A/N: All right, I've only read up to book 4 completely, and I skimmed book 5, and I really don't like Stephanie and Ranger as a couple. Call it what you want, but I'm a fan of Stephanie/Morelli, and nothing will change that. So, here's a fluffy little piece without a mention of Ranger anywhere. :) (I was very surprised to see how *few* fics there are with this pairing on fanfiction . net, being as it's the original canon pairing.)

Ah well. Win some, lose some. *shrug*


Outside of Pino's

I couldn't believe I was doing this. Completely against my dignity, I dialed Morelli's cell number. After two rings he picked up, " 'lo."

"Hi," I said, glancing around the tiny room I'd been confined to. "I… um… I have a problem." I had to talk quickly—there was no telling when someone would check up on me.

Morelli sighed, "Please, god, Stephanie, don't let it be another body. I'm up to my ears in paperwork as it is."

I scowled. Like the only times I ever called him was when I had stumbled on a body, "No bodies. But I am in a bit of a situation."

"Well?"

"I've been kidnapped."

There was a pause on his end of the line, a moment of stretching silence, and then he laughed. When I was sure all of the snickers were out of his system, I continued, trying not to let my anger filter into my voice. He was my last lifeline; I couldn't risk pissing him off by snapping at him, "Listen to me, Joe, this is serious."

He said nothing again, but this time I could see him thinking my statement through. Finally, he said, "You're not kidding, are you?"

"No!"

"Jesus," he muttered, humor gone. "What did you do to get yourself kidnapped? How are you calling me?"

"They're amateurs, I think. They took my bag and all my gear, but they forgot to pat me down for a phone. Then they locked me in a room; didn't tie me up or anything."

"They didn't, by chance, forget to blindfold you during transportation, did they?"

"No," I watched the door of my small room warily, waiting for the knob to turn. "I don't know where I am. I know that they chloroformed me in front of Pino's. I didn't even get my lunch."

Morelli groaned, but I couldn't tell if it was in frustration or anger or concern. I waited while he thought things through. Then he told me, "Keep your phone on and hidden. I'll track you that way. They haven't hurt you, have they?"

"Well, I have a horrible headache from the chloroform, but other than that, I'm okay," I said. It was mostly true; I was physically fine. But honestly, I was having a very hard time just keeping my voice from trembling in fear while talking to him. I really needed to get into another business.

Morelli said, "I'll get to you as fast as I can. Until I get there, try not to do anything stupid."

"What are you implying?"

"I'm not implying anything. I'm saying that you have a… talent of angering people. And if they're willing to chloroform and kidnap you, there might not be a limit to how far they'll go," he paused, took a slow breath. "Stephanie, don't get killed, all right?"

"Not planning on it," I replied, trying to keep my voice chipper. He chuckled and hung up, leaving me to ponder my fate and hope for the best outcome. Maybe my kidnappers wouldn't even come back in before Morelli got here. Maybe they'd wait until I was hungry and tired to interrogate me, and by that point backup will have arrived.

I shivered involuntarily. I'd watched a documentary of interrogation techniques on TV once. I didn't know what kind of information they wanted from me. I wondered how well I'd hold out against Chinese water torture.

I decided that it might be best to examine my surroundings, keep my mind off of darker thoughts. And who knew? Maybe I'd find something interesting that gave me a hint of my location. That'd help Morelli, for sure.

Okay. I was in a small square room, maybe 10' x 10'. It looked a bit like a bedroom, with dusty wooden floors and pale yellow wallpaper that was stained and peeling in the corners. There was one door, a regular wooden one with an extra-sturdy lock. I tried the doorknob; locked from the outside. Maybe I should have taken up Ranger's offer and endured his advanced B and E class.

There was one window, and it was big enough for me to crawl through. Unfortunately, it too was locked from the outside, and the wooden shutters had been nailed closed. I couldn't even see any sunlight peeking through; that exit was sealed tight. I gave up on the window and studied the objects in the room instead.

There was one wooden chair, but it looked so old that I wasn't sure I would trust it with my weight. By the chair there was a plain wooden desk, but its surface was clear and a quick check showed its drawers to be empty. Not even so much as a piece of paper to write my kidnappers a nasty letter.

The rest of the room was empty. I'd woken up on the floor, covered in dust and feeling worse for the wear. The chloroform had left me feeling nauseous, which didn't improve with the accompanying headache. After a few minutes the nausea had passed, but I still felt like someone was playing Whack-A-Mole with my head.

I decided that if someone insisted on kidnapping me, they should get the best possible experience from it. So, ever the difficult kidnappee, I grabbed the edges of the desk and began hauling it towards the door to create a barricade. That ought to at least slow them down, right?

I didn't get the desk halfway across the little room before the door opened and a man wearing a ski mask strolled in, pointing a gun at me. If I'd been smart, I'd have ditched the desk and stood by the door to knock him out when he entered the room. But, being the intelligent bounty hunter I am, I simply stood there staring.

"Sit down," the man growled, nodding towards the chair. He waved the gun a little, so I reluctantly decided not to test him. Morelli was coming. I just had to focus on that and try to get through this. The man produced rope, tying me tightly to the armrests and legs of the chair. It creaked in protest, but I didn't go crashing to the floor like expected.

The man kept his eyes leveled on me, "You know why you're here."

I didn't, actually, but I strongly suspected it had to do with my latest case, pursuing an FTA named Johnny Casso. He'd been heavily involved with drug dealers around Trenton, and he'd recently been arrested for it. After he posted bail, he missed his court date, so I was sent out to retrieve him. He was dangerous, but not big enough to be given to someone like Ranger. And it was rumored that he never hurt women, so I'd been hopeful. Obviously that rumor was false.

I said nothing, watching the man carefully. He wasn't Johnny Casso, but if I paid attention he might give me some clues as to his whereabouts.

The man continued, oblivious that I hadn't answered him, "You're one irritating woman, Miss Plum. We've tried to get you off the trail, but you're persistent as hell."

"Thank you," I responded, deciding that this was definitely related to Casso. I'd been getting death threats ever since I'd started being a bounty hunter, but this was the first time I'd been kidnapped. I would be flattered if I wasn't so angry.

The gun was suddenly underneath my chin, barrel angled up and safety off. I froze, barely breathing, as the man leaned in close, "Don't get smart with me. I have no reason to keep you alive, so you'd best shut up and do as you're told."

I decided that doing what I was told sounded like a splendid idea.

The man turned away from me, and I let go of a breath I hadn't known I was holding. He ignored me, walking out of the room for a moment. When he returned, he was holding a small pocketknife in one hand. He put the gun on the table and approached me, blade glinting in the dim light of the room.

My breath hitched, and I could feel myself trembling. Oh god, please, no. I didn't know what he wanted from me, but I would tell him in a heartbeat.

The man smiled slowly, maliciously, "I want to see you squirm before I kill you. Close your eyes and I'll cut deeper."

I swallowed and focused on his eyes, using all my self control not to break my gaze away when he lowered the blade to my arm and traced a light line from my wrist to my elbow. It brought a surprising amount of pain, and I could feel blood trickling down my arm, dripping slowly onto the wood floor. I bit back a gasp, trying to convince myself that it wasn't that bad.

The man chuckled and moved the knife to my collarbone. I was too terrified to move, and I could only stare into his blue eyes as he placed the tip on my skin.

Then my phone rang, startling him and making me jump. I winced as the knife bit into flesh from the movement, leaving a small cut below my neck, before he pulled away, eyes flashing in anger, "You have a phone!" he snarled, reaching into my pocket and pulling it out. I could see him almost shaking in fury as he snapped it open, hung up on the caller, and flipped through the numbers, noting that the most recently dialed was during my captivity.

When he met my gaze, I had a distinct feeling that I would never see the light of day again. He looked positively murderous as he threw my phone to the ground and crushed it with his boot, grinding the device until little remained but a small pile of chipped plastic. He took the knife and sheathed it, which gave me a moment of relief, until he picked up the gun. Then he aimed and fired without hesitation.

This time I did cry out, my scream breaking into sobs as my right shoulder throbbed and burned. I could feel the blood gushing from the wound, and the man smirked, pocketing the gun, "I hope you die slowly," he said, walking out the door and locking it behind him.

Not like I could have followed. I don't know how people deal with getting shot. Ranger acts as if he doesn't even feel it, so I'd always had this disillusioned fantasy that it didn't actually hurt as bad as everyone thought.

That was completely wrong, I suddenly discerned. My head swam, and I felt like I was losing a gallon of blood a second. The man was right with his implications; I would be dead very soon, there was no doubt. A small flicker of hope still reminded me that Morelli was on his way, tracking my phone.

Then I remembered that my phone had been destroyed and I was basically screwed.

I cried, not caring if anyone heard me. I might have gotten off lightly if that person hadn't chosen that moment to call my phone. Morelli knew the situation and wouldn't put me at risk. The only other person who called on that phone was my mom. I hoped she never found out the reason the man shot me. If she knew why, she'd never forgive herself, and I wanted her to be happy.

My family quickly moved over to make room for Morelli in my mind. If he got a signal, he'd find me dead and bloody… not an attractive sight at all. I wondered if he'd be sad, or if he'd write me off as another part of the job and move on with his life. I felt a bit bad that I couldn't keep my promise to him, the one about staying alive. I also regretted not telling him how hot he was when I had the chance.

My vision swam, so I closed my eyes. Nothing to look at but my blood anyway. It hurt so much… I wished I'd taken a different job. Boxing tampons didn't look like such a bad choice now.

I don't remember what happened after that. I know I blacked out, I thought I saw Morelli for a split moment, and latched onto the vision even after I dropped back into unconsciousness. When I opened my eyes an unknown amount of time later, I was a little disappointed to see a lot of white and no Morelli.

I figured it was Heaven until I distinctly heard my mom's voice calling my name. So I turned my head and saw both her and my father seated in little plastic seats beside me. Grandma Mazur was sleeping on an empty bed beyond them, sprawled out over the covers and snoring loudly.

"Oh, Stephanie," Mom said, wrapping me in a kind-of hug. I cringed as my shoulder throbbed and she quickly withdrew. "We were so worried about you! You didn't wake up for three days!"

I stared at her in disbelief. Three days? Who fed Rex while I was sleeping my life away?! "…Rex?"

"Your boyfriend said he stopped by to feed that hamster," Mom said, always the whirlwind of speech. She barely stopped to take a breath before filling me in on everything, not even clarifying to my muggy brain just who this "boyfriend" was. "He found you at that awful abandoned condo on fifth and main. They had to helicopter you to the hospital, and you went through seven hours of surgery! Seven, can you believe that? But you've had so many visitors. That black woman, Lula, stopped by a few times to see how you were doing. She left those flowers in the corner. And Morelli! He's been here so much I wonder when he gets any sleep. I'll bet they let him rest here, since he probably can do what he wants in a hospital, being a cop and all. They make us leave at eleven every night…"

"You're overwhelming her," Dad said, watching me with concern. "We'll let you sleep, Stephanie."

"…Kay," I mumbled, trying to process all of that information. A boyfriend fed Rex… Morelli visited often… Lula came by? While these thoughts tumbled around my brain, I was faintly aware of my mother waking up Grandma, and then they whispered goodbye and left. I was asleep moments later.

I woke up to a clap of thunder, bolting upright and gasping for breath, eyes wide. He was here, I'd seen him! The man back to finish the job, to really kill me! Oh god, oh god!

"Stephanie! Calm down, damn it," a sharp voice ordered, gently pushing me back against the bed. I faintly recognized Morelli's voice through the cutting blasts of pain spreading about my body. Unfortunately, I couldn't do anything but moan pathetically and bite my lip to keep from screaming.

Morelli pried a button from my hand and pressed it, glancing at the machines beeping to the right of me intently. Eventually my heart rate dropped to a normal level and my pain decreased considerably; I figured that he'd administered a small dose of morphine or something, because I didn't hurt and felt sort of fuzzy all over.

"How come every time you're around, I can't focus…?" I muttered, struggling to meet his gaze and hold it through my drug-induced haze. He chuckled and pushed a strand of hair off my face.

"You're okay," he said, but I didn't know if he was talking to me or himself. "How do you feel?"

"Lousy," I mumbled, starting to cut through the fog a little. "Did you get him?"

Morelli had his cop face on, "He fled before we got there. We're pursuing, but anything you can tell us about him would be helpful to the search."

"He shot me," I said, because I thought that might be useful information. The twitch of Morelli's lip made me think that maybe I wasn't completely lucid yet.

"Anything else?"

"He had a knife…" I closed my eyes, trying to remember what kind. "A Swiss Army pocket knife. His gun was a…"

"Forty-five. He left in the condo. The lab's looking for prints now," Morelli's fingers trailed up my left arm, bandaged to cover the cut made from the knife. His eyes were dark, angry. "I told you not to do anything stupid."

"I didn't," I retorted, offended that he'd jump to that conclusion. "I kept quiet. I was a good kidnappee."

Morelli stared at me for a moment. Then a slight smile played on his lips, "'Kidnappee?'"

"It's a word," I mumbled, embarrassed and exhausted.

He ran a hand over his face, shaking his head, "You scared the shit out of me, Stephanie. You were almost dead when we got there."

I remembered seeing Morelli for a split second before blacking out again. His face had kept me content while I floated in oblivion, "But you got me in time."

"Barely," his voice was quiet, fury mixing with relief. We sat in silence for a few minutes, thinking about his timing and what could have happened if he'd been even a few moments later. Finally, he leaned back in his chair. "Jesus, you're going to be the death of me."

I studied him as best I could, noting the heavy bags under his eyes and the way his smile seemed forced. He hid it behind a perfected mask, but he was just as worn out as I was. I realized that what my mother had said earlier must be true; he really had been staying up to keep watch over me.

Of course, with my kidnapper still on the loose, his protection could be strictly business. But I liked to think that wasn't the only reason.

"Did you feed Rex?" I asked, because it suddenly seemed like a very pressing matter.

Morelli nodded, "I fed him, and even cleaned out his cage for you. I'll keep doing it until you get back on your feet."

I wasn't looking forward to the long weeks of recovery ahead of me. And I sure wasn't looking forward to sleeping in my apartment alone after what had happened. I hated to admit it, but I was scared of the man who kidnapped me. I figured I'd have to deal with him as the lead role of my nightmares for weeks to come.

"Thanks."

"No problem," he held my gaze. "I'm going to room in your apartment until we catch the guy who did this to you. I don't want you alone while you're still recovering; he might come back to finish the job."

I was a bit freaked out at how well Morelli could read my mind, but at the same time I was mentally jumping for joy. Still, he expected a typical Stephanie response, and me gushing my thanks would only freak him out. So I squared my shoulders as best I could lying down, cringed as the movement jostled my gunshot wound, and said, "You're not getting any closer to my room than the couch."

"That's fine," he smirked. "I can move the couch."

I glared at him, but he ignored me, instead standing swiftly. My heart clenched, and I reached out to grab his sleeve before he could walk away, "Wait! Where are you going?" I hoped my voice didn't sound as desperate as it did in my mind.

He stopped, eyes softening just a little as he surveyed me, "I'm going to let you get some sleep. I'll be in the hall; you'll be fine."

Except that he'd be in the hall. I bit my lip, debating on whether I wanted to suck it up and pretend like I didn't care, or beg him to stay. I wanted the second option more, and began brainstorming ways to make it less… needy. "What if he comes through the window?" I looked at the small window just beyond the extra bed to my left.

Morelli followed my gaze, "You're on the third floor."

"He… he could rappel down the side of the building."

A smile played on his lips as he redirected his gaze back to me. After a pause, he nodded slowly, "I suppose you're right. He could do that."

"Yes," I said, aware of how stupid this conversation was. "And then I wouldn't be safe because you'd be in the hall. I don't exactly have my gun at the moment."

"Well, we wouldn't want you to feel unsafe," Morelli sat down on the end of my bed. "Scoot over—we'll get some quality cuddling in."

"I'm injured," I said, wondering why he always insisted on taking things a step further than I planned. "You aren't seriously coming on to an injured woman, are you?"

Morelli sighed, "No, I suppose not," he stood and walked to the empty bed, studying it for a moment. "Will it satisfy you if I stay here instead?"

"Yes," I replied, eyelids drooping now that a crisis had been averted. Morelli got comfortable on the bed less than five feet away, watching me as I started to drift. I remembered one last thing that I had to say, now that I was alive and had another chance to talk to Morelli. "Joe? You have a really nice ass."

He chuckled lightly, "Get some sleep, Stephanie."

So I slept.


A/N: Aww, they're just such a cute couple! :) Either way, hope you enjoyed (and when I say "you," I mean the three of us out there that still appreciate this pairing over Ranger).