A/N: Okay, so I know Sofia isn't
everyone's favorite but after watching "I Like to Watch", I,
along with my brother in law (a guy no less), noticed some definite
Brass/Sofia vibes going on. So, I sort of took that vibe and ran
with it. Yeah, that means this is Brass/Sofia.
This is a story written in three parts. Part II will post next weekend and then Part III a week after that. Part I has spoilers for "ABRTI" and "I Like to Watch". Mega thanks go out to my friend and beta, Ethereal Journey. Any mistakes you might find are all mine. I have this nasty habit of adding in more stuff after the fact.
Oh, and I don't own the characters but Paul Guilfoyle totally owns me.
Playing the Hero
Sofia Curtis pulled up along the curb and checked the address. This was the place. Cute house, not at all what she expected. Then again, when it came to Jim Brass, she wasn't sure what to expect.
Since she'd transferred to PD from the Crime Lab, she knew Brass had been looking out for her and making sure the transition was easy. She was a woman in a predominantly male environment and sometimes that didn't go over very well with the other detectives. Fortunately, only a couple had openly given her shit and she'd stood her ground. Of course knowing that Brass had her back helped.
They'd been working a robbery case together, taking a break to grab a bite to eat when the call came in on that warm November day.
Sofia had been behind Officer Bell; she'd doubted herself from the moment the rookie went down. She knew she'd reacted badly, going to Grissom when she shouldn't have, and spending hours reliving every single detail, hoping to glean some kind of truth until she'd finally rationalized the trajectory of her bullet. She had so thoroughly convinced herself that it had been her errant shot that killed the young cop, the self-inflicted guilt was eating her alive. Feeling completely helpless and with no one to turn to, she had finally called the one person who had to know what she was going through. She could have kicked herself for not doing it sooner.
Brass had been by her side the entire time, always ready to lend an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, never once judging her. Sofia knew that many of the other cops already had their suspicions about her: she'd been part of the 'nerd squad'; she was the rookie detective. They were waiting for her to make a mistake. But Brass was different. Jim never questioned her move to homicide; he never made her feel like an outcast. If she'd been the one to kill Bell, she knew without a doubt that he would have never turned his back on her.
And that was why she never turned her back on him. When the evidence finally exposed the truth, when it showed that it was not her bullet but Brass's that felled the young cop, she stuck by him. At first he didn't want the company but she was insistent and eventually their meetings at the little diner a few blocks off the strip became routine. It took a few mornings of blank stares and dead silence, of him fidgeting with his coffee or his hands, or making idle talk about the weather, but she finally managed to get him to talk and eventually morning had spilled over to afternoon. They'd gone to a little park a few blocks away and it was there, sharing a bench in the shade that his iron façade had finally crumbled.
She'd never seen Jim Brass get emotional. He'd tried to hold everything in, tried to keep it all in check, probably as he'd been taught, but when his resolve broke and everything came rushing forward like a flash flood, she'd been there, giving him the support he needed.
They never spoke about what had happened in the park. Sofia assumed Brass was embarrassed at having her see him in his moment of weakness but the bond between them had definitely strengthened.
Months passed, Jim had been cleared of all charges and had tried to move on with his life, and their morning rendezvous at the diner had become nothing but a distant memory. However the feelings Sofia had for Jim hadn't subsided; if anything they had only grown stronger. She understood him a little better now; he'd given her a glimpse beneath the hardened shell and she knew that the cynicism and tough cop demeanor were merely his way of coping with the stress of the job.
With both of them working in homicide, crossing paths was inevitable but unfortunately, she'd only managed to work with him on a few cases and then it had only been on the peripheral. At first she'd worried that perhaps he didn't want to be around her, that whatever happened between them had only been a moment of desperate comfort and nothing else, but then she'd started to notice the looks, the way he'd catch her gaze and hold it, then smile. It became apparent that Jim Brass was interested but neither one of them seemed to have the courage to make the first move. Thankfully, one of them finally did.
She'd been standing in the break room, listening to Vartann and Cavaliere try to out boast each other when Jim walked in. She saw his eyes dart to both men then back to her; she watched him come across the room, swiping his left hand against his hip in that familiar, nervous way as he strolled past her. Stopping next to her he poured himself a cup of coffee then stood beside her, mirroring her stance.
Letting his gaze go to the two men, he leaned close to her ear and said, "How about dinner tomorrow night?"
Her reply was without hesitation. "I'd love to."
"I'll pick you up at 6:30."
Sipping his coffee, he walked past her, the other two detectives barely registering his presence.
Jim had taken her to a quiet little steak place well off the tourist beaten path. The food was excellent but to be honest, Sofia could have been eating shoe leather for all she cared. Her attention was completely focused on Jim Brass.
They talked and drank wine and made confessions about all the things they were terrible at like cooking for Sofia, I was in college before I knew how to boil water for spaghetti and basketball for Jim, I'm a short white guy. I can't jump.
Sofia couldn't recall enjoying herself more and by the time he drove her home, her face muscles hurt from laughing. He'd insisted on opening her car door and while he walked her to her front door, she'd asked him in for coffee. He'd said yes but before they could even get inside, a call and then an urgent page for Jim meant he only had time for regrets. After a slightly awkward first kiss that still managed to leave them both a little breathless, he promised to call her later and true to his word, he did. Unfortunately, that had been the last Sofia had seen of Jim outside of work.
Like before, Brass seemed to distance himself, once again leaving Sofia confused. This time there had been no stealing glances or lingering touches. It wasn't as if he purposefully went out of his way to avoid her and he always treated her professionally but that was the problem. Gone was the closeness, the sense of an underlying bond they'd shared. It was as if Jim had once again put up that wall and she didn't understand why.
But while working the serial rapist case together, something in Jim's demeanor had changed. He was relaxed again, joking and flirtatious, and although she was even more confused than before, she was hopeful that some semblance of their prior friendship had returned.
Sofia knew something was wrong when she'd seen a very angry Jim storm out of the building, refusing to stop when she'd called after him. Overhearing a conversation in the hallway, she later found out why.
After trying his cell phone and getting no response, Sofia had demanded to see the video. Hearing Jim's response to the question, seeing the expression on his face, made her heart ache for the detective. Where others might have seen anger, all Sofia saw was the hurt and self-recrimination. If she hadn't been so worried about the repercussions, she would have ripped the video out of the machine and destroyed it. Instead, she did the only thing she could think of: she went to Jim's house.
Standing at the curb under the hot sun, she wondered how he'd react to her being there.
Dressed in shorts, a T-shirt, and a pair of worn Nike hightops, his hands covered in padded gloves, Jim Brass repetitively punched and jabbed the heavy bag that hung from the ceiling of his garage. He needed to work off the stress and tension of the last few days: he needed to feel pain.
When Brass was younger, he'd escape to the bottle, drinking himself into a stupor and suffering the after-effects for days, but he'd long since given up looking for relief in the bottom of a bottle and now boxing was his outlet, his way of punishing himself. He'd put the heavy bag up after Daniel Bell's wake and came out here every day of his two week suspension to punch and jab the bag until he had nothing left. He'd hoped it would help him exorcise some of the guilt but it didn't. No amount of physical punishment could make that go away. So with the help of his PEAP counselor, he'd found a way to compartmentalize all the pain and remorse into a neat little box and tuck it away in the back of his mind. Sometimes the box would open in his dreams, make his heart pound and wake him up in a cold sweat, but for the most part, Brass had managed to keep all the thoughts and feelings at bay. Until today. One question and everything came rushing out of the box and Brass wasn't sure he could ever put it back.
Slipping on the gloves and spending time pummeling the bag, putting his weight into each punch, had helped. The workout gave him time to clear his head and channel his anger, but mostly it gave him time to think. Generally, Brass spent most of his days and nights thinking about Tracy Bell, wondering how the young widow was coping with a new baby, two young children and the loss of her husband. But today was different. Today he wasn't thinking about Tracy Bell; today he was thinking about Sofia Curtis and to some degree that made him feel guilty all over again.
He'd wondered at first if maybe he was just getting sympathy from Sofia—like a dog that had been kicked and beaten. Maybe Sofia had simply felt sorry for him, made him her cause, and once he was better, she'd move on.
But she hadn't moved on. She'd made it quite clear that she wasn't about to abandon him. Brass was flattered really. Sofia was smart and beautiful and had managed to see something beneath his rather worn exterior that she seemed to like. He sure as hell saw a lot in her he liked and that was the problem.
Not unlike Gil Grissom, Jim Brass had also let his work consume his life; only in his case it was an escape from a bad marriage. With his daughter, Ellie, as the constant reminder of his marital failures, he'd been unable to sustain a relationship for any length of time. It wasn't that Brass didn't want someone in his life but even after twelve years, he still bore the scars of a bitter divorce.
Brass had known ever since that day in November when he'd finally broken down in front of her: he was falling in love with Sofia. And the thought of it scared the hell out of him.
As much as he wanted to get involved, he knew it was a mistake—and not just because she was his subordinate. She needed someone better than Jim Brass. Getting involved with a middle-aged guy probably old enough to be her father, who'd made a mess of his life and had retirement staring him in the face, was a complete waste of her time. She deserved someone better. Eventually, she'd want someone better.
So Brass did what he'd always done when the relationship started to turn serious: he pulled away, distancing himself from her as best he could. He tried to keep their association on a professional basis only and thankfully, apart from a few run-ins at the coffee machine or in the corridors, he had been able to avoid her until that damn Hard Crime camera crew showed up. Sofia was the first detective on the scene of a rape case in a high-rise apartment building but because of the media attention and its high-profile status, the sheriff had put the case in Brass's lap.
Brass wasn't sure if it was the lights from the camera crew that brought out his nervous energy or once again being in such close proximity to Sofia after his self-imposed separation but he could have kicked himself for asking her to show a little skin during the interrogation of a possible suspect. He'd been quick to apologize later and she'd told him she wouldn't have done it if she hadn't agreed with him, but he still felt like he'd somehow taken advantage of her. If he'd asked Catherine or Sara to do that, they would have most likely punched him.
The harder Jim hit the solid, unforgiving vinyl bag, the easier it seemed to eradicate the events of the last few days, even if it were only temporary. He could transfer all of his anger into each punch but he couldn't stop the random thoughts from breaking into his conscience.
Why couldn't that guy have just left well enough alone? Why'd he have to bring up the shooting—and on camera, no less?
Maybe it was just his guilty conscience imagining most of it but it was still there: the accusing looks, the hushed voices whenever he walked past a group of guys from Patrol. The talk among the detectives had died down months ago but that wasn't the case with the uniformed officers. Bell might have been a rookie, but he was one of theirs.
Stopping momentarily, holding onto the bag as his shoulders burned and his chest heaved with exhaustion, Brass remembered. There was one man in particular; one police officer who still held Brass responsible, who felt that forgiveness from Bell's widow and being cleared by the review board wasn't enough, who might have held enough of a grudge to tip off the camera crew.
Feeling a surge of white, hot anger, Brass hit the bag with a loud grunt, sending it bucking against the chains suspending it from the rafters.
"You seem to be working off a lot of pent up aggression."
Startled, he turned around to see Sofia leaning against the garage door frame, arms crossed and looking like she was ready for battle. He wasn't going to give her one. He didn't have any fight left.
Sofia had been watching him for a few minutes before she finally spoke. He'd been so focused on his task that he'd never noticed her. Good thing too because she enjoyed watching him work out. Admittedly, she also enjoyed seeing him in something other than a suit and tie but even more so she enjoyed looking at his broad back and the way his muscular calves and biceps flexed with every punch. Suits and ties definitely did not do him justice.
"So does that thing have a name?" she asked, gesturing at the heavy bag with her chin.
"Several," he answered, bent over, resting his hands on his knees, grimacing at the ache in his muscles as the perspiration dripped off his nose and chin and onto the concrete floor.
"Jim, I saw the Hard Crime tape. I know what happened."
"Stupid son of a bitch asked me about the shooting. That was out of line." He turned on his heels and hit the heavy bag with a hard straight right.
She came closer, tilting her head to get a better look at his face. "You okay?"
"Yeah." He stopped and held onto the bag as if it were the only thing holding him up, the sweat on his face and in his hair glistening in the sunlight. His arms and shoulders were burning from the strenuous workout but it felt strangely good.
"Are you still lying or are you telling me the truth?"
"Still?" Brass lifted up the end of his soaked T-shirt and wiped the sweat off his face, realizing too late that Sofia probably didn't want to see his sweaty, hairy stomach.
She tried to keep her expression bland as she watched him, tried to keep her voice even as her gaze dropped momentarily to the unexpected presentation his shorts provided. Clearing her throat gently, she said, "Jim, I saw the tape; I heard you tell that guy you sleep okay at night. I know that's a lie."
"How do you know?" Brass saw her wince at his question and felt a little bad for snapping at her but he didn't like where this was headed.
"Because I know how I sleep and I know it has to be worse for you."
He slowly pulled off his gloves and tossed them onto a shelf, then walked over to the wooden steps of the redwood deck and sat down heavily.
"You know, I really don't sleep so good but I got a bottle of Tylenol PM that does the trick. I sure as hell wasn't going to tell him that because it's what he wanted to hear. He was looking for some sort of cop-on-the-edge story and he couldn't have picked a better candidate. Christ, I walked right into it and did a pretty good job of fu…messing it up."
He scratched the back of his head then leaned forward, moving over as she sat down next to him. "Careful, I'm kind of offensive to myself right about now."
Tilting her head towards him, she said, "You don't smell any worse than a DB."
He smirked. "Thanks."
"I'm surprised you didn't punch that guy."
"Don't think it didn't cross my mind. I've been in enough trouble this past year."
"I don't think anyone would have blamed you if you did. You showed a lot of restraint."
He raised his eyebrows and blew out his breath. "Yeah, that's me: the picture of restraint."
Hearing the undercurrent in his reply, she turned sharply towards him. "You know, I've wanted to ask you about that."
He leaned back, his posture verging on defensive. "About what?"
"Look, Jim, I like you—probably more than I should—and I think it's safe to say the attraction is mutual. But ever since our night out, I'm getting all kinds of weird vibes from you. Did I do something wrong?"
Jim stared at the ground for a long time, knowing that whatever he said, she'd dissect and analyze his words all day. Women were like that, especially ones that were detectives. So he figured he might as well be straightforward with her. "No, I did."
"You? What did you do?"
"It's not what I did so much as I don't think I'm the right guy for you."
Sofia felt her neck redden. She was tired of everyone else making assumptions about what was in her best interests. First it was Conrad Ecklie, then her mother and now Jim.
"And who is? Someone younger, better looking? Someone who's got a nice, safe job so I can settle down and raise a nice family?"
"Except for that part about someone better looking," he smiled, hoping she saw the humor, thinking by the look on her face that she didn't, "that's about right."
"Jim, you're a cop. You should know better than to make assumptions. For one thing I'm thirty-five."
"You are?" He had to admit that definitely made him feel a little better about their age difference.
"I am. Had my birthday last fall. If you knew me a little better, you might have known that."
"Touché. But I get points for thinking you're a lot younger than you are, right?"
"Possibly but don't change the subject." She gave him a hint of a smile but that faded quickly as her annoyance continued. "The second thing you shouldn't assume is that every woman under the age of forty wants kids. That's never been a priority for me. My mom is a cop. I didn't grow up with the traditional June and Ward Cleaver household. I never aspired to be a soccer mom with a minivan. I always wanted to be in law enforcement and that's not a very forgiving career when it comes to parenting."
He rolled his eyes. "You're telling me."
The sound of a car pulling into the driveway got their attention.
"No." He got to his feet first then offered her a hand up, more as a truce than anything else. They walked together around the corner of the house as Brass recognized Catherine's strawberry blonde head behind the wheel of the Yukon Denali.
"You do attract blondes, don't you?"
He turned quickly to look at Sofia, catching what—a hint of jealously perhaps?
"Hey, Jim," Catherine said walking up the drive. Her curious glance went slowly to the other woman. "Sofia, nice to see you."
Jim wasn't sure if Sofia's curt reply was in response to Catherine's untimely arrival or if she was still pissed at him but either way the tension was making him a little uncomfortable.
"What brings you here, Cath?" Brass asked, aware that Sofia was now standing very close to his right shoulder.
"I, uh, just came by to see how you were doing. When I passed you in the parking lot, you looked like you were ready to beat the shit out of someone." Her gaze went to his damp T-shirt and shorts, at the hair still plastered to his head and then to the heavy bag hanging in his garage. "Looks like you did too."
"That god-damn asshole brought up the shooting. He asked me how I slept."
"He had no right."
"Yeah, well, there's not much I can do about it now."
Feeling awkward in the midst of the conversation, Sofia found an easy excuse to leave. "Hey, Jim, mind if I use your bathroom?"
"Sure, down the hallway, first door on the left."
Catherine waited until the younger woman had disappeared into the house before she said what Brass knew was coming.
"You know, I heard rumors but I didn't think they were true."
Jim shook his head and laughed incredibly. "Cath, they aren't true. Sofia's been a good friend. She stood by me after the…accident. She helped me get through it—as a friend. She heard what happened today and she came by to see how I was doing. Probably not too different from why you're here, right?"
Catherine didn't answer the question but her smile gave her away. Turning serious, she asked, "Tell me the truth, are you doing okay?"
"I'm fine, really. Got me pissed off more than anything. I try to put all that behind me and move on and then some jackass goes dredging it back up again. I didn't need that."
"Well, I was going to say that if you ever needed someone to talk to, give me a call but," she glanced towards the house, "I think Sofia's got it covered. Just be careful, okay? I don't want to see you hurt again."
"Yeah," he grinned sheepishly, embarrassed at all the concern shown for him. "I will. Thanks for coming by." He followed her to her truck, standing aside as she climbed in then shut the door.
Leaning out the open window, Catherine started up the engine. "Hey, Jim."
"For what it's worth, I think she'd be good for you."
"You do?" Given Catherine's often critical opinion of Brass's dating choices, he was surprised.
"Yes, I do."
"You think it would work?"
"Maybe, maybe not but until you stop dragging your heels, you won't know."
"I mean the age difference and all…"
"It doesn't seem to bother her." Catherine studied the frown on her friend's face. "Does it bother you?"
"A little. We're at different places in our lives."
"Are you interested in her?"
"This isn't Junior High, Cath. It doesn't matter if I'm interested in her or not. If I'm not the right person for her…"
"Look, she's not Nancy and you're a lot smarter than you were back then. You won't make the same mistakes again."
Finding a crack in the cement much more interesting than Catherine's brief assessment of his life, Brass didn't reply.
"Give it a chance, Jim. Do you really want to be asking yourself a couple of years from now about what could have been? At least if you try and it doesn't work out, you'll know. Look at Grissom. He's never even tried."
Irritated, he conceded her point. "You're right."
"Besides, you're hot and sweaty and you smell pretty bad yet, she was willing to stand next to you." Catherine put the truck in reverse and backed down the drive, still talking, "If that's not love…"
Brushing off her remark with a laugh, he rubbed the back of his neck as he headed back up the driveway.
Maybe there was some truth to what Catherine said. Maybe he should stop dragging his heels and give this relationship thing a chance before it was too late and Sofia changed her mind.
Then again, he thought, seeing the frown firmly fixed on Sofia's face as she emerged from the house, maybe she'd already changed her mind.
"You and Catherine go back a ways, don't you?" Sofia asked before taking another bite of her sandwich.
They were camped out on Jim's living room floor, Sofia sitting against Jim's leather sofa, Jim sitting across from her, a baseball game playing on the television in the background. Sofia had the night off while Brass had to work but he'd managed to convince her to at least stick around for lunch. She worried about him getting enough sleep before his shift but he promised to kick her out early so he could grab a few hours and she finally agreed. Of course Sofia didn't realize part of staying for lunch meant she got to run up to the local Subway to get lunch while Jim took a shower. At least he paid.
"Yeah, we do. Catherine was just a level one when I came to Vegas." Brass smiled at the memory of a much younger, very eager Catherine Willows. "She was just a couple of years out of school and still married then. I was barely in the door when they sent me out on a double homicide. Gil and Catherine were the CSI's assigned to the case. I have to say, they did crime scene investigation a lot different in Vegas than in New Jersey so I endeared myself to them quickly."
Sofia leaned her head against the couch cushions and looked up at the ceiling. "I can just imagine."
"They set me straight right off the bat but that didn't mean we didn't butt heads for a while." As Jim spoke, he tried to ignore the inviting view of her chest and the bare path up to her neck. Shaking away the thought of all the things he wanted to do her at that very moment, he picked up his drink and inadvertently blew into the straw, making a loud bubbling noise that caused her to burst out laughing.
Watching her laugh, Brass was suddenly struck by how relaxed they were together. Then again, he shouldn't have been so surprised. They'd seen each other at their weakest. After that, everything else was just filler.
"Hey, you still with me?"
Brass shook his head, aware that he'd been lost in thought. "Sorry," he said, offering up a smile with his apology.
"You're tired, you're full, you're relaxed—I expect you'll have no trouble getting to sleep."
He tried to stifle the yawn. "Yeah, I think it's all catching up with me now."
"Well, I'll take off and let you get to bed." Sofia got to her feet quickly.
Brass looked up and held out his hand. "Little help here?"
She grabbed hold and gave him a strong tug up, helping him to his feet then steadying him when he nearly crashed into her.
"Thanks." Jim stood close to her, still clasping her hand in his. "I think I'm past the years of sitting comfortably on a hard floor."
"The picnic was your idea."
He smiled sheepishly and laughed. "It was, wasn't it? Oh, well, sounded like a good idea at the time."
"Thanks for lunch."
They stood there in an awkward silence for what seemed like an eternity before Jim finally leaned forward and kissed her softly on the lips. "Thanks for looking out for me."
Sofia pressed her forehead against his. "No matter what happens, I'll always have your back. Remember that."
He smiled and kissed her again. "I will."
Walking her to the door, he watched her until she got in her car and drove away, and then lingered on the front step.
With one problem not quite resolved but at least placated for the moment, another sprang to the surface. Something still bothered him; something he knew would continue to fester and grow unless he put a stop to it. Brass didn't like troublemakers. He'd seen the way they could cause a rift among the department and he wasn't going to stand by and let it happen here, especially when he was the root of the problem.
Picking up the phone he dialed one person he was certain he could trust.
To be continued…