The bar was loud, noisy. It wasn't a favorite place of Casey's, but at this point, Derek is getting desperate. They go here sometimes when they feel the need to get out of the house. Sometimes they meet up with friends. Despite the crowd, it's a good place, and Casey's friendly with the bartender. If she were to go to a bar, it would be this one.
There was no sign of her at her favorite coffee shop, the one she liked to go to when she really needed to focus on work, uninterrupted. She hadn't been at the bookstore, browsing the aisles, something she said soothed her, helped her think. He'd taken her love - her patience - for granted. Derek knows that now. Hindsight is 20/20 and all. He's still got a few other places in mind to look, but he pauses to order a drink, because hell. It shouldn't have happened like this. It shouldn't have happened at all, but he had no one to blame but himself.
When the drink is set down, he lifts the glass to his lips, taking a sip of the amber liquid. The grimace that follows has less to do with the burn and more to do with the memory playing in his head.
Derek walked up the steps to the apartment they shared. It took a moment for him to find Casey, finding her sitting on the porch, delicate fingers wrapped around a steaming mug.
(Those fingers that had tugged his hair, danced across his sides and shoulders, ghosted across his lips, kneaded the knots in his back…)
It was likely black tea in the mug. Tea with one spoonful of sugar. He paid attention to those things, as much as he pretended that he didn't. He'd noticed. In the beginning, it hadn't been intentional. Learning Casey's quirks and habits had first been for better pranking. Know thy enemy. After that, he couldn't help but pick up the parts that made her Casey, collecting them over the years. Maybe if he hadn't pretended that he didn't know these things about her, if Derek'd shown her how much he paid attention…
But old habits...
She glanced up when Derek poked his head out the door, smile bright. "Hey."
"Hey. What are you doing out here?"
Gesturing in front of her, Casey smiled brighter. "Watching the sunset." She gave the seat beside her a little pat. "Come sit with me?"
"Nah." Derek shook his head. He remembered thinking there were better things he could be doing with his time than sit and stare at a sunset. "You know I'm not really a 'sunset' kind of guy, Case." He pretended not to see the way her smile faltered. It was just a sunset; no big deal, he had thought.
(Later, as he's driving around town, slamming his hand onto the dash, he replays other moments like this, where he's the reason her brightness dims. It's not a big deal, not in the moment, but over time, he's been chipping away at her light until there wasn't much left; these moments, the ones he thought were no big deal, add up. It's like that game she's so fond of, Jenga. The moments stack up, leaving holes behind until the whole thing topples over. Maybe it's not the best metaphor, but Casey had always been the one who had a way with words).
The fingers around her cup flexed, adjusted. There was a beat, a half-second lull in the conversation. Derek had been too focused, trying to remember when the game was going to start. "No, I know," she nodded, and the smile looked a little strained, forced. "I just thought we could sit. I haven't seen you much this week."
It had been a busy week for them both. When he was done with work, Derek just wanted to go home. He could have spared a few minutes to give Casey some attention, check-in with how she was doing. Instead, he came straight home and did whatever he wanted.
"Mhm," already Derek had been heading inside, pulling the door shut. All she wanted was a few minutes of his time. "Game's on, though. Enjoy your sunset."
Maybe if he'd sat with her on some of those nights. He didn't have to pay attention to the sunset; she just wanted his company. He could have invited her to sit with him while he watched; he could have muted the game during the commercials, given her attention. Instead, he'd shut the door, walked inside. She'd been quiet when she finally came to bed later that night.
All she wanted was a few minutes of his time; he could have given her that.
Derek finishes the drink, pays his tab, and heads out the door. His phone rings as he's climbing back into the car. He picks it up without looking at the caller ID. "Casey?"
"No," Nora sighs on the other line. The tone of her voice tells him that she knows. She knows that he ruined it all, and Casey has left. They had a hard enough time convincing their family to be on board with their relationship. It wasn't wrong, but it wasn't conventional, either. Nora had pulled him aside, told him to be sure that this was what he wanted because whatever happened, good or bad, would affect the rest of the family. He'd promised that Casey was it; she was everything he would want, everything he would need. Maybe Derek should have told Casey the same. Perhaps he should have shown it. "I'm returning your call," Nora tells him as he's starting up the car.
"I, uh," Derek hesitates. When he'd called her number earlier, he hadn't really thought about what he was going to say. Deciding that honesty might be the best policy, he lets out a breath. "I'm looking for Casey."
For a moment, he thinks that the line has cut out, but then Nora sighs. "I figured as much. Look, whatever is happening, it's between you and Casey."
"Derek, when you two started this, I told you that we wouldn't get involved."
"So you haven't seen her?" His hands tighten around the wheel as he pulled out of the parking lot. He picks a direction, not entirely sure where he's going to look next.
"Yeah," he snaps, and he should feel bad about it, but he doesn't. "I know. You're not getting involved." But Nora knows, so it's hardly fair. She's already involved. "Thanks for your help." He ends the call because anything that's going to follow is not going to be nice, and he needs to focus on finding Casey.
There's a stretch of road between his work and the apartment. Along the side of it is a large patch of dahlias. When they first went apartment hunting, they had driven past it, and Casey had lit up. "They're so pretty," she said, face pressed to the window. "Dahlias are my favorite," she sighed, sitting back, just happy that she'd seen her favorite flower on a random drive-by.
They moved. Not long after, Derek learned that his drive to and from work took him by that large patch of flowers. Every day in the morning and every day heading home, he saw those flowers and thought about her face pressed to the passenger seat's window.
Often, he would look at the flowers and think it might be a nice gesture to stop and pick a few and take them home. It would show that he had listened, showed that he had paid attention.
(Because he had; he'd filed away her favorite type of flower at that moment, tucked it away in the back of his mind for Some Day; he just didn't realize that it could have been any day).
If she'd been so excited over a random drive by her favorite flowers, he could imagine how excited she would have been if he'd brought them home. He'd seen when her other boyfriends had brought her flowers or done something small, thoughtful. She'd practically lit up. He hadn't wanted to be one of her cardboard cutouts, so he hadn't-
Maybe if he'd just brought the damn flowers home, even once.
He calls Sam next. Their romantic relationship hadn't worked out, but the pair had defied the rule that an ex couldn't be a friend. She often turns to Sam when Derek is difficult. "Hey, man." He answers the phone in a breezy tone. He doesn't sound worried about Derek's mental state, doesn't seem to anticipate the question that's coming.
Already Derek knows that Casey hasn't reached out to him. He doesn't know if this is a good sign or not. Even though he knows the answer, he still asks, "Have you talked to Casey?"
"Nah." There's a pause, and maybe Sam hears something in his voice. It's probably the tightness in Derek's throat, giving him away. "Everything okay?"
No, everything is not okay. How does he explain to Sam what he came home to this evening? In theory, it's easy. He could just say it but saying it makes it real.
Derek doesn't want to be real.
"It's nothing," Derek says, praying that it's the truth. He knows it's not exactly nothing, but it can't be the end. It can't.
"What happened?" It's no surprise that Sam doesn't believe him. They've been friends for far too long, seen far too much of one another's bullshit to think it is true.
The lump in Derek's throat constricts, and he can already feel the wetness on his cheeks. When was the last time he cried? "She's gone."
"Dammit, Derek, tears aren't contagious."
"I know." Still, he backed away from his tearful girlfriend. It wasn't that he worried about them being catching. The problem went deeper than that. It pained him when Casey cried. Derek had never been really good at comforting at being a shoulder to cry on, especially when he couldn't fix the problem. "I'm sorry," he glanced around the room at anything but her.
The glare she fixed him with should have buried him underground. "If you can't just hold me, Derek, for five seconds - five seconds - so that I can just feel better, then what's the point of having a boyfriend?"
"Hold on a second," Derek held up a hand, shaking his head, "That's not fair. You knew this going in: I don't do tears."
"I've seen you deal with Marti's tears, Derek. You're old enough now to stop pretending that you're allergic. How hard is it to just be there for me? It's one thing when you're a teenager. You have some insane reputation to uphold; whatever, you can be forgiven for being juvenile. We're adults now, though, and you should be able to be there for your girlfriend. It's not fucking hard."
Casey was well and truly mad. She only ever cursed - really cursed - when she was angry. It didn't often happen, not really.
Before he could argue, or respond, or even fix it somehow, she was gone.
He drives down the highway, trying to think of where else he could look for Casey. He believes if maybe, just once, he had held her when she cried, he might not be here right now. If he'd just tried to make her laugh instead of backing away…
Casey was right, it was childish and juvenile. The problem was, he wanted to fix her problems, he wanted to make things better for her. Derek had always been a man of action, the type to do something - case in point, his constant calls to all their friends, going any place that she might be, hoping to find her, beg for her forgiveness - he didn't like the feeling that came with helplessness when there was nothing he could do.
He should have realized sooner that it wasn't about him.
Maybe, if he had thought about himself less and thought more about what she needed, he wouldn't be in this situation, but he refused to believe that this was how it would end. Refused to believe that it would end. Even in the beginning, when Derek hadn't understood the roiling feelings beneath the surface, he'd always thought of them as sort of inevitable. At the time, he hadn't thought it would be like this, living together and talking about building a life together. Derek just knew that their lives were inexplicably and permanently intertwined.
He's running out of places he can think of where she would go. He calls Emily next. "Derek," she says, and she sounds tired.
"Do you know where she is?" No use beating around the bush.
"No." Once, he had no problem telling when people were lying. King of the Lies, he had declared himself. Now, however, he doesn't know if Emily knows. What he does know is if she knows where Casey is, she's not saying. "Derek," she says, again. "You shouldn't be surprised."
He wants to argue' wants to say that he didn't see this coming, but the truth is, he can't.
"I can't keep going on like this." Casey sat at the kitchen table, blinking up at him with wide eyes.
He had been heading out the door, had rolled his eyes at her dramatics. "It's just a drink with Sam."
Face carefully blank - that face she used to make when her dad would call last minute, say he couldn't make it - Casey nodded. "It's not that, Derek." She said it like he should know what she's talking about.
(If he had paid a little more attention, been a little less self-absorbed, he might have been able to figure it out. Derek had worked to get her, but he stopped working to keep her).
"Casey, I don't have time for this. I'm late to meet with Sam."
Her palms flattened on the tabletop, pressing against the wood.
(He could remember her hands flattening against his back, nails digging into his skin…)
"Okay," she said, frown deepening. "I'll just say this. If things don't change, I don't know if we can continue this."
He'd written it off as melodramatic. Derek had never imagined that she would actually leave; couldn't fathom a scenario where he could come home to find her gone.
She had tried to tell him.
Two weeks later, he'd come to the apartment, and she was gone. At first, Derek hadn't realized that anything was amiss. Derek had looked around for Casey, but it wasn't entirely unusual that she wasn't there. When he called to find out where she was, Casey's phone had gone straight to voicemail.
That had been a bit more unusual, but he figured she might not have had a chance to charge it. No big deal. Then he'd gone into the closet, found it half-empty, and realized that things were not okay. Searching around more, he found her luggage gone.
That was when he had taken off, trying to find her.
The truth is, he thinks about her all the time. He's crazy about her, always has been. For some reason, though, Derek has always held back from showing her. There's no real explanation for why. Maybe if he'd shown her he loved her this much all along, she wouldn't be gone. She'd be sitting on the porch watching the sunset or sprawled on their couch with a book.
If he could just find her, beg her for one more chance. He hopes to find her eventually.
In the rearview mirror, Derek sees that his eyes are red; he can barely keep them open, but he has to find her. Eventually, though, he has to give in. Just go home for a couple of hours. He'll try again in the morning. He heads back to the apartment and manages to drag himself through the front door.
The voice takes him by surprise, but Casey is sitting on the couch, her suitcase by her feet. She looks as good as he feels. Derek freezes. They stare at each other for a long moment, and then he hurries over, dropping to his knees at her feet. He presses his face to her stomach and doesn't even try to stifle the sob. She doesn't push him away, but she doesn't encircle him, either.
"You called my mom."
"And talked to Jennifer." And maybe he should feel ashamed that he talked to her favorite bartender about the fact that Derek was looking for Casey, that so many people were let in on this momentary - god, how he hoped it was momentary - bump in their relationship, but he doesn't.
"And Emily, too."
"Yes," he breathes. "I tried to call you, too."
"Have you been looking for me all night?"
Derek pulls his face away from her midsection. His eyes burn, and he just wants to sleep, but she's looking down at him, and he can tell that it's taking a concentrated effort on her part to keep her face neutral. Despite what she might think, he can read her so well; he knows her so well. "Of course, I did."
"I didn't think you would care."
He reels back at the admission. Of course, he'd come to that conclusion sometime throughout the night. Her leaving wasn't a malicious act; it wasn't some kind of ultimatum. At some point, she'd come to the (misguided) conclusion that he wouldn't care if she left. That was on him. He should have shown her more how much she meant to him. "I cared."
It doesn't fix everything he's done, but it's a start, a direction forward. It certainly helped him realize where he was going wrong, and that there's more to lose by hiding how much Casey means to him than there is to lose by acknowledging his honest feelings.
It was time to grow up.
a/n: Thanks for reading. Fic is inspired by the song of the same name by Blake Shelton, requested by my wife.