Disclaimer: The characters in this story do not belong to me. They are the property of Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions.
Timeline: Third season, immediately following "J Edgar's Ghost"
Synopsis: This is just a little tale of what might have happened during the 'blackmail date'. I tried to stay true to cannon.
Feedback: Sure, why not. Please note, however, that this is my first fanfiction attempt.
When you're talking about love, you have to be patient.
Lee exhaled forcefully, running a hand through his hair. Those seemingly innocuous words, said by anyone else would not have fazed him. But coming from Amanda, pleading with those soulful brown eyes, those words now echoed through his mind, and caused his heart to quicken a little.
Did she know?
Sure, the context of the conversation had been innocent enough. They had been arguing about taking Agnes in for questioning about Nick Cross. The creep had not only compromised many sensitive operations, he had also ripped the very heart out of Agnes, leaving her feeling used and foolish. When you're talking about love….
Lee thought again about Amanda's words, and the look in her eyes. Amanda was so much wiser in these areas than he. Could she possibly know what one word, one touch, one shy smile from her did to him?
The anticipation of this evening had his stomach tied in knots. Sure, he had shared many meals with Amanda. Heck, lunching together had become almost habit. But never had the prospect filled him with such, such- what? Excitement? Nervousness? Trepidation?…..Fear?
They would start with dinner at Spencer's and take it from there. Dinner was the price to be paid for the negative to that ridiculous picture of him at the Christmas party three years ago. Lee couldn't help the grin that appeared just from thinking about Amanda's little blackmail scheme.
She was absolutely irresistible when she got that playful gleam in her eye; that cute little cat-that-ate-the-canary expression on her face. Come to think of it, who would want to resist?
'Face it, Stetson,' he told himself, 'you're a goner, and it's time to own up!' Would tonight be the night he let her know his feelings? Well, they'd start with dinner and take it from there.
Oh my gosh!
Does he know?
Amanda took a deep breath, trying to quell the butterflies swarming in her stomach. It didn't work. She held a cool hand to her cheeks that were burning in remembrance of her actions earlier that day. It wasn't her nature to be particularly flirtatious, and she certainly wasn't prone to blackmailing her friends. Still, as she recalled the glint in Lee's eyes as he'd leaned across the desk, accepting the price to be paid for the incriminating negative, Amanda realized he was anything but put out about the situation.
'He knows as well as I do,' she thought, 'So, if it's up to me to push the envelope a bit, so be it!'
Their changing relationship unnerved as well as excited her. The agonizingly slow progress from the day they'd met until now replayed in her mind's eye. With a sigh of satisfaction, Amanda realized that she wouldn't change a thing. The snail's pace of their relationship had allowed a solid, deep friendship to build. There was no doubt in her mind about Lee's caring and devotion to her. As he had proved more than once, Lee would sacrifice everything for her, and what was even more rewarding, he now openly acknowledged his admiration of her abilities and insights on the job.
This night was different. All of the lunches, the embassy parties, the drinks at Monk's after work were one thing, but this was something entirely different. Although it was unspoken, they both knew that this was some kind of turning point, raising their partnership to a new level.
Amanda had driven the boys to a sleepover an hour ago, and her mother had just called out a cheery goodnight as she left for an evening of dinner and cards with friends. Although Amanda had suggested meeting at the restaurant, Lee had insisted on picking her up. Now, she stood in front of the mirror, smoothing her dress as she anxiously studied her reflection. Lee always complimented her when she wore red. She had never had occasion to wear this dress, and thought tonight would be the perfect opportunity. It was form fitting without clinging, with a V-neckline that was just low-cut enough to be interesting. The effect was just right, she thought. Now, if those butterflies would just calm down….
Lee parked the Vette at the curb in front of the house on Maplewood Drive and headed for the front door. Squaring his shoulders, he straightened his tie and brushed a speck of lint from his navy blazer. Amanda always commented on how nice he looked in this jacket, and the tie was a new one she had helped him pick out during their lunch break one day last week. He pressed the bell and wondered once again at the strange sensation in his stomach.
'It's just Amanda,' he told himself. 'My Amanda."
The doorbell echoed through the oddly silent house and Amanda headed downstairs. Opening the door, her eyes met Lee's and they both broke into spontaneous smiles.
"It feels funny letting you in the front door," Amanda said.
"Tell me about it," Lee nodded in agreement, "Especially when I'm not decked out like the exterminator or the pizza guy." His eyes swept over her as she stepped back from the door, and he took in a sharp breath. "You look fabulous!"
Amanda felt a blush creep over her cheeks as he took in the full picture. "Why thank you, sir. You're looking quite dashing yourself this evening. Nice tie."
"Oh, you like this do you?" he asked, fingering the object in question. "Someone with exquisite taste helped me choose it." Glancing around, Lee finally figured out what was so unusual. "It's quiet in here. I know that doesn't happen very often."
"Amazing, isn't it," Amanda agreed, "The boys are at a sleepover birthday party, and Mother is out with the girls tonight."
"Well, we'd better head out ourselves if we want to keep our reservation. Shall we?" Lee offered his arm.
Walking to the car, Amanda once again felt Lee's glance taking her in. Catching the question in her eyes, he suddenly grinned widely. "I was just remembering that 'Hot Mama' T-shirt of yours. You know, the more I think about it, the more appropriate it seems."
"Watch it, Stetson!" Amanda tried in vain to muster a stern look as he helped her into the car. Suddenly their eyes locked, and her breath caught in her throat.
Lee leaned in close to her ear and said in almost a whisper, "Oh, I certainly intend to do that, Mrs. King. Watch it, that is." He closed her door and went around to his own. Sliding into his seat, he bent to retrieve a single red rose, and presented it to her with a flourish. "For you, lovely lady."
"Oh, Lee! Thank you!" Amanda was taken aback by the gesture.
The ride to Spencer's was relatively quiet, but there was something akin to an electric current between the two partners that you could almost reach out and touch. Amanda sensed Lee's eyes on her more than once, and returned his look with a shy smile.
Spencer's had the perfect ambiance for a romantic dinner for two. Lee and Amanda conversed easily as they ate salads, some of the earlier tension draining away. They talked about Lee's decision to start looking for a new apartment now that his building had sold to new owners, and they discussed Amanda's attempt to juggle the boys' increasingly busy schedules with her own.
"Phillip's really starting to put on some height," Lee observed. As Amanda looked up in surprise he continued. "What? Are you surprised I noticed?"
"Well- yes, I guess so." Amanda acknowledged.
"You know, Amanda, I've been watching those boys grow up for the last three years. What with your stories about them and my own observations, I feel like I know them." He paused, looking down at his hands for a moment, and then looked back up, locking eyes with her. "I hope- well, I hope that someday I really can get to know them."
Amanda struggled to swallow over the lump that was rising in her throat. The waiter appeared at that moment, and the pair was silent as their entrees were served. Afterwards the silence stretched as they sampled their food. Amanda was certain the meal was superb, but those darn butterflies were at it again, and she might as well have been eating cardboard.
Finally she decided the quiet had lasted long enough. "I'm sure glad that the Cross report didn't take too long to wrap up. Do you want me to start gathering information on the Silva case on Monday?
"Uh-uh," Lee shook his head and stretched his hand across the table, grasping Amanda's. "No shop talk allowed tonight, remember?"
"Oh, right," Amanda glanced down at their two hands clasped together. His touch never failed to affect her, and now, as Lee's thumb began to rub gently back and forth against her hand, what little appetite she had for the food on her plate disappeared completely. She reluctantly began to draw her hand away but Lee grasped it tighter.
"Amanda," he once again demanded that her eyes meet his own, and Amanda's fork clattered to the plate as she looked up, answering his silent plea. Lee cleared his throat and began again. "Neither one of us seems to be very hungry after all."
Smiling sheepishly, Amanda looked back at the barely touched food on her plate. "I know. I'm sorry, Lee," she began, but he cut her off.
"No. It's all right," he gave her hand one last squeeze before releasing it. "I think, if it's okay with you, maybe we should go somewhere and talk." At Amanda's mute nod of agreement he signaled the waiter for the check, and soon they were back outside in the brisk night air. Wordlessly they entered the car and Lee steered toward a familiar area. Amanda knew instinctively where they were headed. Suddenly, Lee began to chuckle softly.
"What gives, Scarecrow?" Amanda demanded.
"Oh, I was just remembering that very first day when I asked you to meet me at that party with the package."
"Ooh!" Amanda winced at the memory. "There you were in your tuxedo while I- well, I'm still not sure I've forgiven you for that one!"
"I believe your exact words were something like 'hideously underdressed,'" Lee grinned. Amanda attempted a playful swat, but Lee intercepted the hand before it reached it's target and brought it to his lips for a quick kiss. "No violence, Mrs. King!" he admonished softly.
"Oh, all right!" she smiled back at him. "And I guess I actually have forgiven you for that little slip. Heaven knows there are plenty of other things I could be mad at you about."
"Amanda, you cut me to the quick! You know, you weren't exactly the most cooperative person that day; you didn't even bring the package like I asked you to." He shook his head with a smile as he continued. "Little did I know that would be the first of many, many times when you didn't do what I asked."
"But you've learned to deal with it," Amanda said smugly, patting him on the arm.
Lee shook his head ruefully as he pulled the car to the curb. "Only because you're usually right. Okay," he turned to face her, "here we are. Do you want to walk, or will it be too cold?"
"I'm fine," Amanda assured him. "By all means, let's walk."
The moonlight joined with the streetlights to illuminate the way as Lee and Amanda strolled to the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. Almost unconsciously, each reached for the other's hand as they walked, comfortable and content just being together. Finally reaching their destination, Lee turned Amanda to face him and took both of her hands in his own.
"Have I told you how absolutely stunning you look this evening?" he asked.
"Why, I believe you did mention something to that effect," Amanda said lightly, "but thank you again."
They continued to stand that way, facing each other, hands clasped, until at last Lee took a deep breath and plunged ahead.
"You know, don't you." It was more a statement than a question.
A brief flicker of uncertainty crossed Amanda's face until she looked up into his eyes and saw her answer there. Nodding slowly, she answered him, "Yes, I know," she paused, then looking earnestly into his hazel eyes she continued, "But Lee, you don't have to say anything. I mean, I know how hard it is for you to talk-"
"Shh," he cut her off. "No, I want to do this- I need to do this." Lee looked around and spied a low wall for them to perch on as they continued their conversation. "Let's sit," he said, pulling her down, keeping her left hand firmly clasped in his right. "You know," he began, "sometimes I feel like you know me better than I know myself. So maybe the things I have to say are things you already know. But I need you to please listen and understand that this is all very new territory for me."
Amanda nodded and shifted her hand so that their fingers were entwined. "I'm listening."
"You know how I was talking earlier about looking for a new apartment?" at her nod he continued, "Well, it's not just because of new management like I said before. It's, well, I guess it's mostly because I feel the need for a fresh start. We both know that I've had a very, um, active social life in the past." Lee glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, and Amanda unsuccessfully tried to smother a grin.
"Interesting choice of words, Stetson!"
"You're not going to make this easy on me, are you?" he asked , returning her grin.
"Anyway, you know what I'm talking about. The point is, that was all in the past. I know I haven't exactly broadcast it from the rooftop, but I haven't dated anyone since Leslie, and Lord knows that was a disaster!" At Amanda's knowing look, Lee's eyes widened in sudden understanding. "You had that all figured out too, didn't you?"
Shrugging slightly, Amanda looked down. "Well, let's just say Leslie seemed a little too familiar in some ways."
Lee laughed out loud. "Amanda King, if I live to be one hundred I'll never be as wise as you. But you just let me flounder along until I finally figure out things in my own dim way."
"I wish I was as wise as you seem to think. I was pretty confused about things back then myself," Amanda admitted. She paused then asked, "You really want to move? That's a pretty drastic measure."
"I want a new apartment in a new building with a new phone number. I'm ready to sever all of those old ties." A look of determination crossed his face. "Amanda, the only woman I've seen after working hours in recent months is you. I have no desire to see anyone but you. I'm not even sure I could lay hands on my little black books anymore. I guess they're gathering dust in some corner of my desk." Amanda looked up at him, wondering if she should speak, but Lee suddenly rose and ran a hand through his hair. "I've foolishly tried to tell myself that we're just friends, but it's not working anymore. I can't imagine my life without you, Amanda, and I guess that's what scares me to death," he stopped in front of her and once more took her hands in his. "I don't want to mess this up. If I lost you, I don't know what I'd do. You're the best friend I've ever had."
"I know, Lee," Amanda said soothingly, "and I'm a little scared about it too. So, what have you come up with? You've got that look in your eye that tells me you're a man with a plan."
"Okay, I'll tell you my plan," Lee smiled broadly, dimples showing, "and I'll have you know this has consumed my last few sleepless nights!"
"Poor baby!" Amanda's eyes twinkled at the boyish pleasure he was taking in this.
"Darn right!" he agreed. "Although since my nights of late have been filled with nothing but thoughts of you anyway, I thought I might as well put the time to good use. You're quite a challenge, you know. Let's just say that all my past experience has been with women of a different ilk. You call for an entirely different strategy."
"Strategy, Lee? Why do I suddenly feel like a pawn in some kind of military maneuvers game," Amanda laughed. "So what's the battle plan, Stetson?"
"The plan, my dear Mrs. King," at this Lee took a step closer and pulled her to stand facing him. "The plan is what I think in the old days they referred to as courting." His arms were around her waist now, and he looked down into her eyes. "You are an incredible, brilliant, beautiful woman and you've taught me a lot about what it's like to be a caring person. I'm not about to rush in and mess things up, so you'll just have to be patient with me a little longer," he held her away from him for a moment and searched her eyes. "I'll be real honest with you; I'm still not completely sure just what I'm capable of when it comes to relationships. So you'll have to give me a little time to get comfortable with the new improved Lee Stetson."
"Oh, I think I can deal with that," Amanda agreed, moisture beginning to form at the corners of her eyes. A sudden breeze made her shiver, and she snuggled closer into his embrace. They stood in silence for a moment then Amanda lifted her head to look up at him. "Lee?"
"You know, what you just said about courting me?"
"That's the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me."
"Really?" he flashed his most winning smile, brushing away the tear that had begun it's trail down her cheek. "Do I get brownie points for that?"
"Oh, I definitely think so, Scarecrow. You know I was quite fond of the old Lee Stetson, but this new improved version sure knows how to sweep a girl off her feet."
"Well, I do have one little confession to make before you shine my halo too bright."
"Now I know that I made a point of saying we'd take this slowly. And I thoroughly intend to keep that promise," he hastened to add as she looked up skeptically, "but there's this little piece of the old Lee lurking in the shadows that can hardly wait to literally sweep you off your feet," he lowered his voice and moved closer to her ear. "Did I happen to mention I also think you are the sexiest woman on the planet?"
Amanda laughed, "Okay, you win. Double brownie points for that one! Like I said, the old Lee did have his strong points; we wouldn't want him to completely vanish!" Tucking her hand through the crook of his arm, Amanda tilted her head to look up at him. "So, what exactly does this 'courtship' plan entail?
The smile remained in his eyes, but Lee's voice grew soft and serious. "What it means is that I intend to call you up, and take you out, and leave you little notes, and bring you flowers," he searched her face for approval, and finding it he continued. "I intend to hold your hand," he reached out with his own to demonstrate, "and kiss your cheek," once again he put his words in action, "and hold you close," he pulled her toward him, " and when the time is right, when there's not even the shadow of a doubt that I can live up to everything you deserve, then and only then, we'll explore what lies beyond."
Speechless, Amanda clung to him as he gently stroked her hair. Finally looking up with wonder in her eyes she spoke. "You're an amazing man," she shook her head slightly. "I can't even begin to tell you how much this touches me." They stood that way for another minute until once more Amanda broke the silence, this time with a humorous gleam in her eye. "Who would believe that Lee Stetson, the legendary king of watercooler gossip, could be so chivalrous!" Another gust of wind swirled around them and she shivered once more.
"Well, chivalrous Lee says it's time to get you out of this wind. You know," he said, leading her down the steps, "I'm feeling a little hungry now. How about we stop somewhere for dessert and coffee before I take you home?"
"Sounds great." Amanda snuggled closer to his side as they walked along and his arm tightened around her. "Lee? You know we had another first tonight."
"Oh yeah, what's that?" he asked.
"I think this was the first time ever that you had more to say than me."
He laughed out loud, "You know, I think you're right. I guess it's your influence again!"
"Well, I guess I could become the new and improved Amanda King who keeps her mouth shut and lets you do all the talking." She teased.
"No way!" Lee shook his head emphatically. "In the first place, this business of talking about your feelings is exhausting. I don't know how much more of this I could take! And in the second place," at this he leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead, "There's absolutely nothing about you," he lifted each of her hands in turn to his lips, "that needs to be new or improved." He pulled her slightly closer, and for a moment his lips hovered over hers before he shook his head and stepped back. "Whoa! I nearly forgot my own rules. Courting. Taking it slowly."
"You're a tease, Lee Stetson!"
Lee gave her a dimpled grin as he helped her into the car then headed around to his own seat. "I'm depending on you to keep me in line, just like you always do."
Amanda picked up the rose that still lay on the seat and gently twirled it. She looked at him slyly as she spoke. "Oh, you don't have to worry about that," she said smugly, "I know just the thing to keep you in check."
"Oh is that so? And just what might that be?" Lee challenged.
Amanda, with a twinkle in her eye, leaned in closer and lowered her voice to play her trump card. "I still have the negative!"
Lee's laughter filled the car as he leaned across to place a gentle kiss on the tip of her nose. "That's my Amanda!"
With that he started the car. They drove away into a night filled with the magic of the moment and the promise of wonders to come.