It all starts with the economic downturn. The real estate market in Vegas is one of the first to get hit, and little by little the houses in their neighborhood start to empty out. At first it's just one with a 'For Sale' sign on the lawn, one of those refurbishing projects that cluttered up the street for months with construction traffic. For a few months the house sits on the market, cluttering up the street every weekend with open house traffic that never results in a sale. Then the 'For Sale' sign disappears, and a 'For Rent' sign appears in its place.
A few weeks after that Nick sees a moving truck down the street and assumes they found a renter, but it turns out one of the neighbors he's never met is moving out. Not that he's really met many of his neighbors, because they're all on regular schedules and he's almost always at work. But he recognizes the people packing up the U-Haul, and when a foreclosure notice appears on their door a couple days later, he realizes why they left. Just ahead of the bank, apparently, and Nick wonders if they left any damage in their wake. Like leaving their mark on the place, he guesses, just to make it a little harder for the bank to make any money off their misfortune.
Only the bank's not making anything, because houses in Vegas aren't selling period. The rental down the street is still empty, and a couple months later there's another moving truck -- Enterprise this time -- and then are three empty houses on their street.
It's typical, from what he's heard, though the truth is he hasn't paid much attention because his job, at least, is pretty secure. The only time he ever thinks about the nose-dive his property value's taken is when Greg mentions his novel and the possibility of a movie deal. Because he's been stupid about Greg in the past, but he knows what he's got now, and he's not going to give it up again if Greg decides to move back to California for his new career. So he'd have to put his house on the market, or try to rent it, or else just close it up the way Grissom did and hope to find it still empty and standing when the market recovers.
They haven't talked about it much, because the longer Greg goes without a movie deal the less enthusiastic he is about his prospects, and the last thing Nick wants to do is make him feel worse. Then there's the part of him that would rather Greg's writing career stay the way it is right now: something he does for fun when he has the time, not a reason to quit the job he fought so hard for and pack up his whole life to start over somewhere new. And he knows that's selfish, knows he should want Greg to succeed in whatever he does, even if it means things change for them. But he can't quite shake the idea that a movie deal and some big Hollywood career would mean Nick doesn't fit into his life anymore, and he knows he can't handle that.
So he feels bad about it, but he keeps his mouth shut all the same and enjoys the status quo while Vegas just sort of empties out around them. It's weird, but the rise in poverty means the crime rate's up, so at least their jobs are safe.
The dog shows up a week after the fourth house is abandoned. Greg finds him sniffing around the back yard, looking a little skinny and kind of shy at first, but a little leftover steak is all it takes to win him over. By the time Nick finds them it's way too late, because Greg's grinning like a kid at Christmas and the dog's looking pretty smitten too.
"This could be somebody's pet, G," Nick tries, reaching for the ratty collar around the dog's neck. But there are no tags, and it's pretty clear he hasn't eaten in awhile, at least if the way he's sniffing around for more steak is anything to go by.
"Nick, come on, he needs us," Greg says, grinning up at him and this so isn't fair, because now Nick's got two sets of big brown eyes to contend with.
"We've talked about this. We work graveyard, we can't have a dog. It wouldn't be fair to him," Nick says, squatting down to eye level with the dog. He reaches out with one hand and scratches behind a floppy ear while he leans over to make sure it is, indeed, a 'he'.
"So it's fair to let him starve to death? Or take him to the pound and let them put him down? At least with us he'd be happy."
He's got a point, Nick knows. He also knows that Greg knows just how much Nick's always wanted a dog, and he knows Greg's not above using that against him. When he was a kid his dad always said no, that there were enough kids running around making a mess without adding animals to the mix. There was a dog at the frat house when he was in school, sort of an unofficial mascot who belonged to one of Nick's frat brothers. But that wasn't quite the same as having his own dog, and Nick always planned to get a pet when he moved out on his own. But the timing was always off, and when he took the job on graveyard he knew he couldn't do that to a pet.
"What happens when we get stuck working a double?"
"One of us can swing by the house and feed him. We'll install one of those doggie doors so he can let himself out."
"We don't have a fence."
"So we'll get one put in. All the contractors need work right now; we'd be supporting the local economy."
Nick laughs at that, and Greg grins right back at him. And he's reaching, but he sort of has a point if Nick doesn't think about it too hard.
"If you think about it, he's better off having owners who work graveyard. Dogs aren't nocturnal; he'll sleep all night while we're at work, so he won't even know we're gone. When we get home we walk him and feed him just like any other family, and when we get up we walk him and feed him again. It's the perfect routine for a dog."
"Jesus, Greg, how long have you been out here thinking about this?"
Greg shrugs and looks down at the dog again, but Nick can see the blush creeping up his neck. "I've thought about it before. I know you've always wanted a dog, Nick. I was thinking about just getting you one for your birthday, but this little guy needs us."
"How do you know he isn't just lost?" Nick asks, smiling absently when the dog butts his head against Nick's hand in an effort to get more attention.
"Because I've seen him before. He lived in that house that was foreclosed last week. I don't think they treated him right to begin with. I mean, look how skinny he is. But they just moved out, and here he is, so that means he's ours now."
Ours. And Nick knows it's stupid that his heart sort of twists at the word, because it's just a dog. They already live together, so it's not like adopting a stray is some big milestone in their relationship. Except that it is, sort of, and when the dog licks his hand Nick knows he's fighting a losing battle.
"What are we going to call him?"
The grin that gets him makes his heart flip all over again, and Nick can't help grinning back. "I was thinking about Lucky. He sort of looks like a Lucky, don't you think?"
"Sure," Nick says, though he has no idea what a 'Lucky' is supposed to look like. But if Greg's been thinking about this long enough to plan their entire schedule around it, then the least Nick can do is let him pick the name.
They need dog food and a leash and probably a dog bed, food and water bowls and they're going to have to find a vet and get the dog checked out. They'll have to call the shelter and make sure no one's looking for the dog, and Nick knows better than to get attached before they know for sure that he's theirs to keep. For all they know he could have gotten lost on some family road trip to the Grand Canyon or something, and they'll end up as one of those local interest stories on the news when a microchip tracks back to some adorable family in Wichita or somewhere with a heartbroken kid still hoping to find his dog.
But chances are that Greg's right and the dog -- Lucky -- was abandoned when his owners moved on, so maybe they'll get lucky this time. Nick laughs at the thought and scratches Lucky's ears one more time. "Yeah, I guess he does kind of look like a Lucky."