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Given that most of their children are older now, these days you'd expect weekends in the McDonald-Venturi household to be a more quiet affair. They're not. And they never will be.

“You jumped out of a window!?” Casey stands in her old bedroom, staring at the broken glass in disbelief.

“Didn’t get tagged though, did I?” Derek smirks. He’s not holding his weight evenly across both legs, which Casey will be pointing out to him later, but there’s a more pressing issue right now.

“Edwin followed you! He broke both his arms!”

He at least has the presence of mind to grimace at that, a little, “OK, surely I can’t be blamed for him following me out of an upstairs window?” Derek argues anyway, “He’s 17, that’s his own fault!”

They’re lucky, really, that its not any worse than a couple of injured limbs. Edwin has never been particularly athletic, and he’d caught his foot tripping on the broken glass before going head first out the window after his older brother -

Casey humphs, “Did it have to be my bedroom window though?”

“Oh, so when it comes tidying up its our room, but I break something and suddenly its yours again!?”

“Der-ek! Yes!” She screams, and its weird because they don’t really do this anymore. They bicker, yes, but Derek really feels he’s fucked up this time. He feels it even more when she goes quiet, almost whispering as she wraps her arms around herself, “Its fucking freezing in here.”

She’s stood in such a way that its clear to Derek that reaching out to touch her would be a bad idea. Casey would just try to rip his arm off, and he has a quip about Venturi brothers and the amount of functioning limbs between them that he knows won’t go down well, but he also knows he won’t be able to resist making it if it comes down to it.

Derek decides, instead, to pick up the dustpan and brush Casey had clearly abandoned on the bed in order to inspect the broken window, and makes a start on clearing up the glass on the floor. This is what he feels worst about right now - Casey likes to be barefoot especially on carpet and there’s no way she’s going to be comfortable that way now for the rest of their stay home. Even though he’s now cleared the worst of it, there’s bound to be fragments and she’s going to be wary of it. Add to that a toddler who will happily crawl through any open door and.. Crap. Yeah, its not good. He should have been more careful.

There’s a muffle from Casey’s direction. Derek can tell she’s trying not to cry and failing at it, but she’s also still looking out the window like she doesn’t want him to know that.

“Is Edwin OK?” she eventually asks.

“Yeah,” Derek doesn’t hesitate, quick to reassure, but also he’s right. He’d been the one to drive Ed to the hospital and sit with him until he could be seen, talking to him the entire time. He'd stayed with him through the x-rays. If anything, his little brother already saw his injuries as a point of pride - and he didn’t seem too bothered about the fact he wouldn’t be able to use either of his arms for a while either, “They gave him some meds to help him sleep tonight. He’s already in bed.”

Derek stands again now, and actually chuckles to himself remembering something Edwin had said to him whilst they waited at the emergency room, “He thought he was close this time.” He adds as he takes a step closer to Casey, noticing she’s unfurled a little and is definitely getting to the ‘I need a hug’ portion of grief for the situation.

“You know, you could just let him tag you,” Casey mumbles into his neck after a minute of just standing still in his embrace, “One day.”

Derek tightens his arms around her, “Never.”

 


 

It actually starts pretty early on in the whole ‘merging families’ thing - when Marti is still pretending to be a cat 90% of the time, and Casey and Derek want nothing to do with each other (but also everything to do with each other? It’s complicated). Even before everyone starts to get along properly, the kids like playing games. All of them do, not just the younger ones.

Really though, it starts with Derek coming home from hockey practice with a black eye and a cut on his cheek and everyone absolutely freaking out about it. Nora has his head in her hands to get a closer look and, after his first attempt to move results in Marti bursting into tears, Derek lets her carry on.

“Coach checked me out, I’m fine,” Derek is saying, Marti sat in his lap holding an ice pack to his eye. Everyone else is hovering pretty close by but not saying much, which in itself has Derek on edge, let alone the superficial face injury, “I didn’t even go down guys, I just caught myself on the ledge.” (No one needs to know he could see stars when he stood back up.)

“With your face?” It’s Casey that speaks, because of course it is. Part of Derek actually wants to thank her - if they can start some back-and-forth maybe everyone will stop staring at him. “Don’t you guys wear helmets?”

Derek glares at her, because it would be weird if he didn’t, “Of course we do. During practice.” He snarks, before giving more information to the room at large, “But this was after practice, we were just messing around, and now I’m fucking it.”

“It?” Nora asks, taking a step back from Derek now she’s happy he’s not too badly damaged.

“Language!” Casey scolds, pointing at Marti still in Derek’s lap. He ignores her in favour of giving his little sister a quick cuddle (which he will deny) before pushing her off him and standing up.

“Yeah, well....” Derek falters, a hand at the back of his neck like he looks like he doesn’t want to admit something, “We were playing tag. On the ice. And Sam got me.”

He’s scowling at the ground and everyone is quiet for a moment, waiting for him to say something else. He doesn’t though, instead going to the fridge to grab a bottle of water.

“Derek?” Nora asks, “Are you embarrassed to be playing tag? You’re a teenager, you can still play games you know.”

“Nah, it’s not that,” Derek says, moving to throw the now empty bottle in the recycling, “It’s just that it’s the first time he’s got me this year. Any of them. I’ve lost my streak.” He shrugs like it’s no big deal, but everyone can tell it kind of is.

“Smerek!” Marti calls, running over to him again.

“Yeah Smarti?” He bends down to pick her up, but as soon as he touches her she takes a step back away from him.

“Now I’m it!”

She runs.

After that, it’s bedlam for hours. Doors slam. People fall. Nora hears a crash at one point that she refuses to investigate, but she’s expecting to find one of her vases broken when all of the kids have gone to bed. It’s loud, and it’s hot, and everyone’s having a great time and getting along.

They only have the heart to stop it when George sees Marti falling asleep standing on top of the kitchen table. He just manages to catch her as she starts to fall off.

“Alright, bedtime for you. Game over, everyone!” He calls into the house, waiting for all the others to creep out of their hiding places. Casey’s head pops out at the top of the stairs, Edwin rolls out from under the sofa, Lizzie pops up from under the table that he’s stood next to and nearly gives him a heart attack, and Derek… well, George has no idea where Derek is but he’s sure his eldest son is around somewhere.

He makes his way up the stairs with a drowsy Marti in his arms, her fighting him the entire way. She’s having fun and she doesn’t want to go to bed but she’s clearly ready for it.

“No!” Marti grumbles loudly when they’re part way up the stairs, “It’s still my turn!”

“Well we’ll just have to carry on playing another day,” Casey soothes as they pass her on the landing. George flashes his step-daughter a grateful smile at that, mouthing Thank You towards her too for good measure.

And, well, carry on they do.

 


 

Tag becomes A Thing between all of the McDonald-Venturi brood after that.

Casey feels pretty safe at school because Derek never seems to be on the chase, only ever on the run. She tries not to worry too much about the lengths the rest of them are going to trying to be the one to tag him - Edwin especially is going to get seriously hurt one of these days, if Marti doesn’t die before then - but mostly: it’s fun.

It takes a while for the parents to get involved in actually playing. No one really has the guts to do it, even though George isn’t even subtle in his desire to be part of the game. The thing is - Nora hasn’t really indicated one way or another whether she’d like to play, and they can’t exactly let him play if she doesn’t.

“She thinks it’s stupid and she doesn’t want to play,” Edwin confirms to the rest of the kids one day, whilst their parents are out. They’re on a truce right now as Marti has hurt her leg - so no one is playing until she can join in again. In the meantime, she’s clinging to Derek’s back like a koala and enjoying being carried around everywhere.

“No she doesn’t, she’d never say that,” Lizzie replies with a frown, joining Edwin on the sofa, “She told me that she likes that it’s something we all play together.”

“Well I heard her say it to dad!”

“Are you sure they weren’t talking about something else?” Lizzie asks, “Like hockey? Or Bowling? She really hates bowling…”

“Why would anyone hate bowling?” Derek says, dropping Marti onto the sofa before sitting in his chair.

Casey rolls her eyes, “Because the shoes are disgusting?” And because dad was always really into it, she thinks, but she’s not going to say that part out loud. “Anyway, I think she wants to play. She just won’t ask outright.”

Lizzie’s nodding along with her, having also come to the same decision, “We could just tag her and see if she goes with it?” She suggests, and it’s actually the most logical conclusion they could come to. Either Nora wants to play and will be thrilled, or she doesn’t and they can back off after and George will just have to deal with it.

There’s a few almost attempts in the weeks that follow - Casey gets closest to following through one morning when everyone’s rushing to get ready to leave the house and her mom is right there within arm’s reach and… she chokes. It doesn’t feel right without asking her first.

Later that night Casey is in her room, finishing off an essay that’s not due for another week (which will leave her with plenty of time for proofreading and edits) when Nora comes in with a basket of laundry for her.

“I thought I’d bring these up,” is all she says, and she’s about to leave when Casey stops her.

“Mom, wait!” She starts, turning in her chair so they’re face-to-face, “You don’t mind this whole tag thing, do you?”

Nora just grins at her, “I think it’s great, Case. A good bonding tool. I promise I don’t mind the occasional broken dish over it.” She gives her daughter a knowing look, and Casey looks down for a second.

“Yeah, sorry about that!” Casey had actually forgotten all about that issue, from a few weeks ago - and it had definitely been her fault too, so she did kind of feel bad about it, “But, actually, I meant… I mean it’s just a kid’s game but also... like…” she pauses, unsure of how to phrase it.

“What’s wrong, Case?” Nora prompts, “Is everything OK?”

“Do you want to play?”

Nora’s the one to stop now, head tilted to the side as she considers. It’s not something she’s thought of really - the kids are having fun and actually spending time together not screaming. Or, well, screaming in a good way at least. She knows George is thrilled to watch them all play, and really he’s a big kid and heart and definitely wants to join in. However, she’s not George - she’s not fast or dexterous and she’s likely to get injured but then again, Casey’s not fast either. And she’s enjoying herself. And she’s asking her to join - for all of the family to be involved.

Nora is walking over to her daughter before she even realises what she’s doing, arm out in the air between them, “Go on,” she says, a grin forming on her lips, “Tag me.”

And Casey does.

 


 

“So.. who’s got the tag right now anyway?” Casey asks casually over dinner one evening. At the beginning she’d tried to keep track of where it was, but the task is almost impossible these days and she’s decided, actually, she doesn’t need that kind of stress in her life anymore. Unfortunately, this does mean she gets tagged a lot. She’s OK with it.

“Dad,” Derek says with a sense of finality, “Lizzie got him this morning when he dropped her off at school.”

“How did you even know that?” George asks, shaking his head. He shouldn’t be surprised by Derek anymore, but often he is, “Anyway, I passed it to Nora when I got home.”

“I have spies everywhere,” Derek confirms, nodding his head in Edwin’s direction.

“Of course you do,” says Nora before turning to her husband, “Anyway I passed it back to you when we were folding laundry, remember.”

“Yeah, and then I got you when y-”

“I got you back for that!”

That’s when Marti pipes up, as only an eight year old can, “Do you guys just play tag on your own down there or something?”

Derek chokes on his drink at that, liquid spluttering everywhere. Casey decidedly Does Not Look at him as she thumps him on the back. Marti looks at them both in confusion before she speaks up again, frowning now, “Is it fair that they play without us?”

“She’s right, actually,” says Lizzie, “Especially if you guys aren’t even going to remember who’s turn it is.”

Edwin pipes up, his mouth full of potatoes, “Yeah! If a tree gets tagged in the forest, how does anybody know?”

“That’s disgusting, Ed. Anyway the phrase is ‘if a tree falls in the-’” Casey starts, before Derek interrupts her.

“I think we need some rules.”

Silence follows.

Casey, for what it’s worth, absolutely agrees with him. There’s no way the game can continue with any sort of coherence unless there are rules - namely ones that mean the tag can’t get lost between two people who are known to forget things like buying groceries and picking up their own children from school. The thing that shocks her though is that this is coming from Derek. Derek. Who hates rules. Who breaks rules. Who only follows rules if… if they’re to do with hockey and help him win the game.

Well, she supposes that makes sense.

“Rule number one,” Casey starts, nodding at Derek before looking pointedly at their parents, “Tags only count if there are three or more players present and alert.” She looks at Edwin then, remembering the time he tagged her whilst she was napping on the couch.

Derek nods, “Seems fair, but that’s rule number two. Rule number one is no tag backs,” there’s a hum of agreement around the table at that, “Rule number three though: a tag must be stated, clearly. Accidental touches don’t count.” He’s not been hit by this himself, obviously, but George and Nora are notorious for saying things like ‘oh, I touched your face earlier, guess you’re it now!’ and it’s been bugging him for a while.

“Rule number four!” Lizzie pipes up, “No tagging in the bathroom.” She glares at Marti, who nods in understanding. That one had been quite sneaky, but she is a Venturi after all.

“Rule number five!” Edwin actually stands up from his chair to announce, “Derek has to let me tag him at least once before Christmas.”

“No. Hell no!” Derek fumes.

“Language!” George replies, because the more Derek swears in front of her the more Marti repeats it, and he does not want to go through that parent-teacher conversation again. Four times is more than enough.

“He can’t force me to lose!”

“Actually, Derek’s right,” Casey says, and then ignores the looks from the family because she just agreed with Derek outright for the second time this evening and what exactly is happening here!? “If we can’t catch him fairly he deserves to stay untagged. A virgin, if you will.”

Derek glares at her for that, at least.

“OK, so what are the rules again?” Nora asks. Lizzie and Edwin groan in unison.

 


 

The game calms down significantly for Casey and Derek once they get to university. The very nature of the rules that have been set means as soon as they’re alone in a different city they’re completely free from threat. Of course, every time they go back to London the game is on.

Summers tend to be quite stressful. To Derek it feels like Edwin must spend the rest of the year planning new and terrifying ways to catch him - and that’s because he absolutely does. Other, shorter holidays aren’t quite as dramatic. There are less broken items and, more importantly, less hospital runs. Usually Casey is more at risk during these, and on their most recent trip had accidentally left whilst still being it.

“I can’t believe I still have the tag,” Casey says to Derek one evening. They’re at the house he shares with a couple of his teammates snuggled on the couch. There’s music thumping lightly in the background as they share a beer back and forth, “It’s been months, this must be some sort of record.”

“Have we ever even kept track of that?” Derek asks, pulling her closer into his side as he passes the bottle back to her to finish, “Like this feels like a stat we may have and I’ve just never asked about. We know there’s only one I care about.”

Casey shakes her head, “Not unless Edwin’s been keeping track. Which, actually… he might have. We can ask him next week.”

“Ask who what?” Derek’s teammate, Christian, asks as he walks into the room. A few other friends are trailing behind him - they’d all been outside but it seems like the hangout is dying down. A lot of people have gone home and there’s a chill in the air so the people who live here and the closer friends and significant others are migrating back inside to carry on.

“Edwin what’s the longest any of us have had the tag before, that’s if he even knows,” Derek confirms, taking the empty bottle from Casey and swapping it for the full one waiting on the table next to him for them to share next.

“So what, like, 20 mins? Like how long can a game of tag go?” Jasper asks, settling down on the floor next the coffee table to roll a joint.

Casey stares at the group in front of them, made up mostly of their closest friends at school, before looking at Derek in shock, “Have we never mentioned this?”

“Apparently not, wow.”

“Mentioned… what?” Jasper’s girlfriend (ex-girlfriend? Nobody can keep track at the moment), Anousheh, asks them, raising an eyebrow.

“Our family has been playing the same game of tag for nearly five years.”

There’s a brief second of silence before almost everyone in the room yells some variation of “What!?”

“It’s true,” Casey says, “It started as like… kind of a bonding thing, I guess? But everyone’s really into it now. We’re pretty competitive with it.”

“I’ve still never been tagged,” Derek puffs his chest out at the claim.

“That… can’t be true?” Toby says from the armchair across from them, “Like, it just can’t be. What the fuck, man?”

“You’re telling us no member of your family has touched you in the last five years?” Christian says from the floor next to Jasper with a pointed look at Casey. He’s not gonna smoke it but he’s got deft fingers and likes to help roll.

“Not if they’ve got the tag, no.” Derek confirms.

“With some caveats,” Casey points out, “Like I’ve got it right now, but none of the rest of the fam are here so I can’t tag him. There’s a rule book.”

“Of course there is,” says Jasper as he lights the end of his blunt, “Classic Case.”

 


 

“OK but why don’t you guys ever like.. Hold hands or shit?” Edwin asks, completely earnestly, “You’re not very couple-y.”

“We hold hands all the time!” Derek rebukes, as Casey rolls her eyes dramatically towards the family over his shoulder.

“Do we?” She has the nerve to ask. He turns his head to glare at her briefly before going back to the rest of the brood.

“Not in front of us!” Lizzie agrees, “I’ve never seen you even brush hands over dinner!”

Casey uses this opportunity to take a tiny step forward closer to Derek, who automatically takes a step too - further into the room, and away from her. She grins to the family like she’s proving a point.

“Der,” Casey starts, and pauses until he turns his head to look at her. Several seconds pass, “Marti has the tag.”

He raises an eyebrow, but nods sharply in understanding. Rule #6 - no directly lying about who has the tag, only insinuations.

Marti looks up in shock, “No!? Wait, what? Seriously!? You won’t touch Casey in front of any of us in case she fucking tags you!?”

“Language!” George replies, purely on instinct.

“Oh come on, this deserves it!” Marti is almost yelling in her despair, “They’ve been together for, what, five years now? How did none of us pick up on that!?”

“Derek’s never been one for PDA,” Nora counters, but it’s a weak argument and she knows it. It’s not even the fact Derek’s gone to this length to win all this time, that part’s perfectly believable, it’s the fact no one else seems to have noticed to call him out on it.

“Derek’s been making exceptions for Casey since he was 15!”

“Do we even need to be here for this do you think?” Derek says to Casey, “Feels like one of those ‘about us, not to us’ discussions from where I’m standing.”

Casey raises a practiced eyebrow at him, “About you maybe, I’m coming out of this looking perfectly normal. You’re the only one who actually cares about not being tagged.”

“Case, honey, I wouldn’t say this is entirely just about Derek,” Nora states, because that’s the crux of the matter isn’t it, really. It’s not that nobody has noticed. Casey has. It’s that Casey has never called him out on it in front of the family, “I mean, you go along with it.”

She truly has no response to this, because her mother is right. It is something she goes along with - but Casey doesn’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing. It’s something that’s important to Derek, this perfect record, so it’s something that’s important to her too. It’s part of the game. The game their whole messy, silly, lovely family has been playing for nearly a decade now - and if it hasn’t stopped by now it’s not going to stop any time soon.

Right now, Derek knows who has the tag. His eyes are on his not-so-baby sister and will be until they go home after dinner (unless she tags someone in the meantime, and then Derek will be watching the new it like a hawk instead of Marti), and that means he’s relaxed a little whilst she’s in his eye line on the other side of the room. Not quite like he does during a truce, but almost. Casey takes the opportunity to slide closer to him, her arms snaking around his waist as she stands on her tiptoes a little to rest her chin on his shoulder. He holds her hands in place across his stomach instinctively.

“To be fair,” Casey replies as he turns to kiss her on the cheek, “He goes along with some weird stuff for me too.”

 


 

They’ve been engaged for just under five months when Casey brings it up to everyone. It’s actually Christmas day - there’s wrapping paper everywhere and everyone is in good spirits. Casey herself is curled up in Derek’s old chair with the book she’d unwrapped from him that morning, Lizzie and Marti are throwing candy into each other’s open mouths, and Derek, Edwin, and Simon are sat as close to the fire as humanly possible after a trip outside in the snow went on far too long, with the older boys chasing the eldest for close to three hours. That’s what got Casey thinking, really.

“No tag at the wedding,” she states to the room, not even lifting her head up from her novel.

Edwin, predictably, is the first to react, “What!? It’s the best chance to finally get Derek!” He practically yells, and he looks upset enough that Casey realises he has, in fact, been planning to do just that. It keeps her firm in her resolve.

“On our wedding day?” Casey glares at her step-brother, snapping the book closed because this apparently is going to be a proper conversation.

She gives each of the siblings a glance. Derek, at least, has said nothing. Lizzie definitely looks like she agrees with her. Simon looks like he doesn’t care about what the older kids are doing, which is standard for him and Casey respects his indifference. Marti though… Marti looks like she’s thinking something through.

“Surely we can just… come to some sort of truce?” She suggests, looking at Casey directly, “Like parts of it are definitely off limits, but what about between events? We can’t all be in the same vicinity for an entire weekend and not play at all.”

Casey closes her eyes and looks to the ceiling. Everyone else waits in silence, presumably for her to think Marti’s point through, and she does have a point. It’s not often they’re all together these days. It’s actually the first Christmas in several years that they’ve all been in the same place - often one of them choosing to spend a holiday with their other parent, or a partner’s family.

“OK,” Casey concedes, “Somebody grab the binder.”

Derek’s up instantly, heading to the games cupboard. He catches Casey’s hand to give it a quick squeeze as he passes her by. He’s definitely been uncharacteristically quiet throughout all of this - which means he’s OK with it, for Casey, but if it goes too far he will be saying something. When he returns, pen in hand, he’s ready to add a new page to their rule book.

“OK, amendment. What are you thinking, Case? No tag at the vows?” Derek asks, and Casey realises this means that, honestly, he’d be happy for Edwin to try and tag him at the altar. He’s confident enough he could outrun him. On the biggest day of their lives.

And, well, Casey’s not having that, “No tag at the rehearsal,” she starts, lifting a finger to count through her list. Derek raises an eyebrow, but dutifully starts to write, “No tag at the luncheon. No tag at the dinner. And do not even mention tag at the ceremony.”

“No way!” Starts Edwin, “I'm not signing that!”

“You're officially not invited, then, how's that?” Casey dares.

“Okay then, fine. I'll crash your fucking wedding, and I'll tag you both as you kiss.”

Derek throws the nearest pillow at his brother’s head, “Stop being dramatic, there’s still chances around events.”

Lizzie starts then, “OK, but no mention of tag is..”

“Ridiculous.” Marti says.

“... it’s unreasonable.” Lizzie confirms.

"To be fair,” Derek says, tapping the end of the pen against the binder before looking at his fiancee, “We're literally hiring enough laser tag equipment for everyone to play after it goes dark, yet we can't mention tag?"

“You guys are doing what now?” Simon perks up from the floor, suddenly interested in the conversation.

Casey concedes, ".. fine you can mention laser tag."

“Wait, seriously, you’re having laser tag at your wedding!?” Edwin asks, previous objections forgotten and intrigued at the turn of events.

Casey looks at them all like, duh, “Yes? It’ll be fun.” She loves the game too, she just doesn’t want it to overshadow the entire weekend.

“Dibs on Derek’s team!” Marti calls.

 


 

“I now pronounce you man and wife,” Paul beams out to the guests as he completes the ceremony, gesturing to the couple in front of him. “You may now kiss the bride.”

They’re wrapped in their own bubble of each other, as they should be. Derek is looking at Casey like she’s his entire world, and she’s grinning back at him like most of her natural anxiety is gone in this moment, just for being close to him. It’s how they’ve always been, really, but right now there’s no pretence. Everyone is here for one reason, and it’s to celebrate their love and their lives together.

Derek feels like he’s barely taken a breath since he saw Casey at the other end of the aisle. Not a proper one, really. It’s weird, how even though he knew neither of them had any doubts there was still a small part of him that was just waiting for something to go wrong. Something to delay this moment for them. He blames it on the media, on the way almost every wedding scene in history portrays some sort of disaster either immediately before or during the ceremony, and nothing had gone wrong up until that point so of course he was convinced something horrific was about to happen. In reality, that’s totally ‘Casey Logic’ - and he knows it - but they’ve been so intertwined for so long now that her fears have become his. Although that also means his strengths have become hers.

Casey herself has been barely holding in her excitement throughout the entire day - from waking up in her old bedroom alone for the first time in years, through the make-up artist having to restart her look three separate times, and then right before the ceremony when the heel on her left shoe broke clean off and she had to decide whether to go barefoot or wear her sneakers down the aisle. She’s just rolled with everything - taken a deep breath, let her shoulders drop, and imagined Derek being his typical self: making a joke, and then kissing her on the forehead before he fixes everything for her. And, yeah, she’d fixed it all herself, but she didn’t have to. Thinking about Derek just gave her the strength to.

His hands are around her waist, and hers are around his shoulders, and the room feels alive with joy as they kiss. Paul, and their parents, and siblings, and friends, and colleagues - all of the people who fill their world. They’ve been in each other’s lives for so long that it’s almost like there’s no one left who has even known them apart. They were Derek and Casey long before they were Derek&Casey.

“Tag,” Casey whispers against his mouth, one hand still gripped in the hair at the nape of his neck, the other flush against chest. She’s glad she chose the sneakers.

Derek grins, pressing his lips against hers again as their friends and family still clap and cheer in his periphery, “Good one, Princess. I know Nora has the tag.”

She presses her hand harder into his chest as she steps away from him, backwards down the aisle, keeping their eyes locked as he realises: she’s not kidding.

“Nope,” Casey pops the ‘p’, speaking loudly enough that the rest of the wedding party can hear them now, “Also, the ring means a promotion. I’m your Queen now, Venturi.”

He beams as he holds the hand still against his chest, and she’s glowing at the feel of his wedding band cold against her skin.

“Well, my royal highness, your wish - as always - is my command,” Derek bows a little for effect, bringing her hand to his mouth to kiss the back of it as he does so, forever the showman.

“You’re it!” Casey confirms, spinning on her heel to run as fast as can down the aisle, knowing that he’ll be right behind her.

Chapter Text

Derek’s not really thinking clearly as he drives across town to his brother’s house in the middle of the afternoon on an insignificant Thursday. He keeps having to remind himself to focus on the road, and it makes him glad Casey isn’t with him right now because she’d probably be yelling at him for the amount of red lights he’s had to practically emergency stop at. He’s aware that his leg won’t stop shaking and really he just has to hope that will pass by the time his passenger gets in the car.

Not long later he’s knocking on Edwin’s front door, hopping slightly from one foot to the other. Edwin working freelance from home has turned into one of the most useful parts of his life over the most recent months, and Derek’s trying not to take it for granted. To be fair, Ed offers to help, and it saves always leaving things up to Dad and Nora. 

He’s taking a while to answer the door though, and Derek’s a little on edge. He’s struggling to stand still as he waits, and he can’t even hide his nervous energy when the door opens. 

“Dude,” Ed grins at him in amusement as he stands aside for Derek to follow him in, “Calm down, everything’s been fine.”

Derek gives him a look, because he knows that. He trusts Ed. That’s not why he’s nervous.

“Of course it has, you’ve babysat before,” Derek starts, before a yell comes at him from across the room, accompanied by a blur.

“Daddy!”

“Hey, Princess, how’s your day been?” Derek asks his three year old daughter as he picks her up, “Did Uncle Ed behave himself?”

She gives this question some careful consideration, before solemnly answering, “I think so, but I wasn’t watching him all the time.”

“Thanks, Soph.” Ed scoffs, “Love you too.” He ruffles her hair for good measure, grinning at her before turning back to Derek.

“Anyway, how’s…” Ed pauses, glancing at Sophie before turning to Derek again, “Things?”

Derek beams, “Things are good, yeah.”

“Healthy?”

“Healthy.”

“Tired?”

Exhausted.”

“Nobody tagged you this time?”

“No, thankfully I had a plan to keep you busy.”

Ed just grins in response, he’s still very proud of that particular tag. He does have another question for his older brother, though, “... pink or blue?”

Derek raises an eyebrow, “Green.”

“Oh, fuck you!”

Derek covers one of his daughter’s ears with his free hand, “C’mon, man! She’s picking everything up at the moment, you know that.”

“Fine, fine,” Ed concedes, “Sorry. That was uncalled for. You’ll message later though, right?”

“We’ll send photos, I promise.”

“Good because Marti came round for lunch and she’s dying at having no info.”

“I know, I know,” Derek laughs, looking around to see if there’s anything obvious he needs to grab to take with them right now, “She’s messaged me like 40 times, I nearly blocked her number but Case told me not to. We just-”

“Can we go home now?” Sophie piques up, bored of being essentially ignored.

“We gotta make a stop first, Soph,” Derek says as he readjusts her to allow him to pick up her bag from the side table by the door. Edwin was prepared and he appreciates it, “But yeah, we’re leaving. Say bye to Uncle Ed.”

“Bye Uncle Ed!” She waves as Derek moves towards the door.

“Sophie comes first, y’know?” Derek parts with, and Ed just nods in response as he watches Derek strap his daughter into her car seat. He gets it, the entire family does. They’re just excited.

The car journey back to his original starting point feels both longer and shorter than the one out to Ed’s. It’s shorter because he’s not alone, and can’t wallow in his own thoughts. It’s longer because… well because the reason he’s not alone is three years old and is giving him a very detailed, minute by minute lowdown of her entire day. God, he loves her.

“... and then Smantie came to say hi, and then we all played tag, and then I wanted to show her how to draw a pony so…”

He turns in his seat to look at her once they’re parked up, and Sophie immediately stops talking. She’s three, she’s not stupid. Something’s going on and she can tell, and it feels like she’s about to get some answers.

“Mommy?” She asks. Derek smiles.

“She’s inside this building, I promise. We’re gonna go see her now, but you’ve gotta be real quiet OK? And let daddy carry you?”

Sophie just nods in response, “OK. Mommy now.”

He laughs, because of course. Sophie’s a mommy’s girl, no matter what Casey seems to think. He wonders if…

Sophie kicks the back of his chair, “Mommy,” she insists. Derek starts moving.

Good to her word, Sophie doesn’t make a peek as they walk through the corridors. She’s watching everything intently as they walk by - noting people coming in and out of doors, head turning at the odd abrupt beeping sound. Everything around them gets quieter as they get closer to their destination though, and suddenly Derek’s pausing outside a door.

“Mommy?” Sophie whispers, and Derek nods in affirmation. 

“Mommy’s in here, yeah. Stay quiet though, she might be sleeping.”

Derek opens the door slowly, and enters in a way that blocks Casey from Sophie’s view for as long as possible so he can assess the situation. Luckily though, she’s awake, waiting for them. She looks exhausted, but also happy. Glowing.

“There’s my big girl,” Casey says, softly, “Come say hello.”

They never explained the whole process to her (she’s only three after all) but Sophie knew enough. She knew to be careful around mommy, and especially around her tummy. She knew there was a baby in there, and now she’s looking at the bundle in Casey’s arms with a revered awe that suggests she knows exactly where that baby is now.

Derek brings Sophie closer to Casey’s hospital bed, and gently lowers her down next to her mother, giving Casey a kiss on the head as he does so.

“This is Elyse, she’s your baby sister,” he says, tucking some hair behind Sophie’s ear, “You’ve got to make sure to look out for her, OK?”

Sophie nods, not taking her eyes away from the baby as Elyse snuffles and moves around in her sleep. Derek thinks his heart might actually explode at the image before him.

“Baby?”

“That’s right,” says Casey, “Baby. Elyse.”

“Hi Elyse!” Sophie repeats, with slightly more force than before. She grins up at Casey, “She’s coming home with us?”

Derek and Casey both grin at her.

“If that’s OK with you?” Casey replies, and Derek nearly balks at her as if she’s actually giving their three year old the option to leave their newborn behind. Which of course, she isn’t, but he’s tired and for a split second that’s where his mind goes. 

He’s watching closely as Sophie leans forward to stroke Elyse’s head. She’s being gentle, like she is with Lizzie’s kitten, which is good yes but he does feel a conversation in his future about her baby sister not being a pet. He’s not going to have it with her right now, though.

“Hey, Elyse,” he hears her say into the quiet, her hand placed fully on the baby’s cheek, “You’re it!”