This story is inspired by the song "No Matter What" by Papa Roach. The scene at the end of this was based on something I saw on a Special Ops episode of Fight Science. It looked like something Ranger would do, and I thought it would also make a good ending for this story. All familiar characters belong to Janet. Any mistakes are mine.

I walked into the bedroom and stood watching Stephanie slide a pair of large hoop earrings into her ears. We have a capture scheduled for tonight and she had agreed to be part of it. She turned to face me and I felt my heart, along with parts much lower on my body, tighten almost painfully. The clothes she's wearing aren't all that different from what she normally wears for work, with the exception of the stilettos on her feet. Her t-shirt has a much deeper V, showing more skin than I would have preferred and I noticed with an appreciative glance, that her black jeans sat a little lower on her hips and are definitely tighter than what she uses for a uniform.

I've always put business before pleasure, but tonight I really want to make an exception to that rule. She always looks sexy to me, but right now she looks exactly like a fucking Rangeman centerfold come to life. She's in head-to-toe black making her flawless ivory skin stand out even more. Besides just looking good, the air surrounding her is palpable. When she starts psyching herself up for a job, she gives off an excited almost restless energy that never fails to draw a similar reaction from me.

I managed to get my mind off her body - and what I'd like to do to it - and back on what is happening tonight, but it wasn't easy. I don't like putting her in danger. I'd like nothing better than to lock her up in a safe house or have a guard on her every second that I can't be there to watch over her personally, but I respect her too much to do it. She's said that she always wanted to fly as a child, and I don't think anything has changed since she's become an adult. I'm not about to be another person who tries to clip her wings.

I know we've taken every possible security precaution we can to ensure that tonight goes as planned, but there's always a chance it won't. Unfortunately, I need her help to make sure no one, other than the FTA, gets hurt in the process. Steph has an incredible ability to get people to do things they wouldn't necessarily do otherwise. It's not just the fact that she's hotter than hell, but more to do with the way she carries herself. She won't let herself be taken advantage of, but she's willing to give anyone a chance if she thinks they deserve one.

Ormond Kittredge doesn't deserve a chance. He was arrested for an armed robbery in which two people ended up dead. He's shown no remorse for the deaths that occurred that night or for the person he killed two years before it. He won't be getting out of jail this time. And he knows it. So taking him in is going to be challenging to say the least. That's where Stephanie comes in. If she can get him away from the pack of gang wannabes he surrounds himself with, the capture should go smoothly. She's unbelievably lucky sixty percent of the time, but it's that forty percent I'm worried about. Yes ... I do need her help, but not at the expense of her being harmed. If she isn't alright, chances are extremely good that I won't be, either.

I need you right here, by my side

You're everything I'm not in my life

We're indestructible, we are untouchable

Nothing can take us down tonight

You are so beautiful, it should be criminal

That you could be mine

I walked up behind her. "Are you ready?"

"Yep. Do I look okay?"

"You look beautiful."

She gave a little disbelieving snort at that, but she did look happy I said it. She still has a hard time accepting compliments, but it's getting easier for her the longer we're together. Sometimes I wonder what she'd do if I flat-out thanked her for picking me. For choosing me to spend her life with. She'd probably be only slightly more shocked than I would at me admitting something that personal out loud.

"So what's the plan for tonight?" She asked.

"Pretty much the same as other jobs ... with one exception," I told her.

"What's the exception?"

"Kittredge is more dangerous than any of the other FTAs you've brought in for Rangeman, so you need to be aware of everything around you at all times. And you're going to have to be careful not to give him a reason to suspect you of being anything other than a woman looking for a good time."

She looked at me, but didn't say anything.

"You know I'll be there with you," I said to her. "And the guys will be positioned both inside and outside the building. You are not doing this alone." My eyes caught hers, and I waited long enough for her to realize that what I was about to say is important. "I don't want you doing this unless you're sure, Steph. If you're uneasy at all about this takedown, you need to tell me now."

She has great instincts and I'm not stupid enough to ignore them.

She took a deep breath, lifted her chin, and straightened her spine. I've seen her do this a lot over the last couple of months. Usually it's reserved for a Burg resident intent on obtaining some good gossip. She's readying herself for battle. And she's had more than her fair share of practice. Anyone facing off against her won't stand a chance.

"I'm sure," she said. "And I'm no more uneasy than usual." She smiled up at me. "If you think I can do this, there's no reason why I should think I can't."

"No one can do what you do," I said to her, meaning more than just how she does her job.

Her smile got wider and I know she's reading between the lines of what I said. For years, I thought I was satisfied with my life. I'd only do government jobs when I chose to. My security businesses succeeded even my own hopes for them. I had a few people to talk to if I felt the need and plenty of places to go if I didn't. Then I met Stephanie Plum. And she proceeded to change my thinking on what exactly constitutes happiness in my life. Money, success, power, privacy ... none of that mattered when I was faced with the possibility of her not sharing any of it with me.

And we will make it out alive

I'll promise you this love will never die

No matter what, I got your back

I'll take a bullet for you if it comes to that

I swear to God that in the bitter end

We're gonna be the last ones standing

As much as she plays it off, choosing me and Rangeman over her Burg life hasn't been an easy decision for her. Her mother doesn't understand it. To say Morelli is fucking pissed would be a gross understatement. And her friends, except for Lula and Connie, don't feel at all comfortable around me. It's safe to say she has had to give up a lot just to be here with me. She shouldn't have had to. If the people who claim to know and love her would have just realized how special a person she is and supported her decision, I'd be able to sleep better knowing that I'm not the cause of her losing an important part of her life.

The fact that someone has that kind of faith in me is mind-blowing. I've done a lot of unimaginable things throughout the years. Many of them necessary. But to have someone like her believe in me the way that she does, has made me feel like even though I couldn't change any of the things I've done, I could at least live with them now. I stopped myself from remembering that part of my past, and concentrated on the woman in front of me.

"Where did you just go?" She asked me.

"Just thinking about tonight," I told her.

She didn't believe me, but she didn't force the issue. I hope to God that she never knows exactly where I went in my mind. Or in my past. And what I went through once I was there. She knows there are things that I'm never going to talk about. And it still amazes me that she doesn't push me to tell her any of them. She's inquisitive by nature, but she isn't going to risk asking me to dig up something that I might not be able to bury again. What would probably frighten her even more is the fact that I'd do every single thing all over again just to make it to where I'm standing today.

So believe me when I say, you're the one

They'll never forgive us for the things we've done

I wrapped my arms around Ranger and just held him. When he goes all quiet like that I know he isn't going to say what's on his mind, but I always want to give him the opportunity to talk about it if he needs to. I'd hoped after a while that he would've opened up a little more about what his life was like before settling back in Trenton, but there are some things I know talking about won't help. I still can't discuss what happened with Scrog no matter who's asking. Even Ranger doesn't know everything about that night; when I finally admitted to myself just how much I love him. I had loved Joe in a way, but I realized the difference that night. Unfortunately, it took me a long time to reveal that particular information to the two of them.

He let me hold him for a few more minutes. I'm not sure if he needed the contact or if he knew I did. Either way, I'm not going to complain. I am a little nervous about tonight, but he and the guys are watching out for me. They will have picked apart every last detail of their plan and then gone over that plan three or four times afterwards looking for any potential problems they might've missed. If something does go wrong tonight ... there probably isn't any way we could've prevented it, so I tried to push the nerves away.

He pulled back slightly and looked down at me. It's still shocking to see his dark eyes go all soft like that when he looks at me. I can forget about all the crappy things in my life; like how my mother still isn't speaking to me for breaking up with Joe, and being snubbed by people I once considered friends. I didn't realize exactly how personal cops take it when they think you've hurt one of their own. Mary Lou still tries, but our lives are so different that it's more effort than fun when we finally do get together. All the way down to Vinnie, who is still pissed at me for leaving the bonds office to come work full-time at Rangeman. Even though he was constantly complaining about how bad a bounty hunter I was in the first place.

As I looked back at Ranger, I know everything I've gone through is worth it. I refuse to let myself care about the rest of it. I have everything I need. Connie and Lula are still happy to see me whenever I drop by the office or need a shopping buddy. And I'd say that Ranger's men have welcomed me into their unique group with open arms, but that would imply they've shown emotion, and I'm pretty sure that's strictly against Rangeman policy. But I can tell they aren't opposed to having Rex and I hanging around. They've become almost like a surrogate family to me.

Ranger tightened his hold on me for a moment. "As much as I'd love to stay like this, Babe," he said, letting me go, "we have to leave in five minutes."

I smiled up at him. "Don't worry, I'm not dragging my feet on this one. I want this night over with even more than you do."

With his muscled arm around me, we left the bedroom and stopped only long enough for me to grab my bag on the way out the door.

And we will make it out alive

I'll promise you this love will never die

No matter what, I got your back

I'll take a bullet for you if it comes to that

I swear to God that in the bitter end

We're gonna be the last ones standing

We made it to the bar fifteen minutes early. Tank, Lester, Hal, and Bobby were all in place. Two inside the bar, and two out. I wanted Stephanie to lure the skip out, but I'm not ruling out that something bad could go down inside the bar.

"Okay, Babe, remember just get him out here and we'll handle the rest."

"You're the boss," she said to me.

"Wise ass," I said, kissing her quickly yet thoroughly before releasing her. "Go get 'em, Tiger."

The men and I were tense, waiting in complete silence until she walked back out of the building ten minutes later with Ormond right behind her. I have to give her credit, a few minutes alone with her and he's willing to follow her anywhere she wants him to go. But that was when all hell broke loose.

We didn't factor the fucked up brain of the skip into our plans. And it appeared he wasn't at all concerned about his impending jail time when presented with a woman like Stephanie, because as soon as the door closed behind him he spun around and pinned her to the wall by her throat.

Under normal circumstances, she would have been able to get herself away from him, but I took the matter out of her hands when I saw a gun being pulled from underneath his shirt when she tried to knee him in the groin. I forced myself to wait until I was sure his attention was solely on her. He was ignoring everything else around him as I crept up silently behind them, my gun trained on his head. He was tracing Steph's cheek with the muzzle of the gun, but froze when he heard my voice.

"If your hands aren't off her in two seconds, I'm going to remove them for you. And I promise that I will make it slow and even more painful than it sounds."

His head whipped around towards me. When he caught sight of the Glock in my hand, he tightened his hold on Stephanie's neck, pointing his gun at me instead. I was close enough to take him down, but I wanted her away from him before I did.

We'll never fall, we'll never fade

I'll promise you forever and my soul today

No matter what until the bitter end

We're gonna be the last ones standing

Kittredge's gun is now pointed at Ranger, and I don't want to think about what would happen if his finger even twitched on the trigger. I know I have to keep calm and be ready to help any way I can. We're going to get out of this, I told myself. We have to. I can't let myself consider the alternative. Kittredge started talking and I forced myself to focus on what he's saying instead of on my increasing panic.

"Put the fucking gun down and let me walk away. Then you can have the bitch back."

Ranger more than likely has tons of other weapons on his body, but he won't be able to get to any of them without Kittredge noticing and possibly getting himself shot. The guys are close by, but I know they won't move in until they get some signal from Ranger or Tank that reinforcements are needed.

Ranger calmly set the gun down on the ground in front of him.

"No!" I yelled.

"Shut up!" Ormond screamed at me.

As soon as Ranger stood back up, Kittredge flung me away from him and towards Ranger. The gun in his hand never wavering.

I wanted to do something, but I didn't know what. Ranger tried to grab my arm with his free hand but I avoided it as I tried to come up with a way to draw Kittredge's gun away from my guy.

"Stephanie!" Ranger shouted. "Get behind me!"

And everybody said that we would never last,

And if they saw us now I bet they'd take it back

It doesn't matter what we do and what we say

'Cause nothing matters anyway

I was scared, but I was even more terrified for Ranger. And I hesitated, looking for a way, any way, to get the gun pointed at something other than the man I love.

I must have taken longer than he wanted me to. "Steph, now!"

I took a step back and over. The second I was out of immediate danger, and before Kittredge realized what was about to happen, Ranger reached out with his left hand, grabbed the muzzle of the gun and pushed it away from his face while moving his head to the side out of the line of fire. His right arm came up simultaneously and slammed with the force of a pile driver into Ormond's jaw. I heard a crunch and it was obvious that he was immediately knocked out.

By the time Kittredge started to fall, Ranger already had the gun in his right hand, his finger on the trigger, the gun following the skip's descent to the ground until he was lying face up on it, no longer a threat. If I hadn't seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it actually happened. I barely blinked and he had the FTA incapacitated.

I took a deep breath and tried to get my heart settled back into my chest where it belonged. Now I know why Joe and Ranger were always upset with me when they thought I'd taken an unnecessary risk. It's so much worse watching someone you love in danger, than being in it yourself.

No matter what, I got your back

I'll take a bullet for you if it comes to that

I swear to God that in the bitter end

We're gonna be the last ones standing

Ranger had the skip cuffed and had started searching him for additional weapons. "Tank!" He barked when he was done. "Get him out of here."

After the skip and the guys were loaded into their respective SUV's, and Ranger and I were alone, I turned to him.

"Jesus! Don't ever do that again! You scared the friggin' hell out of me!"

"I had it under control," was all he said.

"Yeah ... I can see that, but I sure as heck didn't," I told him. I could feel tears gathering in my eyes. "I wouldn't be able to handle having you taken away from me," I said quietly, not being able to stop at least one tear from escaping.

He cupped my face in his hands and wiped the tear away with his thumb. He brushed a light kiss across my lips before he spoke.

"I'm not going anywhere." He paused for a moment before speaking again. "Do you think it would have been any easier for me if I had lost you?"

"Well ... no, but I couldn't just stand by and watch you get hurt without doing something."

"Listen very carefully," he said, his hands still holding my face. "You are never, never, to sacrifice yourself in order to save me. Is that clear?"

"You do it all the time," I said.

"I'm also trained to. You're good at what you do, but sometimes you aren't going to be able to help the situation the way that you want to."

"That's where you come in?"


"Hmm ... I distract and then you act?" I sent him a small smile. "We work well together, don't we?"

"Everything we do together, we do well. Always have." And his mouth covered mine.

After a bone-melting moment, he raised his head and laced his fingers through mine. "Come on, Babe, let's go home."

We'll never fall (We'll never fall)

We'll never fade (We'll never fade)

No matter what until the bitter end

We're gonna be the last ones standing ...