Author's Note: Hooray! Another one-shot! You might notice that this isn't in my usual style—rather it's a modest borrowing of the angsty style written by the amazing WhenLighteningStrikes and others, conformed a bit to fit my style. Thanks bunches to the fabulous WhenLighteningStrikes for being my wonderful beta and allowing me to adopt her style! This is dedicated to her!

Read on!

She's lounging on her bed, psychology book open in front of her. High school years seem so distant now, even though it's not quite spring of her freshman year of college. It had been the name of one of the editors in her book that had made her pause in her scholarly pursuits- Paul. And that had obviously led her down the corridors of Thompson J. S. High to that one room. And she's stuck by a realization how much time was actually spent in that chair in Paul's office, complaining about—what else?—Derek.

It had gotten so bad that Paul offered to have a professional sign made for the chair, titled "Reserved for Casey." Not surprisingly, she'd refused. It was bad enough that she practically had a standing appointment—everyday, 1:30 sharp—that was untouched by anyone else. She didn't need another reason to feel pathetic.

But now, she wants to turn her high school mishaps around and use them to help someone else. (That's right, do-gooder Casey never quits.) So she's already declared her major, even though it's only the second semester of her freshman year. (Derek had wondered why there wasn't a major in Keening, but then Casey could write a whole textbook on that. She'd ignored him. Part of her "exercises.")

She's looking forward to becoming a psychologist, helping people with their problems. She can't wait to get her own little practice with her own little office and a little chair for teenage girls like her, whose stepbrothers have made it a point to ruin their lives.

(But what she's mostly looking forward to is that little nameplate on the door, with her name carved on it. She's already got the lettering picked out.)

(But let's face it: she can't even fix her own problems. How's she going to fix other people's problems?)

She could start by kicking Derek out of the apartment her mom and George forced them to share—but they wouldn't like that.

(If only the Casey Condensation Method worked on his mess.)

"Learning" is the chapter title. Really, she could fill a textbook—no an encyclopedia—with all the things she's learned since her mom married George Venturi and they became The Dysfunctional Brady Bunch.

For example: never leave any hair products sitting out—your eldest stepbrother will switch them out with various flavors of Kool-Aid and your youngest stepbrother will start making advertisements for good-smelling clown hair dye. Then your little stepsister will ask if you'll let her come along when you go off and join the circus.

(What you don't mention is that you're already in the circus.)

And then, there's always the clichéd no-throwing-huge-bashes-while-your-parents-are-away-you'll-get-locked-in-your-bathroom-with-the-bane-of-your-existence-for-the-entire-night experience.

(But that one turned out hilariously, and kind of cool. With all the trash dumped on Derek.)

The next section of the learning chapter is on "Positive and Negative Reinforcement." When reinforcement is "positive," Casey learns, a response is strengthened because something is added. So apparently:

Adding Derek to Casey's life resulted in her already obsessive-compulsive personality turning into a neurotic one: her response to stress was magnified because of his pranks. (Sometimes even that smirk sent her into a tailspin.)

But wait! She thinks—anything that includes Derek in the sentence has to be negative, right? Even the few nice things he did (calling her dad back, making that video of her birthday party for her when she was ill, getting her job at Smelly Nellie's back) couldn't possibly make up for all the irritating, selfish things he'd committed in the past.

(Right?)

And then there's the chapter on Punishment, and Casey's honestly surprised that her textbook doesn't have a huge pop-up diorama: "Derek Venturi's Guide to all the Different Types of Punishment." (Colored by Marti, manufactured on Lizzie's recycled paper, distributed by Edwin.)

But no, it only has the standard textbook material. But even that starts Casey thinking about all the different punishments she's observed (or, all right, received) during the four years she lived with the Venturis.

There was the aforementioned party disaster, the time Casey and Derek snuck out to go to that party and put a dent in George's car (which, really, she must have had a dent in her head if she allowed herself to go along with that crazy scheme).

(Or maybe, that tiny, unwished-for voice in the far reaches of her mind says, she just wanted to spend some quality time with a certain smirking someone. That voice obviously needs immediate psychiatric attention.)

The list of infractions and punishments goes on and on, and Casey finally realizes that there's one common thread linking all of them: Derek.

(Is he so egotistical that he demands that he never be far from Casey's thoughts? Darn him.)

Before she met Derek Venturi, she hardly ever got in trouble. But throw him into the mix and he turns her already messed-up life upside down.

(Her over-analytical brain wonders, if her life was turned upside down already, and Derek turned it upside down once again, does that mean that he turned it right side up? For the first time in her life, she wishes she could be like Derek and just stop thinking.)

And then there's the personality section of the textbook. She glances over all the different theories and her eyes come to rest upon a pie chart with four sections: Extraverted-Neurotic, Extraverted-Stable, Introverted-Neurotic, and Introverted-Stable. Each section has different adjectives describing the different personalities, and Casey's a little disappointed to find that she screams "Extraverted-Neurotic."

(Of course, Derek would say he already knew this, but he would've said, "Isn't it easier just to call her a headCase?!" Trust him to think of the easiest way to do things.)

She looks at "Extraverted-Stable," and is equally surprised to find that it describes Derek. "Stable" isn't necessarily a word that she would normally use to describe the Lord of the Lies himself, but it does apply to some aspects of his character. How else would he have maintained his job at Smelly Nellie's, let alone become assistant manager and then Employee of the Year? How else would he be able to maintain calm when she was having another spazz attack about who-knows-what? Sure, he throws up before every hockey game or important event since his stomach is churning like Niagara Falls and because, in his own way, he's just as much of a perfectionist about his game as Casey is about everything, but he's nowhere near as dramatic as Casey is.

She blanches when she realizes that Derek is somewhat responsible, and she wants to wash her mouth out with soap when she combines those two words in the same sentence, but in many ways, it is true. He can also be, sortofmaybekinda caring (no, she didn't think that) when he wants to be—just watching him with Marti proves that. He's also been caring to her, in his own [twisted] way: getting her job back at Smelly Nellie's (true, he did say, "No one messes with my stepsister but me," but it's the thought that counts); telling everyone to stop calling her Klutzilla (leaving the name solely reserved for himself); and her personal favorites: giving Truth-less Truman the verbal smack he deserved, then taking charge and getting Casey out of there (so much disgust written in his eyes, and was that pain written there too?), and calling her dad back because he could see how much spending time with her father meant to Casey.

She involuntarily sighs as she remembered the torrent of emotions in his chocolate brown eyes that night when he'd seen her stricken face upon learning that her father had to leave early. She'd seen anger, disbelief (why would her dad do that to his Princess?), and, most surprisingly, sympathy. And then he'd made her dad swear not to tell her the truth about why he was back, but oddly enough, she'd known herself. That was the night, it dawned on her, that she'd realized what a good guy he really was. The night Truman really had his last chance, she'd admitted, out loud, to herself and to her mom that The Derek Venturi was a good guy. Her stomach turned over at the thought of his warm brown eyes boring into her, seeing into her soul (he was the only one who ever could), that smirk that she simultaneously wanted to slap off his insolent face and then kiss passionately….wait, what brought that thought on?

And then it hits her.

She is in love with Derek Venturi.

Casey's nerves are frazzled due to this…development, and she realizes that this sickening feeling must be what Derek feels before every hockey game. She tries to erase the thought (oh my gosh, I love Derek Venturi…) from her mind, but something about that statement feels so right (so sickeningly right) that she can't shake it. (Besides, there is no special kind of soap for washing things from your mind. She has to get Edwin on that pronto.)

She paces around, wondering, how am I supposed to tell him? Do I even try to tell him? Gosh, she thinks, wouldn't Sigmund Freud have a field day with us? Stepsiblings in love seemed right up his alley. She realizes that actually doing something other than sitting and dwelling on this hair-splitting idea might drive the thought from her mind, so she sets about fixing spaghetti.

He comes in while she's fixing dinner, her hands shaking the whole while. They don't say anything as she sets the table and he washes up. Only when they begin to eat does he say, his mouth full of food:

"What's wrong with you?"

"I'm nervous," she automatically answers, her mind on autopilot, unthinking, since she was praying Please don't let me blurt out, "Derek, I love you." She realizes she's been honest with him, faintly blushed, then paid too much attention to the spaghetti on her plate.

Thankfully, he doesn't seem to be fazed at all by her comment. "That's nothing new," he says, twirling some spaghetti around on his fork. "You've always been a headCase."

She doesn't even comment, afraid that even opening her mouth would set off a torrent of words. She allows herself only one small peek at his face, and even that is too much. His right eyebrow is quirked, mouth twisted (oh gosh that smirk), mind probably wondering why she didn't take the bait.

She watches as his eyes softened along with his voice: "Case," he says almost in a breathy whisper (and oh, how she wanted that whisper wind to caress her neck), "What's wrong with you?"

He is looking at her with something akin to kindness (and was that concern hidden in there?) and her brain must have stopped thinking (a first) because she says, "I'm afraid," in a teeny-tiny mouse-like voice.

He leans in, presumably to read her face more clearly (Dr. Derek is in) and says, "Why?" still in that same caring tone.

Her voice trembles with the enormous amount of pent-up words that wanted to come crashing down like an avalanche in a moment (and then her world would crash down too): "Because of this." She gets up slowly from her chair and walks the mile around the table to where he's sitting, staring up at her quizzically. Her hands seem detached from her body as she slowly brings them up to caress his face, beard stubble prickling her soft skin. She tilts his face up and brings his lips to hers.

It seems the world rights in that moment, as if it had been tilted off its axis and was only now returning to where it actually belonged. He is caught off guard for an achingly long moment (she later swears she felt a few gray hairs appear while she was waiting) but then he wraps his arms around her waist and pulls her down onto his lap, her arms tightly fastened around his neck.

They kiss like that for a while, their mouths dueling when their words could not. When they finally pull apart, they gaze into each other's eyes, (blue meets brown), letting each other know how the other felt with one look.

"I love you," Casey whispers.

With his usual smirk, Derek answered, "I know."

And then their lips meet again.

~Five years later~

Casey sits, one among a row of many graduates, biting her lip, hands clenched to the sides of her chair as if she is getting ready to take off on a roller coaster. Her name is called, and she, shaking, rises, tentatively making her way across the impossibly long stage. She'd practiced for weeks on end, walking in her heels, determined that Klutzilla would not strike again on this day of days. (If it did, she'd be the first appointment in her own appointment book.) Feeling mostly confident in her ability to make it to her destination in one piece, she scans the crowd for her family. There they are: George and Nora, with new gray hairs courtesy of four-year-old Sophie (who was perched on her father's leg), but beaming brightly at their oldest. Casey's dad is there, too, his Bluetooth headset conspicuously absent, which meant almost as much to Casey as his presence. Ed and Lizzie come next, hands entwined, never one to be outdone by their older siblings. Marti is grinning and snapping pictures left and right with her new purple camera and her Smerek is right next to her, holding a baby boy in his arms.

Derek's eyes seem to throw a taut rope between his and Casey's as she continues to walk across the stage. There is a real smile on his lips; for once, he was not afraid to show his feelings for Casey. (He'd probably try to take some credit for her accomplishment, but Casey would just threaten to volunteer him for her first patient.)

Casey arrives at the end of the stage, shakes the college president's hand, and receives her diploma. She is so elated, hard work finally paid off, that she simply floats back to her seat. She is still supremely happy as she meets with her family afterwards, baby Joshua even joining in on the congratulations, gurgling in his daddy's arms. Derek hands Josh to Lizzie and Edwin and pulls a package from the seat next to him, giving it to Casey.

"What's this for?" She asks, afraid it was going to be some practical joke (a son, a wife, and a job really hasn't changed Derek all that much).

"Open it up," Derek urges, acting for all the world like little Sophie on Christmas morning.

Casey rolls her eyes and complies, stripping away the wrapping paper to reveal a shiny nameplate, engraved with her name (correct font and all)

Dr. Casey McDonald-Venturi

"Derek! How did you know?" Casey squeals (time hasn't changed her much either) and throws her arms around his neck and kisses him in front of everyone. He complies for a second, but pulls back—his rules about PDA haven't budged—and smirks at her.

"I know you better than you do," he says annoyingly, and she wrinkles her nose at him before admiring her nameplate some more. Perfect name, perfect plate, perfect font…oh, what's this?

And at the very end of the nameplate, centered correctly (anything being off center would bug Casey) and in small letters is the word:

Shrink

"DER-EK!" she bellows, hands ready to strangle him. He smirks and pulls her to him for a kiss.

Hope you enjoyed! If you liked this style of writing, go check out WhenLighteningStrikes and Phoenix Satori—they're wonderful. Please review so I know how I did on my first angsty fic!

Frogster