Breakfast For Losers
by Skylar

"Do you remember the Pac-Man cereal?"

"What?" Nick said quickly and yet a bit distracted. As she talked, he kept a close eye on the house they were approaching in the patrol car.

"The Pac-Man cereal, you know," Sofia said carelessly. "I think it came out in the 80s. You remember."

"I remember the Pac-Man game," Nick said.

"No, this was the cereal," she explained. "Of Pac-Man and his family and—"

"I don't remember any cereal."

"Yeah, well, there was one," Sofia said. As he stopped the car not too far and began to parallel park, she turned to him. "I can't believe you don't remember."

"Texans aren't big on cereal, Sofia, especially not ones related to video games."

Sofia smiled. "T-Bone and eggs kinda guy?"

"Now that's a breakfast," Nick smiled and she chuckled lightly.

He stuck his tongue out slightly as he tried to get the car as close to the curb as possible, something he missed on the first try. Sofia smiled as she watched him, the image reminding her of weekends spent with her sister and her 4 year old nephew.

"Anyway," she continued. "When my father was stationed in Korea, we couldn't find the stuff anywhere. It was horrible, it was the only thing I'd eat. We had to have my aunt mail me box after box so I could have a proper breakfast every morning."

Nick looked at her out of the corner of his eye and smirked. "You consider sugary, blobby, cardboard tasting cereal proper breakfast?"

"I did when I was 10."

Nick shook his head. He put the car in park and adjusted his winter coat. "How do you go from investigating a drive-by shooting to popular 80s cereals?"

"I don't know," Sofia said and really didn't, but driving with Nick through the Las Vegas suburbs while looking for a potential suspect in the case of a murdered 21 year old guy somehow made her think of breakfast with her family.

It was night out and the little house stood in front of them, light pouring from the living room. She adjusted her pistol out of habit and Nick walked tall and confident next to her, making her feel as though she were riding with one of her fellow detectives. Grissom, Catherine, Greg... they always had that scientific air about them, curiosity before precaution. Nick was different. She'd always meant to ask him what drove him to the sciences, when everything about him so screamed cop.

She knocked on the door, letting their presence be announced, but nobody responded. She got that feeling, the one she usually had when she knew things wouldn't end here. Cop instincts. They had her reaching for her gun and she knocked on the door again. Nick, meanwhile, walked around the front porch, looking into windows. The lights were on, but the house seemed deserted.

He came back to meet Sofia, and as he did he realized there was something odd about the house. Not the look of it, though the worn out wooden finish certainly made it stand out from the houses surrounding it, but something in the air.

He frowned, sniffing out loud, and turned to Sofia. "Do you smell that?"

Sofia looked at him, a serious expression on her face. She looked at the door and concentrated, and slowly a smile crept upon her face when she realized what he'd meant. "Oh yeah."

"Smells like happiness," Nick joked.

"Smells like probable cause." Sofia reached for her phone and called for backup, all the while looking around the quiet neighborhood. She put her radio away and knocked on the door again, and when she didn't receive a reply she reached for the knob and was shocked to see the house was unlocked.

She walked in ahead of Nick, her gun drawn as he looked around the messy living room. 70s style furniture atop a brown rug, partially covered with dirty clothes and other rags. The smell got a little stronger, but not knowing where the source was they merely began to walk around. In the kitchen there were dirty dishes in the sink, a wide variety of spoons on the table that Nick quickly realized weren't used for culinary purposes.

Sofia walked out of the kitchen and he followed her into a narrow hallway. Her gun was still drawn and Nick gripped his lab kit tighter. She knocked on the first bedroom door, announcing they were with the LVPD, but there was no reply. She opened it slowly and Nick winced at the mess of clothes and other junk thrown about.

"Think the maid missed a spot."

Sofia didn't respond, but moved towards the next room, where she proceeded to knock as well. No reply. She slowly opened the door and Nick came up behind her, and suddenly they stood there, agape, staring at the piles and piles of marihuana in front of them as if they'd found the holy grail.

"Oh my God," Sofia gasped.

Nick whistled, impressed. He stood there kit in hand, quickly trying to estimate how many pounds they were staring at. He wasn't sure he'd seen this much marihuana in his entire life. He was also shocked the strong smell hadn't alerted the neighbors.

He looked to Sofia's reaction, but found her on the phone instead. "Who are you calling?"

"Narco's gonna love this."

Nick shook his head as Sofia finished the call. He stepped into the room and put his kit down to inspect the pile, putting his hands on his hips. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Where he was seeing it. If the neighbors knew about this... Jesus Christ, there were small children playing up and down the street.

"Who the hell leaves this much pot behind, unattended?" Nick asked out loud. "You have to be some kind of idiot."

"They'll be here to take this away in a few minutes," Sofia informed him as she hung up the phone.

Nick shook his head again. "This guy's gonna be so pissed when he comes back with his giant slurpee and econo-sized can of cheez balls."

Sofia chuckled as she walked around the room, inspecting the huge pile as well. "How much do you think is in here?"

"Enough to keep a small country high for at least three decades?"

Sofia frowned. "How do you know that?"

Nick looked at her and chuckled. "Come on."

She smiled. "Come on what?"

"Like you've never smoked pot before," he said somewhat flirtatiously.

Sofia laughed, blushing slightly. "I'm a cop, Nick."

"Yeah, exactly."

She ignored him. "And an Army brat before that."

Nick snorted. "Everyone knows Army brats are the worst. They look normal, they act normal, but underneath they're big trouble."

Sofia looked at him, smiling playfully, her tone dropping slightly. "Trouble?"

Nick chuckled somewhat nervously at her voice, feeling a little out of breath at her suggestion. He looked away and tried to ignore it. Sometimes these conversations with Sofia could veer towards dangerous territory, and yet neither of them seemed to be able to stop playing this game.

"You're telling me you never stole a beer off the fridge while your father was asleep?"

She shook her head. "Never."

"You never smoked pot behind the gym?"

"Nope."

"You never snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to meet a boy?"

Sofia looked down and smiled as her cheeks turned red.

Nick chuckled. "I see."

"Well, most teenage girls do that, whether they're Army brats or not," Sofia said.

"I'm just saying," he said noncommittally.

"Yeah, let's put an end to that," she said. They heard a noise outside and she looked towards the door before returning her attention to the pile. "Finally."

Nick turned to her. "If I started crying when they take this away, would you think less of me?"

Sofia began to smile, but quickly the atmosphere changed and she frowned. She felt that instinct again, years working in the streets suddenly telling her something was very wrong. Nick didn't feel it, apparently, because he kept on talking about the huge pile in front of them, smiling like this was somehow a magnanimous sight. Which it was, but Sofia was much too distracted to focus on that.

And she should've done something, maybe gotten Nick to stop talking, maybe reach of her gun, but sometimes Time doesn't allow for an appropriate reaction. She didn't hear much, just that familiar 'click'. She didn't see much, either, just a shadow behind her and every hair in her body stood on end before she felt the blow to her chest.

She'd heard a lot of stories about what it's like getting shot. She'd heard it described as a burning sensation, a prick on your skin, heard people say there's a distinct smell that a bullet emanates as it leaves a gun. Thousands of different cases, all of them different, but always that burning, that pinch, that smell.

She didn't feel that. Didn't smell that, either. She merely felt the impact of the bullet pushing her hard towards the floor, saw the ceiling above her blurring and her breathing becoming shallow. She could hear Nick distantly, but never felt him reaching for her gun, never heard him fire it three times, either. She never heard him calling for help or the siren of a distant ambulance. She was there, she realized, but at the same time she wasn't there at all.

As a cop she'd always imagined what this moment would be like. It's an imperative aspect of the job. You live every day of your life wondering if it'll be your last, wondering how you're gonna go. She dreamt of it, had nightmares about it, rarely talked to her colleagues about it but she could tell they all thought about it as much as she did. Over the years she'd learned to accept the fact that she could die young like this, but that didn't make the prospect any less scary.

She'd accepted it, long ago, but she'd always hoped she could have a little more time. She'd always hoped it wouldn't be like this. She'd always hoped she'd be able to make it to the end.

She felt another pull and finally her senses became alive again. She found the smell of iron in her blood nearly unbearable and every sound surrounding her intensified. She felt pressure on her chest, probably what it would be like to have a SUV falling on your body. She felt the pain. She always heard the word 'unbearable' thrown around, but she never truly understood its meaning until now.

"Sofia."

For a moment she wondered where the sound was coming from, if it was calling her towards her death or the opposite. She was surprised to realize she found neither option more appealing than the other.

"Sofia, talk to me!"

She turned her head slowly and just as slowly realized Nick was hovering above her, applying pressure to her wound with his jacket. He looked worried, she noted. Desperate.

"Come on, hang in there, sweetheart."

There was an intense urgency in his tone, and yet she suddenly found herself immune to it. This surprised her, alarmed her. Given her family history, she always figured she wouldn't go down without a fight. She always figured she was one of the tough ones, a survivor, just like her mother and her father, her grandfather before them. She came from a tough family that got tougher by the generation, and yet as she lay there in a pool of her own blood she wanted nothing more than to let go, let the pain fade away.

"Hey! Hey!"

She opened her eyes barely and found it somewhat comical, the sight of Nick Stokes slapping her face as if they were staring in their own Mexican soap opera. She didn't know if this was the reason why she suddenly found herself smiling at him.

"Hey," he said softly, smiling back. He placed his hand on the side of her cheek, leaving there a perfect impression of it in blood. "Paramedics are almost here, okay? Don't give up on me."

She didn't know what it was, maybe his use of the words 'give up', maybe something more, but as she lay there she couldn't think of anything else to do but smile and whisper a weak, "Okay."

l l

She'll never really forget that first high.

It stays in your mind forever, the feeling that you're falling down, down, down, and yet flying at the same time. She'll never forget the image of Bobby Gibson, barely 16 and smiling at her as he held the joint between his index finger and thumb like a professional. She remembered laughing at nothing, marveling at everything, kissing Bobby with a hunger she'd never known possible, thinking, knowing, they would spend the rest of their lives together.

Sofia opened her eyes, expecting to see him there in front of her, laughing like the mischievous boy he always was, his dimples turning her stomach into knots.

But she found herself staring at a chair, surrounded by white walls and the distinct smell of hospital. A loud voice called for a Doctor Garcia to please report to radiology, and though she couldn't feel her body, couldn't feel anything except the effects of whatever drug they had given her, it didn't take her mind long to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.

She was alive, she knew instantly, and yet rather than feeling grateful she thought of the recovery time, the weeks away from the job, her mother's disapproving voice reminding her she was too careless and maybe she should hold down a desk job for the remainder of her career. Not the first Curtis to get shot, she realized, but the first one to get shot because she'd been too foolish and careless to see it coming.

She felt nauseous at the prospect and looked towards the door, trying to spot a nurse or a doctor, someone to tell her what was going on and how long she'd been under, what the extent of her injury was and how long before she could return to work. But the door was closed and so she sighed in annoyance. The action caused a sprang of pain through her chest. She looked down, noticing the bandage that tied her right arm to her chest carefully. Her left arm was decorated with all sort of tubes.

"You awake?"

Her body jumped and she looked to her side, where she found Nick in a chair, holding a forensics book.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," he said apologetically.

Sofia looked at him suspiciously, feeling vulnerable and somewhat ashamed. "You didn't scare me."

Nick smiled as he stood up and walked over. "I just got in. Your mom was here earlier, she had to go back to work. Hell of a lady; gave me the third degree about what happened. I thought maybe she should talk to you instead."

She ignored everything about her mother (practice makes perfect) and frowned slightly. "What happened?"

Nick sighed, remembering the grizzly details and the image of her nearly slipping away gave him goosebumps. "Mark Barney, sublets the house we found, also shot that kid in the alley. He came by for a pick up and found us there."

Sofia sighed. She ran her free hand through her right eye. "I should've known."

"Hey, don't do that," Nick said, putting his hand on her shoulder. "It was..." he stopped, because in truth he felt a great deal of guilt himself. He should've payed more attention to the signs, he should've realized how potentially dangerous the situation was, he should've figured out a way to prevent it somehow, even though he recognized it would've been impossible, he should've done something. True, she was the cop and he the CSI, but he felt a great deal of responsibility where the situation was concerned.

She looked at him, her blue eyes dull and tired, and it was the first time he'd seen Sofia vulnerable. Raw honesty in her eyes and her body language and he found himself mesmerized by it.

"I'm just glad you're okay," he said. She smiled and looked down, nodding, somewhat ashamed, Nick realized, and as he cleared his throat he looked around for a plastic bag by his chair. "So, I, uh, I went online and found this interesting fact about General Mills."

Sofia looked at him groggily. "Who's that?"

Nick chuckled. "Not who, what. It's the cereal company, the company that makes cereal."

"Cereal?"

"Did you know they barely change the formulas of some of their cereals? It's true," Nick said, reaching into the bag and producing a box. "The Pac Man cereal? If you take Kix, and add some Lucky Charms marshmallows, and use your imagination, of course, you get almost the exact same taste of the Pac Man cereal."

Sofia frowned. Though she understood his words, and his reasoning, she had no idea where this was coming from. Nick seemed excited by this, however.

"It's a theory, anyway," Nick said. Shaking the box containing the mixed cereals in his hand, he looked down. "I was kinda hoping you'd help me test it, you know, when you get out of here."

She smiled teasingly at him. "I thought you were a t-bone and eggs kinda guy."

"I am, but come on, Sofia, I'm a CSI. I have to stay on top of these things."

"In case somebody uses a cereal box as a weapon?" Sofia said, feigning seriousness.

"Hey, you never know," Nick said. He chuckled at the situation, feeling silly and almost adolescent, but at the very least he'd gotten her to smile.

"I should go," he said, picking up his book and leaving the box of cereal by the side table. "The other guys probably wanna see you."

Sofia nearly groaned at the prospect of being on display like this.

"Everyone was really worried," he said, as if reading her thoughts. "If I hadn't shot that guy, Brass probably would've."

She smiled at the thought, and before Nick walked off she reached for his hand and gave it a squeeze. He looked down at her and it was hard to soothe the knot in her throat. "Thank you, Nick," she said, for all the things she wanted to say but couldn't, knowing he was the reason why she was alive and knowing he'd been there longer than he'd led her to believe. Knowing that if it weren't for him, the situation would've been unbearable.

He smiled, and instead of replying he bent down and placed a kiss on her forehead, pretending to ignore the tears in her eyes, knowing how much she hated appearing weak.

"I'll see you soon, okay?"

She nodded and watched him go, ignoring the pang of regret she felt by his absence, knowing that in a few seconds Brass would be on his way to see her, talk to her about her job and the case, sick leave and recovery time. Breathing hard, she blinked the wetness in her eyes away and practiced her perfect smile.

THE END