OVER NINE THOUSAND (!) YEARS OVERDUE.*

but WLS (daaaaaarliiiiiiiing!), thebucketwoman, and snapple all had new contributions to the fandom, which provided just the push i needed to finish this chapter up and get it posted.

HENCE:

[in communist russia, disclaimer makes YOU.]


Casey doesn't cry. She doesn't shake herself into the throes of a panic attack, scream, pass out, or hop the next bus back home to cling desperately to her mother, whose miraculous abilities to Kiss the Boo-Boo Better have yet to fail her in some nineteen years of Casey-style freak outs (-but only because she suspects this's one case even her mom can't magically make right). She doesn't throw herself into oncoming traffic, PTSD all over anyone unlucky enough to be in her immediate vicinity, or hunt down a Mounty and attempt to convince the stoic officer she should be behind bars, locked away from the respectable society she has spurned.

And she absolutely, positively, definitely doesn't cry.

She does spend her morning anxiously tidying her Immutable Laws of the Universe, setting them neatly in order and polishing old ones for sheen, most notably and preeminently the edict concerning Derek Venturi's long-standing distinction as Public Enemy Number One.

Once dually Official Mandate and conventional wisdom, the facts of Derek's inherent vile-despicable-contemptibility have been left gathering dust for the past good long while, shelved for a probationary period and then forgotten somewhere between the night (so long ago now) he'd called her father to come back for her and his later noble, impromptu leap to her defense against Truman's public infamy.

Now more than ever, she's in need of a refresher course in the materials, and she's been carefully revisiting every last detail of Derek's jerkability, leaving no stone unturned in her (urgent) quest to uncover either reason or sound justification for what'd happened Last Night –whichever turns up first will do.

The trek from Derek's apartment to her dorm feels interminable, seeming to take much, much longer than it ever had before –made all the more awkward-miserable by her lack of footwear and missing purse –both of which had been lost or forgotten in (or near) Derek's car at separate points during the course of Last Night's events.

Still, in spite of the catastrophe she's expecting to encounter en route (perhaps a by-passing busload of nuns who will point and gawk and genuflect at her in horror, or possibly one of her professors on the way to/from class, who will have her expelled for public indecency), she makes it back without incident, although by the time she reaches the door to her dorm room, she's worked herself into a psychological frenzy just shy of stark raving mad, and it takes her a good five minutes to compose herself before she can summon the courage to lift her hand and knock.

When finally she does, another several, emotionally turbulent seconds pass before Ethan Shore –the lanky-rebel musician to her roommate Swinn's free-spirited artist—opens the door, hefting a brow, appraising her. A long, slow, painfully amused smile stretches wide across his face while the various juicy bits and pieces fall into place (-her disheveled appearance, her conspicuously bare, dirty feet, the ever-darkening Beacon of Scandal at her throat-); mortified, she watches his sharp mind working itself around the contours of a (likely unflatteringly salacious) Theory.

Miraculously, Casey doesn't hyperventilate or go into shock. More stunning still, she remains perfectly calm, even manages a tiny, quivering smile.

"Misplace your keys last night, chickie?" The way he says it bleeds insinuation, and all the air in her body comes whooshing up out of her at once. She laughs –manically—to obscure her discomfiture, trying to remember whether or not it's possible to actually die of embarrassment.

"Th-thanks for getting the door, Ethan." She manages, absently astonished at her own (tightly-strained) fortitude.

Before she can take another step over the threshold,

"Casey McDonald, on the Walk of Shame. Honestly never thought I'd live to see the day." Swinn's boyfriend chuckles teasingly at her shame-faced wretchedness, interest clearly piqued. "Who's the lucky laddie?" Casey blanches, feeling suddenly faint. No longer able to suffer his cheerfully penetrating scrutiny, she shoulders past him, head ducked and shoulders stiff.

She's maybe a foot from her bedroom door when she knocks bodily into Swinn, Ethan's (perpetually smocked and paint-encrusted) better half and occasionally –when she isn't living at the campus studio arts center or shacked up with aforementioned Significant Other—the patient temper to Casey's various Jenny-branded (and Derek-exacerbated) neuroses.

Swinn gracefully steadies Casey at the elbow, frowning when she, too, takes stock of her frumped appearance.

"Whoa –what the hell happened to you last night, kiddo?"

And that's all it takes, apparently, to break her.

Casey crumples to the floor, dissolving helplessly into a blubbery, wailing mess, hardly even aware of Swinn pulling her into a sturdy, paint-heady embrace, less conscious still of being dragged into her bedroom and deposited on her over-stuffed mattress, lost to her own violently oscillating emotions, which swing from guilty-and-ashamed to angry-and-incredulous to fantastically miserable-and-anxious and virtually everywhere in between, uncontrollably and without reprieve.

At length, Swinn's patient ministrations soothe her into a sort of blissful-sweet, diligently cultivated oblivion, and in the wake of her pacification, Ethan nudges into her bedroom with two cups of coffee and a sheepish grin. After a muttered apology she mostly ignores (more out of preoccupation than to be intentionally rude), Swinn quietly shoos him out and then carefully shoves the steaming, unsweetened beverage into Casey's hands. She takes a hesitant sip and finds herself almost glad for the acrid-bitter taste.

"So…" Swinn starts, bringing her own cup to her lips for a drink, "Obviously I missed out on some primo action when I skipped out early last night; last I saw, you and Connor were finally hitting it off." Tilting her head to try and catch Casey's eye, "We gonna have to send Jen to castrate anybody? Connor didn't—"

"No." Casey asserts softly, heading off that line of thought, vacantly eyeing her darkened reflection in the murky liquid.

After a pause,

"Well…look, clearly you don't wanna get into this at the moment, which I can respect, but I'd really rather you dished to me before Jen finds you, jumps to her own conclusions, and rips some poor boy a new one in defense of your honor." She smiles mischievously. "Unless that's what you want…?" In spite of herself, Casey grins, a wan quirk of lips that vanishes as quickly as it appears.

She takes a deep, steadying breath, fingers distractedly curving the rim of her mug while she focuses on maintaining her brittle composure.

"Connor was a perfect gentleman." She swears. "If…if anyone needs their honor defended it's—" She hesitates, suddenly unsure she should be discussing this –with anyone. "It's, um…not me."

Briefly, she meditates on the wisdom of discretion, afraid what Swinn will think of her, terrified that putting voice to her misdeeds will somehow make them…real. For the moment, with Derek's memory having been conveniently scrubbed clean, Casey's the only one who knows What Really Happened before-during-and-after the party. If she keeps quiet, then she'll always be the only one who knows –why, if she wanted, she could pretend Last Night had never happened at all!

Except…it had. And she knows herself better than to think she's even capable of keeping something this crazy-huge to herself, supposing she wanted to. It'd just eat at her until it inevitably came spilling out of her, probably –with her luck—at the worst possible time. Like, say, in the middle of dinner with the fam, the next time she goes home for a visit.

And, perhaps more importantly, Derek Venturi she is not; even when the truth is painful, Casey McDonald fearlessly confronts it, the better to understand it, the better to move past it, and to learn from it so as to never, ever repeat her mistakes. (She ignores the impudent little part of her contending that when it comes to Derek, she's never been quite able to avoid making the same mistakes over and over again –often through dastardly coercion though always of her own volition.) Derek suppresses his feelings, denies to everyone he's even got any, refusing –like a coward—to face reality. But she's never been able to be anything than completely honest with herself, and with others, even when she attempts otherwise.

She's not going to run away; she's going to be mature about this, discuss her problems like a responsible adult, find a sensible solution. The only way to deal with this is to…well, deal with it, talk about it, air it out, let an unbiased third party tell her just how disgusting and awful and unforgivable she really is.

Taking a deep, deep breath –and then another, and then one more, just in case, she begins slowly recounting Last Night's scandalous developments.


"Huh." Murmurs Swinn after a thoughtful moment, "I thought I'd been getting a 'Flowers in the Attic' kinda vibe from you two…' Casey pales. Swinn frantically backpedals. "Kidding –I'm totally kidding, Case." Then, probably to head off another wave of The Weepies, "So…what're you gonna do about it?" Casey blinks.

"Avoid him like the plague?" She ventures, hopeful.

"Or…talk to him about it?"

Incredulously, "Have you met Derek? He doesn't do the 'talking' thing. Even if I wanted to talk to him –and I don't—he'd just shrug me off or insult me or completely ignore me or any of the number of horrible things he routinely does when I try to have a civilized conversation with him. Believe me, he's probably thanking his lucky stars he doesn't remember, because it means he can set it aside, like it never happened. It means he doesn't have to deal with it."

"Still, you don't think he…deserves to know?" Casey bites her lip, eyes watering.

"I…Swinn, I can't. I can't tell him. Even if he didn't lord it over me for the rest of my natural-born life, he'd still…he'd hate me for sure. I mean, for real, and not in the obligatory bitter-sibling-rivalry sort of way."

After a contemplative moment,

"Casey…how do you feel about it?" Casey nervously chucks her gaze left, meaning to pointedly avoid answering the Real Question at all costs.

"Ashamed, obviously." There's something discerning and faintly disappointed in her roommate's expression. "It was a mistake, Swinn." She insists.

"I never said it wasn't."

"It'll never, ever happen again."

Blank-faced, "I never said it would."

Sighing heavily,

"…I have to tell him, don't I?"

"That's up to you, Space Case. But telling him is definitely the right thing to do."

She thinks she's beginning to understand why Derek murdered his conscience.


Casey declares herself fit for class before the third of four classes back-to-back, clinging to the time-honored wisdom that the best remedy for a tortured mind is to keep it focused elsewhere, a solution she's hoping the solace of education will be able to facilitate.

Swinn objects initially, but ultimately relents with the promise of More Information to Follow, once Casey's had the opportunity to distance herself from the events of Last Night, that she might revisit them later with a clearer head.

She's just managed to lose herself in the privations of eighteenth-century France when Derek saunters into the audience hall, gaze panning immediately toward her, drawn as if by magnetism; one cryptic, jerk-bastard leer later, he's making a bee-line straight for her.

Casey's first instincts scream at her to RUN-DAMMIT-RUN, but her sense of decorum forbids it; they're in the middle of lecture, anyway –what's the worst he can do?

Derek winks at her, and –damn it all to hell—who does she think she's kidding, anyhow? What's the worst he couldn't do?

Exactly twenty-one steps later (not that she's counting), he takes her swiveling chair's twin, sitting brazenly beside her, still openly staring at her with that wry, alarming, lop-sided grin, and Casey reels against the anxious anemia threatening to steal her breath away. She sees one, two-three, four-and-five sets of eyes darting toward them, flickering with recognition at Derek Venturi, star hockey forward, and promptly begins making a conscious effort to calm herself.

Composure. Composure, Casey. Breathe in, out, swallow, smile –keep breathing, dolt!

She spins her gaze in Derek's direction in time to catch his grin twisting, a hint of cruelty in the expression when he casually levels a finger at her, off the end of which dangles an innocuous-looking pair of red buttons strung together by what appears to her to be an old guitar chord.

…!

She…she recognizes those buttons—

Casey chokes when she screws up the order of her mental check list, and nearly has a coronary when Derek's hand smoothes over her shoulder, rapping softly at the blade, fingers sliding (a torturous, whispering glide) sideways and following the line of her spine to a point on her back low enough that its insinuation is unmistakable, though high enough up to avoid being an open impropriety.

Her professor's saying something about the Bastille, but Casey is no longer able to perform such higher-order functions as paying attention or breathing; she's suffocating, there's not enough air in this massive audience hall, why the heck is everyone just sitting there like nothing's happening when it feels like she's exploding out of her skin-?

She snaps left when his fingers skate across to her hip, cinching pressure she feels tugging tight in her belly, and then—

"Hey there, Casey…" He whispers, testing her reaction. Her fingers convulse where they grip her pen, and she unwittingly gives him (and, er, everyone else) the satisfaction of dropping her wits all over the floor in humiliating fashion.

"Bathroom!" She spontaneously announces (to the entire class, ripping right through her professor in mid-sentence as she does so), slapping her notebook closed and snapping automatically to her feet. Having now made ritual spectacle of herself, she begins scooting down the row, losing her footing only once (which, considering the circumstances, she finds nothing short of miraculous), and refusing to spare so much as glance behind her to make sure Derek is following suit.

She knows he is; she can hear him falling into step, can feel the self-satisfaction rolling off of him in waves.


As soon as the heavy door swings shut, Casey rounds on him, fingers twisting the fabric of his collar as she backs him against the wall, as he lets her back him against the wall—

"I'm having the craziest deja vu right now–this happened last night, too, didn't it?"

She looks appalled and throws a hand over his mouth, checking frantically in all conceivable directions to make sure no one has overheard. Only once she's satisfied no living thing is anywhere within earshot does she finally remove her impromptu muzzle and take a step backward, also un-fisting the other hand from his shirt as she goes, goggling at her fingers for a brief moment, like she can't quite understand how they'd gotten where they'd been. (This is already going much, much better than he'd imagined.)

"Stop it, Derek!" She whispers. "Don't you know everyone thinks we're—" She swallows the last part of the statement, as though she'd been made suddenly aware she was on the verge of disclosing a huge, ugly secret, "si-siblings. God, what must everyone think of me?"

"Shouldn't you be more worried about what your psychiatrist is going to think of you?"

"Who? You mean, Paul?"

"…who now?"

"My guidance counselor." He stares at her. "From SJS?" Thrown –and frankly a little disturbed at the idea that she might still be keeping in touch with her high school guidance counselor—Derek takes several seconds to climb back to his verbal feet.

"What? No, sis, I mean the shrinker who gets dibs on your fluffy-white cell when the fam has you committed." He eyes the high collar covering her throat, and graciously doesn't point out that it's hardly cold enough yet to justify her wearing it. "You know, for molesting your broth—" In what he hopes is developing into a pattern, her hand flies right back over his mouth. She looks, for an instant, like she's about to erupt –with anger or tears or both (which excites and terrifies him, respectively)—and then her face abruptly…closes.

okay, weird.

She looks straight at him, and he gets the unpleasant sense she's about to try and sell her 'nothing happened' fiction to him all over again.

"Case," –tic- "It's not a problem. I know I'm very hard to resist." He's trying to lighten the mood. What he actually achieves, however, is an atmosphere quite the opposite of 'light.'

Casey blinks back tears, clinging desperately to familiar resentment and easy frustration, and –frighteningly—he's seized by the inexplicable urge to do or say something that might be construed by some as 'comforting.' When he attempts to crush said urge out of existence, he's further shocked to discover that, in the three or four micro-seconds since it'd developed, it has become somehow indestructible.

For the second time in (likely) just as many minutes, she realizes with a start she's still touching him and jerks her hand back –a retreat he intercepts, catching her at the wrist on the rebound, an impulsive capture he executes without any real notion of why he's doing it.

"Casey…" He grumbles, and feels her tensing in his grasp. (And just what the hell is that, anyway?) "We both know you're gonna spill eventually; can't we just cut out the middle part this time and maybe skip to the end, where you tell me what the hell happened last night?" This's the only time he's planning to ask her without attaching some horrible prank to the question, a benevolent, one-time use 'get out of jail free' card, if you will.

"I told you already, nothing. Unless you're looking for details about your stunning acrobatic performance on the staircase?" He appreciates the role-reversal; instead of her hurling scorn from her pedestal, she's ducking her head, refusing to meet his eyes, a fascinating cocktail of guilt and shame and mortification. (And yet, even without the pedestal, she gets in a solid shot to his ego.)

Tsking disappointedly, "The Hard Way it is, then."

He starts to warn her not to come complaining to him when he's forced to make her life miserable until she inevitably caves and gives him what he wants, but stops, supposing he should cut the poor kid a break –at least for now. After all, he's got the whole entire rest of his life to hold this over her head, and she looks one shade of white away from corpse-pallor; he'll give her formal notice of her Imminent Suffering some other time, when she looks better equipped to handle the news.

Good Deed for the day, check.

He's maybe half-a-heartbeat from releasing her and continuing on his merry way, twirling her buttons 'round his finger and maybe whistling a ditty to further unsettle her as he goes, when she abruptly pulls the rug out from under him and begins worriedly chewing her lip.

It's nothing he hasn't seen her do fifteen times a day for like, six years now, and hardly anything to get worked up about. Or even notice, for that matter.

Then again, this's the first time he's seen her do it since he'd woken up this morning to the sight of her dressing herself in his bedroom, since he'd found a hickey on her neck and damning score marks on his back, so maybe he's got good reason to feel a bit…bothered.

He considers doing something astonishingly stupid for a full moment before it dawns on him that for the full breadth of this moment, he's been staring at her mouth.

Whatever his face is doing can't be good, he decides. Otherwise, she wouldn't be looking at him like he'd just kicked a puppy. (Or maybe a kitten –Casey has some weird vendetta against fluffy critters of the canine persuasion.)


Derek is staring.

At her mouth.

From this point-blank range, there's simply no mistaking it.

…and there's that look, focused, intense, determined—in a fractured instant, it all comes screaming back.

Her name scrapes from his throat, and there is impossible awareness in his liquor-addled gaze, thoughtful recognition behind the wild mindlessness that has her inexplicably choking back a sob.

She pushes him away.

"Stop." Still trembling, breathing heavily, she cups her hands against his jaw. "What are we doing?" He looks like he's focusing very, very hard. After a weirdly comfortable stretch of silence, Derek clears his throat and pulls off a fair approximation of his usual incredulous disdain.

"Casey," he starts, "this is more a 'show' than a 'tell' kinda activity. I hope you're not really expecting me to explain how this works." Then he smiles, a playful-friendly, mischievous grin, and kisses her cheek. She can't help the giddy rush of adrenaline that spirals through her, concentrated low in her abdomen, when he looks at her and really looks like he's looking at her, like he's surfaced and sober enough to know precisely what he's started, like he's wanted this forever and needed only the excuse of alcohol and the right opportunity to provide pretext, like he'd definitely remember it –like he'd never forget it. "Yes or no?" He demands, clearly willing her to choose the former.

And even though he still reeks of alcohol, even though he's possibly concussed and she's almost certain she still hates him and positive she doesn't trust him, she's not even a little surprised when she finds the voice to respond, breathless,

"Yes."

Just like Last Night, she detaches herself from his person, shoves away with a horrified, broken expression.

"Case—" He begins, but she doesn't wait for him to say anything more.

"I—I have to go." And she does, at a dead sprint.


*le horror!*

all signs appear to point to SEX.

hooraaaaaay!

next chapter: derek drinks himself stupid for clues, wears football helmet.

*purloined from IchiRamen Girl ^_^