“Administration? What would you do there? You love being a field agent. A desk would drive you and everyone around you, nuts.” Amanda looked over at her husband, puzzled at the question.
“Billy’s had a promotion sitting on his desk for the better part of a year. He’s thrown it away a few times because he didn’t have anyone who would want to take it, but he’s been offering it to me for the last 5 months. He’s been telling me that I need to settle down and raise a family and the money that would come with this job would be enough to do it. I’ve thought about it – it means leaving the field, taking a desk job, not a 9 to 5, but closer to regular living hours.” Lee sighed. “There would be some down points too - it would probably also mean dissolving our partnership. You’ve worked really hard to get where you are in the field, and I don’t want to make this decision without you because of how it would affect you but… well, do you want to come in from the field? Do you want me to? You could be at home for the boys, or find something else in The Agency, and I can come home every night. Be a normal married couple…” Lee’s voice trailed off when he noticed that Amanda didn’t seem to be paying attention to what he was saying. “Amanda?”
Amanda looked out the window. “Is that what you want from me?” They had stopped at Lee’s building. “To stop doing everything that I worked so hard for? Lee, since we got married, and after California…” She trailed off remembering that their honeymoon was spent with her in the hospital recovering from getting shot. “Lee, you haven’t enlisted my help for anything since then. You refused to let me help out when Brand was trying to frame you and Francine, or when Harry and Christina needed help. I know that Billy was part of that, Agency rules about gunshot wounds and all, but that wasn’t line of duty. That was a freak accident that happened on our time off. No one could have seen it coming.”
At this point, Lee was looking down at his hands, loosely hanging on the bottom of the steering wheel. Amanda steeled herself for her next statement. “You don’t trust having me out in the field anymore, do you? You’re shielding me from the field so that I don’t get hurt. So you don’t get hurt. That’s what this is about, isn’t it? So I can stay at home and be a normal Arlington housewife – just like I was supposed to be for Joe, and so that you don’t feel any more pain in your life than you already have.” Amanda said this matter-of-fact, and opened the car door. She got out of the car, and went inside the building.
Lee stayed in the car for a moment, thinking. Voices from the past had often come back to haunt him, and it sounded like Amanda had a few of those voices coming back to her too. The last thing he wanted was for Amanda to draw a parallel between himself and Joe, but that’s exactly what he had done. And she had made a good point – he didn’t want any more pain in his life from the ones he loved, and whether he meant to or not, he caused pain to those who loved him. He got out of the car, and followed his wife into the building.
Amanda was sitting on the couch looking around her, when Lee entered the apartment. She got up and started walking around, trailing a hand over the furniture. “Lee, take a close look at this apartment. How much of me is in this place? How much of it has changed since we got married?” She headed into the bedroom, and he followed. “All that’s here is a couple of sets of clothes for me, a robe, a toothbrush and some makeup, and a box hidden in a compartment in your dresser where we hide our wedding rings when we go to work. If we’re lucky, we get to spend about one night every couple of weeks together, and we kiss each other goodnight on the steps of my house so you can drive back here and we both go to bed alone. I could walk out of this apartment now with a shopping bag and no one would ever know I had been here.”
“I would. I would know, I could still smell your perfume. I would know exactly where my car keys were the last time I put them down on the desk in the bedroom. I wouldn’t have any sugar in the house for your coffee. I wouldn’t see your robe hanging next to mine in the closet. I’d know that your mother wasn’t finding my socks in the washing machine at your house. I’d never be able to sleep because I would be able to smell your shampoo in the pillows and my robe. I wouldn’t have that incredible feeling of belonging when you look at me and tell me that you love me. I would miss you.” Lee stopped. His wife was rubbing off on him – she was the one who usually rambled on, and he smiled at this thought. Amanda didn’t think any of this was amusing, however.
“Lee, take me to my house. I have things to do.” Her voice sounded cold.
“Do you want some help? Some company?”
“No. Just a ride.” Amanda looked away. “…I need some time alone to think, too.”
“Think about what?”
“This. Us.” As Amanda said this, she swept her hand around the living room. “Maybe I shouldn’t be working at The Agency; maybe I should never have called you back about that package,” Amanda’s voice shook. “Maybe we rushed this. We don’t know anything about each other’s everyday lives, and we see each other about as often as if we were having a fling. Maybe the marriage wasn’t a good –“
“Maybe nothing. This IS right. I love you, Amanda Stetson. There’s no changing that. I don’t regret anything about the last 4 years. Not one second of it. I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and-“ Lee ran his hands through his hair, “Amanda, don’t do this to us.” He looked towards his troubled wife who was staring at her shoes.
“Lee, take me home.” She didn’t look at him as she headed for the door.
This was the house that she and Joe had bought so many years ago. Where she had raised her boys, and lived with her mother. Where she had spent years watching her boys grow, and growing as a person herself. Every part of the house had something about her, her mother and her sons in it. And not one visible sign of her husband was anywhere. Even the things she did have were hidden in the back of her closet where her mother would never see them, and as she said in Lee’s apartment, he could walk out of here with a shopping bag, and no one would ever be the wiser. Except she would know every time she went to sleep and caught the smell of his aftershave in the pillows on her bed.
She thought back to a conversation she had had with her mother shortly after it had been revealed that she and Lee were actively seeing each other. Dotty had asked her what she knew about his man. She had replied, almost to herself, “Sometimes I ask myself that same thing”. This statement had not been lost on Dotty; she suggested making a list of everything she knew. Everything she liked, everything that bothered her. Perhaps the pros would outweigh the cons. If she only knew the trouble a list of things that bothered Lee about her had caused. She shook her head. 6 pages, what was he thinking? But this was part of the point she was trying to make – if he could make a 6 page list of things to discuss, then maybe they needed more than a day or two stolen together to make their marriage work. Or maybe their relationship was so foreign: he had been an international spy and ladies man for so many years; she was a divorced woman supporting two kids, her mother, and a mortgage payment. What could they possibly have in common to make a commitment like marriage work?
As she walked into the kitchen, she realized she was heading for the back door – all those times Lee had knocked softly, or peeked in the kitchen window behind the sink, or picked the lock and surprised her when she was home alone. Lee sometimes still came around to the back door, instead of the front, because it was what he was accustomed to. Mother and the boys thought it was a little strange, but otherwise he was a great guy, and made Amanda happy, so what did it matter what door he came in? So many good memories related to that back door, yet there was so little present in the house when it came to him being part of the family.
Family. That’s what it was all about. Lee hadn’t had much of a family growing up, just an emotionally distant uncle who was a Colonel raising him on a military base. His parents had been killed when he was 5. Agents just like him. Her boys had suffered the loss of a parent too – Joe was never around after the divorce, running around to all corners of the world, trying to save it. The boys would fill a void in Lee’s life, just as he would fill a place in theirs. He already had a place in their lives – they played basketball together in the driveway, and had helped them with a couple of research projects for school. Philip had wormed his way into the Corvette a couple of times when Lee took it out to run the track. Lee had given Jaime his first camera, and now her youngest son was already taking pictures like a professional. Amanda wondered if part of his question about the promotion was prompted by his need for family, or from his need to protect her. She sighed; it was probably a bit of both.
She’d been lost in her thoughts for the better part of an hour, when suddenly, she heard a quiet creak from the hinges in the back door, and looked up to see Lee ducking his head around the corner. “Is it ok if I come in?”
“I thought you left.”
“To do what? We’re off the duty roster, and I’d just be going back to a lonely, empty apartment. I stayed sitting in the gazebo, thinking about you, and I didn’t know what else to do, so I came to the door. I know you wanted some time alone, but would you mind spending your time alone with my time alone?” Lee just stood there, leaning against the doorjamb; hands in pockets, looking worried.
“Come on in, Scarecrow,” Amanda said resignedly. “Go sit down, and I’ll make some coffee and a sandwich or two.”
“We could go out for lunch, Amanda, you don’t have to go through the troub-” Lee cut himself off at the sight of Amanda pulling the bread and cold cuts out of the refrigerator. She needed something to do, and she didn’t look like she was in shape to go anywhere. He wasn’t looking forward to the conversation that they were about to have, but someone had to start it. “Amanda, did you really mean what you said about our marriage not being a good idea?”
Amanda knew that this question was going to be asked, but she but didn’t expect it so soon. “I don’t know Lee. I’m not sure about anything anymore. Did you mean all of those things on that list you made? Some of those things on the list are so petty – and they’ve been part of me for years. But you don’t know my daily habits, and I don’t know yours. And we could pick at each other for months, or we might not know most of these things for months or years as we live our lives apart from each other. If I wanted a marriage where I didn’t see my husband every night, I could have stayed married to Joe and ended up with the same result. I want to be able to wake up in the mornings with you here, and go to bed with you at night. I want you to be here for the boys, and to help with the chores, and all the other domestic things that you’ve been allergic to all these years. But with our jobs, security clearances, reputations, all those ‘bad guys’ out there who would want revenge on you or us, is it worth it to stay married? When it seems that we’re doomed to sneak around to see each other outside of work, the fact that we’re married doesn’t seem to be an important factor at all.” Amanda took a deep breath. “Maybe we should just get an annulment, and forget about the whole thing.”
“Amanda, do you have rocks in your brain?” Lee said this as he was looking into his coffee. He really didn’t want to see Amanda’s face when he asked that question, and it probably was a good idea, as he would have been a dead man otherwise. “I would not have asked you to marry me if I wanted to just get an annulment a few months later. Actually, I think I was the one with the rocks in my brain when I suggested that we hide our marriage from the world. Anything could happen at any time. I could walk out of this house today and get hit by the next ice cream truck that passes by. I don’t want to keep our lives apart anymore either, Amanda. I want to come clean. I want us to tell your family, tell The Agency, get out of the field, and be able to come home to our family.” Lee looked up to watch Amanda process this piece of information. “I’m not asking you to stay at home and raise lots of little kids like Joe expected you to, and I apologize for what I said earlier about coming home to you every night, but that’s what I want. No more travel, no more overnight stakeouts, no more fieldwork. No more going home to our separate living arrangements at night.”
He walked around the island to tip Amanda’s chin up so that he could look her in the eye. “Amanda Stetson, I want to find out everything there is to know about you. I know the usual facts: sugar only in the coffee, and that you fiddle with your necklace when you’re thinking or nervous,” at this statement, Amanda dropped her hand from same necklace as she blushed slightly, “that little spot on your neck that’s ticklish. I want to know about your eye shadow and how you fold laundry, and to see the chaos here in the mornings when the boys are heading for school, and all the other things that are part of your regular routine. Even after all the nights that we’ve spent together undercover, you didn’t know until recently that I sing when I dry my hair in the mornings. There are lots more things about me that you probably don’t know either, and you deserve to know. And I deserve to know how I would handle all this too.” At this, he could see a small tear on the edge of Amanda’s right eye and brushed it away with a kiss. She sighed and relaxed against him as he pulled her into his arms and held her.
“Hmmmmmmm…” Amanda snuggled into Lee’s embrace with her cheek against his shoulder. “Lee? How are we going to handle this with our co-workers? What are we going to tell Billy? Or worse, how do we explain ourselves to Dr. Smyth?”
"You know, Amanda, those security checks they’re doing are going to find something in common about us.” Amanda looked up at him quizzically, thinking he was doing one of his infamous changes of subject. He drew his hand out of his pocket, with a familiar velvet box. Recognition, and then shock, spread across her face.
“Put these on. If we’re going to spend any time together in the next few days, I want it to be as Mr. & Mrs. Stetson.” She reached for his hands, no longer concealed in a pocket – he was wearing his wedding band, and she hadn’t noticed it in all the time he had been there. She looked up questioningly with her head cocked slightly to the side. “I put it on when I went in the bedroom before we left the apartment. I grabbed yours too. I didn’t plan this, but if I came in, I wanted to have them for you.” She carefully pulled out the slim band, and diamond ring and slid them on her hand. They felt comfortable there, like they belonged. Which, unbeknownst to the world, they did.
But it would not be a secret for much longer. They both
knew this, and sat down to eat lunch, talk about the future and the consequences
of their actions.
“Stetson, I plan on ignoring it if you will,” she smiled with a twinkle in her eye.
As he leaned in again, the doorbell rang insistently, and someone started pounding on the door. “We can’t ignore this that easily.”
“You’re right, and it could be Mother – she could have forgotten her keys again.”
Amanda got up and went to the door. Lee called back to her, “Send whoever it is away, it can’t be that important, and I want to spend some quality time with you.”
“Lee, Billy’s here.” Amanda looked nervous. Lee sat up on the couch from his comfortable sprawled out position, and knocked the popcorn over. How much of that did Billy happen to hear?
“Billy, what’s going on? I thought we were off active duty. We’re not going back in until our leave is over, so unless this is a purely social call, go away.”
“I can’t, Scarecrow, not this time.” Billy looked very tired. “I went over to your place first, but when you weren’t there, I figured you must be here. Scarecrow, when I asked you earlier if there was anything that would embarrass The Agency, I also meant anything that you were trying to hide in your personal life.”
“And since when is my personal life any business of The Agency’s? Like I told you earlier, I haven’t done anything that I am not proud of since the last check.” Lee set his mouth in a grim line and looked back at Billy defiantly.
“No elaborate covers that you might have forgotten to wipe away, maybe?”
“No. You’ve gotten every one of our cover assignment envelopes back, personally, from me, with everything else that goes along with it.”
“Lee, Internal Affairs just called me about something they found on your record. You might want to come clean before I have to say it out loud.”
“ I have nothing to hide. Not from anyone. Especially Amanda.”
“Amanda, you might want to sit down. Preferably, not next to Lee after what I have to say.” Billy steered her over to another chair across the room. He was afraid after what he had to say, that the female member of his best team would either be hurt and crying or trying to throttle her partner. Billy knew that Lee had quite a reputation – but Billy had thought that to be in the past. And if what he had to say were true, then Billy would lose faith in his best agent. Lee would have been up to his old tricks again, and would be sure to be hiding it, especially from Amanda, if she was his latest interest. And from the way Lee was acting, Billy had to assume the worst. ‘I guess those rumors were true,’ thought Billy sadly.
“You know what he’s talking about Lee.” Amanda said this as a statement, not a question, but Billy missed the knowing tone in her voice.
“Yeah. You might as well go ahead and say it Billy.” Lee looked up with a twinkle in his eye, and a slight smile on his face. This was not how he expected the news to come out.
“Amanda, I’m sorry you had to learn this in this way. Lee is much more of an emotional coward than I gave him credit for. I’ve suspected for some time that you two are involved on a more personal level, although how involved, I’m not sure I want to know after the information that I received today. IA found a marriage license today registered to Lee, Amanda. They haven’t told me who the other party is, and I didn’t want to know. I figured after everything we’ve been through, that Lee would tell me himself. Actually, I figured after all this time, and your influence, that he wouldn’t be up to his old tricks again hiding one girlfriend from another.” Billy looked at Amanda who had her head down on her crossed arms. “Are you ok?” She nodded. Billy turned towards Lee. “And Scarecrow, I heard that quality time comment, so what’s going on? I’ve heard rumors about somebody serious in your life.” At this statement, Amanda stiffened slightly, but kept her head on her arms, shaking slightly. “I also know that you and Amanda are personally attached to one another.” Billy thought for a moment that he heard a giggle from her, but dismissed it as sobbing as he continued, “How could you make a commitment like this and not tell any of us? Who is she?”
“Billy, you should have had Administration cross check the date of the license against Amanda’s name. They’ll find the same license. In the same county, signed by the same Justice of the Peace. That’s who the mysterious ‘she’ is. And no, it’s not a cover. We didn’t tell anyone because for one, we wanted to protect our family, and for two, it’s not the business of anyone at The Agency.”
“Yes, Mr. Melrose. It’s true. We got married in February.” Her head on her arms muffled Amanda’s voice, but it was clear now that she was giggling.
Billy thought for a few seconds. This was not what he was expecting to hear. “Lee, Amanda. I know that that virus was pretty significant for you both. But that was no reason to jump into –“
“We didn’t jump. Lee asked me to marry him when Birol caught us. We’d been involved for a while by then. And Lee asking when he had wasn’t an impulse either. Mr. Melrose, please believe that. I know The Agency has rules against this, and Dr. Smyth will probably have my head, or my job, but this was what we wanted.” Amanda got up and walked over to the couch. She grabbed Lee’s hand, and held it tightly as she smiled. Whatever was found, they had agreed earlier when discussing the security checks, they would go through it together. No denials, no backing down. They were partners in their careers, and in their lives. And partners backed each other up, no matter what.
“Billy, we talked about this today – we both knew the checks would come up clean except for this, and we are going to face the consequences, but we didn’t expect for this to pop up so quickly. I wanted to call you and invite you out for dinner tonight to break the news.”
Lee grinned as boyishly as if he were still in high school headed for the prom with his first sweetheart. Amanda was blushing lightly, but was looking at Lee as if he were the most important person in her life, which he probably was. Billy sat down in the chair that Amanda had previously been sitting in. He looked from one agent to the other, as they held each other’s hands and smiled as if they’re being together was the most natural thing in the world. Billy had waited to hear that they were involved for so long, but now that he was faced with the truth, he was speechless.
Lee broke the silence. “By the way, Billy, how *did* you know that Amanda and I were involved? We didn’t tell anyone. We didn’t tell her family that long ago that we’re seeing each other, and they don’t know anyone at The Agency?” Lee thought for a moment. “Just how long did Dr. Smyth have critters in my apartment?”
“Lee, I don’t know. The ones you found today were the first that I had heard of. As for knowing about the two of you, well, the rumor mill has been working overtime when it comes to you and Amanda, and I’m not your Section Chief for nothing. You know as well as I do in our business we need to be able to read people’s emotions and whether they’re hiding something. When it came to the two of you, that was easy.”
Amanda had been silent for this whole time, watching Lee and Billy talking. Lee knew she was thinking about something and squeezed her hand. She then spoke up. “Sir, you may be able to read people’s emotions, but you’ve been behind a desk for too long. You’ve been in the house for the last 10 minutes and didn’t notice that we’re *both* wearing matching wedding bands.” Lee smiled at his wife, and kissed her.