DISCLAIMER: I don't own them. It's, like, not even funny how much I don't own them.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story kind of got away from me. I had intended a short, somewhat fluffy piece, but it snowballed out of my control into the fic you're about to read.

Much love to Bo and Spunky for being my betas.

It's become a joke among his friends. Sam and Ralph, they get a kick out of it. It totally makes their day when Derek finds them at their lockers in the morning and relays the story of his night, or his weekend – yet another tale of how close he came to finally having sex only to have the moment ruined by the ringing of his cell phone.

It's Casey calling. Every damn time.

He answers, of course. Once the moment is ruined, it's ruined, so he may as well answer and listen to whatever she wants to scream at him about this time. And she'll yell at him for quite some time, seemingly oblivious to the fact that he's half-naked on some girl's bed, and that the girl is now huffing and glaring as she gets dressed, having been half-naked herself.

Derek's starting to wonder if she's doing this on purpose, so he doesn't "set a bad example" for the younger children, about engaging in illicit behavior before marriage or whatever the fuck excuse she'd give him if she ever actually caught him in the act. She would say something like that – prim and proper Casey, who doesn't believe in premarital sex, who's never even been to third base, as Max has only been too keen to share with everyone. She's become his damn conscience, the voice in the back of his head that just won't fucking shut up, no matter how much he tries to silence her.

He also knows that she can't possibly be doing it on purpose, because there's no way she could know what he was doing in order to interrupt him every time. And, being Casey, she wouldn't scream at him like normal if she knew what he was really doing when she called – she'd be all flustered and embarrassed and he'd be able to hear her blush. But then how the hell does she always manage to call at exactly the wrong time?

The universe obviously has it out for him. There can be no other explanation. He must have been a horrible person in a past life, and as punishment for whatever misdeeds he committed during said past life, the universe has decreed that in this life, he is never allowed to have sex.

Honestly, that's what it feels like sometimes.


The first time it happens, it's a fluke. It's got to be. Because he's lying on top of Sandra on her parents' couch – her parents having gone out for the night – and he's just removed her top and is sliding his hand down her stomach when his phone blares to life. It's the most annoying ringtone his phone has, which means that it's Casey calling.

Sandra seems keen on ignoring it, and he tries for a while, burying his face in her neck and going for the button of her jeans again, but he can't ignore that goddamn ring, just like he can't ignore Casey.

The look of shock that Sandra gives him as he rolls off the couch and gropes for his jacket quickly changes into one that could melt steel if she wanted to. He fishes his phone out of one of the front pockets and flips it open.

"What do you want, Klutzilla?" he says by way of greeting. He hopes he sounds annoyed at the interruption, even though he's really not.

"Derek." Something is off about Casey's voice, but he hasn't known her all that long, and so he can't really tell what it is. "Where are you? You were supposed to be home twenty minutes ago."

His eyes flick to the clock on the VCR, catching sight of Sandra as she rolls her eyes and puts her shirt back on, and sure enough, it's twenty after midnight. He's missed his curfew.

"Mom and George are furious," Casey continues. "They're already mad because you had a girl over while you were supposed to be watching Marti – "

"You were home," Derek angrily interjects. Because she was home, and Sandra hadn't come over until later, and Casey had even offered to keep an eye on Marti for a while, since she was done with the project she'd been working on.

"I know, and I told them that, but they're really mad. Your dad said something about no hockey, and I just – I really think you should come home."

It finally hits him what's wrong with her voice. She's worried. About him. And, for some reason, that knowledge spurs him into action faster than the fact that he's probably going to be grounded for the next month. He mutters a hasty apology to Sandra, who clearly isn't buying it, and hurries out the door, buttoning his shirt as he goes.

Casey wasn't kidding. His dad is furious, but Derek barely notices as his social privileges are restricted for the next six weeks – thankfully, hockey is not even mentioned. He is, however, aware of Casey's presence on the stairs behind him. When his father finishes yelling at him, he schleps up the stairs, and Casey, sitting at the top, trying to be inconspicuous, quickly gets up and scrambles to her bedroom.

After a quick, internal debate, he follows her, opening her door softly rather than barging in as per usual. She's sitting on her bed, holding a book upside down, obviously trying to appear as though she wasn't just listening to his and his father's conversation. His stomach does this weird little flip thing at the sight of her in pajamas, lounging on her bed. He tells himself it's nausea.

"Hey," he says, quietly.

"Hey," she parrots.

He tries to remember if there was ever a time in this warped relationship they've established that he's thanked her. He can't remember. But if he hasn't, now's as good a time as any to start. "Um… Thanks for the heads up."

She gives him a soft smile. "Anytime."

As he struggles to fall asleep that night, he starts thinking that maybe it's a good thing Casey called when she did. He's not entirely sure that he's ready to go where he and Sandra were going.

He's not that shocked that Sandra doesn't call again.


When Casey is really nervous about something, she chews on her thumbnail. For reasons that he doesn't want to even begin to understand, he finds this strangely endearing.

She's really nervous the night of her and Sam's first official date. She's sitting on the couch, twenty minutes before Sam is supposed to pick her up, gnawing on her thumbnail. She looks amazing, dressed in the new low-cut glitter tank top that she bought at the mall with Emily the weekend before (which she promptly showed to everyone who couldn't escape into the kitchen fast enough as soon as she got home), and from Derek's position – behind her – he can see right down her shirt.

He knows he said that he was going to be okay with this, but he's really not. Something about Casey dating his best friend gives him this weird, nauseous feeling, and suddenly he has to do something.

So he reaches forward with both hands and messes up her carefully styled hair.


She leaps over the back of the couch, tackling him soundly. They are still wrestling when Sam shows up.


He's been dating Kendra for a little over two months. Saved from making what would have been a huge mistake with Sandra, he wants to wait to try again. Kendra is more experienced than he is – that's no secret – but she's really patient and more than willing to stay on the other three bases before sliding into home. He's still not sure that he's ready, but he really likes her, and he's fifteen and horny as hell and she's been hinting that it's time they took that step. As patient as she is, he knows that she thinks two months is an absurd amount of time to date without having sex. So he walks her home after school one day, and she casually mentions that her parents are out, and would he like to come in for a while?

There's an unpleasant lurch in his stomach that he attributes to nerves. He just hopes he doesn't throw up while he's kissing her. Wouldn't that be awkward?

They're in her bedroom, and after a few fumbles he's managed to unclasp her bra, when that shrill, annoying ring breaks the silence, signaling that – once again – Casey is calling.

It's instinct, reaching for his phone, and he doesn't see the annoyed look Kendra gives him until she bats the cell out of his hand.

"Ignore it, Derry," she coos, wrapping a hand around his wrist and guiding his now empty hand to her bare breasts. "You're busy."

His mind temporarily goes blank once his fingers come into contact with her skin, but the ring – much like Casey herself – is damn persistent. He closes his eyes, hoping that will strengthen his resolve, but all that does is make his mind wander. He can see Casey standing there, phone to her ear, tapping her foot as she waits for him to pick up.

"It might be important," he mumbles, grabbing the phone again. He flips it open. "What is it, Space Case?"

"Derek!" He can't help but smile at the way Casey over-emphasizes the last syllable of his name. And he's not quite sure, but he thinks he hears Kendra snort. When he glances at her, though, she gives him a tight smile. "It's your turn to make dinner, and you're not here! Why aren't you here?"

"I'm busy," he says, his grin widening as he hears her huff in annoyance on the other end. "You can make dinner tonight, can't you?"

"I made dinner last night. And the night before that."

"I know." He smirks. "My stomach is still cramping from that wonderful concoction you tried to force on us last night."

"Oh, I forced you to have thirds, did I? I don't recall holding a gun to your head."

"Well, it was either stuff my face and get food poisoning, or listen to you drone on about your stupid dance recital, so I chose the lesser of two evils."

"Whatever." He hopes he's imagining the note of hurt in her voice, but he doesn't think he is. "I'm not covering for you again. If you don't come home and make dinner, then none of us eat, and I'll make sure I tell Mom and George that you – "

He rolls his eyes, purely for Kendra's benefit, and to cover up the fact that there's a strange pull in his chest that he doesn't recognize. "Fine, I'll be home in fifteen minutes."

It only takes him ten. But he sits on the front porch for another ten minutes just to piss her off.

She's already started dinner by the time he walks in. He stops and stares at the back of her head as she busies herself at the stove, and his stomach is doing something weird that he can't really describe. He tells himself it's because whatever she's cooking smells amazing.

"I thought you said no one in the family was going to eat if I didn't come home and make dinner."

She jumps, clearly not expecting him, but recovers with admirable speed, and doesn't even turn around to look at him when she responds. "Well, I was hardly going to let everyone starve because you're irresponsible."

He shakes his head mockingly, even though she can't see, and moves towards her. "Casey, Casey, Casey. No one would starve. Dad and Nora would order pizza, probably surprised at the knowledge that we had enough food in the house to make dinner with in the first place."

The corners of her mouth tugs upwards in the trace hint of a smile, but when she glances at him and sees his grin, she wipes the pseudo-smile off her face. "Pass the pepper."

He does, and then he rolls up his sleeves and helps her make – if he does say so himself – the best chili con carne in the history of time. When Kendra calls later, Derek tells her that he's busy and he'll call her back later, but he doesn't intend to.

It's really no surprise to him that they break up not long after.


Some people might be interested to learn that when Derek is upset, his creativity goes out the window.

For Casey's first official date with Max (even though he's already asked her to be his girlfriend, which Derek thinks is a little backwards), Derek is so tied up in knots that he can barely remember what day of week it is, let alone any of his ideas. It never occurs to him to consult the "Casey" file on his hard drive, because he just isn't thinking straight.

He sits at his window, waiting for Max to bring Casey home, armed with a bucket of dirty dishwater that he only managed to procure by offering to do the dishes, so now everyone in the house is suspicious.

Max's headlights flash in his peripheral vision, and Derek cowers in the window, hopefully staying out of sight. He listens for the approach, nearly sick with anticipation, and just as he knows Max is leaning in for the goodnight kiss, Derek tips the bucket and dumps dirty, soapy water on the couple.


The front door slams, Casey's footsteps pound their way up the stairs, and then she's in his room, beating him with the empty bucket.

But she doesn't kiss Max good night.


His so-called friends stand there and laugh hysterically as he comes up with new ways to get back at Casey for cock-blocking him all the time. He can't ever seem to let it go, even though both Sam and Ralph have tried to tell him that it's just a coincidence, and that he shouldn't try and punish Casey for something she doesn't even realize she's doing, and why the hell doesn't he just turn his cell phone off if it's such a problem?

He ignores them, especially the bit about turning his phone off. Much as he hates Casey's ill-timed phone calls – which he really doesn't, though he'll never willingly admit to that, even under threat of torture – he'd never turn his phone off. But he doesn't tell them that, because he doesn't want to tell them that he's scared to death that the minute he turns his phone off, something awful is going to happen to someone he cares about, and he won't be able to answer the call. He got this idea from – of all people – Dennis McDonald, who told him that one time he had to turn his phone off for a meeting, and when he checked his messages later, learned that Nora had been admitted into the hospital for an emergency appendectomy.

Derek remembers wondering if Dennis really had his phone turned off, or if he just didn't take the call.

Regardless, he doesn't intend to let his friends know about that, because word might get out that the great and powerful Derek Venturi actually has a weakness. And that simply cannot be. So he entertains them every so often with his rants about Casey and how she's ruining his sex life.

"She must have radar or something," Derek says, causing Sam and Ralph to laugh even harder, if that's at all possible. "I'm serious!" Their shoulders shake in silent laughter, and Ralph is fighting back tears. Sam laughs so hard he snorts. "She's got some kind of bizarre radar, and it goes off whenever I finally get someone's bra off, and so she has to call me, because that's what she does."

"Maybe it's karma," Sam suggests, once he's managed to reign in his laughter. "I mean, you're always interrupting her dates. And don't try to deny it, because I know it for a fact."

Derek doesn't try to deny it. Like he needs to be reminded that Sam and Casey dated. "That's different," he grunts, hoping they don't make him elaborate. It's different because, when he interrupts her dates, when he sprays silly string on her and her hapless football oaf of a boyfriend, when he sends Edwin into her room as a chaperone, it's totally and completely on purpose. Because he wants her for himself. But he can't have her. Ergo, no one else should be able to have her, either.

But Casey doesn't feel that way about him. She's helped him get dates; she doesn't plot how to wreck them.

She just has the worst timing in the history of the world.


Two days after the breakup, and Casey's still crying over Max.

Derek can hear her sobs through the vent that separates their rooms, and he's had quite enough of this, thank you very much. He gets up, storms over to Casey's room, and barges inside, fully intending to yell at her about how some people are trying to sleep.

But he just can't do it. Because she's curled up on her side, hugging that stupid blue monkey to her chest, surrounded by wadded up tissues. Her back is to him, but she hears the door open and rolls halfway over to see who it is.

"What?" she asks, and her voice is so full of false bravado that it cracks under the strain, and she doesn't wait for him to answer before turning away.

There's a tug in his chest, pulling him towards the bed. He sits gingerly on the edge, facing the opposite wall. Every sniffle is another stab in his gut, and the bed shakes with her crying. After what seems like forever but is probably no time at all, he slowly reaches out and gently lays a hand on her shoulder.

They sit in silence for a while, and Derek is just about to stand when he feels Casey's hand settle lightly over his.

He wakes up the next morning on top of her sheets, with her sprawled half on top of him, snoring into his neck. He carefully extricates himself from her and pads softly to the door, quickly makes sure no one is around, and darts across the hall to his own room.

They never speak of it again.


There's something about Sally that has him on edge. He isn't quite sure what it is, but he suspects it has to do with the fact that he's not entirely sure of her intentions. It sounds ridiculous, but he can't help but remember that she led him on for a really, really long time – and sent him a bevy of mixed signals, until he stopped showing outward interest in her and then all of a sudden she wanted to date him. Not to mention that barely a month into their relationship she's telling him that she's crazy about him and expecting him to return the sentiment.

He's more than a little freaked. But she's cute, and she's sweet, and she seems interested (now), and she's willing to make out with him on a regular basis, so he's willing to give it a shot.

It isn't a bad relationship, really, if he ignores the fact that she constantly disregards how he feels about things and then claims that he does the same thing to her. They have fun together, she comes to all of his hockey games, and she certainly makes work a lot more interesting. But he doesn't feel like he can really be himself around her, like he has to constantly be the guy she expects him to be, rather than the guy he really is.

He takes it all in stride, though. Because it's Sally, and she's actually agreed to date him, and he is in the process of removing her shirt, so he isn't going to complain. Because he's sixteen years old, dammit, and he's never had sex, and he's pretty sure he will physically explode if it doesn't happen soon.

Sally giggles a bit as her shirt gets caught on her hair clip, and she's pulling him down on top of her, and he settles between her legs and dear god, he's going to –

I'm a Barbie Girl, in my Barbie world…

His response is automatic. His hand leaves Sally's hip and reaches for his phone, and Sally clamps her hand around his wrist. "Just let it go to voicemail," she says. She gives him what he describes as her "come hither" stare, which is normally very alluring, and not slightly creepy, like it is now.

Derek shakes his head. "It might be important."

"Derek," Sally says, propping herself up on her elbows, "this is pretty important."

He ignores her and flips the phone open. "Hey, Case. What's up?"

"Derek! What did you do to my room?"

He sits up completely, shifting to the edge of the bed so that he can swing his legs over the side. "You don't like it? It's pink!"

"Cellophane, Derek? Where did you find so much of it? When did you even have time to do this? And how did you get out of the room? I can't even get through my door!"

"You're always complaining about how messy the house is. I figured you'd want your room to be, you know, as clean as possible."

"So you wrapped my entire room in cellophane? That doesn't even make sense!"

"It's not supposed to make sense. It's supposed to be funny." He pauses, tugging his button-down back on. "And it is."


He blinks, because he's just gotten that in stereo. Casey's voice in his right ear – flustered and annoyed – and Sally's in his left – tense and angry. He decides that, since Sally is right there, looking as though she doesn't intend on taking her shirt off for him ever again, and Casey is at home and will probably have cooled off somewhat by the time he returns, he'll deal with Sally.

"Case, I have to go."

"You jerk! What about my – "

He snaps his phone shut and tosses it aside. Sally is glaring at him, her arms folded angrily across her chest, and he knows he screwed up, so he doesn't even look at the way her breasts are accentuated when she does this.

Okay, he does. But only for a second.

"Derek, you knew that was Casey on the phone. Even I knew that was Casey on the phone. Why didn't you just let it go to voicemail?"

"It might have been – "

"Come on. You can't really believe that. Everything's important to Casey, but that doesn't mean it's important to you. To us."

Derek furrows his brow. There's something in Sally's tone that he doesn't like, but he can't quite put his finger on it, nor does he think that he should it bring it up right now. Sighing heavily, he tells Sally his theory about what would happen if he were to turn off or ignore his phone. He mumbles his way through most of it, because he knows he sounds ridiculous, but he's sure Sally will understand. She's a girl; she'll probably find it sweet.

To his surprise, she laughs. She actually laughs at him. He looks at her in surprise, his mouth halfway open, and she shakes her head at him, grinning. "Derek, that's just silly. No one is going to get hurt because you let your phone go to voicemail. I don't know if you've noticed, but every time we're about to…you know…your phone rings. And it's always Casey. And it's never important."

Yes, actually, he has noticed this interesting little phenomenon. But as annoying as it is, he isn't going to turn off his phone. He's still not sure if Dennis ignored the call or what, but he's not about to tempt fate by making the same mistake. "I'm not turning off my phone."

"Derek, I think I can tell you with absolute certainty that if you don't turn your phone off when you come into my house, we will never be able to have sex."

He clenches his jaw. He leans forward slightly, hovering just on the fringes of what could be considered a polite distance, staring Sally down. She can forcibly volunteer him for family functions he wants no part of, and she can force him into confessing feelings for her that he's not entirely sure he's feeling yet, and she can lecture him about what he does or does not tell ex-girlfriends, but it is his damn phone, and if he doesn't want to turn it off, then he's not going to turn the fucking thing off. "I am not turning off my phone." His tone is clipped and curt and leaves no room for argument.

Sally heaves an overdramatic sigh – Derek barely refrains from rolling his eyes – and mutters, "Fine."

As he's leaving, he moves to kiss her, and she turns her head at the last second so that his lips come into contact with her cheek. This time, he does roll his eyes. He makes sure to slam the front door on his way out.

When he gets home, Casey is still raving, screaming at him at the top of her lungs and he's grounded for the next two weeks, but it's worth it just to see the look on her face.


Ever since Casey broke up with Max, her social life has taken a supreme nosedive, so she's home most evenings. He puts on a big show about being grounded and having to spend so much time with her, but he's secretly pleased, because their fights have become physical again. It's not uncommon for them to wind up wrestling on the floor over the remote, or a magazine, or the last pudding pop.

And the only thing better than him pinning her to the floor is her pinning him, which he's been letting her do a lot lately.


Ever since he swapped her shampoo with salad dressing, Casey hasn't been speaking to him. He knows this because she told him. Five times. But he gets off work around the time that musical practice (she's one of the daughters – he doesn't remember which – in Fiddler on the Roof) lets out, so he's agreed to pick her up, even though they're supposedly fighting.

Sally comes in just as he's slipping on his jacket. Things have been tense between them, but she smiles warmly enough as she gives him a kiss in greeting. He pulls back when she tries to deepen it, a little unnerved by the public display of affection and very careful about it after their on-stage lip lock at open mic night. Sally pouts every time he does this, but he's repeatedly asked her to respect his wishes. She found the idea of him being a private person hilarious, but she doesn't bring it up as much anymore.

"Hey, you," she says brightly. "Want to go catch a movie? A new dollar theater opened up downtown."

"Sure," he murmurs, brushing past her and heading for the door. "But it'll have to be later. I've got to pick up Space Case at musical practice."

She grabs the back of his jacket and he almost smacks her hand away, but he doesn't think that will go over well, so he refrains. Instead, he just raises his eyebrows at her. She smiles again – a little too cheerfully, he thinks. "Actually, I called Casey earlier, and she said that she was going to catch a ride with Noel."

He stiffens at the name. Casey has made it perfectly clear that she and Noel are just friends, but he's been hanging around Casey a lot lately. Even though after the last musical, the kid swore up and down that he'd never try out again, he tried out for the male counterpart of whichever daughter Casey is playing. (The middle one, what's her name? Derek can never remember.) And of course, he got it, so he and Casey have been spending inordinate amounts of time together. But even mad at him, Casey would still call to let him know that he didn't have to pick her up.

He fumbles in his pockets for his phone. "I'd better call – "

"Don't bother," Sally says, and her tone is way too cheerful, just like her smile. "She probably won't even be able to hear her phone. Come on, let's just go."

Since things have been so awkward between them lately, and he knows that Casey will most likely call to yell at him for being late picking her up, he doesn't argue. He just gets in the car. He does, however, comment when she gives him the address of the theater.

"But that's your address."

She gives him her "come hither" stare. And it still looks creepy. "I know." Her voice drops an octave in what he assumes is supposed to be a seductive manner, but he's not falling for it. "My parents aren't home tonight, and I thought that…maybe…"

Derek's body reacts before his brain catches up, and he nods dumbly, pressing the gas pedal just a smidge harder.

He makes a pit stop in her bathroom to calm his raging nerves, because his heart is beating a mile a minute, and something is going on in his stomach again. Then they're in Sally's room, on her bed. His shirt is on the floor, and hers quickly joins it. He deftly unclasps her bra – one-handed, even, a far cry from the days when he used to fumble with Kendra's – and practically rips it off her. It catches on her elbow and they have a good laugh about it. He latches his lips to her throat and his hand slides along her stomach, going for the button of her jeans. This is usually the point where his phone rings.

He freezes abruptly, his ears instantly perking as his eyes flick to his phone – which remains absolutely silent, immobile, on the table next to Sally's bed. For the first time ever, Casey does not have the world's worst timing.

He has no good reason not to move forward. So how come he doesn't want to?

He's staring at his phone now, waiting for it to ring – because it always rings, Casey always calls him right as he's about to have sex, that's just the way things are. But then he remembers that Casey is with pansy-ass Noel, and his stomach tightens, and he turns his attention back to Sally and kisses her with renewed vigor, and he finally gets a girl's jeans unbuttoned.


He saw Casey naked once, by accident. It was back when the bathroom door was busted. He knocked but she must not have heard him, because when he threw open the door, she was just getting out of the shower, reaching for a towel. She screamed and threw a shampoo bottle at him, and he stumbled backwards into the hallway until his back made contact with opposite wall.

This is what pops into his head as he's with Sally.


It's not at all like he expected. It's awkward and uncomfortable and nothing like what he's seen in movies.

He doesn't want to cuddle, but he stays and lets Sally snuggle into his chest. She tells him that it will get better, that it's usually like that the first time, and will she just shut up already? He doesn't want to hear this.

Eventually, he has to leave. He gives Sally a brief kiss goodbye and practically bolts, mumbling excuses as he goes. He has school tomorrow, and his dad and Nora expected him back a while ago, and he hasn't called to let them know he'd be late, so they're going to be mad. He's a little surprised they haven't tried calling him, but when he flips open his phone, it's off.

Derek frowns. When did he turn off his phone? He doesn't remember doing that, nor would he, because he never turns it off. Maybe the battery died? But he just charged it. When he turns it on, he sees that he has about ten missed calls. Most of them are from Casey. The last few are from his dad.

This is not good.


"Hey, Derek. Um… You did remember that you're supposed to pick me up, right? I mean, I'm sure you're still at work, but you usually get off early when you pick me up. I guess it's only been a few minutes… Hey, why is your phone off? Your phone's never off. Well, um, bye."


"Derek, where are you? You could have at least called if you were going to be late, jackass. If you're not here in the next five minutes, I'll… Well, I don't know how to finish that sentence, so just be here."


"Derek, this isn't funny anymore. I've been waiting here for half an hour. Where the hell are you?"


"Derek, come on. Joke's over. There's no one else I can call. Noel doesn't have a car, Emily's on a date, Sam's out of town, I don't know Ralph's new number, and Mom and George are at that business dinner. So, basically, it's you. Get your ass to the school and pick me up."


"I hope you're happy, Derek. You've reduced me to walking. I have to walk! I am so kicking your ass as soon as I get home. You're probably passed out in front of the television, like always. God, you're such a jerk."


"Are you okay? You never have your phone off, Derek, I'm worried. And I'm scared. It's really dark outside, and it's farther than I thought, and I think someone is following me. Please call me as soon as you get this message."


"Derek? Derek, please pick up. I'm scared. There's this guy following me, and every time I turn, he turns, and I don't like this, Derek. Please, please come get me."


"Derek, where are you? Please. This guy – he won't leave me alone, Derek, he's following me, and I'm scared, and I don't remember any of the self-defense tricks that Lizzie taught me, and I think I left my mace on my other keychain and you were supposed to pick me – "


"Derek, where the hell are you? Why is your phone off? You never have your phone off. Listen, when you get this message, come directly to Angel of Mercy Hospital. Casey is – Casey's been in an accident."


"Young man, I assure you that this is not funny. Your stepsister, who you were supposed to pick up from practice, is in the hospital, and you're still not answering your phone. When we get home, I assure you that you will not be allowed outside of the house until well after your graduation – from college."


Somewhere between the stop sign at the end of Sally's street and the parking lot at Angel of Mercy is Derek's heart.


"It's not as bad as it looks," is the first thing Edwin says to him when he finally convinces the nurse to give him Casey's room number.

Derek pushes past Edwin and into Casey's room, and if his heart were in his chest (which it's not, it's somewhere on the road to the hospital) it would stop at the sight of her, fragile and broken, lying on the hospital bed. There are tubes in her nose, and an IV in her arm, and wires connecting her to the heart monitor. Her left arm is in a sling, her left leg is in a cast, her skin is covered in bruises, and this is all his fault.

"Okay," Derek squeaks, once he's finally able to breathe, "that's good. Because this looks bad." 'Bad' is an understatement. It looks fucking awful. She looks so… A lump lodges itself in his throat. This is infinitely worse than when she had her appendix out. Because that wasn't Derek's fault. "What happened?"

"She was hit by a car." Derek's stomach drops to his knees. She shouldn't have been walking at all; he was supposed to have driven her home. But no, he was too busy having sex to answer his stupid phone. And the sex wasn't even good. He put his stepsister in the hospital for mediocre (if even that) sex. "The cops were here earlier. They told Dad and Nora that apparently she'd been running away from some guy and was almost across the street when she got hit."

His mouth feels like sawdust. His eyes don't leave Casey, who looks so small and delicate, folded tightly underneath the bed sheets. "Uh-huh."

"She just got clipped by the car. The doctor said that if she hadn't been running, she probably would've been k – "

Edwin abruptly cuts off, but Derek knows what he was about to say. His legs give out from underneath him. Luckily, Edwin notices and pushes a chair behind him just in time. His eyes are burning, and it takes him a minute to realize that he's crying. He can't remember the last time he cried. He doesn't know if he ever has. He takes several deep breaths, willing himself to remain calm, to not cry, but Casey could have been killed, and it's all his fault.

Before he knows what's happening, he is sobbing, head in his hands, his whole body shaking. The sound of rapid footsteps followed by the closing of a door indicates that Edwin has freaked and run, and Derek is glad. Because he doesn't want anyone to see him like this – to see his tough façade shatter into a million pieces small enough to pass through the eye of a needle. It's fitting that only Casey bears witness to it – even more so that she isn't conscious to see it – because only Casey knows exactly lies beneath the front he puts on for everyone else. Only Casey sees him for who he truly is. She has always been there for him, even when they're fighting, even though she claims to hate him, he knows he can count on her. She always helps him out when he asks, and because she has some sort of helping people complex, she even gives her assistance when he doesn't ask. Sometimes he thinks she's the only person who really cares about him.

And he blew her off for Sally. Sally, who doesn't really like him (at least the way he is), who is constantly trying to change him into someone else (he suspects Patrick – he always knew it was a bad idea to get involved with her so soon after their break-up). Sally, who quietly manipulates him into doing what she wants and then treats him like the bad guy when he doesn't go along with it. Sally, who scoffed at his fear of what would happen if he turned off his phone.

Casey would not have made fun of him. Casey would have probably thought it was sweet, especially if he'd had the balls to admit how he got the idea. But Casey is lying in a hospital bed. Casey could have died. Because of him.

He scoots his chair closer to her bed and takes her hand in both of his, squeezing it in what he hopes is a reassuring manner. He waits for her to squeeze back, but she doesn't.

"I'm sorry, Case," he whispers. His eyes are trained on her face – on the eyes that move rapidly behind her lids, on the barely parted lips. "I am so, so sorry." He wraps his hands around her wrist, his fingers settling on the delicate throb that signifies that she is still alive.

The steady rhythm of her pulse lulls him to a restless sleep.


Someone is shaking him, pretty roughly, and he wakes with a start, bolting upright from where he's collapsed against the side of Casey's bed. He blinks a few times, waiting for his vision to clear, and comes face to face with his father, who looks about as mad as Derek has ever seen him. Actually, take the maddest Derek has ever seen him, and multiply it by a billion, because that's how mad George is.

It had not occurred to Derek to ask where the rest of the family was when he stumbled into Casey's room earlier. He was glad for the opportunity to be alone with her – and unwilling to face everyone else. He is still holding her delicate wrist in his hands as he looks up at his father, who narrows his eyes and silently points to the door.

Nora and the kids stay with Casey while his dad leads him out to the parking lot, so he can yell at him and not worry about disturbing any patients. And he does yell. A lot. His face gets red, the veins in his neck stand out, and there is spittle flying out of his mouth, like a bulldog. One of the security guards comes over to make sure everything is okay, and under normal circumstances Derek would use the chance to make a run for it, but he fucked up, and he knows it, so he remains rooted to the spot.

George explains the situation to the security guard, who shoots Derek a look of disgust before he nods and walks off. Then his dad is glaring at him again, and Derek takes great interest in his shoes.

He could lie. He could say that his battery died, and that was why he didn't get the message. But he knew he was supposed to pick Casey up, and he stupidly believed Sally when she said that Casey had alternate transportation.

The guilt is overwhelming. It is a physical weight that rests upon his shoulders, makes it difficult for him to breathe, let alone look his father in the eye. He morosely answers every question George barks at him, and he answers them all truthfully, even what he was doing that was more important than keeping a promise to his stepsister.

He feels sick.

He suspects it is the look on his face, more than anything, that ultimately calms his father down. Because somewhere along the way George stopped screaming loudly enough to wake the dead, and he wipes the spit from his chin with the sleeve of his jacket. He's still angry as all hell, but at least Derek isn't flinching every time he speaks. He stands there calmly, silently, his eyes still trained on the pavement, as his father doles out his punishment.

First off, he is grounded indefinitely. He will probably be grounded until he leaves for college. His driving privileges are severely restricted – he's allowed to drive to school, hockey practice, and work, but that's it. He's surprised that his dad is letting him keep his job and remain on the hockey team, but he supposes that with college coming up, he needs the money and the opportunity to get a scholarship. He is no longer permitted to go to Sally's house – she has to come to theirs, and only when someone else is home, and they have to stay downstairs.

And as soon as Casey is released from the hospital, he is to act as her personal slave. It will be his responsibility to take her meals, to help her around the house, to drive her wherever it is she needs to go, for as long as she wants. He plans on doing this regardless, because the guilt is stifling, but at least now he can tell people that he has to.


The first thing Casey says when she wakes up is his name. She's groggy, and her voice is husky, and he has this sudden image of the two of them in bed together, waking up, and her saying his name in that tone of voice every morning. He pushes his way between Lizzie and Nora so that she can see him.

The second thing Casey says when she wakes up is, "Why the fuck didn't you answer your phone?"

Nora is so thrilled that her daughter is awake that she doesn't even chastise her for using foul language in front of the rugrats. Derek is so relieved that she's all right that he forgets to feel guilty for a moment.


Casey takes great pleasure in ordering him around. She gleefully gives him menial tasks, like running to the store to buy her more – he shudders – tampons or making multiple trips to the kitchen to fix her the same sandwich (not enough mayo, too much tomato, wrong kind of bread), which he performs without complaint. (The lady at the drug store gave him a knowing smile and a wink when he put the tampons on the counter. She obviously thought he was being a good puppy and running an errand for his girlfriend.)

After three days of, "Derek, my chocolate milk isn't chocolaty enough," and, "Derek, could you fluff my pillow?" and, "Derek, you need to take better notes so that I don't fail every test like you do," it finally occurs to Casey that he is suffering enough without the slave labor. He's not sure how she comes to realize this, but it happens sometime between serving her breakfast in bed and doing her laundry, which he leaves in the basket by the door, because it's not that he doesn't want to touch her underwear, it's that he thinks she won't want him to.

He's just dropped the basket on the floor and is about to ask if she needs anything else when she looks at him with a soft expression that he hasn't seen for weeks and says, "Derek?"

He lifts his eyes but doesn't meet her gaze. He focuses on her left ear instead. His face is carefully blank, the way it has been since she woke up. "Yeah?"

She gnaws on her bottom lip, and he can't help but look. It's a simple gesture, but it holds him captivated like it never has before, and he can't tear his eyes away. They remain locked in an odd, intense stalemate, his eyes on her mouth, her eyes on his face – he can feel them – and he fidgets under her stare. The silence is like the air between them, charged with something that he can't identify and doesn't really think he should.

He still can't bring himself to look at her. "Did you want something, Case?"

She stutters incoherently for a few moments. "Well, actually…" He stands there patiently, waiting for whatever form of torture she wishes to inflict on him now, so he's slightly surprised when she says, "No. I think I'm okay."

Just that morning, she'd asked him to make her another protein shake because he brought her the wrong color glass. So he's a little skeptical.

"Are you sure?" He shuffles over to her bedside table to pick up her discarded breakfast dishes. Her normal breakfast is oatmeal and wheat toast, but the past few days, she's been forcing him to make her chocolate chip pancakes and eating all of them so that he can't have any. "I can get you a glass of water, or do you need another pillow? You're supposed to keep your foot elevated, that's what the doctor said. You're probably bored. Did you want a book or something?"

Her brow furrows, and she slowly shakes her head. "Okay, Derek, what's going on?"

This finally makes him look at her. "What do you mean?"

"It's no fun ordering you around if you just stand there and take it." She sounds amused, like this is all some sort of game and not his penance for being the worst human being on the face of the planet, and he drops his eyes to her carpet, ashamed.

"Dad told me I had to be your personal slave. So, I'm your personal slave."

She doesn't know why he didn't answer his phone. He doesn't want to tell her, and even though he doesn't deserve it, the rest of the family is respecting his unspoken wish. He doesn't want her thinking that Sally is more important than she is, because all of his ex-girlfriends know that isn't true. Hell, even the old man who lives down the street and is legally blind could tell that that isn't true.

"Since when do you do what your dad tells you?"

He jams his hands in his pockets and scuffs his toe on the floor. "Since now. And you know, you're hurt, so – "

"Derek, you didn't even care when I sprained my ankle that one – "

"This is just a little more serious than you fake spraining your ankle, Case," he says, and for the first time since before he showed up at the hospital, he rolls his eyes at her. "You could have been killed."

She heaves an exasperated sigh. "But I wasn't."

"But you could have been. And it would have been my fault, and I'm sorry, okay? I'm really sorry. And just saying that I'm sorry isn't going to cut it this time, and I know that, so if I have to do your laundry and make you pancakes and pick up your girly products from the store for the next six months to make it up to you, then that's what I'm going to do."

"Derek, what are you talking about?" She looks genuinely confused.

His stomach tightens. How can she not blame him for this? Everyone else blames him. He certainly does. "Nothing. Never mind. Sure you don't want anything? It's no trouble."

She stares at him, her eyes unreadable, before shaking her head. "I'm good."

He nods shortly, and brandishes her dirty dishes. "Well, call me if you need anything. I aim to please."

She snorts in laughter, and he closes the door behind him.


He barely gets any sleep. The guilt is a physical presence that looms behind him, sitting on his shoulder and poking him in the face every time he closes his eyes. And when he does manage to slip into slumber, his dreams are plagued with horrific reenactments of Casey's accident, only they are ten times worse than what actually happened, because he wasn't there, so he doesn't know, and his imagination is punishing him for what he did.

In his dreams, he sees the man she was running from – only it's not just a man, it's Freddy Krueger or Jason Voorhies, or Ghost Face – and Casey is screaming and crying hysterically and frantically trying to reach him when she runs into traffic. In his dreams, she sees the car coming but is unable to get out of the way, her feet literally glued to the pavement. In his dreams, her body flies through the air, grotesquely contorted and twisting in every direction, and lands lifelessly on the pavement yards away from where she was struck.

He jerks awake, drenched in sweat, Casey's name on his lips, only to hear her voice coming quietly out of the baby monitor beside his bed. One of his father's rare brilliant ideas, he dug up Marti's old baby monitors so that Derek could fulfill his obligations even in the middle of the night.

"Derek?" She whispers, even though she doesn't need to, no one can hear her this late. "I need to go to the bathroom."

He schleps into her bedroom, takes hold of her hands, and hauls her effortlessly into his arms in order to carry her down the hall to the bathroom. He waits for her to finish, then carries her back to her room and lays her gingerly on her bed.

He turns to leave and her voice again stops him. "Derek." He looks at her, a formless shape in the dark, and says nothing, waiting for her next command. "I can't sleep. Could you just…sit with me for a while?"

He obediently sits on the bed beside her, and begins absently threading his fingers through her hair. He doesn't realize he's doing this until Casey hums contentedly, and the noise goes right to his heart and makes his stomach clench. They settle into a more comfortable position, with him resting against her headboard and her resting against him, her head on his chest, his fingers in her hair.

"Casey?" he murmurs much later.

"Hmmm?" She's on the fringes of sleep, and so is he, but he shouldn't fall asleep here. It feels much too good, and he doesn't deserve to feel this good.

"I really am sorry. I may be a jackass sometimes…most of the time…but I'd never intentionally hurt you. You know that, right?"


His eyes drift closed, his breathing evens out, and it's his first decent night's sleep in days.


Sally is less than thrilled with this new arrangement. She sits stiffly on their couch, her arms folded across her chest, her eyes trained on the TV. They're watching a soccer game, because Lizzie is their chaperone this evening, and she's thoroughly enjoying the chance to sit in Derek's recliner. He glances over at his stepsister, and she grins at him, munching happily on a bowl of popcorn, and he smiles tightly back, glad that she's finally stopped glaring at him.


Without even a grunt of annoyance, he rises obligingly from the couch and goes to the base of the steps. "You need something, Case?"

"Can you bring me a glass of water, please?"

Sally scoffs behind him, but he ignores her. "Sure, no problem."

He moseys to the kitchen, fills a glass, drops a couple of ice cubes in it, and takes it to Casey. She accepts it with a smile, takes a sip without hesitating (he has a tendency to spit in her beverages – or at least he used to), and goes back to whatever ridiculously boring book she's reading now. He hovers in her doorway for a few moments, watching her, before asking if she needs anything else.

She spares him a glance over the top of her book. Her smile is faint, but there. "I don't think so. Thank you for the water."

He smiles softly. "Anytime."

As he makes his way downstairs, he can hear Lizzie trying to explain the rules of the game to Sally. She's in the middle of what the colored cards mean when Derek plops ungracefully onto the sofa.

Sally turns to him, completely ignoring Lizzie, who glares and goes back to the game with a huff. "Derek, this is ridiculous. Let's just go to my house."

Derek drapes his arm loosely across the back of the couch, his fingers lightly brushing Sally's shoulder. "Can't. Grounded."

Sally angles closer to him and shifts her legs to his lap. He glances at her, one eyebrow twisted quizzically. "But your parents aren't home. And Lizzie won't tell." She smiles beatifically at the girl in question. "Would you, Liz?"

Lizzie narrows her eyes and straightens in the recliner. "Derek is supposed to be here to help Casey. You know, because she was hit by a car last week. She's fine, by the way, thanks for asking."

Sally grunts and turns back to Derek, running her hand up his arm to trace patterns on his chest. "Well, then let's go up to your room. Lizzie can take care of Casey."

"Actually," Lizzie says, her voice tense, and Derek remembers when the whole family used to fawn over Sally like the sun shone out of her ass and wonders when that changed, "it's Derek's job to – "

"Whatever," Sally says. "Derek, come on." He's never understood how that phrase is supposed to convince someone to do something. It's not a substantial argument at all. She sticks out her lower lip in a pout, and he resists the urge to roll his eyes. The only person who can get away with using the pout on him is Casey.

He purses his lips and shakes his head. "Sally, please. You know my dad's rules. I'm in big trouble here, and one misstep away from being chained to a pole in the basement."

"I don't get you." He bites the inside of his cheek to keep from saying, Well, that's the understatement of the year, because she isn't finished. "You usually don't care about curfew or the house rules. What, you can sneak out of the house to a party with Casey, but you won't even go upstairs with me?"

Derek has just about reached his breaking point, and funny, he didn't even think he had one. But Sally is inching dangerously close to the line he just figured out was there. "Casey was hit by a fucking car, Sally. I need to be here to help her if she needs something, and that's just slightly more important than the fact that you're horny."

Lizzie chokes on a mouthful of popcorn, and Sally's eyes narrow. "Derek," Sally grits out through clenched teeth, "I thought that, since we've finally taken things to the next level, you'd want to continue our…relationship."

"Well, the last time we had sex, Casey got hit by a car, so excuse me if I'm not all that anxious for another go."

"Oh, god," Lizzie moans, clutching the popcorn bowl to her chest, "I'm so going to need therapy earlier than I thought."

"Derek, don't be stupid." He removes his arm from around her shoulders and slides away from her. "Casey did not get hit by a car because we had sex."

"Please stop saying 'sex'," Lizzie says, clamping her hands over her ears. "I'd like to be able to sleep tonight."

"No. Casey got hurt because I listened to you and didn't pick her up, even though I knew I was supposed to. And you don't even care, do you? Shit, Sally, she's supposed to be your friend, and she was in the hospital for a week, and she's been home for four days, and you haven't come by to see her or even asked how she was doing. Don't you even feel the slightest bit guilty for what happened?"

"Why should I?" Sally stands, hands on her hips, glowering down at him like he's the bad guy, as usual. "Casey has other friends, Derek. How was I supposed to know that she wouldn't be able to get another ride?"

"Dammit, I was her ride! And I should have been there, and if my phone hadn't – " Everything falls into place so suddenly that he's fairly certain he can hear it click. "If you hadn't turned my phone off."

Sally freezes only momentarily, and her eyes widen only slightly, but it's enough for him to know that he's guessed right. "Don't be ridiculous."

He jerkily turns to Lizzie, who looks like a deer caught in the headlights. "Liz," he says, in the calm voice of the seriously pissed off, "could you please go into the kitchen for a minute?"

Lizzie's face registers her internal debate – she's not supposed to leave the two of them unsupervised, but she obviously doesn't want to hear the rest of this conversation – but she nods and scurries to the kitchen, popcorn in tow.

His jaw is clenched so tightly that it hurts, and he's sure that what he's about to say is going to come out completely wrong, but he's upset, and therefore his creativity is out the window. And it doesn't matter anyway, because this has gone on long enough, and he just wants this whole ridiculous pretense to end.


He's tense from his breakup with Sally, and his hands have been shaking all night, and most of the family (except Lizzie, who has told him that he's awesome no less than six times since Sally stormed out, and Marti, who is too young to really know what's wrong) are walking on eggshells around him. Dinner is a mostly silent affair, with everyone glancing at him periodically as though afraid he's going to crack. He eventually grows tired of it and goes upstairs to eat. He also takes Casey her plate of tofu whatever, and he knows she has to have heard everything, but she says nothing, just smiles serenely at him and accepts her dinner.

He sits at her desk and finishes his pork chops, and she eats her tofu, and neither says anything, but that's all right. Nothing needs to be said.


He can't sleep. He's not even trying because he knows he won't be able to. He grips his pillow tightly beneath his head, his eyes staring but not seeing.


His eyes flick to the baby monitor only to realize that the voice has come from behind him. He rolls partway onto his back, glances over his shoulder, and sees Casey standing awkwardly in the doorway. He is out of bed in an instant.

"Casey, what the hell? You're not supposed to be out of bed. Are you okay?"

She pushes away his hands and hobbles over to the bed. She stumbles a bit when her crutch catches one of his skates, but he manages to right her before she falls – or makes too much noise. "Casey?"

She sits on his bed and gazes up at him, her eyes bright and more open than he thinks he's ever seen them. "It is not your fault."

His gut clenches painfully, and he suddenly can't look her in the eye. "Case…" But he doesn't know how to finish that sentence, so he doesn't. Instead, he sinks to his knees in front of her and places his head in her lap. His arms wind around her waist, and before he realizes what is happening, he is crying. He never wanted her to see him like this, but he can't control it. The guilt, the longing, his residual anger from the fight with Sally, everything bubbles to the surface and explodes out of him.

She gently strokes the top of his head. "It's not your fault, Derek. I don't blame you. I want you to know that." She says these words over and over until he's exhausted himself. But even after his sobs subside, they still don't let go of each other.


It's two years later, and he's in New York. He loves New York. He plans on moving here once he's finished with school, spending all of his time in the Village because that's where all the good jazz bars are, and he has a newfound appreciation for jazz music.

He meets a girl at one of these bars. She's beautiful, with legs that go forever, and she's smiling at him like he's the answer to all her prayers. They sit at a booth in a dark corner and split some chicken paella, and they stay and watch the band until the manager kicks them out, and afterwards they go back to her place. They're kissing with reckless abandon, and his heart is beating a lot faster than he's used to, and he's just managed to remove her shirt when his cell phone rings.

"Goddammit," he grunts, flipping open his phone. "Edwin, I can't really talk right now, can I call you back?" He doesn't wait for his brother to respond before going, "Great, talk to you later," and tossing his phone carelessly over his shoulder.

Casey giggles underneath him, then pulls him down on top of her.

His phone doesn't ring again all night.