Here's my flashfic for Jo (Invalid Minds). This fic definitely took on a life of its own, after being ridiculously cranky for days on end. But I'm proud of how it came out (even though it's gargantuan!).

And tomorrow's my birthday, so getting reviews would be a great present! ;)

Thanks so much, Tony! (Fun to be on the receiving end of that, huh?)


P. S. Hey Sharpie, you better like it, or I'll join up with Matt…nah, I wouldn't do something so evil! :) It's not quite what you asked for, though, so I'm hoping you won't mind. Huggle!

Disclaimer: I own nothing at all. Though I wish I owned all these characters. They're tons o' fun.


Kendra Mason wrapped her pashmina more tightly around her neck as she strolled down Fifth Avenue. It was an unusually cold spring day in Manhattan, and she was in a rush to get home. It had been a long day at work—as a buyer at Versace she was always running around, and she had been feeling so rundown lately. She was looking forward to going home, soaking in the tub, and watching a few movies.

She usually liked to walk home from work and people-watch, but today she just needed to get off her feet. Hailing a cab, she gave the address of the nearest video store. She was in the mood for something girly tonight; Ralph would be scouting a new band downtown, and wouldn't be home until at least midnight, if he was lucky. She usually went with him to the gigs, but lately she'd just been too exhausted from work.

And lately they had been fighting more than usual. Versace had offered her a job at their office in Paris for six months—a year, tops—and she was seriously considering it. Ralph had been quick to voice his disagreement, which had led to a long argument about how they could make a bi-continental marriage work.

They had only been married two years; after getting together in high school it surprised everyone that it took them so long to tie the knot. But Kendra had never been sure, and Ralph had never really liked the idea of marriage, because he saw what a rough time his parents had had when they divorced. One summer, Ralph accompanied Kendra on a business trip to London, and he proposed during a sightseeing tour on one of those red double-decker buses. It was so unexpected, so random, so Ralph, that Kendra had said yes instantly.

And they had been supremely happy, until this new opportunity had presented itself. She had insisted he come with her; after all, he could be a talent scout anywhere…but he couldn't give up his job at Rolling Stone, and they both knew it. They were both so well-respected in their equally competitive fields that the only way would be to separate during Kendra's stay in Paris. They could fly back and forth, hell, they could certainly afford the plane fare, but Ralph was still dead set against it. He knew that what they had was precious, and a decision so big needed to be well thought out.

Kendra realized this, of course, but at the same time, she didn't think she should have to give up her dreams to keep her marriage working. They could always bounce back, right?

Ralph wasn't sure, and truth be told, she wasn't, either.

Scanning the new release aisle, she grabbed two random Blu-rays and headed to the counter. Can't go wrong with the new Kate Hudson/Matthew McConaughey and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 8.

After paying, she headed back out into the street and was about to hail another cab, when a CVS on the corner caught her eye. She darted over, and, pausing to make sure no one was watching—which was silly, really, because the streets were clamoring with people—she entered the store. She picked something up off the shelf and quickly paid, stuffing the object deep into the video store bag and getting into a cab for home.

When she reached their apartment, Ralph was waiting for her in the lobby.

"Hey Ken, how was your day?" he asked, kissing her, taking her bag, and starting to lead her towards the elevator.

"Exhausting. And they need an answer about Paris by next week." She looked at him pointedly, in no mood to beat around the bush.

He paled. "We're in stage two of the discussion, right now. We should get to stage three by Friday."

Kendra stopped in her tracks, and Ralph looked at her strangely as she said, "Mail. I usually get it before I come upstairs." She turned back towards the lobby and Ralph followed behind her, obviously annoyed.

"What stages are you talking about?" Kendra asked, suddenly remembering that Ralph had just spoken. Boy was her head starting to pound.

Ralph managed a weak smile. "You know, stage one was rational back-and-forth. Stage two is talking until we're blue in the face and never getting anywhere, and you usually leaving the room in a huff—" He earned a smack on the back of the head for that. "—And three is when we finally sit down and come to a decision…together."

"Glad you're being so scientific about this," she said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "But it doesn't change the fact that we are on completely opposite sides. I want to go, you want to stay."

"Babe, I'm your husband. I'm always on your side." He kissed her neck as she unlocked their mailbox.

"Please," she pulled away. "Really, I'm not in the mood. I just want to go take a bath."

"What about dinner? I have it all ready for us."

Kendra sighed happily, taking the mail from the slot. "I knew there was a reason I loved you." She leaned into him for a moment, and he wrapped his arms around her.

"I can't cook for you if you go to Paris, you know," he began, and Kendra pulled away.

"Dammit, Ralph, you had to go and ruin the moment!" She stormed back towards the elevators, and Ralph had to jog to catch up with her.

"Sweetie, the problem isn't going to go away until we confront it. We have to make a decision."

She slowed so that they were in stride again as they got into the elevator. "I know. I'm sorry. I just…this sucks." She blew her hair from her forehead. "No matter what happens, one of us gets hurt."

They reached their floor and Ralph let her go in front of him as they exited the elevator. "Don't look at it that way. We have to do what's best for our marriage, and if you decide that you really can't live without this Paris job, I'm going to have to respect that decision, as much as I may disagree."

"I guess." She slapped the mail down on the counter and was about to walk towards the kitchen, when the top envelope caught her eye. It was addressed to Mr. Ralph Mason, and the return address was Thompson High. "Hey look, I bet this is about your ten year reunion." She handed Ralph the letter and he smiled as he opened it.

"It is! The reunion's next month. I can't wait to see everyone again!" He beamed at Kendra.

"You see your high school friends all the time! Derek, and Sam—"

"Yeah, but this is different—we'll be in suits!" He hugged her as she laughed.

As they pulled apart and their smiles faded, Kendra could see the sadness in Ralph's eyes, and she was sure it was reflected in hers. They had to come to some sort of compromise, they just had to. She couldn't live with herself if she lost Ralph to her career.

Ralph cleared his throat. "I'll go put dinner on the table."

"Thanks. Let me go freshen up and I'll be right there." Her eyes fell on the video store bag, which Ralph had dropped on the coffee table. She waited until he had gone into the kitchen, and dumped its contents onto the table. Picking up the object, she pressed it into her fist and headed to the bathroom. It was now or never.

Five minutes later, Kendra emerged from the bathroom, and Ralph saw immediately that she'd been crying.

"Baby, what is it? What's wrong?" He raced over to her and put a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she didn't respond. "Ken!"

Finally, she snapped out of her trance, and looked at Ralph with an expression he couldn't read. "I'm not going to Paris," she said in monotone, looking away from her husband.

Ralph was taken aback. "What?"

Saying it out loud seemed to have given her back the ability to emote. She turned to Ralph with a genuine smile, and now he was really confused.

"Ralph, I'm pregnant."


"Hurry up," Sheldon Shlepper muttered to himself as he looked at the clock on the wall, willing its hands to move faster. Emily finished her shift at the radio station at five, and she was on her last ovulation day. He was getting antsy. If they missed tonight, they'd have to wait a whole other month.

When did making love to my wife become a chore? he thought sadly. Oh, right, since we're only making love, not babies.

Sheldon stared at the computer, looking over what he had written in the last three hours. Three paragraphs. Three paragraphs in three hours. There was no way he'd have this manuscript ready for his publisher by June. Novels took time, and patience. His heart just was not in it at the moment.

He shut down his laptop and flicked on the radio by his desk just in time to hear Emily say, "And the next song goes out to my wonderful husband, because it's the first song we danced to as a married couple. This rounds out the Afternoon Delight show; stay tuned for Ray Rocco in the Evening coming up next." With that, the beginning of "Just the Way You Are" by Billy Joel filled the room. Sheldon closed his eyes and hummed along, and before he knew it tears were sliding down his cheeks.

After Sheldon had moved away, he and Emily had stayed in touch, but agreed to do so as friends. When they ended up going to the same university, Sheldon wasted no time in asking her out again, and it turned out that their flame was still burning. They were engaged by the summer after freshman year, and married during the summer before their senior year. Sheldon had begun writing freelance for the Toronto Star, and began working on novels on the side. Emily had interned at a local radio station during school, and they offered her a full-time job as a deejay right after graduation. They traveled a lot in their first few years of marriage, just enjoying being young and carefree. About two years ago, they decided they wanted to start a family, since they had both always wanted children.

Two long years, and twenty-four months of disappointment. Emily had started to call her period "The Curse" for a whole new reason.

It didn't help that every time they visited his family, they were subjected to uncomfortable lines of questioning. His mother seemed to think that just because Shawn and Shawna had four kids each with their respective spouses, Emily should have cranked out a few babies herself. Naturally, his mother blamed Sheldon for this, and it didn't help that his siblings liked to recommend exercises, creams, hell, even positions, that were supposed to increase fertility.

He hated that word. As if being fertile equaled being a man. Well, okay, in his family's eyes, it did. But Emily didn't love him any less because he couldn't give her children.

And…it could very well be Emily's problem that they weren't getting pregnant. But he didn't want to lay blame; that wasn't fair to either of them to do that. It was nobody's fault.

The specialist they had been seeing said that plenty of couples had this problem. Well, they weren't plenty of couples. They were Shleppers, damn it, and if he couldn't give his mother grandchildren he'd just have to chalk it up to yet again being the weak link in the Shlepper chain. He'd failed to secure the class presidency all those years ago (he didn't like to remind anyone that he'd lost to Emily), he'd failed to go to an Ivy League university, after Shawn and Shawna had both attended Harvard, and he'd failed to get a "respectable" job. Sure, the Star was a big deal, and his novels sold pretty darn well, but all his family cared about was why he hadn't yet won a Nobel Prize.

Thank God for Emily. She had read excerpts from his books on her show, attended every single book signing he did, usually cheering the loudest, and all-around made him feel like the luckiest man in the world to have her.

Which is why it killed him that he couldn't give her what she so desperately wanted.

He ran a hand through his hair and flipped through that day's mail. He hadn't gotten a chance to look at it yet, and a big yellow envelope caught his eye. It was addressed to Mrs. Emily Shlepper, and Sheldon ran a finger over the name lovingly. He glanced at the return address. Thompson High. Must be for her ten year reunion. They had gone to Sheldon's a few months ago, and it had been great to catch up with the few people he befriended during his two years there. They saw Casey and Derek all the time anyway, but it would be fun to see people like Tinker and Sam and Ralph.

Emily flew through the door at five thirty, dumped her purse on the couch, and threw herself at Sheldon, who had just emerged from his office to greet her.

"Hey Shel," She kissed him and began wiggling out of her jacket. "Take off your pants."

"Nice to see you, too," Sheldon grinned at her as he looked up from unbuttoning his shirt. "How was your day?"

"Fine," Emily kicked her shoes off and began pushing him towards the bedroom. "Faster, come on, move it!"

"What happened to romance? Candles?" he teased, as they discarded more clothes through the hallway.

"Candles don't make babies, now come on!" Emily pushed him onto the bed, and he had just managed to get his boxers around his ankles when the phone rang.

They pulled apart, and looked at each other for a second. Emily scrunched up her face as the phone continued to ring. "We should get it, you know, it case it's the doctor with our test results."

Sheldon nodded, and reached for the phone. "Dr. Donovan," he confirmed, and Emily's face fell.

"Well, go ahead. Let's get this over with." She scooted over to sit beside Sheldon, and squeezed her eyes shut.

Sheldon took a deep breath. "Hello?" He sent Emily a reassuring smile, but her eyes were still closed. "Uh-uh. Uh-huh. Thanks. Yes, that's fine. Oh. Uh, thanks. Bye."

He hung up and stared straight ahead. He knew if he looked at Emily he'd never be able to tell her what the doctor had said.

"Well?" She wrapped an arm around his shoulder as he hunched over and blinked rapidly. "Talk to me, please," she said weakly, and he could sense that she was beginning to panic. Shit. He had to tell her.

"Emmy," he said softly, using a nickname he only pulled out when she was angry with him, "It's not good news."

She pulled away from him and sat back towards the middle of the bed. "Just spit it out, okay? Really quickly, like you're taking off a band-aid."

He reached for her hand, and she took it. "They think that conceiving naturally…" he choked on the words, "…is not a possibility for us. There's a less than one percent chance that we could ever…" he couldn't finish, but he didn't need to. Emily had squeezed her eyes shut again, and she let out a long, low wail.

It broke Sheldon's heart in two. She didn't deserve this kind of disappointment. No one did.

Her wail turned into ragged, shattering sobs, and Sheldon tried to hug her, but she pushed him away as she gulped for air. She curled herself into a ball, and he pulled a blanket towards her, just realizing that they were both still undressed.

"Please, Em, I…I need to feel like I'm helping you, here," he pleaded, as she pushed the blanket away. "What can I say?" But even as he asked it, he knew there was no answer.

She buried her face into the bed, muffling the sobs, but reached her hand out blindly for him. He saw that she was going to let him in, and took her hand as he shifted himself so that he was sitting next to her. She looked so small, and lost, and broken. He began to cry quietly as he stroked her hair, and she finally uncurled herself and sat up, moving into Sheldon's lap. She laid her head on his shoulder and her tears began to drip down his chest, mixing with his own, but neither of them noticed.


Noel Covington pulled up to his house and got out of the car. He trudged up to the front door, and Sally backed away from the kitchen window where she'd been watching him. He entered the house, called a sullen hello to her, and headed straight for the couch, where he immediately shut his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

Sally sighed. She didn't want him napping after he came home from school; it was part of the reason he wasn't sleeping at night anymore. She didn't understand why he had suddenly shut off. He barely paid attention to the kids lately, and they hadn't talked, really talked, in far too long.

She thought back, figuring he had started his slump about three weeks ago. But she couldn't pinpoint an event that would have triggered such a long-term reaction. It must have been stress at school, because their home life certainly hadn't changed.

"I don't know what we're going to do with your daddy," Sally cooed to their six-month old son, Vaughn, as she lifted him out of his bouncer. Vaughn just gurgled and stuck his plastic keys in his mouth.

"Hey Sweetie, can you take Vaughn for a minute? I want to check on Jade," she called to the lump on the couch as she headed into the living room.

Noel jolted awake, and frowned. "I'm sleeping, Sal."

"No, you aren't, because last I checked, you don't talk in your sleep. Here," she handed Vaughn to him before he could protest, "I want to make sure Jade is okay. She's been shut up in her room working on a project, and it's been awfully quiet up there."

Noel mumbled something like "okay," but Sally was already halfway up the stairs.

He stared at his son, wondering how in the world he could no longer feel a connection to him. He didn't know why he felt like sleeping all the time, or why he stopped enjoying his family. He knew he wasn't being fair to Sally, but he couldn't help it. Every time he made an effort to talk to her, it just took too much energy, so he gave up.

Sally stood outside of Jade's room, composing herself before she went in. She couldn't let Jade see that she was upset.

The five-year-old was sitting on her bedroom floor, arts and crafts supplies surrounding her. She looked up when her mother entered the room.

"Hi Mommy, look at my picture!" She held up a piece of posterboard covered in googly eyes, pom-poms, and glitter glue-stick swirls.

"It's lovely, Sweetheart!" Sally bent down to take a closer look, and winced when she saw that Jade had spilled a bottle of glitter across the floor. That stuff was hard to clean up, but it was her own fault for saying Jade could bring the craft box to her room. She was still on maternity leave from the restaurant with Vaughn, and between taking care of him, holding down the household, and doing her managerial work from home, she was stretched pretty thin. She hadn't thought twice that day about sending her daughter upstairs to go play alone after school, and it upset her that she didn't have as much time as she used to for some girl bonding. And Noel's new attitude wasn't helping matters.

"I have to go downstairs and feed Vaughn, and then I'll get dinner ready, okay?"


"Want to come down and help me set the table?"


At least Jade was always happy to help with the chores.

"You come down when you're finished cleaning up in here, okay?"


Sally turned to leave, and hid a smile as she looked back to see Jade scooping the spilled glitter back into the container, getting plenty on her clothes in the process.

She paused outside the door, steeling herself to go get her son from Noel. She hoped he was at least paying attention to the poor kid.

Sally and Noel had bonded while he was dating Casey back in high school. They used to come into Smelly Nelly's together all the time, and he and Sally discovered they actually had a lot in common. They liked the same music, the same books, the same movies. She should have seen that as a sign right away, but it wasn't until after high school that she began to think of him in any kind of romantic way. She had moved to Ottawa for college, and worked her way up to management of a local restaurant. Noel had gotten a job as a grade seven English teacher, and six years ago, they ran into each other, almost literally, at a supermarket. They had been inseparable ever since.

Until these past few weeks, of course. Sally wasn't sure how much longer she should wait before she got really worried.

When she came downstairs, she saw Noel bouncing Vaughn on his knee while looking through the mail spread out on the coffee table. She breathed a sigh of relief; Vaughn looked ecstatic.

"Hey Munchkin," she said, reaching down to tickle his chin. She knelt on the floor by the couch, and Vaughn cooed at the sight of her, but Noel didn't even acknowledge her presence. She picked up a random envelope. It was addressed to Mr. Noel Covington. "Oh, look, honey, it's for your high school reunion."

He grunted in response.

"Well, I think it'll be fun. I bet Derek will be there. It'll be nice to see him again. And Casey too. Unless you think it'll be too weird, having dinner with our exes…" She trailed off, seeing that Noel wasn't even listening. She grabbed Vaughn from his grip and stormed off to the kitchen.

After dinner, Noel disappeared into their bedroom, and when she checked on him a little later, he was reading the newspaper, looking wholly uninterested. She came in and sat next to him on the bed. "Hey, whatcha doing?"

"Reading about all the horrible things happening in the world," Noel said sadly.

Sally couldn't stand it. She wanted to see that beautiful smile of his. "Please, can you try to snap out of this funk? The kids miss their dad."

He turned away from her as he spoke. "I know. I'm sorry." He put a hand to her face, and she brought her own hand up to cover his.

"I love you, you know," she said softly, scooting closer to him.

"I know. I love you," he closed the distance between them and kissed her, and just as things started getting more intense, he pulled away. "I'm sorry…I'm just not in the mood."

She stood up, hurt. "Okay, that's it. I'm making an appointment with a therapist."

"What? No! I don't need therapy—I'm fine."

"Like hell you are! When have you ever turned down time with your wife?"

"Sal, please, I don't know what's going on, okay? I'm just in a slump."

"Is something going on at work?"

"No, work is fine."

"Is it me?"

"What? No. We're fine."

Sally narrowed her eyes. "In case you missed it, we are not fine. Do you need a recap of what just happened?"


"Noel, you can sleep on the couch tonight. Though I can't believe you'll fall asleep—you spend so much of your day napping already."

"Come on, you're not serious."

"I'm dead serious. You're sleeping on the couch." She thrust his pillow at him. "Here. Good night. I'll go finish putting my children to bed."

When she had checked on Vaughn in his crib and tucked Jade in with a quick story, she crept downstairs to check on Noel. He was sitting on the couch, staring into space, and didn't even react when she came over to kiss him good night.

She gave him a peck on the cheek, and headed back upstairs, where she fell into a restless sleep.

The next morning, as she reached over to shut off her alarm, she brushed a piece of paper sitting on her nightstand, and it fell to the floor. Sally leaned over to pick it up, and saw Noel's neat script, with "I love you" written across the bottom in big bold letters.

She read it slowly, and when she was finished, she quickly dialed her mother. Noel had checked himself into the hospital.


He had never gotten the hang of tying a tie. Sam Shepherd pulled a blue number around his neck and struggled to properly knot it. No luck. He'd have to wait until Anna could help him.

As if she'd read his mind, Anna came up behind her husband and smoothed down his suit jacket. They both looked in the mirror and smiled at the other's reflection.

"I'm guessing you need my help?" she asked, coming around in front of him and taking the tie in her hands expertly.

"Thank you. I don't know what I'd do without you. I'd certainly still be wearing clip-ons," Sam replied.

Anna smirked. "I know you keep a few in the drawer in case I'm not home."

"Hey, that's supposed to be a secret!" He tried to look indignant, but he was smiling too much.

"Well, it's totally not. And you're done." She finished up and admired the perfect knot she had created.

"Thanks." He pulled her closer and whispered in her ear, "I'm the luckiest guy in the world."

She pulled back, grinning. "I swear, if you break into a chorus of 'I Feel Pretty,' I'm not taking you anywhere tonight."

"Not quite the response I was hoping for, but I should have known I could never turn you into a sap like me."

"And I wouldn't have you any other way." She turned back to the dresser to finish putting on her earrings. "Oh! Mail came for you today. I think it's about your high school reunion. That'll be nice, huh?"

Sam took the envelope she retrieved from the end of the dresser and glanced at the address. Mr. Samuel Shepherd was written in gold lettering. "Cool. It will be nice to see everyone again. Remember that guy who did an article on us for the Star? Sheldon?"

"Oh, yeah, he was great. He'll be there?"

"Probably. His wife Emily graduated with me."

"Cool. Do you think Derek will go?"

"If Casey does, he absolutely will."

"Ah. Still head over heels, eh?" Anna rolled her eyes.

"You have no idea." A horn honked outside. "Oh, that's the limo service. We'd better go. You ran through the emergency contact list with the sitter, right?"

"Of course. Now stop worrying, and get moving!" They rushed down the stairs and kissed each of the kids, who were gathered in the living room watching a movie. The sitter assured them that everything would be fine, and with that, they were out the door.

They were heading out to a benefit gala for the Starlight-Starbright Children's Foundation, one of the many charities they supported. Sam had been introduced to Anna seven years ago when they were both in Darfur for the summer with Habitat for Humanity. They soon realized that they volunteered for most of the same causes, and began seeing each other at events. Soon, they were even attending each other's charity functions.

At first, Anna hadn't wanted to ruin a perfectly good humanitarian partnership, but realized quickly that it wasn't enough just to see him at the occasional goodwill ambassador trip or benefit concert.

Anna got a job at the UN after college, and Sam began working as a social worker for an international adoption agency based in Toronto. At first, they traveled back and forth between Canada and New York, but decided it would be best to raise a family in the country, so they settled down in a suburb of Toronto. Anna only commuted to the States when necessary.

They began adopting children from various countries. Chaya, who was nine, came from Cambodia. Brielle, who had just turned five, was born in China. Elizabeth, age four, came from Russia. Jesse, who was three, was born in India. And Charlie, who was just a year old, was from Chile. Lately they'd been talking about adopting again, but for now, they were content with their international brood.

Despite how busy they both were with the kids, they still managed to find time to volunteer at their old charities, and even pick up some new ones. They were known in most social circles as the "Canadian Brangelina."

As they climbed into the car, Sam handed Anna a small velvet box.

"Sammy, what's this? It's not even my birthday!" she chided, but he noticed that she took the box from him rather quickly. He hid a smile.

"Ooh," she breathed as she opened her present to reveal a stunning diamond bracelet. "Thank you! It's gorgeous."

Though they were pretty well off, Sam never splurged on gifts like that. They liked the simple life. But that didn't mean Anna couldn't appreciate fine jewelry!

She gave him a kiss and slipped the bracelet onto her wrist. He clasped it for her, pleased that she liked it.

"Perfect. But come on, really, what is this for? I didn't forget an anniversary, did I?" She looked worried for a moment, and Sam was quick to reassure her.

"No, no, don't be silly. I…" he trailed off, blushing. "I know it's going to sound stupid, and I know you're going to give me a hard time for being sappy again, but I just wanted to remind you how happy I am. I look at my friends, guys from work who complain nonstop about their wives, and especially Derek, who's a complete mess, and I just feel really grateful to have you and the kids."

Anna fanned herself. "Don't make me teary; my mascara will run!"

He let out a small laugh, but was still apprehensive about her response. He knew she was not all that sentimental; he was the one who kept photo albums and ticket stubs, but that didn't mean she didn't care. She just expressed her feelings more subtly.

"So let me get this straight…this is to thank me for making your life better than your friends' lives?" She laughed when she saw his horrified expression. "I'm kidding. I love you, and I'm honored to wear it." She kissed him softly, and he relaxed.

"I love you, too. I know our fifth anniversary is coming up, and I could have waited, but we have the Namibia trip planned, and you insisted no gifts this year."

"Because the trip is our gift to each other. Sammy, you worry too much." She took his hand as the car pulled to a stop outside the gala's entrance. He opened the door for her, which made her smile. She'd never get tired of the chivalry. Ever.

"I know I do. I'm working on it." They walked arm-in-arm to the entrance, and Anna sighed.

"Yes, you're working on it. That's why you need me around."

"I thought it was because I can't tie a tie."

She gave him a dirty look as they entered the gala, completely secure in their love for one another.


Casey McDonald finished throwing clothes into her suitcase. Normally, she would have folded each item carefully, but Derek was being obnoxious today, and she wasn't really paying attention to what she was doing. He stood carelessly in her doorway as she berated him for his insensitivity. This was nothing new.

There had been a period where they were getting along quite well. But ever since Casey had started dating Tristan, Derek had shut her out. They didn't see each other very often anymore; it was a miracle they were both staying at their parents' house this weekend. Tristan was there of course, and Derek had brought some bimbo named Laura who wore about five pounds of makeup and talked like she had a whistle stuck in her throat.

"Derek, Tristan and I have been together four years. We're getting married. You saw the ring. So shut up. I really don't give a damn that you don't like him." She zipped up the luggage and slung it over her shoulder.

Derek blew out a frustrated breath. "I'm not going to stop telling you until you listen. There's just something about him. It's not that I don't like him. I just think he's not the guy you think he is."

"Thanks for helping me with the bags," she snarled sarcastically as she struggled to carry both her suitcase and Tristan's past him through the door.

He rolled his eyes and grabbed her suitcase from her; he was not carrying Tristan's. No way. She headed downstairs, still complaining about his insensitivity, rudeness, etc. He didn't really catch much of it; he was tuning her out.

The truth was, he would never like any guy she dated. Because Derek thought he was nothing more than a stepbrother to her, while in reality, they were meant for each other. They'd danced around it for years, but he'd never made a move, and he wasn't sure she'd wanted him to. So she had moved on, found Tristan, and was now engaged.

Derek liked to bring random girls with him when they all went back to the McDonald-Venturi house. It helped him forget that he was alone, and it was nice to rub it in Casey's face that he had moved on as well. She didn't need to know that he really hadn't.

He refused to believe they'd go through with the wedding. It was not going to happen. Tristan would flake out, he knew it. The guy was perfectly friendly to Derek; he seemingly had no idea that there might be any non-brotherly feelings there. But Derek couldn't bring himself to be friendly back. He largely ignored the guy. But Tristan still kept trying to form some sort of brother-in-law bond with him. Yeah, right.

They reached the front door and Derek had the decency to open it for Casey; she thanked him automatically, then continued to whine. He missed happy, bubbly Casey. The side of her that she had shown him when they lived together in college. When they used to have weekly movie nights. When she got into the doctoral program in literature at the University of Toronto. When they celebrated his draft into the Maple Leafs. When they were able to talk about anything and everything. But then she met him, and suddenly Derek wasn't so important. Well, it was more that Derek decided he didn't want to make the effort to see her anymore. But it was easier to blame Tristan.


He snapped out of his thoughts. "What?"

"Look. I don't want to leave angry, okay? Tristan will be out here any minute. Can you at least be civil?"

Derek didn't want her to leave angry, either. His expression softened. "For you? Sure." He shrugged, like it was the easiest favor in the world. Ha.

"Why do you always do that?" She knitted her eyebrows together.

"Do what?"

"You know what. We were just fighting, and then you turn around and do something nice, and I forgive you."

Derek laughed. "Okay, first of all, there is nothing to forgive, because I did nothing wrong. And secondly, that's your problem if it annoys you, not mine."

"I'm not even going to respond to that." She saw Tristan coming outside loaded down with leftovers from Nora, and held out her hand for Derek to shake. She had given up trying to hug him years ago. "Bye, Der. See you at the reunion."

He clasped her hand and savored the moment, holding onto it a little too long. She pulled away, blushing, as Tristan came up next to them.

Derek shook his head to clear it. "Right, yeah, the reunion next month. Should be fun." He managed to smile at Casey, and turned to Tristan. "Nice to see you again, Tristan," he said through gritted teeth.

Tristan was taken aback. "Uh, right, nice to see you, too. Bye." He held out his hand, but quickly withdrew it when he caught Derek's expression. Casey had said 'be civil,' and he didn't think that warranted touching the guy's hand. Who knows where it's been?

They took off, and Derek was about to turn around and go back inside, when an all-too-familiar voice pierced the air.

"D, whatcha doing?" Laurie came outside to stand next to him.

"Casey and Tristan just left."

"Oh, they didn't say goodbye to me!" She pouted, but then smiled to show that she wasn't really upset.

Derek chose not to reply, though a few dozen insults entered his head immediately. "I need to go for a walk."

"Sure. Let me just get my shoes on."

"No, I mean, alone." She looked hurt, so he quickly added, "Sorry. I just need to be alone for awhile, okay?"

"Okay. I'll be inside. Lizzie told me she was going to show me her new Greenpeace project she's working on."

"Sounds good. See you soon." He pecked her on the cheek and pushed her towards the house. "Like you could understand anything Lizzie says," he muttered as soon as Laura was out of earshot.

He headed off down the street.


"Caseyyyy!!" Emily shouted, lunging herself at her best friend.

"Emilyyyy!!" Casey cried back, wrapping her in a big hug.

Tristan and Sheldon exchanged handshakes as the girls chattered away.

"They saw each other, what, last week?" Sheldon snorted, and Tristan nodded.

Emily and Casey heard him, and Casey replied, "Hey, we're practicing for when we get in there. I'm so excited to see everyone!"

The reunion was being held at a fancy hotel in London, and the Shleppers had arrived just as Casey and Tristan were heading towards the entrance.

Emily jumped up and down a few times. "What are we waiting for? Let's go in!"

They made their way into the foyer and were greeted by a girl handing out nametags. They filled them out quickly and entered the main room.

"It's beautiful," Casey breathed, and Emily agreed.

The girls quickly found a table and dragged their dates over to it. There weren't many people there yet, so they decided to get up and dance until the place filled up a little more.

Two songs later, Casey felt a tap on her shoulder, and she turned around to see Max grinning at her. She stopped dancing and gave him a hug.

"Hey, Max, great to see you!"

"Yeah. Who's this?" he motioned to Tristan.

"Oh, this is my fiancé, Tristan Herriot. Tristan, this is Max Miller."

The men shook hands, and a girl came bouncing over, putting a hand on Max's shoulder.

"Hey. Ohmigosh, Casey? It's so good to see you!"

"Amy? Good to see you, too! Wow, right, I was wondering why Max was here. You brought him as your date?"

"Yeah. We've been together on and off for awhile, right, Pumpkin?" she turned to look up at Max, and they exchanged sickeningly sweet smiles.

Casey's own smile tightened in disgust, but she didn't say anything. Just then Emily and Sheldon came up to say hello.

"Hey, Max. Hi, Amy." Emily moved to shake their hands, but saw Max giving her a blank look.

"Uh, hi. You are…?"

Emily huffed indignantly, pointing to her nametag. "Emily."

"Oh." Max still looked confused, so he turned to Amy for help. Amy just shrugged.

"Emily Davis," she emphasized, clearly growing annoyed. Casey stifled a giggle and Emily shot her a Look. "You know, Casey's best friend. It's actually Emily Shlepper now." She glanced at Sheldon, who was also trying his best to keep a straight face.

"Oh, right. You married Shlepper?" Max's look of confusion turned to one of disgust, and Amy looked Sheldon up and down disapprovingly.

Sheldon stepped in front of Emily when he realized that she was about to say some unpleasant things. "Yup, we're happily married. Which is more than I can say for you two. So if you'll excuse us…" He led Emily away gently.

"Whatever. So you married, Case?" Max wiggled his eyebrows and Amy slapped the back of his head. "Ow!"

"Uh, I just told you, I'm engaged." She rolled her eyes at Tristan and stuck her hand out, displaying the diamond. "Nice seeing you, Amy. Max." Nodding curtly, Casey led Tristan back towards their table.

They had a good laugh at Max and Amy's expenses as hors d'oeuvers were passed around the table. Soon Derek and Laura came in and joined them; Emily's eyebrows shot up at Casey, and she mouthed "later" to her friend.

Tristan and Sheldon began talking about their favorite writers, and the girls began gossiping about stuff Derek didn't really care to listen to. So he got up and wandered towards the entrance, where he bumped into a familiar face.

"Derek Venturi?"

"Well, well. Tinker Tomlin. How've you been?"

"Stupendous. My internet company just sold for three billion dollars."

Derek wanted to hate him, but he was smiling in such a friendly way. He supposed he should have seen it coming; geeks like Tinker always grew up to be fabulously wealthy and better-looking than ever before. No arm candy tonight, though.

"That's, uh, great, Tink."

"Thank you, but it's Tomlin now. Sounds classier, no?"

"You go by your last name now?"

"Naturally. I made number five on the Forbes list. You didn't expect them to call me Tinker in the interview, did you?"

Derek held back a groan. "I suppose not. Uh, I'm heading back to my table, want to say hello?"

"Why, of course."

Tinker followed him to the table and Derek introduced him to Laura and Tristan. He saw Laura's eyes light up when she realized how rich he was; Derek hadn't picked her for her brains.

"Care to dance, Casey?" Tinker…or, Tomlin, asked.

Casey said yes, of course, and Derek had almost expected Tristan to protest, but he didn't. Derek sat down and watched them glide expertly across the floor. But he tore his eyes away after a moment; no use getting jealous. It was just Tinker. Er, Tomlin.

Sam and Anna arrived next, amid even more introductions and "how've you been"s, and Sam gave Derek an extra-hard squeeze when he shook his hand.

"You brought a girl?" he hissed, pretending to go in for a guy hug. "You told me you were going to talk to Casey."

Derek pushed him away and gave him a hard look. "Sammy, not now." He inclined his head towards the bane of his existence, and Sam reluctantly let go of Derek and went over to say hello to him.

"Hi, Tristan, how's it going?"

"Great, thanks. Hey, since Casey's with Tinker, mind if I steal your wife for a dance?"

Anna heard, and nodded. "Sure."

Sam rolled his eyes. "I believe he was asking my permission, Anna."

Anna patted Sam's cheek condescendingly as she headed out to the floor with Tristan. "Baby, I promise doing the tango is not cheating. You behave until I get back."

She blew him a kiss, and Sam caught it, causing Derek to mime a gagging motion.

"Shut up, dude. You can make fun when you're as happy as I am, okay?"

Derek made a "pshh" sound. But he didn't get to say any more, because Noel and Sally came up to their table, and there were cries of "Great to see you!" and "You look fantastic" all around.

Sally wrapped Derek in a big bear hug, and he was surprised at how much he'd missed her.

"Derek Venturi. It's been quite a while." She pulled back, smiling from ear to ear.

"I'll say. Sally, you didn't even go to this school, what the hell are you doing here?" He teased, and she nodded towards Noel.

"No, but my husband did." She watched his mouth open and close a few times as he processed this information.

"You married Noel Covington?" he managed to get out, and at the sound of his name, Noel looked up from his current conversation with Emily and Sam.

"You rang?"

"I…I'm just surprised to see you two together…" Derek stammered, and at that moment Casey, Tinker, Anna, and Tristan returned from their dance, to more introductions, and exclamations (mostly on Casey's part).

Casey hugged Noel tightly, and looked from him to Sally a few times. "I get it. I really do," she said, grinning just as widely as everyone else.

Everyone began chattering at once, and Ralph and Kendra joined in the festivities as soon as they arrived. People took random dance partners to the floor; Sheldon danced with Casey, Ralph danced with Anna, Noel danced with Emily, Derek danced with Sally…and so on.


About an hour later, dinner was served, and the Shleppers, Masons, Covingtons, Shepherds, Derek, Casey, Tristan, and Laura shared the table.

Casey noticed that Kendra declined a glass of wine, but figured she'd better not say anything, just in case she was keeping it a secret.

But soon everyone else noticed that neither Ralph nor Kendra was drinking, and she finally turned to her friend.

"Ken, do you have some news for us?"

Kendra glanced at Ralph, who broke into a grin and slung an arm around her shoulders. She clasped her hands together as the news came bursting out of her: "We're having a baby!"

Derek clapped his hands over his ears as the girls shrieked; he was happy to see that Tristan did the same. The guy deserved props for that.

As congratulations were made all around (even by Derek, who took his hands from his ears when he was sure the screeching was over), Emily suddenly burst into tears. The table got quiet.

Sheldon began to stand up. "Em, let's go outside for a minute, okay, Sweetie?"

Casey, who was on Sheldon's other side, pulled on his arm so that he sat back down. "What's going on, Shel?" She looked helplessly at her friend, who was trying her best to control her sobs.

Sheldon looked down at his lap. He rubbed Emily's back soothingly as she buried her face in her napkin, trying to regain her composure. "About a month ago, we found out that, uh, we're unable to have children," he said softly.

Casey immediately jumped up and went over to Emily, standing behind her and giving her a tight hug. "Oh, Em," she said, beginning to cry herself.

Everyone else didn't really know what to do, so they just sat quietly while Casey and Emily hugged. Finally, Emily dried the last of her tears and smiled weakly around the table. "It's okay, guys, stop looking like you're at a funeral. It's not the end of the world." She shrugged, and Sheldon gripped her hand under the table.

Casey went back to her seat. "I'm sorry," she said, because there really wasn't much else to say.

"Don't do that, okay? Don't apologize." Emily fixed Casey with a stern look. "I'm the one who should be sorry. I should have told you, Case, but I just kept hoping that if I didn't say it out loud…" she trailed off.

Casey nodded, and smiled sadly at her friend.

Sam was the next to speak. "Hey guys, I can put you in touch with a colleague of mine who does Canadian adoptions. I know it's a little weird to be thinking about this right now, but…"

Sheldon thanked him, looking relieved. "No, Sam, that would be great. We're definitely keeping that option open." Sam reached across the table to hand Sheldon his business card.

"My office number's on there, and my secretary can put you through to my contact at the national office."

This time Emily found her voice. "That's very sweet of you, Sam. We appreciate it." She shot him a grateful look, and she and Sheldon exchanged a smile. "All right, I want to hear more about this baby. Have you thought of any names yet, Ken?"

Kendra brightened, "Well, Emily for a girl, of course," she joked, and Emily stuck her tongue out at her. With that, the tension was broken, and everyone went back to enjoying the party.


After dinner, the group got up to dance some more. Casey and Sam were whirling around the dance floor, and she kept glancing towards the tables.

"Something wrong, Case? I mean, I know I'm no Astaire, but…"

She grinned sheepishly. "Sorry, Sam. I just lost track of Tristan. I haven't seen him in a while."

"Oh. Just as long as you're not ignoring me on purpose!"

"Sam," she slapped his cheek gently. "Be serious."

"What's the big deal? Maybe he stepped outside for some air."

"Or to call someone."

"What do you mean?" Sam spun her as he asked and as she pushed back into him, her answer threw him off balance.

"His boyfriend."

"Excuse me?" he asked, trying to regain his rhythm, but stepping all over Casey's feet in the process.

Casey smirked a Derek-worthy smirk. "He's not quite out yet, so you have to keep this a secret."

Sam was still trying to regulate his breathing. "Okay, I'm sorry...what?"

"Tristan and I have been together four years. For two of those years, it's been a relationship of convenience. He came out to me, but isn't really ready to tell anyone else yet. So we keep each other around in order to have dates to stuff like this," she gestured around the room, "and we really do enjoy each other's company."

"He gave you a ring! You're engaged!" Sam spluttered, now horribly mixing up his steps so that he kept backing into other dancers.

Casey titled her head in amusement. "Cubic Zirconia. The engagement was to see if Derek would get his butt in gear, but so far all he's done is complain about how much he hates Tristan."

"Let me get this straight," he wrinkled his nose. "Bad choice of words…you faked an engagement to make Derek jealous? Hoping he'd make a move?"


"Case, he thinks you're really off-limits for good now! It's killing him that he missed his chance!" Sam was finding it very hard to keep his voice down by this point.

"Oh. I hadn't thought of that," she looked down, embarrassed.

Sam stopped dancing altogether, grabbed Casey's hand, and led them away from the floor. "You have to tell him how you feel, Casey. He's too chicken to do it himself."

Casey's cheeks were on fire. She knew it had been a bad idea, but at the time it seemed like her last hope. Now that Tristan was dating around, she realized that Sam was right. It was up to her to take the reins. She should have done that four years ago, but she had been scared, and confused, and unsure he felt the same. From what Sam was saying, it was obvious how blind she'd been.

"I'm so stupid," she whispered, and Sam lifted her chin with his thumb.

"Yeah, you are. But you can fix it," he said warmly, and Casey smiled.

"First thing's first, I have to find Tristan," she said, and they headed back towards their table, where Derek was sipping a glass of water, wiping his brow. Casey stiffened at the sight of him, but Sam pushed her forward.

"Man, can your wife dance," Derek told Sam, and he blotted his face with a napkin.

"Yeah, yeah, help us find Tristan," Casey barked, too nervous to be pleasant. She pulled on both Derek's and Sam's arms, and headed towards the hallway.

When they exited the main room, they saw an enclave with plush couches where a few couples were snuggling.

"There he is!" Casey cried, and let go of the boys so she could run over to where Tristan was sitting. "Oh!" she cried involuntarily when she reached them and realized with whom he had been talking…or rather, flirting.

"Hey, Casey!" Trevor smiled at her as both he and Tristan stood.

She shook his hand, and nodded dumbly. "Good to see you, Trevor," she said, still dazed by the sight of her fake fiancé and former crush sitting close together, knees brushing, eyelashes all but batting…

By this time, Derek and Sam were standing there, too, and Casey could tell they felt the awkward vibe. They greeted Trevor, and Derek's eyes bugged out of his head when he saw Trevor smile at Tristan. Not just any smile. The smile Derek had used on Laura to get her here tonight.

"Oh my God." Derek put a hand to his head. "I knew there was something…I told you, Casey, didn't I tell you there was just something off about him?" He fixed an accusatory glare at a blushing Casey, and Tristan and Trevor rounded on Derek.

"Off? What does that mean?" Tristan asked, clearly offended. Trevor began cracking his knuckles menacingly.

Derek paled. "God, no, I didn't mean there's something wrong with…just that Casey shouldn't be with you…I…" He looked to Sam for help, but Sam held up his hands in defeat.

"I'm staying out of this one, D."

Casey tugged on Derek's shirt. "Der, I knew. The whole engagement was fake."

It was Tristan's turn for bug eyes. "Casey, don't…"

"Why not? You obviously have no problem leaving me to go hit on Trevor—no offense, Trev—and he was going to find out sooner or later. I had just hoped he'd stop being a jackass by the time he realized there'd be no wedding."

Derek stood stock still, obviously trying to absorb this information. "Casey…" All he got out was that one word before Sam pushed him directly into her. She caught him as they stumbled, and they were locked in a staring contest for a few moments before she closed the distance between them and kissed him.

Sam and Tristan whooped, while Trevor just stood there, looking confused.

"They never did act like siblings," he said to no one in particular.


During dessert, Noel, Sally, Sam, and Anna began trading stories about their kids. Sheldon kept a close eye on Emily, but so far she seemed fine with it. He felt the business card in his pocket. Yeah. They'd be fine.

Derek and Casey had disappeared. Sam had watched them walk off together in the direction of the check-in desk, and he had left Tristan and Trevor still chatting it up in the lobby. Laura didn't even seem to notice that Derek was gone; she was on the other side of the room, hanging onto Tomlin's every word.

"And I can't believe we're actually getting away for our anniversary," Anna was saying. "We usually take the kids with us when we travel, but we have a whole week to ourselves this year."

"Where are you going?" Sally asked, interested. Maybe a trip like that was just what she and Noel needed. Their marriage had definitely gotten back on track now that Noel was treating his depression, but things were still tense sometimes.

"Namibia," Anna answered, looking away from Ralph guiltily; in the next breath he expressed his indignation.

"You said you were thinking about an island!" Ralph looked to Sam, who just shook his head. "Come on, man, you told me this would be a real vacation!"

Sam just shrugged. "What can I say?"

"You can say you'll go to Cancun, or Barbados, that's what you can say!" Ralph wasn't seriously getting worked up, but Kendra shushed him anyway.

Sam shrugged again. "This will be a great opportunity to survey the situation over there, see if there's anything we can do to help."

"I think it sounds great," Sally chimed in. "In fact, maybe Noel and I will look into a trip like it. It might be just what we need to get back on track."

Noel's eyes widened, begging her not to elaborate. But of course, everyone wanted to know what she meant.

"Come on, honey, the doctor said it will help to talk about it. Don't be ashamed." She ruffled his hair as he sighed deeply.

"Well, a couple of months ago I started getting really depressed, and it got to a point where I was thinking about…ending things, so I went to the hospital. I spent three days in the psych ward, and now I'm feeling a lot better. We've even started going to family counseling." He spoke quickly, and relief was visible on his face when he finished. "Wow. It does feel good to talk about it."

Sally smiled at him proudly, as everyone else murmured their condolences.

"Enough of that," Noel said, starting to get out of his seat. "Come on, who else wants to dance?" He led his wife out onto the floor, just in time for Donna Summer's "Last Dance" to begin playing, signaling the end of the night. They swayed cheek to cheek, and Sally closed her eyes contentedly. They were going to be okay.

Emily and Sheldon rocked back and forth slowly to the beat, and Emily's head began to droop onto Sheldon's shoulder.

"I'm so tired," she murmured, and he wrapped his arms tightly around her.

"What do you think about what Sam said? Do you really think we could adopt?"

Emily lifted her head to smile at him. "I think it sounds like a great idea. We'll call on Monday, okay?" She rested her head on his shoulder once more, and he nodded into her hair.

Ralph and Kendra circled the dance floor, lost in their own little world. Ralph kept moving his hands to Kendra's stomach as they twirled, and she laughed. "Think the baby wants to dance?"

"Oh, definitely. Our kid's gonna have music in his blood." Ralph moved his hands from Kendra's waist to her neck as he kissed her softly. They continued to waltz, even as the song picked up the tempo.

Sam and Anna began pulling out all the old disco tricks; after all, it was making a comeback. "So maybe we could visit Madagascar after Namibia? That's an island," Anna said, eyes sparkling. "Probably no room service, but it would make Ralph happy."

Sam spun her around and around until she ended up back in his arms. "Better idea. Let's fly north to the French Riviera. I'm sure Ralph would find that completely acceptable."

"I would find that acceptable, too," she said, winking. Sam leaned down to kiss her.

Derek and Casey rejoined the party just in time for the last chorus. They held each other closely, not caring that it was a fast song.

Casey looked around, spotting their friends scattered across the dance floor. She sighed, and Derek raised an eyebrow. "You okay?"

"Yeah. Just thinking about tonight, that's all."

"Oh." He smirked. "Night to remember."

"I'll say." She paused. "Imagine, Noel and Sally show up together, Laura leaves with Tinker Tomlin, and Emily and Sheldon might adopt a baby." She grinned at him.

"Oh, is that all?" He said sarcastically, and she nudged him.

"I can think of one or two other special things about tonight," she said, winking at Derek. "Here's the other one." She brought her lips up to meet his, and they stopped dancing completely. They lost track of the beat, and the noise, and the people…and just stood silently as Derek and Casey, together at last.


The End! I totally pulled a Meagan with the length, but thanks for getting through it! Here was Jo's prompt, and I know, I wasn't quite as faithful to it as I should have been. Darn plot bunny!

Futurefic. It's the J.S. Thompson High school reunion. Rendra, Shemily, Nally(Noel/Sally, because I find it funny) slight(or not so slight, it's up to the writer) hints of Dasey. Include Trevor in there somewhere, and you can pair him up with an OC if you'd like. Max is still clueless. Mostly comedy, but maybe a little Dasey angst.