A/N: After watching part 2 of A Bullet Runs Through It a friend and I were wondering what might happen the next time Brass has to fire his weapon. This is my take on it. My thanks once again to Merc for all the great help and feedback she provides—even when I tell her it's done but add another four pages.
Spoilers through Dog Eat Dog
Jim Brass stood by the door, his back against the warm, brick wall, the recently reinstated badge weighing against his chest, the 9mm held a little too tightly with both hands.
"Ready, sir?" Officer Johnston was waiting to break down the door on his signal. Behind them, officers Sharper and Haig stood ready, their gaze alternating between Brass, his weapon, and each other.
They didn't trust him. He could tell by the looks, by their body language, by the way they dutifully nodded when he arrived, never speaking more than necessary, never making eye contact. Despite the decision of the review board, despite their decision to clear him in the shooting death of Officer Bell, Jim Brass was an outcast to his fellow brothers. It didn't matter that it could have been any one of them in that position, any one of them guilty of accidentally shooting one of their own in the heat of battle. All that mattered was that Jim Brass, the veteran homicide detective who, until now had always been on the side of the cops, had always tried to defend them or support them when they were in trouble, had taken the life of a rookie cop with one errant shot.
When the call came in he didn't think it would be this hard. Sure he was back where it all happened, back in the same low income Latino community near Jefferson and Third, but he thought he could handle it. Get back on that horse, that sort of thing. If he looked hard enough, he could probably find the exact spot Bell went down. It wasn't enough that he'd replayed the entire shoot-out every single day, every single night since Grissom gave him the devastating news but maybe revisiting the site would help him piece together the parts his memory had blanked out.
Feeling the tremor course through his body, Brass knew he had to shake off the feeling and get his mind in the game. They were about to bust down a door and arrest a man known to be armed and dangerous. He couldn't back down now; he had something to prove. He was no longer Captain Jim Brass, homicide detective. That identity had been stripped once word got around. Now he was simply the cop who killed another cop. He couldn't lose his nerve in front of the men. He was already skating on thin ice. If he choked now, it would just solidify their opinion of him. He couldn't have that happen. He'd left one state because of the distrust, the hatred; he wasn't going to leave again.
Brass was aware of several things converging at once: sweat running down the side of his head and onto his shirt collar, the weight of the gun in his hands, his heart pounding in his chest, the moonless night, but mostly, Johnston's wary look. Jim understood. Stay behind the wild shooter or he'll take you down too—just like Bell.
Swallowing back the cotton dryness in his mouth, he fixed the young man with a look of determination, mouthed the count to three and then gave a firm nod.
Everything happened at blazing speed and when it was over, two shots had been fired and two people lay on the ground, one dead, the other writhing in pain.
"Hey, Brody, how is he?" Catherine Willows asked one of the EMTs leaning against her rig and looking a little exasperated.
"Gave him a couple of painkillers so I expect he's feeling nothing right about now. Gunshot wound at close range. Not life threatening but the bullet is lodged in the bone so it could be if he doesn't get to the hospital. Maybe you can get him to go?" The young woman glanced back at the detective. "He's just sitting there, refusing to move."
"I'll see what I can do, thanks."
Sitting alone on the low, brick wall, Brass held a wad of cotton gauze against his right arm. He knew there should be pain but there wasn't any, just a sort of white numbness that permeated his entire body. It wasn't exactly a bad feeling; actually, it was almost pleasant—just strange.
Catherine walked up slowly, waiting for him to look up but he never did.
"Forget to duck?"
Shaking his head, "I froze," he said, still looking at the dirty tips of his shoes.
She took a seat next to him. "How'd it happen?"
Brass looked at her very slowly, thinking back to a recent time when he had to recount another shooting. She was just doing her job then—nothing personal.
Sensing his hesitancy, she said, "Jim, I'm asking as a friend, not as part of any investigation."
He drew a breath and sat up a little taller, wincing as he moved his arm. "We busted the front door open and went in but the room was empty. Johnston, no, Sharper, and I went into the bedroom. The closet door opened and Gonzalez was standing there, pointing a gun." He looked down, staring once again at the toe of his shoe. "I couldn't fire. It was my hesitancy, my carelessness. Lucky it was me that got hit and not one of the guys."
"Why didn't you shoot?"
He looked up and squinted into the darkness. "I was afraid I'd hit Sharper."
The pain radiating off the man beside her made Catherine momentarily look away. "It was too soon, Jim."
"Yeah, I realized that as I was standing outside the door before we even went in."
She put her hand over his and lifted off the gauze, cringing at the sight of the wound. Indifference was one thing when she didn't know the victim; it was something altogether different when he was a friend. "You need to go to the hospital."
He shook his head.
"What? You gonna play cowboy and dig that bullet out yourself? I know you're angry and embarrassed and hurt but punish yourself another way."
She was right; this was his way of punishing himself. Logic told him he'd have to go to the hospital but right now, he didn't feel much like being logical.
"Don't you have a crime scene to investigate?" he asked irritably.
"There's nothing to investigate. We have the weapon, you have the bullet and there's the body." They both watched as two men wheeled Jorge Gonzalez past them.
He looked up at her, one eyebrow cocked curiously. "If there's no investigation, what're you doing here?"
"News of an officer down travels fast."
"Yeah, I'm sure the cheers went up when they heard it was me. Sorry I disappointed them."
"Stop it, Jim. Stop talking like that." Catherine knew his comments were driven by his feelings of guilt so she completely understood where he was coming from. And to some degree he was right in feeling the way he did.
She'd heard the comments, saw the looks of disdain other officers passed between them when Jim walked down the corridor. Sure, he tried to put up a bold front, act like he was still the tough guy who let those things slide off his back but Catherine knew first hand that wasn't the real Jim Brass. She'd gotten her first glimpse at the real Jim Brass during the interrogation, when he'd broken down while recounting the death of Officer Bell. Catherine had been stunned when the first cracks in his rather tarnished armor began to show, when his noble attempt to maintain control in front of that asshole, Ortega began to fail. More than once Catherine found herself biting back her own emotions as she listened to his voice crack and watched his eyes moisten with tears. It ripped at her heart then just as it did now and it was then that her admiration and yes, love, for Jim Brass grew.
Brass shrugged, conceding her point that he was probably out of line. Catherine was one of the few people who'd stood beside him through this whole mess. There was no sense in pissing her off now. He had far too many enemies already.
Brass's eyes softened. "So what? You just hopped in your truck and raced over here to see what idiot got himself shot?"
"That's about the size of it, yes."
Brass frowned, wondering just how much he should put into that remark. He'd noticed the way she'd initially avoided eye contact with him during the interview with Internal Affairs. He couldn't blame her. It had been awkward for him having her there but he couldn't think of anyone else he'd have wanted present. He and Catherine had been friends for too many years to count. She saw firsthand the emotional hell he went through during the interrogation; she was one of the few who had reached out to him while he'd waited for the shooting review board's decision. It only stood to reason she'd be the one checking up on him now.
Seeing Brody hovering, Catherine ran her hand over Jim's back and whispered, "Go with them. I'll meet you at the hospital."
Whether it was her urging or the sudden dizziness that made Brass agree, he couldn't say but slowly he got to his feet, only to abruptly sit back down again.
"Hang on, Captain." Two EMTs and one stretcher later and a very wobbly but not so belligerent detective was finally ready for transport.
Catherine's wait began downstairs in the ER then an hour later it progressed to the small lounge just outside the OR. Brass hadn't been happy with the idea of surgery but he had no room to argue. The bullet was lodged near the head of the humerus and it had to come out.
She looked up to see Gil Grissom heading down the corridor.
"I just heard Jim got shot."
"You heard correctly."
"Is he okay?"
"Took one in the arm." Catherine used her own arm to show him. "Small caliber—he'll be okay."
"He's lucky. He could have lost his arm." Grissom stopped in front of her. "So why are you here?"
"I told him I'd be here when he woke up. He went in about half an hour ago."
"No," Gil said, drawing out the word. "I mean what are you doing here? We have evidence from the Duval stabbing waiting back at the lab."
Catherine took a deep breath and let it out. "I sat across from him in the interrogation room. I saw the anguish that man was in then; I see the guilt he's carrying now. He's says he's dealing with it but he's not. To make matters worse, he's being shunned by half of PD and back at the scene, the other officers left him to bleed all over the place while they tended to a dead suspect. He needs a friend, Gil."
Grissom thought about her words. Although she didn't say it outright, he knew she was accusing him of being less than a friend to Jim Brass and she was right.
He had been the one to deliver the news to Brass; he had watched the splay of emotions cross his friends face as he accepted the news without argument; he had worried about Jim, wondered what would happen if the review board's decision had gone unfavorably, but Grissom hadn't contacted him. He couldn't.
It was guilt, pure and simple, that kept Grissom from speaking to Jim until a case brought them together on Thanksgiving Day, two weeks after Bell's funeral. Surprisingly, Brass had been in fairly good spirits—keeping up appearances, he supposed. But Grissom caught the sadness in his friend's demeanor, understood that despite appearances, Brass wouldn't be all right for a long, long time.
Jim Brass was one of the few people Grissom would call a good friend, someone who'd supported him when he'd been in trouble with Ecklie or the Sheriff, someone who'd offered advice when the political tide threatened to drown him, and Grissom had done nothing in return. What kind of friend was he?
He needs a friend, Gil.
Taking a seat next to Catherine, Grissom said, "Well, he's got two."
Still feeling the woozy effects of the anesthesia, Brass opened his eyes and tried to blink away the blurriness. It took him a minute to realize where he was and another minute to remember what happened but he recognized the strawberry blonde standing at the foot of his bed immediately. Catherine had kept her promise.
Walking around to the side of the bed, she leaned on the railing. "How you feeling, Cowboy?"
"Like I been shot." He fought the urge to call her Miss Kitty, although the visual of her in a red lace corset and a black feather boa did make him smile.
"Well, you were shot so I guess that's the right way to feel. Grissom was here until a couple of minutes ago."
"Pager?" Brass tried to move his right arm but the bandaged limb felt like a hundred pound dead weight.
"Do you have to go too?" The light conversation was starting to clear his head.
"Not right away. I can stick around for a little while if you feel like some company."
Brass grinned. "Yeah, I'd like that. How long are they keeping me here?"
"Overnight at a minimum. If the bullet hadn't hit the bone, you could have gone home today but you've got a nice little infection to go with the brand new hole in your arm."
"I guess it beats a brand new hole in the head."
"You sure you weren't going for that?"
"I don't have a death wish, if that's what you're thinking."
"It did cross my mind."
"It's just been…rough, you know? Sometimes I feel like it's behind me and I'm moving forward then something like this happens and it just hits me all over again."
"They cleared you, Jim. It was an accident. You said it yourself: it was a firefight out there, nothing but chaos with bullets flying everywhere. It could have happened to any one of those guys."
"But it didn't. It was me. I still have to live with the fact that I shot Bell. It was my bullet, my bad shoot. Those guys on the street, they don't give a shit what the review board says; they don't care that it could have been them. It wasn't them; it was me. I killed a cop. And after what happened this morning, they'll never trust me. Never know when Jim Brass will freeze up again, get them killed."
Catherine hated hearing it but she knew what he said was true. She couldn't tell him to put it behind him and move on because it wasn't something he could easily brush under the carpet and ignore. Brass wasn't that kind of man. He'd carry it with him every day of his life. Sure he'd try to put it behind him and move on but he'd be reminded of it every time he saw a rookie cop, every time he fired his weapon. And the others, Adams, Carroll, Davis, they wouldn't let him forget. It didn't matter that Brass had been there for those guys, lending his support when they were in trouble. He was branded now and he'd carry that mark for the rest of his life.
"So what are you going to do?"
"I don't know. I'm too old to pick up and move again. I got eight years until I retire so I guess I'll stick it out, hope I don't screw up again."
"You didn't screw up, Jim. You just made a mistake."
"We all make mistakes. Hell, look how many I've made over the years."
"Yeah," he said, coldly, the look in his eyes challenging her, "but did your mistakes ever kill someone?"
She sat down in the chair next to the bed and met his challenge. "Indirectly, yes."
He was surprised by her answer but before he could ask, they were interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Come in," Catherine said, then exchanged a curious look with Jim as Officer Jeremy Sharper hesitantly entered the room.
"Captain Brass, Ms. Willows. They told me it'd be okay to come in."
"No, it's fine." Catherine picked up her bag. "I'll wait outside."
"Please, Ms. Willows, you don't have to leave. What I have to say you can hear too."
Brass looked on, leery of Sharper's intentions. The last thing he wanted was some sort of confrontation, especially in front of Catherine. "What you got?"
"I just wanted to say thanks. You saved my life back there."
Jim's eyebrows couldn't possibly have gone any higher on his forehead.
Sharper smiled at the detective's reaction. "I was next to the closet door when it flew open. I was in your line of fire. You couldn't shoot and I know you wouldn't have anyway. For what it's worth, neither would I if you'd been standing there. You shouted, drawing Gonzalez's attention away from me. He shot you; I shot him."
Jim vaguely remembered shouting but it was a fuzzy memory at best. He'd have to take Sharper's word for it.
"Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks." He held out his hand and Jim shook it awkwardly with his left hand. "Take care, sir."
"Thanks for coming by. I really appreciate it."
The young man nodded to both Brass and Catherine then slipped out the door.
Catherine turned his attention to Brass who was staring up at the ceiling, a broad smile plastered on his face. The young police officer had no idea of the effect his words had on the detective. It was as if a huge weight had been lifted off his shoulders—the change was that palpable.
"He was there, he saw what happened. You didn't freeze; you made the right decision and he's going to tell every one of those guys what he told you."
"You might be right." Brass knew it didn't solve everything but it was a huge relief. Maybe now he could move forward. It still wasn't going to be easy but knowing he hadn't lost his nerve, knowing that he still had a few friends willing to go the distance for him—that made it all a little easier. "Hey Cath, you remember what I said about Cancun?"
"Any time I wanted to go, you'd take me—on your dime."
He drew a deep breath, trying to find the courage. "Now isn't the right time but in a few months maybe, would you be interested?"
"Going to Cancun with you?"
He laughed, not really believing it himself. "Yeah."
"I'd love to."
His expression shifted from pleased to thoughtful. "I don't suppose you have a black feather boa?"