Prana: the energy that animates everything as well as breath, the life force sustaining the body.
Signing up for this class wasn't even his idea.
His mother suggested it first, spouting something about how advantageous her acting students found it. And then his daughter jumped on board, telling him the medical benefits of yoga. Then his publisher and editor chimed in, speaking as though yoga is some miracle cure of writer's block.
He seriously doubts it is.
But it's not all bad. He steps into the studio, a large room with light wood floors and white walls, large windows that let light flood inside. His shirt clings to his chest, the cotton pulled tight over his shoulders, his shorts loose around his thighs, the blue yoga mat Alexis bought him secure under his arm.
And there's people, and unlike yoga, he likes people. Especially when they're women dressed in sports bras and skin tight pants.
Plastering a grin on his face and straightening his spine, he steps even deeper into the room, towards a couple women standing near the windows, bright pink and purple yoga mats rolled out beneath their feet.
Blonde. Tall. Thin. Definitely his type.
He walks up to them, stepping into the small gap between the two women.
"Hello, ladies," he greets. "Ready to do some yoga?"
They both smile at him, the one standing to his right leaning towards him as she answers. "Oh yeah. Our friend Carol swears by yoga. We figured we'd give it a shot, right Em?"
"Yup," confirms the other one, Em, voice happy and chipper. "What about you…?"
"Rick," he offers, holding his hand out. She shakes it. "And my mother swears by this, too, but I don't know if it's going to be for me.." He flashes a grin, the one he saves for moments like these, for women who seem interested in him. "The beautiful women are a perk, though."
Em giggles, but it sounds forced, and so does her friend whose name he still doesn't know.
This is his element. Tight shirts and strange poses might not be, and he doubts he'll enjoy the actual class, but this…this he's used to. This he can do.
This is something he uses to hide all the time.
And so he sticks with them, talking, flirting. He learns their names, Emily and Savannah, and their interests and that they're both single. He sees the signs, too, that they're not really interested in him. The forced laughter, the delayed reactions to things he says, the way nails bite into his skin when they touch his arm.
He sees the signs, and forces himself to ignore them, and by the time the instructor takes her place at the front of the room, he knows he'll never get beyond flirty conversation.
It's been months since he's gone beyond flirty conversation.
Swallowing back a sigh, he turns his attention to the instructor, a thin woman in a tanktop and a pair of black pants, her brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. She smiles, a smile that reminds him of his book tours, and asks them to find a place in the room.
He goes to the back of the room, near the doors, and rolls out his mat so it's perfectly aligned with the one in front of him, and listens.
The instructor, Miss Nichols, goes on about the health benefits of yoga, about what they'll be learning and what makes this a beginners class. And then she gets into the business side of things, about payment and missing classes and so on.
And that's when she walks in.
She has brown eyes and amber hair that's pulled back in a high ponytail. Her cotton shirt is tight around her stomach, the neckline high, covering the entirety of her chest.
She walks in with her head dipped, steps slow as she mumbles an apology he doubts anyone can hear. She looks…careful, shy, her shoulders square, tense, her eyes locked on the floor even as she rolls out her mat, takes the vacant spot next to him.
There's something about her, when she looks up and finds him staring, watching, and glares that has him…intrigued.
And it makes something in him light afire, not with attraction or desire but curiosity like he hasn't felt in years.
"Stop staring at me and pay attention," she grumbles.
There's something about her that makes him listen.
She shows up on time the second week, about five minutes before class begins.
He's avoiding Emily and Savannah, lingering near the door when she walks in, looking just as shy and closed off as last time. She rolls out her mat in the same place as she did last week, stands on the plum purple PVC alone, without looking up.
He wants to talk to her, wants to identify the colors of her eyes and see them sparkle when she smiles, but he remembers the daggers in them when she last saw him, remembers the anger.
She's closed off, practically curled up in a ball, but still standing on her feet.
If there's one thing he knows about her, one thing he can tell from here, it's that she doesn't want to talk. She's not here for company, for friends.
So he stays in his spot, leaning against the wall near the door and fights to keep his gaze off her.
He fails miserably.
Without saying a word, he pushes himself off the wall, adjusting his mat under his arm. He walks over to her, but doesn't say a word, keeping his eyes locked on the front of the room.
Her eyes dart to him, a flash of movement in his peripheral, and he fights against the stuttering of his heart.
She's beautiful, sharp features and high cheekbones and brown eyes with flecks of green and gold and he's about to open his mouth, to say something it hits him.
Recognition, so startlingly real it has him turning away, gasping a breath.
He knows the face, knows those eyes. They stared up at him from low quality prints, from the brightness of his computer screen.
Her hair had been swept back, knotted in a bun, a hat sitting perfectly straight on her head.
She's a cop. She's the cop.
NYPD Detective Shot at Captain's Funeral.
She's that detective, the one who's picture went as quickly as it came, was everywhere for a week and then disappeared at though it didn't matter.
She's the detective who had him doing research and staying up late at night, reaching out to old friends, to people with connections for information he couldn't get. Her picture, her story, her bullet wound…it had inspired him.
And then it was gone, filled with dead ends and questions and the stories that came to mind were about a real person, about somebody wounded and recovering and he never wrote them down.
And now…here she is. Real and alive and staring at the ground, smoothing a hand over her side, letting her fingers hover over her chest.
He looks away. Can't look at her anymore. Can't stop seeing the image of her in her dress blues, of her on the ground, a bullet in her chest.
She eyes him again, brows furrowed, curious, confused.
But he doesn't look back at her. He stares straight ahead, waits for class to start.
His heart's still racing, beating hard and fast in his chest when Miss Nichols takes her place at the front of the room.
He doesn't look back at her until he's watching her leave.
He can't stop staring.
She's here early this week, her mat in the same place as always. And she's stretching, leaning to one side and then the other before wincing, trailing her hand down her side.
He's seen her do that a lot, her hand splaying beneath her ribs, smoothing down her side, over the fabric of her shirt.
She looks pained every time she does it, and something about it breaks his heart.
He adjusts his shirt, tugging it down over his stomach, shifting the sleeves around his arms. The rolled up mat is pressed hard against his side, his elbow digging into the plastic that bends beneath the pressure.
He shouldn't be staring. He shouldn't be so consumed by this desire to know her and her story, by the scar he knows is hidden under the gray fabric of her shirt. But he is.
With a sigh, he takes a step forward, towards her, the wooden floor creaking softly beneath his weight. The sun streams through the windows, bright as ever, interrupted by lines of shade, one of which cuts across the back of her head.
She jumps, a visible, startled shiver running up her spine. Her arms cross over her chest, the corners of her eyes creasing as she winces.
"What do you want?" she asks. Her eyes dark, voice sharp with daggers that match those in her glare.
She doesn't want to talk, that much is obvious, but this is his element, his specialty.
"Class doesn't start for a few minutes and I figured you might want someone to talk to." He shrugs, adjusts the mat under his arm again. "I'm Rick, by the way."
Her jaw clenches, the tight seal of her mouth, the barely there protrusions at the sharp angle of her jaw. Her knuckles turn white, blood draining from them as she clenches her fists, presses them hard against her rib cage.
"I don't want someone to talk to," she says. Her voice is steady, almost flat, as she turns away from him and stares out the windows to her right. He follows her gaze, catches the gleam of sunlight off metal buildings.
His eyes travel back to her, to where her ponytail sits high on her head, amber hair caught in a black elastic band.
"I'm not look for anything deep…"
She turns back to him, brows furrowed, and refuses to fill the gap with her name.
He swallows back the disappointment, shrugging one shoulder. "Just, you know, small talk. What do you think about this weather? It's getting cooler out, finally starting to feel like fall."
She's quiet, staring up at him from where she stands. Her teeth catch her lip, and her eyes darken with hurt, pain that swirls in shades of brown..
"I think it's September," she says finally, a sharp edge to every syllable, "which means it should be cooling down. And I think I told you I don't want to talk to you. I think you're a flirt. And I know I'm not interested, so I think you should learn to take a hint."
He opens his mouth, but before he can come up with a response, she's stepping away, bending down to retrieve her yoga mat and her shoes and walking away.
Her shoulders are tense, sharp lines starting at her neck, fading under the fabric of her top.
She rolls out her mat at the opposite end of the room, shooting him one last glare before she resumes her stretches, bending down to press her palms to the floor.
He wants to follow. Under any other circumstances, he would.
But he stays rooted in his place, curling his toes against the ground, pressing his hands against his thighs.
The line of shade cuts across her middle now, a line of dark slashing across light gray and black, across the place where she often tries to soothe her own pain.
He wants to follow, but he doesn't.
Instead, he leans down, mirroring her movements as he fights to brush his fingertips against his toes, fights the urge to watch as she presses her palm against her side, again, lets her fingers drift over the layer of cotton.
It still catches him off guard, the wave of curiosity like a weight lifted off his shoulders, the wave of inspiration so very sweet, a taste of something he hasn't had in forever.
And yet she won't even make small talk with him.
Kate Beckett. She's going to be a tough nut to crack.
A huge thank you goes to Lindsey for help brainstorming, outlining and for beta'ing because she is amazing.