Disclaimer: JE owns them. I do not. Songfic based on "I Can't Do That Anymore" by Faith Hill.


I Can't Do That Anymore


Trenton, New Jersey
Eighteen Months Ago

Ranger had one of my legs hitched up around his thigh, his hands on either side of my head to hold me in place, and his lips plastered to mine. As usual, when he walked out of Vinnie's office, he'd pulled me out to the alley with him and proceeded to make my head spin and send sparks straight to my doo-dah.

Reluctantly, I forced my leg down and pushed against his chest, finally getting him to move away from me slightly. "Ranger, I can't do this anymore," I said quietly, standing only inches away from him.

A look of regret flashed before the blank face slid into place. "Can't do what, Babe?"

I sighed. "I can't take just being someone you kiss and flirt with when you feel like it. I need more. I want more." I realized I should make it very clear what I meant, so I clarified, "I want more from you. I want to be more than just someone you fill your physical needs with. I want your heart."

He finally looked away from me, staring off somewhere in the distance.

We stood there silently for what felt like hours before he turned back to look at me. "I've told you before, Stephanie, my life doesn't lend itself to relationships. It still doesn't. I can't give you what you need, Babe. I'm..." He swallowed hard, as much at a loss for words as I'd ever seen him. "I'm sorry."

He brushed his fingers down my cheek softly once more before tucking a stray curl behind my ear, and then he took a step back.

I took a deep breath, willed my legs to continue holding me up, and quietly replied, "So am I, Ranger. So am I."


Seventeen Months Ago

Since that morning in the alley, I hadn't seen much of Ranger. I was still working part-time for Vinnie and part-time for RangeMan, but Ranger was somehow conveniently away from the building when I was around. As much as I hated it, I was grateful, too, since I wasn't sure I'd be able to stick to my guns if I saw him all the time. Tank kept me informed that he was doing okay, since I knew he'd gone on at least one mission in the month since I'd last spoken to him.

I finished work and decided to go over to Joe's house. I'd really been trying to make things work with him over the course of the last month. Since I'd completely quit seeing Ranger, Joe had quit complaining about me working even part-time for the company. Things had been going well between us. It was nice to know we could spend time together without fighting or having Ranger coming between us. I was happy—or as happy as I thought I could be. My mother was pressuring us to get married, and frankly, I could feel myself weakening, if for no other reason than to just get her off my back.

I grabbed a beer and sat down on the couch, drinking it and petting the dog as I waited for Joe to get home so we could get something to eat for dinner. A few minutes later, he ran inside, scooped me up, and spun me around.

Laughing, I said, "Joe! What are you doing?"

"Cupcake! Say you'll marry me and move to New York with me!"

When he finally put me down, I was laughing because I was so dizzy. "What are you talking about? Why are you moving to New York?"

"The FBI contacted me. They were impressed with my work on the last few cases I worked with them and want me to join them up there!"

I put a smile on my face as my mind went into overdrive. What did I have here anymore that would stop me from marrying Joe and moving to New York? Images of Ranger flashed before my eyes, but I quickly pushed those aside and looked down at Joe's happy face. "Okay," I said quietly. "Let's do it."


Fifteen Months Ago

I looked around our apartment again. Joe was at work, and I'd just finished unpacking the last of the boxes. I settled down on the couch and thought about the whirlwind that had been my life for the last two months. Our mothers had been thrilled to learn we were getting married and Joe was getting a "prestigious" new job, as his mother had called it.

Just like my wedding to the Dick, I let my mother have full reign and plan the entire ceremony. It was a full-blown 'Burg wedding, complete with poofy white dress, ugly bridesmaids dresses, and two foot high wedding hair. I was numb throughout the whole ceremony, which probably should have told me something, but I honestly just wanted to get it over with and move to the city.

I'd told everyone at RangeMan about our plans...except Ranger, who was in Boston visiting the office there. I'd written him a short letter telling him I was marrying Joe and moving to New York City. I'd left it on his desk, along with my key fob and resignation letter. A few days later, I'd gotten a letter from him in the mail.

It had said congratulations and he hoped I would be happy. He'd included the key fob and said that no matter what, I would always have a place there if I needed it. Of course, I didn't tell Joe about the letter or the key fob, hiding them both away, but unable to bring myself to throw them away or send them back.

Looking at my watch, I realized more time had passed than I'd thought, and it was time for me to start dinner. That was another change that had happened since our wedding. I'd promised Joe I would be more domestic. I was now cooking—even if I wasn't always successful—doing laundry, and learning to sew. I gave the dog another pat and headed into the kitchen to start the meatloaf.


Cut my hair the way you wanted
Watched you become important
Quit my job to make our new home far away
Now you're Mr. Successful and I'm queen of the treadmill
Trying to stay the size you think that I should stay
I used to dream about what I would be
Last night I dreamed about a washing machine

I keep on giving
But I can't stop living
A woman needs a little something of her own
I like happy endings
I don't like depending
I keep right on pretending
But I can't do that anymore


Two Weeks Ago

I was sitting on the bed, folding the latest load of laundry, when it hit me. I was well and truly unhappy. I looked across to the room to the mirror above the dresser, and honestly, I didn't recognize the woman staring back at me. At Joe's insistence a few months after we moved here, I'd gone to the salon and gotten my hair straightened.


"It'll make it easier to control, Cupcake. Don't you hate having it so wild and crazy and in your face all the time?"

I shrugged. I liked my curls, but if Joe thought it would be better and easier to handle, maybe he was right.

"I suppose so, yes," I said. "I'll make an appointment tomorrow."

"Thanks, Cupcake. You'll see. It'll look great! Much more sophisticated and sleek. You'll fit in well with the other wives at the dinner next week."


I sighed and shook my head, making my now shoulder-length straight hair move. It was okay, and it was easier to take care of, I'd give him that, but it wasn't me. I missed the crazy curls. When I turned my head, my eyes fell on the exercise machines in the corner. I glared at them, remembering back to when we'd gotten them. I'd been grocery shopping and had come home to find them with a bow around each of them.


"Happy birthday, Cupcake!"

My jaw dropped. He really hadn't...

"Uh, Joe, you got me a treadmill and exercise bike for my birthday?"

Surely not...

"Yeah! You like them? I thought we could work out together, instead of me going every day to the gym at work. This way, you can wear those dresses like the other wives wear, too. You'll like that, right?"

He was so pleased with himself that it finally hit me that he serious.

"Oh! Umm, great! Thanks, Joe," I said, giving him a kiss. It was either that or deck him, and I figured that wasn't a smart idea.

He grinned. "Glad you like it, Cupcake. C'mon, give it a try!"


I glared at the machines again, remembering back all those months ago. Like a dutiful wife, I'd used them every day to please him. Before we moved, he'd known how little I'd liked exercise, but apparently now that I needed to "fit in" with the other wives, what I liked or wanted didn't matter as much.

I sighed and finished folding the laundry, promising myself that I would talk to Joe about how unhappy I was tonight after he got home from work.


Now you say I'm being silly
But you don't know me really
You never take the time to ask me how I feel
I keep the checkbook balanced
I decorate your palace
You know I used to think that you were king
Somewhere down deep I know you really love me
But you can't see that what we have's not all I needed

I keep on giving
But I can't stop living
A woman needs a little something of her own
I like happy endings
I don't like depending
I keep right on pretending
But I can't do that anymore


Joe got home from work just as I was putting the finishing touches on dinner. "Hi, Cupcake," he said as he grabbed a beer from the fridge. "Did you pick up the dry cleaning? I see you got new curtains for the living room. Those look nice."

"Yes, Joe, I picked up the dry cleaning and got new curtains. I also did laundry and worked out. Woohoo, fun day," I said sarcastically.

"Good! Sounds like a full day, then."

I rolled my eyes behind his back when he clearly missed the tone of my voice.

We sat down to eat, and when we were about halfway finished, I decided to be brave and speak up about what was on my mind. "Joe, I miss working."

He looked up. "Well, the other guys are always going on about some of the charity work their wives do. You should give one of them a call and see about helping out somewhere. That would look good, too."

I sighed. "I don't want to just do charity work with the other wives, Joe. I miss the excitement of my old job. I miss getting out there and doing what I want to do."

He shook his head. "You're being silly, Cupcake. I can't have my wife running around playing at being a bounty hunter like you used to do. What would the guys think? Fuck, you'd make me the laughingstock all over again, just like I was at TPD."

"I'm so glad you think so little of me still." I sighed again. "I can't do this anymore, Joe. I'm bored. I tried being what you want. I tried staying home and being the dutiful housewife, but I feel like I'm being suffocated. I looked into the mirror today and realized that somehow in the last year, I've lost myself. I turned into my mother, and I'm sorry, Joe, but I hate it. I hate how you've slowly changed me into who you want me to be so I 'fit in' with the other wives. Mostly, I hate how I simply let you."

"Cupcake, you don't know what you're saying. Maybe you're coming down with something. I'll call the doctor in the morning and make you an appointment. I'm sure he can give you something to make you feel—"

"Joe, stop! I'm not sick. I'm finally just being honest with myself." I set my fork down and pushed away from the table, heading to the bathroom to take a long soak in the tub.

"Cupcake. Stephanie. Where are you going? What about dinner? Who's going to put the food away and do the dishes?"

I laughed without turning around. "You're an adult. I'm sure you can figure it out, Joe."

I closed the bathroom door to his sputtering, deciding for once to simply ignore him.

The next morning, Joe was gone to work when I finally dragged myself out of bed. I walked into the kitchen to find a note on the table from Joe that said he was sure that after a good night's sleep, I'd see reason. I crumpled it up and threw it into the trash before grabbing my keys and going out to get a paper and some new jeans and other comfortable clothes.



It had taken me two weeks to really figure out what I wanted. When Joe walked into the apartment tonight, I was sitting on the couch, eating a slice of pizza I'd had delivered, and looking through the paper like I'd been doing every night. "Hi, Joe. Pizza's on the table."

"Oh, okay..." He sounded wary. "We haven't had pizza in a while. I guess that's good."

I smirked at his tone and continued with what I was doing.

"What are you reading?" he asked as he came into the living room with a plate piled high with slices of pizza.

"The want ads," I replied. "There are a couple of things I think I'll apply for, but I looked in the phone book, and there are a few bond agencies nearby I'm going to call tomorrow."

Joe was silent so long that I finally turned to look at him. His face was so red that, for a minute, I was worried steam was going to come out his ears. When he could finally speak, his voice was raised so loud, he was very nearly shouting.

"Cupcake. Stephanie! You... You can't do that! I forbid it!"

"You forbid it?" I cried. "You aren't my father! You can't forbid me to do anything, Joe."

"Have you even thought about what this will look like at the office?" he ground out between gritted teeth.

"No, Joe, actually, I haven't. I couldn't care less what people at the office or their wives think of me. For the first time in a long time, I'm thinking about myself and what's best for me. If you can't accept that, I'm sorry, but that's your problem, not mine." I paused then. "You know what, Joe? I think we're back to where we were a few years ago. I don't think you love me. I think you love the me you made me into. Surprisingly, I'm okay with that. I just realized that sometime in the last year, between wearing my hair the way you wanted me to, wearing the clothes you picked out, doing everything the way you wanted me to do it...the love I had for you was left on the wayside, along with my self-esteem and the ability to be my own person."

"Cupcake, you don't mean that."

"I do, Joe. I think this is the first thing I've said in the last six months, at least, that I do mean. I'm done, Joe. Like I said before, I can't do this anymore. I'll sleep in the spare room tonight and pack up my stuff tomorrow. I'll be gone before you get home from work. I'm sorry I can't be who you want me to be, Joe. I really am."

With that, I ignored his outburst and went to the spare bedroom to read in peace before going to sleep.


You try to tell me I'm not being fair to you
But life's too short for a selfish attitude

I keep on giving
But I can't stop living
A woman needs a little something of her own
I like happy endings
I don't like depending
I keep right on pretending
But I can't do that anymore


The next day, I packed up everything of mine while Joe was at work. Sadly, it was only three boxes of clothes, two boxes of books, and my laptop. I pulled the apartment keys off my key ring and left them on the table, along with my wedding and engagement rings, and called a cab. Then I called Teddy, the building's maintenance man, and asked if he could bring up the dolly to help me move some boxes downstairs.

He came up with the dolly and loaded all the boxes onto it, and then I locked the door behind me, grabbed my purse and laptop bag in one hand and Rex's cage in the other, and walked with him to the elevator.

"Moving out, Mrs. Morelli?"

"I am, Teddy. I finally decided to do what would make me happy."

"That's good. Everyone should be happy." Teddy was a bit on the slow side, but he was a sweetheart. "I'll miss you, Mrs. Morelli." He leaned down to be level with Rex's cage. "I'll miss you too, Rex Morelli."

I laughed. "We'll miss you, too, Teddy. Thanks for the help."

We arrived at the ground floor, where my cab was now waiting. He helped me load everything into the car and waved goodbye.

"To the nearest rental car place, please," I said, not caring where I was going, just glad to be going somewhere. An hour later, I was headed down the interstate on my way to Trenton and what I hoped was my future.

Three hours later, I pulled the key fob out of my pocket and let myself into the garage at RangeMan. I held my breath until the gate opened and I knew I could still get in. Once I'd parked, I grabbed Rex's cage and locked the door, leaving everything else inside. I gave a finger wave to the camera and got into the elevator, pushing the button that would take me to the control room.

Lester met me at the elevator and gave me a big hug and kiss on the cheek. "Welcome back, Beautiful. We've missed you around here." He looked at me somberly. "We all have."

"Thanks, Les." I smiled. "I've missed you guys, too. Is he here?"

He nodded. "In his office."

"Would you watch Rex for me, please?"

When he nodded, I handed him the cage and walked away, chuckling as I listened to Lester talk babytalk to my hamster.

I slowly made my way to Ranger's office, my stomach in knots. I wasn't sure what my reception would be, even though Lester said Ranger had missed me, too.

The door to Ranger's office was closed, but I knew Les would have told me if he'd had someone in there with him, so I knocked once.

"Enter," his sharp voice called.

I steeled my nerves, wiped my hands on my jeans, and turned the knob, slowly taking a step inside.

Ranger looked up from the paperwork in front of him, his eyes going wide at the sight of me. "Babe?"

I smiled shyly, not sure what to say. I saw his eyes dart quickly to my left, now ringless, hand and then back up to my face.

"Hi, Ranger."

He smiled a full thousand watt smile and stood, opening his arms to me. "Babe."