Title: He Belongs to Her

Author: akstinger

Joe Morelli laid in his bed, staring at the ceiling and listening to the sounds that filled his house. He could hear the loud snores and snuffles of Bob the dog coming from the bedroom floor. Morelli knew from experience that those snores and snuffles would be coming from the bed before too long. Like most Morelli men - Jesus, how did he end up owning that dog? - Bob didn't like sleeping alone. He could hear the wheel of Rex the hamster squeaking in the kitchen. He could hear the deep breathing of Rex's owner, Stephanie Plum, who was lying asleep next to him.

Joe shifted as sleep alluded him. Homer Ramos had tried to stop Stephanie's breathing permanently about 24 hours ago. If Ranger hadn't been there, God knows what condition she would be in now. Of course, if it hadn't been for Ranger, she would never have come into contact with anyone named Ramos in the first place. What had he been thinking, having her do surveillance for him?! This was the same woman who trips over dead bodies on a regular basis. Once she got involved in the case, telling her to stop was like telling Bob he could only have one slice of pizza.

Ranger's increased presence in Stephanie's life made Joe furious. First he gave her a job guarding buildings in dangerous neighborhoods with guys named Tank. Then he gave her expensive - and most likely stolen - cars. Now he had gotten her involved with a family whose business was running guns and kidnapped by a couple of thugs. Why did he do it? Just for laughs? To see in what zany way she'd get herself out of a situation?

What was going on between Ranger and Stephanie? Macho possession, Joe decided scornfully. That's the reason for the job, the cars, and the use of man power on surveillance. Ranger was letting everyone know that she belongs to him. And boy oh boy, did people get the message. Half-joked suggestions that the easiest way the catch Ranger was to keep on eye on Stephanie were whispered around the police station. Arturo Stolle got the message so loud and clear that her life ended up in even more danger than usual.

But, he had to admit to himself, that didn't explain their entire relationship. Why did Stephanie agree to watch the Ramos family at all? Why did she throw herself in further when told to back off? The bounty wasn't a factor; Stephanie had flat-out refused to hunt Ranger down (Joe noted bitterly that she hadn't done him the same courtesy when he was in Ranger's position). Neither was it submission to his claim of possession - she refused to belong to anyone. Joe knew Ranger kept in contact with her throughout his entire ordeal, and he was certain that a good part of this contact was face-to-face. Why didn't Ranger keep his distance when he know she would be the first one everyone would keep an eye on in hopes of catching him?

Something Morelli told Stephanie earlier popped into his head: "Ranger makes a good scapegoat; he doesn't belong to anyone." He didn't want to think about this because it brought him to the answer to all of his questions. Ranger's contact and face time with Stephanie while he was on the lam hadn't been about making sure she was alright or getting information. It was because he knew she needed to know he was okay. Ranger didn't lock her up in a safehouse because she didn't want to go. Joe knew he didn't like thinking about their relationship because all this thinking led him to an uncomfortable conclusion: Ranger didn't belong do nobody. Ranger belonged to Stephanie, just as much as she belonged to him.

He glanced at the sleeping form beside him and recalled all the fights about the dangers of her job and how she resented it when he tried to convince her to quit. Ranger didn't do that; he gave her room to do her own thing and was always there for backup when she needed it. Ranger wasn't husband material, but who said that Stephanie could be anyone's wife, even if she wanted to? Morelli heard Stephanie sigh in her sleep and wondered if which one of her men she was dreaming of.

The End.