Disclaimer: I do not own anything. Period.

Notes: Just to warn you, this is a Ryan fic. If you don't like Ryan, that's nice, please don't flame. I appreciate constructive criticism; this is my first time writing a reflective piece. Thank you and enjoy.


A loud bang reverberated throughout the small gallery, the producer of the noise - a small, unassuming black handgun - jumped in its owner's hands, the recoil carefully controlled. The gun was lowered for only a moment before being raised then shot again. The pattern continued.

The owner of the gun, he sometimes liked to think of himself as its caretaker- protector even, put down the gun then in quick, controlled motions began to reload. He kept his dark eyes focused on the back wall- a test for himself. It wasn't really much of a challenge though, the motions had been repeated so many times that it had become almost instinct. With a final, abrupt movement the gun was raised and a clean hole was cut through the target's center.

This was why he loved the shooting gallery. The clean lines (small, private area, nothing extra or frivolous), the clean sounds (the sharp bang of a gun and the answering rattle from the target paper on the other side of the room). Even clean smells belonged in this tight, controlled world (lemon fresh chemical scents biting the nose, the mouth). Here, in this place, he could get away.

Because it was different from patrol, being a CSI. Before, he had always trusted his partner and his partner had always trusted him- a simple contract. (But carrying so much weight behind it.) Now, he had to wonder how his coworkers saw him, what they believed he was like. He often thought about the late CSI Timothy Speedle (Speed, everyone called him) and he wondered how he compared to the man. He'd never known him, but one thing he did know was that absence makes the heart grow softer (he'd had his experiences with these sort of things) and the other CSIs had probably already classified him (tagged and numbered, organized alphabetically) against these standards.

He wasn't bitter, he didn't blame them. He just needed a way to clear his head sometimes. That was why he came here.

Again, he reloaded, his eyes not straying from the target, an imaginary battle playing itself out in his head. Except it wasn't imaginary, it was all too real.

In the field, in patrol, an extra second reloading could mean everything. It could cost you your job, your badge, or your life. He knew, he'd seen it happen. He wasn't angry anymore (he was past being angry) he was just tired and jaded and needed a change- and then the CSIs had come and offered what he'd thought he wanted, thought he needed. (But now you know that you can never leave it behind, and the past will always catch up, even if only in your own mind.)

That was the difference between being on patrol and being a CSI- as a CSI he doesn't know who to trust, who to turn to. There's only so much he can confide in the others, or even Horatio- he would listen, he would comfort, yes, but he couldn't understand.

At first he'd thought that they were so much alike, and in some ways, they were. They'd both worked with police, with dangerous situations, both knew how to handle a gun (although Horatio needed to work on the posture a bit- he was too stiff), how to talk down a suspect, how to conduct an interrogation.

But, as he'd gotten to know him, he'd realized that Horatio would never really understand being a cop, could never, without actually having been one. He didn't think that Horatio had ever been in a real gunfight- the kind that ends up lasting for hours, no backup on the way. Horatio never had to lie flat on his stomach behind a cop car, the smell of burning rubber all around, shards of glass digging into a cheek that hadn't moved for over an hour, the dim chopping sounds of a helicopter and the random bursts of gunfire that kept you guessing, kept you low. The look of fear in your partner's eyes, animal instinct for flight being squashed down and away but somehow still visible, and you know that you look exactly the same. To be heroic here is to be dead.

That isn't to say that you don't fight at all, that you cower behind the cop car until help arrives (help, who can help you?). You get the odd shot into the fray, sometimes even a full clip of ammo, and you know that the good guys will win. Not because they're good, but because they're more organized and therefore tend to outnumber the bad guys. Clean, simple mathematics in the middle of a battlefield- that is what he strives to achieve in the terror of the moment. Not irregular shards of glass, or the grimy scent of smoke, or mixed emotions shown in the curved surface of an eye that happens to belong to a partner, a friend.

A voice in the back of his head was whispering.

Shoving the voice away, he reloaded one last time. Keep to the present- the past is over. Keeping his mind focused on his weapon, he relished the sharp sound of gunpowder exploding, his tight, controlled grip responding to the gun's recoil in a practiced manner. He supposed he should hate this gun, this instrument of death, but somehow it comforted him. This object was new, didn't belong to his past, didn't come with any bad memories attached.

A final bang resonated through the air, and he realized that he'd run out of ammo. He'd have to buy some at the counter upstairs. Holstering his weapon, he headed to the exit, mind on the future, on tomorrow. Stopping briefly, Ryan took a last deep breath of the sharply scented air.

Everything was different, but at least this stayed the same.