Chapter 7: Stairway to Heaven

It was almost ten years to the day when she had finished packing her room in Toronto for the move to London. Now she was back in a house of her own, unpacking some of her most cherished pictures. The picture of Lizzie in her grade school soccer uniform. The picture of her mother, pregnant, and her father smiling beside the bed she was laying on. The MacDonald-Venturi wedding party. There were new pictures, too, to arrange carefully on the mantle.

There was the one that brilliantly showed off her wedding dress, and the stained glass of the church. There was the picture Jason's mother had taken when they shoved cake in each other's faces. There was the picture of herself, pregnant, and Jason smiling beside the red suede couch she was laying on.

"Mommy, I's bored." The two year old held out the green crayon for Casey to take. "And I want a cookie."

Smiling, Casey scooped up the dark haired girl and blew a raspberry on her cheek. "Well, the good news is that it just so happens to be time for a snack. But we're going to have raisins, not cookies. Okay Miss Hannah?"

Hannah sighed as dramatically as her mother ever had. "But mommy, raisins look like bugs. I don't like bugs."

It was hard not to chuckle with the impish toddler around. "Nice try, sweetie, but no cookies today."

Some celery, some peanut butter, and some raisins later, and it had almost become fun to eat bugs. Casey just hoped that Hannah didn't try to eat real 'ants on a log.' She was screwing the lid back on the peanut butter jar when the doorbell rang. Neighbors had dropped by once or twice already to introduce themselves, so when Casey opened the door with her best I'm-a-very-pleasant-person-who-will-not-I-repeat-not-try-to-dominate-the-community-planning-committee smile, and it was not a new neighbor, she was more than a little disgruntled.

"Nora wanted me to drop these off here." Derek strode past her into the empty living room. "Nice digs."

Casey crossed her arms. "Thanks. Drop what off?"

He shrugged and tossed a plastic bag at her. "Just some stuff you left at their house when you moved into this one." Derek wandered into the kitchen and tapped the wood on the counters. "Nice, solid. Pine?"

"White pine in mellow yellow poly…poly...earth…polyearthtan!" Hannah squealed reaching for a hug from her favorite uncle. Derek swung her out of the chair into her arms.

"If it isn't Hannah-Banana! What've you been doing here?"

"We were eating ants!"

She had to admit that he had a way with kids. Hannah hadn't even met Derek until three weeks ago, but as soon as he showed up at their parents' house, she stuck to him like glue. Casey smiled as she watched Hannah squeal with laughter. Apparently Derek was an excellent tickler.

"Enough, enough guys. Hannah, it's naptime."

"No!" The little girl clung stubbornly to Derek's neck.

"C'mon sweetheart, I'll have Derek tell you a story about when he was a kid." Casey pulled her dark haired daughter off her stepbrother and headed for the nursery. Derek moseyed behind her, intrigued as always by Casey's straightforward parenting style. Kids never complained about her patronizing them, though they didn't always understand what she was saying. Hannah was a bright girl though, well beyond any other two year old he'd met. Her brown eyes were full of life as she struggled in her mom's arms.

"Hannah, you need to take a nap. Otherwise you won't be awake when daddy gets home." Casey tucked the fleece blanket around the little girl.

Petulantly, Hannah kicked the covers off, "No, I wanna stay up and play with Derek!"

Derek smirked. "Don't worry Hannah-Banana, I'll be back soon, so we can play. You need to listen to your mom." He pulled a white chair up next to the crib, and started telling the story of the Princess Casey and the evil Pirate Derek. Hannah listened intently, but soon her eyelids began to droop. The two adults tiptoed out of the room.

The halls had been professionally painted, Navajo white in eggshell, but Casey hadn't yet gotten any of the decorations up on the walls. There was a large wedding portrait leaning against the doorframe to the hall bathroom. He stared at it a minute, resisting the urge to put his foot through it. It'd be so easy, right between Jason's sparkling blue eyes.

"Thanks." Casey broke the uneasy silence. Derek's head snapped up, focusing on her instead. "She hates naps."

"So, when is Daddy Albright getting home anyway?" His tone was light, but Casey knew this wasn't small talk. Nothing with Derek was ever that trivial anymore.

"He usually gets home about seven or eight. The new firm has him working really hard because he's the most junior litigator there." Casey was counting the paces to the door in her head.

"Are there any dance companies in the area you'll be working with?" He followed her, trying to take the shortest steps possible.

"I'm not dancing anymore. Taking care of Hannah is my first priority." Only seventeen more. Sixteen.

"Wait, what?" Derek stopped in his tracks. The living room was Spanish moss done in a semi-gloss finish. It was almost empty except for the white marble mantel and an oriental rug.

Sighing, Casey turned. "I'm not working anymore. I have a two year old daughter. You just said goodbye to her, remember?"

"I just thought that you would never give up dancing. It was the one passionate part of you I thought you would never lock up." He frowned, and reached out to caress her cheek. Even after two years, it still made goose bumps travel down her arms. "Why are you doing this to yourself, Case?"

She slapped his hand away. "Doing what? I'm happy, Derek. I have a family. A nice normal family, who lives in a nice normal neighborhood. Jason loves me, and I love him, and I am happy to stay home and look after our daughter like a good mom," Casey snapped, trying to keep her voice hushed.

"Nora worked, and I think she was a pretty damn good mom," Derek retaliated, a fire flickering in his eyes. "I don't know why you continue to think that you have to do what you should do, rather than what you want to do. They aren't mutually exclusive ideas."

Casey snorted. "What would you know about 'should do'? You're the most irresponsible person I've ever met. You slacked off in school, you break girl's hearts and don't even care, and I'm surprised you've managed to keep your stupid soap job after a few of the stunts you've pulled on set."

"Those were harmless pranks, and the director really shouldn't have leaked that to The Star, and you know it! George Clooney pulls pranks all the time and no one seems to care!"

"You are no George Clooney."

"Obviously. I'm way better looking. And more athletic. But that is completely beside the point." Derek grabbed the hand that had hit him and brought her knuckles to his lips. "In all seriousness Casey, why are you settling for normal when you're capable of extraordinary?"

Neither of them moved. His eyes bored into her, waiting for the answer, and hers glared stubbornly back, not wanting to budge even a millimeter. Gently he kissed her fingers, starting with her thumb, her breath hitching when he pressed the platinum of her wedding ring against his lips.

Ripping her hand from his grasp she pointed at the door. "Get out of my house." She was trying to keep her voice steady, but he could hear the ragged undercurrent of her rage.

He didn't move.

"Get out of my fucking house, Derek!" she screamed so suddenly and so loud that she had to gasp for breath. Her finger stayed steadily pointed at the white wood and etched glass of the front door. Jaw clenched and face burning, Derek stomped to the door and slammed it shut as hard as he could, hoping to break the glass. Break anything.

Hannah started crying, and Casey rushed to the nursery. She picked her up and sang to her baby quietly, peeking out the living room window. Derek's green SUV was already backing out of the driveway.

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She had called him once, two months after the wedding. Jason was at work, and the company wasn't rehearsing until four that afternoon. They had gotten a loft, something chic; Jason's family was helping to pay the rent, which was ungodly high in New York.

Casey had been hoping for an answering machine, but Derek picked it up on the third ring.

"Yello," he answered in his typical blasé tone.

"Hi," she squeaked out, trying not to remember the last time they spoke. He hadn't bothered to stay for the reception.

"Casey, how good to hear from you." His sarcasm was never subtle. "Called to tell me I'm right? No? Then please hang up."

"Derek, I'm…" her throat went dry. "I'm calling to thank you for your gift."

"Really? What did I get you?" She could practically hear him smirk over the phone.

"The waffle iron." Casey had taken notes and studied them, hoping to be able to say thank you to any relative by being able to weave it into small talk. That way, it would make her seem more appreciative of a gift because she was bringing it up in casual conversation. "We used it yesterday, when we made Sunday brunch. So thank you."

She hung up promptly. It didn't make the butterflies in her stomach settle down, though.

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Snow was piling up on his windshield already, and he'd just turned the wipers off. He switched on the overhead light of the Jeep and searched for the presents he'd tossed in the back seat.

"My mom didn't have your address, so she sent these to my house. Merry Christmas." Derek shook his head. "My mom, Abby, sent me your presents. I guess she thought you were going back to New York for Christmas." He fussed with his hair in the mirror. "I am such a pussy."

He wrapped his scarf around his neck, and grabbed the bag out of his back seat. The white flakes kept gathering in his hair and on his eyelashes as he made his way up the brightly lit driveway. Casey's house was decorated exactly the way he imagined it would be. There were white lights on the bushes and the gutters. The mailbox and railings were trimmed in fresh evergreens. A wreath on the door topped it off, with silver ornaments glued carefully to the pine needles. Not a single sprig was out of place.

Sighing, Derek brushed the snow out of his hair, and knocked. The door flew open immediately.

"I can't believe you made it! Why didn't you call?" Casey practically knocked him over with the force of her hug. "Wait, Derek?"

He knew he looked like a guppy with his jaw hanging open, but he couldn't help it. "You look…" It was impossible for him to finish the sentence because of the floor length silk gown she was wearing. The wine colored fabric matched her hair and blue eyes perfectly, but Derek focused mostly on the sparkly silver broach that was pinning closed what otherwise would've been an indecently revealing slit of the halter neckline. It fit her like a glove, and it was all he could do to walk inside when she gestured for him.

Casey demurely tucked a strand of hair into her neat up do. "Why are you here?" She winced at how standoffish she sounded.

Broken of his reverie, Derek thrust the bag of presents into her hands. "From my mom." The house was fully furnished now. A tasteful painting of a calla lily hung over the mantel. "Why are you all dressed up?"

"Jason and I were supposed to have this big date night. We even took Hannah to her sitter's for the evening."

"Let me guess, he calls saying he can't make it." Resist as he tried, the smirk spread over his lips.

Casey glowered. "He's doing very well at the firm. He has to work late sometimes." She crossed her arms, and Derek's line of vision dropped to her plumped cleavage.

Derek followed the swish of her dress as she took the presents over to the tasteful tree they had set up in the living room. Done in silver and pink, Derek doubted Jason had any input in the decoration. Spotting a handmade ornament in orange and blue, he smiled. Obviously Hannah had some sort of say.

Crouching to arrange the presents, Casey turned to look up at him. "You can stop smiling any time now."

"I have no idea what you're talking about." Derek tried to look humble, but his ego had a mind of its own. "Jason seems to be a really stand up guy."

"Pardon the pun, no doubt," Casey snorted. Her thumb twisted the platinum ring on her finger.

The silence between the two adults was vast and tangible. It was a viscous liquid, sticky with all of the things they wouldn't say to each other, would never even whisper in a locked room with soundproofed walls.

Derek cleared his throat. "I don't like seeing you unhappy, despite what you may think."

"I am not unhappy," she declared stubbornly, the large stone on the ring digging into her palm.

"Oh, because you seem to be the very picture of joy, standing here in your perfect dress with your perfect hair, in your perfect house with your perfect husband...oh wait." He rolled his eyes. "I'm willing to bet that I'm the only person you still argue with."

"I can't help it if you're the most unpleasant person in my life," she snapped, ignoring the jab at Jason.

"I'm not unpleasant. You've just taken every little bit of fire and spark that Casey MacDonald used to have, and buried it so far down that I'm the only one who still knows it's there. You think that being perfect is all there is to life!" He couldn't keep from shouting, the frustration of years bursting out in one vehement speech.

The tears welled up in her eyes, and she fought to keep them from spilling over, but it was a losing battle. Flustered, Derek reached to hug her, but she pushed his hand away.

"So I'm unhappy, what now? What now, Derek? I don't have the answers to life. I did what I was supposed to do and what now?" she sobbed at him, not even caring about her make up.

It was so hard not to hold her, but he shoved his hands in his pockets since she didn't want to be touched.

"You could leave him," Derek said quietly.

"Give me one good reason." Casey gazed at him intently, mascara smeared on her cheeks. "Why would I be any happier without Jason than I am right now?"

Shrugging, Derek was at a loss for words. "Because, if you're an in a situation you don't like, you get out of that situation."

Casey laughed, a pathetic chuckle. "No, Derek, you run away from situations you don't like. I try to make them livable. I'm so stupid for even asking." She wiped at her eyes. "Thank you for bringing the presents by. I'll have to call Abby to tell her thanks."

Thoroughly confused, Derek let her push him towards the door. "You don't have to pretend with me, Casey. I've seen you worse off than this."

A sad smile lingered at the corner of her mouth as she wiped at her eyes. "This time, Derek, I want you to think long and hard about who is pretending in this relationship. Because at least I'm honest about my feelings for you. Just once, I wish you could return the favor." He frowned, but let her shove him onto the doorstep.

"Thank you again for delivering the gifts."

She shut the door in his face. He banged on the white painted wood so hard it almost shook her wreath off its holder. Trembling, Casey leaned against the door frame. All she wanted, all she needed were three words that he would never be able to say.

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Love Actually was playing on Channel 2 by the time Casey got changed into her sweats. It was only nine o'clock on her big night out, and here she was already binging on Ben & Jerry's. She had wanted to have sex tonight, dammit.

The phone rang and Casey contemplated not answering it. Hugh Grant was about to do his little dance, which was her favorite part. But the phone kept ringing, and she couldn't stand the sound of a ringing phone. It was just above alarm clocks and below dust bunnies on her list of things that annoyed her.

She got up and grabbed it off the cradle. "Hello?"

"Is this Casey MacDonald?" a man's deep voice asked.

"This is Casey Albright, formerly MacDonald," she answered. "May I ask whose calling?"

"My name is Richard Griffin; I'm the check in nurse at Toronto Medical Center. You're listed as the emergency contact for Derek Venturi."

Her mouth went dry. "What…what happened?"

"Mr. Venturi appears to have been in a car wreck. He's stable, but he's in surgery now to set some badly broken bones. We were hoping you…"

"I'll be down there right away."

"Anyone else I should call?" Richard rushed out before she hung up. Heart racing, Casey grabbed her keys and purse off the counter. She didn't even bother putting on her coat before sprinting for her car.

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He couldn't reach her head, which was lying near his good leg, but he could reach a tendril of her brunette hair that had floated down near his hand as she fell asleep. He twirled the strands between his fingers, reveling in the texture. It was soft and silky, and reminded him of the dress she had worn earlier that night.

Casey groaned, and the hair slipped between his fingers as she stirred. Stretching, she pulled herself up from the slumped position she'd taken at his bedside.

"You're awake!"

"Keep your voice down, it's almost three a.m." he hushed her, smiling weakly.

"Do you need me to get the nurse? Are you in pain?"

"No, everything's achy, but nothing sharp or stabby. I'm pretty sure they have morphine in there, judging by the size of that cast," he answered, gesturing towards the I.V.

Casey resisted the urge to smooth her hand over the cast on his leg. He'd fractured his leg in several places, had to have pins set in the bone, and cracked two ribs on his left side as well.

"I called mom and George. They'll be here in the morning."

"And I guess you'll be heading out." Derek tried to smirk, but it just didn't settle into the corner of his mouth the way it usually did. So he frowned instead.

"When Jason called, I told him he'd need to pick up Hannah. I figured I'd stay until the rest of the family got here," Casey replied, picking at a ball of lint on the pale blue blanket. "Your agent's going to have a fit."

"If that wasn't an abrupt change of topic, I don't know what is." Derek shook his head slightly, and it made his head swim a bit. "Larry can stuff it. I was in a fucking car accident. That wasn't my fault, I might add."

"What happened? I just got this phone call, and I…" Casey trailed off, swallowing hard.

Derek licked his lips. "I was going over a bridge on the way back to my apartment, and the guy coming towards me, I think he hit a patch of ice, and I swerved, but he spun, and I think I blacked out pretty quick."

Unconsciously, she grabbed at the blanket, twisting it in her hands, white knuckled. Derek brushed the hair out of his eyes and caught her attention with a little wave.

"I'm okay, if you noticed."

She glared. "I had, thank you. If only the accident had rendered you speechless, then I wouldn't have to be taunted as I'm busy worrying for your wellbeing."

He chuckled and winced when it hurt. Casey started for the call button by the side of the bed, but he waved her off.

"It only hurts when I breathe," he joked weakly.

"Derek," Casey warned with her tone. "Do I need to call the doctor? I should leave and let you sleep." She tried to get up, but Derek snatched one of her hands despite the pain of bending forward, and kept her in her seat.

"I want you to stay with me." The words hung in the otherwise undisturbed still of his single room.

Casey's eyes went as wide as saucers. The conflict between disbelief and astonished hope played across her face, starting with the furrow of her brows and ending with the clenching and unclenching of her jaw.

"Oh-oh-okay," she stuttered, not taking her blue eyes off his own brown ones.

Derek smiled unsteadily. She always managed to make him sound like he was a fifteen year old kid, no matter what circumstances.

"I mean, if you want to. I know you have a family to go home to, and I," he grasped for words, throat dry, "I understand it's late. So if you want to go, I get it."

Pressed into his palm as it was, Derek felt her pulse race in her thumb while she watched him stammer over his carefully chosen words.

"Do you mean that? Like, really mean that?"

He nodded hesitantly.

"No pranks, no lies, no games?" Her voice wavered.

He shook his head.

"I've thought," and she blushed, "probably too much, about us, and my family, and your family, shit...our family. They'll be here in the morning, and I won't know what to tell them."

The lump in his throat was painful, almost worse than when he'd woken up in the ambulance before the acetaminophen kicked in.

"But even though I've run through every scenario in my head, I never thought you'd actually ask." She smiled at him then, a genuine grin. "I guess you're finally growing up."

"Who? Me?" Derek choked out, a little lost.

She squeezed his hand. "You need to sleep. Everyone's going to be fawning over you in the morning, and you're not going to get any rest."

"But..."

"Don't worry; I'll be here when you wake up." She pulled her chair closer to the bed. "You enjoy making me sleep in uncomfortable positions, don't you?"

He let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding and cocked an eyebrow.

Casey rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "Don't be such a pervert."

"It's part of my charm."

"Go to bed."

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Derek slept soundly, mostly due to the meds he was on, but he was glad he did. Casey was right, as soon as George, Nora and Marti got there, he was pelted with hugs and kisses and flowers. Lizzie and Edwin made it an hour later and brought more distractions in the form of DVDs and the laptop they'd picked up at his apartment.

Casey meanwhile had snuck out of the chaos and was sitting in one of the squeaky plastic chairs in the visitors lounge, slowly punching buttons on her cell. She chewed on her lip until the line was picked up.

"Hey, Jason." She leaned back and exhaled deliberately. "We need to talk."

Author's Notes

Finally! I'm done! I'm free! This is the last chapter of this story, and no, there's going to be no sequel and no epilogue. I want to thank everyone so much for all their encouragement and reviews, even though it's taken me forever to finish the chapters. Your reviews are what keep me motivated, and I appreciate each and every one of them. So as a parting gift (though, I'm sure I'll write more LWD fic in the future), I present to you, the soundtrack to Same Old Song And Dance. It's chock full of Led Zeppelin goodness, so sit back, relax, and enjoy.

P.S. if the link is dead, PM me or let me know in the reviews, so I can reupload it.

http:// www .sendspace. com /file/ g9mlyb (remove the spaces)