One Good Friend Deserves Another


Author's Note: Set in Season Two; spoilers for "Stalker".

Nick caught himself hesitating on the porch step and forced himself to keep going. One more step, key in the lock, open his own front door without hesitating--without wanting to circle his place and look for any signs of intrusion.

It had been weeks since Crane had been arrested, and practically every week since then someone told him how the case was sewn up tight, how there was no chance he wouldn't get sentenced, how even the medical evaluation that might keep him out of jail wouldn't keep him from being locked up.

Every reason in the world for Nick to relax, and he knew it. The first few weeks it had made sense: freaking out over every little noise when he was here alone, finding excuses to stay out instead of going home. But things were getting back to normal, and Nick knew he had nothing to be afraid of; he wasn't about to let himself start slipping into some paranoid mindset just because... . Just because someone might be in his home without his knowing.

Nick walked into the foyer, closing and securing the door behind him. There was just one extra lock there, a bolt that wouldn't do much more than slow someone down. But breaking in wasn't the problem, and Warrick had been the one to install the bolt anyhow. Nick had argued him down from a damn expensive alarm system until finally agreeing on the additional lock. The bolt didn't do much for his home security, not really, but it served to remind Nick of his friend's concern every single time he slid it closed.

Dropping his mail and newspaper on the table, Nick took in the room--a habitual sweep that he knew he should fight doing. Checking for any signs of disturbance wasn't exactly strange, he argued, and it was a habit any good cop found himself inflicted with regardless. The fact that Nick checked for the subtler things, like wires in the ceiling... well, it wasn't like it took him more than a few seconds, and Nick didn't think it counted as more than borderline obsessive.

It made him feel a hell of a lot better, and it helped to scan the walls and ceiling instead of seeing the floor and the rug that had been gone since they'd cleaned up the crime scene. He'd thought about asking his parents to send him a new one, but he couldn't quite figure out how to make that conversation go well.

He decided to just make a note to go shopping that weekend, find something to cover the spot. Something new, something for Nevada instead of Texas... . Or maybe he could just ask his mom to send something and hope she didn't ask what had happened to the old one.

Anyhow, he wasn't sure he really wanted a large green T on his floor.

Giving himself a slight shake, Nick headed for the kitchen. Dinner, then watching whatever DVD he'd grabbed last night. No more sports package, no more cable, and Nick knew that had been over-reacting, but cancelling his cable had been the first thing he'd done when he'd started getting his life back in order.

Maybe he'd get a satellite dish. Until then, the local Blockbuster would simply be getting a lot of his money, and he'd bury himself in old movies and highlight reels from past Super Bowls.

***

Nick peered into Grissom's office, not really surprised not to find the man there. He'd checked the labs first, but so far there was no sign of him.

"Hey, Nicky." He heard Warrick's voice behind him and turned.

"Hey, man, have you seen Grissom? I need him to sign off on these." He flipped the folder of reports in his hand.

"Nah, didn't you hear? He got called out to Pittsburgh. An old friend of his has this murder case--some bug that's gonna die out in 12 hours, and he wanted Grissom to do his thing so they could nail down their evidence. Guy killed three girls over the last two weeks, and apparently this bug is the only thing that can prove it was him."

"Man." Nick slowly shook his head.

"Tell me about it." Warrick nodded, his expression showing exactly what Nick was thinking. Sometimes it came down to the weirdest things. He nodded towards the folder in Nick's hand. "If those are urgent, Catherine's in her office; she has emergency Grissom-signing powers until he gets back."

"Emergency Grissom powers?" Nick found himself grinning.

"That's what Greg called it. Catherine says she refuses to keep bugs in her desk drawer, though. Not even gummi ones."

It took Nick a moment to process that comment. The idea of gummi bugs was pretty nasty to begin with--he'd seen too many real bugs that looked like parts were made with gelatin candy. Or maybe it was the way his older brother had snuck the things into his lunches all summer when he'd been six.

Nick blinked and pulled himself back to the reports in his hand. "They're not urgent," he said. "Just clearing out a bunch of old paperwork so I have room for all the current stuff."

Warrick grinned. "I hear that. Hey, if you get enough room, you're welcome to have some of my paperwork... ."

"Not a chance." Nick smacked Warrick's hand with the folder. "Get your own emergency Grissom signatures."

With a laugh, Warrick took a step aside and began to head down the hallway. Then he turned and looked back at Nick. "Hey, you up to grabbing a bite after work?"

It was on the tip of his tongue to accept, but Nick looked at the reports again. "I'd love to, but I'm kinda on a roll with this paperwork thing. If I stop now, who knows when I'll get it down." He gave his friend a rueful smile.

Warrick nodded and started to head off again, giving Nick one final glance. "My offer's still open. I've got tons of reports just waiting--" He stopped as he caught sight of Catherine, standing behind him. He grinned, and Nick laughed as Catherine gave him one of her better mother-glares.

"Good thing you're not really Grissom," Warrick said smoothly, and Catherine just smiled indulgently. Nick watched as he made a quick retreat down the hallway.

"Hey, Catherine, what's up?" he asked as she made her way over.

"Do those need to be signed?" She raised one eyebrow, but didn't sound like she was really looking forward to hearing him say yes.

"Nah, they can wait. Unless Grissom's gonna be tied up for a month--they don't need to be turned in until the first."

"Really?" He got a singe of the mother-glare himself, as she looked at him in disbelief. "Old paperwork that doesn't need to be filed right away... or even a week ago?"

"It's not really that old," Nick admitted, lowering his voice. "I just didn't want Warrick to give me his reports, which he'd do if he knew I was filing stuff from last week's cases."

"Ah." Catherine nodded, then smiled in approval. "Tricky. Hey, Nick, can you do me a favour?"

"Sure, Catherine, what's up?"

"Grissom said he was expecting a package at his place this morning. He got called out in a hurry and asked me to ask if you'd go pick it up. It's being hand-delivered or something; he said he'd call whoever was delivering it to know to expect you rather than him."

"I can do that." Nick nodded. "What sort of package is it?"

"I don't know." She shrugged. "He said, and I quote, ‘It'll be there at 10:00 a.m., and everything you need will be in the kitchen.' Well, he said a few other things about Ecklie and getting a flight to Pittsburgh, but I don't think you need to hear all of that."

Nick chuckled. "No, I guess not. Well, if I'm going to meet this delivery person, I'd better get a move on. You have--" He stopped as Catherine held up a key--the one to Grissom's door, which would let him get to whatever it was in the kitchen he'd need. "Thanks." He took it from her, and, as he slipped it into his pocket, a horrible thought occurred to him. "Catherine, is this package going to involve six legs, an exoskeleton, or strange chittering noises?"

He wasn't reassured when all Catherine did was smile and shrug, then walk away without answering.

"Great," he muttered. Maybe it wasn't too late to catch Warrick and offer a trade. Paperwork for Grissom's mysterious delivery.

***

He made it to Grissom's place by 9:45. He'd meant to be earlier, in case the delivery person was running ahead of schedule, but traffic, the reports he'd managed to get signed anyway and a host of other tiny things had all seemed to conspire against him.

Nick let himself in and noticed only after he was shutting the door behind him what he was doing. He'd frozen for a second on the porch; then, as soon as he'd walked in, he'd begun casing the place. The unfamiliar room had tripped him up and made him realise what he was doing; Nick gave himself a mental shake and forced himself to walk into the living room without looking for spyware.

Chances were that Grissom wasn't being stalked, he told himself, trying to make it sound like a joke. It fell flat even silent in his head, and Nick reluctantly began to look around. He'd only been inside Grissom's place a couple of times before, and he was genuinely interested in seeing what sort of things his boss had. As Nick moved towards the first bookcase, he told himself he was browsing a friend's books--not looking for signs.

It's impossible, he told himself. Nigel Crane was locked up, and even if someone were following Nick, there was no way he'd have any idea that Nick would be here, now. It was stupid, and Nick knew it, but he found himself glancing up, anyhow, checking out the ceiling.

The knock on the front door startled him, and it took him a second to calm down and remember he was expecting someone. Nick hurried to the door and opened it to find a young woman smiling at him. She was wearing a brown uniform shirt with the name Wilson embroidered on a patch, above a company logo that said "Brightside Breeders".

Nick felt his stomach drop just a little. He hoped whatever bugs Grissom was getting weren't going to be too creepy. Or numerous.

"I'm Nancy Wilson," she said, holding out her hand.

"Nick Stokes." Nick took her hand, belatedly. He hadn't had a chance to look in the kitchen--what if Grissom needed him to hand feed the things? "I, uh, was told you were expecting me instead of Grissom?"

"That's right." Nancy smiled and nodded. "He called and left a message; described you pretty well." She flicked her gaze down, then up again, still smiling.

Nick coughed and gave her what he hoped was a friendly, and not too awkward, grin.

Nancy seemed amused, and Nick caught a glimpse of her hand--a ring, definitely married--and suddenly the tension seemed to vanish. Friendly flirting he could handle. A genuine come-on from a lady who handled bugs was something else entirely. "I've got him out in the van," Nancy said. "I wanted to make sure you were here before bringing him up. I'll go get the crate."

"Let me help," Nick found himself saying, heading out after her without even thinking about what he was doing. He'd been raised too well, he supposed, to let a lady carry something--even a creepy bug something--when he was right there and able to help. Nancy led him around to the back of her van, and Nick wanted nervously as she unlocked the doors and swung the right one open.

When Nick caught sight of the crate, he couldn't believe it.

He leaned over and reached his fingers to the door, and the puppy inside immediately began licking them. "Hey, you," he said to the dog, stunned, a little surprised, and intensely relieved.

"His name is Chester," Nancy said. "Of course, Mr. Grissom can re-name him, but that's his puppy name." She bent down to coo at the puppy, and Chester seemed extremely delighted with the attention.

"Is he a pure-bred Golden Retriever?" His coat was blonde, thick puppy fuzz.

"That's right," Nancy replied, nodding. "His sire's sire is Maxwell Davis of Riverton Farms... if you know anything about the local dogs."

"Not really," Nick admitted. "But I had Golden Retrievers as a kid; well, and mutts, but my dad always liked retrievers. I think it's probably my fault Grissom got one; he was asking me what kind of breed I'd recommend, and I'm afraid I kind of went on and on about a couple of our dogs back home."

He hadn't realised that Grissom had been serious about getting a dog; Nick had thought it more of information gathering. Nick would have guessed Grissom for a smaller breed, but maybe the high-energy levels of small dogs had put him off. Retrievers were pretty energetic themselves, but they were friendly and smart, and maybe that was what had sold Grissom on the breed.

It still surprised him that Grissom had actually gotten himself a dog. Nick had his fingers on the door's catch, then paused. "Can I... ?"

"Oh, sure. He isn't quite used to a leash, yet," she added, as she picked up one and held it ready. Nick opened the crate door and got his hand on the puppy, holding him more or less in place as she hooked the strap to his collar. Nick accepted the lead from her, but picked the puppy up in his arms. He instantly had a face full of puppy tongue, and Nick laughed.

"So do I need to sign anything, or... have you been paid?"

Nancy nodded as they headed back up to Grissom's place. "Everything's been taken care of. Mr. Grissom has all his papers, and we were paid in full a month ago. All you have to do is take Chester... and try to keep him from destroying all of your shoes."

As they got inside, Nick shut the door, and he took off the leash, handing it back to Nancy. He kept Chester in his arms, not sure if Grissom's place was puppy-proof yet.

"I find it's easier to just buy new shoes every so often." As Chester kept licking his face, he added, "Like every week or so."

With a laugh, Nancy said, "It sounds like you have things well under control. Do you have any other questions?"

Nick shook his head. "I think we're good. Thank you." He shifted Chester to one arm, and held out his hand. Nancy shook it, then gave the puppy a head rub and a kiss before leaving.

Nick locked the door behind her, and there was a spot on his chin that was beginning to feel a bit raw from all the licking. Nick laughed and gave Chester a look. "Man, I am so glad you're not a bug."

****

The kitchen did, indeed, have most of what Chester needed. There were puppy food, bowls, a leash and a few toys. There was no bed; Nick didn't know whether that meant Grissom was going to let Chester sleep with him, or if it just meant he hadn't thought he'd need one. Two of the toys had squeakers, and Nick took that as a sign that Grissom really hadn't ever had a dog before. Grissom didn't strike him as the type to be able to ignore the incessant squeaking while a puppy chewed; Nick set those two toys on the kitchen counter, out of reach.

Then he looked around again and started seeing all the things that had been left on the floor or within easy reach. "Definitely not puppy-proof," Nick said to himself, and he shook his head. "Well, Grissom isn't due back until tomorrow anyhow," he told Chester, who had given up licking Nick's face for the moment in favour of chewing on Nick's sleeve. Nick grinned. "My place isn't puppy proof either, but I'd rather let you destroy my stuff than Grissom's. Once he gets home, he can decide what to do with you."

Chester seemed perfectly okay with that--or maybe he just liked the taste of Nick's shirt. Either way, he yipped happily as Nick took him out to the truck and shut him inside. He whined as Nick ran back in to grab the puppy food and everything else, then yipped excitedly when he re-appeared.

After loading Chester's things in his truck, Nick made sure all of his Forensics gear was as secure as he could possibly make it before putting the pup in the back. Then he listened as Chester barked at every moving object along the entire drive to Nick's place.

****

Chester got shut in the bathroom for an hour while Nick scrambled through his apartment, getting everything valuable put away. He knew he wasn't going to keep the dog from destroying anything at all, but the books and the expensive boots and the afghan his grandmother had made all got put out of reach. Chester whined and scratched the door the entire time, and Nick knew that ‘re-paint the bathroom door' would be on his weekend's list of projects.

He didn't really mind, though, because as soon as he opened the door, Chester bounced out, landed on Nick's foot, and the rest of the morning was pretty much lost to playing with Grissom's dog.

Nick finally wore them both out, and he started getting ready for bed. Chester followed, getting underfoot and tipping himself over more than once. Nick grabbed an old towel and arranged it on the floor near the head of the bed.

"I don't know where Grissom is gonna have you sleep, buddy, so I don't want you to get used to sleeping in the bed. I don't care if it's only for one night, I'm not teaching Grissom's dog any habits he's gonna just have to break." Nick paused. "Don't look at me like that . You lay down and go to sleep, and I'm gonna do the same, and when you wake me up every couple of hours to go wreck something, we'll repeat this conversation."

Chester gave a yip, and Nick lay down. He heard the puppy moving around on the towel, the sound of something rustling back and forth--the stuffed bear Nick had let Chester play with, since it didn't have a squeaker in it. The bear would be absolutely shredded soon, Nick knew, and he reminded himself to tell Grissom to buy some sturdier toys for the puppy's growing teeth.

When Chester finally settled down, Nick breathed a sigh and fell asleep.

***

That night Nick got to work only to find that Grissom wouldn't be back until the following Wednesday. Catherine caught Nick on his way to the locker room, giving him the news and asking, with a mischievous glint in her eye, about the mystery package.

With a straight face, Nick managed to tell her about the teeth and the high-pitched noises, and the mess left absolutely everywhere--before taking pity on her and explaining that the package had been a puppy.

Catherine had blinked at him, looking as taken aback as Nick himself had felt. After a moment, though, all she asked was, "Will you be all right looking after it until Grissom gets back?" She didn't sound enthusiastic, no doubt thinking she might have to offer to take the puppy herself.

Nick gave her a smile. "Not a problem. I've had dogs all my life; I can handle one rambunctious puppy for a week. You just have to keep them worn out and distracted so they don't destroy too much."

"Sounds like a toddler," Catherine said thoughtfully.

"Funny, that's what my mom always said." Nick winked.

"Toddlers grow up at least."

"That's why I like dogs," Nick said, and she laughed.

Nick found himself in a good mood the rest of the night--no doubt helped by a lack of new, urgent cases shoving everything else on the back-burner. He spent most of his shift in the lab, going over evidence collected the previous two nights. By the time morning rolled around, he was tired and looking forward to going home.

When he opened his front door, he was pleased to see that the furniture was still intact, none of the bookcases or tables had been over-turned, and that Chester himself was happily playing with Nick's cowboy boot.

"So much for hiding the expensive stuff," Nick said with a sigh. He dumped his backpack on the table as Chester ran over. Nick went down to his knees and caught him, playing with him for several minutes before finally letting him go.

"You wanna show me what you did all night while I was gone?" Nick asked, keeping his voice pitched excitedly. The pup responded by jumping up and barking, and he followed Nick to the kitchen without tripping either of them more than once.

As Nick checked the water and food bowls, he suddenly froze. Chester leaped forward and began licking Nick's hand, and Nick absently petted him. He hadn't looked around when he'd got home. Hadn't searched for Nigel at all. He stood where he was for a full five seconds--then he hurried into the living room and began looking.

Nothing, as expected. As he walked back into the kitchen, checking the walls and ceiling, Chester jumped on Nick's foot. Nick crouched down to pet him, glancing around for a moment before looking at Chester.

"I'm being stupid, aren't I?" he asked in a low voice, rubbing the puppy's head.

Chester just lunged up and began licking his face.

***

Tuesday night, Nick stood in the entryway of his home, looking as sternly as he could at the puppy. Chester hardly noticed, wagging his tail so hard that his entire body was swaying.

"I mean it," Nick said again, and he knew he might as well be speaking Chinese. "I put those magazines out of reach for a reason. I'm going to have to buy all those issues again, and it's coming out of your allowance." He bent down and gave Chester's head a pat. He stayed there, petting him and not trying to push the dog away as he began chewing on the strap of Nick's backpack.

Nick just held him for a long moment, petting him and trying not to think about going in to work. Grissom would be back in the morning, and Chester would be heading home. Nick had left all of the dog toys scattered about, figuring tomorrow would be plenty of time to gather it all up. Not that it would stop Chester from finding something else to play with--the bungee cord ties holding the kitchen cabinets closed were working so far, but Nick knew it was only a matter of time.

Time they didn't need, since the puppy wasn't staying. Nick told himself to offer the bungee cords to Grissom, along with the advice about sturdy toys and a stronger leash.

Nick gave Chester's head a kiss and rubbed his ears. "Don't bother being good tonight, Chester. I'll be back in about nine hours, which is ten years dog-time. The radio's on to keep you company, and please don't tell me if Grissom makes you listen to classic music, or jazz or something." Nick paused and pressed his face against Chester's. "You'll be fine."

It was hard to stand up, harder still to walk to the front door and let himself out. He could hear Chester begin to whine on the other side of the door, and he forced himself to walk to his truck.

All week Nick had slept fitfully, waking every time Chester had gotten up. He'd finally given in two nights previously, letting the puppy up on the bed, and the two of them had slept the rest of the day through like logs. Every morning when he'd come home, Nick had let Chester out to do his thing, then checked his food and water and looked for whatever Chester had destroyed that night--all before getting around to checking his ceilings and walls.

Chester accompanied him when he did, and Nick had started to feel not quite so self-conscious about it. He still knew it was absurd and unnecessary--and it wasn't like the excitable puppy was all that great a watchdog. But he never minded Nick's routine, walking from room to room staring at the nooks and crannies and listening to Nick talk about all the ways a person could disguise a tiny camera.

As he headed for work that night, Nick knew what he should do. He ought to get himself a dog, a retriever like Chester. He could even call up Nancy and see if one of Chester's siblings was available, or get on the list for the next litter.

He could probably head over to Grissom's and visit--and even as he thought it, Nick knew it was a little silly. He'd hardly ever gone to Grissom's place as it was. Going over to play with Grissom's dog... .

Then again, maybe Grissom wouldn't mind. Nick could offer to take Chester to the park and play with him; he could point out how much exercise retrievers needed to stay healthy, and maybe Grissom would appreciate it.

When Nick pulled into the parking lot, he saw Grissom's truck already there. Nick sat in his own truck, clenching the steering wheel and staring at it. Finally, he made himself get out of the vehicle and go inside.

It was stupid, he told himself. Chester was just one dog, and it had only been one week. Less, really, and Nick headed for Grissom's office straight away, and told himself Chester had never really been his after all.

Grissom was sitting behind his desk when Nick stepped into his office; it took a moment before Grissom looked up. "Oh, hey, Nicky. I have that report on the Parsons case. Catherine said you were just about ready to wrap it up."

"Yeah." Nick nodded. "I just need to finish up a couple little things, but we're good to go. We have all the evidence we should need to get the guy put away." He paused, then asked, "How about you? Did your bug do its thing?"

Grissom smiled, that short, half-smile that Nick felt was always saying more than he could read. "Yes, in fact," Grissom said. "The bug did its thing. They arrested Mr. Matthews yesterday, which is why I took an earlier flight back."

Nick nodded again, and opened his mouth--nothing came out, so he swallowed and tried again. "Chester's... a really great dog."

Grissom's smile widened, then, with a pleased expression that made Nick feel somewhat better about giving Chester back. Obviously Grissom was looking forward to owning a dog, and Nick couldn't justify saying what he found himself thinking. Get another one.

"Brightside Breeders came highly recommended," Grissom said. "I asked around for the best Golden Retrievers; it was really a coincidence that Brightside turned out to be local."

Nick nodded. "Nancy seemed really nice. The lady who dropped Chester off," he amended, not sure if Grissom had actually met her or dealt with someone else.

"Yes, she was. Knows a lot about dogs, but didn't seem all that interested in beetles." Grissom shrugged, as though while inexplicable, it didn't really bother him.

Nick laughed. "Yeah. Man, I tell you, I was half-expecting... ." He shook his head, and didn't explain when Grissom gave him a curious look. He swallowed again and said quietly, "So you wanna come by after work and pick him up?"

He shouldn't have felt that reluctant, Nick knew. Just a few days and... yeah, but he was. He knew he was, and he knew it was partly because for the first time in months he felt safe at home. Still paranoid, still checking things he didn't need to be checking, but he slept, and he hadn't had any nightmares in a week, and every morning after work he'd actually looked forward to going home.

Grissom was looking confused, then suddenly he shook his head, a soft, almost sad-looking smile on his face. "Nick... I got Chester for you."

Blinking in astonishment, Nick stared at him. "You what?"

"Gil! There you are!" Catherine burst into the office just as Grissom's pager went off; Nick found himself stepping aside as Catherine began briefing Grissom on something--a homicide, from the sound of it, and the sheriff shouting about something that made Nick glad he wasn't being hauled in along with them.

As they disappeared down the hallway, he saw Grissom glance back. There was a quirked eyebrow and a brief, querying look.

Nick found himself smiling, and he mouthed the words, "Thank you."

Then Grissom was gone, and Nick had work in the lab to take care of, and when he got home he and Chester were going out to the pet store to buy a couple of hard rubber squeaky toys.

The End