Partners In Crime

Author: Vikki

Disclaimer: The usual disclaimers apply. The SMK characters and the Agency belong to Warner Brothers, Shoot the Moon Productions, and a bunch of other lucky folks. I am borrowing them for my own enjoyment, and I'm not profiting from doing so.

Rating: G

Timing: Mid-fourth season, shortly after "Promises To Keep."

Summary: This is my story for the smkfanfic title challenge. How did Amanda and Lee deal with Francine's unsolicited advice about their relationship?

In Canon or AU? Only Francine's hairdresser knows for sure.

Thanks to Amy for providing a great title. I doubt this is what she had in mind, but it's what happened when my fingers hit the keyboard . . . . Thanks also to Kim for remaining patient for a day and a half while I obsessed over one word and to Dix for her judicious use of the oomph-meter.

Archive: Just the smkfanfic archive, since the story is a challenge for this list.

Feedback: Yes, all feedback is welcome and appreciated.


Amanda King fidgeted almost imperceptibly in the wide corridor outside the Agency bullpen. As the elevator slid open, she stepped quickly inside and pressed the button for the Georgetown foyer, then waited impatiently for the door to close. Straightening the drab overcoats, she pretended she didn't hear the imperious voice calling her name and the sharp tap of high-heeled shoes coming rapidly nearer. When the elevator finally began its ascent, she closed her eyes and exhaled softly. Three times in as many hours, she had just managed to slip away. She didn't know how much longer her luck would hold.

Pushing aside the coats to exit, she found herself face to face with her fiance, and her heart skipped a beat. She hadn't seen him since the previous afternoon, and it was difficult to maintain a professional facade when she longed to throw herself into his arms. With effort, she schooled her features into a polite greeting and forced her hands to her sides.  "You don't want to go down that way, Lee," she said quietly, hoping to avoid the attention of the steely-haired IFF receptionist. "I barely escaped Francine on my way up."

A look of annoyance crossed Lee's face, extinguishing his welcoming smile.  "We're going to have to do something about that," he grumbled. After a quick glance over his shoulder, to where Mrs. Marston was occupied with a phone call, he grabbed Amanda's hand and pulled her upstairs into the privacy of the Q Bureau. Locking the door with a snap, he turned and wrapped his arms around her, pulling her firmly against his chest. "After we take care of more important matters," he added in a husky whisper.

As he lowered his head and pressed his lips to hers, Amanda felt herself melt. No matter how many times Lee kissed her, it always felt like the first time. For a long moment, she lost herself in the pleasure of his embrace, blocking out everything except the heady sensations of his warm mouth against her own and his potent muscles rippling beneath her fingertips. Finally finding the strength to pull back slightly, she sighed. "Ummm. As pleasant as this is, I don't think it's quite the solution to our problem," she murmured breathlessly. 

Lee raised his head with a rueful chuckle. "Yeah," he agreed, stepping back a half pace and shoving his hands into his pockets. "So, what are we gonna do? I don't think I can handle many more lectures on my scorched earth policy toward relationships."

As the intoxicating effect of his caresses began to clear from Amanda's mind, her thoughts refocused on their immediate dilemma. "I'd like to remind you that *you* have the easy part," she lectured, tapping one finger against his chest for emphasis. "You just have to listen. She wants *me* to tell her all the juicy details of our breakup. And I don't know how much longer I'm going to be able to avoid her."

Lee rolled his eyes. "Maybe you should make something up," he suggested with a shrug. "She wants to hear a melodrama, so you should give her one."

Amanda shook her head, her eyes troubled. "I'm not going to lie to her, Lee. I understand why we need to keep our engagement a secret, but I tell too many lies as it is. "

After studying her solemnly for a moment, the corners of Lee's mouth began to quiver, and his eyes began to twinkle. "You don't have to lie . . . exactly."

Amanda stared at him questioningly. He couldn't possibly expect her to tell Francine the truth: far from breaking up, they were engaged to be married. "What do you mean, I don't have to lie *exactly*?"

"I mean," he replied with a wicked smile, "you can tell her enough of the truth to get her off our backs. You don't have to lie, just make it a crime of omission." Leaning toward her again, he whispered into her ear, and her eyebrows shot up at the suggestion.

"She won't believe me," Amanda stated emphatically, "and she definitely won't drop the subject. She'll have you cornered within ten minutes."

"I won't be here," he reminded her, glancing at his wristwatch. "I have an appointment with Capitol Security in thirty minutes, and I doubt I'll be back before four o'clock."

"You don't think she'll give up that easily, do you?" Amanda countered, reaching out almost automatically to straighten his tie. "Francine's nothing if not persistent."

"Then we'll be partners in crime, won't we?" Lee teased as he dropped a light kiss on her nose. "You may be the one who studied drama in college, but I think I can put on a pretty good act if I need to."

Amanda pursed her lips thoughtfully. She had misgivings about the 'mystery' aspect of their upcoming marriage -- the amount of subterfuge involved seemed almost overwhelming at times. But they had to get Francine off their backs, even if it was only long enough to give them some breathing room. "All right," she agreed with an uncertain shake of her head. "But no lies," she insisted.

"Deal," Lee agreed with a grin. "No lies."


Allowing herself to be cornered by Francine was far easier than her earlier avoidance tactics. Amanda simply delivered a stack of files to the Bullpen and then stepped into an unoccupied conference room on the pretext of making a phone call. She hadn't even taken a seat before Francine stalked through the door, closed it firmly, and folded her arms across her chest -- tapping one foot testily against the carpeted floor.

"If I didn't know better, I'd think you were avoiding me." the blonde woman chided, as though speaking to a recalcitrant child. "You haven't told me about your break-up with Lee yet."

"I know, Francine," Amanda replied, trying to sound both apologetic and despondent. "It's just really hard to talk about right now. I'm sure I did the right thing, but that doesn't make it any easier."

"You'll feel better if you talk about it," the blonde woman cajoled, changing her tone to a contradictory mixture of false warmth and grudging respect. "And, let's face facts, Lee Stetson isn't someone you can talk over with your mother or your little PTA friends. You need to talk to someone who really understands what you're going through." As she spoke, Francine began pacing a tight circle just inside the conference room door, as though she expected Amanda to attempt to bolt from the room.

Amanda sighed and looked at the floor. "You're right," she said weakly, clasping and unclasping her hands in front of her. Taking a deep, shaky breath, she plunged on. "To tell you the truth, Francine, I really didn't want to say 'no.' I mean, I really care about Lee, and the ring was beautiful, and he did seem so . . . so . . . well . . . so sincere. But you know his reputation; you warned me about him. It's just so hard to believe that he would actually go to such lengths to . . . well . . . you know . . . ." Amanda's voice trailed off, and she glanced up covertly to gauge her co-worker's reaction.

Francine's blue eyes had widened, and disbelief was apparent in her features. "Ring?" she gasped, suddenly coming to a dead stop as though frozen in place.

For some inane reason, Amanda was reminded of small boys and girls playing "Statue" on her front lawn. Nodding her head sadly, she held her left hand in front of her and focused on the bare ring finger for several seconds before letting out another, even more dramatic, sigh. "Yeah. It was really beautiful . . . It was perfect," she breathed with a faint shake of her dark curls.

Francine opened and closed her mouth a few times, but no words came out. After a moment, however, she seemed to pull herself together. Fixing Amanda with a penetrating stare, she demanded sharply, "Amanda, are you telling me that Lee Stetson actually asked you . . . asked you . . . ?" Francine's voice apparently failed her again, and she pointed an accusing finger at Amanda's left hand.

"Of course, it didn't come as a complete surprise." Amanda ignored Francine's question, staring into space as though lost in a painful memory. "We've been dating for a while, and I'd thought about it. It's only natural to think about it. But our lives are so different . . . I have mother and the boys to consider . . . . " She paused only long enough to take another shuddering breath, shifting her weight slightly from foot to foot. "Of course, it's my own fault things got to this point. I never meant to mislead Lee, and I certainly never meant to hurt him, but I haven't exactly been discouraging him -- I mean, what woman in her right mind would discourage him . . . ?"

As her voice trailed off, Amanda raised her eyes, with what she hoped was a plaintive look, and offered a guilty shrug. Francine seemed to be in a trance, but she didn't dare take advantage of the other woman's uncharacteristic speechlessness much longer -- the spell could snap at any time. On the other hand, unlike lying to her mother and sons, this was actually kind of fun. Straightening her shoulders, she finished in a rush.  "But anyway, I did let him know that we're still friends, and that I want to continue working together. You think I did the right thing, don't you?"  Reaching out to pat Francine's arm, she slipped past her toward the conference room door. "Of course you do," she answered her own question, "and I do appreciate your concern, but I really don't think I can talk about it anymore . . . I'm sure you understand."

"Oh, and Francine," she added just before she exited, "I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't mention this to anyone. It would be better for both of us if no-one else knew." And she hurried away, leaving the blonde staring after her in stunned surprise.


Late that afternoon, Amanda was in the vault, finishing up the day's filing, when Lee appeared in the doorway. Before she had an opportunity to greet him, he put his finger to his lips. "Shhhh . . ." he whispered. "Francine's right behind me. You can watch from here," he added with a conspiratorial wink, "to keep me honest." He pushed the vault door closed, leaving a gap large enough to allow her an unimpeded view of his desk.

Pressing her face against the opening to observe the scene in the Q Bureau, Amanda felt more like a Peeping Tom than a spy. She saw Lee move to the desk, sit down, and turn his chair to face the window. With his right hand, he dug into his jacket pocket and extracted a small velvet box, opening it to allow the light from the window to glitter off the diamond ring inside. When a gentle rap sounded on the door, Lee slumped into a dejected pose before calling out, "Come in."

Amanda heard the faint squeak that indicated the Q Bureau door had opened. Almost simultaneously, Lee snapped the velvet box closed and pushed it back into his jacket pocket.

"Lee?" Francine called out softly, an atypical hesitancy in her voice.

"Yeah, Francine, come on in." Lee slowly swiveled the chair to face her. Amanda saw that he had managed to set his features into a sad, resigned mask -- and she had to stifle the gurgle of laughter that tickled her throat. Lee could have been in movies, she realized. She had studied drama, but he was a natural actor.

When Lee remained silent, Francine stepped further into the room, to the edge of Amanda's line of vision. "Uh . . . Lee . . . I couldn't help seeing . . . ." She gestured toward the now concealed engagement ring.

"This?" Lee removed the velvet box from his pocket a second time, gazed at it dolefully, then set it on his desk without looking at his blonde co-worker. "I've never felt this way about anyone before," he said morosely. Shaking his head, he gave the unmistakable appearance of a rejected suitor.

"I didn't realize . . . "

Although Amanda couldn't see the blonde woman's face, she was surprised to see Francine begin wringing her hands.

"And you call yourself a spy?" Lee responded in a tone of false bravado. "I know we were trying to be discreet, but I was pretty obvious, wasn't I? She knew I hadn't dated anyone else for more than a year. Why would she act like I was --" He looked up as though he had just stopped himself from revealing something.

"I don't . . . I mean . . . well, you do have quite a reputation around this place . . . ." Francine began backing toward the door again, out of Amanda's sight. "You probably just need to give her a little more time.  You know, let her get used to the idea . . . ."

"No." Lee shook his head again, emphatically this time. "Her mind's made up . . . and it's probably best this way. We have dangerous jobs, and she has her family to consider." Lee sighed and looked longingly toward Amanda's desk. "At least she said we can still be friends, and we can still work together. . . . I'd really hate to lose her as a partner; she's the best one I've ever had."

"What are . . . you going to . . . do with . . . ?" The words sounded so strangled that Amanda felt a wave of sympathy.

Lee picked up the velvet box and shrugged. "This? I guess it'll go back.  I'm never gonna give it to anyone else . . . so there's no point in carrying it around." He turned to look toward the door. "Look, Francine, you won't mention this to anyone, will you? It's going to be hard enough, without everyone whispering behind our backs."

"No, no, no," Francine's strained voice carried from the doorway. "I won't say a word about it . . . to anyone." A moment later, the door slammed.

"That was quite a performance," Amanda stated quietly, stepping out of the vault.

A playful grin appeared on Lee's face. "Some of my best work," he quipped as he crossed the room to her side, pausing only long enough to lock the entry to the Q Bureau. "Although I'm not quite finished yet."

"You're not?" she questioned, tilting her head to one side.

"Uh-uh." He reached for her hand and led her to his desk. "I'm supposed to be totally honest, remember?" Kissing her fingers gently and then releasing them, he turned to open the velvet box. He carefully removed the diamond ring and a delicate, yet sturdy, gold chain. Sliding the ring onto the chain, he stepped behind her and fitted it around her neck. "There," he whispered as he turned her around and took her into his arms, "I told Francine the ring had to go back. Now it's right where it belongs."