"You think my dates start and end with dinner and a movie? Come on, Case. Give me some credit."
"Funny enough, I never thought you were capable of arranging a real date."
"What do you think I did?" Derek rejoiced as Casey's cheeks darkened and she diverted her eyes. Oh, how he loved that color on her. "Anxious for the fun parts, eh?"
"Der-rek." Casey groaned his name deeply under her breath, and he lapped up the sound greedily. Inner turmoil struck Derek briefly as he wondered how many octaves she could reach splitting his name.
"No worries, Case. They're yours now too."
A throat cleared and the barista held out her hand impatiently. Derek managed to divert his attention away from Casey long enough to hand over his credit card, offering a sheepish grin that usually worked to get him out of trouble.
The girl ran the card swiftly through the machine, jabbing it back into Derek's hand and motioning them to the next window.
Casey led the way, him grazing his hand along her lower back. And yes, Derek took great pride in that little hiccup in her step. She stopped with a stomp, crossing her arms and huffing.
Unable to smother the side-smirk pulling at the corner of his mouth, Derek grazed his shoulder along hers, the sparks from earlier instantly reignited, ricocheting between them like fireworks.
"Venturi?" A different barista called his name timidly, interrupting their... yeah.
Derek stepped forward, offering a charming grin as he retrieved the drinks. "Thanks. Hope it's perfect or my girl over there will behead me... or worse." He added a wink because he could.
"Der-rek! Stop telling the poor girl lies!" Casey marched forward, bumping shoulders with him as she tried to snatch her coffee cup. Unsuccessful, Casey turned to the girl, giving her a radiant smile. "I'm sorry. I've been apologizing for him for years and it never gets any easier."
The girl shook her head, already turning away from them. "No need. I can tell you've been together forever. Goodnight."
Casey stood stock-still, the shock clear on her face, but Derek's heart gave a little jump.
Smirking, he presented the cup to Casey with a bow. "Her majesty."
Her blush lit the shop as Casey's eyes darted around, checking for an audience. Hesitantly, she grasped the cup, their fingertips brushing slightly in the transfer, but it was enough to zap every nerve in Derek's body at least once.
She pulled away quickly, clutching the steaming coffee desperately with both hands.
Captivated by Casey's inviting red lips blowing on her beverage, Derek almost missed the question.
"Since when do you even speak coffee lingo?"
Derek mentally winced as the word adorable sprang to mind as he watched her pout at him. "I don't."
Casey's eyebrow hitched in that special, 'I'm challenging you, Derek' way, so he retorted, "But I'd know your order backwards, upside down, or riding a camel named Helga sidesaddle across the Sahara."
The corners of Casey's lips twitched, instantly swelling his— in Casey's words, oversized ego. Whatever, he took it as a win.
"Gee, Der, that's quite specific."
With a grin, he reached for her elbow, steering them out of the small coffeeshop. "It's true."
Rolling her eyes, Casey smiled back. "Well, give Helga my regards."
They laughed together, the bell tinkling merrily above them as they stepped out into the fresh night air.
Delicately sipping her coffee, Casey's bright blues eyed him. "Where to now, oh great date planner?"
Giving her his most attractive smirk, Derek reached for her hand. His voice dropped a register lower, "Walk with me?"
"Okay." Casey nibbled on her bottom lip. Pointlessly, Derek tried to squash the jealousy over her lip the action created inside him. "I know a place."
His eyebrows rose on their own accord. "Yeah?" Derek added just enough suggestiveness to his voice to make her hand tremble in his. "Lead the way, Princess."
Nodding tentatively, Casey pulled him along with her as she set off down the sidewalk.
"Um—" Casey coughed, slipping her hand from his grasp. She tried to discretely switch her coffee to the other hand, but Derek understood her movements.
"There's a neat little place down by the lake I like to go." She trailed off, reluctant to look at him.
"Let me guess," He tried for teasing, but it came out fonder than he planned, "You go there to read."
The light pink dancing across her cheeks told him everything he need to know.
Derek hummed, "Don't worry, Princess. I'll corrupt you yet."
"It's peaceful, Derek." Finally, her beautiful face turned towards him, and he drank it in like a drowning man.
"I will not have my special spot become— become your place for— for debauchery!"
He snorted before he snickered. "Debauchery? Okay, Grandma, but don't you mean our debauchery?" Derek raised his eyebrows up and down saucily.
She gaped at him, a perfect picture of dazed.
Smirking, he added, "We're a package deal, you know." Derek's arm slid around her shoulders, drawing her into his chest as she stumbled.
Spluttering, Casey cried, "DER-REK!"
"Ahh," He squeezed her shoulders. "Music to my ears." His hand trialed up and down her leather jacket.
Derek chanced a glance down at her, only to find her frowning. He bit the inside of his cheek. He could not have her withdrawing from him. Taking a deep breath, he inhaled her pure Caseyness before letting her go, but not before wondering exactly when he became such a goner.
Startled, Casey tripped slightly, but recovered. She wrapped her arms around her middle, clutching desperately.
His sharp eyes caught the nervous twitch of her elbow. Abruptly, he changed tactics. "So, Miss Keen-a-lots, are we there yet?"
"It's right up there." He followed her pointer finger up the hill.
"I walked less at workouts today."
"Aww, and I thought you were Mr. Macho Man."
The twinkle in Casey's eye returned as she teased him, and Derek sent a silent chorus of Hallelujahs to the heavens above. And then he cringed. Damn, Casey knew his buttons as well as he knew hers.
His mouth opened in reply, but Casey suddenly dug her elbow into his side, a mischievous smile overtaking her enticing lips as she cried, "Race you!"
Without another warning, she took off up the hill as Derek stared awestruck, her playful smirk paralyzing his limbs.
Halfway up the hill, Casey stopped, jutting a curvy hip towards him as she taunted, "What's the matter, Der? Too slow?"
Her words woke up his sleepy gears, his feet springing into action as he charged up the hill. Casey's eyes widened comically as she spun on her heel, racing away from him.
Derek easily caught her around the waist, throwing her over his shoulder as she squealed. He hummed happily, "If I were you, I wouldn't question my manliness, Case."
"Derek! Careful my coffee!"
"Better not spill a drop on my jacket, Princess."
"Then put me down!"
"No can do." Without his permission, Derek's hand squeezed the powerful thigh beneath it.
The whimper that escaped from Casey would play on repeat in his mind for the rest of his life.
Casey gasped, "DER-rek!" Scratch that last. The new emphasis on his name officially became his favorite sound ever.
"You spill it, you clean it." Really, his talent for speaking normally at a time like this came in... handy.
Derek felt her collapse against his back.
"Is there ever any winning with you?"
"Nope!" He popped the p for old-time sake. "I'd be willing to implement a reward system though." This time the squeeze was entirely on purpose.
He faked a sigh, "That's what they all say."
Casey groaned, the sound vibrating through to his very bones.
"Put me down, you— you— caveman!"
Laughing, he spanked her, earning another upside-down shriek. "Me, man. You, woman!" Derek bounced her dramatically in his arms. "Mine, mine, mine!"
"Magic word, Casey."
"Ah, ah, ah, ah! Say it." Derek drummed a rhythm across her cheeks, a well-rounded... tune if he said so himself.
Immediately, he righted her. Casey wobbled on her feet, and his arms shot out to steady her shoulders. Spluttering, she smoothed her hair, then her clothes before pushing his hands away and whipping to him.
He held out his hands defensively in front of him, failing to stifle the... manly reaction to the heat of her gaze burning him. Shifting, Derek backed slowly away.
Casey advanced, matching him... step for step.
"Casey..." Gulping, Derek stopped, willing himself to face the music.
With one last glare, she knocked into his shoulder as she passed him. Striding away, Casey settled gracefully onto a bench that Derek failed to notice.
Derek watched as her trembling hand brought the coffee cup to her lips, and she sipped delicately at the drink. He would deny it to the moon and back if anyone ever mentioned the minute he took to observe Casey set against the evening backdrop. The glistening lake and the shining moon accented her natural beauty.
That's it, Venturi. Someone needs to chug a few brews and burp the alphabet, PRONTO.
"Come here, Derek." Casey's soft demand broke through every single thought in his head, and he found himself sinking into the space beside her before he even knew his feet moved.
Their leather clad shoulders brushed together as they took in the dark flowing water in silence.
Surprising him, Casey broke the silence first, her keen eyes never leaving the lake. "Isn't it magical?"
Derek observed her profile, Casey's stunning blue eyes reflecting the twinkling lights and the water's rippling edge. He muttered gruffly, unable to stop the cliché from happening. "Yeah. Yeah, it is."
She looked at him then, their eyes efficiently holding the other's captive. Whatever she found on his face made Casey smile gently before she turned her attention back to the water.
"I found this place our first week here. Accidently. But I come back when I need to be alone and think. Life's been kind of—" Casey's tongue darted out to wet her lips. "Chaotic lately."
Clearing his throat, Derek asked, "Have you been here at night?"
"No, this is my first time." Casey sighed wistfully. "Obviously, I've been missing out."
It was an accident that the back of his hand grazed the top of hers, but he almost sighed out loud when Casey refused to recoil.
This was... Casey. The girl who fought tooth and nail with him those few short years ago when the McDonalds moved into his home. Now, Derek sat peacefully on a deserted path, taking in the scenery with her, who willingly showed him her secret sanctuary.
Suddenly, Derek swallowed back... feelings? He cringed inside his head. The thumb trailing along the outside of Casey's hand stuttered before tightening its grip.
"Case?" Was that his voice? Surely the sexy smooth timbres of his voice never croaked like that. Derek swallowed, his usual suaveness returning as he murmured softly, "How's the flight?"
Without facing him, she observed him silently. Derek tried to arrange his features into a mask of indifference, but somewhere through the course of events, he lost control.
The corners of Casey's mouth twitched. "You mean on... Girlfriend Airlines?"
"Mmm." His dimple broke free. "Something like that."
And suddenly, the word girlfriend did not cause his body to break out in hives... In fact, he savored this newfound adrenaline spike.
"Well," Casey bit back a smile, "I'm not a frequent flier, but so far it's been rather... smooth, I suppose."
"Well," Derek beamed, his voice laced with humor, "As a skilled pilot, I can tell you that you are in very... capable hands."
Casey sobered quickly, her full lips disappearing. "What if we run into turbulence?"
The worry in her voice tugged at something deep inside him.
"What if we do?"
"We can face it." Derek never felt surer about anything... and that meant everything.
"You said there's no seatbelts."
"Casey—" Derek angled his body entirely towards her, a comforting grin in place as he threw an arm around the back of their bench. "Relax."
"You know, I can't." She nibbled her bottom lip again. "Maybe you should get seatbelts."
He mocked her lightly, "You know, I can't." With a free hand, Derek poked the sensitive spot in Casey's side, earning a small giggle as she shied away. "Are you doubting my piloting abilities?"
"Every day of my life, D."
Derek smirked for her. "What can I say? I'm a daredevil."
Jokingly she slapped at his fingers. "Daredevil Derek? The original Triple D?"
"One of the originals."
"What's the original?"
He sang cockily, "If I tell you, I'd have to kill you."
"Oh, come on!"
"I thought I had girlfriend privileges." That teasing grin combined with those words might have broken a weaker man.
"'Course, Princess." He relished in his Venturi smirk. "But not all gifts are unwrapped at once." That spicy wink he sent her? Also, an accident.
Casey's shining blue eyes immediately dropped to her lap, her pink face pouting.
Derek's hand on the back of the bench, ran through her long locks. "Tell ya what, GF, I'll tell you when you build up enough credits."
"And how will I do that?"
Shrugging, Derek strived for his usual confidence. "Oh, just like street creds. You'll have to figure it out as you go."
"So informative. Thank you very much."
Shaking her head, Casey focused on the rippling waves. Her dangling legs swung back and forth as silence descended on them. Only when a shiver ricocheted through Casey, Derek realized his wandering hand still trailed absentmindedly through her hair.
"Um—" With a cough, she looked up at him through her dark lashes. "Maybe we should head back."
One look into those baby blues, and Derek new he would do anything to prolong this night. "You sure?"
She nodded, rising from the bench and heaving him up by the forearm. "We actually have class tomorrow, remember?"
Dramatically, he groaned, allowing her to drag him down the path.
"So... was that a typical date with Derek?" Her bright eyes bore into his as they paused outside her dorm.
"What? Am I being graded on my date-taking abilities?"
Casey's lips struggled to stay in a straight line. "Just wondering how much credit you deserve. I don't want recycled material."
"Well, to answer your question, that was—" Derek winked flirtatiously, "The school night version. Gotta get my little keener home, so she doesn't miss her bedtime." Derek tweaked her cheek, unable to keep himself from touching her skin.
In return, Casey wacked him in the chest. His hand darted up to rub at the wound. "Ouch, Case. Watch the merchandise."
"Did I hurt the big strong hockey center?"
"You hit me in my weakest part."
For the first time in his life, Derek experienced... word vomit.
The way his words stunned her, would have been hysterical if said organ was not trying to beat out of his chest. Equally speechless, Derek waited for the inevitable.
"Um, well—" Casey fidgeted, retreating backwards. "Goodnight." She made it a few steps into her room before he tugged her back by the wrist.
"Whaa—" The air whooshed from her lungs as Derek tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. His hand slipped around the back of her head, his fingers tangling in her curls.
Time suspended around them. As Derek's warm breath ghosted over her cheeks, Casey's chest heaved against his body. Derek edged closer, watching as Casey's eyelids slowly closed.
Suddenly, a door banged open beside them, causing Casey to instantly spring out of his embrace.
"Oopsie daisy!" Casey's drunk neighbor giggled. "I didn't meant to interrupt." She covered a wide grin with her hand, backing away. "But I have to say... it's about damn time!" With a final laugh, the girl spun on her heel, racing down the hall.
Derek fought to control the rage rising inside him. That. Close. The disappointment tore at him as panic blossomed through Casey, breaking the moment.
Not to be defeated, Derek cut through the space between them, fondling the cuff of her jacket. He lost track of time as they both stared at the point connecting them. Slowly, he closed the distance, their chests a breath away.
Shocking blue eyes met his, but there was a warning in her voice, "Derek."
But when did he ever pay attention to her warnings? Derek melded smoothly into Casey's quivering body. She blinked rapidly through their prolonged eye contact. Seconds ticked by, but he was prisoner to the magnetic field connecting them.
His gaze dropped to her lips, the tension overpowering him.
A delicate finger pressed against Derek's mouth. "I don't kiss on the first date, Der."
Raspy, he urged, "There's a first time for everything, Case."
She shook her head deliberately, the beginning of a smile pulling at her lips. "Tonight there's not."
Derek smirked his best smirk, just for his princess. "So, next time, eh?"
Casey bit her lip, her eyes falling heavily to his chest for a beat before she determinedly sought his eyes even as she stepped away.
Her conspiring whisper in combination with the mischievous smirk she borrowed straight from his handbook, might possibly be the last nail in his coffin.
Here lies Derek Venturi. Mortally wounded by Casey McDonald. An arrow straight through the heart.
"It's a credit system. You have to earn so many credits before unlocking a... feature."
Throat dry, it took him longer than ever to croak, "Cre— credits? If I get enough credits I can—"
Derek's words hung between them with his heart suspended right along beside them. No doubt Casey would know his meaning. She always did. Unspoken was practically their second language.
Expressions whirled across Casey's face like a tsunami. When the seductress won, it took his breath away as she unleashed those heart eyes on him.
"Better do some work, Venturi, if you want all this."
His tongue found his cheek, and he made a show of taking his time to check her out from top to bottom. When his eyes found hers again, Derek was blessed with Casey's pink tinged cheeks.
"I meant—" Casey's blush blossomed further as she stumbled over her words. "What's on the inside, you pig."
Once again, he closed the gap between them, smirking cheekily. He found her ear, whispering huskily, "Sign me up for your credits. I want it all."
Casey's breath hitched as he drew away, pausing to nuzzle into her neck. His breath fanned across the attractive expanse of skin on display above Casey's leather jacket.
Drawing himself to his full height, Derek's lips pressed a lingering kiss to her temple.
Both stopped breathing entirely as he rested his forehead against hers. Weeks could have passed without Derek realizing as they stood fully immersed in their bubble.
With a jolt, Casey abruptly jerked away, putting her door between them as a makeshift barrier. Her chest rose heavily as she supported herself against the frame.
"Uh— yeah, I need to— to go to sleep. I—"
"How?" Derek interrupted urgently.
"How will I get credits?"
Her tongue darted out, briefly wetting her lips before she graced him with a tantalizing smirk. "You'll figure it out as you go."
Derek matched her smirk with one of his own.
The flirtiness fell from her, and the keener took over. "I really need to go now."
He smiled... like a real one. "S'alright, Princess. Goodnight."
Casey's smile betrayed her as she peeked around the door. "Goodnight, Derek. And—" Her voice wavered slightly, "Thank you."
"Anytime, Case." Derek blamed the gruffness on an upcoming cold.
She gave another small smile before pushing her door gently shut.
Derek's hand shot out to stop it before it latched. "Case?"
The door opened a crack. "Yes?" The whispery tone of her voice made Derek's eyes blink heavily as he gathered himself.
Scratching at his cheek, he asked, "I— I was actually thinking... tomorrow?"
Casey bit her cheek, then uttered a soft, "Okay."
"Yeah?" Derek exhaled, tension instantly leaving his body.
"I'll text you after class." A tentative smile, a quiet "Night, Der." And she disappeared behind the heavy door.
Digging his hands deep into his pockets, Derek strolled leisurely down the empty hall. A dull thud sounded behind him, and he chuckled, shaking his head. "Sounds about right."
Time for the next step, Venturi.