Title: The Domino Effect
Rating: PG
Originally published: Feb. 9, 2010
Notes: All italicized text are taken directly from the last scene of the series finale.


.

"Hey. What are you doing up so late?"

She probably had been falling for him for years, but, ironically, it was only after her mother announced that she was pregnant that Casey finally admitted it to herself. A new baby that was half-McDonald and half-Venturi would cement their blended family in ways that their parents' marriage license never quite had. No matter what she felt, nothing would ever happened and that made it... safe, for lack of a better word, to like Derek. It was no different than having a crush on a movie star. Except you don't unexpectedly find your movie star crush sitting in your kitchen in the middle of the night going over the same course catalogue that you are.

"Picking course for next year. There are so many amazing classes!"
"I know! Women's Literature? Feminist Theory?"

They were going to the same college together. She still hadn't quite wrapped her head around that one. She was having trouble enough dealing with her feelings as it was. She'd found out these last few weeks that she had to work at lot harder to hide her feelings now that she couldn't stuff them behind a wall of wilful ignorance. At graduation, instead of rolling her eyes like she should have, she just enjoyed watching Derek enjoying his moment. But it wasn't like anyone was watching her. She was safe to drop the act for a moment or two.

"Derek! You're only taking those classes to meet girls!"
"Huh, yeah! But maybe I should just take the classes you're taking and then take all your notes."

It's really not like anything had changed. It was a little easier to pretend that she hated Derek when she could delude herself that she actually did, but she'd always been good at pushing herself. She needed to be a little more careful with her words and a little more stoic with her emotions, but she could handle that. And if she needed to use dating Truman as camouflage for her feelings for her step-brother, then so be it. It was no less than the jerk deserve. Lord knows, he was just using her as a stand-in girlfriend until he got to college.

"Forget it. And do me a favour. When you see me in the Quad, pretend you don't know me."
"Are you kidding? We are going to be best buds. So then you can introduce me to all your sorority sisters."

It was actually easier when Derek was still dating Emily, because she could genuinely be happy for the two of them. She's not really noble enough to be a total altruist, but it's pretty easy to let your own mix-up emotions get lost in the shuffle when you want what's best for someone else. Except Derek and Emily clearly weren't best for each other. Their breakup was fast and messy and now Derek and Emily's long-standing friendship was out the window because neither one could behave like adults. She still doesn't know what happened nor does she want to. (She told them both that she wasn't picking sides and she damn well meant it!) And really, when she thinks about it, she's luckier than all those girls who'd fallen for Derek over the years because she's his step-sister. They would always have that connection and she would rather have Derek in her life as family than not at all.

"Derek, you are the most annoying brother—"
"Step-brother."

But the thing you have to understand about Casey was that she didn't quite get how amazing she was. If she did, she would have noticed how much he noticed her. How obsessed he was with her, if he was honest about it. He couldn't help himself. She tried so hard to be perfect, but as far as he was concerned, she already was. Not that he'd ever tell her that. She'd laugh in his face. But he knows her every expression, what every pitch of her voice means. Yes, he realizes that this makes him something close to a stalker. He just doesn't care. So, even though most people wouldn't notice, he picked up on the fact that something was different about her behaviour. He doesn't know why yet, but he'll figure it out eventually. After all, he knows her better that anyone. When she thinks she's fooling the world, she still can't fool him. Especially when she's pushing her own feelings aside for the greater good.

"Same difference."

When Casey does something because she thinks she's supposed to, even though it breaks her heart, the drama queen seems to disappear completely. She uses the same light breezy tone that she used when she told Nora that of course it was okay if they turned her room into a nursery. She didn't mind sleeping of the floor of Liz's room at all. She may smile like she did after she told her father that she totally understood why he couldn't make it to graduation, but it's too quiet and resigned to be mistaken for an expression of happiness. And now she's looking at him with that same sad smile and telling him in that same breezy voice that he was just like a brother. And that made him careless.

"Yeah. Right..."

He could tell as soon as the words were leaving his mouth that his tone was all wrong. He sounded just a little too gruff, a little too frustrated. A little too truthful. He had just tipped his hand after so many years of keeping his secret guarded close to his chest. And that enigmatic smile of hers... (Yes, enigmatic. He's going to freaking Queens. His days of playing the fool are behind him if he wants to be able to stay near her.) That smile means she knows. And now he has to come up with something quick. Something that will put them back into safe territory and just hope that she gets it... or doesn't get it. Ugh. He doesn't even know anymore. He's wanted her for so long and so hopelessly that he honestly can't tell what's right and what just seems to be right.

"...Hey, maybe we can live in the same residence."
"I'm living in all-girls residence."
"I know."

She definitely gets it and the thought that Derek might be dealing with the same feelings she's been dealing with is making her head spin a little. Now she has a choice. She can either play it safe and keep things at status quo or she can do something completely stupid. But he made his move, whether willingly or not. So she makes hers, around the table and to the point.

"Oh yeah? Well, I can't wait to go to all your hockey games and embarrass you in front of all your friends."
"Ugh, fine! I won't take your classes if YOU stay away from my hockey games."

Her moves are deliberate and he's well aware she's up to something, but he doesn't exactly know what. For all he knows, she could just be happy that he moved the conversation away from the uncomfortable direction it was going. So he falls back to the familiar script, waiting to see how this all will play out. And if status quo is what she wants, then he can work with that. He's still going to make sure they're in the same classes and if she starts coming to his hockey games to retaliate for him breaking their "deal", then so much the better.

"No deal. There might be some cute hockey hunks or some frat boys."
"Oh no! You are not dating my fraternity brothers!"

He couldn't have handed her a better opening if she had requested it. She should be terrified and embarrassed, but she's not. She'sjubilant. She's about to blow her cover to smithereens and she has never felt more powerful.

"Well then, who am I suppose to date?" she asks, as she totally invades his space.

Wait... that wasn't in the script. He stares at her, momentarily dumbfounded. Her smile widens and her eyes sparkle. He knows damn well that he's the only person he wants her to date... and apparently she now knows that too.

"College is going to be interesting, don't you think?" she laughs as she turns back to the kitchen counter and picks up her course catalogue. He gives himself a mental shake and then reaches for his own copy.

"Yeah, that's one word for it," he smirks as his hand settles against the small of her back. The heel of his palm is pressed against her spine and his long fingers curl around her hip possessively.

All things considered, getting together was a lot easier than either of them expected. As for staying together... well, that turned out to be pretty damn easy too. But that's another story.