Rex lay in front of his soup can, looking tired and sad. He'd never acted this way before, and usually was interested in exploring his surroundings when his tank was relocated. Today was the day I moved back into my apartment and Rex didn't seem to care about his surroundings. He didn't seem to care about anything. I was afraid something was really wrong with my oldest and dearest animal friend.
"I think Rex is sick," I said, looking over at Ranger.
Ranger placed a bag of clothes on my kitchen counter and glanced at the tank. "He's not sick."
"How do you know? He won't run on his wheel and kind of looks like he's in pain. Maybe he broke something," I said, reaching into the tank and rubbing my little hamster.
Ranger looked at me and back at Rex. "He's sad."
I had to do a mental double-take. Did Ranger just turn into the hamster whisperer or were we talking through Rex again like we did the last night we were in this building? The night Ed McAllister decided to cover my bed with a WMD, causing us to temporarily move in with Ranger.
We stayed with Ranger for almost three months while the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, various governmental HAZMAT teams, and finally a cleaning crew, worked in my apartment. When Ranger finally got the call that the apartment was clean, it took him a week and a half to tell me, reasoning that he wanted to take some security precautions and it would be easier if I stayed with him while his team worked on it.
When I walked into the apartment a few minutes earlier, I noticed that my floor bolt was back, as well as an actual security system was installed on the wall. I was sure there was other stuff, but I didn't ask.
"Rex is sad?" I asked, repeating Ranger.
"Maybe he didn't want to leave my apartment."
The truth was, even I didn't want to leave Ranger's apartment! I felt like I had to for the sake of our relationship. Not that we were having problems, everything was great and I desperately wanted it to stay that way. When I dated Joe Morelli and would spend long periods of time at his house, we'd always end up having a huge, stupid fight and I'd have this apartment to run back to. I didn't want to get under Ranger's skin and end up having an argument. I figured moving back here was a precaution. Distance makes the heart grow fonder, or something like that… right?
Ranger and I stared at each other for a good minute. "Did you finally develop a soft spot for Rex?" I asked him.
"No. Just one for his adoptive mother."
"You've had one for her for a long time," I said nudging him with my elbow.
Ranger grinned, but it didn't reach his eyes.
"What's going on?" I asked him.
"Why did you want to leave?" he asked me.
This totally caught me off guard. "I… I didn't. It's just that, I didn't want you to get sick of me… everything is going so well. I thought I'd just, you know, let you have your place back to yourself before you got sick of us."
Ranger gave a small nod and his jaw briefly clenched. "There are still a couple more bags in the car." He turned and walked out of my apartment.
"Rex, I don't think Ranger wanted us to leave."
Rex didn't move, but his eyes screamed, 'No shit, Sherlock!'
I walked over to the bag of clothes Ranger set on the counter and peeked inside. The fragrance of the detergent Ella used lingered in the clothing and immediately made me miss Ranger's closet. And his bedroom, bathroom, living room, and even the gym. God, I missed the gym? The gym was the bane of my existence!
'No, you don't miss the gym. You miss Ranger,' Rex said again with his eyes. Who knew Rex and Ranger shared the same Stephanie-ESP?
Rex was right. I've been waking up in Ranger's arms every morning for almost three months. I knew I was in trouble about a week ago when he worked late and I couldn't fall asleep without him. I blamed it on it being the dead of winter and a draft kept me awake – instead of admitting I was dependent on his warm body next to mine.
I absently twisted my sapphire and diamond charm on the necklace Ranger gave me and waited for him to come back upstairs with the other bags. I wasn't sure what I was going to say to him, but maybe the truth would be the best place to start.
But, what if I read the signs wrong and he didn't want me to come back with him?
I heard my front door open and watched as Ranger moved into the kitchen doorway, sans bags. He had his blank face in place and walked to Rex's tank, lifting it up.
"Where are you going?"
"Back to RangeMan. Rex and I talked last night and he likes it there. You can come if you want." He turned and walked out of the apartment.
I lifted my purse and the bag of clothes he had carried in earlier and keyed the code into the security system that locked the doors. Then I took off after my guys.
I took the stairs down to the lobby and found Rex and Ranger sitting in the old, worn out armchairs, watching me. I slowly walked over to them and placed my purse and clothes next to Rex's chair, and angled myself down on Ranger's lap. "Can I come, too?"
Ranger grinned again, this time it reached his eyes. "I didn't want you to leave in the first place."
"Neither did I."
"Babe, I'm not going to get sick of you. I waited too long for just this," he said, motioning to the two of us.
I smiled and rested my forehead against his. "I just realized this was the first time you called me 'Babe' in the last couple of days."
He gave a silent chuckle. "Rex wasn't the only one who was sad."
I kissed him softly, which quickly turned into something more serious.
As we pulled apart he tucked a curl behind my ear. "Let's go home."
I felt a shiver of excitement and a feeling that the mother of all butterflies was flying around in my stomach. "Let's go home."
We stood up and Ranger carried Rex's cage under his arm, putting his other one around my shoulders as I carried my purse and clothes.
"Does this mean Rex now has a daddy?" I asked him.
He gave a booming laugh and kissed my forehead. "Babe."
~~~~~Two Months Later~~~~~
"Again," Jenny commanded from my left side. I stood in front of the life-sized male dummy that was suspended from the ceiling so it looked like he stood on the floor. I cocked my fist, zeroed in on the side of his neck right under his ear and punched.
Jenny smiled. "Great, if you want we can unhook him from the suspension cord and chain him to a chair now."
"Why would we do that?" I asked her. "He's not alive."
Jenny pulled back her long brown hair. Since the end of the McAllister situation she was able to get her looks back to where she felt more comfortable. She lost the blonde color, the contacts, the boobs, and the wardrobe. She now had brown hair, brown eyes that were surrounded by tortoise shell framed glasses, a respectable 36B cup size, and a wardrobe of sleek FBI pantsuits, jeans and t-shirts. She also gained a new ring on her left hand and transferred to the FBI office in Trenton.
We were in the RangeMan gym, finishing up our workout. Once a week, Jenny would take the morning off and come to RangeMan to teach me some Krav Maga moves, mainly the one she used on Ed McAllister in his bomb shelter. The only problem was that no one wanted to be my neck punch-ee, so Ranger bought the pretend man from a MMA website for us to beat up. The rest of my workouts during the week were spent with Ranger or Hal (who was just fine after being chased with Ranger's stun gun five months ago. I didn't tag him, but the look in his eyes made it all worthwhile. It was now Connie's job to make him nervous). Since agreeing to this, I've learned to run a mile in about five minutes, sprint when needed and lift more than fifteen pounds without complaining. I've gone through the RangeMan workout program gaining muscle and, strangely enough, confidence.
And Ranger kept his promise of rubbing me every night. I felt good and I felt tough.
As Jenny and I were toweling off, Ranger entered the gym. He took the dummy off of its hook and put him into a small closet. "How'd it go?" he asked us.
"She's punching necks and taking names," Jenny told him. She fixed her wedding band on her finger and pulled her gym bag onto her shoulder. "See you guys later!"
Ranger nodded and I gave her a finger wave. "Say hello to Anthony for us."
"I will," she said, looking back as she walked through the doorway, "pinky swear."
Ranger looked at me and I knew what was next. "Don't ask," I told him.
"Don't ask what?"
"You're going to ask me to show you what I learned. Then you're going to somehow counter it and I'll fall on my ass. Then you'll get that triumphant little grin on your face."
The triumphant little grin started forming already.
I sighed, looked toward the ground and balled my fist. I came at his neck and he caught my fist with his hand. In a quick move he swung his foot out and tried to trip me, but by now I knew that when he slightly shifted his body and lifted his hip from the side he'd stick his leg out and try to bring me down. I jumped over his leg and tried another upper body move Jenny taught me which was supposed to knock the wind out of an assailant. He caught my shoulder and turned me around so that my back was to his front.
"Nice try, Babe." Then he grabbed my side and pulled me down to the mat when I yelped from the tickle his hand caused.
I looked up at him and swung my leg. It got him on the ankle and he came down next to me. "I wasn't finished," I told him, grinning that I was able to get him down.
Ranger and I had been practicing slight hand-to-hand combat together, but it was never like how he would spar with the men. For that, I was thankful. It was like they morphed into wild animals when they sparred. If I were to morph into a wild animal when I sparred, I would turn into a penguin.
"One day I'll have you," I told him.
"You know what I meant!"
We left the gym and made our way to the seventh floor. Our apartment. Things with Ranger were going exceptionally well, and as cheesy as it sounded, I was happy. I think Ranger was happy, too. Occasionally one of the guys would make a comment about Ranger smiling more. I also noticed that and was happy to be the one who caused it.
I kissed Ranger when we came into the apartment and made my way to the shower, while he went back down to work.
Technically, I still had my crappy little apartment, except I didn't live there anymore – Lula did. When she learned that I was moving out, she immediately begged me to keep my name on it and let her sublet from me. It was safer than her old apartment, especially with the RangeMan security system, and really, what else was I going to do with it?
Occasionally, Lula, Connie and I will go out on Saturday nights, usually ending up back at the apartment, like we did five months ago when Lula first broke her leg. The Sunday mornings after our girls' night go down pretty much the same as they did five months ago as well – waking up to Ranger, Tank, and now Hal with coffees and shit-eating grins.
The last time I went to visit Lula I noticed a cat carrier, cat food and a little litter box in the kitchen. Lula and Suzy, Tank's cat, apparently also have sleepovers. And judging by the new, extra-long bed in my old bedroom, Lula and Tank still have sleepovers as well.
After my shower and breakfast I met Ranger down on the fifth floor. We went over our plans for the day: I would be working for RangeMan in the morning doing computer work, then go to lunch with Valerie and come back to work with Hector learning something electronics related. Ranger would be working in his office in the morning then go to client meetings in the afternoon. We'd have dinner together and relax for the evening.
After four hours doing computer searches for RangeMan, it was almost time for my lunch with Valerie. I needed to change my clothes and looked up to see if Ranger was around, but found the office practically empty. The door to the large conference room was closed and I heard a meeting taking place. I asked Binkie to tell Ranger that I went upstairs if he asked.
As I pressed the elevator up, my cell phone started ringing. It was Valerie.
"I'm downstairs in the lobby," she said.
"Okay, I'll meet you down there and you can come up to the apartment while I change."
I took the elevator down to the lobby and fobbed us up to the seventh floor where I quickly changed while Valerie looked around Ranger's apartment getting decorating tips. Albert won the high profile case he was working on a while back and was able to put a down payment on a large house in the 'Burg. They moved in right around Christmas. While having two small children has slowed the decorating process down, the two rooms Valerie worked on in her house were very Ranger-esque. She modeled Albert's office to look just like the one Ranger has in this apartment and she made an exercise room in her basement that looked like a mini version of the gym downstairs.
"You ready?" I asked Valerie.
"I think so," she said, touching the sleek black dish Ranger and I used to throw our keys in when we came into the apartment, probably making a mental note to buy something similar. "Do I look alright?"
I stood back and gave her the once-over. She looked happy and serene again. She lost the Meg Ryan look and dyed her hair back to brown with red highlights, which she wore curly and at her shoulders. She wore a simple black dress with a red sash around her waist. "You look great, Val. Very self-assured."
Since starting the workouts five months earlier, Valerie lost fifty-seven pounds, gaining her old confidence back, and a brand new soccer-mom-meets-sexy wardrobe.
"Do you think we could stop downstairs and see Tank and Hal?" she asked me. "I kind of miss my buddies."
Why not? I was proud of her hard work and kind of wanted to show her off. "We can see if they're out of the meeting, if they're not, we'll stick our heads in and say goodbye. You'd be able to wave to them quickly."
Valerie gave a little squeal as we waited for the elevator.
We got off the elevator on the fifth floor and saw that the floor was still deserted. Binkie looked back at me from his chair at the monitors and pointed to the conference room. I noticed he took a little time to check out Valerie, who stood next to me. She must've noticed too because her smile grew wider and she stood up just a little taller. She was ready.
I knocked on the conference room door.
"Enter," Ranger said on the other side.
I pulled Valerie next to me and opened the door. "We're heading out," I told him.
Valerie waved to Tank and Hal who sat toward the front of the table. Their eyes grew wide with recognition and then huge smiles broke out on their faces. The other men at the table were also looking at Valerie. A couple of them said hello to her.
"Stephanie, who's your friend?" Lester asked.
"You remember my sister, Valerie."
Valerie waved to them and they all said hello back in various degrees of enthusiasm.
"Babe, get her out of here," Ranger said into my ear. "I need them to focus." He handed me the keys to his 911 Turbo and gave me a quick kiss.
Valerie and I waved goodbye and left for lunch.
"I don't think I've seen that many hot guys in the same room before," Valerie said on the elevator.
"From the looks on their faces, I think they were happy to see you, too."
Later that night, I had an epiphany while brushing my teeth. "I squeeze the toothpaste from the middle of the tube," I told Ranger as I walked into the bedroom.
He glanced at me over a file he was reading. "I know."
"And every day, you go back and roll it from the bottom to get the toothpaste out."
Ranger nodded. "And?"
"Why don't you ever tell me to stop squeezing the toothpaste out like that?"
Ranger looked at me with a bemused expression. "Why would I?"
I shrugged, but I knew the answer: because he was wonderful. He never sweated the small stuff and was still accepting of the mess that is Stephanie Plum.
And I was deeply in love with Carlos Mañoso.
A/N: Thank you everyone for sticking with Getting Physical With RangeMan until the very end. It is with a heavy, yet happy heart that I mark this story complete.