So this is another "songfic of a sort" based on Hedley's "Gunnin'" .

As always, I lay no claim to the characters despite repeated attempts to steal Ranger for my very own.

Faith

I'd encountered disaster again. It never fails, really. And as usual, the two men in my life showed up relatively quickly to assure themselves that I was still vertical. Ranger approached me, arms crossed. Joe came over, hands on hips. Both wore solemn expressions. I waited in silence, sitting by the ambulance, watching my car burn. It had exploded - no surprise there. Unfortunately, I was just stepping into it at the time. I had what appeared to be superficial burns on one arm, with a gash down my upper arm. Glass shards had cut my face and it stung, and tickled where blood was dripping down.

"Babe." Ranger said, softly. He stepped closer, ignoring Joe's scowl, and looked into my eyes. "You ok?" His eyes were dark, concerned. I could still see traces of fear in them, which was saying something. Batman didn't show feelings.

"Peachy." I answered. In truth, I felt rather weak. Blood and pain do that to me. "It wasn't my fault." I said belligerently.

Ranger grinned a full 200 watts. "It never is. You're a magnet for disaster." Then he turned serious. "You gonna be ok?" His eyes searched my face.

"Yeah." I shrugged my good arm. Not much he could fix, anyhow.

Ranger nodded. His pager chirped, he checked it, swore, and stood. "Babe." he said, touching my cheek gently, and he was off, striding towards his porsche.

"Glad you're ok, Cupcake. You really need a new job." Joe stated matter of factly. "There's a reception job opening at the PD you should look into."

Oh boy. Here we go again. "I don't WANT a new job." I snapped back at Joe. Ranger turned and looked at me a minute. He looked like he was thinking about coming back. I shook my head slightly at him - he had better things to do and I didn't want to be in the middle of some macho male thing, and he nodded before getting in his car and leaving.

"Cupcake, you're going to get hurt. You're going to get killed. I'm tired of drinking maalox straight out of the bottle. My acid reflux is killing me. I'm getting ulcers. Why can't you get a normal job, settle down, and we can have a family."

"Normal." I repeated. My voice was as dull as my heart. Normal. He had just essentially told me I wasn't normal. I felt a piece of my heart slice off. "Joe, what is normal?"

"Normal. Like Mary-Lou and Lenny. A house, a dog, kids running through the sprinkler in the backyard, shrieking on a hot summer day. You and I lounging on a chair with beer. An office job where you can't get hurt -"

"Joe, thousands of people with office jobs died in New York." I didn't mean to belittle that, but he didn't seem to get that safety is really an illusion.

"You almost die every day. Normal is...well, you're supposed to be domestic. Raise the kids, work at a nice, quiet job. Come home, cook, kiss me when I walk through the door..."

"That's everything I'm not, Joe. I'm not domestic." I protested. I was too numb to feel anger.

"But you could be. Cupcake, you need to be. You can be, you just have to decide to do it, instead of chasing this fool idea of being a bounty hunter, running around with questionable characters."

The numbness was replaced by anger when Joe began to insult my friends. Especially Ranger, who saved me time and time again. I saw red. "Thanks Joe. Just tell me what I've never been, what I should believe. Tell me I'm a fool. But don't you god-damned insult my friends."

"Cupcake-" Joe started.

I cut him off. "I hate the way you look at me." I whispered, turning away from him.

"What do you mean? How do I look at you?" Joe demanded.

I didn't say anything for a minute. The medics were ready to take me to the hospital. I was ready to get away from Joe, so I let them usher me into the ambulance without a fuss. "As if I was broken." I whispered as the doors shut, separating us. The invisible gulf between us widened. Resting my head back against the wall, I wondered why I bothered.

0123

I leaned against my closed door, my spirits sagging. I'd been poked, prodded, had glass chips picked out of my face, my arm stitched up, and then I spent an hour at the pharmacy waiting for my prescriptions of burn cream and antibiotic ointment to be filled. I was finally back in my apartment, and grateful for the silence. Rex was sleeping in his soup can. I dumped the pharmacy bag on the counter, checked the fridge, and dropped a grape in Rex' cage before heading towards my bed. I thought about showering, but that took too much effort. I was running on empty.

I flopped on my bed, and sprawled. As I did, I heard a crinkling of paper. Shifting, mindful of my arm, I dug into my pocket and pulled out the piece of paper I wrote on while waiting for my prescriptions. I wasn't much for keeping a diary, but sometimes I would write a letter to myself. And so today I wrote another one, spilling my heart onto paper. It was the only release I'd get.

I opened the paper and read through it once. My eyes filled with tears, they stung against the cuts on my face. Sprawled on my bed, I cried. As the tears fell, I thought about Joe, and Joe's ultimatums. I thought about his place in my life, and where I was going now. And I realized that morning comes faster alone than it does when you're caged with someone who wants to change an integral part of who you are.

Eventually I cried myself to sleep.

0123

Silently, he let himself into her apartment. He noticed the prescription bag on the counter, and the lone grape in Rex' cage. So she was home. Good. That meant she was safe. Careful not to make any noise, in case she was sleeping, he made his way towards her bedroom. There she was. Sprawled across her bed on her stomach, her face turned towards the door. Her bandaged arm was raised over her head, bent, fingers touching the headboard. Her hair was everywhere. He smiled. He loved watching her. She even slept with wild abandon.

His smile faded when she whimpered, and he noticed the tear tracks down her face. He pushed off the door frame and made his way over to the bed.

"I'm sorry." he whispered, gently brushing the hair away from her face. She whimpered in her sleep again but didn't wake up. He stroked her cheek again, and leaned forward to kiss her temple. As he straightened up, he noticed the paper in her hands.

He was slow and careful as he pried it from her fingers. She mumbled something incoherent in her sleep. He eased back, and moved to sit in the chair in the corner to read it.

So I'm writing another letter to myself. It's been a bad day. What's new. My life is littered with bad days. Of course, I always bounce back, and I always get my man one way or another. Well, ok, so sometimes it's more like Ranger gets my man, but he always makes me feel like I did it, like I was integral. And usually I manage to learn something to file away for later. Usually.

My car is no more. I liked that car. But bang, Car gone. Poof. Magic. Stephanie touches car, car goes to heaven. And Car doesn't go to heaven quietly, either. So yeah, another bad day. After I write this I think I'll go home and sleep. And then when I wake up I have to be happy again. Same ol' Stephanie, letting everything run off my shoulders, vibrant, full of everything.

I don't feel very vibrant right now. And I don't want to be. I'm tired of me. I'm tired of Joe criticizing me. I'm tired of everyone telling me to change me. I hate when people look at me in shock, in horror. As if I was broken. I don't know what's wrong with me. Why I can't be normal. Joe always tells me what I should believe, demands that I be something I've never been. I think he wants me to be Valerie. Or Mary-Lou. My best friend. I love her, but I don't want to be her. I respect her so much, but I could never handle her life. I could never handle being her. And Joe can't handle my life. Because my life, unlike Mary-Lou's, isn't Normal. Normal.

I'm not normal. I'm ab-normal. I'm broken. I come from the burg, and I'm not "burg". The perfection of my frailty, of normalcy, has been questioned. It's been questioned until it broke. It's broken. It's not Joe's fault. It's not his fault I can't be normal. Once I get home, take a nap, and wake up, I'm back to regular ol' Stephanie, ready to take on the world.

Well, not really, but I can pretend, right? Better than admitting the truth. Better than admitting that I am broken, shattered pieces scattered at my feet, a puzzle I'll never be able to put back together. That's what I'll be if I pay Joe's price. Joe loves me. And I love him. But I don't know if I can do it, and survive.

The prescriptions done. Guess I'll go now. I need a car...

Why can't I be normal?

His heart twisted into a tight, painful knot as he read. He sat, unmoving, for a long while before his pager vibrated, it was time to go back to a life of fighting crime. He dug through his pocket for a pen, scrawled a few lines at the bottom of her paper, and placed it on the pillow by her head. He kissed her forehead gently, apologized once more, and left the apartment as silently as he came in, locking up after himself.

0123

My head was pounding when I woke up. Crying yourself to sleep does that to you. With a groan, I rolled over, my forearm coming to lie on something hard. Puzzled, I sat up. My letter to myself was on my pillow by my bed, folded in half. I narrowed my eyes and picked it up. Two sets of keys fell into my lap. I ignored them and opened the letter.

Babe,

"Normal" is a societal illusion, a way to segregate. You are perfect, faults and all. Don't let anyone clip your wings.

I'm gunnin' for you, babe. You can do anything you set your mind to.

Left you the Turbo. Thought that would cheer you up. Try not to destroy it. But if it does get destroyed, make sure you stay safe. I can replace the car. You... You are irreplaceable.

Second set of keys are if you need to get away for a bit. It is secluded, and peaceful. Instructions to the location can be found in my apartment, in a drawer I know you were too curious to not snoop through.

I'm offline for the weekend. If you need anything work-related, call Tank. Probably you should take a few days off, though.

I'm gunnin' for you babe, always.

R.

Wow. I must have slept through his visit. Funny how Ranger always manages to cheer me up. I know he would have liked to lecture me about being more aware of my surroundings, about not jumping into everything headfirst without caution. I know he's probably dying to give me the standard lecture about safety, precautions, carrying my gun, and everything else. Ranger and I don't really see eye to eye either on stuff, but at least the things he disagrees with me on are things that would keep me safer, since I insist on this lifestyle. But he didn't do any of that in the letter. He gave me exactly what I needed - unwavering support.

That short note really did wonders to re-energize me. Well, the keys to the Porsche helped. What can I say, it's the freaking Turbo! It's as souped up as a mainstream jetliner. And he left me keys to a safe house. Normally fight him tooth and nails about safe houses, but this time he isn't trying to make me stay in one for safety - he's offering me one for solitude. For a chance to sort myself out away from prying eyes and ears.

I stretched, and thought about showering when there was a knock on my door. "Cupcake?"

I sighed to myself, but got up. I feel like I'm ready to take this on, so maybe now is the time for Joe and I have to talk. We need to talk. He needs to understand. I padded to the door and opened it. "Joe." I moved out of the way so he could come in.

"I brought an application for the job with PD." He said, placing it on the counter.

"I don't want a new job, Joe. I like my job, I like my friends, and.."

"And what?"

"I don't know. I love you Joe, you know that. But maybe we aren't suited for this kind of relationship. You want a wife and kids. And I... I'm not there yet."

"I'll wait for you Cupcake, I just want you safe."

"I'm not ready for safe. I don't know if I'll ever be. I tried safe, Joe. Safe ended with Joyce Barnhardt on my dining room table. I can't be normal. I just CAN'T." I was getting upset. "And I'll fight you to the grave for this. For my wings. For my own life. I can't let you take a part of me away like that. And we'll both be miserable if we keep on like this."

"Are you saying we're breaking up?" Joe looked upset. I was too. I did love him.

"I don't know, Joe. Right now, I'd really like to be alone, to think."

"Fine. Cupcake..." he looked at me, a lost expression on his face.

"Joe..."

"I love you, Cupcake. We'll both think for a bit. Maybe you're right."

"See you later, Joe." I said, letting him out. I closed the door, but before locking it, I opened it again.

"Joe!" I hollered down towards the elevators. He turned and looked at me. "No matter what conclusion we come to, I want us to stay friends." I told him. He nodded, before the elevator doors closed after him.

0123

I haphazardly threw clothes in a duffel bag. I was going away for the weekend. My phone was ringing off the hook already and I didn't want to deal with it. I wanted to think. I'd spent mere second fingering the keys to the safe house before deciding to go for it. As usual, Ranger knew what I needed before I did, and provided it. I didn't let myself think about what that meant.

I beeped the Porsche unlocked and climbed in, sighing as I sank into the seat. I adjusted it, and squiggled around for a minute, getting comfortable. I got a huge rush as I peeled out of the parking lot. This car was the shit. I felt powerful behind the wheel of this car, and that power propelled me to the Rangeman building on Haywood street. I beeped the gate open and parked in one of Ranger's spots, and made my way to the elevator. I let myself into his apartment, calling a hello just in case he was home. No answer. I headed to his bedroom to check his underwear drawer.

Well, what else would he have been referring to?

I guess not the underwear drawer. As last time, it was empty save for one pair of silk black boxers, folded neatly and placed in the center of the drawer. I wondered what other drawer he could have been speaking of, and started the close the drawer of Stephanie-fantasies. As I did a white corner caught my eye. I looked closer. Yep, looks like the corner of a piece of paper tucked into the folds of his underwear.

OMIGOD. I have to touch Batman's underwear. I was sweating bullets, but I managed to retrieve the piece of paper with minimal hot flashes. I unfolded it, four times, and read on.

Babe,

Guess I was right about you needing to get away. Memorize the directions, destroy this note, and ask Tank to disable the GPS. It's important that there is no way to trace your trip. The location must remain secure. I trust you not to divulge it to anyone.

The note proceeded to give me directions to the safe house he left me keys for. I read it, memorized it, ripped it to shreds, and then called Tank and asked him to disable the GPS. As soon as he did that, I was on my way. I felt lighter, freeer than I had in a while. I needed a rest. I left a message for my mom letting her know I was going on holidays and not to worry. And I drove. I drove out of Trenton, and down a winding sideroad. I turned off that road down another one, and then a few miles later I turned again. This road wound in twists and turns, and was enclosed on either side by thick bush. It was a beautiful drive. One more turn, down a long driveway. I slowed down, savoring the drive and the feel of the Porsche. I drove up to a beautiful little log house. It wasn't very big but it was quaint and quiet. It was a beautiful looking safe house, rustic and enchanting. Maybe next time I won't protest so much about being sent to one. I got out of the car and was immediately greeted with the sound of birds chirping.

Peace.

I grabbed my duffel bag and went to unlock the door. As I inserted the key in the lock, I heard an unmistakeable sound.

"Babe. You need to be more aware of your surroundings." Ranger grinned at me, when I jumped and spun around.

"What're you doing here? This is MY safe house." I demanded crankily. I wanted time alone.

"MY safe house, babe." he laughed. Then his expression turned serious. "You ok?"

"Peachy." I repeated my answer from earlier.

"Babe."

"I'll be ok. They don't hurt too badly. Joe and I...I don't know what Joe and I are. Thinking for the weekend, but I think we'll wind up being just friends." I sighed. Ranger reached out and touched a cut on my cheek, whisper soft. His eyes reflected compassion, and he pulled me into a chaste, comforting hug. I leaned into him, I needed it.

He held me for a long while, before finally releasing me. "Put your bag inside. Then come sit with me on the back lawn." he turned me back towards the door.

"I thought you were offline for the weekend?" I asked.

"I am." he told me, as I swung the door open.

I stepped forward and squeezed him into a hug. "Are you staying here this weekend?"

"I needed some down time."

"You left me keys to come here."

"You needed downtime too."

"I don't think I'm officially broken up with Morelli. I won't risk the possibility of anything being cheating." I really never want to cheat on him.

"This weekend isn't sexual." He set me away from him. "Time enough for that, babe." he whispered, and kissed me softly. "Time enough for that."

The inside of the safe house was also log. It was gorgeous. Hardwood flooring, log walls, partitions...Even the railings for the stairwell to the upstairs loft was log.

"Wow. Are all your safe houses this nice?" I asked.

"No." Even when he's offline, Batman is a man of many words, i thought sarcastically. After a minute, he nudged me farther into the house. I looked around further. There was a comfortable looking couch, a television, a wall full of bookshelves, full of books. In the corner, a stone fire place. An open kitchen and dining room. The stairs must lead up to the bedrooms, I thought... and headed up them with my bag. The stairs were smooth, soft beneath my feet. I peeked into the bathroom and into a small bedroom with a twin bed. I headed further down the hall, trailing a hand along the log banister as I went. The deep coloring of the wood was gorgeous. I peeked into the last room and upon seeing a large bed, went further in to drop my bag.

My jaw dropped and hit the ground at the same time as my duffel bag. On the nightstand was a picture of Ranger and I in my cubby at Rangeman, and another of us on the shooting range. The bed, the room..it looked personal. I felt Ranger behind me, and I turned to face him.

"This isn't a safe house." I commented.

"It's very safe, babe."

"This isn't a safe house." I repeated.

Ranger searched my face for a minute, looking for I don't know what. "No babe." he finally said, pushing a curl behind my ear. "It's the batcave."

"You gave me keys to the batcave." I stated. "But the batcave is forever."

"So are you, babe." He pulled me into a hug and tucked my head under his chin. "So are you."