Title: Burning at Both Ends

Author: Julie C.

Category: General/Romance, AU

Rating: PG

Timeline: Right after "Burn Out" (late 2nd season)

Disclaimer: I'm not creative enough to come up with characters like these by myself; I'm just borrowing them for a couple of scenes from Warner Bros. and Shoot The Moon Productions.

Summary: Scenes that could have come right after "Burn Out," picking it up immediately after the tag scene.  Lee and Amanda deal with the aftermath of her near-shooting at his hands.

Feedback: Please! jlcidell@geog.umn.edu

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Amanda reached down for the pink cardigan still sitting on her desk. "You know," she said in a deliberately lighthearted tone, "you really came awfully close with that bullet."  She fidgeted with the sweater, concentrating on it to avoid looking at Lee, who was still standing there holding her Special Award plaque.

"Well, I, uh," Lee started, laying the plaque down on the desk.  "I had to," he went on, spreading his hands.  "Otherwise they would never have bought it."

"Yeah, I know," she nodded, looking into his eyes for a brief second. But as she did so, the vision flashed back into her mind of him standing there, pointing the gun at her with that blank look on his face.  She had to look back down at the sweater in her hands.

While fumbling with the sweater, she had finally found the bullet holes, and she stuck one finger through and wiggled it around.  "Do you suppose the Agency could reimburse me for this sweater?" she asked, finally raising her head with as cheerful a grin as she could muster.

Lee's response was totally unexpected.  His eyes got a strange gleam, and he reached out to take her hand.  "I'll see what I can do," he said in a low tone.  Then he bowed his head, not taking his eyes off hers as he gently kissed her fingertip, giving her an incredibly sexy wink.

Amanda couldn't help the little groan that escaped her, but she managed to turn it into an "aw, isn't that cute," kind of noise. There was a charged silence for a second as Lee straightened up, both of the partners staring into each other's eyes.  Amanda's knees were a little weak, and she felt her hand trembling a little in Lee's grasp. Did he have any idea what kissing her like that, even just the tip of her finger, did to her?  And winking at her with that expression on his face?  She mentally shook her head and gently pulled her hand away.  They were still standing in the bullpen, after all, and there was no need for the entire Agency to see her reacting to Lee's flirting.

*Lee's flirting?* she thought to herself.

He was staring down at her with an inscrutable look.  There was still a little of that devilishness in his eyes that had made her heart do a flip, but his gaze was turning serious.  She held her breath for a moment, wondering what he was thinking.  Then he broke the silence with the kind of grin that he gave when he was trying to change the subject.  "Come on, Amanda, let's go to lunch," he said, taking the sweater from her and putting it back on the desk with one hand while placing the other on her lower back and steering her out into the hallway.  "My treat."

"But Lee, it's still pretty early, and you must have a lot of catching up to do after skipping out of the office for a week," she objected as the guards opened the doors for them.  *And I'm not so sure I want to be alone with you right now,* she added to herself.  *You don't need to see me acting like a schoolgirl with a crush.*

He was shaking his head.  "Any work I have can wait a few more hours, it's not that early, and besides," he paused and looked at her seriously.  "I think I owe you one."

"Oh, Lee," she said, looking at the floor and shaking her head.  Then her tone became more teasing.  "Just because you had to pretend to shoot me and leave me for dead at the bottom of that hill--"

They had reached the elevator, and Lee was pressing the button.  But her words caused him to sharply turn towards her and stare into her eyes.  After a few seconds he spoke in a low tone, eyes searching hers.  "Yeah, among other things," he said. Then under his breath as he turned back towards the elevator, "And you have no idea how hard that was."

She was taken aback by the intensity of his tone, and the look in his eyes that was so different from when he had stood in front of her with the gun.  She knew he was a trained professional, and she really did trust him with her life, but it had been so frightening to see that cold look on his face as he pulled the trigger.  "It didn't seem too hard, from the expression on your face," she said in a small voice.

He stared at her incredulously.  Just then, the elevator dinged, and they ducked inside.  For once, there was nobody else on it, and so there was no one to see as Lee grabbed Amanda's hand and pulled her underneath the hanging coats and then into his arms.  She was surprised, to say the least, but certainly not displeased.  *Gosh, maybe someday I'll get to feel his arms around me without having been nearly killed first,* she thought, embracing him in response.

After a moment, he drew back far enough to look her in the eye. "Amanda, while I'm glad to know that I'm able to keep a poker face, I don't want you ever to think that I could hurt you, okay?"  They both remembered the slap in Nedlinger's at the same time, and both gave a little wince.  He raised a hand to her left cheek and said, "I'm sorry, I guess that's not quite true."

"No, Lee, it was okay," she started, but her voice died out as she suddenly became aware that his fingers were ever-so-slightly moving back and forth over her cheek.  His eyes had the same warm look they had had a few moments ago, after he kissed her fingertip.  *Oh my gosh,* she thought to herself.  *If I didn't know better, I'd think Lee Stetson was going to kiss me.*  She saw his eyes darken the slightest bit and realized with a shiver she'd never really seen them this close up before.  Her gaze flickered down to his lips, and her breath caught in her throat.  Then his hand pressed her face upwards ever so slightly, and she saw his mouth start to lower towards hers--

And the elevator dinged their arrival on the ground floor.  They jerked apart and looked away from each other for a second.  Then Lee took a deep breath and pushed aside the coats.  "Shall we?" he said in what to her was a disappointingly steady voice.

She stared at him for a moment, then nodded.  As she dropped her badge at Mrs. Marsten's desk and they headed outside, she noticed that he was very careful _not_ to place his hand on her back as he usually did, and she couldn't help the small smile that spread across her lips.

They entered Nedlinger's and seated themselves at a small table near the window, Lee pulling out Amanda's chair for her.  "I'll get us a couple of drinks from the bar," he said.  "White wine okay?"

"Oh, no, it's a little too early for that.  Iced tea would be good, though," she replied with a smile.

Lee approached the bar and gave his order.  As he waited, he couldn't help but think about the last time he had been there, playing the burned-out agent as prey for Jack Harris.  Though his mind shied away from it, the image of his hand slapping Amanda's cheek kept playing over and over in his head.  He couldn't get over the shock and hurt in her eyes.  Although he had been afraid it would blow his cover, he had to rush after her and try to somehow assure her that he hadn't meant it.  Later at the restaurant, when he had told her the truth about his actions, she had been instantly understanding and accepting of his apology.  What had he done to deserve someone like her?

The bartender slid the two drinks towards him across the bar.  "You look a lot better than the last time you were here, son," he said. Raising an eyebrow and tilting his head in Amanda's direction, he went on, "It's amazing what the love of a good woman can do."

Lee quickly gave a short, embarrassed laugh.  "No, Ned, we're just friends.  But she did help me out through some tough times, that's true."

"Uh huh."  Ned's tone of voice hinted of more than a little disbelief. "Look, I saw what happened in here a couple of days ago.  I don't think I've ever seen more remorse in a man's eyes than when you looked at her.  Whatever trouble you were in, you're lucky to have her to stand by you."

Lee had reached out to take their drinks, but he paused to finger the condensation on the side of Amanda's glass.  "Yeah, I guess I am," he said quietly, lifting his eyes to the bartender's knowing gaze.  One corner of his mouth turned up.  "Thanks," he said, lifting the glass in a salute.

As Lee returned to their table, he replayed Ned's words in his head. *The love of a good woman, huh?* he thought.  *Well, Amanda certainly does stand by her friends.*  He couldn't help but think of a few moments ago in the office, wondering what had possessed him to flirt with her like that.  It wasn't something he normally did with Amanda, but then he'd never come so close to seeing her die in front of him, much less at his hand.

And he'd also never had so strong an urge to take her in his arms, and...well, and kiss more than just her fingertip.  *Damn elevator.*

Shaking his head, he placed Amanda's iced tea in front of her.  "Here you go!" he said cheerfully, trying to distract himself from his thoughts.

She looked at him quizzically, but didn't say anything.  As she took a sip from her drink, he couldn't help but stare at her, remembering the look on her face when he was pointing the gun at her.  Her eyes had been so wide, so frightened, but at the same time so trusting.  He knew he had had his professional face on, not able to express any emotion at all for fear of tipping his hand to the killers watching him.  So without being to reassure her at all, he had pulled the trigger.  And he hadn't realized until she had held up her sweater in the bullpen just how close he had come.  He couldn't help the little shiver that swept over him.  She was right, he had really come awfully close.

"Lee, are you okay?"  Her concerned voice interrupted his thoughts.

"Amanda, I just..." he hesitated, then shook his head.  Might as well actually say what he was thinking, for once.  "I just can't believe how much you trusted me out there.  I mean, I had a gun on you, and you looked like you didn't doubt me for a second."

"Oh, Lee," she answered, looking a little embarassed.  "What else am I supposed to do when we're out in the field?  I mean, you've saved my life so many times, and you're the one with all the training and everything, and everyone knows you're one of the best in the Agency, if not the best, and so," she raised her eyes to his and said shyly, "Of course I trust you, Lee."

*God, her eyes are beautiful,* he thought.  *And I almost didn't get to look in them again.*  He reached out and grabbed her hand.  "Hey, I may have the training, but you have some pretty good instincts. Knocking Harris over the head with that branch, pretending to be shot, opening that water valve...I'd let you watch my back any day."

She graced him with one of her brilliant smiles.  "Thanks, Lee," she said, squeezing his hand and then letting it go.

Before he could think of some way to get her hand back in his, the waiter arrived with the menus.  So he contented himself with stealing glances at her over the top of his menu, still marveling how good it felt to have her with him, and wondering just what it would have done to him if she hadn't been okay.

The rest of lunch was a pleasant affair, with the conversation devoted to non-Agency topics.  Amanda told Lee about Jamie's latest science project, and he made her laugh with more stories of his escapades around the world.  When lunch was done, Lee suggested they take a short walk around a nearby park, and Amanda agreed.  He obviously had something on his mind, and after their near miss in the elevator and his glances at her all through lunch, she hoped she knew what it was. So as he offered her his arm and she tucked her hand underneath it, she was totally unprepared for what he said next.

"Amanda, I think you should quit the Agency," Lee said.

"What?" Amanda couldn't believe it.  She stopped walking and turned to face him.  "After all of that praise about my instincts and how I'm actually occasionally doing a good job?" she started incredulously. "Was that just to let me down easy?"

"No, no, no," he replied, turning as well and taking her hands in his. "Look, it's just getting too dangerous, and I think you're better off in another line of work."

She was silent for a moment, looking down at their clasped hands. Then she said, "Lee, I don't think it's _getting_ dangerous, I think it's always been dangerous, and I think I knew that from the moment I rescued you from Mrs. Welch.  Look, the more experience I get, the better I am, right?"

He was shaking his head, and now he looked a little angry, too. "Let's review the past month, shall we?"  He started ticking off events on his fingers.  "Yesterday, you were kidnapped and I had to pretend to kill you, because you work with me.  You just got over being declared dead because another agent mistakenly used your identity.  Before that, you were poisoned by a sandwich meant for me, you were kidnapped by drug dealers because of the car I got you from the Agency pool, and before that..." his voice trailed off and he ran a hand through his hair, remembering the terror of seeing her double pull a gun on him.  "Before that, someone went through an elaborate plot to kill me using you as bait.  Amanda, I think that's more than a little dangerous."

"Lee, everything worked out okay, and--"

He cut her off.  "What if I hadn't been following Jack Harris, huh? Where would you be then?"

"Well, I suppose I'd be at the bottom of that ravine with a bullet in me, wouldn't I?" she snapped back at him.

"Yeah, that's right.  And your two boys wouldn't have a mother anymore, would they?" he retorted.

Now that made her mad.  "Look, Stetson," she said, poking a finger into his chest.  "Don't you try and guilt trip me about my boys.  I think about them every day I'm on this job, every single day," and she poked him three more times in conjunction with her words.  Then she glared at him.  "Don't think I haven't thought about leaving the Agency myself.  I have to think every day about what I'm doing here, and if the risks I'm taking are justified by the work I'm able to do. I think it's up to me to decide if it's no longer worth it."

They stared at each other for a moment, and then Lee realized that she was right.  As usual.  He brought up his hand to clasp hers against his chest.  "Hey, I'm sorry," he said in a quiet voice.  "I should give you more credit."

She nodded, and her face softened a bit.  "Besides, if I hadn't been following you with Travis the trucker, I don't think you'd be in too good of shape yourself."

He gave her a smile.  "Yeah, I guess you've managed to save my butt a couple of times, too."

"Just a couple?"  Amanda pretended to look offended.  Then she squeezed his hand.  "Thank you for being concerned about me, though, Lee."

His smile widened, and his eyes grew warmer.  "Hey, like I said, I owe you one.  What are friends for?"

"Yeah, what are friends for?" she echoed brightly, quashing her brief unhappiness at hearing him say, yet again, that they were just friends.

Then she realized he was still holding her hand against his chest, and her curled fingers just happened to be lying right over his heart. And his heart happened to be beating surprisingly quickly.  So, just out of curiosity (she told herself), she took a step towards him and kissed him on the cheek, pressing her body against his for a brief second.

The first reaction she noticed was hers.  She had to fight to limit herself to a quick peck once she felt Lee's skin against her lips. *What are you doing, Amanda?* she asked herself as she stepped back, not sure if she meant that she should be kissing him again or that she never should have done it in the first place.  She was sure her heart was beating loudly enough to be heard across the park, much less by Lee, and she kept her gaze averted for a moment so he wouldn't see all of the emotions that must be visible in her eyes.

But then she remembered the ostensible reason for her little experiment, and she was startled to feel how hard his heart was beating beneath her hand, which had somehow flattened itself against his chest.  And then there was that little hitch in his breath that she had noticed right after her lips touched his cheek.  And then...she raised her eyes to his and couldn't help the little gasp that slipped out.  His eyes were so dark, so intense, so--hungry.  She knew she'd never seen him look at her that way before, and she suddenly realized how much she had wanted him to.

But he wasn't moving, wasn't doing anything besides giving her that intense look, and she was afraid that the moment would be lost again. Remembering their elevator ride just before lunch, and how much his slight stroking of her face had affected her, she realized that her thumb was just resting against the hollow of his throat.  So she slowly moved that thumb back and forth, just grazing his warm skin, not daring to lower her gaze from his.

The result was more than she could have hoped for.  Lee took a deep, shaky breath and closed his eyes.  On the second exhalation, he breathed, "Amanda," then suddenly opened his eyes and swiftly brought his hand behind her head as his mouth came down on hers.

Instantly she was lost.  She had wondered a number of times how good a kisser Lee was, especially after their "wedding," and she was pleased to find that he was every bit as good as she had imagined.  One hand was tangled in her hair, keeping her mouth pressed to his, while the other was lightly stroking her fingers, still pressed against his chest.  And his lips--oh, his lips.  They were gentle but persistent, moving against hers in a way that simply made her knees weak.

Eventually, they had to pull apart, and she was afraid for a second to look in his eyes.  What if this hadn't meant anything?  What if it was just the heat of the moment?  But she heard a soft, "Hey," and a gentle hand tilted her face upwards.  She was surprised when she met his eyes to see the same uncertainty that she felt.  "Should I be apologizing?" he asked, hesitantly.

"Oh, no," she assured him with a huge smile.  "I didn't mind.  I mean," she hastened to assure him, "not just I didn't mind, of course I didn't mind, that was an amazing kiss, but it was okay, Lee, really, it was more than okay--"

His mouth stopped any more words as directly as possible.  A few more seconds passed, and she shifted her arms so they were wrapped around his neck.  This time when they drew apart, he gave a small chuckle. "I've been wondering for a while now how effective a way that is to get you to stop talking."

She looked at him reproachfully.  "Lee," she protested.

He chuckled again, but then his face grew serious.  "Amanda," he said, wrapping his arms around her waist and heaving a deep breath.  "What do we do now?"  He gently stroked her back as he went on, "I mean, where do you want to go with this?"

She raised her eyes to his with a bit of a teasing look.  "Well, if I was like your other women, I know exactly where we'd be going with this!"  She was amused to note that Lee actually looked embarrassed. It was kind of cute.

He was shaking his head.  "Amanda, you are so different from my usual 'dates'...in so many ways."  His arms tightened around her as he went on, "That's why leaving you at the bottom of the hill like that was one of the hardest things I've ever done as an agent."

Her eyes widened.  "Lee," she started, but he rode over her.  "I could barely go to look at you.  For all I knew, I'd really shot you.  If I had, I didn't want to know, and if I hadn't, I was afraid they'd make me do a better job.  So I had to turn away.  Amanda, I'm sorry."

"You did what you had to," she replied, amazed that he was apologizing to her for doing his job.  "I understand."

He was just staring at her, one corner of his mouth turning up ever so slightly.  "Amanda King," he said, shaking his head.  "What did I do to deserve you?"

She blushed and looked down at his chest.  "It must have been as good as what I did to deserve you," she responded shyly.

His answer was a gentle kiss on her forehead, and when she lifted her head to look at him, he kissed her again, more lingeringly than before.  She pressed her body close to his, gently ruffling the hair at the back of his head.  She could just taste the wine he had had with lunch, but her senses were mostly overcome with the scent of Lee, whatever combination of shampoo and aftershave it was that she had noticed the few times she had been close enough to him.  Finally they drew apart, and she was glad that his arms were still around her waist to steady her.  "Wow," she said a little shakily, eyes wide.

Lee let out a puff of breath as he lowered his forehead to lean against hers.  "Well, I don't suppose we can be doing that in the bullpen," he said.

She grinned.  "No, I suppose not.  But, you know, we've been hiding this from each other well enough that no one else has noticed, either, so," she fiddled with the back of his collar, "if we just pretend like nothing's going on, like we have been, I think we'll be fine."

"Oh?" he asked, raising one eyebrow.  "Just how long have 'we' been hiding this, hm?"

Amanda blushed again.  "Oh, I don't know.  I mean, it's so hard to pinpoint when attraction starts, and when it's more than attraction but actually liking somebody, and I suppose there were specific things that happened, but nothing I can put my finger on..." she broke off when she realized he was chuckling.  "What?" she asked warily.

"You do that on purpose sometimes, don't you?" he asked with a smile, running one finger down her cheek.

"Do what?" she asked innocently.

"Stall.  Refuse to answer questions.  Answer a question with a question.  I know you, Amanda."

"Yeah, I guess you do," she answered, reaching up to give him a kiss. "How about you?  Or did it just come to you in a blinding flash?"

He thought for a minute, then had to smile.  "You know, Billy once asked me if there was something between you and me."

"Really?" Amanda asked.  "Oh, gosh, this might not work as well as I thought."

But Lee was shaking his head.  "No, it was back when you were taken by the Russians instead of me.  Billy wondered why you had been at my apartment so early in the morning."  When her eyes widened, he went on, "I told him you were just feeding my fish, but I'm not sure he believed me, especially after what I did next."

"I still can't believe you did that," she said, shaking her head. "After all those years and all the work that went into catching that guy, you just traded him over for me.  And they were going to charge you with treason, Lee!"

"It would have been worth it," he said in a low voice, stroking her cheek.  "Even if I didn't realize then how much you meant to me, I must have had some idea.  I just couldn't have let you go like that. Not when you had been taken in my place."

"Well, I'm awfully glad you didn't.  Let me go, I mean.  I don't ever think I'd been so scared in my whole life."  One corner of her mouth turned up in a surprisingly un-Amanda-like smirk.  "Now, I'm scared like that on a fairly regular basis."

"Oh, Amanda," Lee sighed.  He pulled her more closely towards him and laid his head on top of hers.  "See, that's what I mean.  I don't think this job, this life, is right for you."

"Hey, I'm certainly not going to give it up now," she replied, nestling her face into his chest.  "You need me too much."

He had to smile at that.  "Yeah, I think I do," he said, staring off into the distance.  *And I don't think either of us realizes how much,* some corner of his brain responded.

They held each other for a moment more, and then Lee reluctantly drew back.  "Well, I know Billy's going to be somewhat forgiving of you right now, but I have a lot of catching up to do, so I suppose we'd better get back."

She agreed, then let out a surprised noise as he bent down to capture her lips one last time.  "Mm," she said as they drew apart.  "When do I get to do that again?"

He smiled, taking her hand as they started to walk back.  "Dinner?  My place?  Seven o'clock?"

Amanda smiled in response, her face lighting up in that way he just loved.  "Sounds good to me," she replied, squeezing his hand.

Just before they reached the Agency, Lee said, "Oh, and Amanda, you just pick out any sweater you want and bring the receipt to me.  I'll take care of it."

With a twinkle in her eye, she replied, "Oh, I think I've been reimbursed more than enough already."  Then she gave him a wink and stepped inside, leaving him to stare after her, shaking his head yet again.