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Universe & U

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Casey was only half-listening to Kit – never mind the actual lecture going on, it was a wonder that her grades hadn’t started to suffer yet. Her eyes were trained on the big clock on the left wall, moving achingly slowly but terrifyingly fast at the same time, and that was just how she felt all the time lately – dreading the passage of time while excitedly waiting for what was coming next.

Anyway, she was only half-listening to Kit, which is horrible and rude, because he was her friend and she was pretty sure any other person would have already given up on the conversation, but not Kit. Sometimes he vaguely reminded Casey of Noel, her high school friend-zoned friend who was just so nice and put up with all of her bullshit, and those kinds of guys were rare, but never really seemed to completely fall into Casey´s radar. She always wanted something else, something more challenging, something less easy.

Not that she couldn´t see herself liking Kit. She could see herself liking him just fine. He was good-looking, and gentlemanly, and well read, and seemed to actually care about her interests. In fact, just last semester she was well on her way to falling for him, if it hadn´t been for the curveball the universe had rudely thrown her way. An awakening – a realization so big, so terrifying, so real that had thrown Casey completely out of orbit, and now here she was, staring at a stupid clock instead of listening to her professor or the very cute boy seating beside her that still gave her the time of day for some reason.

She could listen to the lecture or Kit if it wasn´t for the fact that her class was ending in two minutes, and Derek´s was starting in two minutes, on the lecture hall right beside hers. Which meant that there was a great possibility that if he was early – which he never was – she would bump into him, and she would act annoyed, and he would tease her, and she would get this stupid thrill, and her day would be instantly better, and she’d walk away to get lunch with her heart beating loudly in her ears and a happy pep on her step.

And this all was just – pathetic, if she was being honest with herself. It wasn’t like she never saw Derek. In fact, she saw him entirely too often, every freaking day, but the thought of seeing him outside of schedule never failed to give her this sense of terrified excitement.

And since when was she excited to see Derek?

Well, tricky question. There had always, always been a thrill in seeing Derek, ever since she had first met him. Whether this thrill was particularly good, bad, or just plain inexplicable was just part of what she had always been used to.

She wasn’t used to knowing exactly what it meant now.

“Earth to Casey.” A hand being waved in front of her eyes broke her out of her reverie. She turned to see Kit’s green eyes glinting amusedly. “Were you listening?”

Again, no, she wasn’t, but that didn’t make it okay for the other person to realize.

“Oh, sorry Kit,” she said, breathing out an awkward laugh. “I was just…” Casey trailed off with a vague hand gesture.

Kit laughed good naturedly. “You are so spaced out today.”

“Yeah, I’m kind of… Spacey.” She cringed inwardly.

“I can see that,” he said, giving her an appreciative glance. “So, I was thinking that we actually haven’t gotten lunch together since that Friday a million years ago.”

“I remember,” Casey said, an uneasy feeling creeping into her. There was no way she could forget about that day, because it had been quite traumatic, but getting lunch with Kit had actually been pretty nice. Like she had aforementioned, she used to really like Kit, but she had been so busy with her own self after that Friday that she hadn’t really given him much thought outside of being strictly friends.

“So, I was thinking we could get lunch now if you want.”

“Oh,” Casey hesitated. It’s not that it was a bad idea, but she had been so distracted with her only plan being getting out of class and maybe casually hanging back a little in case she run into a certain someone, that the thought of doing something else wasn’t really… exciting.

“Unless you have other plans?” Kit trailed off, examining the look on her face.

“No, no.” Casey tucked some hair behind her ear. “Um, what did you have in mind?”

“Well, there’s a pretty cool place just outside campus where they sell all that veggie stuff you told me you liked, so I thought we could go there.”

“That seems nice,” she said, hoping she didn’t sound too disappointed. She did like that place after all. “I just, well, I had some things to do…” She was pathetic. She was awful and just sad.

Kit’s eyes softened. “You can also say no because you simply don’t want to, you know? That’s also a valid answer,” he said, with a dimpled smile.

What the hell was wrong with her? Was she seriously about to turn down a lunch non-date with a friend because of the scarce possibility of exchanging three sentences with Derek? What had the world come to?

Plus, she was seeing Derek tomorrow night, so there would be no harm done.

Casey shook herself and planted a smile on her face. “You know what? My plans can wait. I’d love to grab lunch.”

Kit’s smile was dazzling. “Awesome then, shall we go?”

“Huh?” She frowned, confused. “What the –“ she said, looking around the lecture hall, surprised to find it empty.

Kit laughed. “Yeah, class ended like, 5 minutes ago.”

Casey turned to look back at the clock, horrified. Sure enough, it was five past one.

“Oh my god,” she mumbled.

“You really are Spacey,” he said. “Maybe that’s going to be your new nickname.”

Oh boy, he had no idea. That nickname had been following her around for years now. And it didn’t even mean what he thought it did. Casey laughed nervously.

They grabbed their stuff and walked out of the classroom, chatting amicably. They were a few steps into the hallway when a voice called from behind them.

“Well, if it isn’t the Keener Supreme in her natural habitat?”

Heart leaping out of her chest, she turned around, his name already in the tip of her tongue.

“De-rek!”

He was coming out of the lecture hall his next class was supposed to be held in. His hair looked a carefully arranged mess of reddish-brown curls. He was wearing a dark green sweater with the sleeves rolled up and ripped skinny jeans, the whole look making him look like he just came out of a rom-com where he played the heartthrob bad boy, and Casey felt her stomach tie up in knots, the famous thrill taking over her. She had already given up hope of running into him, so the sensation was ten times more powerful than she had anticipated.

Derek gave her an annoyed look. “Keep it down, Case. It’s way to early to be screaming in the hallways.”

“It’s 1 pm!” She narrowed her eyes at him. “Aren’t you supposed to be in class?” She pointed to the door he was crossing in the wrong direction.

“Professor didn’t show up, so I took my rightful leave.” Derek shrugged, coming closer to her.

She crossed her arms over her chest. “The policy is that you can leave if the professor doesn’t show up for 15 minutes, not five.”

Derek widened his eyes at her, fake surprised. “Is it?”

“De-rek! That is so irresponsible –”

Casey was interrupted by someone clearing his throat. She suddenly took a step away from Derek, embarrassed. She had totally forgotten Kit was standing there with them. She had to stop doing that.

“Oh, sorry,” she said, taking her eyes away from Derek and gesturing towards Kit. “This is Christopher – Kit. Kit Murphy,” she introduced. “Kit, this is Derek Venturi, my…” she trailed off, sending a panicked look towards Derek, who raised his eyebrows at her. “Friend,” she said, cringing inwardly at the look on Derek’s face. She wanted to hit him.

“Hey, man,” Kit said, smiling politely.

Derek snapped his eyes away from Casey’s face and turned to Kit. A look of recognition passed through his features before his face slipped back into his casual mask. “Sup,” he said.

An awkward silence fell between the three of them, before Kit turned to her with a questioning look.

Casey shook her head. “Oh, yeah. We were going to grab lunch.”

Derek looked between Kit and Casey for a beat and then grinned. “Great! I’m starving.”

As she saw the smile drop from Kit's face, Casey grabbed Derek's arm, pushing him to the side. “Excuse us for a moment, Kit.”

She dragged Derek a few paces out of earshot and turned to him menacingly. “What are you doing?”

Derek looked at her with mock confusion. “I’m just trying to have lunch with my friend. And her friend.”

Casey scrunched up her nose. “I am not your friend.”

His eyes widened amusedly. “Then why on earth would you introduce me as such?”

She didn’t know. It wasn’t that they weren’t friends – they had gotten so much closer in the past few months, closer than they had ever been, but the word ‘friend’ seemed so… inaccurate to describe their relationship. How do you introduce your step-brother who you are totally head-over-heels in love with? Just calling him her step-brother feels sacrilegious enough.

She watched as Derek examined her face with absolute delight, and her stomach flipped with the feel of his eyes skimming all over her features. “Shut up,” she settled for saying, and took a deliberate step away from him before she could do or say something stupider.

Derek smirked down at her and she turned around before her knees could buckle.

“Kit, Derek will be joining us for lunch if you don’t mind,” she said with what she hoped was an apologetic smile. Was she blushing?

Kit blinked for a second, before his naturally kind smile came through. “Not at all.”

And so, they went to lunch.

Trying to juggle her attention between Derek and someone else had always been a challenge for Casey. But he was making it extra difficult today.

While she tried listening to Kit’s stories about classes, Derek jumped in with stories of his own, often overlapping over the other boy’s sentences. It was exhausting. Casey wondered what had come over Derek. Maybe he was just messing with her. That was totally plausible, he loved doing that.

But, another big part of her couldn’t help but think it was something else.

Casey knew there was something between them, she wasn’t stupid. She remembered that night at the club so vividly, how she was ready to risk it all if he just asked. But it was him and her, so of course it was going to be more complicated than that. Because after that, Derek had gone right back to his normal self, leaving the particular brand of sweet he had been that night as a dream-like memory, and building his defenses back up.

It wasn’t like he had regressed completely, though. It was the complete opposite, in fact. He still antagonized her, and pranked her and teased her, but it was warmer now, with an extra layer of affection she could feel in his little actions. He hadn’t treated her like crap once since that day, and the change in their dynamic was so refreshing, so welcome, that Casey just couldn’t help falling deeper and deeper in pathetic love with him as time passed. It had started that night at the club and it had snow-balled into something bigger and bigger until she no longer remembered what if felt like hating him for so long.

“So,” Derek said, cutting Kit off for the hundred time. “Are Cathy and Jen coming with you to the after party tomorrow?”

Casey couldn’t help but smile. She knew that that was just Derek’s way of making sure she was going to the party, and the thought of him inviting her to the hockey after party just made her feel something warm and fuzzy inside.

“Yeah, we are all coming.”

“After party?” Kit asked.

“Derek plays in the hockey team,” Casey explained. “They are having a party after the game tomorrow.”

“Oh,” Kit said, shooting a quick look towards Derek. “That’s pretty cool.”

“I’ll text you the directions later,” Derek told her, slurping loudly from his smoothie. “It’s in Ryan’s apartment.”

“Okay,” Casey said, the excitement making the fresh food in her belly want to come out. And then she remembered what Cathy and Jen wanted her to do at that party, and she felt like she was truly going to vomit.

So, the thing about Casey and Derek’s new dynamic was, that he got to hang out with her roommates a lot when he came over to study, or to watch a movie or eat pizza. And all of those interactions the girls had witnessed had led them both to be absolutely convinced that Derek was just as in love with Casey as she was with him. That, in turn, led them to pester Casey almost every day for her to make a move.

And after months and months of trying to tell them they were crazy, an idea started forming in Casey’s brain that maybe they weren’t so crazy after all. She could see the way Derek looked at her sometimes, with enough intensity to power an entire block with electricity, and that had to mean something.

And so, Casey had somehow ended up agreeing with them to actually act on her feelings.

Tomorrow.

At the after party.

And yeah, the closer it got and the more she stared at Derek sitting across from her, happily munching on his veggie burger that she had somehow managed to incorporate on his diet, the more she was convinced that she absolutely could not tell him how she felt.

“Case!” Kit’s voice broke her out of her trance, and she startled.

“Uh, sorry what?”

“Can you pass the napkins?” he asked, pointing to the napkin holder by her left elbow.

“Yeah, yeah, sorry,” she said, passing it to him.

“That’s fine, Spacey,” Kit winked.

And oh, boy.

Derek choked on his drink. “What did you just call her?” he sputtered.

“Spacey?” Kit asked, confusedly. “Oh, it’s just a silly nickname.”

Derek turned to look at Casey with raised eyebrows. She felt herself blush like mad, and averted her eyes to the side, fighting the urge to bury her face in her hands. This was enough embarrassment for one day.

“That’s a great nickname,” Derek said, recovering quickly and turning to Kit again. “Can I borrow it?”

“Uh, sure?”

“It even rhymes with your name, Case,” he said, poking her in the arm as she glared at him. “Spacey Casey.”

“Yeah, I get it,” she muttered through gritted teeth.

“So original.”

“Would you shut up, now?” she snapped at him, while Kit looked between them with a weird expression on his face.

Derek just smiled and stabbed at his fries.

.

.

.

Cathy and Jen both mercilessly laughed at her when she told them about Derek meeting Kit.

“Of course it was going to be awkward!” Cathy exclaimed. “You willingly put two guys who want to get into your pants together and expected not to witness a pissing match?”

Casey rolled her eyes at her friends, snatching the potato chip bag out of Jen’s hand. “You’re going to get crumbs on my comforter and I don’t want it to get ruined because –“

“Marti picked it,” Jen said, rolling her eyes. “I know.”

“And it wasn’t a pissing match,” she told Cathy. “It was just, weird.”

“You wanna know why it was weird?” Jen asked.

“No,” Casey deadpanned.

“Because you still haven’t made a move on Derek, and Kit is going to make a move on you if you don’t shut that shit down immediately.”

“I said I didn’t want to hear it!” Casey said, plopping down on her bed next to Jen.

“She’s still right, you know?” Cathy said from her spot on Casey’s desk chair. “You know how awkward it would be if I was still trying to hit on Derek? Luckily, I have eyes and realized he was too into you to reciprocate before you ripped my head off.” She laughed as she dodged the stuffed purple giraffe Casey threw at her.

I had to tell you what was going on,” Jen said, rolling her eyes at Cathy. “Otherwise, you’d still be embarrassing yourself.”

“Hey! I would have noticed eventually, the sexual tension is through the roof.”

“I am right here, you know?” Casey snapped at them, annoyed.

“Anyway, it’s all ending tomorrow, right?” Jen asked, turning towards Casey with serious eyes. “You’re totally telling him and jumping him at the party.”

“And then you’re going to go back to his dorm and get it over with, right?” Cathy asked, a hopeful look in her eyes.

Casey avoided their eyes, looking down at her duvet. “Yeah… I don’t know, you guys.”

Cathy and Jen both groaned.

“Seriously, Case? How long are you going to dance around this?” Jen asked.

“We like dancing!” Casey exclaimed, defensive. “We are great dancers! I have a trophy with both our names engraved on it back at home to prove it.”

Cathy threw her giraffe back at her. “Why are you so scared of this? You’ve made the first move before, right?”

“Yeah, of course I have!” Casey said. She had kissed Truman and Sam first, and she had even pursued Max. She was confident in her advances, but this was different. “It’s not that I’m scared to do it.” Okey, she totally was, this was Derek they were talking about. Derek Venturi. Her step-brother and former vain of her existence. It wasn’t something someone just did. Plus, every time she thought about how her mother would react, she felt like jumping off a window with anxiety.

“You are not?” Jen asked. “Is this about the whole step-siblings thing?”

“No.” Yes. “Well, a little, but also, we’ve been dancing around this awkwardness for months and I feel that if I come onto him he’ll just –“

“He’ll just what?” Cathy said, leaning toward her.

“…Win?”

Jen frowned. “Win what?”

Casey put up both her hands. “Okay. I know I admitted to myself that I… love…. Derek but the thought of him knowing that? And having the upper hand for like, the thirty seconds it will take him to internally gloat and decide if he wants to immediately reciprocate or let me suffer for a few minutes as a joke? Uh, no. The thought of that makes my skin crawl.”

“Why would he do that?” Cathy asked, confused.

“To mess with me!” she said, as if it was obvious.

“Why, though?”

Casey stood from her bed, pacing around her tiny room. “Look, I have PTSD from so many years of pranks, I don’t expect you to understand it.”

Jen was looking at her skeptically. “I don’t buy this bullshit for a second.”

Casey’s shoulders slumped and she stared at her ceiling. A whine came from the back of her throat. “What if I am making all of this up?” she asked in a small voice.

Both Cathy and Jen groaned in exasperation.

“Not this again,” Cathy sighed. “Remember how he looks at you? Like you are a fucking treasure?”

“And remember that night at the club when you both ditched us? Remember the so-called magic?” Jen added.

Casey closed her eyes, evoking the memory of that night. Derek’s hands on her hips, the way he looked at her as if she was the only thing in the entire room, the way he would breathe in deep as if he couldn’t get enough air. The way it felt like they were on the cusp of Something.

His breath tickling her ear. ‘Can I k –‘

She opened her eyes to find Cathy and Jen looking at her expectantly.

She exhaled. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

.

.

.

The Gaels win the game, with two goals from Derek and some incredible assists. The party is buzzing with giddy energy, the exhilaration of the victory hanging in the air as people laughed, cheered and danced.

Casey was standing next to the kitchen with her friends, wringing her hands together nervously. She could see Derek from afar chatting and laughing with some teammates, and god, he looked good. Like a model who had just come out of a magazine, wet hair from the showers plastered against his forehead. Casey took the shot glass Jen was offering her and pounded it back hastily, grimacing instantly.

“Atta girl,” Jen laughed.

As soon as she could stop grimacing, she looked back up to the group of boys, only to find Derek´s scorching brown eyes on her. They made eye contact and he immediately raised his hand, mimicking a shot glass, sending her a questioning look.

Casey gulped, then shrugged innocently before turning back to the girls with wide eyes.

“I can’t do this, oh my god, this is so stupid –“

“Case! Relax!” Jen said, placing her hands on both of Casey’s upper arms. “Yes, you can.”

“No, I cannot!” she shrieked. “That’s Derek! I can’t tell him I like him –“

“Love him,” Cathy corrected.

“I can’t,” Casey repeated, feeling her breathing grow faster and shallower.

“Come on, Case,” Jen said, taking her hand and pulling her towards the bathroom, as Cathy disappeared in the direction of the kitchen. Casey assumed to get another shot. She was going to need it.

Jen closed the bathroom door behind them, and Casey went to the sink, opening the faucet and hastily spraying water onto her neck, shivering as a few droplets dripped down the cleavage of her sparkly silver top. Why the hell had she worn this top? This was so obvious and stupid, down from her top, up to the sparkly blue eye shadow, oh my god

“Casey,” Jen called, handing her a few paper towels to dry off her skin. “You are crazy about him. You two have been circling this thing for months. It’s become painful to watch. Don’t you just want to get it over with?”

Casey sighed, closing her eyes and leaning against the cold sink. “I do.”

“And Derek’s crazy about you too. Probably even more than you are. Probably for longer than you imagine! There’s no way this doesn’t go well.”

Casey nodded, summoning that night at the club in her mind, picturing Derek’s eyes looking at her. That had to mean something, it just did.

“I can do this,” she whispered.

Jen grinned. “Hell yeah, you can!”

Casey smiled back at her. “I can do this!”

Jen turned around and opened the bathroom door back up. Cathy was standing just outside waiting for them, a worried expression on her face and a shot glass on her hand. Casey wordlessly reached for it, and Cathy handed it over, winking.

She downed the fiery liquid immediately, feeling the warmth spreading through her veins. “I can do this!”

“You can do what?” A voice said from behind her.

She turned around to see Derek leaning against the wall behind her, hands in his pockets and a winning smile on his face.

“Catch you later, Case!” Cathy said, snatching the glass from her hands, and then both her roommates scurried away from them.

“Traitors,” Casey muttered under her breath, before turning back to Derek.

“So, how did you enjoy the game, Spacey?” he asked, putting extra emphasis on the nickname.

“Ugh, would you stop?” she groaned, “It’s embarrassing enough that another, actually respectable human being is calling me that now, too.”

“Excuse me?” Derek asked, putting an outraged hand to his chest. “I should be the one offended, that nickname is of my own creation! It should be copyrighted! What’s next? Is he gonna start calling you Princess, too?”

Casey felt a rush of warmth go through her at his words, and she leaned against the wall for support, mirroring him. “Why, D? Are you jealous?” She asked, thanking the shots for helping her bolder side come out.

Derek looked at her for a second before a lazy smirk appeared on his face. “Of course I am,” he said, his voice dropping an octave as he leaned in closer to her, making her breath catch in her throat. “My things are mine, Princess.”

“I am not a thing, you know?” she breathed, willing her eyes to stay on his and not drop lower.

He looked between her eyes intensely, and her stomach dropped at the same time his eyes did, falling to her mouth. “I wasn’t calling you a thing, are you saying you’re mine?” he asked, his eyes going back up to hers.

“Um,” Casey said, her throat drying up. This is it, she thought. This is it, Casey, be brave, go for it. “Derek,” she whispered.

“Casey!” a voice, definitely not Derek’s, shouted, making the two of them jump apart.

Casey’s eyes widened as she looked over Derek’s shoulder. “Kit?”

She didn’t know if she imagined it or not, but she could have sworn that Derek’s eye twitched before he turned towards Kit, too.

“Hey,” the other boy said, lifting a hand to squeeze Casey’s shoulder in greeting. “I was looking for you.”

She laughed nervously, her eyes drifting towards Derek, who was looking at Kit with narrowed eyes.

“By the way, great game, man,” Kit said, shooting a grin towards Derek.

“Uh, thanks,” Derek said, tone clipped. “No offense, but what are you doing here?”

“Derek,” Casey hissed.

“I’m friends with Cameron,” Kit said, referring to one of the team’s defense men. “He invited me.”

“Ain’t that great?” Derek muttered, rolling his eyes. Casey’s mouth dropped at his rudeness.

“D!” Ryan called, appearing beside them. Casey felt a twinge of annoyance in her gut. Couldn’t people just read rooms anymore?

“What?” Derek asked, snapping his eyes away from Kit and looking towards his teammate with the same amount of annoyance Casey was feeling.

“We are setting up everything outside, you coming?” said Ryan, pointing with his thumb toward the patio.

“Sure,” Derek said, then turned to Casey. “Are you coming?”

And that’s how she ended up outside, the chiller side of the party sitting in a circle with beers, passing a joint back and forth.

Cathy and Jen came outside eventually too, and both raised their eyebrows at the sight of Casey sitting in between Kit and Derek. Casey sent them a look. ‘I’ll explain it later.’

“No, no, but did you see that buzzer beater? D literally saved our asses,” Ryan was saying, praising his junior teammate. The rest of the team nodded appreciatively, and Derek ducked his head bashfully, a smirk coloring his features. Casey bumped her shoulder against his, and he bumped back, smiling.

“And how he came to that extra practice yesterday? When he was supposed to be doing that project? You are one of the good ones, kid,” said Dan, the team captain.

“De-rek!” Casey chastised. Derek threw a wicked grin her way, one that twisted her insides. Maybe if she could go inside, he’d follow her, and they could resume whatever the hell was going on before they were interrupted. Just the thought was enough for a blush to graze her cheeks.

“Cut your dear step-bro some slack, Casey!” said Duncan, the team’s goalie. “He just won us the whole game!”

“Thanks, dude,” Derek said, raising his beer towards his friend.

“Wait, step-brother?” Kit said aloud, frowning at Casey. “You guys are step-siblings?”

Casey shifted in her seat, uneasily. She had introduced him as just her friend yesterday. She knew that one would come back to bite her ass eventually. “Uh, yeah,” she said, searching Kit’s eyes for his reaction.

Derek leaned over her to stare at Kit, pressing against Casey’s side. “You got a problem with that?” he asked, an eyebrow raised in challenge. Casey elbowed him in the ribs.

Kit ignored him, looking at Casey with a weird expression she couldn’t quite place.

“As in, the same step-brother who slammed a door on your hand last semester?”

Casey took in a sharp breath and the group fell silent at once. She could feel Derek’s arm tensing against her own for a second before he retracted it, and Casey felt cold dread in the pit of her stomach.

“He –“Casey started, unsure of what to say. She had completely forgotten she had told Kit about that. She hadn’t meant to tell a soul except for her therapist, but she had told Kit because she was mad, and he didn’t know Derek. She had totally forgotten about it until now, because it hadn’t been a big deal when she told him, something along the lines of ‘my stupid step-brother accidentally closed a door on my fingers’ or something like that, and Kit had only asked about her injury, not Derek. She turned around to look at Derek, who was watching her with an unreadable expression on his face. He didn’t seem mad, but his face was so closed off she couldn’t tell. The rest of the group were all looking at them with awkward concern, and Casey turned the rest of her speech to all of them. “He didn’t just – slam a door on my hand! It was a complete freak accident. It could have happened to anyone.”

“How did it happen?” Kit asked, his eyes trained on Derek.

Hesitating, Casey’s eyes found Derek’s just as Jen cut the tension with a light tone. “Oh, no, I totally get it. Those kinds of accidents happen all the time.”

A few people around the circle nodded in agreement and the tension dropped significantly. Casey sighed in relief and sent Jen a thankful look, which the other girl responded to with raised eyebrows. ‘We are talking about this later’.

“Yeah,” Cathy added, with an awkward laugh. “My brother slammed a door on my hand once, too.” And as soon as the words left her mouth, she cringed. Casey felt like slapping her forehead with her hand.

The conversation resumed, and after a few seconds Derek excused himself from the group and went back inside the apartment. Casey wanted to scream in frustration. Was he mad? Was he embarrassed? What was he feeling? This was so not how she had pictured this night going.

Casey felt Kit’s hand on her arm.

“Casey,” he said quietly, “Are you okay?”

She tried hard to suppress the rage she was feeling towards him. He didn’t say it with ill intentions, she was almost sure of it, but he had completely blown her chances with Derek tonight, from the moment he had appeared, and she was very annoyed with him at this point.

“I’m fine,” she said, a little sharply. Kit’s eyebrows pinched and she sighed, willing her tone to soften. “I’m just gonna go check on Derek.”

Kit’s lips pressed into a line, but he nodded. She avoided his gaze as she stood up, and headed inside the apartment.

It didn’t take her long to realize that Derek was gone.

Chapter Text

She was at his door before noon the next day, because she couldn’t bear not knowing where they stood. If Derek was angry, or hurt, or upset she needed to know and she needed to talk it out with him, for she couldn’t stand the silence – laying on her bed at her dorm staring at her ceiling and wondering if he was going to reach out or keep to himself for weeks until everything cooled down again.

Casey had been done with avoidance for a long time.

She grasped the cup of coffee she had picked up for him on the way there, the warmth emanating from it giving her comfort as she debated with herself whether to knock or not. It was almost noon, but it was Sunday, and even if Derek had turned in relatively early last night, Kevin, his roommate, surely wanted to sleep the morning away.

Granted, she only assumed that Derek had turned in early. For all she knew he could have run into some girl and gone home with her. The thought made her want to drop the cup and run away.

Stop it, she told herself, he wouldn’t have done that.

She was growing tired of second guessing her own feelings and Derek’s all the time. If she could just grab the courage to ask him. If the world could just become a little easier for one moment, and they could just be honest with each other for a five-minute conversation, maybe she wouldn’t be questioning her sanity all the time.

They just needed to talk about last night first.

When Casey was done raking Ryan´s apartment for Derek and concluded that he had left, she had gone back outside, avoided Kit’s eyes deliberately, and ducked in between Cathy and Jen’s chairs to ask them to leave in hushed tones.

And as if the fiasco that was the party wasn´t enough, she had to deal with her roommates´ wrath when they got back to their dorm, having to answer rapid fire questions about not telling them things and how serious her hand injury had been.

She had painstakingly described the incident, leaving out virtually everything Derek had said to her, reassuring them that no, he definitely did not see her hand on the door jamb, he would never hurt her that way, and that she didn’t tell them because she felt terrible about the whole thing.

Cathy dropped the subject pretty fast, but Jen had held her gaze for a full minute with narrowed eyes, and Casey felt proud in her own determination, because the redhead sighed in defeat and shook her head. “If I wasn’t sure that boy adores you, I would be off kicking his ass right now.”

So, slightly irritated, Casey had gone to sleep with a million thoughts running through her mind that would not leave her alone until she was forced to walk across campus towards his dorm and plant herself in front of his door.

She raised her hand and hesitated for another second before sighing in annoyance with herself and knocking.

She drummed her index finger against the cup as she waited, and after a few seconds the door opened wide, revealing a tall, lanky boy with a bag hanging from his shoulder.

“Hey, Casey,” he said, as he pushed past her and left the door open for her. “Come on in.”

“Hi, Kevin.” She looked towards his bag curiously. “Where are you going?”

“Home.”

“On Sunday?”

“Yeah, family emergency,” said Derek’s roommate, and only then did Casey notice how frazzled he looked.

“Oh, sorry,” she said, moving to enter the dorm. “Good luck.”

“Thanks,” he said, already walking down the hallway. Casey stared after him with a frown, a thought prickling at the back of her mind, something she couldn’t quite discern. She felt the beginnings of anxiety creeping in her gut, but her thoughts were derailed by another voice.

“Casey.”

She almost jumped at the sound of his voice, and turned to see Derek standing inside the dorm, his hair disheveled and dark circles under his eyes.

Stomach twisting, she cleared her throat. “Hi. Were you asleep?”

He shook his head. “No.”

“Oh,” she said, unable to look away from him and his unreadable expression.

“Are you coming in?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.

She perked up. “Yeah.” She stepped inside and closed the door behind her, hastily shoving the cup towards him. “Here.”

Derek looked at it for a split second, a barely noticeable frown on his face, before cracking a little smile at her and taking the cup. “Thanks.”

Her heart skipped a beat at the gesture, but she could still feel the tension coming off him in waves – the rigidity of his shoulders and the gulping sound he made when he swallowed a sip from his coffee.

Casey cleared her throat again, fingers fiddling with the keychain hanging from her bag slung over her right shoulder. Derek just stared at her, waiting.

“I figured I could help you out with that project Dan was talking about yesterday.”

Derek sighed, looking over to his unmade bed were his laptop sat open, a document shining on the screen. “I was working on it.”

Casey felt like screaming in frustration. She didn’t know how to handle him when he was acting all dull and gloomy. She could handle teasing Derek, frustrated Derek, even angry Derek – when he was all sharp movements and furious eyes. But she didn’t really know this side of him, polite and subdued. She forced a smile. “I really don’t mind helping.”

He rolled his eyes, annoyance making its way through his impassive face, and she almost sighed in relief. “Can we cut the crap?”

It was all she needed to go off and start rambling. “Look, what I told Kit – I don’t even really remember that conversation,” she rushed, watching his expression change as he raised his eyebrows. “But I didn’t like, accuse you of anything. I was really vague about the whole incident and I don’t know what he thinks about it but –“

Derek cut her off, shaking his head. “I don’t care about what Kit thinks.”

Casey deflated, her shoulders slumping. “You don’t?”

“No,” he said, running a hand through his messy hair. “When have I ever given a damn what other people think of me? I care about what you think.”

She paused, eyes searching his face. He looked dead serious in a way he rarely ever did, and it was such a simple phrase, I care about what you think, but coming from him it meant the goddamn world to her. And he looked so sure, so matter of fact. It teleported her to that infamous night, the cold breeze tickling her skin as she watched the fairy lights reflect off his brown hair and eyes, that same earnest and determined look on his face as he told her everything she’d always wanted to hear him say.

You’ve always been there for me.

I need you.

I’m sorry.

They were all simple sentences, but maybe that was what she had always wanted – for them to be a simple thing; to be able to just fall into each other’s orbit and just be what they were always meant to be. They were complicated, yes, but they could be simple if they just let themselves be, and hearing all those words from Derek’s lips, so easy yet so hard for him to say… it was just everything for her. And that was exactly when she knew, when she let herself know all the things she had always pushed away.

Casey’s throat dried up, and she looked at him in puzzlement, not knowing what to say. “I – it was just a stupid accident, we talked…” She shook her head, unable to clear her head. “I’d already forgotten –“

Derek called bullshit immediately, sending her a dark look. “Casey.”

Okey, she didn’t forget. There was no way she could ever forget about that day. But that wasn’t the point.

She sighed, dropping her bag on a chair, and making her way over to his bed, slumping down on it with a frown. Derek watched her from the same spot he had been standing in since she walked in, all stiff shoulders and hard eyes. They looked at each other unwaveringly for a minute, long enough for her heart to speed up and his face to soften, and her chest filled with that acute affection, the kind that ached. Suddenly, she knew what she wanted to tell him.

“Look, that night at the club?” she said softly, watching as his face softened again, memories flashing behind his eyes. “This issue was resolved for me that night,” she assured, not breaking eye contact once. “I don’t like to think about it, but that doesn’t mean it’s not done for me. We already talked everything out, it’s in the past.”

“So, you don’t care about what Kit thinks?” he asked, his tone matching hers in gentleness.

Casey´s lips quirked up. “No. I care about what you think.”

Derek sighed, coming to sit beside her. “You already know what I think,” he said, turning to look at her, his eyes boring into hers.

She shuddered. No, I don’t. If I could just know what you’re thinking when you look at me. If you’d give me your heart so I can look inside for just one second, I’d give you everything you ask for, forever.

She choked on her own emotion, forcing a teasing smile as she said in a strangled voice. “I would if you hadn’t gone.”

“Sorry about that.” He rubbed a hand against his face, leaving reddish spots on his skin when he pulled it away.

“Derek,” Casey said, making him look at her again. She didn’t know why it was, but when they were alone, it wasn’t as hard for her to maintain eye contact with him. She still felt all the spectrum of feelings, but she felt somewhat calmer. There was a peace inside of her when they were alone that she just didn’t feel when they were in crowds, or at parties. It was just them and she just didn’t feel nervous at all. “What’s going on?”

He stared between her eyes, serious. “Nothing, Case.”

“I don’t really believe that.”

“Do you have to know everything?” he stressed, although there was a hint of amusement in his tone.

“Uh, have you met me?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Fair point,” he said, eyes dropping momentarily to run across her face, making her breath catch. “I don’t really feel like talking right now.”

There was something in those words, a sort of hidden meaning that set her heart on a frenzy. She unconsciously fisted her hands on the messy sheets, her lower lip catching in between her teeth as she looked at him, those deep brown eyes she could stare into all day, and when she noticed he was staring at her mouth she thought, with more certainty than ever, holy shit, this is it.

It was as if she didn’t have control over her own body as she leaned in, just a mere centimeter, before his eyes widened fractionally and he moved slightly away from her, his voice going squeaky as he said, “Case?”

Oh my fucking god.

Casey leaned back, feeling her entire face on fire. “W-what?”

“A-are you still coming home this weekend?”

It was as if she could actually hear the record scratch inside her head. What?

“Wait, what?” she said aloud, looking at him as if he was crazy. “This weekend?”

“Marti’s birthday?”

Oh, there was that anxiety she had felt before when Kevin had mentioned going home.

“Wait, no.” She stood up from the bed abruptly, pacing around the dorm. “That’s not this weekend. It was my Algebra exam, your game, and then –“ She stopped in her tracks, turning to look at him with wide eyes. “Oh my god, it is this weekend.”

“Yeah.” Derek had a weirdly worried expression on his face as he stared at her from the bed. He cleared his throat awkwardly. “Are you going?”

As it often happened when she was feeling anxious, she couldn’t quite comprehend what Derek was saying, her breathing had become ragged, thoughts of seeing her family, seeing her mom, when she had just almost kissed Derek running through her brain at high speed. She looked at him with furrowed brows. “Why? Are you not going?”

“It’s Marti. I have to go.” He stood up and approached her, placing both hands on either of her arms. “Case, relax.”

“Well, I have to go, too,” she said, too loud, avoiding his eyes.

He squeezed her upper arms, making her look at him. “I can just say you needed to study,” he said softly, trying to catch her eyes.

Casey shook her head. “No, no. I’m going.”

“Okay,” he said, and then, he placed his hands on her cheeks, the combination of his cold skin against her feverish one helping her focus better. “Case, it’s just a weekend, okay? And then we come back.” She stared at him as her breathing calmed down, his soft eyes full of caring, and suddenly she understood.

Derek knew she was going to react this way to going home. He probably knew why, too. Which led her to believe that that was the reason he hadn’t – well, made a move yet.

It’s just a weekend, and then we come back.

It sounded like a reassurance, but also like a promise at the same time.

He probably knew that if they did anything before she had time to figure out her feelings about everything, including their family, she would completely lose it. He was so smart for some things, for everything that came to her.

She felt a weird combination of exasperation and love for him right then, but mostly she just really wanted to throw up.

Casey grabbed his wrists, gently pulling his hands away from her face. “I know,” she said, quietly.

Derek smiled, understanding in his eyes. “Why don’t you go to your dorm and get some rest? It’s Sunday, you don’t need to study every day.”

“Are you kicking me out?” she asked, but there was no real heat behind it. She was suddenly exhausted, the lethargy of an almost anxiety attack taking a toll on her.

“No, I’m not,” he said. “But I really need to finish this project.”

“You don’t want me to help you with that?” she asked, feeling kind of hurt that he hadn’t asked her. He always asked for her help when he was on a deadline. Or past one.

Derek shook his head. “No, I’m good.”

Casey hesitated, lingering on her spot even after Derek had made his way back to his bed, laying with his back against the wall and his laptop resting on his thighs.

He sent her a look. “Seriously, Case, I’m fine, go. I’ll see you tomorrow. Promise.”

Casey sighed. After all those months of growing closer, and everything they’ve been through, she’d learned not to push so much when he said he was fine and genuinely didn’t need her help. If he said he was going to see her tomorrow, then he was. Derek never lied to her anymore.

“Okay,” she conceded, grabbing her bag. “Will you text me if you need help, though?”

“Sure,” he said.

With a last smile in his direction, she left his dorm. But as soon as the door closed and she started making her way back to her own dorm, that gnawing feeling in her gut came back, duller but persistent.

.

.

.

Whenever Casey thought about how and when she fell in love with him, the first night that popped into her head was the night they reconciled at the club. However, when she let herself really think about it, when she lay in bed awake and unable to fall asleep, she could map out a series of moments that came before and after that night. Flashes of smiles, little acts of kindness, heated glances that only served to accumulate feelings in a box she had trouble keeping closed. The thing was, she only allowed herself to open it for the first time after that night, but the fact that she had opened it didn’t mean she didn’t try to fight off every single thing that came out of it before she decided to completely give in.

She had been so absorbed with Derek, and her feelings for him, and trying to guess what he was thinking and figure out how she should act, that she hadn’t really given much thought to how her family would react if they ever did decide cross that line. Sure, it was always at the back of her mind – fleeting thoughts when she got a text from Lizzie, the dread when her mom called, but she had been so invested in her relationship with Derek that she had simply forgotten she may not have the time to figure it all out before the family came in.

And how would the family react to it?

In Kingston, it was easy to forget. People knew they were step-siblings, but Casey had gotten so used to her friends encouraging her to pursue a relationship with Derek, so used to overhearing his friends making comments, and pretending she didn’t see Derek playfully shoving them with a bashful smile on his lips, that it was easy to ignore that little detail. It didn’t matter they were step-siblings at Queens.

However, in London, what they had was a family. An entire family that she had once rejected but now had grown to love so much. She had learned to adopt Edwin and Marti as her younger siblings, even look up to George as a father figure – she had her own father, and she would always credit Dennis as such, but she couldn’t pretend he did anything more to fill in that job than George did – but Derek? She had never been able to fit him into that box, even before she was aware of her feelings for him. She never wanted people to look very closely into their relationship for a reason she didn't want to think about, afraid of what they might find if they stared for long enough, seeing past their explosive dynamic and more into the subtext.

She remembered one time, close to a year since they had moved in with the Venturi’s. It was a hot day, the AC doing barely anything to keep the heat from suffocating the entire family. Nora had asked Casey to help her fix a fruit salad. So there she had been, in the kitchen cutting up oranges into perfect cubes as her mother did the same with some apples, when Derek came into the kitchen, shirt off and sweat glistening on his summer-tanned skin. Casey watched as he braced one hand on the kitchen island, leaning over the counter to steal an orange cube from the pile she had been cutting, and then he cheekily grinned at her, winking, probably waiting for her retaliation. But all she could do was stare, his broken name caught at the back of her throat.

At her wide-eyed gaze, he had simply shrugged and walked back into the living room, and Casey followed the planes of his back with her eyes as he made his way over to his recliner to sit in full blast of the lackluster cool air.

Casey,” her mom had reproached, casting a meaningful look towards her daughter, like she knew exactly what was going through her head.

Casey had been mortified, and ever since that day she had been sure that even if she couldn’t see Derek as a brother, she could never see him as anything else either. Not without facing her mother’s disappointment.

So no, she wasn’t ready to face her family yet, but that didn’t mean her feelings for Derek were in question. She knew what she wanted, and she knew there was no going back from it. She just needed this weekend to be over already.

It didn’t help that he was so obviously trying to avoid her. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for him to dote on Marti, especially if it was his baby sister’s birthday, but she couldn’t help but notice he had barely looked at or talked to her at all since they had arrived in the house three hours ago.

It was a small party, Marti’s friends running around the living room, loud laughter and squeals filling the air. Casey had stuck to Lizzie’s side, eager to get out of her own head and listen to her sister’s stories, giving advice when she felt it was needed.

“Are you okay?” Lizzie asked, her blue eyes glistening with concern. Her sister was probably the most genuine person Casey had ever known, and she couldn’t help but feel like she was lying to her by saying she was fine. By pretending she was okay with her mother saying ‘finally all my children are home’ after hugs were exchanged when she and Derek had walked through the door. By hiding the fact that she felt nauseous being back in that house when she didn’t know what was going through Derek’s head, when she was counting down the seconds to retreat into her old room and be by herself, where she didn’t need to put on an act.

She forced a smile, shifting slightly her weight between her feet. “I’m great Lizard, just happy to be home.”

Lizzie smiled sadly, “You don’t look happy.” Casey felt her own smile waver. “Is it Derek? Did you guys fight?”

Casey cleared her throat, looking away from Lizzie and letting her eyes wander around the room. “Why would you think that?”

“Because you two haven’t spoken a word to each other since you got here. Normally, you would have had three fights already.”

“I’ll have to agree with Lizzie,” said a voice behind them, and Casey jumped when she saw their mother coming up to them with a tray of sandwiches in hand. “I mean, the silence is nice, but it is a little concerning.”

“Oh, um,” Casey laughed nervously, fighting the urge to run away. “We don’t really fight as much anymore.”

“You don’t?” Lizzie asked, a puzzled expression on her face.

“No,” Casey said, and left it at that. It wasn’t a lie. They still argued over silly things, and she still got annoyed when his teasing went too far, but she was never really angry at him anymore.

“Huh,” Nora said, looking at Casey with a weird expression on her face that she couldn’t quite place. It made the anxiety twisting in her gut feel ten times more intense, multiple scenarios in which her mom pulled her away and accused her of being in love with her step-brother conjuring in her mind.

“What are you ladies talking about?”

Casey broke free from her mother’s inquisitive gaze to look at George approaching with Edwin. She checked to see that Derek was still in the other side of the room, sitting on the couch with an adorable flower crown resting on top of his head as he listened intently to something Marti was telling him. She almost wanted him to come over and save her. Out of the two of them, he was always the one who got them out of trouble faster.

You are not in trouble, you idiot. It’s just a conversation with your family, calm down.

Her mother turned to George with a smile on her face. “I think it’s finally happening, Georgie.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Casey and Derek have finally matured,” she said, enthusiastically and loud enough for Derek to look up from his conversation with Marti. He locked eyes with Casey, and she didn’t know what he saw on her expression, but he immediately got up from the couch and made his way over to where they were all standing, Marti trailing behind him with a curious look in her eyes.

“Matured?” Edwin asked with a snort, as if the idea was ridiculous.

“Yes, Casey here says they don’t fight anymore!”

“Uh, I beg to differ,” Derek said as he settled next to Nora, briefly looking at Casey before focusing his gaze on her mom. “We argued over the radio station all the way here.”

Nora threw him a teasing smile. “No, I can see clearly what’s going on here.”

Derek’s smirk dropped from his face. “What do you mean?”

“College has finally made you two grow closer!” her mom said, clapping her hands together in delight. “I knew it was only a matter of time till you warmed up to your sister,” she added, playfully elbowing Derek’s side. Casey felt like vomiting.

Derek threw a look her way, too quick for her to discern anything, before averting his eyes again. He remained silent. Casey felt a twinge of annoyance in her gut. What the hell was wrong with him?

“Mom,” Casey called, a little sharper than she had intended, making Nora look at her with slight surprise, but Casey’s eyes were still trained on Derek, who was looking intently at the floor. “We are not siblings.” She could see a frown appear on Derek’s face.

Nora’s smile faltered, but she shrugged. “I'm just glad you two are getting along. It's like a dream come true.”

“I agree,” George said, nodding along his wife. “We could use some peace in this house.”

“Well, I can’t believe it,” Edwin said, crossing his arms over his chest. “I thought I’d never see the day, with all those fights and the pranks Derek pulled?”

“Edwin’s right,” Lizzie laughed. “Casey would get so mad. Sometimes she even cried.” Derek visibly flinched, and Casey felt as if she had been kicked in the gut. “Good on you for being the bigger person, Sis.”

“I don’t think it’s crazy at all,” Marti said, and everyone turned to look at her. She was standing next to Derek, arms crossed in a defying posture reminiscent of her older brother’s. “Smerek cares about Casey, a lot.”

Derek placed a hand on his sister’s shoulder, and she immediately quelled, as if with that simple touch Derek communicated something no-one else was able to hear.

“Of course he does, sweetie,” George said. “We are just teasing.”

An awkward silence followed that statement, and suddenly, Derek perked up. “I’ll be back in a few hours,” he said, clapping and rubbing his hands together.

“What?” Casey exclaimed a little too loud, but it was muffled by George and Marti’s voices saying the same.

“Where are you going?” George asked.

“I just have to do something, I’ll come back in a few hours,” he assured, looking at his father. Never at Casey. Not once. She wanted to scream.

“But Smerek! It’s my birthday,” Marti pouted.

Derek crouched down next to her and whispered something in her ear, making the girl sigh but nod her head in agreement. “Now go entertain your actual guests,” he said as he got up, gesturing to the living room full of kids engaging in various shenanigans. “Later,” he called cheerily as he walked out the front door. Casey wondered if anyone else noticed his weird demeanor.

.

.

.

Casey was already in Derek’s room when he came back much later, far after everyone else had already gone to bed. It was unbearable, having to deal with her own anxiety while also worrying about what was going through his mind because he just wouldn’t talk to her, and she was tired of feeling ridiculous.

She knew it was probably a terrible idea, to confront him in their parents’ house. To demand things from Derek had always been a futile thing – he only did things he wanted to do, so trying to pry truths out of him was basically pointless, especially when he was so avoidant lately. But she needed to know why he was acting so weird. At least so that Casey could understand him and get with the program, because she was feeling so lost, not knowing how to act around him, it was honestly starting to make her feel stupid.

So, when she heard his cautious steps coming up the stairs, she straightened up in her seat on his childhood bed, waiting for him to come in. She heard him make a stop in the bathroom, and then a few seconds later he was opening his bedroom door.

“Where were you?” she asked, not wasting a second.

“Jesus Christ,” Derek startled, almost falling back out of his bedroom. Upon noticing it was just her, he came back in and softly closed the door behind him. He narrowed his eyes at her. “What are you doing here?”

“Where were you?” she asked again, a hint of accusation in her tone. She didn’t want to sound so reprimanding, but she could feel a particular brand of hotness burning low in her belly beginning to rise as she realized, for the first time in months, that she was angry at him.

He sighed, leaning back against his door with his hands in his pockets. “I was out driving.”

“For six hours?”

Derek shrugged. “Yeah.” And it was that particular tone, that nonchalance, that told her it was bullshit. Why were they back to lying?

Casey sighed, trying to quell her anger. It wouldn’t do any good to fight him, they just needed to be on the same page. She rubbed her fingers against her temples in exasperation. “Can you please tell me what’s going on?”

He run a hand down his face, tiredness exuding from his body. “Nothing’s going on, Casey.”

“Stop that. Stop lying. Just tell me, I can’t take this anymore.” She could feel her hands balling into fists with the force she was doing to control her emotions. Fuck, am I going to cry?

Derek snapped his eyes to hers, a look of anger in his own face, his eyes darkening and his jaw tightening. “I couldn’t stand being here anymore, okay? I needed to get out.”

“And you think I could?” she hissed, feeling herself getting furious now. She stood from his bed, coming closer to him to stand with her arms crossed.

He peeled himself away from the door, his hands coming out from his pockets. Casey could tell he was trying to control his temper, she should be doing the same, considering everyone else was asleep, but the thought was far off at the back of her mind, her entire being concentrated on her frustration.

“I told you not to come,” he said, through clenched teeth.

“What?” she exclaimed, indignant.

Derek nodded, looking at her as if all his problems were her fault. “The other day in my dorm. I told you not to come, yet you insisted,” he said, pointing at her accusingly. Then, he opened his arms wide and laughed sarcastically. “And here we are!”

Casey shook her head, baffled and pissed off in equal amounts. “I can’t believe you’re blaming this on me!”

“I’m not blaming anything on you.”

“Then why the hell didn’t you want me to come?” Casey asked, stabbing his chest with her index finger. “This is my house too, you know?”

Derek laughed derisively under his breath, muttering a word that sounded too similar to ‘exactly’.

“What was that?” she snapped in a demanding tone, and fuck, she felt like a goddamn teacher dealing with a back-talking student. Why the hell were they like this?

Derek met his eyes with hers, and they were standing really close now, but the familiar thrill of excitement was buried in her mounting anger. This felt entirely too familiar, this was known territory, this was what they did best.

“I didn’t want you to come because then all this awkward shit would have been easily avoided, and your anxiety wouldn’t be fucking killing you, and I wouldn’t be having to avoid you like the plague,” he hissed, his voice raising unwittingly.

Casey shushed him hastily, lowering her own voice to hiss back. “You don’t have to avoid me, that’s a choice you made alone.”

Derek scoffed, matching her hushed tone and her venom. “Please. You hate this. You wouldn’t be able to handle it if I treated you like I do in college in front of your mom.”

Casey steered back, an awful blush covering her entire face at his blatant suggestion. She stuttered. “I – that’s neither here nor there.”

“Tell me I’m wrong, though,” Derek defied, a hint of bitterness in his tone. “Tell me you’re not terrified of what they would say.”

She looked down, avoiding his brazen gaze. She felt called out and embarrassed, but the worst part was that she couldn’t find it in herself to deny his statement.

“…I can’t,” she whispered, ashamed.

She heard him sigh, and move away from her, leaning back against the door again. “And that’s exactly why you shouldn’t have come.”

Casey snapped her head back to him, feeling her annoyance being rekindled by his entitlement. “Well, news flash Derek, this is our family, and we would have had to come over together eventually!”

“I figured by then it wouldn’t matter!” he practically yelled, closing his eyes instantly as if he had been trying to hold that in and it had accidentally come out.

“What?” she asked, confused by his outburst. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

Derek deflated, burying his face in his hands, and then running them through his hair frustratedly. “Nothing, I’m sorry,” he said, softly, sounding so genuine that it immediately mitigated her.

Casey reached out and touched his arm, gently. He shuddered. “Please.”

Derek looked at her, his eyes so dark and so defeated, it made her want to wrap her arms around him and protect him from the world. Derek. Who would have ever thought he would appear so vulnerable to her, someone she’d always considered to be unshakable.

“I figured maybe by then, you wouldn’t… feel this way anymore.”

Casey felt her mouth dry, something about his words and the tone of his voice sending her heart beating in a frenzy. “… Feel this way about what?” She looked into his eyes, and she knew. They both knew. She thought maybe they’d always known.

“About me.”

Her eyes watered. “What?” she whispered; the word so charged with emotion for such a simple question.

Derek moved away from her abruptly, pacing around his room as her eyes widened, following his movements in puzzlement. “It is exposed in front of our entire friend group that I’m an asshole who fucking slammed a door on your hand,” he said, spitting out the words with disgust. “And the next day you come over and bring me coffee and offer me help with my project. You don’t see anything wrong with that sentence?”

“No, I don’t,” she said, getting whiplash at the constant change in topics, looking at him as if he was crazy.

He came to a stop in front of her, and Casey realized, feeling her body shake with the shock, that his eyes were shining a particular way, a little red around the corners. As if he was holding back tears. “Every time I think we've moved past everything, every time I convince myself that maybe I’m good, that I am somehow worth half your time, something like this comes along, and it’s like I’m waiting for you to realize too!”

She swallowed, unable to keep the wonder out of her face. “Realize what?”

“That I’m not worth it, Case!” he exclaimed, exasperated. “Your own fucking sister said it – I made you so angry you would cry, yet you never stopped being kind to me,” Derek looked at her, so much emotion behind his eyes. He reached out with his hands as if he was going to touch her, but seemed to think better of it at the last second and retreated them, balling them into fists at his sides. “I don’t deserve anything you give me. Hell, I don’t even deserve the way you’re looking at me right now! But I eat it all up anyway, because I’m crazy about you. You know it, I know it, fuck it, all my friends know it. And it’s only a matter of time before the family knows it too, so that’s why I’m avoiding you.”

Casey could only stare at him as he breathed heavily, regret already marring his features as he waited for her to say something.

There it was, the confession she had desperately been waiting for. The moment everything laid bare between them. But it wasn’t how she had wanted it. It wasn’t beautiful or momentous. It was desperate, and screamed in hushed tones, the words practically pulled out of him like teeth.

“I –“ she said, confused. There was so much wrong with what he had said, so many things he had gotten wrong, so many things he thought about himself that she would never think – but she couldn’t for the life of her begin to tell him everything she wanted to.

“Fuck, I’m sorry, Case. I never wanted – “

But he was cut off by his door opening abruptly, making them both jump. There stood George, wearing his pajamas, messy hair sticking in every direction and an annoyed look on his face.

“What the hell is going on with you two? It’s 1 am.”

Casey and Derek only stared at him, both shocked at the interruption and for forgetting, for a second too long, where they were.

“I thought you didn’t fight anymore,” he continued, shaking his head in disappointment. “I guess it was too good to be true.”

“Dad, I –“ Derek started.

George raised a hand to shut him up. “I don’t want to hear it. Off to bed the two of you, now.”

Shell-shocked and unable to look back at Derek without being suspicious, Casey moved away from Derek’s room, her feet feeling like lead as she carried herself to her own bed, heart beating in her ears.