Disclaimer: I don't own the characters or the song. I just like to play with them.

This chapter is about the constant struggle Steph has with her mom and Joe. How they want her to be and her struggle to be what she wants to be. Babe story with a HEA. Tank's, and Steph's POV. The song used is Numb by Linkin Park. It is rated Teen. Not Cupcake friendly.

This started as a one shot and has exploded just a little. More chapters to come.

Reposted and Beta'd.

Thanks to Lisa for the use of her beta skills.

Thanks also to Angie for help with plot.

I've Become So Numb

Tank's POV

Ranger's been in the wind for two months, leaving me in charge of Rangeman. My number one priority was making sure the Bombshell Bounty Hunter was safe. I'd been keeping a close eye on Steph, and I had one of the Merry Men (as Steph has named us) riding with her to get her skips. Ranger would kill me if I let anything happen to her while he was gone, so I figured better to be safe than sorry.

Steph was still with the Cop and I knew that he and her Mom had really been pressuring her to quit her job and marry him. I was also aware that they step up their efforts when Ranger's called away from Trenton. The Cop's not brave enough to try that shit while Ranger's here. Ranger can be scary, especially when it comes to Stephanie.

I was starting to get really worried about Steph, though. Something was off with her and I didn't know what. I assigned Lester as her partner, and he'd noticed a change in her as well. It was like she had lost her fire … like something, or should I say someone, has broken her spirit and enthusiasm.

Lester stopped into my office yesterday and filled me in about Stephanie's family dinner the night before. He had been going with her to try to keep her mother and Morelli from ganging up on her.

Lester and Stephanie walked in to the Plum house, and Mrs. Plum immediately started to yell at Steph about how she was a disgrace of a daughter. How she was a burden to the family by not marrying and becoming housewife, like her sister, Valerie.

Then Morelli showed up, his Italian temper flaring as he waved his arms in the air and started cussing over Lester's presence. Then he continued ranting about Steph needing to marry him, have his children, and quit her job.

Stephanie had looked at Lester with sad eyes and told him that he could go, because it wasn't fair for him to have to listen to that and be insulted by Joe. Lester refused to leave her, and instead tried to convince her to leave and not listen to anymore of their verbal abuse. Steph had just shook her head, no, and settled into her seat at the table, keeping her face turned down and staring at her untouched plate. Lester said that by the end of the night, Steph's beautiful blue eyes looked haunted.

I was sitting at my desk, going over reports, when my cell rang. It was Lula.

"Tank, I'm sorry to bother you at work, but I'm worried about Steph. She came in to the office this morning and something is off with her. I just don't know what it is; she doesn't even look like herself," Lula said with sadness lacing her voice.

"I know," I said quietly, feeling resolved that this matter was going to demand some sort of intervention, but I just had no idea how to deal with this problem. Obviously, Lula had noticed the same behavior in Steph as Lester and I had.

"What should we do?" Lula asked, sounding as troubled as I did with the situation.

"I don't think there's anything we can do, other than be there for her and try to counter what her mom and Morelli are doing to her right now."

"I wish Batman would hurry back. He'd know how to fix this."

I chuckled and say "You're right; he'd make them stop or ship them off to a third world country."

She sighs and asks "Do you know when he's supposed to be back?"

"I'm waiting for his call right now."

"Are you going to tell him about white girl?" she asked.

"Yeah, I won't be able to keep it from him. It'll be his first question, and he knows me well enough that I can't evade answering him. Besides, he needs to know what's going on, and I need to make sure he doesn't want me to step in."

"Maybe he'll decide to admit how he feels and get her away from Supercop forever."

"One can only hope."

"Bye, Tankie."

"Lula, baby, don't call me that. Bye."

Lula was right. If Ranger would get his head out of his ass and admit how he really felt. Steph wouldn't be going through this right now. She'd be happily living up on the seventh floor, helping me run this company while he was away.

Ranger felt that it wasn't right to try a relationship with her while he was still under government contract, but I kept telling him that she gets it, and would support him, and that they'd be better off together enjoying, whatever time they had instead of none at all.

Stephanie's POV

I was sitting in my car outside the bonds office, where I'd just left, forgetting to even sign the agreements for my FTAs. Lula had been questioning me relentlessly about what was wrong, but I didn't even want to talk about it. I was tired, exhausted from a week's worth of sleepless nights. I hurt everywhere, both physically and mentally.

As I started the car, Linkin Park's song Numb came on the radio. I started singing the lyrics and suddenly it dawned on me that this was exactly how I felt. I was numb, like I just didn't care anymore. I was tired of trying to be what Mom and Joe wanted me to be. They kept putting pressure on me to walk in the shoes of the Burg. I knew what they expected of me, but how did I prove to them that I wasn't Burg wife material?

Every step that I took was perceived as mistake to them. I felt so faithless and lost, not knowing in which direction to continue. The burden of missing Ranger only added to my misery. Not being able to just talk to him dragged me down; his voice alone brightens my day.

Mostly, I missed him because he's the greatest supporter of me just being me. No matter what disaster befalls me, Ranger just shows up, hooking his arms under mine, pulling me up, and setting me on my feet and back on track. I wondered for the millionth time when his "someday" will be … I'm beyond ready for mine.

I'm tired of being what you want me to be

Feeling so faithless lost under the surface

Don't know what you're expecting of me

Put under the pressure of walking in your shoes

(Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow)

Every step that I take is another mistake to you

(Caught in the undertow, just caught in the undertow)

I've become so numb I can't feel you there

I've become so tired so much more aware

I'm becoming this all I want to do

Is be more like me and be less like you

I motored towards home, figuring that Ghostbusters and Ben and Jerry's were just what I need to help me feel better. I checked in with Tank on my cell, telling him I was just going to stay home for the rest of the day. I wasn't going after any of my FTAs, so he didn't need to send Lester over to "babysit" me. He asked me if I was alright. I fought back tears and told him I was fine.

I should've probably told Tank what was going on and how I was feeling. He'd do everything in his power to make me feel better, but I just couldn't do it. The thought of one more person seeing me weak and unworthy was more than I could handle right now. So I just took myself off to denial land, where I've made a permanent residence, and told Tank again that I was fine, and that I'd see him tomorrow.

I pulled into my lot and found Joe's cop car there. Great, I told myself, as I rolled my eyes. I headed up to my apartment and found him inside, packing up some of my things.

"Joe, what do you think you are doing?" I asked sharply.

"Cupcake, you're moving in with me."

I felt my Italian-Hungarian temper roll to full boil. "No, I'm not."

"Steph, come on. We aren't getting any younger. We need to go ahead and get married so we can start our family. We need to have at least two kids. The sooner the better, don't you think?"

"Joe, you're smothering me. Can't you see that? What brought this on, Joe? Why do you think that you can just move me in with you without even asking me? It's like your panicking that you're going to lose me. You think that I should marry you and have kids. Joe, that's not who I am, and you knew that when we started dating. Did you honestly think that I'd be happy living the life of my mother? Have I ever done what anyone expects me to do? I'm not going to be what you want me to be. I can't keep doing this Joe you are slowly killing me."

Can't you see that you're smothering me

Holding too tightly afraid to lose control

Cause everything that you thought I would be

Has fallen apart right in front of you

(Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertow)

Every step that I take is another mistake to you

(Caught in the undertow just caught in the undertow)

And every second I waste is more than I can take

I've become so numb I can't feel you there

I've become so tired so much more aware

I'm becoming this all I want to do

Is be more like me and be less like you

"Joe, can't you see that I need to be me? I can't be like you."

"What are you saying, Steph, that you don't want to be with me anymore?"

"I don't know. I just can't keep fighting you and Mom. I'm having a hard time right now, Joe, and this isn't helping."

"You wouldn't be having a hard time if you just do what I say," he shouted.

"Get out!"

"Cupcake, I'm sorry, I didn't mean it."

"Out, Joe, now! I've just made up my mind. I don't want to be with you anymore."

He walked over to the door and turned around to look at me again. He sighed and then continued out the door.

I stood there for I don't know how long, just staring at the door. I couldn't believe he just told me that I needed to do what he said. He hadn't listened to a damn thing that came out of my mouth. Clearly, Joe was delusional when it came to how I felt about living the Burg life. His family was worse than mine most of the time. And another thing Joe's never done what people to tell him to do. Why would he think I should? I knew that I might be making a mistake, but it was my mistake to make. Now, what do I do?

And I know I may end up failing too

But I know you were just like me

With someone disappointed in you

Tank's POV

My cell phone rang.

"Yo," I answered.

"Yo, Tank, report."

I hesitated, trying to figure out how best to tell him about Bombshell. Before I could say a word, Ranger quickly spoke up. "What's wrong, Tank?" Ranger snapped with impatience.

Damn, that didn't take him long. All I got to say was "Yo".

"It's Steph." I said and began to try to form an explanation of her behavior when he started yelling.

"Damn it Tank! What's wrong with my Babe? How could you let something happen to her? What is the one thing I said before I left?" he was ranting at this point, and I wondered what Bombshell would think if she could hear this. I'd bet it would put a smile on her face to hear him ranting. I mentally chuckled at the thought.

"Ranger, she's not physically hurt; I wouldn't let anything happen to her. You told me before you left that you didn't care if the company was destroyed as long as she was okay when you got back. Now, would you shut up and listen to me so I can explain what is going on?"

I started to explain the situation with Morelli and Mrs. Plum. I heard Ranger muttering to himself that he should have shipped them off to Siberia before he left and that he knew they'd seize the opportunity to pressure her while he was away. I told him of Steph's behavior, how she had blown off work today and how her eyes were looked haunted instead of having their normal sparkle.

"Tank, I'm supposed to be back in Trenton, in a little over four hours. Would you please go to her? Make sure she is okay. Try to get her to let you hang out with her until I can get there. I'm worried about her. They might have finally managed to break her spirit down, but I know just how I'm going to put her back together.

"Sure, man. Maybe she'll want to watch a movie."

"You better take one of your own or you'll be stuck watching Ghostbusters again," Ranger advised me, his voice is filled with amusement.

So, after my conversation with Ranger, I planned my strategy. Stop by Tasty Pastry for donuts, then the video store for the new Will Smith action movie. I knew that those things would at least get me through her door. Then I just had to figure out how to convince her to let me stay with her for the next four hours.

Stephanie's POV

It was a terrible day. I decided to take a shower, throw some popcorn in the microwave, and curl up on the couch to watch the best movie ever, Ghostbusters. I just hit play on the DVD player when I heard a knock on my door.

I went to the door and said "Joe, just go. I don't want to talk to you again today." I was surprised when I heard Tank's greeting from the other side of the door. "Tank, what are you doing here?"

"You seemed to need a shoulder to lean on; since your shoulder of choice isn't here, I'm volunteering to fill in. If that's OK with you?" he asked.

"Thanks Big Guy, but I'm okay, really." I could see in his eyes that he didn't believe me

"Come on, Steph, hanging out with you is more fun than sitting in Ranger's office doing paperwork. Besides, if you send me away, I'll have to eat all these Boston Crèmes by myself. I also brought the new Will Smith movie you mentioned you might like to see," Tank said with a grin, knowing he had me.

Tank was pulling out the big guns, so I sighed and let him into my apartment. We settled onto the couch and began watching the Will Smith movie, eating some popcorn and then the doughnuts.

The credits were rolling when Tank looked at me and asked why I was yelling at Joe when he came to the door. After a moment, I decided share some of the situation; at least as much as I was willing to share with Tank.

I was trying to explain how I was feeling when there was another knock at the door. I looked at Tank and saw him fighting back a smile. He told me to go get the door. I looked at him like he was crazy. I mean, normally when a Merry Man is present, I'm not allowed to open the door by myself. Tank knew something and he wasn't sharing.

I reluctantly went over to the door and who do I find … Ranger. I flung myself into his open arms, and he tilted his head down, gently kissing my lips. I heard Tank flat out laughing behind us. Ranger raised his head and shot him a look.

Tank looked back at us and says "I'm leaving, you two need to talk."

As the door closed behind Tank, Ranger scooped me up into his arms and carried me to the couch. He sat down with me in his lap and asked me what'd been happening with my Mom and Joe.

I guess Batman had been checking up on me, because he knew about the scene at dinner the other night. I explained to him the way I've been feeling. The numbness inside. That I thought maybe I was suffering from depression and how much worse it got when he was gone. That I was tired of being what everyone wanted me to be. That I was tired of being a joke to the cops, a disappointment to my mother, and entertainment for him and the Merry Men.

I've become so numb I can't feel you there

Tired of being what you want me to be

"It's like I couldn't feel you here this time. I know that sounds crazy, but normally when you're gone, I still feel your presence like a shield around me. It's always gotten me through in the past because it's so strong. But this time, they broke through the shield and tore me down."

"Babe, you're exactly what I want you to be. I owe you an apology. I never should've said that you were entertainment. That came out all wrong at the time and I never corrected it. You are important to me and everyone at Rangeman. You're beautiful, smart, caring, tenacious, witty, sexy as hell, and my best friend. I'm sorry that everyone's treated you so badly. Hell, I'm sorry I treated you that way. Please, don't let them get to you. You don't need to change a damn thing about yourself except for maybe one thing"

"What's that?"

"Steph, I've been so stupid when it comes to you. I'm not good at letting people in but I've come to realize that I have a relationship with you already, just not the type I want. I know that you'll have to think about it and that you are technically still with Joe."

I interrupt him. "Joe and I broke up a few hours ago."

Ranger flashed a 200-watt smile. "Steph, I'm ready for our someday, starting right now."

"I've been praying you would say that."

And with that I turned and pressed my lips to his…..