemistry—but kissing her ignited the sparks between them into a forest fire.
Kissing Casey felt like being able to breathe for the first time after a long stint underwater.
It was like taking a shower after a grueling workout.
It was the feeling of relief as you fall into bed after a rough day.
That first kiss was the feeling of receiving his acceptance letter to Queen's, in not getting pummeled by Ryan, and in realizing Casey was okay after being taken to the hospital with appendicitis, all rolled into one happy, chest-bursting moment.
Maybe he'd have the Alien experience tonight after all.
Forgetting that they were in the middle of a party and people were probably watching, forgetting that he has a rule against PDA, and ignoring that there may be repercussions from this kiss, Derek focused only on the two of them, deepening the kiss and sighing in relief against her lips. Casey melted into him, hands reaching to tangle in his hair against the back of his head.
When they finally separated, the bubble of ignorance faded away with the loud cheering that greeted them. He didn't care.
"About time," someone nearby muttered. It didn't really matter who.
Derek ignored them all, arms still encircled around Casey. "As if I could ever not want to kiss you."
She shrugged, sliding her hands from the back of his head to cup his cheeks. "You can never be too sure. Though, now I question my decision, seeing as you threw my gift to the ground."
"I had more important things to worry about." Derek wasn't too concerned, not with the way she was beaming up at him.
"What about the job in Victoria?" Surely, they'd figure it out, but now he had to ask.
She blinked, leaning back so she could look at him properly. "What about it?"
"Well, I'm not sure what this kiss meant to you—"
For a moment, Derek's heart stopped, his stomach bottoming out like he was going down the first decline on a roller coaster. "Oh."
"Sorry if that's too much, but…" She trailed off, shrugging and ducking her head.
He was quick to kiss her forehead, shaking his head. Nudging his forehead with hers to get her to look at him, he sought eye contact. "No, not too much at all. It was for me, too. Everything, I mean."
They stood in silence for a moment, letting that realization sink in before Casey cleared her throat. "I applied to some jobs for you in Victoria," she said finally. She started picking up speed as she continued, and Derek recognized the frantic worry in it. "They offered me the job, so I've been looking. I found a couple of things that you might like that will pay a little more than the job you were looking at. It's still not your dream job, but I think they're both better opportunities for us both and our future. If you don't like it, though, then we can do the long-distance thing or—"
She stopped talking only when he'd pulled her in for another kiss. It was much shorter but sweeter. Chaste. "Did they offer it to me, the job you applied for?"
"Just this morning."
"Then I'll take it."
She squinted at him. "You don't even know what the job is."
Derek shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I trust you, and the job I'd be leaving behind isn't even my dream job." It was all worth it. With some reluctance, Derek let go of Casey so he could bend and pick up his bag and mistletoe. "I hope that this isn't my only gift, though."
That earned him another light swat on the arm and a "Derek."
He grinned. Merry Christmas, indeed.