A.N: I really have way too much time on my hands. I'm in the process of writing a multichapter story, but I hit a dead end somewhere so I decided to browse through my unfinished stories and see which one I could finish--you know, sort of as a writing exercise. I found this withering away in the Unfinished Wasteland, and remembered that this was a particularly difficult thing to write, which is why I didn't finish it at first. So here it is now, finished finally, and hopefully this isn't too weird and won't induce any pitch-fork-and-tomato-at-computer-screen-throwing. If I become at least passably happy with the first chapter of the multichapter I'm writing (it's taken me four drafts already, grr) I'll post it. Anyway, as always, read, review, and enjoy! :)

From: fadedmystery aka The Girl Who Is Currently Frustrated By Her University's Enrollment Process.


Sometimes, her hand reaches out for the stars.

They're bright and pretty and they sparkle in the night sky. She's looking up at them with an expression that could only be described as awe, and there's a barest hint of a smile on her face. Her arm slowly inches upward, like she wants to touch them. And he hates this. Really hates this, and before he knows it, his hand is grasping hers, slowly pulling it down back to her side.

She glares at him and smacks his arm. She yells at him for ruining her fun, and why can't he just leave her alone? There's fire in her eyes and in her words and she's hitting him, but that's okay.

He'd rather have her mad at him for not letting her touch the stars than have to watch her pain when she realizes she can't reach them.

Occasionally, she has her good days.

On days like these, she fights and argues and becomes uptight over every little thing. Of course, most of them involve him, and he replies with a challenging smirk and an arsenal of insults that mostly end with them grappling on the floor or chasing each other around the house (and it's like they're fifteen again and oh god, it feels good.)

It's sick, he knows, but he wakes up everyday hoping to find her ready to outsmart him (not that she ever won, at least, according to him), guns blazing and unwilling to back down. See, arguing, games—it's become their thing, and god forbid something come between that. So, twisted as it may seem, he looks forward to these days, because he actually prefers (not that he'd ever say it out loud) Casey as she is rather than some quiet, uncaring, almost spineless version of her. Because on her good days, she's Casey and he's Derek again (and that's all that really matters.) Order is restored in the universe (even just for a few seconds, but hey, he's so far gone he'll take whatever he can get.)

Right now they're arguing because some nonsensical thing and he's rolling his eyes and dishing out witticisms. He's grinning at her extremely annoyed expression, and it isn't even a lie—apart from the fact that he enjoys getting a rise out of her, he's –and yes, the world has lost whatever sense it had left-- missed this. Missed the light, the fire in her eyes, the way she breaks his name in two.

(He supposes it's understandable that he misses it. After all, her good days have become few and far between now.)

And as she's snapping at him and gesturing expressively, he can't help but shut his eyes for a second and pray that this'll last. Pray that he won't have to wake up to find her changed into someone else again. He already knows, though, that it's a long shot that everything will change back to normal, and so, while he's beginning to live for these days, in a way, this little taste of What-Used-To-Be is still something cruel, a little more salt on an open wound.

(Fuck. As if it didn't hurt enough already.)

He (almost) feels like everything's okay whenever she smiles.

It's sunny outside, warm. The kind of day she likes, and she knows it, judging by the way she's looking out the window and humming. A bird lands on the windowsill, and the corners of her mouth tug upwards.

(And he'd never admit it, but he'd give just about everything to let that smile stay.)

"It's a beautiful day, isn't it, Case?" Nora's telling her. He's watching them from the staircase, and he's pretty sure Casey doesn't even know he's there. He doesn't care, though—this way, he can just watch her quietly, no questions asked. (He thinks back to the numerous times he's used an opportunity like this to prank or scare her, and wonders how the hell it managed to go from that to this.)

"Yeah," she replies, and the smile is still there. "Beautiful."

He shuts his eyes, and for a moment, he's close to forgetting. Close to convincing himself that everything's fine. In the back of his mind, he knows he won't ever be able to push it out of his thoughts completely, but he'll take whatever forgetting he can for now. She's smiling and her eyes are bright, so he allows himself to grasp this very little piece of heaven (because really, living in an everyday hell can be tiring.)

Nora turns her head, and their eyes accidentally meet. She gives him a look, but he just shakes his head, and thank god she seems to understand, because she turns back to her daughter and gives her a kiss on the forehead before departing for the kitchen. Truth be told, he doesn't want to be sitting here. He doesn't want to have to watch her from a distance (because he's Derek and he's never really respected her personal space.) But he'll do it anyway. Even if he hates it. Even if it hurts.

He learned the hard way not to go near her when she's like this. Her smiles are like crystal—beautiful, but it can take only one wrong move (or one wrong look) for it to shatter completely. And while these days, anything can set her off, it's him who does it the most (god forbid anyone forget that ruining Casey's day is his best talent of all.)

Of course, with the way Fate was screwing around with him and with everyone else these days, he isn't that surprised when the sun suddenly disappears. The moment he sees it, he sucks in a breath, and he doesn't want to watch the sky begin to turn gray but he does anyway. It's almost funny how the weather suddenly shifts, and soon, he's looking at dark clouds and swaying trees.

The view of the sky makes his stomach clench, but he won't look away. He'll keep looking up. He'll keep his eyes on the sky. He won't look at Casey; he'll avoid looking at her at all—

(He *accidentally* sees her lower lip trembling. Oh. Shit.)

"It's going to rain," he hears her say with a tremor in her voice. "It's going to rain and the sun is leaving and—and everything—everything leaves. Everything—taken away---and it's my fault, my fault---" And then she's crying, quiet tears running down her face first then gradually turning into full blown sobs that does something funny to the heart he swears he doesn't have and makes his something heavy and painful drop into his stomach.

And before he knows it, he snaps and in the next instant, he's putting his arms around her (awkwardly, because hugging was never his thing) and trying to calm her down and get her to stop (please, for the love of god, stop.) He's not acting himself anymore and he knows it, but that's okay (because Casey isn't herself anymore too, so it makes the playing field even.)

She's thrashing in his arms and whimpering like a lost little girl (and it hurts more than screaming would've done) but he won't let go. He knows how this'll all end; he knows it's only a matter of time before she quiets. In the meantime, though, he'll be Anti-Derek and hold her. He won't let go because he has to be the strong one here (even if he's not so sure how much more of this he can take.)

He won't let go because damn it, he loves her (and he's going to do everything to keep her together, even if he's slowly falling apart with her.)

"She's asleep."

(Those two words make him shut his eyes and let out some of the breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.)

"You should sleep too, Derek." Nora's in Mother Mode again, and he has to admire her for putting up with them and with all this but her voice is tired and makes him realize that even superheroes and saints get weary too. "You need the rest."

He holds up his coffee mug and says, "I'm fine." (Because really, he is. He has to be. Hanging by a thread, maybe, but still there.)

"No, you're not." She's giving him an almost pointed look but her voice has gone softer. It almost makes him want to spill everything that's been going inside his head, and he's wondering why the hell his dad had to have a work thing that prevented him from making it this weekend with Nora—god knows talking with his dad would've been easier; less focus on feelings.

"Derek, you haven't been fine for a long time now," Nora says and oh for the love of—could she please stop looking at him like that? She sighs and continues, "Not since Case—not since both of you lost the baby."

And there it is, ladies and gentlemen: Gut, meet sucker punch.

Baby. The word passes through his head and suddenly he can see images of kids with Casey's eyes and his grin. Images of things he thought he'd come to terms with a long time ago, images of could-have-beens that hurt more than he thought they would.

"Figures, isn't it?" he says, and even he can hear the bitterness in his voice. "I actually do the right thing for once and marry her before getting her pregnant, and still somehow, everything gets screwed up."

"Derek, it isn't your fault," she replies, and he's not looking at her but he can sense the frown. "It wasn't anyone's fault."

"Try telling that to Casey."

"Derek---" She seems to want to say something but changes her mind halfway. "When's your next appointment with Doctor Sherman?"

"Next week." And he's really, really trying hard not to think about that, because he can't quite think about Doctor Sherman without thinking about depression, that ugly, ugly word that keeps getting tossed around in their sessions and that the doc keeps writing comments in her notebook about.

He sets his mug down and takes a breath. They've avoided talking about this for so long, but now that it's here, it's suddenly impossible to ignore. "This is so classic Casey, isn't it, choosing the worst possible time to be stubborn. Once she got it in her head that it was her fault, it just…stuck. After all, with her job as a resident---she's probably thinking that if she'd just slowed down a bit, if she'd taken better care of herself…"

He shakes his head and gives out a little, broken laugh that doesn't sound anywhere near happy. "Oh, Derek," Nora says quietly, laying a hand on his shoulder and that's almost enough to make him snap because he can't handle the sympathy right now.

(It's no wonder why he avoids feelings, really. They suck.)

Her hand reaches out before he does.

He enters their bedroom one night just in time to see her hand reaching towards the stars that can be seen through the window. Her arm's already much to outstretched, grasping at thin air as she tries to reach further and he's suddenly forgotten how to move. So he has no choice but watch her reach out for something she'll never reach, that strange kind of pain in his chest starting up again, but he can't look away.

She reaches and reaches but the only thing her fingers touch is the glass on the window. He watches her face crumple—and oh god, why can't he move, damn it?—but she doesn't put her arm down. She keeps on reaching and reaching and he sucks in a breath when he hears her repeatedly murmur, "Kaitlin. Kaitlin…"

They'd discussed names a long time ago, back when all they thought of were nurseries and arguing 'till they were wrinkly and old. It had been a long-standing argument between them, especially after finding out that they were having a girl, until they'd finally reached a compromise: Kaitlin Anne.

(He's never felt so helpless than now.)

She reaches for the stars because she's longing for something she can't have, and she blames herself for it. And he stops her every time but now he's beginning to see that maybe this is just her trying to grasp onto that one last shred of hope. Which, considering the state she's in, he has to admit is pretty incredible. After all, everyone needs something to hold onto.

And maybe it's true that she might not go back to the way she was, that they might not go back to the way they used to be. Maybe they're just two people who, if you think about it, are no different from others. But nothing is ever final and anyway, the world's still turning. And that--though he'll never say it out loud—means there's always a chance.

But for now…

They exist. They live. It's difficult and it's not enough, but he'll do it anyway, because when it all comes down to it, right now, that's all he can do.