Disclaimer: Not mine.

Author's Notes: I managed to title each chapter with one word, but this last one, I just couldn't find one word to wrap everything up. So I needed three words. :D It also took me a while to get this posted because I kept editing. Taking stuff out, putting stuff back in. Finally, I just left everything in, so this is a much longer chapter to close things out. Hope it's sufficient! I'm quite nervous, but when am I not?

A huge thank you to everyone who read and stuck with this story. Every review was cherished, considered and appreciated. I actually did set this up to continue if I so choose, so if you'd like to see more adventures with Paul Sidle, you can plead your case at the end of this. (But I don't make any promises)

Chapter Twenty

Ready (Or Not)

Jonas Wright is no longer in critical condition.

You're not likely to compare yourself to other people, but more and more, you find that you and Jonas are eerily similar. The similarities aren't obvious to others, just to you.

When he talked of his mother, his voice was harsh but his eyes were gentle. He loved his mother. You loved your mother, even if you don't care to admit that.

Jonas talked of his mother 'forgetting'. She forgot that they weren't speaking. You had to understand what that meant. Doc Robbins hadn't mentioned anything during the autopsy of Mrs. Wright to indicate she was sick with some memory debilitating disease. So, you researched her medical history. You figured it out and upon figuring it out, you found even one more similarity between you and Jonas.

You enter Jonas' hospital room, see him lying awake in his bed. You cautiously approach, not sure if smiling at him is even appropriate. You are about to draw a confession from him. No, smiling is not appropriate this time.

The evidence has already given you a plausible scenario of events, but you want to hear it from Jonas.

You stand by the bed. His eyes flit to you for a second before turning away. He shakes his head, obviously not ready to talk.

"Your mother fell down the steps, right Jonas?" you say quietly. "Her head injury, that caused her memory loss. That's why she forgot you left her."

Jonas stays silent. You think of your mom again. She had head injuries, but they weren't from falling down the stairs. If only her injuries were accidental.

You continue on, "You told her what happened. Told her the house was falling apart and that she needed to sell it. She fell down the stairs because the first step collapsed under her. She wouldn't hear it. It hurt that she didn't believe you, so you tried to hate her for it. You still loved her too much."

Jonas still won't look at you, but the slight quiver of his lips tells you all you need to know.

"Listen. We know Mark was your friend, Jonas. He killed your mother and almost killed you. Ballistics proves all that," you tell him. Listing the facts has always proved an effective method when trying to get suspects to talk. It doesn't fail you now.

"She wouldn't sell the house," Jonas says, something he's told you before. His voice is hoarse, sad. You feel more sorry for him now than you did just minutes before walking into his room. "Mark and I needed the property, we needed the money. We tried to convince her the house was unsafe, to sell it over to us and we would fix it up, make a profit. She was just so stubborn and her injury made her forget. She was stubborn."

"Why did Mark shoot her?" you ask.

Jonas' lips quiver again. Just enough to let you know he's human. "I wasn't there. He called me, freaking out. He said the termites we poured into the vents weren't working. That she was just going to call an exterminator and he just couldn't take it anymore. He lost his cool. Mark was always a hothead. There was nothing I could do. I went over there to help him clean up. I got the hose and washed the house down."

"After we questioned you, you went back to the house."

"I went to tell Mark that I couldn't sell the house. I mean, my mother was dead and she was dead because I pressured her to do something she never wanted. I told him I would fix up the house, in memory of Mom. Mark was pissed, no surprise. He was waving around the gun, first shot was an accident. The next two shots. . ., he just panicked after hearing the police outside ready to storm the place."

You find a chair and sit down. "Jonas. You'll be charged with conspiracy to commit murder and fraud."

"So I heard," he says calmly. "Is Mark dead?"

"Yeah," you answer. Should you say your bullet killed him? No. You rise from the chair, go to leave.

"Ms. Sidle?"

You turn around.

"You said my mother wouldn't let me live my own life. That was the reason I went after her, tried to kill her, take her house. That's not true."

"What is true?"

"It's true that she forgot. She forgot we weren't really talking, but that didn't mean I hated her. I just wanted what was best. So did Mark. After a while, though, I guess all we both saw in the end was the bottom line."

"You got greedy," you say.

"We had a developer just waiting on us to get the property," Jonas can't help but smile sadly. "Millions, they said. Could've bought Mom a better house."

Jonas shuts his eyes then, an indication that he's done confessing to you.

Catherine is waiting in the hallway. You walk up to her, a frown etched on your face. She hooks an arm in yours as you both leave. You sigh deeply. "I think the evidence would've eventually buried him in court, but I believe he'll cop to it all anyway. I think he just wants it to be over. He won't fight it. He feels guilt for what happened."

"You feel empathy," Catherine states.

"I know what it's like to live with a mom like Mrs. Wright," you say. "A stubborn personality mixed with delicacy. Weakness. The only time I ever felt Mom was in control of her faculties was the day she stabbed my father. The only time she was completely sane and sure of herself."

The walk down the hall seems long and arduous, but eventually you reach Jim Brass waiting near the elevators. Jim asks, "He confessed?"

You nod.

"Think he'll repeat it all, write it down officially?"

Confidently, you confirm, "Yeah, he will."

He'll regret it for the rest of his life, sure, but he'll write it down. Jonas is just another reminder for you. An auspicious, heaven sent reminder to be thankful that you got a second chance with Paul. A second chance to reunite what was left of your family. You'll never forget Jonas. He'll probably forget you.

"Sara, for the last time, I'm not telling you," Paul says, exasperated. You've been bugging him for the last few days now. You have to know what he has planned for Saturday, damn it. You just have to know.

He's only given you little bits and pieces, but nothing much to go on. You know he's inviting 'his friends', which you would assume are your friends. Your friends are Paul's friends, after all. The food will be 'awesome and great'. Those are his words. He's telling you something without telling you something. You could strangle him.

He keeps reminding you to dress up. Don't wear those black slacks, he admonished. You wear those all the time, he went on. You asked him why he doesn't badger Catherine about her attire and he simply replied, "I don't have to worry about what Catherine will wear." Paul thinks he's funny sometimes.

"You don't think I have a right to know a little?" you ask, following him outside. He's been mapping out the backyard for the pool Catherine sorta promised to get. To Paul, that means a pool is totally in the bag. He sits on the patio, pulls out his markers and paper and begins drawing out a layout of the backyard again. He's got about twenty different pool design ideas already. He can be creative when he wants.

You fold your arms, continue to make your case. "I mean, Paul, it's a little weird for me, you know? You don't plan stuff for . . . me."

"It's for you and Catherine," he reminds you. He looks up at you momentarily. "I'm planning for you both. It's important."

You sit down next to him, admire his childlike drawings and blow air out your mouth in frustration. "I get that it's important and I'm happy you've got your mind focused on this one thing, but . . .it's just weird, Paul!"

"You wanted me to be happy for you and Catherine," he says. "You wanted me to be happy and now I'm trying to show you that I am happy. Can't you be happy that I'm happy?"

You sulk. "Yeah, I'm happy you're happy."

Paul smiles goofily. "Great. You're gonna be so surprised. After Saturday, we'll be a real family."

You don't understand what he means. "Paul, we are a family."

Paul considers you for a millisecond, before he starts drawing out a pool design. "I know we're a family, but it'll be better after Saturday. You'll see."

You chuckle uneasily. "Paul, I don't think I understand. . ."

The doorbell interrupts the conversation, but it's probably just as well. Sometimes, you have a hard time deciphering what Paul is trying to say to you.

Warrick is at the door when you answer it. His look of surprise isn't all that unexpected, but it is somewhat amusing nonetheless. It still doesn't make much sense in your own mind, so why should it make sense to him?

You are answering Catherine's door; you can't believe that you have the right to answer Catherine's door, but that door is no longer just hers, now is it? The door belongs to both of you now. So technically, you are answering your door. It's your door too. Warrick doesn't know that yet.

He's got a box of files in his hands, or so it would appear, and his bewildered expression begins to morph into a more friendly one as he asks, "Catherine around? Grissom wanted me to drop these off for her."

"Oh?" you say, stepping aside to let him in. He does a quick once over of your attire: pajama pants and tank top, bare feet and hair pulled back in a ponytail. You probably look completely at home. He looks even more confused.

He quickly walks into the family room and drops the box on the coffee table, pretending that nothing is bothering him. You follow him, trying to hold your amusement at bay.

"Catherine took Lindsey to some school related thing. What do ya have there?"

"Uh, employee reviews and stuff like that. You know. The paperwork Gris always shoves off on Cath," Warrick says, smiling uneasily. His eyes are still bemused. He finally lets his curiosity get the best of him. "Uh, are you. . .? Did you and Cath, um. . .? I guess what I mean is, you just look real comfortable."

You think you might mess with him a bit. You repeat, "Comfortable? Not sure I know what you mean, Warrick."

Warrick chuckles apprehensively, goes to step back and before you can warn him, he trips over a moving box. He falls over the arm of the couch and lands on both pillows and cushion. Embarrassed, he spies what he tripped over. A box. In fact, he notices several boxes. He looks to you for an explanation.

You think it's time to alleviate Warrick's bemusement. "I moved in. Rather, we're still moving in. That's Paul's box of cooking stuff there. I told him to take care of that yesterday, come to think of it."

You're not sure what Warrick was thinking, but he seems more relieved than he did minutes prior.

"Ah, okay, okay. You moved in. That's great, Sara," Warrick says, his smile less forced and more genuine now. He sits up properly on the couch and repeats, "That's great. I'm happy for the both of you."

"Thanks," you say shyly.

"Honestly, with how comfortable you looked and the boxes...I thought you two scampered off to Cali and got hitched or something," Warrick confesses. When he sees your eyebrow raise, he quickly covers up his assumption. "Not that I would think that's bad. . .just it would've been sudden and maybe a little backwards. But it's a good sudden. . .thing. I'm glad you guys decided to live together."

You don't think you've ever seen Warrick blush or stammer so much. It's cute. You also wonder why he jumped to that conclusion in the first place. You push hair back behind your ears, make a suggestion to change the subject. "You wanna stick around? I'm sure Cath wouldn't mind having you here for dinner."

"Actually, I can't. I mean, I would love to, but I have a date," Warrick confesses, now sounding a bit shy himself.

You nearly squeal with excitement at the news, which is so unlike you. "Who's the lucky girl, Rick? C'mon, you can tell me."

"Remember Tina? I ran into her at Kahunaville, during your little party," he says. His eyes are so happy as he speaks. "This is actually date number three."

"Do I hear wedding bells, Mr. Brown?" you tease.

"Lord, I hope not," he laughs. A deep, hearty laugh that makes his green eyes squint up; shows off those pearly whites. You love to see Warrick laugh. He gets up off the couch and says, "It's still too soon to tell with Tina. You and Catherine have a better shot at getting hitched, from what I hear."

He heard what? His little statement is accompanied with a wink and a nod and you don't understand why. Why does he keep hinting at the idea of a wedding? Before you can inquire any further, another voice cuts in.

"Don't scare her off, Warrick," Catherine calls from the front door. You turn, see her walking in with Lindsey in tow. She jokes, "Mention marriage and she might run off."

"My bad," Warrick immediately apologizes, grinning goofily. Something is really off with him. He even leans in and says quietly to you, "I get it. I'll lay off now."

"What?" you whisper back, but he's gone.

He quickly kisses Catherine on the cheek and makes his retreat. "Hate to run out on you beautiful ladies, but I'm gonna be late if I don't. See you."

"Bye," you both say.

You both stand together in the foyer, long after Warrick leaves. Finally, Catherine speaks. "That was odd."

"Yeah," you agree. "Warrick doesn't do 'odd' well."

"No, he doesn't," Catherine says, folding her arms, deep in thought. "I'll try and figure out what's going on at work tonight."

"Good idea," you say.

Something is definitely off.


You both turn to Lindsey, who looks somewhat guilty. She folds her arms and confesses, "I think I should tell you something. About Paul's party."

Catherine is definitely concerned as she leads Lindsey to the couch almost immediately, sits her down and coaxes gently, "What is it, sweetie? Nothing bad?"

You cautiously step closer, but you don't invade their space. You have a feeling Lindsey will get this out easier if she's just talking specifically to Catherine.

Lindsey half shrugs, seeming uncertain. "Well, it might be. Paul asked me not to tell, but I don't want to get in trouble later for not telling you."

"Well, I promise not to tell Paul you told me," Catherine reassures, smiling now. Maybe she assumes this trouble isn't all it's cracked up to be. She encourages, "Go ahead. Tell me."

"Well, Paul needed help with the party," Lindsey explains. "He was so bummed, knowing he didn't have the money for one. So, I might've told him about. . .Sam."

Catherine's eyes go wide. You cough.

You repeat warily, "Sam? Sam Braun?"

Lindsey nods. "Yeah. Paul went to Sam to help plan the party. I told him you wouldn't like that, but he was kinda like a steamroller after I told him. There was no stopping him."

Paul Sidle and Sam Braun. Talk about a family get together.

You look at Catherine worriedly, who returns the look two-fold. You know you're both thinking the same thing. If Paul went to Sam Braun for a favor, what did Sam Braun want in return?


Your mission to figure out why Warrick was so odd didn't pan out. The truth was, both you and Catherine were just too busy with a new case. Too much evidence to collect, process, analyze. Greg did wink at you a lot, but again, not much time to pull him aside and figure out why. Now it's Saturday, the big day and you still have no idea why Warrick was so odd.

The limousine stops. Catherine throws open the door.

It was never said Sam Braun spared no expense.

You take Catherine's hand as you exit the limousine. Your heels unexpectedly sink into the ground. Upon inspecting the soft surface beneath your feet, you notice a red carpet. Seriously? A red carpet. You look at Catherine, see the bewildered expression on her face as well. It's as if you stepped into some Hollywood premiere. You certainly look like you belong in one.

Catherine has got on a little strapless number, solid blue. The hem is just above her calves and she's tied her hair up. You actually went with a patterned dress, thin shoulder straps, open toed heels. You had shown the outfit to Paul for pre-approval yesterday. He gave the thumbs up.

You both step forward cautiously. There aren't any paparazzi around, of course, but this is Vegas and it's living up to its name tonight. There's lights and music all around, people and the faint scent of booze in the air. There's also this red carpet leading you to the large, golden double doors of Sam Braun's newest hotel.

How did Paul manage this? You really don't know. All you do know is that Lindsey told Paul that Sam was Catherine's father. He asked Sam to help him with this party. Sam sent a limo to the house. Here you are.

"This feels really wrong," Catherine says.

"I'm glad you finally said it," you say, clasp her hand tighter. "Did I already apologize for this?"

"Several times," Catherine nods. She wasn't too thrilled Paul contacted Sam on this. You're certain you'll never be able to apologize enough, but the least you can do is try and enjoy the night. Paul went all out for the both of you. You just gotta try and enjoy the night. Worry about the repercussions later.

You look around the entrance of the casino, take in the crowds of people, the flashy suits and ties. The black cocktail dresses. It's all so extravagant. It's all so very much unlike Paul Sidle. Paul Sidle doesn't dream these kinds of things up, there's just no way. Although, you wonder if the cooking channel on television gave him any of these party ideas. He does like to absorb any and all information from those shows. He also had Sam's help. This is so unlike Paul.

"Catherine! Sara! You're here!"

It's Greg. Paul invited Greg Sanders to whatever the hell this shindig is. He's dressed to the nines, looking too sharp to touch. If you thought his hair had started to look nice at work lately, you definitely think it looks fantastic now. He got it cut close to his head, just enough on top to slick back with some gel product. He immediately rushes up to hug you both. At some point, your hand ends up in his and he studies it closely.

You chuckle uneasily. "Looking for something?"

Greg winks at you. "I get it. I get it, you sneaky devils! It's okay, it's okay. You don't have to wear the rings."

"Rings?" Catherine repeats, but Greg doesn't hear her confusion or chooses to ignore her.

"Look, everyone is already here, just waiting on you. God, I can't believe this! Anyway, Paul really went all out and to say I'm impressed is an understatement, but we're all so happy for you two! C'mon!"

He sounds like a prattling school girl. Something is off.

"You guys, seriously, have no idea how hard it was for me to keep quiet, but Paul insisted."

Now Greg is acting odd. More odd than usual.

He is pulling you both by the hand until you reach the doors. He shows you in and proceeds to lead the way toward the back of the hotel. Both you and Catherine fall a few steps behind Greg on purpose, giving you some privacy. You lean down to Catherine and whisper, "What the hell is he talking about? All I did was move in with you."

"I have no idea. Why was Greg expecting us to wear rings. . .Oh. My. God."

Catherine has suddenly stopped and you stop with her. You look at her worriedly. "Cath? Catherine, what's wrong?"

She's utterly speechless, eyes frozen open with what looks to be fear and utter disarray. Fear? Disarray? What could she have seen to render her this way? You take a deep breath and follow her shocked gaze. You have to know what has scared her so.

When your eyes land on the banner hanging from the ceiling, your expression suddenly mirrors that of your girlfriend's. Your mouth drops open, your eyes widen to the size of saucers. You read the words on the banner several times over before you can even being to fathom that it's real. Catherine grips your forearm tightly for support and you think you hear her say "Oh God" again.

"Catherine," you manage to squeak out.

You think she says something in response.

"I'm going to kill him," you promise. "I mean it this time."

You begin to stalk off before Catherine can stop you. You rush your way down the corridor, push past a befuddled Greg Sanders, walk beneath the banner above your head and a scowl sets deeply on your face. You're going to kill him!

So, what does the banner say?, inquiring minds would like to know. In bright bold letters it proclaims: Catherine and Sara: Congratulations On Your Engagement! Best Wishes!

It's a damn engagement party! Paul set up an engagement party!! He told all these people you're engaged to Catherine Willows!! He. . .You. . .Damn him, you're going to kill him!

You storm into the ballroom, see droves of people you don't know and some you might. All your co-workers from the lab are here. Hell, Lisa is here! How could he do this? That little, manipulative. . .

At the top of your lungs, you bellow, "Paul Sidle! I'm going to kick your ass!"

The DJ stops spinning music; the crowd lurches to a halt. They all look in your direction, or at the very least the direction of your voice. You scan the crowd for Paul, who conveniently, can't be found. You do spot Sam Braun, though, with his sunny smile and uncharacteristically cheery demeanor. In fact, he's the one who points out Paul to you, wrapping a much too friendly arm around your brother.

"Sara. . ."

Warrick. You turn to him and he automatically steps back, the look on your face must speak of death. "Whoa, girl. What's going on?"

"That's what this was all about!" you hiss, inching closer to Warrick. He takes another cautionary step back. Your voice is still hushed as you continue, "Paul told you I proposed to Catherine, right? He told you that? He told everyone that's what this party was for?"

Warrick nods, not sure he should speak.

You could just scream right now! Hell, you might just do that.

"Paul lied," you state furiously. You turn around and search the crowd. "That little punk ass, son of a . . ."

"So, you definitely weren't in on this?" Warrick finally asks the rhetorical question. He rubs a hand over his bewildered face. "God, Sara. When I came over yesterday, I thought you had planned on proposing tonight before the party. That's what Paul told me. . ."

"Sara, hey, hey," Greg rushes up, cutting off an even more befuddled Warrick Brown. "Where's the fire?"

"What did Paul tell you?" you ask, turning to Greg now.

Greg glances at Warrick, who still looks a bit petrified, then back to you. He says knowingly, "Paul lied about you proposing to Cath, didn't he?"

Your expression must still be mimicking death because Greg retreats back to where Warrick is standing.

"Then we should probably convince Sam to cancel that interview with the local paper," Greg suggests, mostly to Warrick, but loud enough for you to hear as well. He smiles sheepishly, "Sam is happy for Cath. Sam really likes Paul so by default, he likes you as Cath's fiancee. Er...I mean, Cath's live-in girlfriend."

"Um, is there a problem?" Nick approaches now. He's holding a wine glass awkwardly, probably trying to decide if he should set it down somewhere or hold onto it.

"Paul told everyone Cath and I are engaged," you say.

Nick smiles. "Uh, yeah, Sara. That's why we're here. . .oh. Oh boy."

"Yeah," you say. You repeat sarcastically, "Oh."

"He told us you moved in," Nick says, letting his head lull back. "Sara, it's our fault."

"Nick, shut up," Greg hisses. He then looks at you. "It's nothing. . "

"No, Sara. Paul called me at home. I put him on speaker," Nick explains. "Greg was hanging with me. He called to let us know you no longer lived at your apartment, that you lived with Cath and to call there if we needed you. I told Paul that was great, you know? Greg then piped in and joked about how 'first comes love, next comes marriage'. You know, that little rhyme we all used to say as kids. Paul must've taken Greg's words literally."

"It was a joke," Greg says meekly while you glare at him.

The party is starting to pick up again, the curious onlookers probably assuming that Paul merely did some annoying kid brother thing. In a way, he had, but he's no ordinary kid brother.

You look around slowly, eyes passing over Greg, Nick and Warrick. You're so damn dizzy all of a sudden, the little beverages stands, the tables for dinner and a dance floor that lights up from underneath; they all start to blend together. There's even a Japanese food grill station, a chef performing tricks and making delectable treats. Aside from Emeril, Paul loves watching stuff like that. You can't believe this. You need a drink.

When your sweep of the extravagant ballroom is complete, Catherine and Grissom approach. Catherine is leaning heavily into Grissom, probably still in shock. Grissom smiles sympathetically, "Congratulations?"

"Thanks," you say flatly, snatching a wine glass from a passing tray. You drain the entire contents swiftly. You need another one.


There's baby brother. You turn just as he slams into you and hugs you tightly. He pulls back and you really look at him. Your anger dissipates for a moment as you look at his face. "Paul. You shaved."

He rubs a hand over his clean shaven face, very proud of himself. You haven't seen his face in years, you realize. He looks like Dad, just not nearly as psycho. Paul is handsome. You do notice how there isn't one cut or nick on his face, so you wonder if one of Sam's bartender goons cleaned up your little brother and made him more presentable.

Paul wraps an arm around your shoulders and proclaims, "See? Happy for you and Catherine. I've even set the perfect date for the ceremony."

Catherine must've gotten her wits about her, because she squeezes in between you and Paul, separating you both. She gently tugs Paul down to her level, gripping the lapel of his suit jacket tightly. "One problem, darling. Sara and I are not engaged."

Wow. You think that Catherine might actually be seriously upset with Paul. You wish you had popcorn for this momentous occasion. Hell, you might just laugh in triumph! Ain't no way Paul is gonna get chocolate chip cookies out of this one! Not enough tears or apologies in the world!

Paul does seem to visibly gulp, before asking innocently. "You don't want to be engaged?"

Catherine smiles, but you know it's not of a friendly nature. It's the kind of smile that clearly means she's royally ticked off. Holy hell, you think she might actually slap Paul! Where the hell is your camera?

"Paul, honey, I kinda hoped one of us would know about the engagement ahead of time," Catherine says as calmly as possible. She's obviously trying to avoid making a scene, which is good, because you'd be scuffling with Paul on the dance floor right about now.

"We're gonna let you sort this out," Nick says, the awkwardness evident. The boys slink away, but Grissom stays close. He knows the two of you well enough and he probably can sense a volcano ready to erupt.

"Catherine," Paul says quietly. "Can you let me go?"

She still has a death grip on his jacket, still has him bent over so she can look him in the eye. Paul insists gently, "Everyone is staring at us. . .Catherine. . ."

Catherine reluctantly lets him go, but orders, "Don't go anywhere."

Paul stays rooted in place. Calmly, you try Catherine's approach. Firm angry words with a hint of sarcastic happiness. "Paul, you had to know we wouldn't approve of this."

"Which is why I didn't tell you," Paul says coyly. He does step back, because Catherine actually advances toward him in irritation. He knows he's in trouble now. "Wait, wait. I know I shouldn't have, but I had to! I found Sam and when I told him about the party I wanted, he was so happy. He assumed it was an engagement party and I couldn't break his heart."

"There's not much of a heart there to break, Paul. I don't know what you think of him or what he's told you, but he's not the nicest man in the world," Catherine says sadly. "He lies, Paul. He's good at it."

"My father was worse," Paul says simply.

Was your father worse than Sam Braun? Probably in some ways. When Catherine looks at you, a conflict in her eyes, you panic. Paul just played his trump card. Catherine wants to be upset, but once again, Paul's cuteness is starting to win her over. He's pulled his 'innocent, kid brother' card again.

"Catherine, hold firm," you encourage. "Don't let him pull those puppy dog eyes on you. I guarantee this is not as innocent as it sounds. Comparing our fathers is like comparing apples and oranges, trust me."

Paul does seem to consider Catherine's words, though, looks over his shoulder at Sam. Sam waves and Paul promptly waves back. You manage a very awkward wave of the hand yourself.

Sam thinks you proposed to Catherine and he's. . .happy? When he begins to make his way over to you, you confirm that Sam Braun is one happy-go-lucky, mobster daddy.

Your brother, Paul Sidle has befriended Sam Braun and suddenly it becomes very clear that you can't scuffle with fate. You don't have a chance. Maybe you don't have a choice. Fate has personified itself in the form of your girlfriend's father. You're not sure you can fight this.

Oh, and just in case you thought the surprises were over, a gentle tap on your shoulder takes your attention away from Sam and your eyes meet the hard stare of Conrad Ecklie. He smirks at you and says snottily, "Congrats, Sidle. After this is over, I wanna talk with you and Catherine, okay? Nothing serious, I promise. Just gotta sort this out, okay?"

You half-smile at him, wondering what Ecklie plans to sort out.


Great. Here comes Daddy. You go to shoo Ecklie away, but he's already gone.

"Sam," Catherine greets her father begrudgingly. "Paul says you helped with. . .this."

"This is your engagement party, Catherine. Act like it is, for Pete's sake," Sam says, grinning from ear to ear. He walks over to Paul, wraps a friendly arm around his shoulders. You have to steel yourself, keep from lurching forward and pushing Sam away. Sam pokes a playful finger into Paul's chest and exclaims, "This young man here showed up at my casino demanding to see me."

"Did he now?" Catherine says, trying to stay cordial.

"He sure did!" Sam beams. "Even when my bouncers tried to turn him away, he was quite persistent. Said he needed to see Catherine's Dad for something very important. He said 'love was at stake', didn't you Paul?"

Paul nods proudly.

"He said to me, 'Mr. Braun. I have a sister who has fallen in love with your daughter and she thinks I hate her for it. I need your help to prove that I don't'," Sam goes on. He looks at you both. "I told Paul that I had a similar mission. I needed to prove to my daughter that I loved her deeply, even if she thought I was a hardened criminal. I would love her, no matter what."

Sam is talking like some pumped up radio announcer (which is the total opposite of his usually cool demeanor), but his words are oddly sincere. (Of course, he may be drunk.) Or maybe it's because he sounds more like a proud father. He's proud that Catherine chose you. He likes that Catherine chose you. He thinks you're engaged.

"I told Sam that I was crazy, but I was getting better," Paul jumps in next. "Sam said he could help me get schooling. Help me get a job."

The favor. That's what you were waiting to learn. Paul got a party and a job. You'd bet any amount of money Paul got a job in one of Sam's casinos.

You look at Sam, your gaze hardening involuntarily. "You said that to him?"

"Well, actually, it was Lily who suggested it to me," Sam admits. "She walked in on us, while we were discussing the party. She told me later that Paul wanted to go to school; asked if I could help with that."

The surprises just keep on coming.

"Mom told you that Paul wanted to go to school?" Catherine asks. Apparently, she's just as surprised as you are that Lily even considered Paul's well-being.

"She knew I had connections," Sam shrugs. He finally releases Paul from his fatherly hug and shoves his hands into his pockets. "Paul is a good kid, Sara. You should be proud of him. I know I already love him like he's my own son."

At this, Paul beams at you. You force a smile back. This is turning out to be one hellava night.

Paul found the mother he never had in Catherine. Now you think he's turned to Sam as that missing father figure. Now you understand what Paul meant by 'we'll be a real family now'. He was including Sam Braun. You can suddenly picture the family Christmas card. Lily and Sam sitting in chairs. You and Catherine standing directly behind them, wondering if full blown smiles are appropriate. Lindsey and Paul off to the sides, one hand resting on Sam and Lily's chairs.

You suddenly want to vomit.

"So, you two set a date yet?" Sam asks, back to all-business-Braun. "I can definitely help with expenses. Nothing is too good for Muggs here."

"Date?" you repeat weakly.

"I was thinking spring," Sam continues. "Paul likes summer. California is too hot in the summer, but Massachusetts! That'd be a good time. What do you think?"

Fate. Can you really fight Sam on this? Can you?

You look at Catherine now and of all the things you thought you were gonna say, you didn't expect a slow smile to cross your face. She doesn't like that smile. You don't like it either, but it's there. She shakes her head at first, protests lightly, "Sara, no. No, Sara."

She then pauses, her eyes connecting with yours in a way they never had before. The level of understanding and the level of confusion never fused together so nicely, not like this. She now smiles at you. Uncertainly, she repeats your name, "Sara?"

You look at her, ask her the same question. "Catherine?"

She still seems uncertain, politely excusing you both and pulling you away from Sam and Paul. She's trying to protest, but words don't leave her mouth. You're still hoping you don't puke. Then one voice saves you from saying the words out loud.

"You know you're going to eventually."

Grissom? You forgot he was hovering close by, keeping watch. He innocuously sips at his wine, his eyes twinkle at the two of you and he passes along that trusting smile. He promises, "I'll handle Ecklie. You two, just enjoy the night."

Then he leaves you both somewhat stunned by his forwardness. You return your eyes to Catherine and the uncertainty that was once there is gone now. She turns back to Sam finally and smiles, "Spring. I like the spring."

"Glad you're finally on board, darling," Sam jokes.

Paul slides up next to you, wraps an arm around your shoulders. "See? Great party."

You hug him to you, promise through clenched teeth. "Don't think you're off the hook yet, buddy. This is far from over."

Paul grunts a little in your grip. "Sara. You're hugging too tight. . "

"Because I love you, Paul," you tell him, teeth still clenched. Smile stretched taut.

"Maybe I should get Sam to plan my funeral?" Paul suggests, trying to make light of the situation. He knows he's dead once this party is over.

"Maybe you should," you confirm.

There's a loud pop sound behind you. Greg has shaken up a bottle of champagne and it exploded, drenching both himself and Nick in the stuff. Nick doesn't look too happy about that, no surprise. Honestly, you wonder why it took so long for Greg to get totally wasted. Then the former lab techie raises a half empty glass, proposes a toast.

"To the hottest couple at the Las Vegas crime lab!" he proclaims. "If you ever consider a threesome, call me!"

The nearby crowds laugh. You add Greg to your list of people to kill before the night is over.

You hug Paul closer to you, very tightly. He starts to squirm, knowing he should probably start running away from you. Catherine joins you, wrapping her arm around Paul and sandwiching him between the two of you. Paul can tell this is far from a loving family embrace.

A flash goes off. A camera. This must be the local newspaper Greg was talking about. You can see the headline: Identity of Braun 's Daughter Confirmed; Gay Wedding in Cali To Follow. Then in a small caption below the picture: Brother of Sara Sidle found dead in ditch a day later.

Paul laughs nervously. "Great photo, right? A keeper. Please don't kill me. Would it help if I said I did it out of love?"

To this, both you and Catherine promptly answer, "No!"

Paul has finally decided this family hug is too much. He slips free and disappears into the dancing crowd, escaping. Maybe he's off to find Lisa. You know you could certainly use a little therapy right now.

Catherine hooks an arm in yours, muses aloud. "Paul is going to drive me crazy, isn't he?"

You half smile, see Paul hiding out by a punch bowl. You say, "Paul has been driving me crazy all my life, even when he wasn't in my life. The short answer? Hell yes, he'll drive you crazy. Send you straight to the looney bin."

"Well, at least we can share the same padded cell then," Catherine jokes, now pulling you to the dance floor. It's time to take Grissom's advice, you suppose. Enjoy the night.

For the first time since you arrived here, you laugh genuinely. You have a good time. You go easy on Paul and even act politely toward Sam. With the way things are now, you and Catherine will be sharing more than just a padded cell at some hole-in-the-wall mental facility.

You'll be sharing family, life, love.

In a way, you have to thank Paul for all of it.

The End