"See ya Doc, Malone," he said with a nod. Bailey said his goodbye, and followed Marti out the door. Nick closed it and let out a sigh. He looked around. Outside of the message (which he couldn't believe they had missed upon their entrance), the place seemed relatively normal. He'd be able to whisk her out of here without too much trouble. Looking around the kitchen, he found the bag of dog food, grabbing the sealed one, and headed back to the bedroom. He knocked. "Hey Darlin', it's just me now. Safe t' come in? I won't get trampled will I?"

Steffani looked at her reflection in the mirror as she held up the halter dress against herself. "Ummm.. Hold on, cowboy." Steffani called and stuffed the dress into one of the bags and zipped it up. Catching her breath she walked over to the door and opened it. "Maybe." She told him.

He raised a brow at her. "Maybe I'm not me? Maybe I won't be trampled? Or maybe it's not safe t' come in?" He added with a smirk.

Grabbing his tie, Steffani yanked him in gently. "That answer your question?"

"I didn't ask if I was gonna be *strangled*..." He said with a grin, walking into her room, seriously not wanting the tie to tighten up anymore.

"Why'd you wear it then?" Steffani asked watching her dogs head towards the door. "They gone?" She asked knowing they were going to go look for Aries.

"'Cause that's usually what ya wear with a suit," he said with a wink before nodding. "Yeah. Ya just got me now."

Steffani nodded. "Good." She muttered. "I mean, I just don't want, er... All those guys tramplin'. Ya get it?" Steffani stated her accent coming out.

"Yeah, I get it." Nick held up the bag that was still in his hand since he hadn't had time to put it down yet without getting his tie tightened. "Found the dog food for ya, by the way."

"Thanks." Steffani stated as the two dogs went out into the living room following the scents of Bailey, Marti and Liv. "So how long you off for?"

"As long as ya need me for, apparently. Although, Marti seems t' think ya won't share anything with a computer geek," he added with an ironic smirk. "Then again, I wasn't supposed t' hear that remark so, shhhh."

Steffani scrunched up her nose at the mention of Marti. "Blondie doesn't know diddly anyway." She told Nick. "I could go hit her. Pent-up anger."

He shook his head. "Knew I shouldn't have said anything. And pent-up anger? I'll let ya loose on my weights when we get t' my place. Deal?"

"Deal." Steffani replied after a minute. Hugging Nick, Steffani closed her eyes. "What would I do without you cowboy?" She asked softly resting her head on his shoulder.

Dropping the bag beside them, he wrapped his arms around her waist. "I dunno. But why think 'bout it? I'm here after all."

Steffani smiled. "Too true." She replied, kissing him on the neck softly. "It's gotta be a force of habit."

"How do ya mean?" He asked.

"Well let's just say this isn't big in undercover work. Never show fear, emotion or need." She recited from heart.

He rubbed her back gently. "Well, I'm glad yer ignorin' that for now. Might've been useful then... I don't think it'd help ya now."

"You'd be surprised what can be used when undercover." She replied with a soft smile. "Psstt, wanna know a secret?"

He smirked. "Are you goiní tí have tí kill me after?"

"Only if you tell."

"I won't. Promise."

"That tickles." Steffani whispered to him with a smile.

He blinked. "What does?"

Rolling her shoulders, Steffani knocked Nick's hand off her back. "That."

"Oh. Sorry." His hand retreated to her lower back. "You must be a bundle of laughter when someone gives ya a massage then," he said with a smile.

"Har-har." Steffani stated. "Tis to laugh."

"Besides, I never had ya down as someone that was ticklish..." He added as an afterthought.

"I am." Steffani told him. "And not many people know about it, so try not to spill it okay?"

"Ahhh, hence the need for secrecy earlier. Okay, I won't spill." He ran his pointer finger up her spine, unable to resist.

Shuddering, Steffani smiled. "Stop." She told him attempting not to laugh.

"Stop what?" He asked softly, intentionally letting his breath hit the bare skin of her neck when he turned his head to look over at her.

"Nothing." She told him softly, before leaning in and kissing Nick.

He kissed her back, giving as much as taking, letting his hand fall to her side.

Kissing Nick a little longer, Steffani pulled back. "Sorry." She apologized, knowing that probably in her present state it wasn't the best time to be kissing Nick.

He smiled softly. "I understand. Can't seem t' get our timin' right, can we?" He asked rhetorically, then cleared his throat, loosing his tie again since she had tightened it earlier.

"No." Steffani replied looking at Nick. "It was me." She told him as she noticed how close they still were. Wanting to take a back step, Steffani couldn't move and actually wanted to kiss him again. That's wrong. No taking out grief in a make out session, she thought. But he's such a good kisser. Her devil side added in. Just kiss him again, it whispered in her ear. Lowering her eyes Steffani stood a loss for words.

A beat as he took in her composure. "Ya set with yer stuff, or we missin' somethin'?" He asked, diverting her yet again.

Shaking her head, Steffani came out of her mental argument. "Yeah. Ready to roll." She muttered.

"Great. Ya got leashes for those two so they don't barrel down the hallway once our arms are full of luggage?" He said with a grin.

"Right, leashes." Steffani replied. "Dog room." She informed him returning the grin but not moving yet.

He smiled down at her, noticing her lack of movement. "Gonna tell me where, or have me tear apart the room tryin' t' find 'em?"

Steffani smiled. "I'll get em." She told him with a little laugh. "Mind getting the bags?" She asked.

"No problem." He moved out of the way to allow her to pass.

Forcing her feet to move, Steffani walked slowly back into the dog room and bent down in front of their crate of stuff. Picking up the red leash, Steffani held Aries leash for a few minutes trying not to cry again.

Grabbing the bags they had packed, he moved out into the hallway, stopping at the doorway. "Hey, ya ready t' ---" His voice trailed off. 'Dammit, you should've known better Nick!' He scolded himself, putting the bags down in the hallway and entered the room, walking to her side.

"He was my first dog." Steffani told him. "Ben got Aries for me after Dre died." She sniffed fighting back the tears.

Nick sank down to his knees, remaining at her side, not knowingly what to say yet hoping she'd continue anyway.

"He said maybe he'd protect me from the horrors to come after Dre." She told Nick glancing over at him. "He did. I'd look at that face and he'd make it go away." She closed her eyes and let the tears fall. "And when he died he probably wondered what he did wrong... why I didn't protect him."

Nick was saddened at the thought. "Oh, god Steff... don't blame yourself. Ya couldn't have... he wouldn't have wanted ya to... He... Pets don't ever consider us as protecting them... they're too busy protecting us. Especially dogs."

Steffani looked at Nick. "But I need him." She cried. "I need him here... now."

He took her hand, holding it tight. "I know... I know..." Nick said, trying to stay strong for her. "It still hurts... it will hurt for a while... but you have to remember the good stuff."

"The good stuff?" She whispered. "That's what hurts the most." She replied. "The damn good stuff!" She shouted as best as she could at him.

"You don't think I know it? But *trust* me on this Steff, good memories, even if they're painful right now, is better than no memories at all. That's what'll keep 'im alive for ya."

Breaking down, Steffani bent forward and cried in pain as she rested her head on Nick's knee.

He pulled her up easily, resting her head on his shoulder as he held her close, letting her cry. "It's okay... it'll be allright. I'm here... go ahead and cry Darlin'."

Crying, Steffani clung tightly to Nick. Finally, after a few minutes of sobs and dry heaving for air, Steffani slowly fell quiet but kept her head rested on Nick's shoulder, her cheeks reddened from her tears. "It's not fair." She stated hoarsely.

"No, it isn't fair. But life isn't gonna be fair Darlin'... As much as it hurts me t' say that, it's true."

"I know." Steffani got out slowly. "But-" She stopped from continuing the conversation as she buried her head in the nape of Nick's neck.

He rested his forehead on her shoulder, letting her continue at her own pace.

Pulling away, Steffani wiped the tears from her face. "We should go." She stated quickly changing the subject.

He almost fell forward onto her lap by the sudden movement away from him. Gathering his wits about him, he spoke. "When you're ready."

"I'm fine." Steffani lied even giving Nick a smile to attempt to prove it.

"You're fine... Well, I won't argue with that, but are you going to need a semi-sarcastic reminder that I'm George Washington? Or are ya sure yer ready t' go?"

Glaring as coldly as possible at Nick, Steffani grabbed the other two leashes before tossing Aries' back in the crate and stood up. "That answer the question?" She shot at him.

He sighed. "Okay, that came out wrong. And yeah, it does but..." He shook his head, resting his hand on the floor before pushing himself up. "I'll shut up now," he stated simply.

"Might be wise." Steffani agreed with a half smile.

He zipped his mouth and handed her the 'key', and although his face was serious, there was a twinkle in his eyes. He moved back to the hallway and lifted up the bags again.

Smiling, Steffani raised an eyebrow slightly. Turning, she headed slowly down the hall. "Zeus... Apollo. Where you fur faces at?" She called to them and watched as the two dogs came whimpering down the hall from the living room.

He followed her down the hall, his face falling in sympathy to the two dogs. 'Who would've thought you'd ever sympathize with the dogs, Nick?' His mind snapped at him.

Clicking the leashes onto the dog's collars, Steffani looped them both around her right hand. "Ready?" She asked him.

He nodded, the remembered something. "Oh, wait ya got tape?"

"Not that I can think of." She admitted as she grabbed Bullit's car keys. "Sorry."

He frowned, then nodded. "I need a strand of yer hair. Mine isn't gonna do it." He said with a smirk.


"The function of taping off the scene is to make sure no one gets in. When ya close the door and lock it behind ya, place a strand of yer hair in the side of the doorway. Since we can't determine if it's been tampered with on the outside, on the inside damage to it, or if it's just plain missin', means someone came in."

"That is whacked." Steffani muttered but reluctantly pulled out a strand of her hair. "Don't waste it all in one place ya hear."

He scoffed. "Unfortunately, gonna have t'. And I got my hands full, so yer gonna have t' do it. Just... close the door on it halfway once we're outside."

"Uh-huh." Steffani muttered.

He smirked, nudging her as best he could. "I can assure ya, not that difficult a task."

"It ain't difficult it's an odd one." Steffani stated opening the door to her place attempting to ignore the spot where she had seen Aries.

He moved, standing behind her, blocking out the area she was thinking about. "Yeah, I know. But I promised Bailey I'd tape the door. Best I can do with no tape." He said with a crooked smile.

"Gee it might be in the rest of my junk but that won't come till later this week."

Nick frowned. "Think you can forward that t' my place instead?" He asked, mostly to himself, before stepping outside.

Steffani looked at Nick. "Ben can hold it." She told him. Closing the door she shut the piece of hair in the door. "Happy?"

He smiled. "Yep. Thank ya kindly. And that's good, 'cause I doubt there's enough room. Anyway, after you, Darlin'."

A faint smile crossed Steff's lips as she tugged on the dog leashes. She knew that things were looking pretty insane then but with Nick she felt like she would land on her feet.

Part Two