Timeline: Post 6x01, "Dangerous Son."
Summary: Fifteen shots. Fifteen misses. But it only takes the first nine before she's admitting that it's neither her aim nor the impending darkness that hinders her.
A/N: It is official – I love Ryan/Natalia. I've never written this pairing before, haven't really spent much time writing either of them, to be honest, and by the time this was finished, it had easily more than tripled in length from what it was supposed to be, so I hope it's okay. And I wonder, are there actually any other RN shippers out there?
For once, the range is silent. It's peculiar, almost eerie, enough to drive a slight shiver down the length of Natalia's spine. The sun hangs low in the western sky, poised to fall below the horizon at any time and usher in the darkness of night. For now it remains, though, filling the sky with soft twilight as it casts the characteristic long shadows of evening across the earth.
The rest of the patrons have already cleared out, leaving but two lone heartbeats in the otherwise empty range. Despite practicing several times a week, it still hasn't been enough – even now, the nerves still conquer her. For every fifteen rounds in the magazine, Natalia's personal best remains a single digit figure that she won't dare say aloud – four hits, eleven misses. She can just imagine the smirk on her companion's face…
For now, though, his face is set in concentration as he loads the magazine for her, and she's no longer mildly resentful of it as she'd been the very first time. In fact, she rather enjoys watching him; she finds herself captivated by the smooth motion of his hands. He's no doubt done this several hundred times, but if it bores him in the slightest, it doesn't show.
And Natalia is studying him intently enough that if it did show at all, she would notice. Discreetly she shakes her head, bringing her mind back to the present moment – she's been doing that a lot lately, drifting into the realm of daydreams in her mind, and though she refuses to admit it, she knows it has to do with the amount of time she's been spending at the gun range, time that now stretches beyond its usual hours of operation. "You didn't have to do all this," she reminds him again, gesturing lightly with her hand.
He flashes her a smile, and Natalia finds herself alarmed at the sudden flutter in her stomach. "You're right," he replies, skillfully loading the magazine to the gun. "But you helped me with all that paperwork back in May, remember?" he continues, punctuating his words with a slight shrug. "You didn't have to do that either."
"Yeah, but…" Natalia trails off, pausing to cover her eyes with the range-required safety glasses. She sighs heavily, recalling her most recent shooting disasters – at this rate, she knows that anybody who would ever grant her a carrying permit would have to be insane. "At least I was helping you. I just feel like I'm wasting your time because I'm obviously not getting any better…"
Thoughtfully Ryan tilts his head, again pursing his lips. "No offense, but technically, if the paperwork had been any help at all…well, I wouldn't still be working here," he concludes with a wink. Natalia smiles, noting his point. "Besides, it was nothing, really. You're a cop, I'm a…well, we hope I'm still a cop," he pauses, smirking. "I just had to pull a few strings to reserve the range – it wasn't a big deal at all." Smiling warmly, he extends the readied gun to Natalia. "Besides, I thought maybe it would be a little less pressure on you without everybody else around…"
When he's cocky, Ryan can be quite irritating, Natalia has found. But when he does something thoughtful, it's clear that the sentiment is real. "Well, thank you," she says in response, reaching out for the gun. "Maybe that will make a difference."
But suddenly, she's afraid that being alone with him will only make it worse. His fingers brush hers as she takes the gun, and try as she might, Natalia can't quite ignore the soft spark of electricity that rushes into her fingertips. It's inexplicable and bewildering, and Natalia breathes in deeply, fighting away those unfamiliar feelings as she moves into position.
She takes a deep breath and specifies her distance – she's dropped back to twenty feet in the daylight after a few too many misses from the seemingly too ambitious distance of twenty-five. But tonight, with the light diminishing with every moment that passes, Natalia chooses to be safe – fifteen feet doesn't seem so daunting. Fifteen feet, fifteen bullets. She knows it would be too much to hope for to go three for three – fifteen feet, fifteen bullets, fifteen shots through the target – but in the back of her mind, she wonders if maybe it might be her lucky night.
Ryan gives a quick nod, and with the press of a button, Natalia's target is in place. He looks to her, watches her prepare herself. "Whenever you're ready," he breathes, unaware of what the single sentence does to Natalia's resolve. She's alone with him, and suddenly he feels so close to her. With nothing else on the range to need his attention, she knows that his eyes will be on her and her alone – watching her technique, watching her response, watching her.
Again she breathes in deeply, though this time, it proves to be a grave mistake. From here on out, her concentration is shattered, and all because of the slight breeze that delivers a familiar scent to her – familiar, yes, but never before has it affected her quite like this. She extends her arms, mortified at the noticeable tremble as she holds the gun out in front of her.
She visualizes the target at the end of the range, but it becomes all but blurred out as she feels the warmth of his touch against her elbow. Her eyes dart to the side, toward him for only a quick second. The sudden touch, though nothing but innocent, sends a flood of warmth through her body, and Natalia swallows hard, her mouth feeling abruptly like cotton. "Steady," he whispers, and if he notices that his attempt at soothing her has the opposite effect, he doesn't let on.
She's fighting her instinctual response as she nods tersely, training her eyes coldly on the target fifteen feet away. She tries to concentrate, but soon all she can think about is the sudden chill left behind as his touch leaves her arm. Certainly she's held a gun before, but never before has Natalia felt quite this uneasy about it.
Throwing caution to the wind, she takes a deep breath, holds it for a moment. Bracing herself, she squeezes the trigger, releasing the first bullet from the chamber.
As the sound reverberates even through her headset, Natalia realizes it's only partially the shooting that leaves her feeling so jumpy. There's something else, and because it's never been quite as prevalent before, she knows there's only one thing that it could be.
And with that realization, combined with the sudden rush of adrenaline through her body, Natalia knows she has no chance. His scent crashes over her, drowning her in an unforgiving wave of everything that's both simply and complexly Ryan. It's unique, like no scent she's ever breathed before – something she knows she could pick out of a crowd in just the tiniest concentration. The cologne she knows, but when mixed with his own unique scent it becomes something intoxicating, something overwhelming, something that simply would not work on anyone else. Something Natalia cannot ignore; something she can't pretend isn't smothering her while at the same time becoming her necessity. The speed at which it overcomes her defenses is alarming; so alarming that it leaves her utterly defenseless.
Her first bullet arcs through the air and toward the target at the far end, but as soon as it leaves the barrel of her gun, it leaves Natalia's mind as well. Out of sight, out of mind – that might be the principle, but Natalia can't even say the bullet had ever really been in the periphery of her mind. There is simply no room for it there, not while everything that flashes through her head is suddenly saturated with nothing but Ryan.
Ryan, Ryan, Ryan.
Quickly it becomes a constant chorus in her head, a ceaseless repetition that draws her attention far away from the weapon in her hands, and instead to the man who stands merely a couple of feet away from her. Her hands tremble, suddenly sweaty against the cool metal she holds. She swallows hard, steels herself the best she can and forces herself to visualize the far target instead of the man at her side.
She squeezes the trigger; winces at the recoil, though by now it's become predictable. She still can't not react – how Calleigh can call this relaxation is far beyond her realm of understanding. The rush of adrenaline pumping through her is anything but relaxing – Natalia finds it only unnerves her more.
Does he still wince? It's the sudden question that plagues her mind, and abruptly Natalia finds herself drifting again. Can he shoot without so much as a second thought? Does he need the same deep, soothing breath that she needs in order to steady herself? Or is it second nature to him by now?
She imagines him, gun outstretched in his steady hands. His face is set in concentration, his steely gaze a formidable foe to the opposition. Her imagination runs away with her, though, and soon Natalia finds herself uncontrollably visualizing more than just the look in his eyes, more than just his steady hands.
She sees the way his tight, dark tee stretches over the muscles of his upper arms, then hugging just as snugly to his defined midsection. The visual is so vivid, so real, and Natalia shivers. What would those muscled arms feel like wrapped around her, she wonders.
Her fingers twitch slightly, but the motion is enough to leave the gun recoiling again.
And again she winces.
And maybe he does too, sometimes.
Perhaps he too still struggles. Despite years of carrying a gun, maybe there exists irreversible damage from the nail he had taken to the eye over a year before. Does he still think of that every time he brandishes a gun, she wonders. Does he hesitate?
Does he ever freeze?
The prospect seems so wrong, so uncharacteristic of confident, sometimes arrogant Ryan Wolfe. But it's also a prospect that inexplicably thrills her, the idea that beneath the firm exterior, there are layers of him that she can only imagine, at least for the moment; layers that make him more than the man she herself has clashed with on more than one occasion.
Suddenly, she sees them clashing again.
But this time, instead of leaving her fuming and confused, their clashing leaves her sated and breathless, skin slickened from the complementary motion of his body with hers.
The deep breath she draws in in an attempt to clear her mind does nothing but fill her senses again with the scent of him, and suddenly her knees are trembling and she's imagining his palms splayed against her hips and all Natalia can do is squeeze the trigger and hope again that it jolts her back to reality.
The shots come close together, clear evidence of the anxiety that plagues Natalia's body and mind. She's become a wreck, no control over her thoughts and feelings, very little control over her body. Her hands tremble still, and she can never remember a time where she felt so completely out of her element. A gun in her hands is bad enough. Standing next to someone who has an inexplicable effect, both physical and internal, on her is also bad enough. But taken together, the combined feelings have Natalia wishing she could simply melt to the ground below.
She's stronger than that, though.
She can stop that from happening.
As long as Ryan doesn't smile.
His smile. When genuine, it has the power to weaken her knees and set her heart fluttering, and Natalia can't help but wonder how long she's been feeling that and ignoring it, or pretending it wasn't there instead of acknowledging it for what it truly is. Then again, it isn't as though she's given him much of a reason to smile at her over the past year, especially not in the rocky beginning. It's a wonder he can actually find the will to trust her again, let alone offer her a real smile.
But somehow, he does. And in her mind, Natalia can see it more clearly than the target at the end of the range.
She has no idea where her bullets are ending up.
The vision of his smile gives way to a much more fuzzy picture of his eyes, and Natalia realizes with a jolt that she doesn't truly know what color his eyes really are. There are a lot of descriptions she can immediately summon up to describe his eyes – gentle, determined, warm, lucky…she could go on and on. But she's never really allowed herself to become lost in his eyes, and so, the color eludes her - they aren't like Eric's unmistakable deep browns or Horatio's distinctive sky blues.
She strains her mind to remember, but there isn't a single moment she can easily pinpoint. In the light, his eyes take on a hazel tone, sometimes almost green. But then there are other times where she would swear with almost certainty that they were a deeper, more intense shade of brown. The color seems to change as often as his mood, and before she can shiver, Natalia stops that train of thought in its tracks. She can't be imagining what his eyes would look like in the bedroom.
But it isn't just the physical that's sending her heart beating out of control. Natalia would be lying to herself if she tried to say she isn't physically attracted to him. But underneath the surface, there's far more to him than meets the eye.
Eight brings to her a realization. Something she might've overlooked if she didn't know him as well as she did – Ryan has a truly good heart. He fights for what he knows is right, sometimes with consequence to himself. Sometimes he can be a bit too caustic, but the friendships he's made are bonds that he would defend with his life. Certainly he's made some questionable choices in his life, his career, but Natalia would again be lying if she said she'd never made any herself.
He's also done the one thing that Natalia had never really expected of him – he's forgiven her for betraying his trust.
And that forgiveness means more to Natalia than she's comfortable to admit.
Nine shots fired, six remaining.
Nine bullets, each bearing its share of the weight of her secret confession. Nine times she's fought the same distraction now.
But it's only after number nine that she allows herself to admit it.
She wants him.
She wants to drop the gun to the ground below and turn to him, balling her fists in the fabric of his shirt as she tugs him against her. She wants to crash her mouth into his; she wants to feel the surprise in his body. Surprise, and then fervor. Fervor as he responds hungrily, and suddenly Natalia finds her body all but melting into his as he kisses her with an intensity she's never felt before. His fingers thread through her hair, drawing her closer to him, and Natalia sighs, then can't help a full – though muffled – moan as she feels him nip at her lower lip. It feels so real; she can almost see the firing range dissolving away until she's left alone with Ryan and her sudden inexplicable need for him.
Her senses are electrified and numbed all at the same time, leaving her in a dizzy state of semi-awareness. Her heartbeat echoes loudly in her ears; protected from outside noise by the bulky headset she wears, it seems so much louder, so much more frantic than ever before.
Suddenly, Natalia is ever grateful that she isn't the only one wearing one of those protective headsets.
She can't be too sure, but she thinks she might've just whimpered.
Number ten wipes away her mortification and brings to her the inescapable irony.
She wants him.
She wants him to want her.
But has her chance already come and gone?
It hits her like a brick to the chest, stealing her breath and leaving her with stars in her vision. The memory returns to her so clearly, sight and sound as vivid as they'd been nearly two years ago. It echoes in her ears, the awkward conversation which had left her with anger, disbelief, and a night out with Ryan himself. He'd come to her; he'd expressed an interest in her.
And what had Natalia done?
Her stomach lurches at the memory - she'd spent the entire night thinking about Eric. Through calamari and the questionable idea of Mexican wrestling as a first date, the only man who had crossed Natalia's mind was the man who had deemed her cleared for landing. The comment had left her seething, accepting Ryan's offer on merely more than a desire to leave Eric jealous. She could flaunt it; show Eric how easily she too could move on.
He'd taken her home afterward, even walked her to her door. And Natalia had allowed it, smugly building up her supply of ammunition even more. At least Ryan bothered to walk me to my door, she could say. At least he offered to actually take me out somewhere…
She'd had one night with him. And now, two years later, she's left lamenting the fact that she spent the entire night thinking about another man.
At the end of the night, he'd apologized. He'd known Natalia wasn't completely with him, but whether or not he knew why, that still escapes her. For the sake of the friendship that has oddly stemmed from Eric and Ryan's rivalry, Natalia hopes he doesn't find out.
Had that night gone differently, would their relationship since then have been less volatile? Or would he have felt all the more betrayed when it came out that she was the one reporting to the feds? Would he have ever forgiven her? Or, if things had been different, might he have been one of the first? Despite it all being the past, Natalia can't help but ponder the inevitable what ifs.
What if she had given him a legitimate chance?
What if she had been there for him over the past year? Could she have helped him out? Lent him an ear when he needed a friend?
If she had, would Ryan still be where he is today?
Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen. Three rounds in quick succession, but not quickly enough to erase the guilt that settles deep in Natalia's stomach. It unsettles her, and predictably she feels the burn of acid against the back of her throat. One more, she tells herself, only one more. But curiously she fears the last shot, knowing that expending the final round will bring her out of the private realm she's immersed herself in. It will bring her back into the present, and her heartbeat accelerates again – suddenly, she feels much too raw to be so close to Ryan in such a charged moment.
For just a moment, she hesitates, her vision strangely blurred. The silence engulfs her, leaving her only with the echo of her heartbeat in her ears. And that…that is just too much. Her eyes aren't even seeing the target anymore when finally her fingers move, squeezing the trigger just one last time.
And so it ends.
What feels like an eternity is over in the span of minutes, maybe even less than that. Natalia feels like she's just run a marathon – she's breathing hard, her heart pounds wildly, her skin feels sticky. And very little of it, if any at all, actually results from the rush of adrenaline through her body – were it that, Natalia is certain she'd be much calmer.
Adrenaline is easy.
Desire is not.
And Natalia knows it's the latter she feels as she watches him retrieve her target. Headset and safety glasses off, she struggles to quell her breath as he approaches her, his face passive as he carries the target in his hands. It's both too soon and not soon enough that he is beside her once more.
Without a word, he holds the target at arm's length in front of both of them. For a moment, she can't recall much of anything, much less why she should want to examine the large sheet of paper he holds. His proximity is frightening, yet oh so thrilling – Natalia can feel his heat, and as his elbow brushes just slightly against hers, she feels the butterflies go utterly wild in her stomach.
If there is anything that crushes her in the next minute, it isn't the realization that her shooting is just as bad as before – it's the realization that Ryan doesn't seem to be anywhere near as affected by the closeness of their bodies as she is. When he speaks, his voice is all business, almost instructor to student as he points out the two tiny holes on the white part of the target – holes that are nowhere near the darkened outline of the target itself. "I think you're getting better," he says slowly, and Natalia wonders how much of that he really believes. Maybe, she thinks with a slight jolt to her heart, he's trying to comfort her.
He continues, much in the same vein, and Natalia knows that's what he's doing. Anyone else she might be annoyed with for trying to protect her feelings. But with Ryan…it's sweet. She can't help but feel touched by it. "You're getting closer to the body, I think?" It's more of a question than a statement, and Natalia can only giggle awkwardly as Ryan squints, peering intently at the nearly immaculate target paper in his hands. "Plus, the light is low, and that has everything to do with it…"
Natalia sighs – this is just hopeless. It isn't the light at all – it's still barely twilight. It's not even the distance of the target - ten feet closer than the first time, and she's just as bad, if not worse. There is only one reason why she hasn't improved yet, even with several practice sessions under her belt. With Ryan standing just mere steps from her, she has no chance at all. Lifting a hand, she rakes her fingers frustratedly through her dark locks, her averted gaze leaving her unaware of the way Ryan's eyes flickered toward the motion. "Don't sugarcoat it, Ryan," she groans, and despite her self-annoyance, she finds she can't repress the smile that quirks the corner of her lips. "I'm not getting better at all."
He flashes her a quick grin that automatically sets her heart aflutter. "Well, now, I wouldn't say that, entirely," he teases, the chuckle he's struggling to hold back ever-present in his voice.
Natalia shakes her head, giving a dramatic roll of her eyes. "Go on. Say what you want to say."
This time, he does chuckle. As the low rumble reaches Natalia's ears, it's all she can do to fight back a shiver. The chill that rushes through her is enough to leave her body tingling, and, rather self-consciously, she crosses her arms over her chest.
He folds away the used target, grinning the entire time. "Well…" Ryan pauses, shrugging playfully. "Let's just say that the next time I'm in a shootout, you're the one I want shooting at me."
"Thanks a lot, Ryan," Natalia laughs, barely resisting the urge to elbow him. He deserves it for that comment, she thinks, but she's unsure whether or not she can handle the personal contact. "I'm beginning to think maybe I should've practiced in the department range after all," she huffs.
Ryan smirks. "But you were concerned about hitting the ceiling," he quips, crossing his arms rather smugly. "With aim like that, it's not going to be just the ceiling you have to worry about."
Natalia scoffs, turning her head in an attempt to disguise the smile at her lips. "I appreciate your confidence in me, I truly do, you know that?" she retorts dryly, tucking her hair behind her ears.
His eyes sparkle jocularly, and Natalia fights with all she has not to meet his gaze – that would be the end of her control. "I try to be nice about it, and you get mad. So I tell you the truth, and you still get mad." He laughs quietly, watching as Natalia playfully narrows her eyes. "What can I do to win here?"
The command formulates itself in Natalia's mind before she can even think of anything else, but luckily it never reaches her lips. Even so, her eyes widen and her cheeks tint, and Natalia is almost positive that with a single glance into her eyes, Ryan can read her mind. Averting her gaze, Natalia struggles to catch her breath, though she never really finds it. She won't find it, not while still so close to him, not while she wants him like she does.
She shakes her head, shoves out the unwelcome desires that dare her to open her mouth and allow them voice. Instead, she summons up her love for a challenge, finding herself determined to sink at least one round into the target before the night is done. "Let me try again," she requests, her voice oddly hoarse. Pausing to clear her throat, she tilts her head toward the range itself. "Before it gets too dark."
He smiles and reaches for her gun, preparing to reload it when he murmurs something about her resilience. It startles her, and she's almost positive that her mind is guilty of morphing his actual words into what she wants to hear, because there is no way he could've just said exactly what she'd heard. "Resilience is sexy."
And then he throws her that seductive wink of his, and suddenly Natalia knows beyond a shadow of a doubt.
That's exactly what he'd just said.
The butterflies flutter so quickly that Natalia finds herself dizzy as she watches Ryan expertly reload the gun. Fifteen more bullets, fifteen more chances to prove she isn't entirely hopeless with a weapon.
But as his innocent, playful words echo ceaselessly in her mind, she knows she has no reason to hope that the next fifteen will be any different than the previous fifteen.
Natalia has absolutely no chance of hitting the target now.