HULLO!

D'you remember, aaaaaaaall the way back in Chapter Four, when I promised I'd force Derek to do something nice(-ish) for Casey to repay her (begrudging) kindness?

Well.

At long last, I have delivered.

Before we begin: in case anyone's forgotten (which I realize is a possibility for those of you have productive lives and haven't watched the entire series some eight-thousand times), Casey's father's name is Dennis. Yes-hm.

Also. We are back to the 'oneshot' flavor of the fic. This chapter, while definitely meant to be taking place at some point after the events of the past few installments, stands alone. Casey and Derek have had time to fall back into their Old Routine by now, if not with marginal adjustments and perhaps a less...fraught vibe attached to their interactions.

[after dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, i have fought my way here to the studio beyond the Canadian city, to take back the rights to lwd daphne has STOLEN!]


::in which, at long last, The Switch is thrown::

Sure it's almost two in the morning. But it's Smarti's ringtone (for the special cell he'd given her before he'd gone off to college –one for her exclusive, private use; he'd made her Special Smarti-Smerek Swear that she wouldn't tell anyone about it, even if Edwin tried to bribe her), so he doesn't even grumble about rolling over to grab his phone, and by the time it's on its third ring he's flipping it open.

"Smarti?" He says, somewhat groggily, fighting sleep. "What's up, baby sister?"

But it's not Marti on the other end of the line.

"Derek," his father says, instead.

"Ah, I knew she'd break and tell you 'bout the phone eventually. I swear, it's all that do-gooder McDonald influence—"

"Derek, Marti volunteered the phone because it's an emergency and we had no other way of making sure you'd answer—"

"Emergency? What happened?" His heart is suddenly thudding painfully in his chest, but he is not Casey McDonald, and does not allow himself to jump to conclusions before the facts are made apparent.

"It's Dennis. He's-he's had a heart attack." Derek feels a wash of relief that all the members of his family are fine, which is immediately followed by crushing guilt (he doesn't like how familiar that emotion is becoming to him these days). And then there is something…else, something that accompanies the rogue image in his brain of Casey, something that twists unpleasantly and manages somehow to be very nearly painful, but he does not pause to identify it. "He's in the hospital now and he seems to be stable, but—"

"Does Casey know?" Derek's fingers are fisted in his bed sheets.

"Ye-yes, Nora called her a little while ago; that's actually why we wanted to get in touch with you. Nora thinks she probably shouldn't be alone, and Derek…Derek, you should really be there for your step-sister right now. Please don't make me ask you twice." Derek breathes out very carefully, thinks about arguing or holding out for a bribe or protesting that he's not up for handling the Drama Queen at this unholy hour in the morning, when there's likely to be both unabashed insanity and tears.

But maybe the McDonald do-gooder influence has gotten to him, too, because all he says is,

"Yeah, I'm on it."

Then he's throwing on his leather jacket and grabbing his keys, and he's out the door.

***

"Case, what are ya' doin'?"

"What does it look like I'm doing? I'm preparing a five-course meal. And laundering." She whips around and wields a spoon at him, and she's probably going to mistake his surprise for terror. "Clothing, before you try to make some stupid comment about me being a criminal." She's spinning back to her cooking project before he has time to be displeased that the remark hadn't even occurred to him. "And I'm working on a research paper for a friend."

"You're doing someone else's research paper? If I'd known you were volunteering your services—"

"You'd have insinuated that you wanted me to write yours and I would've laughed in your face before I refused, and anyway, I'm not doing it 'for her,' I'm just helping her to compile and efficiently organize all the data. It's not like I'm busy, anyway—"

"Except for the whole cooking for the entire campus thing you seem to be doing. At three in the morning. Oh, and the money laundering…"

"I knew you were going to make that joke! Ugggh!" She stamps her foot petulantly and it takes all of him not to laugh or make a jibe.

"I'm becoming predictable, then. I'll work on my material, I promise. Just for you, princess." Okay, so he makes a little jibe. He can't help himself. He's weak. "Don't you think you're…doing a bit much at the moment? I'm no scientist—"

"That's for sure."

"—but I'm pretty sure if you don't pencil in some breathing time at some point, I'm going to be stuck scraping you off the floor when you keel over, and I didn't bring my good spatula with me—"

"What're you talking about, Derek?" She scoffs, waving him off and laughing derisively. "If anything, I'm not doing enough! I've got to get to work on that poetry assignment, for example, and I've got a proposal to write up for my Developmental Psychology class, and oh! I haven't even started organizing my wardrobe by season, color, occasion…" It's a strange, unreal sort of moment for him, standing here watching her tap into Previously Unexplored Insanity with all the bubbling enthusiasm of a girl scout on speed, gleefully peddling her sugary poisons. Before now, he'd convinced himself that he'd seen the entire spectrum of Casey Crazy, but the look she has in her eyes now is somewhere between Twitchy, Nervous Breakdown, and DE-REK!, and he takes an unconscious step back in case she defies all the natural laws of the universe and explodes.

"Case—"

"Ah! Doesn't that smell delicious? Tofu-Broccoli Stir Fry! My favorite." Evidence of her derangement, he concludes.

"Casey," he says, and moves into her space. His eyebrows—do not—furrow when she deftly twirls out of his reach, now armed with a whisk and a plastic yellow bowl, because it's never cause for disappointment when she doesn't want to be anywhere near him. The only reason he constantly violates the Proximity Rule is because it bothers her. (Obviously.) "What's gonna happen when you run out of things to do?" He wonders idly, and dips his finger into some chocolatey-looking goop on the counter because her back is turned, though she has clearly planned for such contingencies by booby-trapping all of the food, as he's fairly certain he now has third-degree burns from said scalding goop; choking back a blood-curdling scream, he promptly pops the finger into his mouth as she turns to face him, nursing it with affected nonchalance. When the silence begins to wear on him, he finally looks at her: she's perfectly still, mid-whisk, her eyes focused beyond him on something that (if he turns around to look) is probably just the wall. "Case—" He starts, and then she snaps (physically) out of her stupor and smiles (it's the most unnatural expression he's ever seen anyone wear) at him, and he shuts up.

"I'll just invite you over, and you can do that mayhem thing you do so well, and I'll be here to clean up the mess!" She starts whisking furiously and the huge fake smile settles in for a long stay. "Until then, you can just…leave. Occupy yourself for a couple of days and then just pop by unexpectedly like you always do and Derek-it-up!" Three steps is all it takes to close the distance between them. She flinches when she realizes how close he is, and he's about to steal the whisk away from her so she'll be forced to listen to reason (if such a thing is even possible for a lunatic) for a moment when she apparently remembers suddenly that she needs something from the fridge and immediately steps (practically runs, actually) toward it, whisking frantically all the while.

And damn it, he's no good at this. He doesn't know what to do with her anymore than he knows what to do with himself here, because he only has one way of dealing with Casey (admittedly with some relatively recent modifications), and this is not it. This is Derek Venturi in Uncharted Territory, and the natives are teeming with mental unbalance. How do you communicate with someone when you suddenly discover that you don't speak their language? What do you do when the tried-and-true methods for dealing with the discrepancies break down? When they don't even apply?

He doesn't like responsibility, he hates the Real stuff, and he is Very Uneasy about fucking around with the Casey-and-Derek dynamic as it is (and always has been); it works for them –it's always worked for them, and he has a Peculiar Foreboding Feeling that if he changes it…nothing will ever be the same again.

Still, it doesn't currently appear that he's got much choice in the matter, so he trails along right after her, feeling somewhat agitated when she dodges past him (again), this time flitting to the other side of the room without even bothering to come up with a thin pretense for escaping.

It takes him all of half an instant before he resumes the pursuit, and he doesn't even realize that he's already making a movement to bridge the gap between them and make some sort of casual contact until,

"Don't touch me!" She snarls, and if he were anyone other than himself, he'd have taken a step back, given her the space she keeps demanding, bowed to her wishes (because everyone seems to eventually, but not him, never him), but he is Derek and he has to push her because she's Casey and that's what he does.

So he doesn't even hesitate to take a step toward her, staring her down as she retreats and he follows.

"Stay back!" That long, soft-looking hair is all shaking loose from its colorful-scrunchy-binding, and she looks wild, desperate, defeated. He takes another step and all he has to do is reach out and touch her. "Please…please leave me alone." She sounds so small, so meek, so utterly unlike Casey that it's really not that difficult, after all, to pull up his hand and stretch it toward her—

She runs. The bowl and the whisk clatter noisily to the floor and her hair slaps at his fingers as she spins and dashes away from him, and he doesn't even think (he's a hockey player; he's used to abrupt and unexpected changes of direction), he's just running after her, stubbing his toe (damn it) on the tiny dinner table wedged in between the kitchen and the living room, hurdling over the sofa, and then she's right in front of him and she's trying to twist away again but he's not going to let her and before he knows it, he's standing right behind her, and she's frozen and breathing heavily and clenching her fists because his hands are the sudden, firm pressure at her hips.

And then he knows why she didn't want him to touch her, because the second he does she crumples bonelessly to the floor, and he lets himself fall with her because she's crying, sobbing, and her entire frame is shaking as she curls around herself and he, in turn, curls around her, arms wrapping around her abdomen, forehead resting lightly against the space between her shoulder blades, and it's all terribly uncomfortable (in so very many more ways than one) but he doesn't say a word.

"Derek." She says, and his arms tighten around her unconsciously. "Derek." Between the sobs, hoarsely. "Derek." Then they're fighting again, except it's completely different because this time she's just trying to turn herself, and it's only a tussle because neither of them know how to coordinate this sort of event, so there are limbs everywhere and hair in his face and a knee wedged somewhat painfully into his kidney, but it's over just as quickly as it started when her arms wind tightly around him and she starts crying into his neck. "Derek." She hiccups, and he doesn't shudder even a little at the feel of her lips forming the name against his skin (but the effort this takes is very nearly Herculean).

"Spacey," he responds, and wishes there were some way to ward off the things that make her hurt (because he hates tears –and that's the only reason). His hand glides evenly down her spine, his fingers fanning gently at its base before he sweeps them back up (is he breathing too heavily?). "He's okay. Everything's gonna be okay." He presses an absent kiss to her crown and is horrified at the lack of horror this action inspires. Then, he pulls her back, framing her face in his hands (he notices, not for the first time, how unreasonably blue her eyes are), meeting her watery gaze. "What happened to all that obnoxious optimism, huh?" She looks at him like he has all the answers she could ever want, and it evokes within him a strange sense of…power. He licks his lips at the insight and then has to deal with the oddly tight feeling in his stomach when her gaze falls to his mouth. "Hey," he rasps, and she fixes him with a guilty look that pleases him in a sadistic, inappropriate sort of way, "your old man's going to be fine—"

"But what if he's not?" She interjects, and another few tears spill over and slip silently down her face. Derek rolls his eyes and uses both palms to blot at her cheeks, grinning at her when she manages a weak glare.

"You are aware that he's a McDonald, aren't you? Your breed doesn't go down easily. I should know."

Somehow, impossibly, it's the right thing to say, because suddenly she's laughing, and this is not a smile he knows (personally) very well. She's worn it for Other Boys, of course, but never for him, and he finds himself unwittingly captivated by it. Because it isn't just her face that lights up; somehow, the entirety of the known universe is brighter (even though that's impossible and, more importantly, stupid).

"You really are the most annoying brother ever, Derek." She says, and smacks his shoulder playfully.

"Step-brother." He corrects, and then it's a year ago and they're standing in the kitchen and if Casey follows the script, they'll be right back at Square One. The thought makes him irrationally angry, and he clings like a lifeline to that emotion when she continues to stare at him, just in case.

In his mind, he hears her say, "Same difference," with a warm smile and a coy fluttering of lashes.

"It really would be a tragedy if there were any shared blood between us." She reflects instead, and leans into him, threading her arms through his to cross loosely at his back.

His heart begins to pound in his chest and he wonders if she can feel it thudding out of control where she's pressed against him (which is everywhere), because that line isn't in the script; she's ad-libbing, breaking character, violating touching parameters –just who gave this girl permission to start arbitrarily tweaking relationship dynamics, anyway?

"This is one of those rare moments where you're actually right about something, Case." He chuckles carefully, so as not to accidentally smother in vanilla fragrance. "Treasure it while it lasts." She wedges her head up underneath his chin and nudges him softly.

"Jerk." She exhales shakily, and gradually her breathing evens out. "Derek…" She says, at some length, and he stops playing with her hair (because he has only just realized he was doing it at all).

"Casey."

"I'm glad you're here." And, oh, this, this is just excellent. His step-sister's father is in the hospital recovering from a potentially life-threatening event, and he chooses this moment to grasp the Horrifying Truth.

Derek wishes he could smash his head against the wall until he'd managed knock himself free of it.

He wants –more simply and seriously than he has ever wanted anything in his whole life—to kiss her.

(It just fucking figures.)


I wrote this a very long while ago; shortly after PB & Casey, as a matter of fact. You guys have *no idea* how difficult it was for me to keep from posting this for such an extended period. I feel so HAPPY to finally be able to do so.

Meanwhile.

I have one more chapter planned (porn-a-licious, but of course), and there's the possibility of an Epilogue after that, but we have essentially arrived at the end of this fic.

Which is f*cking crazy.

Thanks to all yous guys for bearing with me, and for reading this mad drivel.

(And to whatever anonymous reviewer left that Epic Review for Ch. 13 --thanks much! It gave me some much-needed food for thought for future adjustments I'm planning to make to that chapter, and I always appreciate the constructive criticism. ^_^)