Title: Oh, Lately, It's So Quiet
Rating: PG-13
Word Count: 1681
Pairing/Charcter: Ranger/Stephanie
Disclaimer: Everything belongs to Janet Evanovich. I'm only borrowing for fun.
Summary: Ranger's POV, immediately following Lean Mean Thirteen. As I closed the door behind me and put my keys on the small counter, I thought my apartment felt more than quiet tonight – it felt empty. Like something was missing.
Spoilers/Warnings: up to Lean Mean Thirteen just to be safe
Author's Note: Influenced by OK GO's song Oh Lately, It's So Quiet. I even borrowed the title :)

Oh, lately it's so quiet in this place - you're not round every corner. Oh, lately it's so quiet in this place - so darling if you're not here haunting me, I'm wondering... – OK GO

By the time I got back to RangeMan, it was late. Very late. It had been a long day, tiring both mentally and physically, and the only thing I wanted more than sleep was ten – maybe twenty – minutes alone with a certain blue eyed brunette. I had some … frustrations I wanted to work out.

Since I knew that wasn't in my future, I took the elevator to the fifth floor. I checked in with the control room but it had been a quiet night. This was a nice follow up from the afternoon, since the afternoon could be categorized as hectic -- if your definition of hectic includes having your heart stop in your chest several times. I was just glad Stephanie's the luckiest person I've ever met, bar none, and even with her forgetting the pen transmitter, the afternoon stayed at hectic and never got upgraded to deadly.

Of course, the latest escape meant no more RangeMan patrol on her - for now, at least. I was under no illusions that this would be the last time I needed to protect her. I knew my men were probably relieved it was all over – Binkie definitely so, especially after an evening in the cemetery with Steph and Lula – but I knew where she was and who she went home with and that didn't put me anywhere near the vicinity of relieved.

I did some paperwork in my office, some soft classical music on in the background. The music was relaxing and not at all distracting, which was more than I could say for my thoughts. In the absence of any real threats on any parts of my business, I checked my e-mail and returned some long overdue phone calls. They were business – they're always business – but the mundane tasks and organization helped ease the worry and stress of the past week out of my body. I've hid it well but the truth was I'm not as unattached as I would like, as I should be, and there was only so many panicked phone calls or close encounters with flamethrowers I could take.

Tanks poked his head in around midnight. "Never ends, huh?" I wasn't sure if he meant the paperwork or Stephanie.

"No," I said. "It never does."

"Everything squared away with Stephanie?"

"Yes," I replied evenly. No emotion. Just the way it should be. "She went home with the cop."

Tank was silent. The music filled the conversation lull and Tank glanced at the papers spread all over my desk. "Ranger, man, go home."

I shot him a look.

Tank held up his hands in front of him, in a position of surrender. "Ok, ok. My shift's done, I'm outta here. Lula's waiting for me," he grinned and I gave him an almost smile.

"Anything I can do for you before I go?" Tank asked in a last ditch effort and man, was that a loaded question. I shook my head no.

"Enjoy your evening," I told him and this time I was really smiling. Tank and Lula. Who would have thought?

Stephanie, I decided immediately. Stephanie probably wasn't surprised.

And just like that, any concentration I had was out the window.

I filed the paperwork in the appropriate cabinets in my office, powered off my computer, and took the stairs up to my apartment. It was quiet, something I'd always reveled in after a long day. Just me after a day of watching my back and going for my gun at the slightest sound. As I closed the door behind me and put my keys on the small counter, I thought my apartment felt more than quiet tonight – it felt empty. Like something was missing. I didn't spend a lot of time here – I didn't spend a lot of time anywhere, honestly – but it was the closest place I had to a home. I've never bothered to get attached to anywhere I've settled; ever since leaving the Rangers, I've realized a bed is just a bed, an apartment's just an apartment. No use hanging pictures or decorating if you're not going to be around to appreciate it.

But lately, it had been more than that. Like I've noticed the silence more. Or maybe I've noticed the way there's no clutter. No clothes on the ground. No shoes by the couch. No discarded dishes in the sink or half-drank water bottles on the island. Most of this was due to Ella because that's what I pay her for but – how much of it was my fault? How much of it was my decision to keep people at arm's length?

I thought briefly of Julie, thousands of miles away with her mom and stepdad, me just a guy who sends a card on her birthday or, more accurately, the guy whose life got her kidnapped by a nutcase. Did I make a mistake there?

I sighed and shook my head. Don't go there Carlos, I warned myself, as I took off my shirt and walked into the bedroom. I stopped in the doorway and looked at the bed. I had a flashback to a few days ago when I had gotten home late from doing paperwork and had found Stephanie in bed, dressed only in my t-shirt and panties. I'd slept good that night, I had to admit. And I liked coming home to someone, though I'd never admit out loud, even under pain of death. I was a lone wolf, I wasn't supposed to want to come home to someone. I was Batman, saving Gotham in the dark of the night.



I liked coming home to Stephanie.

I groaned and shucked my pants. I fell onto the bed in Stephanie's so-called "thinking position". To be honest, it wasn't helping me think. My imagination was on overdrive tonight.

I imagined coming home to Stephanie every night, the light spilling onto her small frame in my big bed. I imagined her slowly waking up, blue eyes big and sleepy, hair wild on my pillow. I saw the way her hands would tighten around the sheets as I kissed her, the way she'd moan my name against my lips. Then I changed from imagining to cold hard facts: I remembered the way she had moved against me, picking up my rhythm and changing it just enough to drive me crazy. The way she had twisted underneath me, the way she had flushed pink before she shattered apart in my hands. Then I remembered the flash in her eyes when I told her to repair her relationship with Morelli. And then I imagined her with Morelli right now, kissing his face, twisting his sheets, flushing under his hands.

"Fuck," I swore softly and got off the bed. I went into the bathroom and took a cold shower. I tried to distract myself by thinking about what I had to do tomorrow. My meetings, my business, my skips. Anything but Stephanie. Missions I'd almost died on, men that hadn't returned, the things I did back when I didn't have much of conscience. It didn't work.

Stephanie Plum was haunting my thoughts. It always came back to Stephanie.

After I was clean, I padded out to my small living room. I turned the television on to some random ball game, just needing the noise in the background. It was so damn quiet in the apartment.

As I stared at the television, unseeing, I thought some more about Stephanie. I was way past the point of no return. Nights like this always ventured into a place in my brain I studiously avoided. Always after she had come close to dying, come close to leaving me. I'd been haunted by her for months after I found her in the small, cramped space at Stiva's house.

Sometimes, on nights like these, I pretended I could give her what she needed: unrestricted love, the option of a family, a man (husband?) who was around to support her desire to fly. Sometimes I methodically identified our problems and came up with solutions to solve them, to make my fantasies reality: allow her more emotional access. Include her on the inner workings of my day to day operations. Make her train with one of the guys, force her to be better with her gun and fitness. Occasionally, I ran conversations we could have through my head, saw myself surprising her with trips to the Caribbean, a new pair of shoes, birthday cake.

Sometimes, I even ate the cake with her.

Tonight, my thoughts kept returning to her time spent here. She's stayed with me for a few days at a time on a couple different occasions now and I always felt different after she left. Like I was just getting used to something and it got taken away from me abruptly. I'm a solitary man by nature. I don't do serious relationships, just lots and lots of flings and one night stands. Even my marriage hadn't been a serious relationship, not in the true sense of the definition. Sharing a close space with someone like Stephanie –someone not related to me by blood - was foreign to me. And yet, thinking about her toothbrush on my sink, her shampoo in my shower, her peanut butter in my kitchen made me feel mellow, not threatened.

It was slightly disconcerting to realize that I enjoyed cohabiting with Stephanie just seconds before I realized that Stephanie was off cohabiting with someone else.

It's your own fault, I told myself crossly. And it was. And the worst part was that despite all my rationalization and pretending on lonely nights, I was no closer to fixing anything now than I was immediately after sleeping with her. The entire situation might even be worse – that night was supposed to get her out of my system, once and for all, but instead, I now knew what I was missing. And what I wanted. And not a clue as to how to realistically get it.

When I finally fell asleep, it was fitful and short. For once, the quiet wasn't what I needed.