This is it, guys! It's been fun!
I want to thank MaybeBaby27 for tossing around ideas for this chapter with me. I used what you suggested- you're awesome, twin!
I also have to acknowledge a very cute story by jannikajade, called "And so I fall." It's the first Paul-centric fic I read (possibly the only other one out there!?), and I drew a little bit of the inspiration for this from it.
And to all the readers/reviewers who stuck around and went on this lovely trip into Paul's life with me: thank you! You're amazing.
And one more - Kinvalar, for being generally all-around wonderful (and for the beta).
Disclaimer: I own…well, nothing in this chapter.
Life with Paul: The Locked Door
Paul met Sam and Emily in his office before school, to go over final details. If everything went according to plan, Derek and Casey would be together by lunchtime.
Sam went off in the direction of Derek's locker; Emily went toward Casey's. And Paul sat at his desk, stomach in knots. He glanced at the clock. He had fifteen minutes before he needed to be walking by Casey's locker.
When it was time to head into the hall, he took a deep breath, and said a quick prayer that he wouldn't get fired over this. Though there was no way anyone could trace what was about to happen back to him.
He strolled down the hall, pretending to be checking out the posters on the walls. Emily and Casey came into view, standing by her locker.
"So, Sheldon came over for dinner last night," Emily was saying. "You know how much my family loves him, but my dad always—"
She was cut off by an ear-piercing shriek from Casey as she opened her locker. Smoke was pouring out of it, along with a particularly foul stench. The other occupants of the hall screeched and backed away, as Casey tried to clear the smoke by waving her arms.
Paul ducked around the nearest corner, but stuck his head around the side of it so he could still see the action.
Emily cried, "I can't believe Derek did this!" and winked in Paul's direction.
"I'm gonna kill him!" Casey screamed. "I mean it! Derek is dead!"
Paul glanced back at Emily, who was trying to murmur sympathies at Casey, while also watching the hallway.
Paul saw Principal Lassiter coming down the hall, and quickly pulled him aside.
"Bob, wait!" Paul said, but then realized he hadn't come up with an excuse to stop him.
"What is it, Paul? I heard screaming."
"Uh…it's just a little science experiment gone wrong. I'm about to go handle it. Go back to your office and relax," Paul said, a little too quickly.
Principal Lassiter gave him a doubtful look. "I guess I will. Go make sure everyone's all right." He headed back in the direction he had come, and Paul put his head in his hands.
"Too close," he muttered, and headed into the hall just in time to see Derek march up to Casey's smoking locker.
"What the hell is this, Casey?" he asked, face white with rage as he thrust a stack of papers at her.
"How should I know? You tell me why you put a stink bomb in my locker!" Casey pushed the papers back at him, and Derek dropped them to the floor.
"I didn't!" Derek cried, and pointed to the papers. "Is this your idea of a joke? Putting dozens of escort service ads in my locker? I got showered with them when I opened the door!"
"Yeah, well, I got showered with all this smoke! I think that's worse! This prank is low, even for you!"
"I DIDN'T DO IT!" Derek bellowed, and Casey blinked, undeterred.
"Yeah, I believe that! You're a jerk!"
"Yeah, well you're a brat!"
Everyone one else in the hallway had backed up against the opposite wall, and were watching the shouting match with interest. Sam and Emily glanced at Paul, and he gave them a thumbs-up. All that pent up frustration with each other, coupled with a lack of communication for several days, was bringing the argument to a full boil; they were back in bickering mode. They needed to get this out, though, so that they could begin to be rational once Phase Two commenced.
Paul had a feeling they were about to start wrestling any second, so he took that as his cue to step in.
"Hey, Derek, Casey, knock it off!" Paul cried, rushing towards them and placing his hands on each of their shoulders.
They looked up at him angrily, and Derek said, "Back off, Paul!"
"I will not. You two are causing a disturbance. It's lucky I got here before Principal Lassiter did. My office, now." He gripped their shoulders tighter, and Casey reluctantly backed up.
"Sorry, Paul." She looked at the floor, but he saw her steal a glare at Derek, who merely shrugged, looking anywhere but at her.
"Let's go. Now!" Paul said, putting on his sternest voice.
He marched back towards his office, and Casey and Derek followed. He tried his best not to look back at them, but he could hear them both grumbling quietly.
They finally reached the door, and Paul held it open for them. "After you," he said, and watched as they shuffled into the office, sitting in the two chairs furthest away from each other. Paul stood in the doorway, watching them both fold their arms across their chests.
"What happened, you guys? Things were going so well between you two!" He suppressed a smile.
Casey spoke up. "Ask Derek. He's the one who put a stink bomb in my locker!"
"I told you, that wasn't me. You flooded my locker with—"
"I didn't do that! Why would I do something like that?"
"Wait, Sam told you it was me?"
"Did Emily say the stink bomb was my fault?"
"Okay, enough." Paul held up his hands when he realized they were getting into dangerous territory. "I think you two need to talk this out. I'll be right back; I forgot something." He closed the door as he stepped into the hallway, ignoring their protests. Quickly pulling his keys from his pocket, he locked the door. Then he locked the padlock he had paid the janitor to install that morning.
He could tell that Casey and Derek heard the click, because they both rushed over to the door and tried to unlock it. He could hear them wiggling the handle, but it just wouldn't budge.
"He must have rigged it so it can't be unlocked from the inside!"
"Why would he do that?!" Casey's shrill voice came through the thick door loud and clear, and Paul leaned against the wall, chuckling quietly.
"I think Paul's a little too sneaky for his own good," Derek was saying.
"It's not just Paul. Sam and Emily—"
Paul didn't hear the rest of Casey's words, because Sam and Emily themselves came up to the office.
"Casey's locker is all cleaned up," Emily whispered. "Can you hear what's going on?"
Paul nodded. "They're still talking pretty loudly."
Sam put an ear to the door, careful not to make a sound.
"So you think the whole dance thing was a setup?" Casey was asking.
"Of course. Hasn't Paul been badgering you about me?"
"Yeah…has he been badgering you?"
There was a long pause. "Yes."
"So you have been seeing Paul!" Casey shrieked.
Paul whispered to Sam and Emily, "I hate to miss this, but I have to go give their absence notes to the attendance office. I'll be right back."
When he returned, it was harder to hear their conversation. They could make out snatches of it, but it wasn't really enough to tell whether they were still fighting. At least they were talking quietly to each other now.
Sam and Emily had to leave for class, so Paul sent them away reluctantly. He tried to stand close enough to the door to listen, but not so close as to attract attention from passersby.
Principal Lassiter walked by again and looked at Paul like he was crazy.
"Just stretching my legs," Paul offered, pacing a bit in front of the door, and Principal Lassiter went on his way, shaking his head.
Sam came back during his study period. They had been inside the office for over an hour.
"How long are we going to leave them in there?" Sam whispered.
Paul shrugged. "I hadn't thought that far ahead. I'm actually surprised they haven't been screaming for help yet. They know I'm the one that locked them in."
"Hmm." Sam pressed an ear to the door for a few moments. When he backed away, he said, "I just hear them talking quietly, but I can't make out words. I wish you had a better window so we could see them."
"Are you kidding? It's better that we can't see them. I want them to work things out on their own, without feeling like I'm hovering."
"But you are hovering!" Sam smiled.
"Technically," Paul replied, and they both pressed their ears to the door again.
Suddenly, there were no more sounds coming from the office. Sam and Paul exchanged confused glances, and quickly pressed their faces to the window, trying to see through the fogged glass.
"I can see a dark shape, but that's about it," Sam complained.
Paul put a hand to the padlock. "Should we…?"
Sam looked from the window to the lock and back. "Let's do it!"
Paul quickly unlocked both locks, and threw open the door.
Derek and Casey were squished into one chair, engaged in a serious liplock.
Sam and Paul high-fived and shouted "Yessss!" in unison.
Derek and Casey broke apart, and both blushed furiously when they saw who had barged in. They quickly disentangled themselves and stood up.
Paul and Sam started doing an improvised victory dance as Casey and Derek stood uncomfortably in the middle of the room.
They finally stopped and turned to the happy couple. "So this is for real, huh? You two worked everything out?" Sam asked eagerly.
Derek smiled and took Casey's hand. She looked at the floor, but Paul could see that she was smiling, too.
"We were going to get extremely angry at you guys, but once we realized that you really were going to keep us in here, we got to talking—"
"Because making out is totally the same thing as talking," Sam cut in wryly.
"—and we decided that you were only trying to help, and for that we have to thank you," Casey finished, ignoring Sam's comment.
Paul looked at both of them anxiously. "So you're really going to give this relationship a try?"
Casey nodded. "Neither of us was very happy pretending to hate each other, and since it seems like our friends," she gave Sam a dirty look, "weren't taking no for an answer, we figured we have nothing to lose."
"Good for you," Paul agreed. "Listen, if you'd like, I'd be happy to set up a meeting between you and your parents."
Derek paled at that. "They weren't in on this plot thing, too, were they?" He asked nervously.
"No, no. But I think they'd be interested to know about such a big…event in their children's lives, don't you?"
"Yeah…" Derek looked at Casey. "That's one thing we didn't quite get a chance to discuss."
Paul cut in, "Well, you can spend the rest of the day deciding how you're going to tell them. I told the attendance office you wouldn't be in today."
Casey's mouth dropped open. "Paul! That is completely irresponsible!" She put her hands on her hips. "I can't miss the whole day!"
"Why not? You've already missed two classes, what's a few more?" He smirked. "Trust me, it's okay. Go have some fun. But I expect you both in my office at your regular times tomorrow."
Derek nodded. "Yes, sir." Casey still looked a little panicked, but she nodded.
Sam, who had been waiting patiently, spoke up, "Hey, D, let's go out to the parking lot while Paul talks to Casey for a second."
Derek shrugged. "Sure."
Casey gave Derek a hug, which he happily returned. He winked at Paul over Casey's shoulder, and Paul returned the gesture.
They pulled apart, and Derek came over to shake Paul's hand. "Thanks, Tomato Boy," he said, and Paul rolled his eyes, but he was smiling.
The boys headed out of the office, leaving Paul and Casey alone.
"So," Paul began, beaming, "How are you? You okay?"
Casey answered, "Never been better, actually."
"Good. I just wanted to make sure things were squared away with Noel—"
"Don't worry, I talked to him. We're going to try to keep being friends. I told him how I feel about Derek."
"And how do you feel about Derek?" Paul teased.
Casey threw her arms outwards and did a dramatic spin. "I love him!" she yelled, as she twirled around.
Paul watched her twirl gleefully; he had never seen her look so happy since he'd known her. She just looked so…peaceful. Derek was going to be good for her, he could tell.
"Well don't keep him waiting!" Paul told her, and she stopped twirling.
"You're right. Thank you so much, Paul!" She ran over to give him a quick hug. "What would I do without you?!"
Paul hugged her back, and laughed. "You'd still complain about Derek, I'm sure."
"Oh, don't think the complaints are going to stop. If anything, they're going to get worse!"
"Can't wait," Paul replied. "Now get out there and enjoy your day off."
She practically bounced out of the office, smiling the whole way. He leaned against the doorframe and watched her leave. He half expected her to kick up her heels and skip down the hall.
But the gigantic smile on her face as she turned around to look at him was enough.