“E” Is For Eclairs
Disclaimer: The SMK characters and the Agency belong to Warner Brothers, Shoot the Moon Productions, and a bunch of other folks more fortunate than I am. I am merely borrowing them for fun without profit. This story is mine, however, so please don’t reproduce it without my permission.
Time line: Mid to late 4th season
Summary: (The letter “E” in the third round ABC Challenge) A routine staff meeting leads to a startling discovery.
Archive: Smkfanfiction with the other ABC Challenge stories.
Feedback: All feedback is welcome and appreciated, on or off list.
Notes: Thanks to Miriam, Fling and dotty for taking the time to review this
little story for me!
Francine Desmond stood at the edge of the conference room, absently tapping two perfectly manicured red nails on her clipboard as she watched her coworkers assemble for the morning staff meeting. Glancing toward the clock, she frowned in annoyance. She had at least a dozen
items on her desk that required immediate attention, and she could count on having half a dozen more after this meeting -- which was supposed to have started fifteen minutes ago. Lightly running a hand over her flawless chignon, she realized, at this rate, she wouldn’t be caught up by dinner time, much less lunch time; she might as well forget about her hair appointment.
Francine’s brooding was momentarily diverted by the sight of Fred Fielder, who was attempting to slouch toward his seat without attracting Billy’s notice. ‘Some things never change’, she thought with a soft snort. The previous afternoon, it had taken six people more than four hours to clean up the fiasco Fielder had caused with one botched message drop. In fact, now that she considered it, Fielder was personally responsible for three quarters of the backlog on her desk.
Turning from her bumbling coworker in disgust, Francine’s blue eyes idly scanned the room, finally coming to rest on Lee Stetson, who was already seated near the head of the large oak table. Fielder might never change, but something was definitely different about Scarecrow
lately. She had seen the evidence for quite some time, although she hadn’t really thought much about it until recently. If she had given it more than momentary consideration, she probably would have simply decided that he had finally grown up a little.
Scarecrow had always been a daredevil; most of his fellow agents might have described him as intrepid or audacious, while many of his superiors at the Agency preferred labels such as rash and reckless. Dirk in Internal Affairs had once even opined that Lee Stetson had a death wish. But that was then, and this was now.
Over the last year, Scarecrow’s mode of operation had changed. He no longer grabbed for the overseas assignments. Even when plum excursions to Paris, Rome, or Vienna were put on the table, he casually stated that the Q Bureau was keeping him busy. Francine had made a teasing
comment not long ago that his ISP was going to expire from lack of use, but he had simply shrugged his broad shoulders and replied that if he left the country for a few weeks, the work in the Q would fall impossibly behind.
Lee no longer jumped at the jobs that involved the most action, and by default, the most risk; instead, he carefully evaluated his cases to determine whether his skills were a good match for the situation. He no longer took unnecessary chances: he watched his own back almost as closely as he watched his partner’s back. In short, he had become more thoughtful, more responsible, more cautious -- like a man with something to live for instead of a man with something to prove.
It was a good change. Probably the result of maturity, Francine surmised. Other changes, though, were more difficult to decipher. While Scarecrow’s romantic escapades were practically legend at the Agency, they seemed to be falling further and further into the past. She couldn’t remember the last time Lee had dragged into the Agency, midmorning, looking like the infamous “midnight rambler.” And yesterday, Francine had personally overheard several members of the
Steno pool complaining among themselves that they couldn’t get his attention. At least two of the grumblers were precisely the kind of females who used to get a great deal of Lee Stetson’s attention -- but they were whining that they hadn’t gotten more than a polite smile and a distracted greeting for a long, long time.
Studying Lee this morning, Francine decided that he definitely looked distracted. He appeared to be reading the case file on the table in front of him, but every few seconds he glanced up at either the wall clock or the door. And, unless her keen eyesight was failing her, the
graph at the top of the page was the same one that had been visible when he first opened the folder nearly ten minutes ago.
As Francine watched, Billy approached the head of the table, and Lee jumped up and laid a hand on his section chief’s arm, an anxious expression in his hazel eyes. Nonchalantly, and as quietly as possible given the soft click of her three inch heels, Francine moved closer to
hear their conversation.
”Morning, Billy,” Lee began, the casual tone of his voice belying the concern written clearly on his features. “Um, have you seen Amanda this morning? It’s not like her to be late for work . . . .” Lee’s voice drifted off as he shot another look at the clock.
“As a matter of fact, I spoke to her just before she left home this morning,” Billy responded with an amused smile. “She’s taking care of a little assignment for me on her way in.” He apparently noticed the way Lee’s eyes narrowed, because he quickly added a soothing caveat.
“Relax, Scarecrow. It isn’t a dangerous assignment.”
The words were barely out of Billy’s mouth before the conference room door opened, and Amanda King walked in carrying two large pink boxes. Doughnuts. ‘The only dangerous thing about that particular assignment is the possible damage to my hips,’ Francine thought wryly. ‘I wonder
what kind of miracle it would take for someone to create a fat-free chocolate eclair.’
Turning back toward Lee, Francine saw the soft smile that passed between the two agents as Amanda moved toward her usual seat on Lee’s left. As his partner neared, Lee reached to help her with the pastry boxes, his hands lingering on hers for a few moments longer than
necessary. Then he placed the boxes in the middle of the table, helped her into her seat, and -- while most of the occupants of the room were concentrating on the sugary confections -- leaned toward Amanda and whispered something into her ear, a teasing smile lightening his
features. Amanda smiled in return as their eyes met and held, but, after a moment, she redirected Lee’s attention, with a raised brow and a faint nod, toward the neglected file on the table.
As they began reviewing the file, a look of contentment settled over Lee’s face. A look, Francine realized, that had become the norm for him lately. No longer reckless and restless, Scarecrow had become content. And suddenly the truth struck Francine, a tiny spark of
suspicion quickly erupting into a firestorm of certainty: Lee Stetson was in love.
As Francine tried to assimilate this dizzying discovery, Amanda turned toward her and smiled.
Holding out a small white bag, Amanda gestured almost imperceptibly toward Fred Fielder. “I got you a chocolate eclair,” she whispered conspiratorially as Francine stepped forward in a shocked daze. “I thought you might need one this morning.”
“Thanks,” Francine replied automatically as Amanda pressed the offering into her hands. Glancing from Amanda’s face to Lee’s and back again, she shook her head slightly before directing her attention to the contents of the bag. Lee Stetson in love . . . maybe there *was*
hope for fat-free eclairs.