A/N - Hi everyone! I've been enjoying your stories a lot and thought I might join the fray. This here will be a short Babe story, probably only a few chapters. I'd love to hear what you think. Suggestions and thoughtful criticisms always welcome.
Warnings: Possibly some swearing. Kissing and smooching all around, but no graphic smut. Probably not a good story for Cupcakes. This story also won't be beta'd, so expect to see a few errors here and there.
Disclaimers: Don't own Stephanie Plum and all her friends. They belong to Janet. Dang it all.
All the best, J.
Chapter One - The Call
I was just nodding off when I felt my cell buzzing at my hip. It was Morelli. I hadn't heard from him in weeks. He'd called to say he was going undercover, heavy on the mystery and vague on the details. Now he was calling – at eleven p.m. And he sounded nervous. This did not bode well.
"Listen, Cupcake," he said, "I just got back the results of my department physical, and given that we're a couple, the doc here thought I should contact you… You know, so you can get tested."
I was awake now. I sat up straight in my seat. "What?" I could feel the blood draining from my face. This was it – Morelli's past had finally caught up with him. He had an STD – and now he had passed it on to me. Rat bastard.
Ranger shifted for the first time that night. He looked at me, eyebrow raised – his way of asking if everything was okay. I gave him a nervous grin to indicate that it wasn't a life or death situation – well, not yet anyway – and turned away from him a little. "What?" I asked again, this time keeping my voice to a frantic whisper.
"The doc said we'll have to make some serious adjustments to our lifestyle," Joe continued. "You have a family doctor, right? You should probably get in to see him as soon as you can."
I was starting to feel a bit dizzy. "Adjustments? Joe, I - "
"You may need to go on medication. They've got me taking something here - "
I must have looked panicked, because now Ranger was concerned. I could tell, because he wasn't watching for the skip anymore, and was staring at me with his 'talk to the boss' face. God – Ranger. We did it that one time… that one incredible time. What if I passed something on to him? He'd be furious. It would also be the end of the poaching sessions in the alley. I turned away from him as much as the car seat would allow, and hissed into the phone, "Maybe now isn't the best time to discuss this."
"Why not? It's nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of people take medication for it. It's like popping vitamins nowadays."
I pulled the phone away from my ear and stared at it incredulously. Nothing to be ashamed of? Maybe it was okay for a Morelli to be a walking disease factory, but in the burg, nice girls didn't go around getting sexually transmitted diseases. That was an unspoken given. If my mother ever found out about this, there'd be no pineapple upside down cake. Ever.
"Cupcake? Are you there?" Morelli's voice, though quiet and tinny coming through the tiny cell phone, was perfectly audible to both me and Ranger. I snapped the phone back up to my ear. I was mad now. Mad that Morelli's early womanizing days had caught up to him and me. Mad that my dessert eating days were over.
"There you are – we must have got cut off for a minute. Anyway, the doc says with medication, changes to our diet, and more exercise, we should be fine. All you need to get done is get a blood test, you know, to find out how bad it is."
"How bad what is, Joe?" I yelled. I couldn't help it. First my desserts are cut off. And now he wants me to exercise. Next he'll be telling me that we can't have sex anymore. Well, he's got that one right – there'll be no more wild monkey sex for me and the Trenton love machine. I hope whatever he had caused his parts to shrivel up and fall off. Of course, that probably meant that my parts would shrivel up too, but at least it wouldn't be so obvious to the casual observer.
"Didn't I mention it? Sorry – it just kind of came as a shock." No shit. He paused. "The doc says my cholesterol is too high."
For a moment I couldn't say anything. Then I sank back into the chair. High cholesterol – okay. That I could deal with. My parts were safe. Dessert was still on the menu. I started to breathe again. "Oh. Okay."
"Yeah." Joe fell silent. No doubt contemplating what this would now mean to his eating habits. Joe was a healthy Italian male with a matching appetite. There was a lot of emotion in that 'yeah'. It spoke of Pino's subs and pizzas that would go uneaten, big family dinners that would be pared down to a few vegetables and bread crusts. For Morelli, it was like being sent to a monastery.
Movement caught my eye. Ranger was shifting again, his way of trying to get my attention. Ranger wasn't a shifter by nature. It brought me back to the matter at hand, that being surveillance. "Well, I'm kinda working right now…"
"Alright. I'll call you later." And he hung up.
I looked at the phone. He hadn't even asked me what I was doing, or who I was with. Morelli was really rattled. And it occurred to me, with just the tiniest smidge of guilt, that as a supposed girlfriend, I could have been a bit more supportive. I mean, his dad had died of a heart attack. It was a prerequisite to being a Morelli male, to womanize, drink, be abusive, and die young. But Joe had spent a lot of time trying to break out of that mold. It made sense that he wouldn't want to die young. I mean, who did?
Ranger was already back to looking out the window. I tried to push the conversation I just had out of my mind, and focus on the job at hand. What was it I was doing? Oh, yeah – staking out Booger Johnson. I went to school with Booger. He got his nickname for his nose mining habits. Lately he'd been putting other things up his nose besides his finger, like cocaine. He'd gone FTA over a simple possession charge. Ranger agreed to help me on the stake out, more for my protection and his amusement than any desire to help capture a guy named Booger.
It was hard to get into Booger-watching mode after the call. Morelli had high cholesterol. Okay, let's look at this objectively. So did ninety percent of the men in the burg. It was a given, like the women cooked the meals and the men got the oil changes done on the family Buick. The more I thought of it, the more I wondered why Joe had made such a production out of it. Like he said, he was on medication, and was changing his diet. Surely that would be good enough.
And I wasn't quite sure how I fit in to all of this. Why would Joe assume that my cholesterol was high, too?
I was chewing this over when Ranger turned to me and said, "Well?"
I shrugged. "Yeah. I don't think Booger's home either."
He shook his head. "Not the skip," he said. He pointed to the phone, which I still had clutched in my hand. "What was that about?"
I opened my mouth to tell him – and then I closed it again when I realized that I didn't want to tell him. After all, he didn't tell me what his phone calls and pages were about. And this was Joe's business, not mine. "It's a personal matter," I said.
"I gathered that," he said. And he proceeded to stare me down.
I lasted about a minute under his gaze before I gave up. "Joe has high cholesterol."
I immediately saw the tension leave his body. "Not surprising," he said. His eyes drifted back to Booger's house.
"His doctor thinks I should get tested too."
Ranger's head moved just a little – his version of a nod. "It's not a bad idea."
I turned in the seat to face him. "Why?"
He looked at me. "Babe. I've seen what you eat."
I was starting to get defensive now. "And?"
I could see he was thinking about smiling. "That stuff will kill you," he said.
I snorted. He always said that; I just never gave it much thought. I sank back in the seat. "It hasn't yet."
"No – but this is a warning that it could." He once again turned his full attention toward me. "You'll get the test done," he said. It wasn't a request.
I felt myself going into rhino mode at being told what to do. But the look in his eyes made me pause. It was the same kind of look he had when he told me to leave Spiro's house, the night Con kidnapped me and shoved me in a kitchen cupboard. Not as strong, of course, but all the elements were there. A look of concern. Just a hint of anger. And all out stubbornness that said he wasn't going to take no for answer.
"Please," he said.
The rhino went back to her pen. Ranger never said please. I sighed. "Okay."
He smiled then, picked up my hand, and kissed it. Then he started the car, and took me home.