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Casey McDonald hated surprises. She hated them so much that she planned her own surprise birthday party at sixteen. 

So, knowing that, what was he doing here, unannounced, uninvited?

Well, technically he was invited, but there’s no way she’d think that he’d come this far to see her. She obviously didn’t know him at all.

He hadn’t had the best seats, but he stayed the whole time. He even bought a sad looking bouquet of flowers during intermission. He wasn’t so good at the feelings thing, the admitting to feelings thing, or the followthrough with feelings thing. So, after the curtain fell and Derek snuck his way in behind the stage, he backed down on the flowers and left them in the hands of the first actress he bumped into.

He also used it as an excuse to ask where he could find Casey.

He heard her before he saw her. Her laugh filled the dark, cramped corridor and his heart lurched and his stomach twisted. Thank god this wasn’t a hockey game or he would have upchucked into the nearest corner.

The last two months had been the longest of his entire life, proceeded by the longest year of his life. He didn’t think he’d ever be able to miss someone so much; it was almost annoying.

“Hey, Casey!” Her name slipped from his lips the moment he spotted her. She was dressed in the show’s last costume which was barely more than a thin satin slip, her hair curled and a little wild around her face.

A face that brightened with a huge smile when she saw him. “Derek!” He had been expecting something worse, so he was a little shocked as she gracefully bounded toward him and hugged him.

She was extremely warm from the performance, her body heat sinking through his clothes and into his skin, stirring up all kinds of shit he wasn’t sure he wanted to deal with now that he was here. He wasn’t a coward, but this whole thing was deep and out of his usual wheelhouse. But it was driving him absolutely crazy , which is why he was here.

He didn’t even get to hug her back, as shocked as he was, standing there like a stiff board.

She took a step back, still beaming. “What are you doing here?”

Right. Words were a thing. “Uh...first night’s the most important night, right?” he managed. He shoved his hands into his pockets. Wished he’d kept the flowers.

Casey’s smile fell to something warmer and less light-bulby. “ Der-ek ,” she said in her usual emphasized way, but it was softer and kinder than usual. “You didn’t have to come.”

He sucked in a breath. “I did. I know the rest of the family couldn’t make it.”

Neither of them could blame George and Nora for not wanting to travel with a one year old from London to New York City. It would probably be hell.

“Okay.” Casey crossed her arms, which were glistening with sweat and body glitter. She shook her hair back and tilted her chin up. “What did you think?”

“It wasn’t bad. I only fell asleep for half of it,” he joked. In actuality, he’d watched the whole production, his eyes glued to her whenever she was on stage. Seeing how happy and good she looked had lessened his wounded heart.

“Ha ha,” she replied with an eyeroll.

Just then, an unfortunately familiar, guy walked up. It was Jesse, the guy from the Blue Heron Lodge.

“Oh, Jesse. You remember my…” Casey faltered for a moment.

“Derek,” Derek offered. He tried not to look too jealous of the way Jesse’s arm slid around Casey’s waist.

“Yes, of course.” Jesse offered his hand. Derek took it. “Good of you to come to the show.”

“Yeah.” Derek flexed his hand and shoved it back into his jacket pocket. “Anyway, Case, can I finish talking to you?”

He was pretty sure he was the reason her energy started to dim, but there was nothing he could do now.

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll be right back.” She patted Jesse’s chest and dragged Derek behind her by the wrist. She pulled him back the way he’d come, tugging him into an alcove that was filled with costumes and makeup. People kept walking by.

It wasn’t as private as he’d hoped, but it would have to do.

“I flew in for just the weekend. I’ve gotta get back soon.”

“Oh. You came just to see me?” Casey brushed her fingertips against the edge of the lace along the bottom of her costume.

Derek took a deep breath. “No,” he said after a beat. “I thought the whole fam would be here. And it’s a good excuse to see New York City.”

Fucking hell, what was wrong with him? 

He really wished he hadn’t given those flowers away. 

Casey frowned a little. “Right. Are you going to come to the show tomorrow?”

“I may have other things planned.” Idiot . He did not. He was planning on sitting through the whole performance again even though musicals weren’t really wasn’t his thing. No matter how fun his accidental musical lead had been in high school.

“Okay.” Her frown deepened and the warmth radiating off of her just minutes ago was growing cold. “Is that all you wanted to say to me?”

No. Not even close. But as yet another person brushed passed them, he couldn’t stand it. “Can’t you just come see me when you’re done with all your theater shit?”

“My theater shit ? Oh thanks, I feel so supported.” Casey sighed and pressed her thumb between her eyebrows. “Where are you staying?”

“Your dad’s.”

Casey froze. “Wait, are you serious?”

“No."

She relaxed. “Okay good, because that...would have been weird.”

“Very.”

“Okay, but seriously, Derek, where are you staying?”

“Oh right.” He fished around for the business card he’d snagged out of the hotel lobby. “Here.”

Casey took the card as if expecting it to bite. His room number was hastily written on the back. “I’ll see if I can make it,” she said, closing her hand around the card. “Are you sure you can’t just tell me what you need to tell me right here?”

Derek shook his head. “No. I can’t.”

With a throaty sigh, Casey nodded. “Fine. I’ll try to see you later.” And then she was gone, walking down the corridor back to the group of actors who had gathered.

Derek wrestled with himself, wondering how she could just act like... that or think that whatever he had to say could be said in public like this? She couldn’t be serious, right? She absolutely, positively, definitely had become a great actress so she could hide things better. It was the only explanation.

Two months of separation was near torment for him and while she appeared perfectly fine and happy, she couldn’t be. He refused to believe that he meant that little to her.

Shoulders hunched, a dark metaphorical raincloud over his head, Derek wound his way back to the public side of the theater and out into the surprisingly crisp night. He paused there just outside, face tilted up toward the bright lights. Maybe if he stood there long enough, he could reverse time and do over whatever the fuck had just happened.

But that’s not how life worked.

 

oOo

 

The night after they saved the Blue Heron Lodge, the Venturi-McDonald gang was all crowded around for one final dinner together before they headed back to London. Everyone was in high spirits. The entire Lodge felt rejuvenated.

“I have some big news!” Casey blurted out half way through the meal.

“Oh boy, can we take more big news right now?” Nora said with a strained chuckle.

“Come on, Nora, I’m sure whatever Casey has to say won’t be life changing,” George reassured her.

Casey could barely contain herself. “I’m not going to Queens!”

Silence.

Derek’s heart suddenly thudded in his ears. “Did I just hear you right?” he squeezed out.

Casey nodded, a huge smile on her face. “I know, I know, it’s sudden and I’m still getting used to the idea, but look!” She pulled a business card from somewhere under the table. “Bernard Blue offered Jesse a lead role in his new project and then he said he wanted me too! I know I always thought that dancing couldn’t be a real profession but just think!”

No one was speaking.

“I—I have a plan! I can take online courses while I’m trying to get my dance career off the ground. And I can take all my general education requirements over two years and if dancing doesn’t seem to be taking off, I can just transfer back to Queens and finish my dual degree there. Isn’t that great?”

“Uh—” Nora croaked out.

“I think that’s a fantastic idea, Casey,” Felicia surprised all of them by saying with true enthusiasm.

“Wait, Mom, really?” Nora asked, staring at her mother as if she’d just grown an extra head.

“Yes. I made many mistakes in my life, Nora, and not supporting your creative talents was one of them. I don’t want to see my grandchildren having the same pressures put on them.”

Casey nodded furiously, her ponytail bobbing up and down. “And Dad lives in New York so I won’t be totally alone.”

“Does this mean you’re leaving forever?” Marti asked with puppy dog eyes.

“No, not forever, Marti,” Casey assured her.

“Well I think it’s cool,” Lizzie said, leaning over and nudging Casey’s shoulder with her own. “I will miss you though.”

“I think we need to talk about this,” George said, speaking for himself and his wife who was currently gaping like a beached fish.

“I kind of already told Bernard Blue my plans before he left this morning,” Casey said, biting down on her bottom lip due to nerves. Leave it to Casey to finally grow a rebellious streak a few weeks before term started. If anyone at this table should be upending their life, it should be Derek.

“Casey!” Nora squeaked.

“I’m sorry, Mom, but he needed an answer. And I really... really want to do this.” The sincerity in her voice was hard to ignore. “ Please .”

“I—I guess we don’t have much choice now do we?” Nora said.

“But don’t worry! I’m sure I can visit when the baby comes and it’s not all fun and games. The dance and theater world is really gruelling and competitive—”

“Then why do you want to do it?” Edwin asked. He was always looking for the lazy man’s way out of anything. The least effort, the better.

Casey shrugged and wiggled in her seat. “Because it makes me happy.”

--

Derek didn’t so much let Casey drive them home as refuse to drive and pretend to sleep during their trip.

“Derek,” Casey said after an hour. “ Der-ek , I know you’re not asleep.”

“Yes I am,” he responded.

She scoffed and reached over to pluck the sunglasses off his eyes. It was dark and he didn’t need them. “Yeah, sure. And you haven’t said anything since dinner. What is up with you?”

What was up with him? “Nothing.” Lies. “Just enjoying the thought of not being in the same country as you for the unforeseen future.”

Casey kept her eyes on the road and gripped the wheel. She bit her bottom lip. “Is that how you really feel?”

Derek cracked an eye open and looked at her. He could tell simply from her profile and the tenseness in her shoulders that something was up. “Shouldn’t that be how I feel?” he asked, sitting up and pulling the seat up with him.

“I don’t know,” Casey said defensively. “I thought you’d at least make a rude remark about how I’m not good enough at dancing to make it or that this is the biggest mistake of my life and I’ll just crash and burn.”

“Is that how you feel?”

Casey’s bottom lip trembled but she pressed her mouth firmly closed.

“Case, I’m an asshole but I’m not that mean.” He tried making her laugh, but it didn’t work. “You are...super good at the whole dancing thing. And it’s...bold of you to upturn your whole life to follow your dream.” Did he really have to say that he supported her dreams? She should know better by now, especially after he’d come to her rescue and done that whole dance number with her on TV. He told her that he’d crush everything but her dreams and he meant it.

“You really think so?” her voice had reached that high pitch tone that only came before she started crying.

“Yes,” Derek said and then she let out a sob and he put his hands on her arm. “No, no, don’t do that. Definitely not while driving.”

Casey sniffled and nodded, pulling off the side of the road and shoving the gearshift into park. Derek sat there, having no idea what to do, and no idea why she was even crying. Wasn’t she supposed to be happy about all this?

He awkwardly patted her shoulder.

Casey sniffed and sobbed intermittently into the hem of her hoodie sleeve. “Do-do you really think it’s not a mistake?” she finally asked, turning big, sad eyes at him.

Ah, that’s what this was about. This was the Casey they both knew: the one that freaked out if things didn’t go to plan, or if she did something spontaneous. Upending her whole entire future was a big decision and she was having second thoughts.

“It’s not,” he said, quieter than he meant to. And then he was wiping her cheeks with the pad of his thumb and his heart, a mildly wounded thing, was beating out of his chest. “I should have expected you to ruin my plans.”

“What plans?” Casey hiccuped.

“You know, the ones about Queen’s. You helping me pass my classes, me getting to date all your friends—”

“Der-ek!” She shoved him as much as one could be shoved in a tiny car. “I told you that would never happen.”

“Yeah.” He stayed reclining back against the car door. “Right.”

Casey bit her thumbnail and blinked widely across the car at him. “What does that mean?”

“What?”

“The-the way you’re looking at me.”

Derek blinked and sat up straighter. “Nothing.”

“Liar. Are you upset we won’t be going to Queen’s together?” Her voice was soft and tentative.

His first impulse was to lie, to deflect, but what was the point? She’d be leaving days after they all got back to London and it wasn’t like he could change her mind. “A little,” he replied. Honestly felt weird, like someone was prying his chest open.

“Oh.” She hadn’t expected that. She twisted in the seat, tucking one leg up under her on the seat. “I didn’t know.”

“Sure,” Derek scoffed. “I thought that if we went to Queen’s it would mean…”

“Mean what?”

“Mean that we could just…” he sighed, ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. “Nevermind. I’m getting some air and then we’re driving again.” With that, he wrenched the door open with a few tugs and stepped out into the short grass and weedy flowers on the side of the road. He walked around to the front of the Prince and leaned up against the grill. 

Casey sat in the car for a few long moments before she unbuckled and stumbled out. She zipped up her hoodie—actually it may have been Lizzie’s but that wasn’t important—and crossed her arms.

Derek didn’t acknowledge her and she had to walk all the way around and stand in front of him. “What did you think we’d do at Queen’s?” she asked, her voice shaky.

Derek sighed, closing his eyes and opening them slowly. “What do you think?”

Whatever was... between them had been simmering for a while. He didn’t know exactly why or when but it had a big part in why he’d broke up with Emily. He liked Emily a whole hell of a lot, but she didn’t make him feel like whatever he felt around Casey. And dating Casey’s best friend just reminded him that Casey was out of reach.

And he knew that thinking like that was fucked up, but it wasn’t like Casey shot him down or did anything to disprove any of the theories he had swirling around in his head.

“I don’t know,” she said with a shrug. She scuffed her sneaker on the ground. “I don’t know . I can’t think about it.”

“Yeah…” Derek’s eyes leveled with hers as he sat down on the hood.

She couldn’t think about it while they still lived under the same roof. With distance, maybe whatever spark tickled down her spine when Derek looked at her a certain way would go away. Maybe there would be nothing to pursue once they were on campus. Or maybe it would be the catalyst that let them act on their absolutely, totally wrong impulses.

“You’re not taking this dancing thing in New York City to get away from me, are you?”

Casey shook her head. “No. It didn’t really hit me until you mentioned it...I was just so excited about being good at something that I love.”

“I meant what I said. I want you to follow your dreams.”

“Thanks.” She glanced around. The entire strip of road was silent. The only light were the Prince’s headlights and the heavy moon in the sky. “I’ll miss you too,” she ventured to fill the silence.

Derek furrowed his eyebrows and stood again. “I guess we’ll never know what would have happened.”

Casey tilted her head back and nodded. “What did you want to happen?”

“Casey.”

“I mean it.” She stepped forward and grabbed his wrist. She had done too much in the past few days to do another spontaneous thing, but that didn’t mean she was curious, that she didn’t want certain things to happen. She just couldn’t do that herself. But she could leave him an opening.

Maybe she was inventing some new kind of torture, knowing she’d be leaving so soon, but could she really leave without ever knowing for sure?

Derek looked down at her, his face all shadowy, hers lit up by the headlights, her eyes bluer than he’d ever seen them. Her loose grip on his wrist was enough to break him. She was challenging him, or maybe just asking him, but it felt like a challenge and Derek Venturi did not back down from a challenge.

Before he could think, he cupped her face in his hands and kissed her. She moved willingly, leaning into him, her hands gripping his shirt at his sides. He broke for a split second to breathe and then slotted their lips together. Casey held onto him for dear life and parted her lips, inviting him in, deepening the kiss.

Head’s spinning, they broke apart when a car flew by, blasting music, shattering whatever magical, moonlit moment was happening there on the side of the road.

Derek’s heart was doing a whole fucking gymnastic’s routine in his chest and Casey was staring at him like...like…

“Derek,” she said finally, voice breathy. And then she was crying again but instead of turning away, Derek let her hug him. He even hugged her back, resting his chin on her head. “I have to go to New York.”

His heart felt as if it had been trampled by a stampede. He knew she was leaving, so why had he done that? It was just going to make it worse. At least in the before he had only his internal fantasies and feelings. But now there was an after and it involved Casey’s tongue and her body pressed against his, actually wanting him. It wasn’t like they could ever do that again.

“And I’m going to Queen’s,” he said, voice low.

Casey took a small step back, but kept her hands on his sides. “Derek…” And then she was leaning up and they were kissing again and fuck if she wasn’t going to absolutely destroy him. He sank back against The Prince and she settled between his legs, arms around his neck, hands digging into his hair. He slid his hands under her hoodie, brushing his fingers against the bare skin under her tank top. He pressed against her spine and she arched toward him, gasping into his mouth.

It seem to startle her to her senses, because she pulled away, sliding her hands to grip his shoulders. “What are we doing?” she breathed out, eyes growing glassy once again.

“Nothing,” Derek said, sliding his hand against the side of her face, palm resting on her cheek. He said nothing but he actually meant everything because it was everything and he didn’t want it to be nothing, or to make her think it didn’t matter. But he was trying so hard to be good so that he didn’t lose her forever . They’d gotten remarkably close ever since they both got into Queen’s in a way that was akin to friendship. If he lost that too, he didn’t know what he’d do. “No one has to know.”

“But we’ll know.” She dropped her hands further, brushing against his torso until she took a full step back. She lifted her hands and rubbed her face. “We can’t do this.”

Derek’s heart sank. “Yeah, I know.”

Her face showed the brunt of her emotional turmoil. She yanked her hair out of its tie and dragged her hands against her scalp. “We-we need to get home,” she said softly.

Derek nodded. Without needing to say a word, he walked to the driver’s side and Casey curled herself up in the passenger seat. 

The silence was crushing especially with Casey’s occasional sniffling, so Derek turned on the radio. It was still an hour and a half until they got home. Ninety minutes to pull themselves together and act like they hadn’t just done that .

It was a good thing that Derek was good at lying and Casey could blame leaving on her current emotional state.

No one had to know.

 

oOo

 

Derek had spent the last hour and a half flipping through channels, settling on nothing, and wishing he knew anyone in NYC that he could go hang out with. He was too young to drink in the States, so he had nothing to numb himself to the chest-tightening, terrifying reason he was here.

This was worse than when he was trying to figure out how Sally made him feel so Casey could write him a song for her. His feelings about Casey and Sally had been all mushed around at the time, even if he hadn’t realized it. And he did, he really did , love Sally, but everything with Casey was different. It just took him a while to be able to tell difference.

He was so nervous—and Derek didn’t get nervous so this was the worst thing possible he could be dealing with right now—that he took a shower he didn’t need while waiting for Casey.

If she even showed up.

Unbeknownst to Derek, Casey had carefully extracted herself from the afterparty, physically tired from the performance, and the emotional whirlwind of Derek being there. She hadn’t even thought about it, running high on happy endorphins, before she hugged him and she embraced the fact that she was happy to see him.

But then the seriousness of whatever was between them hit her. She tried to enjoy the party with Jesse and Callie and Serena and everyone else, but she ended up sitting in the corner of the bar with a seltzer water, bouncing her knee at an alarming rate and overthinking so much she gave herself a headache.

She slipped away, took out the card Derek gave her and got a taxi to his hotel. It wasn’t sleazy, thank god, but it wasn’t exactly the Ritz. Casey really wouldn’t have put it past Derek to try to squeeze her Dad into covering his hotel stay. Or did hockey players get a stipend when they were on scholarship? She hadn’t actually looked into it. Sports were so not her thing and she hadn’t wanted to waste her time helping Derek if he didn’t want it.

That avoidance explained why she stood in the lobby of this hotel for a good twenty minutes, sitting on a seat, standing, pacing, hovering by the elevator, turning around and repeating it all. No one was stopping her from going upstairs, but she just couldn’t do it.

“Excuse me,” she said, finally walking up to the concierge desk. The woman behind the counter was probably in her mid twenties and Casey tried not to feel like she was being judged, knowing the woman had been watching her internal struggle this whole time. “Sorry to bother you, but is there anyway I can call up to room number 419?”

The woman took in Casey’s smudged makeup—most of the stage makeup was gone, but some was stubborn and stayed around her eyes, giving her a messy smokey eyed look—dark purple jersey dress and denim jacket. She must have looked desperate, because the woman twisted a big tan phone around at the corner of the desk and typed in a number followed by a pound sign and let the phone ring.

Casey took the phone, heart pounding in her chest, holding her breath.

“Uh, hello?” Derek’s voice came through the receiver.

She almost panicked and slammed the phone down. “Hi, Derek!” she said, much too loudly and cheerily. She winced.

“Casey?”

“Yeah, so um, they won’t let me up, but I’m hungry. Do you want to go get something to eat?” Thankfully she’d gotten better at lying when she got more into acting, but it helped that she really was hungry, so it was only half a lie.

“For real?”

“Yeah, why not?”

“Right. Yeah. I’ll be right down.”

Casey hung up and nudged the phone back toward the desk woman. “Thanks.”

“Uh-huh. Is this your first time?”

“Excuse me?”

“Sounds like some kind of New York City tryst,” the woman said with a mischievous smile.

Casey’s mouth fell open into an O. “I-we-no! It’s nothing like that.”

“Sure thing, hon,” the woman said, before she stepped aside to help some late check ins.

Casey fisted her hands and paced around the lobby, trying not to mutter to herself the whole time. It felt like ages before Derek walked out of the elevator. He was in a button down shirt and his signature, well-worn leather jacket. His hair looked damp.

“Hi,” she said, crossing her arms and starting to walk outside before the nosy desk lady could say something embarrassing.

Derek followed behind her, taking in her bare, toned legs and the short skirt of her dress barely brushing mid-thigh. Yeah, she was so going to kill him, one way other another. “You sure you don’t want to come up?” he asked, even as they stepped out onto the sidewalk.

“And risk getting some disease from a three star hotel? No thank you.” Casey flipped her hair over her shoulder. “Pizza?”

“What?”

“Do you want pizza?” She said each word slowly.

“You can eat pizza? Don’t dancers have strict diets?”

“Yes, but I can have a slice of pizza as a reward for my first show.” She turned on a wedged heel and started walking in the direction of a break in the line of cars parked at the curb.

“Casey, we really need to talk,” Derek said, still following her. He couldn’t not . He had no idea how long it would be until they saw each other again. 

“And we will!” Casey took a half step out between two cars and put out her hand. A taxi pulled up soon after. “Get in.”

With a sigh, Derek followed her into the car. She wiggled in the seat to pull down her dress and leaned forward to give the address to the driver. Derek rolled down his window because the taxi smelled gross; and this coming from him whose nose was basically burned out after so many years of hockey locker rooms.

“What’re you dressed up for?” Derek asked.

“Oh um, after show party. But I wasn’t feeling it and I was hungry so I…” Her lie was slipping. She picked invisible lint off the hem of her dress. “When do you leave?”

“My flight leaves at ten thirty tomorrow.”

“In the morning? I thought you were coming to my second show!”

“At night. I’ll leave right after.”

Aha, so he admitted he was coming. She was pleased with that. Derek wondered if she realized how hard it was for him to see her and be around her after everything. She appeared perfectly okay with it. Derek had no idea how she could do that.

“You could write me a review,” Casey was saying.

“Huh?”

“Nevermind.” Casey rolled her eyes. “It’s not like you actually paid attention to the show anyway.”

“I know a good production when I see one,” Derek shot back as the taxi started to slow. “You were really great.”

Casey stilled, catching his eyes for a moment, panicking and looking away. She flashed the driver a big smile and handed him bills to pay their fare before shoving Derek out of the car.

Derek grabbed her elbow before she could bolt away. “Case.”

“What?” Her eyes kept skipping all around, never settling on his. If they did, she’d be a goner and she knew it.

“I mean it. You were amazing.”

“Thank you,” she said slowly, weaseling her arm out of his grip. She walked a few steps and pointed. “Pizza!”

Derek let himself get distracted enough with food to not press her for any conversation for a full half hour as they picked and paid for their slices, waited for them to be heated, and then ate them while sitting at a high counter. The only thing they talked about was Casey’s routine in the show because she hated silence and she filled the space between them with details.

Once the food was gone, there was nothing to use as an excuse to put off the inevitable.

The whole thing was a bit odd, with Derek wanting to talk about feelings and Casey avoiding the subject. Talk about a role reversal.

The city that never slept felt pretty quiet as they walked on the sidewalk, heading toward a small park that was in the general direction of his hotel. Casey was leading, since she knew the city.

“So, how’s hockey?” she asked, trying to think of any way imaginable to get out of talking about them . Mostly because she was in denial. It all happened so far away, in another country, in another life. Here in NYC, she felt like a totally different person, who didn’t do the things that she did when she was in Canada.

She was also very aware that it was illogical to blame an entire country for a single person’s personal choices, but she had to blame something .

“Starting up again next month,” he said. He had taken his free weekend between practices to slip away. Sure, he maybe lied to his coach about the severity of the ‘family situation’ that was stealing him away, but he didn’t regret it. “And I’m co-captain.”

“What?!” Casey stopped walking for a moment and then started again, grabbing onto his arm. “Derek, oh my god, that’s amazing.”

“Yeah.” It was, and he was, dare he say, proud of himself for keeping his grades up so he could stay on the team and also become co-captain. And as much as he was glad that he was just as successful going into his sophomore year of university as Casey was successful in her performing career, he didn’t want to keep avoiding the elephant in the room. “Case…”

He slowed down and her hand slid down his arm, leading itself perfectly into his own. He held on tightly and faced her. “Can we talk?”

“Oh...now?” Casey tried to laugh, but it was nervous and strained.

“Either now, or never.” Derek nodded over to the bench nearby under a street lamp. It looked relatively clean.

Casey took off her denim jacket to sit on it before Derek could think to offer her his jacket. She didn’t seem to mind or even think about it. She knew better than to sit on a public bench in a tiny dress.

“Since when are you a talker, eh?” She folded her hands over her bent knee and wiggled her foot in the air.

“Since you ignored me for a year and then we…” Derek waved emphatically with his hands.

Casey’s fake peppiness died down a little. “Right.” She pressed her lips together, still not looking at him. “I mean, what-what do you need to talk about? I thought we agreed—”

“That it didn’t happen?” Derek scoffed. “You’re unbelievable. You think I could just forget that?”

“You forgot about our kiss,” she said, a little defensively.

“No, I did not. And how would you know? You left for New York a couple days later and never responded to a single call or email I sent you!”

“Why are you yelling at me?”

“I’m not!” Okay, maybe he was a little. “I’m just frustrated, Case.”

Casey’s hands, working together on an invisible puzzle in her lap, blurred as her eyes teared up. “What do you want me to say?”

Derek could not keep still. He got up and started pacing. “I want you to say anything . I want you to stop pretending it didn’t happen, because it did and there were two people involved so it’s not all on me.”

“I know it’s not.” She gave up staring at her hands and sat back, shooting her gaze into the darkness, dragging her hands through her hair even though they were still slightly greasy from the pizza.

“And the apparently the only way to get you to talk to me is to take a two hour flight and show up at a performance and practically beg you to give me the time of day!” Derek dragged his hands through his hair with jerky motions.

Casey took a deep breath, blinked away her tears and forced herself to look at him. Maybe not directly in the eyes, but at his face at least. What she saw was enough to break her own damn heart. This was way, way worse than Sally moving to Vancouver and Derek breaking up with her. Casey wasn’t sure she’d ever seen him look so messed up.

“I’m sorry,” she started with. It sounded pitiful, but at least it was something. “I don’t know what to do about any of this and you know that I don’t like not knowing what to do, or what I’m supposed to say.”

“Anything, Casey. Literally say anything. That you wish we’d never done it, or that you hate me, or never want to see me again.”

She frowned.

“Or-or, better yet, that you’ll stop ignoring me, that you’re sorry, that you’ll put me out of my goddamn misery once and for all.” He was begging now, chest heaving, dying for an answer of any kind. Maybe she didn’t feel the same way he did. But if he knew that, at least maybe he could move on.

“I-I-” Casey took a deep breath. “None of it was a mistake.” Saying the words was chilling. She didn’t know who was more surprised to hear her say them: herself, or Derek. She’d been shoving down her feelings, twisted and confused and as strong as they were, for so long that it was almost a relief to tell the truth. “I thought ignoring you would be easier than facing my feelings.”

Derek took a sharp breath and came and sat next to her, leaving a good foot and a half of space between them. It felt like miles. “Since when do you run from your feelings?”

“Since they have to do with you.” She closed her eyes, steeling herself. “I don’t hate you. I dislike you sometimes,” she glanced over at him, “but I can’t hate someone who makes me feel so…”

“So what, Case?”

She wrung her hands in her lap.

“Look, if you’re struggling for words, I can give you some of my own.”

She choked out a laugh. Derek was well known for being bad at words.

“I’m serious.” Derek scooted closer and pried her hands apart, taking one in between his. “Last year, after we kissed and you went to New York and I was up in Toronto, I thought I was going to go crazy. Half the time I wished we’d never done anything because then I couldn’t miss something I’d never had. But I would never take it back. As much as I really wanted to hate you for ignoring me, I couldn’t blame you.”

“You never hated me?”

“Not recently.”

“Doubtful. It was awful of me to ignore you. Especially in the last couple months.”

“I agree.”

“Der-ek,” she shook her head. “I think about you.”

“You do?”

“Yeah, when I’m not dead on my feet from practice and rehearsals and classes. But it had been so long when we didn’t talk and then it felt like there was too much space between us. I didn’t know how to reach out.” Her face crumpled into a frown. “God, that sounds so lame. What a stupid excuse.”

“It’s not like we had laid out any groundwork.”

“Since when are you the reasonable one?”

“Since I got my heart broken.”

Her gaze skitted away and she took her hand back, crossing her arms tightly across her chest. “How did this happen? I mean, how could this... us happen? It’s…wrong.”

Derek took a deep breath to stop from exploding at her. “Why? We’re consenting adults.”

She glared at him.

“And no amount of you pushing me away will stop me from lov—”

“Derek! You can’t just…” Now it was her turn to stand up. She bolted to her feet and paced in front of the bench. “I...I admit that I care about you more than I should. And I do miss you. But what are we supposed to do about that? You said it yourself, we live in two totally different worlds, in two different countries!”

“So what? I don’t need you to stop living your life, I just need you to tell me how you feel about me and stop hiding .”

“I don’t hide , Derek Venturi. How can I hide when I don’t even know how I feel?!”

“You won’t let yourself figure out how you feel because you’re hiding!”

“Argh!” Casey raked her hands through her hair and tossed her arms to her sides. “I can’t do this. We keep going in circles.”

“I never thought I’d see the day when Casey McDonald backed down from a challenge.”

“Why is this a challenge? Is this a game to you?” Her voice was nearly shrieking.

“Of-fucking-course not, but if challenging you is the only way to get you to tell me how you feel, then I will!”

He stood up then too, and there they were, breathing heavily, staring at each other. If this was a movie, everything would fall into place. Casey would finally confess her feelings, they’d kiss and it would start to rain and it would be romantic and everything.

That’s not what happened.

“I can’t do this,” Casey repeated her mantra. She bolted forward for her jacket and yanked it on, flipping her hair out from under the collar. “ We can’t be doing this, and I can’t do this. Not tonight, not when I have a show tomorrow.”

“Casey,” Derek called as she walked back the way they came, toward the street. “Casey!”

She didn’t stop and Derek didn’t have the heart to run after her, not when his felt like a pulpy, beaten mass in his aching chest.

 

oOo

 

That it was nothing turned into something when Casey was able to get away for a week and spend it with everyone else at the Blue Heron Lodge. This time, with Simon, who was almost a year old.

Casey and Derek barely spoke to each other because neither of them knew what to say. And if they did say something, how long before they did something they weren’t supposed to? Again.

Derek had spent the last year, while not thinking about hockey plays, school work, or trying to drown a certain brunette out of his memory between another girl’s legs, replaying the kisses he’d shared with Casey when they left the Lodge last year. It was both a horrible and wonderful dream that he often had, but was always disappointed when he woke to find himself 800 kilometers away from her.

Casey had spent the last year drowning in dance rehearsals, acting classes, and imposter syndrome. Everyone around her in New York was so pretty and talented, she felt like an interloper. All she wanted to do was talk to someone about it, and while Lizzie always had an ear open, she wanted to talk to Derek of all people. Like maybe he would understand or something.

But she didn’t. Opening that can of worms was never going to be the right thing to do.

And now? They were sleeping in the same cabin; she could hear him breathing over on the couch as she tossed and turned. Derek could hear the not-quite-sleep-talking mumbles that came from her bunk when she did eventually fall asleep.

It was torture.

But luckily no one seemed to notice. Everyone was too enthralled with the baby. They were too, but even baby-lover Casey often slipped away to sit by herself on the dock and she spent way too much time swimming.

Derek actually willingly volunteered to help with stuff at the Lodge, just to get his mind off of Casey. It didn’t really work, but at least it made sure he only saw her at meals and at night and rarely in between.

As the week wound down, they thought that they’d finally made it. They’d actually ‘forgotten’ about the kissing and the feelings after a whole year and everything would be fine.

So why was Casey staring up at the ceiling on their second to last night there, chewing on her cheek and staving off a feeling that she should definitely not be having in a room filled with her siblings, step or otherwise? It wasn’t her fault really, sometimes these things just happened , even to Straight Laced Case, as some of her theater friends lovingly called her.

She lay there for hours, unable to sleep, knowing she’d regret not sleeping the next day. She didn’t know exactly how late it was, but it had to be the wee hours of the morning. The entire Lodge had an eerie, sleepy feeling to it.

As quietly as she could, Casey crawled down off her top bunk and then stood in the middle of the room waiting to see if Marti would wake up; she was always a light sleeper. When no one stirred, she tiptoed over to the couch and leaned down to shake Derek’s shoulder. She also pressed her hand to his mouth so he didn’t make a sound.

He flailed momentarily and then frowned up at her in the dark. She let him go and put a finger to her lips for quiet and then motioned for him to follow.

His heart, suddenly awakened, was already pounding through his very bones, but the look Casey gave him made it thud even louder. What was going on? And why was he going along with it?

They tiptoed outside, the grass wet underfoot.

Casey, blaming her sleepiness instead of taking responsibility for her own actions, took his hand and half jogged away from the cabins, toward the stretch of beach and docks.

The moon was almost full.

Derek got deja vu. 

“Casey,” he said, once they were finally far enough away, hidden in shadows. “What are you doing?”

“What are we doing?” she corrected, turning to face him. Suddenly she was close and she went with it, pressing herself against him, hooking her hands behind his neck.

After a year of silence, Derek was actually a little hurt. He even resisted settling his hands on her hips even though he was dying to. “What’s this?”

“I missed you,” she said softly and he believed her.

Why did he believe her? And why was she telling the truth? Being awake at three in the morning was doing more to loosen her inhibitions than alcohol ever did.

“You haven’t shown it,” he said, trying to be stubborn, but it was really hard to do when she was pressed up against him like this.

“You haven’t been talking to me either. It’s a two way street.” She pushed herself to her toes, their mouths hovering close, noses a hairsbreadth apart.

“What changed your mind?”

“We’re leaving soon. Is it going to be another year before we see each other again?”

“I…” She interrupted him with a soft kiss. “Don’t know.”

She was definitely playing him like a fucking yoyo, but who was he to resist? He missed her so fucking much it had turned into a physical ache in his damn chest. He couldn’t even look at other girls anymore.

She had totally ruined him.

“Don’t think,” Casey said against his lips. “You’re not good at it.”

Her teasing only amplified everything. That was their thing . It was impossible for them not to antagonize each other even a little bit.

And with his heart wrenched open, he was going to go for it, no matter how much it messed him up.

Derek’s arms circled around her, holding her tightly against him and they were kissing again. Almost a year to the day since they’d first done this. Every sensation was heightened. Was it because they weren’t supposed to be doing this? Or because it had been so long and all that time had built up anticipation?

Honestly at this point it didn’t even matter.

Their hands were on each other and their mouths and tongues. Casey’s fingers were in his hair and Derek’s were digging into the soft skin of her back.

Casey pulled him closer, nearly tipping him over, but he balanced them both somehow by wrapping his arms around her. She slid one of her legs between his thighs and sucked on his lower lip, coaxing a moan from his throat.

“Heh,” she smirked and slid one of her hands between them, squeezing his hard erection, eliciting yet another moan from him.

Derek’d forehead fell against her bare collarbone. “What are you doing ?” he panted out.

“Don’t you like it?”

“Yes but-” He somehow had the mind to take a step back, putting a little bit of space between their torsos. “Casey, what is this?”

Something flickered across her gaze—fear or uncertainty.

“Follow me,” she said instead, grabbing his hand and tugging him. They walked along the edge of the gravel parking lot, to the familiar snot-green hand-me-down car dubbed The Prince. She turned around when they got there, guiding Derek’s hands to her hips and pulling him toward her, pressing her between him and the car.

She started kissing him again which was great but also…

“You didn’t answer my question,” Derek heard himself saying. He was truly an idiot, but he was also as confused as he was horny and while he normally would be gladly be taking this fantasy at face value, something was nagging him. 

The year of silence had left a barb in his heart and Casey was twisted it in deep with this...this whatever it was.

Casey sighed, annoyance flooding her expression. “You’re seriously turning me down right now?”

“What? No.” He stepped forward, further pinning her to the car with his hips. “I just wanna know where this came from.”

“I missed you,” she said, because it was the only reason she could think of that wasn’t a lie or didn’t leave her vulnerable to heartbreak. “I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you all week. I’ve been distracted and I didn’t want anyone to see that something was up between us.”

She was making enough sense that Derek was quickly accepting the situation at hand. If he ended up waking up from an exquisite wet dream, that was totally cool with him. And while something about this felt surreal, he didn’t think he was dreaming.

Casey pulled him in for another kiss and ground her hips against his, his dick pressed into her abdomen. Derek’s thinking power quickly drained south and he barely had any thoughts left to be mind blown when she took his hand and guided it into the hem of her sleeping shorts. 

There was no going back from this.

“Case,” he said weakly.

“I need this,” she whispered.

The space between her legs was so hot, his cool hands sent shivers down her spine as he kissed her neck and felt how wet she was through the fabric of her panties. He pressed with a single finger and she wriggled against his touch, huffing.

There was no going back from this and neither of them were stopping.

Derek stepped to the side for a better angle, his lips pressing just underneath her ear. Casey gasped as electricity shot through her and then moaned when he pressed cool fingers under her panties and through her slick folds. She clung to him and also the car door handle as he slipped a finger into her. She was so hot and wet and Derek’s dick throbbed, pressed against her hip bone.

“Der-ek,” his broken name came out of her in gasps.

“Shh,” he said, cupping the back of her head with his other hand and tilted her head so he could kiss her, swallowing all of the moans and exclamations as he moved his finger, added a second and felt her entire body shaking.

She mewled out orders—more, fast, please —and he did as he was asked until she came, shuddering and biting down on her own knuckles to muffle the scream that threatened to escape. He was panting just as much as she kissed him and nearly pushed him off balance again . Her hands scrambled for the waistband of his shorts and she sunk her hands in and gripped his cock within seconds. The coldness of her hand was a momentarily shock, but the fact that Casey was there, red faced, swollen lipped, her soft hand around his dick...he could barely complete a single thought.

One of them opened the forever-unlocked back door and then they were inside, where their sounds were muffled by The Prince. Casey was straddling him, rolling her hips over and over against his lap. Derek had to grab her hips to make her stop.

“What?” she asked, panting, staring at him, all big blue eyed.

“I—are we…?”

Casey bit her bottom lip, sitting back a little on her heels. “Yes,” she said firmly, leaning forward to kiss him, long and hard. “It’s um...I’ve never…”

That got Derek’s mind working a little bit. “Shit...Case. I shouldn’t...it shouldn’t be me.”

“It should be whoever I want it to be,” she protested.

Through his mental haze, something clicked that he was going to have this first with Casey and it filled him with a weird sense of primal attraction that he so should not be having when thinking about—

“I’ve slept with five girls,” Derek blurted out.

Casey sat back again. “Um...okay? Is that a lot?”

“I...don’t know?” Derek said weakly. He didn’t name names—Sally before she left, then Emily before they broke up last summer, and then girls at college he’d slept with to forget Casey whose names weren’t important. “I just thought I should tell you.”

“Oh. That’s sweet.” She gave him a little smile.

“I’m um...I’m surprised you and Jesse…?”

Casey did not want to talk about another guy right now, but she couldn’t resist. “He and I are just friends now. It was too stressful since we work together.”

Derek was okay with that. “Your first time shouldn’t be in a car.”

“It should be wherever I want it to be. I’m not a prude , Derek,” she huffed, wriggling in his lap.

“Ahhh, yeah, of course not,” he nodded and then surged forward, kissing her again, wrapping his arms around her.

“Now,” Casey demanded a few minutes later, against his lips, her panties and shorts both soaked through because apparently Derek really knew how to turn her on. She moved away from him to the seat to strip off her bottoms, feeling a little shy about it, and thankful for the very dark interior of the car.

As she did that, he lurched forward to crawl for the glove box and opened it, fishing around for where he was sure he’d put some condoms. He found one and sat back as she kicked off her shorts.

He shoved his shorts down and unwrapped the condom as Casey shifted to straddle him again. He was going to protest but it was really the only way for this to work. The Prince was a very small car.

“Here,” he said, shifting a little and pulling her close. He tilted her head back and kissed her neck as she sighed and relaxed, her hot core pressed against his erection.

He could barely catch his own breath and his brain stopped working the moment when he pushed into her. Casey gasped and he made some intelligible noise, holding onto her tightly like he was afraid he’d just come right then and there unless he was squeezing her in his arms.

Derek ,” Casey whispered, his name in a tone and inflection he wasn’t used to hearing. His forehead pressed against the sweaty fabric of her tank top over her chest. She moved herself around, getting comfortable, taking him in and enveloping him in her hot, tight walls.

He let out a huge breath he’d been holding in as she stripped off her uncomfortably wet shirt and he had full access to her bare skin. He shifted down in the seat and let her move her hips because there was absolutely nothing Casey could do right now that wouldn’t feel fucking amazing for him. He pressed his head back into the seat and watched her face, flushed and sweaty, mouth open in a little O, eyes heavy lidded unless she caught him looking and then he was all she saw.

She was his whole world and nothing else mattered.

Fuck , Case,” he panted out as she found a little bit a rhythm with her bouncing and hip rolling. “I-I won’t last. You’re too—ahhh, fuck —good, s’good.”

Casey had nothing to compare to and right now her whole body felt like it was on fire, every single nerve in her body wired for pleasure, so much that even she was fuzzy minded. She couldn’t get over how Derek looked under her, her hands digging into his shoulders, his eyes eating her up.

She shivered, jolting and grabbing the back of the seat as Derek slid down a little, hands on her hips, moving his own up to meet hers. She cried out as he moved them faster together and thankfully the car muffled her screams. Her body rolled with the release of warmth and tension and she came with him buried deep inside of her, squeezing and shuddering.

They were both being loud, not a full sentence strung together between them.

Derek scrambled to sit up and wrapped his arms around her, his face pressed into her chest, holding her against him and moving her whole body. He came suddenly with a muffled curse and Casey’s nails digging into his shoulders.

He kept his hold on her for a while longer until he caught his breath because he was sure that the moment he released her the spell would break. His head was swimming as he sat back. Casey was at a loss for words for once.

After a minute, he helped her off his lap. Her knees were sore—she’d definitely have to do a lot of stretching tomorrow so that she didn’t mess them up for dancing. She quickly gathered her clothes, pulling them on even though they were wet and cold and sat there as Derek disposed of the condom—tossing it into an old fast food bag and crumpling it all up—and pulling up his shorts.

They were both quiet until Casey needed to move. She was starting to get her thinking skills back and was already overthinking, mentally screaming. She opened the car door and got out with a head rush and wobbly legs.

“Casey,” Derek whispered out, scooting to the edge of the seat.

“It’s late,” Casey responded. “We should get some sleep.”

And just like that, it was silently—and reluctantly by Derek—agreed to be another one of those things that didn’t happen and that they didn’t talk about.

They got back to the cabin after cleaning up and went to their respective beds like nothing happened. But something happened.

And it wasn’t just Derek either; this had been all Casey. Did that mean that she liked playing with him, or was this something real? And why the fuck did they have to do that so close to their sleeping family?

He lay there on the couch, staring up at the ceiling, still smelling Casey all around him. Derek couldn’t believe he’d taken his step-sister’s virginity in the backseat of The Prince. He was truly a despicable human being.

 

oOo

 

Derek ended up back at his hotel room and he was frustrated. He hadn’t gotten anything that he wanted from Casey. She hadn’t said a single damn thing that made sense. Maybe she really didn’t care about him like he cared about her and she was just using him. He should have known. 

Why would a perfect girl like Casey have feelings of any kind toward someone like him? He was playing catch up for his earlier teenage fuckups in college now , but she didn’t actually know him very well since she kept ignoring him at every instance.

Derek really wished he could drink as he stripped off his boots and his jacket and splashed water on his face and back of his neck. 

He didn’t know how long he stood there before he was startled from his own mind by a knock on the door.

Frowning, he walked to the door and pulled it open without checking the peep-hole.

Casey stood there, breathing heavily like she’d just run here, her makeup even more smudged than earlier, a few dark tracks from fallen tears down her cheeks. 

“Casey?” Derek was rarely surprised but Casey kept getting him on this trip.

“What were you going to say?” she asked, words forceful as she tried catching her breath. “Before I cut you off in the park, what were you going to say?”

Derek was trying to wrap his head around the fact that she was standing there in the doorway of his hotel room, looking at him like that and asking him…

“I’m in love with you,” he blurted out. The words had been aching to be said for so long, he couldn’t even stop himself from saying it.

“That’s what I thought."

He felt an emotional blow when she shifted. She was going to walk away again and leave him like this, wasn’t she?

Casey surprised him for a third time tonight by doing the opposite. She rushed forward, grabbing his collar and kissing him. Derek’s exclamation of surprise was muffled by her lips as they stumbled backward into the hotel room. Casey pushed him back against the wall, sliding her arms around his neck, digging her fingers through his hair, kissing him like she would die if she stopped.

This was one of those fairytale moments where everything fell into place and nothing in life had ever felt so right.

Derek bunched up her dress in his hands, pulling her hips toward him. Casey pressed flush against him, parting her lips and deepening their kiss. They barely stopped to breathe, Derek pushing Casey’s jacket off her shoulders, Casey’s hands working on the bazillion buttons down the front of his shirt.

Finally free, together they stripped him of his button down and undershirt and Casey dragged her nails down his shoulders, sending a shiver through him. Pushing against her, Derek walked them backward a few steps to the other wall, cradling the back of Casey’s head to soften the way she collided with the wallpaper.

She gasped out and they broke apart. This time she didn’t look away, taking in his amber eyes, the way they said so much. She didn’t know what her eyes were saying.

“I don’t know how I feel,” she said, breaking the silence. “But I want to stop hiding and find out. Okay?”

“Yeah.” He grinned and she pinched him. “Ow! Okay, okay.”

He cupped her face and kissed her again, slow and soft. His other hand trailed down her torso, slipping under her skirt and settling against her hip, thumb slipping under the thin fabric of her panties.

She sighed and melted against him, tilting her head back against the wall so he could kiss down her neck. She tried not to think about what would happen tomorrow, the eight hundred kilometers between them, their busy schedules that didn’t warrant many breaks. She was going to focus on the here and the now and the fact that this was what she wanted, what she’d been needing and desiring for so long that she’d forgotten why she had that ache in her chest.

All because of Derek.

Who knew he could go from an annoying monster to someone who could elicit moans from her. He pushed his knee between her thighs and she ground down against his leg, his lips finding their way back to her mouth, taking her damn breath away.

Her dress was the next thing gone and it left her braless in the full light of the hotel. This time she wasn’t worried or anxious, a smile curling on her lips as he took a moment to look at her.

“Wow. You’re beautiful you know.” He slid his hands up her ribcage and brushed against her soft skin and hard nipples. “And perky.”

Casey rolled her eyes, but still preened as his compliments washed over her. She was just thankful he didn’t ruin the moment by trying to motorboat between her boobs. Shoving him away gently, she paused to unbuckle her shoes. “Bed now,” she said.

Derek arched an eyebrow but quickly discarded his jeans and got onto the bed mere moments before she threw herself at him. Straddling him, she tested the waters, dropping her hips and rolling against his growing erection.

“Ahhhh, Case.” Derek’s hands went to her hips.

She offered him a soft smile before leaning down and kissing him. There was way more space here than in the back of The Prince. Derek’s hands roamed over every inch of her until he couldn’t stand it. Circling his arm around her torso, he flipped them over and thrust against her.

Casey moaned and let out a sickeningly sweet, “Der- EK !”

He almost felt bad for the other guests because Casey had a pair of lungs on her and he was not going to quiet her this time. He dipped down to kiss her bruised lips and slipped a hand between them. She wriggled against his touch and he pushed two fingers inside, curling them and making her squirm.

“Damn you,” she panted out, glaring at him. He just smirked and made quick work of making her fall apart around his fingers. While her legs were still shaking, he sat back and stripped off her remaining piece of clothing.

Derek slid his hand around her neck and brought her up to kiss him. Her nails dragged down his torso and she stroked his cock through his boxers. He bit and tugged her bottom lip and gave a deep throated growl.

She looked up at him under heavy lids. She didn’t know exactly how to say the things she wanted to say. Sure, she had the words, but speaking them were a whole other thing, even if Derek said he loved her, she still was trying to face this thing between them. It would take her more than a night to feel comfortable using the word love around him, even if she wanted him to make love to her. She knew most of her dancer friends threw around the words ‘a good fuck’ liberally, but Casey wanted things to be special. There was time for...fucking later.

Her hesitation was translated properly though and Derek grabbed her hand, curling his fingers around hers. “You don’t have to do anything,” he said, voice calm and gentle.

Casey nodded, scooting back on the bed as he got to his feet to discard his underwear. This was the first time she’d actually seen all of him and she wasn’t disappointed. A year of college hockey had put a decent amount of muscle on him but he still looked like her Derek.

She reached for him and he got onto the bed, hovering over her, her legs parted for him. He took her face and kissed her again, his fingers dragging down her neck sending jolts of pleasure through her.

And then, he stopped.

She opened her eyes and he was sitting back.

“What is it?” she asked, wondering how the hell she’d done something to stop this .

“I don’t have anything. Any condoms,” he said in a rush. “I didn’t exactly expect uh...this.” He gently curled one of his hands around her hip.

“It’s okay,” Casey said, relieved.

“Uh...who are you and what have you done to Casey?”

She reached for him again and he slowly leaned over her again. “I’ve got this um...birth control implant to help with...it doesn’t matter, but it’s very good and I might actually never speak to you again if I can’t have sex with you right now.”

He blinked once or twice. “Unprotected sex with the head keener, wow.”

“It’s protected enough.” She grabbed his face and kissed him hard. “Unless you’ve got an STD in which case I think it’s already too late.”

He was settled nicely between his hips, his shaft pressed against her hot center. “No STDs. Promise.”

“Thank God,” she said, stamping down the momentary panic. She wrapped her legs around his hips and hummed as his cock slid against her slick folds.

Derek’s eyes fell closed and panted out a few breaths before kissing her again. He’d never actually had sex without a condom on before, and all those companies lied. This felt totally different.

He circled an arm around her lower back and shifted her so he could position himself. Casey lay there, hair all around her, makeup smudged, a warmth in her icy blue eyes that he lived to see. Unable to control himself, he leaned forward, pushing into her and meeting her lips at the same time.

She moaned and arched her back and Derek felt around for one of her hands. He laced their fingers and pressed their combined hands into the mattress.

Casey rested her hand on one side of his face and pulled back from the kiss. “Tell me you love me,” she demanded. He was happy to oblige.

“I love—” he moved his hips back and moaned. “Nnnggh, god, Case, I love you.”

She was too scared to say it back, but she repeated the words back to him in her own head as he fell into a rhythm. His head fell to rest in the curve of her neck, her free hand grabbing his back, her hips rising to meet his thrusts.

Casey squeezed his hand and locked her legs around his hips, exclamations and cries flying freely from her lips. “Yes, oh, ahhh, yes, heh—yes, yes, yes! Der, hnngghhh, please ! Fa-faster, puh-please, yes!”

Derek released her hand only to sit back. She huffed at him, adorably aggravated.

“What are you—oh!”

He raised her legs and put them over one shoulder, holding onto her thighs. He could give his back a break this way and she squeezed tighter around him with her legs together. Casey bounced against the mattress and Derek felt nearly drunk looking at her laid out like this.

“Don’t—” Casey gulped down a breath, eyes fluttering open, meeting his intense gaze. “Don’t you dare stop.”

“Whatever you say,” he panted out, pulling her hips back to meet his thrusts. Casey cried out and came, clenching around his cock and quivering all around him.

Derek sank deep into her and let her legs down so he could lean over her again.

“Derek,” Casey breathed out, heart thundering in her chest. “I think I love you but give me time okay?”

The words came out in a rush and Derek wasn’t sure he heard them. “Case—”

Come ,” she interrupted, hooking her legs around him again and pulling his hips toward hers. She kissed his lips delicately and their hands found each other again, lacing together. She circled her hand on the back of his neck and held his head against her neck, his panting breaths dampening her cheek as he thrust into her.

He came with a mumbled, “Fuck, yeeess , Case” and then he snapped back. “Wait fuck, I should have pulled ou—”

“Shut up,” she grabbed him back to her again and kissed him senseless, keeping his hips pressed against hers with her strong dancer’s legs.

They lay there, panting and sweaty, the air cooling around them. Casey didn’t want to move. Something about the weight of Derek laying on her felt so comforting that she almost started to cry. Finally though, he extracted himself from her limbs and lay next to her, easily pulling her so that her back pressed against his chest. He kissed her shoulders and neck and buried his face in her long, damp hair.

“There’s no coming back from this,” Casey said softly, trailing her fingertips up and down his arm.

“No, there isn’t.”

“I don’t want to forget this.” She twisted her shoulders enough so she could see him. He propped his head up on his hand and brushed some hairs away from where they stuck to the side of her face.

“Neither do I. Hell, I don’t think I could even if you wanted me to.”

“Do you really leave tomorrow?”

“Yeah.”

“Do…” She paused, frowning. “What about Christmas? Can you come see me then?”

“We usually have games even around the holiday.”

“Oh. This show only goes until December 19th. Maybe I could come and see you? I haven’t been to one of your games in a long time.” She had only gone to his high school games when Emily dragged her to them and she hadn’t really liked it. But that was then. This was now.

“I could use a good luck charm.” He took her chin between his index finger and thumb.

Casey rolled her eyes. “You don’t need a good luck charm to play well.”

“It doesn’t hurt.” He gave a sly little smile and kissed her shortly. “Did you mean what you said?”

Casey thought about it and her stomach twisted like butterflies. She took it as a good sign. “Yes. And I meant every part of it. Give me time.”

“Okay.”

“And don’t look so happy.” She put her hand on his face and playfully shoved him away.

He flopped back against the bed. “I can’t help it! Can you blame me?”

“No, I guess not.” She gave him a smile and then noticed the alarm clock on the table next to the bed. “Oh fuck.”

“What?” And then. “I think that’s the first time I’ve ever heard you swear. Not even during sex. You should do that more often.”

“Yeah sure,” Casey said, distracted. She propped herself up on her elbows and then looked over at him. “I need to go. I need to try to get through a normal pre-show routine before tomorrow afternoon and that means I need to get some proper sleep.”

“Right.” Derek sat up as she got to her feet and disappeared into the bathroom. He could do nothing, so he stayed there until she stepped out and started tugging on her dress. “Is there any room in your schedule for me to see you before I go?”

“Um...aren’t you coming to the show?”

“Yeah, but I mean actually have a proper goodbye.”

Casey frowned, leaning against the wall and buckling on her shoes. “When do you leave? Maybe I can come to the airport with you.”

“Ten thirty,” he repeated. “I need to get there early for an international flight.”

“The show ends around eight...I can at least see you behind the stage.” She straightened up and grabbed for her jacket. “It’s not a lot but it’s all I’ve got.”

He would take it. “I know my way around back there now so I can do that.”

She laughed a little, finished getting herself dressed and then walked over to him. She tilted his chin up in her hand and kissed him. “And I expect you to call me, all the time.”

“Right.”

“I’ll even respond to the occasional email.”

He scoffed. “Right. Is texting off the table?”

“I prefer phone calls but I will make an exception.” She kissed him again and a flash of worry filtered through her eyes. “This will be okay, right?”

“Yeah. It’ll be okay.”

She nodded, taking his words at face value. She hoped he was right. It took a lot for her to force herself out of the door, and it took every ounce of Derek’s willpower not to follow her or drag her back.

One day, they would have more than a fleeting moment together, but they had to wait until the cards fell correctly. For now, they’d have to take what they could get.