A/N: Just a quick introspective drabble. Or how to deal with the blues.

Xxx XXX xxX

Sofia had just reached the truck when her cell rang.

"Hey gorgeous!" His deep southern drawl caressed her ear. "I'm running late. Grissom wants me to go over some parts of our report before turning it in. Mind waiting for me at the break room?"

"I'm already at the parking lot. I have a ton of files to read. I'd rather do it sprawled on the back seat of your truck…"

"If I didn't know better I'd think you're teasing me." His voice dropped to a growl. "Sprawled, huh? Want some company?"

Sofia laughed. "Shush and hurry, you silly cowboy. We'll see about sprawling when you get here…"

If there was something Sofia loved about talking with Nick, it was the carefree banter they shared. She was pretty sure she'd never get away with half the things she told him on the phone if she had to do so face to face, but it was comfortable, and they both enjoyed it. If any, it always led to a good laugh, and given their line of work, a good laugh was, essentially, a must.

She made herself comfortable inside the truck, having decided to roll the windows down instead of keeping the a/c running, and got out the first file. With a resigned sigh, she began to read it… only to be interrupted a couple of minutes later by the sound of female laughter and clicking heels approaching. She wondered if she ought to make her presence known, but decided against it, as getting up from her current position seemed too much of an effort given the circumstances.

Considering what happened next, Sofia could never be sure if her choice had been the right one or not.

"So, Clarissa, what's the juicy bit of news you have for us today?"

"Give it up, girl; you've been teasing us about it all day long…"

"All right, all right! Can't wait until we get into the car, can you? Okay… guess who's going out with our favorite Texan CSI?"

"What??? Hunky-Stokes is seeing someone???"

"Please tell me it ain't the Siddle beotch… I hate her guts!"

"She wishes! But no… you'll never guess who it is…"

Sofia held her breath and felt a knot in her stomach. It wasn't as if they were keeping their dating status a secret, after all they were doing nothing wrong and therefore they had nothing to hide, but they weren't advertising it to the general public, either. Grissom and Jim knew, of course, and both had expressed a cautionary endorsement. Warrick knew, as well: he and his wife had literally walked in on them making out in the back lot of the Kingston Bar… both Nick and Sofia had the vague suspicion Tina and Warrick had been there for the same reason, but they'd never admit to it…

Shrieks of laughter brought her back from her walk down memory lane.

"Get out of here! You can't be serious!"

"Honest to God… I saw them having dinner off duty, holding hands and acting all googly eyed…"

"Yeech! What does he see in her? She so… so… blah!"

"I know! That's exactly what I was wondering…"

"Maybe he took pity on her. You know, after the Bell thing… she's a cop killer, after all."

"I thought it was established that Brass had fired that shot…"

"Yeah, I know. But my boss says that it was all a cover-up. Brass could manage to take that kind of heat, he's close to retirement, after all, but it would have destroyed her career…"

"Why would the lab do something like that for her?"

"You know what they said about her… she was sleeping with Ecklie and got promoted, but then she made a pass at Grissom and Ecklie found out and boom! Back in the patrol car again!"

"Blond bimbos… they're all the same…"

The rest of the conversation got lost in between car doors opening and closing and an engine starting.

But Sofia didn't need to hear more. She could feel the tears stinging behind her eyes and the all-too-familiar pain throbbing somewhere around her chest. She couldn't help it if people speculated about her and her career choices, but it still hurt to hear it so bluntly expressed. And the bimbo tag… no matter what she did she seemed stuck with it. When she had decided to join the force, she was grateful she hadn't inherited her mother's hour-glass figure. She had witnessed the harassment her mother had put up with, and she was the first to admit she wasn't as strong as her mother to deal with it as she had. However, Captain Curtis, a seasoned veteran of sexual discrimination among law enforcement forces, wasn't so certain that inheriting her father's Nordic looks was any better than having tits and arse when it came to stereotyping.

The worst part of the conversation, however, was not regarding her job credentials. As much as it hurt, she could deal with people speculating about how she got the job and she was all too acquainted with female cattiness; she's been there and done that, and she wasn't any worse for the wear. It came with the professional territory, so to speak, and as long as she knew, and her bosses knew, that she was doing a good job, waggling tongues couldn't harm her beyond a bout of wishful thinking.

But flaring up insecurities could kill her in a second… and a three-month old sort-of relationship even faster.

Years if second guessing herself came back with a vengeance. Why was Nick Stokes dating her, HER of all people, when he could have any woman he wanted with just a flash of his smile? Her life picture of the past 6 months began running through her head as she began scrutinizing every word, every gesture, every intonation, every look, trying to find a tell-tale detail that would assuage or confirm her nagging suspicions. She hated herself for doing it, but she couldn't help it. She'd had too many relationships, her father's to begin with, crash and burn to know better, but she still couldn't help herself.

The on-going "joke" in her family was that she was "too smart to be pretty and too pretty to be smart", which left her in an undefined grey zone. Her parents' attitude didn't help much, either. Her dad had been a doctor, one of those smart men that had too many degrees and too little people knowledge. Her mother had been a beauty, winning every single competition within reach since the age of 6, and would have probably gone after the Miss USA band had it not been for the accident: a couple of drunk kids had crashed into her car and fled. The car caught fire and Helena Chadwick sustained second and third degree burns from the neck down. She had to go through a series of painful surgeries and the fact that the police never caught the culprits, and it was the end of her beauty queen career and the beginning of her obsession with law enforcement. They had met when he was called as a consulting physician in her case and got married soon after that.

The marriage had been doomed almost from day one. Helena was having a hard time battling her inner demons as she struggled to find her place in life: she had been defined all her life by her looks and now that they were gone she had yet to figure out who she was. Michael Curtis adored this fighting fascinating creature, but he didn't know how to help her; and thought that by reassuring her that "looks are not important" he was aiding her put that part of her life in the past. Helena, however, felt that he was diminishing who she had been and resentment began plaguing their relationship. She had decided to leave him when she found out that, against medical advice, she had gotten pregnant with Sofia.

Michael had taken a clinical posture and was adamant in terminating the pregnancy: the skin grasps were too new and fragile, her nervous system was too frail… Years later, Helena Curtis was honest enough to admit that she had also wanted to have an abortion… but decided against it just to spite her husband. So what if she died? She was better off dead anyway. And if by some miracle she did have the baby… it was an opportunity to redefine herself afresh: as the mother of a beautiful and smart baby boy. A boy. She never even considered the idea of having a girl. The pregnancy was a difficult one, and Sofia had been born 8 weeks prematurely. Helena took one look at her… and 6 months went by before she had wanted anything to do with her own daughter. She didn't understand how fate was mocking her: she had decided to have this baby to get an upper hand on her husband, dammit, and not only it was a GIRL, but she had his blonde hair and his blue eyes. Michael was happy to have a daughter, but he didn't really know what to do with her.

The Curtis stayed together for another 5 years before divorcing. Sofia had grown up feeling she had somehow disappointed her parents from the beginning, but she never quite understood why, and she spent well into her late teens trying to find a way to please them both, even thought she understood at gut level that was never going to happen.

She remembered one day, 4th or 5th grade maybe, she had come home all excited about a beauty contest. She knew of her mother's glorious past (her grandmother took every chance possible to bemoan the loss of opportunities and her disproval of her daughter's choice of life afterwards) and Sofia had thought that her mother would be very pleased if she decided to follow in her footsteps. Helena had taken a look at the enrollment format and had ripped it in two. "You're not pretty enough. You're blonde, but you're a blah blonde at best. And you're smart. You're too smart to be considered a good choice. Forget about this nonsense and focus on your schoolwork. And next time you bring me another parental consent format, try to make it one for the county science fair or something academic like that." Helena had seriously believed she had done what was best for her daughter, releasing her from the curse of physical appearance labels, but she also managed to destroy whatever confidence Sofia would ever have on her looks. Up to this date, some 20 years later, Sofia had a hard time handling compliments regarding her beauty. If asked, she'd always shielded behind the "blah blonde" label and refused to hear another word about the topic.

So she had focused on science, going to the extreme of wearing fake glasses to achieve a more "geeky" look. It wasn't hard to find her later on, during high school, with her nose stuck in a book, glasses perched low on her nose, lab coat tied around her waist. She never did makeup beyond lipstick, and she followed fashion from afar. From very afar. She remembered visiting her father in Boston, acceptance letter from college in hand, certain he'd congratulate her for going after a chemistry degree. His response had not been any better than her mother's years before. "Chemistry is a noble science, Sofia, one that requires the utmost dedication. Are you sure you can handle it? Teachers are going to take one look at you and consider you're too much of a pretty face to be taken seriously. Perhaps it would be best if you majored in something else and just minored in chemistry… not ask too much of yourself, you know."

So she was stuck. Not pretty enough to please her mother, not smart enough to please her father. No much of a looker to navigate safely in the popular waters or to stand a chance at beauty contests. Not brainy enough to master a field in science. Too smart to be pretty. Too pretty to be smart. She ended up with a major in criminology and a minor in lab sciences, and enrolled on the force the day after graduating from college. She made detective in less than 3 years, and had requested several rounds on crime labs in order to complete requirements for a CSI position. Eventually, she'd have gotten one had she stayed in Oregon. All she had to do was wait for someone in the lab to die or retire. When the opening in Vegas came, she took it. The odds to making it to CSI looked good. But she had failed to play office politics the way Ecklie had wanted her to do so, and the rest, as they said, was history.

The rapping of knuckles on the door's window brought her back to reality with a jolt. Her hand flew instinctively to her side as she faced the person outside of the car. She let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding in when she saw it was Nick requesting to be let in.

"And that's a wrap. What ya say if we pick up some Chinese and a couple of movies and…" Nick's joyful demeanor quickly changed once he took a good look at her face. " Sofia? Sofia, hun, what's the matter? Are you hurt?" His hands had pulled her to him, and were now holding her head whilst he quickly gave her a once over to see if there was apparent damage. To see the lost, hurt expression on her face, the reddened eyes, the dried tears on her cheeks… it was killing him. If someone had hurt her…

She tried ducking her face and avoiding her glance, mumbling "never minds" and "doesn't matters" but Nick wasn't buying it. He refused to let go until she told him the truth and she finally cave in, blurting out the conversation she had overheard.

"Darn bitches", he swore under his breath, as he pulled her closer into an embrace and gently caressed her hair. He knew enough about the way the female mind worked to understand that it wasn't the conversation per se what was bothering Sofia, but rather, the emotions it had evoked. He didn't' know exactly what had happened in her past, but he did remember Sofia referring to herself as "damaged goods" once or twice, never elaborating further, and he had been having a hard time when it came to praising her. He could relate to being too hard on oneself, Lord knew he himself drove a hard bargain when it came to accepting he had done a good job, but he had the feeling Sofia's reluctance went beyond simple anal-retentive perfectionism.

Nick let go enough to get a hold of her head again, and lifted her face to his. He had planned to give her a speech on how he couldn't care less what people said and thought and how important she was to him, but then he saw her eyes water and her lips tremble and his mind went blank. And as inadequate as it may have seemed, he kissed her. He kissed her wet eyelids, he kissed the tip of her nose, he kissed her mouth, gently at first, then more demanding, until she became dizzy from lack of air and need.

"I love you" he blurted out as soon as his mouth left hers. Sofia's eyes widened upon hearing this for the first time since they began dating. "I love you. All of you. You may not be perfect, but you're perfect for me and that's all I care about. I don't care if people think or say you're not pretty or that you're not smart cause I know better than them and I know you're beautiful and intelligent and caring and so many things I can't even begin to put in words, and I love you just as you are, and if you feel the same way, I swear I'll do my damnest best to make you happy if you give me a chance…"

Sofia opened her mouth… and all she managed to do was nod before jumping into his arms, kissing him all over his face. Nick, somehow, managed to keep his balance and get a hold of her body as she wrapped herself around him, and couldn't' help but chuckle at her effervescent demonstration of affection, returning it likewise.

Perhaps Sofia could rationalize his declaration of love and allow a lifetime of insecurities to turn them into something ugly. But what she could not do, was deny the devotion, the passion, and the gentleness in Nick's kisses. The realization that maybe, MAYBE he did find her perfect in her imperfections overwhelmed her, and she was soon crying again, except this time around, they were tears of happiness.

Nick noticed she was crying again, but he could sense a change in her demeanor. He thought that he was beginning to know her, and he wanted to be there when she finally let it go. He could feel her tears raining down on him, and he could almost touch her slow turning pain, and he was willing to wait for her to be ready. And he was more than willing to offer himself to her completely, whether she wanted his presence or she needed his help, and although he didn't know where that might lead, he had made a choice and he planned to stick by her.

Even if it meant falling with her whenever she crumbled and helping her back to her feet when she faltered.

Xxx XXX xxX

A/N: I know. I said drabble. Bet you can't wait to see what's my definition of "short story"! LOL. This one if for the "ugly duckling" we all have inside…