“Casey, open up.” Derek yelled through the thin dorm door. His voice betrayed irritation that he was having to go and check on her because the family was worried. Truth be told a literal thrill went through him at finally having an excuse to go and visit her (and therefore begin a ritual of pranks that would have them seeing each other on a regular basis). Honestly, though, isn’t she supposed to be the responsible one?
He continued the banging on the door even after he heard (finally) movement on the other side of the door.
Eventually the door swung away from his fist to reveal Casey standing in a dark dorm room. The blinds were closed and curtains pulled and all the lights were off. Casey stood in boy shorts and an oversized Queens sweater squinting out at Derek, facing the bright afternoon sun and looking like she’d just been woken up. “Derek?” Her expression twisted from surprise, confusion, and sleep as she ran her fingers through her bed head.
“Uh…” He replied, completely thrown. It was strange enough for Casey to be asleep in the middle of the day, even on a weekend, but what really took him by surprise was the purple bruise on her left cheek and the fading, obviously older, yellowed bruise over her eye.
“Derek?” She repeated, confusion fading. She sounded more awake now. As her brain caught up with the awake state her body was in, her face paled and her mouth made a little ‘o,’ the expression of horror on her face obvious as she realized what he would be seeing. Derek racked his mind for memories of the last few times they had seen each other. They’d passed one another in the quad or dining hall here and there, but always at a distance and he supposed she probably was using make-up but… how had he not noticed? And now that he was up close he realized there was more he should have noticed. There was the lack of spark in her eyes the usual fire dull and fizzling, and the way her skin sagged on her cheeks like she was losing weight she didn’t have to spare.
“I never thought I’d see the great Derek Venturi speechless,” she snapped, “Maybe I should mark the occasion on my calendar.” It sounded like the usual verbal spar but it lacked the force and passion behind their usual exchange. It was like she was reading the right lines from her script, but she delivered them without enthusiasm. Casey sighed, “Well, come on then.” She sounded tired as she turned leaving the door open for Derek to come inside. He shut the door behind him, closed in darkness for the moment.
A moment later the brunette turned on her desk lamp, but offered no other light. “Casey, what—“ she cut him off before he could finish, holding her hand up in a ‘stop’ gesture.
“This,” and she gestured to the whole of her face with a finger, “is not why you came. So,” she took a seat upon the futon and—gingerly, he noticed—tucked her legs beneath her, “What’s up?”
“Nora says she hasn’t heard from you in over a month. She’s worried and said it’s unlike you.” He rolled his eyes, keeping his tone light and exasperated like it was a pain having to do his familial (the word made him cringe) duty. Derek perched on the edge of her neatly organized desk, watching as she winced at her mother’s name.
“And you were asked to take time out of your busy schedule to check on the step-sister you haven’t spoken to all semester?” She sounded tired and pained and still he couldn’t help but notice how she, like him, made sure to include the word ‘step’. It was a little thing, but for some reason it always made him feel good inside.
He started to protest and argue that it went both way, shaking his head but Derek remembered the missed calls he forgot to return and the times she’d started toward him only to turn heel when someone (usually some girl from a class) demanded his attention.
She held up the hand again. “I know I sound bitter, but I’m not mad… not a whole lot, anyway. I expected it; that’s the way you wanted it when we came here.” She shrugged one shoulder and winced again. The back of his mind noticed how she pointed out that it was how he’d wanted it and not how they’d both wanted it. The front of his mind was focused on the fact that she was in obvious pain.
“Casey…” She shook her head, cutting him off once more.
“Really, I’m not mad.”
It was his turn to shake his head as he moved to sit beside her. Before she had a chance to protest, he grabbed her chin in his hand gently, but firmly, to tilt her head to him so he could examine the bruises.
Their faces were inches apart and he heard her breath catch making his questions freeze in his throat. They were both still as neither of them dared to move. “Case…” his voice came out in a hoarse whisper and she tilted her head, questioningly. The knock on the door broke the spell and they put the normal amount of physical space between them.
“Yo!” A male voice shouted through the door. Derek watched as Casey’s eyes widened and she sprung up from the futon, dragging Derek by his shirt. Before he realized what was happening she’d already shoved him in the small walk in closet, hissing a demand for him to be quiet. The knocking came again, more insistent.
Derek listened as he heard the door open cutting off the sound mid-knock. “Were you sleeping?” the voice accused and he heard Casey make a small un-Casey like noise in reply. There was the familiar sound of a body landing heavily on the cheap dorm bed as someone--he was assuming the male, Casey being too delicate and obviously in too much pain—tossed themselves onto it.
It finally dawned on Derek to wonder why he was hiding in Casey’s closet when some guy had shown up at her door… but she’d sounded so desperate and recalling the way her eyes had widened in fear so for once he didn’t want to deny her request.
There was some more quiet mumbled and then, rather harshly, “How long will it take you to cover all that up?” There was no concern, just irritation. Another mumbled sound replied to the question and this was followed by a loud huff of annoyance. “Fine, I’ll be back in an hour. Be ready when I get here.” More mumbled, more shuffling, and then the door slammed shut. It was another minute before Casey came and allowed Derek to exit the closet.
All the lights in the room were on now and Casey’s whole body was shaking. “I’ll call my mom tonight. Look, it’s a lot to ask but can you just say in my dorm until after I leave in a bit?”
The question Derek had been meaning to ask stopped on the tip of his tongue, “What?” Casey sighed and moved past him into the closet, fishing through her clothes.
“Stay here. After I leave, wait about five minutes then you can go.”
“Are you… hiding me from your boyfriend?” His confusion was evident and he watched as Casey flushed pink, whirling around to face him.
“Look, I panicked when I shoved you in the closet because the lights were off and we were alone…” she trailed off for a second, something else going through her mind before she continued, “At this point it would just look weird if he saw you leaving when he was just here and no one was in here. I’ll introduce you another time, okay? Please, Derek, can you just… please?” her eyes begged for his cooperation and her broken tone… it was so unlike Casey to ask anything of him, especially in such a manner.
“Okay.” He acquiesced. There was no victory in her sigh of relief, nothing to indicate that she’d won by manipulating him into doing what she wanted. It was all just pure relief. The closet door closed, this time Casey the one on the inside, presumably changing clothes. He leaned on the door jam, calling through, “So, is he watching your dorm?” He had to force the ridiculous question out.
“He might be.” She replied, like it was the most natural thing in the world for her boyfriend to be standing outside her dorm waiting to see if she was hiding anything. Where had the Casey he’d known gone? When she next opened the door she was wearing a pair of dark, tight jeans and a long sleeved V-neck. She moved to the bathroom and Derek followed as she took out a bag with make-up, turning her face from the bruised image now ingrained in his brain. It amazed him a little, actually, the powers the cosmetics had.
Slowly she started to relax and finally Derek was able to ask the question, “Case, does he hit you?”
She’d been prepared for the question, he could tell. If he hadn’t been such a skilled liar and if he wasn’t so attuned to the woman before him he might have missed the tells; he might have missed the lie. There was the slight freeze of her hand that was applying lip gloss. There was the small downturn of her lips. And there was the slight flick of her eyes to the left as she answered.
Still, she made him proud and put on a good show. Snorting out a laugh, Casey rolled her eyes. “You know how clumsy I am.” She retorted before focusing on carefully applying the lip gloss and her lips together. She was leaving him to draw his own conclusions about what had happened without actually telling an outright lie.
Letting out a chuck and his own snort, “Yeah, I figured as much.” He shrugged one shoulder, “Had to check though,” pause, “Yanno, for Nora’s sake.” Affecting his careless attitude about what happens to her. Their eyes met in the mirror and he could see her relief that he didn’t seem to be pushing the subject.
The next time they saw each other was the following weekend in the bar of a restaurant. He was there, by chance, with a few team mates. He had a distinct feeling that had she known he would show up, she wouldn’t have been there. It wasn’t for lack of trying that it was a week from the day he’d hidden in her closet that he finally saw her again.
When he saw the familiar wave of hair he excused himself from his teammates as they got their table. Sneaking up behind her he poked her gently in the ribs. She jumped, as he’d known she would, and whirled to face him and hiding a wince of pain. Her ribs, too? He’d suspected, but… “Derek.” There was his name, familiarly broken in half. It drew his trademark smirk that only grew when he realized she didn’t look entirely displeased to see him. Perhaps she hadn’t been avoiding him after all.
“Spacey.” He greeted, lazily. A hand wrapped around Casey’s waist and he looked up from the hand to the male that had sidled up beside the thin brunette. The male was staring at him with well disguised hostility to which Derek returned the expression with a raised brow.
“Problem?” The stranger asked of Casey, not looking away from Derek who had noticed the way his grip tightened on Casey. His own eyes moved from the stranger to look at those pretty blue eyes, watching the fear register in her face.
She interrupted before he could say anything, “Greg, this is Derek.” Derek watched as understanding lit Greg’s blue eyes a similar shade to Casey’s. Not that he was so familiar with the exact shade of blue her eyes were (he’s as familiar as he could be without crossing anymore boundaries as his pranking and their bickering already did). He could practically read his mind as Greg relaxed: This was family (the word making him cringe internally). He was not a threat.
“The brother, right?” He clarified. His demeanor changed from the jealous boyfriend, to the boyfriend who wanted to charm the family into approving of him. Derek was more than familiar with the smile having used it a few times on his own.
“Step,” he and Casey corrected in unison.
“Derek, this is my boyfriend, Greg.” She continued with the introductions, sounding perfectly bubbly and happy. He didn’t miss the tightness around her eyes, however, and the wariness betrayed by the stiffness of her posture.
“I’ve heard a lot about you.” Greg grinned, seeming perfectly at ease now.
“Nothing good, I hope.” Derek grinned back, seeming just as genial. His stomach turned as Greg laughed. As much as he hated being nice to the bastard, he didn’t want to risk putting Casey in any physical harm by angering the guy.
The next time he saw her, it was once again at Nora’s bequest. “Can you please,” she was sounding exasperated, “just go check on her?” Nora pleaded.
“I just checked a week and a half ago.” Derek whined, not because he actually had any objection but because it was expected of him. And really, did Nora really expect Casey to call her every week? Nora, however, grew stern.
“I know you two don’t always get along, but I didn’t think you’d be cruel enough not to try and help her when she’s got a broken arm.” Derek made a rough choking sound sending him into a coughing fit. “Derek? Derek, are you alright?” Part of his mind recognized the concern and was actually really grateful for it.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m okay. Swallowed wrong. She broke her arm?” Nora made a sound that sounded like confirmation.
“You didn’t know?” She didn’t sound as angry with him now. His only response was a snort as he began the hunt for his shoes. “She tripped on the steps of her dorm building,” Nora explained sounding sympathetic. Derek froze, no longer listening.
Casey’s dorm was on the bottom floor. There were no stairs to her room. He could hit himself for leaving her in the hands of this guy since he’d found out about him. Images of her face filled his mind flooding him with his memory of the last few times he’d seen her.
Casey shoving him into her closet, eyes wide with fear.
A possessive hand on her waist.
The way Casey winced with every little movement.
The way she shook after her boyfriend had visited.
How thin Casey had become coupled with the lack of spark in her eyes.
It played in his head like a movie reel on fast forward, his free hand clenching into a fist. “I’ll check on her.” He muttered to Nora, cutting off whatever she’d been in the middle of saying and ending the call.
Once again he was pounding on Casey’s door. “Case!” He hollered, trying to check his anger. After all, it wasn’t she that he was angry with… even if she’d kept her broken arm to herself.
“Derek?” This time her confused voice came from behind him, although it also sounded a little amused; at his expense, naturally. He whirled around fist still half raised from knocking. Casey stood behind him, her backpack slung over one shoulder. Her good shoulder. She flinched away from him and he realized that it had become an instinct with her.
His anger evaporated in that moment and his face softened immediately. He lowered his arm, eyes focusing on the cast that covered her left arm.
“Derek?” She prompted again. The scene was so familiar to his first visit. One perfectly plucked brow rose up at him before she gestured at toward the door. Instead of moving out of the way Derek held out his hand, palm upturned. With a sigh she dropped her keys into his hand and he let them in.
Once inside, Derek watched as she went through her usual routine of coming home. Finally, she whirled around placing her hands on her hips. “Why are you just staring at me like that?” Her irritation was only mild, like she didn’t quite have the energy for her usual amount of frustration usually reserved for all things Derek.
“What happened to your wrist?” He asked, instead.
“I tripped on the stairs.” Her story practiced and precise; he’d taught her well.
His brows furrowed in concern that he didn’t normally let show, “Where?”
She blinked. The story she told Nora obviously wouldn’t work with him but she had no way of knowing if Nora had already told him her version of events. “Outside the dining hall, you know how slippery it gets over there.” Which was true, it often did get pretty slippery but they were also pretty good at salting it when it was wet or icy.
Derek nodded in agreement, “So why did you tell Nora it was the stairs at your dorm?” And before he’d even finished the question, he could see her brain working up an excuse.
“I was high on pain killers. I was saying a lot, all of it getting mixed up. Beside, I didn’t think it wise to give George the idea that there was a lawsuit happening. It was my fault.” There was the truth in the lies. Casey believed it was her fault that her arm was broken. Derek simply raised a brow at her, mimicking her earlier expression and she tossed her hands in the air. “What do you want, Derek? I hardly remember the conversation we had.” The brow stayed up. Casey huffed in irritation.
“Leave him.” Derek said without thinking, as he so often does when around Casey. His voice was soft, his tone pleading. Casey, instead of softening at the sincerity in his voice, stiffened with added tension. “Casey,” he started.
“Why,” She cut him off, the edge in her voice evidence, “Would I do that? I love him.” He recognized her steely gaze and her argumentative stance as she prepared to defend her love. Still, even that was a weak echo of her usual anger with him.
Instead of answering, Derek grabbed his step-sister (the step, ever important to remember even in these circumstances) by the good arm and dragged her into the bathroom with Casey protesting the short distance.
“Derek.” His name broken in half the way that tugs at his heart (as well as his lower half, if he’s being honest with himself… which he hardly ever is).
He turned the brunette toward the expansive mirror meant to be shared with a roommate. Without speaking he indicated the broken arm, the unusual amount of make-up layered onto her face, the way her ribs could be seen even against her shirt, the sallow appearance of her cheeks. He started to lift her shirt (a long time dream of his, since he’s being honest) to expose what he’d already suspected: more bruising along her ribcage and even on her stomach.
Casey tore herself away from him. “Get out.” She hissed. Her tone was cold and empty. “Get out!” she snarled tugging her shirt roughly down to cover her abdomen. He could see the tears brimming in her eyes; he caught the flash of anger and sadness in those watery blues as she was forced to confront a Casey she didn’t recognize. He was so intensely attuned to Casey and each of her expressions, each look her eyes expressed. This wasn’t a look he liked seeing on her. It was too close to being broken.
He hadn’t moved and she started shoving at him trying to get him toward the door. Instead of moving—no way she could make him budge if he didn’t want to be moved—he gathered Casey in his arms in an uncharacteristic display of affection as he just held her. The idea was something he vaguely recalled from his intro to psych class (yes, he actually paid attention… to the notes that he was copying down from someone else).
Normally this was not a course of action he would dare to take, but this was too serious too… too something he wasn’t even sure how to describe. It’s not that it was deep it was just… heavy. No, she needed this and he didn’t have it in him to pretend he cared about nothing and was frightened by tears. This he wanted to give her. This he could give her.
At first she resisted the hug, trying to shove off of him. Then she became limp and unresisting. Derek realized, with a pang in his chest, that this might be a common reaction for her; to simply go limp and passive until the unpleasantness was over. He hoped, with everything that he had, that this wasn’t the case. He almost let her go, just so he wouldn’t be another person forcing unwanted attention on her.
But then she leaned into him and he held her gently as if she might break in his arms. She began to shake and he knew she was crying.
This was never how he’d imagined holding her for the first time. It certainly wasn’t how he wanted his first (maybe only) time holding her to be, but he held on because she needed it and he wasn’t entirely as selfish as he led everyone to believe.
She was sobbing and now that she started it didn’t seem like she’d ever be able to stop. It sounded like she couldn’t get enough air in to release the next sob and he supposed this must be what hyperventilating sounded like; true, broken sobs. It was ugly crying, even if he couldn’t see her. Her sobs were only interrupted by attempts to catch her breath her uneven cries echoing in the tiled room.
It was the sound of a broken woman. His brave, fierce, independent, clever, strong Casey had been broken.
Derek tried soothing as best he knew how thanking Marti for the practice that comes with having a younger sister. He wasn’t sure how much time passed before her sobs started to slow and her breathing became more even. When it seemed like she was settling he let go of her with one arm and reached to the side of them into her shower, turning on the water and feeling it until it was warm. When it felt ready, he released Casey. “I’ll wait in there.” He indicated the direction of her room and she nodded. She looked so exhausted and he could feel his heart breaking for her.
While Casey showered, Derek thought about what had happened. It was the first time that he could recall not running from tears that didn’t belong to Marti. Then again, when it came to Casey the usual rules are never used. When she’d finished she disappeared into her closet before finally emerging into the bedroom. Her hair was wet hanging around her face, although it hung straight having just been brushed and dressed for bed.
Neither of them said anything about what had happened. Instead Casey asked if they could sit with the light off and he obliged. He wanted the darkness as much as she did, the yellowing bruises on her face just fed his anger.
They talked. She told him about her classes and he talked about hockey. She shared the contents of e-mails from Emily and he told her about a dumb stunt he’d witnessed at a party their first month at Queens. Eventually she grew silent and so did he. Then she was asleep and he lay on his back on her futon staring up into the dark. This night they had not been Derek and Casey, but just two people. It gave him a sense of what they might have been like if they’d met under different circumstances. They would challenge each other but they would also get along and just be able to talk. He would be there for her and her for him and they could be together. It made him realize just how good they could be together.
He fell asleep with those thoughts on his mind.
The next morning when he woke Casey was already gone. It was early in the morning and she must have gotten up even earlier just to get ready to leave her dorm looking presentable. Groggily Derek stumbled to his own dorm. Was it always this bright this early in the morning? It didn’t seem natural. He was halfway there when his stomach grumbled. Well, there was no way he’d be able to go back to sleep now. Deliberating for a moment he decided it was probably better to get dressed before appearing in the dining hall. He was serving his plate when he heard a familiar laugh. It was Casey’s fake laugh, the forced sound she made when pretending to be amused usually reserved for crushes and boyfriends she didn’t really want to be with but thought she did. Bleary brown eyes searched the mostly empty room until he saw the back of her brunette hair neatly pulled back.
Sitting across her was some guy he didn’t recognize and next to her was Greg, judging by the way his arm was wrapped around her waist. Once his plate was full Derek stomped over to the table, dropping into the empty seat next to the strange guy. All three of them looked up at him in surprise as he started shoveling food in his mouth.
“Derek, you’re up early.” Along with the question in voice he caught the false cheerfulness.
“Hungry.” He grumbled as an answer. Brown eyes flicked from Casey to
Greg Shit for Brains. Greg’s grip on his fork tightened to a little Derek noticed, but he smiled in Derek’s direction. He received a grunt for his efforts.
“Derek isn’t exactly a morning person,” she explained of her step-brother. The understatement of the year, he thought as he glowered at her. His glare had nothing to do with the early hour, either.
The tension was palpable, in his opinion, as his sudden presence sent the trio into silence interrupting their previous laughter. He was starting to feel like the interloper he was sure they perceived him to be. Except, he’s known Casey longer and he treated her with… a semblance of respect; he certainly didn’t beat her and would never dream of doing so. Sure, he pranked her but it was never out of malice, not anymore at least. At any rate, she was his and did not belong to these two jerks and he had the sudden urge to remind them of that fact, “I’m going to see the parents this weekend.” Brown eyes caught blue, “I suppose you can come with, if you wanted, since your mom would probably kill me if I didn’t at least offer.” He shrugged one shoulder before shoveling a mouthful of nice hot pancake into his mouth—seriously, was the breakfast always this good because he never managed to get up early enough to make it and when he did it was just the scraps of leftovers—as if couldn’t care less whether or not she came.
Of course, he did care. He cared a whole lot, but he wasn’t about to let her or her boyfriend know this. “Then maybe Nora will stop bugging me to check in on you if she got to see you in person.” Casey’s eyes flicked from him to Greg.
“Do we… have plans this weekend?” She asked tentatively and he knew that really she was asking for permission. Derek wondered if
Greg Shit for Brains could hear the carefully hidden tremor of hope in her voice. He turned to study Greg’s reaction wondering how he would cope with the idea of not being in control of Casey for a weekend. There was obviously some internal struggle before he was able to come to a decision. Probably a choice between keeping Casey close by or endearing himself to Casey’s family so that they like him but having to let Casey be out from under his thumb for a few days. He could tell, too, that the idea of not having Derek around anymore was appealing. He knew that it was common for those were abusive to isolate their partners from friends and family… He pays attention in class, alright.
Greg finally came to a decision, “No, no plans this weekend. Go, enjoy your family.” Vaguely Derek wondered if perhaps the fact that he agreed to let her go was a bad sign. Did it mean that he was confident in his hold over Casey? Shit for Brains leaned over to kiss Casey’s temple and whisper something in her ear. Derek watched the transformation as the relaxed posture that had appeared at the idea of seeing her family quickly turned back to tension as Greg spoke to her. She planted a fake smile as he did so, playing her role in the show.
“Pick me up Friday when you get out of class. By my dorm,” Casey told him, “I’m done by 12, I’m assuming you have no morning classes?” he shook his head and she nodded. “Good, I’ll be ready when you’re finished. Speaking of class, though, I’d better be going.” She rose, Greg getting up with her. As they made their egress, Derek noted how he carried her dishes along with his own and then her book bag as well. The picture perfect gentleman.
When Derek pulled up to Casey’s dorm that Friday, she was there ready and waiting as he knew she would. Shit for Brains was there too, and for a wild moment Derek was convinced that Greg had insisted on coming along. Then he realized that it was Casey’s bag slung over his shoulder and not his own. When he put the car into park, Greg tossed Casey’s bag into the back seat of the Prince and offered Derek a friendly greeting before shutting the door. He watched as the two embraced and he saw what looked like affection in Greg’s face. Maybe he actually cared for Casey even if he didn’t act like it.
Greg opened the door for Casey and Derek tightened his hands around the steering wheel in anger. This guy was so fake playing the role of the perfect boyfriend and treating Casey like shit when no one was around. Greg even waited until Casey was buckled in before closing the door for her (as if she couldn’t do it on her own) and telling Derek, “Take good care of my girl.” Derek didn’t both with a response.
Casey didn’t speak, just lay her head on the window and ignoring Derek’s attempts to provoke her into speaking to him. Out of the corner of his eye he watched as the tension slowly eased out of her the more they put distance between them and her boyfriend. She was dozing shortly after. He found himself wondering how much sleep she was getting, recalling his interruption of her midday nap.
What else has this guy done to her?