Disclaimer: Oh, this old thing? Why, it's a genuine Gross Misuse of Characters that Don't Belong to Me. It was a bargain, really. Didn't cost me a thing.

Don't sue.

A/N: God, Max is vile. Clearly, we're meant to ship Dasey. Anyway! Mature language and subject matter ahead, folks - please pay attention to the rating. This is not an explicit fic (no smut), but I'll cop to a little raciness here and there. And that's all I'm going to say about that.


Prologue One


"Seems time never can stay

Just keeps running away

hearts cry leaving nothing left to say"

- beat&path

She finds herself caught in his room while he packs his things, terminal procrastinator, the same day he's supposed to be leaving. He's in no apparent rush, slowly stuffing clothes and cds into an old hockey duffel bag, lazily rifling through his drawers. Casey has been fully packed for a month now, partially living out of her suitcases, even. She doesn't, and never will, understand this… ease of his, the way he never seems to worry, the way deadlines creep up on him and he just breezes through them all half-assed and uncaring. Loose limbs, and relaxed countenance. Half smiles and purposeless ambling. Messy, perfect, hair.

She sighs. Bad Religion is blaring – "The new stuff," he tells her, grinning, "Some of their older albums would literally kill you, so consider yourself lucky I'm blasting this instead." – and the open window invites late August inside. She feels tired and overwhelmed, loud music pressing in on her senses, the smell of him – minty shampoo, sporty cologne, fabric softener – settling around her while she sinks into his bed.

"Tell me!" the stereo shouts, "Tell me, where is the lo-ove?"

She smirks, slightly. His ceiling stares back at her from where she's sprawled, playing with loose hair, wishing he'd put on one of his softer indie cds, or just come sit down next to her and say something sweet, something real for once. Thinking that she won't see him in the morning like she always does. Hoping she won't miss him when they're gone, knowing that she will.

A pause between songs shifts her attention towards her stepbrother, his back – skinny and lean-muscled – facing her, hair curling around the collar of his shirt. Then, music again. Still loud, but she's become acclimated to the environment, even finds her head bobbing a bit, and suddenly his scent is everywhere. Because he's just dumped a pile of dirty laundry on her face. A familiar glare slides onto her features, she feels them contorting just so, and she sits up to aim it at him.

"Wash those for me, will ya Case?" he's already turned around again, "I need to have them packed by seven-ish."

"Oh sure, Derek, I'll wash your disgusting clothes for you," she snaps sarcastically, "Should I iron and press them too?"

"That'd be great, sis. And make sure to use the Gain detergent – it smells good."

"Don't call me sis," she's suddenly angry and she doesn't really know why, "And don't try to pawn your work off on me. It's not my fault you left all your packing to the last minute."

He finally turns to look at her and his expression is mildly aggravated. He's nowhere near fuming the way she is, but he's tense and displeased.

"If you're not going to say whatever the hell it is you came in here to say, then you could at least make yourself useful."

She can't help but notice, as she watches his eyes for pupil dilation (a habit she's taken to since she's begun to recognize an underlying current to their frequent arguments) that the distance between them is getting shorter. And things are starting to make sense to her. About him, and about herself, and all the fights they've had and will have. His space, and her space, and their space. And what she really wants to talk about instead of everything she knows she's going to say.

He saved a dance for her at the after-grad "prom." It wasn't weird, like she'd thought – hoped – it would be. They just put a few things away for a 3 minute not-really-slow, but not fast enough song and danced with only their hands connected. He'd pushed her around, and spun her beneath his arm, and they'd laughed a little bit, and Emily had taken a picture so Nora and George could see that their kids weren't always at complete odds. They gave them the picture yesterday, at dinner, the last one where they'd all be together for awhile. It was a symbol, or something. It made Casey's mom cry in a good way.

Derek had gotten a little drunk later on, but their curfew had been extended to allow them to stay out as long as they wanted. Their first taste of real freedom, of the things to come when they go away to University. She wound up driving him home, because she's still the responsible one, and he'd fallen asleep with his head on her shoulder. Her pulse fluttered in a way she couldn't ignore when it was dark and quiet, couldn't pass off as adrenaline. He roused shortly to walk with the assistance of her shoulder to his room, and patted her cheek, ever-so-slightly before passing out.

She thinks of denial, the unhealthiness of living with it, the impossibility of change. She can't confront all the issues between them completely. They'll never be able to get to a place where they won't argue, where they'll speak to each other with something resembling affection. Because they're not brother and sister, and they're not friends. They could be something different, but they'll have to be nothing at all.

She picks up his laundry anyway, putting it in the basket he's supposed to use instead of tossing it on the floor like he does. Her hair grazes his arm as she bends past him to retrieve an errant sock, and she's blushing for every wrong reason.

"I wanted to tell you," she pushes herself into some façade of normal and faces him boldly, "that I just might miss you while you're gone, Derek. Maybe. And, um, you know… it hasn't really all been so terrible, has it?"

He smirks, slightly, throws another sock into the basket.

"Maybe not."

Just two words. Just a tiny smile. But she's dropping the basket between them and throwing her arms around him, following some reckless impulse that doesn't care that he doesn't "do" hugs, or that she's feeling things she can't understand. He stiffens on contact, but then surprises her by running his hand up her back, just one, and burying his face in her hair. She sighs, just a little, into his neck and they're close and won't pull away, and it feels like they're comforting each other. They've never embraced before.

This is it, though. Everything they can't do, or say, the loss, the feelings, the goodbye, the moving on. It's all realized, and confronted, and dealt with right here, and Casey knows that when she lets go, everything will fall into the past for good, and life will go on.

It takes thirty seconds or so for her to be ready for that, and another twenty for Derek to let her pull away. And then she meets his eyes, briefly, smiles a little, feels like crying because he looks perfectly serious and not smug, or annoyed, or arrogantly infuriating in that typical Derek Venturi way. He's just still and silent, and she knows all at once that they've come to a conclusion that's, for once, exactly the same. They're finally in perfect agreement, and it hurts a little bit, but she knows she's not far gone enough that she can't get over it – him.

So she kneels to recollect his laundry and takes it with her when she leaves the room without a backward glance.

When they see each other again at Christmas, she'll pick a fight.


A/N: The Bad Religion song is "God's Love."