"Let's have a seat. There's something I need to talk to you guys about."
"What's up, Lee?"Phillip said as he took a seat on the couch, his younger brother soon joining him.
"Do you need me to stick around in case you need a referee?"Joe asked knowing that this would most likely not be an easy conversation.
"No, I got it," Lee said though his face told a different story. He was in a blind panic at the thought of telling the boys that he was their stepfather and had never told them.
"Okay," Joe replied. "Carrie and I will just make ourselves scarce in the kitchen then."
"What's going on, Lee?"Jamie asked, the worried look on Lee's face combined with the bandages on his head had the boy concerned. "Are you ok?" Jamie nodded toward Lee's stitched and bandaged head.
"Yeah, I'm fine, Jamie, thanks," he said as he parked himself on the coffee table to face both the boys. "Your mom and I just got into a little accident at work."
"Is mom okay?"Jamie asked. "How come she's not with you?"
"Yeah, she's fine too. Her injuries were a little worse than mine, so she's going to stay in the hospital tonight just to be safe, but I'm going to pick her up first thing in the morning to take her home. Your grandma's with her now."
"If everything's okay, then why do you look so serious?" Phillip questioned
"Because there's something serious that I need to talk to you fellas about," Lee answered. He paused, took a deep breath and said, "You both know that I'm nuts about your mom, right?"
"It's kind of obvious," Phillip said. "Beside you told me the other day that you wanted to marry her."
"Is that what this is about, Lee? You want our permission to marry her?"
"Not exactly Jamie," Lee replied to Jamie before turning to Phillip. "Phillip, what I said the other day is not that I wanted to marry her, but that I'd already asked her to marry me."
"But she said no," Phillip said.
"No, Phillip, she didn't say no. That's something that you just assumed and it's mine and your mom's fault that you assumed that. I...we..." he paused not quite sure how to get it out. He rose from his perch and sighed, nervously fiddling with his wedding band.
Jamie's eyes widened as he caught sight of Lee's action and said quietly, "You already married her."
Lee's head snapped towered his younger stepson and seeing him staring intently at him, simply nodded.
"Is that what this trip was about that you guys just took?" Phillip inquired.
"No, that's what the trip we took to California back in February was about," Lee explained. "The truth is I asked your mom to marry me last October before I ever met you guys." He again sat down to face them. "She said yes right away, but it was complicated because you didn't know me yet, but we didn't want to wait to get married. We spent a couple of years working together before we both admitted how much we love each other and by the time we did, we didn't want to waste anymore time."
"So you eloped," Phillip said. "That's why you said it was complicated the other day."
"Yeah, we did and yes, that's why," Lee confirmed. He glanced to Jamie who'd been silent for a while. He searched the eleven-year-old's face for any sign of what he was thinking, but couldn't gauge what was going on in his always-busy head. Of the two boys, Jamie had always been the harder one for him to figure out as he kept so much inside. "Jamie?"He said softly. Jamie simply looked down, clearly still processing this new information. Lee took Jamie's and said, "Hey, Sport, I know that you must be feeling a little overwhelmed by hearing this, but I promise you that we did what we did because your mom and I love you so much. We wanted to give you time to adjust."
"That must have been awful for you," Jamie said finally raising his head and looking Lee in the eye. Lee looked at him quizzically. Jamie at seeing the confused look on Lee's face, continued. "I don't mean marrying mom was awful for you. I was just thinking that's when Mom was shot. Did it happen on your wedding day?"
"No, it was the day after. We got married that Friday night and she was shot on Saturday afternoon."
"Wow, so you weren't even married a whole day when she nearly died," Phillip said.
"Are you gonna' move in with us?"Jamie asked.
"Well, that depends on you guys. I would very much like to. I miss you guys and your mom like crazy every time that I go back to my empty, lonely apartment, but I don't want to push you guys into something that you're not ready for."
"I don't know about Junior here, but it's okay with me."
"I don't know," Jamie answered honestly. "I mean, if you're married, you're supposed to live together, but...it...I mean, I..."
"Your feelings are hurt that we didn't share this with you right away. I get that and your mom and I both realize now that we screwed up in keeping this from you. It just got so damn complicated."
"I need some time," Jamie said. Lee nodded.
"Are you guys gonna' have more kids?"Phillip asked.
Lee swallowed the lump in his throat as Phillip's question brought tears to his eyes thinking of their lost baby. "I don't know right now. Maybe," Lee answered.
"You look sad," Jamie said stating the obvious.
"Well, Jamie, I am a little sad."
"Is it because I said I needed time?"Jamie said guiltily.
"No, Jamie. I'm not sad because of you or your brother. I've been sad for a long time because you guys are my family and I haven't been able to be with you like I should be. I'm also a little mad at myself for not being the stepdad I should have been to you. That makes me sad too."
"Are you still gonna' take us on that trip to the beach," Jamie asked.
Lee smiled and said, "If you still want to go. We need to probably wait a little while until your mom gets a little better, but yeah."
"Good," Jamie said with a smile that Lee hadn't forgotten his promise to them.
There was an awkward silence between the three of them for a long moment, as none of them knew what to say next. The silence was broken by Joe re-entering the room saying, "Is everything okay in here?"
Lee looked at Joe standing behind the couch where they boys were seated, looked back at his stepsons and said, "What do you think, Guys?"
"Fine," Phillip said.
"I'm ok," Jamie said. "I just need to think."
"I get it. I...uh...I should let you do that. I should get out of here and let you enjoy your time with your dad." he once again rose and began to head to the door when Jamie stopped him.
"Lee?"Jamie said in a small voice.
Lee turned and said, "Yeah?"
"I..I still love you...I'm just...I..."
"I know," Lee said as he hugged him. Phillip soon joined the hug. "I'll see you guys in a few days, ok? Have fun with your dad." He released them.
"Let me walk you out," Joe said wanting to have a little talk with Lee before he left.
As the two men exited the house, Joe said, "So, it's all out in the open, I assume, even with the agency?"
"Yeah, how'd you know about the agency?"
"Well, I had a very abrupt, know-it-all, twenty-something agent show up here the other day interrogating me about you and Amanda."
"Agent Grayson, by chance," Lee said with a chuckle.
"That's the one," Joe answered. "You're not in some kind of trouble again, are you?"
"No, not the kind you mean, anyway. That was the agency's attempt to uncover the truth about our marriage. So, what did you tell him?"
"Not a damn thing," Joe said. "Other than that it was none of his business and to get the hell off my property."
"I bet he didn't take that well," Lee said with a chuckle.
"No, he started spouting all this crap about national security and how it was my duty to answer his questions. I promptly threw him out."
"Good, thanks for watching our backs."
"Look, I know I acted like a jerk at the hospital. I was just so thrown when I found out that Amanda was pregnant, I reacted badly. I just kept thinking about all the bad things that could happen with the kind of work you do."
"Well, you weren't wrong in thinking that," Lee said as his grief crept up on him again. "This case got a little rough. Amanda lost the baby."
"I'm sorry, Lee," Joe said sincerely.
"Yeah, me too," Lee said. "I should...uh..."He gestured to his car."I wanna' go back to the hospital and see Amanda."
"Yeah, you should go. She'll need you."
"Sorry about interrupting your time with the boys," Lee said. "Thanks for letting me intrude."
"I'm glad you did. The truth needed to come out. I've got two more days with the boys so maybe I can work on Jamie for you."
Lee smiled and said, "Thanks," then made his way to his car.
Two weeks passed while Amanda recovered from her injuries. Lee spent the time indoctrinating the new agents in the workings of the Q Bureau as Billy had still decided to assign them some help. He spent his days butting heads with Agent Grayson with Agent Newton playing referee and spent every evening with his family to ease the boys into the idea of him moving in full time.
Once the new agents had settled into a routine in the office, Billy granted Lee's request for some time off, feeling they could handle the caseload while he and Amanda were gone.
On the afternoon of July 10th, Lee was checking his family into a lavish suite at a beautiful resort in Virginia Beach for their first attempt at a family vacation. In typical fashion, the boys barreled into the room pushing each other.
"Whoa, check out this view!" Phillip said as he looked out the window.
Lee glanced out the window overlooking the beach and at seeing all the bikini-clad babes sunbathing below quipped, "Exactly which view are you checking out?" earning him a resounding smack from his wife.
"Can we go swimming?" Jamie said excitedly.
"Let's get unpacked first," Amanda said as she perused their surroundings. The suited contained a large living area with doors on opposite ends leading to the bedrooms. She poked her head through the door of one of them and seeing the two double beds, said to the boys, "This one's yours. Go on, now. Go unpack your stuff." When they grumbled, she said, "Come on, now, the sooner you get unpacked, the sooner you can go swimming."
"So, the other room must be ours then," Lee said with a warm smile at his wife happy that at least for the duration of their trip, they would not be sleeping in separate beds.
"You guys as sharing a room?"Jamie inquired.
"Of course, Stupid," Phillip said with a shove at his brother. "They're married. They should be sharing a room. They'd be sharing one at home if you weren't so stubborn."
"Hey, don't call your brother stupid," Lee said. "It's ok that he needs a little time to adjust. This is a big change for all of us."
"I think while we're here, it might be a good idea for all of us to sit down and have a talk about changing a few things," Amanda said. "But we'll do that later. For now, let's just all get unpacked, then we'll go check out the beach, okay?"
The boys obediently carried their suitcases to their room while Lee and Amanda headed to their own. Once there, Lee said to his wife, "Are you sure you're up for this? That it's not too soon?"
"No, it's not too soon. In fact, it's a little late. We should have done this a long time ago. We've been married for almost five months now and we're still not living together like we should be."
"I know," Lee said. "But I didn't want to force the boys to accept me moving in right away. Finding out we've been keeping this major secret from them all this time was a big enough blow as it is. I didn't want to make it worse."
"Well, that's where you need to learn a little bit more about parenting. Sometimes with kids you just have to be the authority figure and put your foot down."
"Then it's a good thing I've got you to teach me this stuff."
"Look, I supported your decision to give the boys some time, but something's got to change. I'm tired of us sleeping across town from each other every night."
"That's quite a turnaround," Lee said. "A couple of weeks ago, I was the one begging you to end our separate lives."
"With everything we've gone through since then, dealing with the kids being sick, all the fighting we were doing, nearly getting blown to bits, losing the baby; all of that has made me seriously rethink things. I want my husband sleeping beside me every night. I want to wake up next to you every morning, so while we're on this trip, I want to consider this practice for the real thing."
"You got it," Lee said planting a quick kiss to her lips.
That night after wearing themselves out on the beach swimming, playing and getting in a massive splashing fight with their stepfather, the boys were snug in their beds. Lee was leaving their room after checking on them to make sure they were asleep, making his way quickly across the living area to join his wife in theirs.
As he entered the room, he said, "Well, the boys are out like a li-" His voice halted abruptly at the sight of his wife dressed in a long, black, satin gown with a lace bodice. He slipped his arms to her waist, his hands sliding across the silky fabric her slim body was draped in. He kissed her softly then pulled back and eyed her appreciatively.
"You like?" she said seductively as she slowly twirled for him.
Lee swallowed hard as he saw that the gown she wore had almost no back to it, the fabric stopping at just above her bottom. "Very much," Lee said hoarsely.
"Good," Amanda said as she slowly slid her arms up his chest to rest on his shoulders.
"Amanda, are you sure it's safe?"
"Lee, the doctor said to wait until I felt ready after the bleeding stopped and I feel ready now, more than ready." She pressed a kiss to his lips.
Lee still hesitated, saying, "I don't want to hurt you."
"You won't," Amanda said. "We'll take it slow. We're on vacation so we've got all the time in the world." She then took his hand and led him to the bed then kissed him soundly nudging his lips with her tongue while she pressed herself against him.
Lee pulled back once more and said with a mischievous grin, "Well, the doctor did say we could try again to have a baby."
"Exactly what I was thinking," Amanda said as she and her husband dropped to the bed together.
The vacation to the beach had given the family what they had all needed to decide that it was past time for them to all be a normal family. Lee had moved in right afterward and things were a little tense with the boys during the adjustment period, but they began to settle down once they got used to him being there, not only every night, but every morning as well.
On the evening of August 13th, six months to the day after their wedding, after running about a dozen errands and dropping the boys off at Joe's at Amanda's request, Lee walked into the house to find the dining room alit only by candles, a lavish dinner laid out and a bottle chilling in an ice bucket. "Amanda?" he called with a smile.
When he didn't hear an answer, he perused the scene in front of him and that was when he noticed an envelope propped against the ice bucket. Wondering what his wife was up to, he picked it up and opened it. Pulling out the grainy photo within and stared at it for a moment curiously before realization sank in. He then glanced back at the bottle in the ice bucket and realized that it was sparkling grape juice, not champagne as he'd initially thought. He smiled and again called out, "Amanda?"
"Happy Anniversary," his wife's raspy voice said from behind him as she slipped her arms around his waist.
Lee turned to face her and asked, "Is this what I think it is?"
"What do you think it is," she replied with a cheeky grin.
"Amanda," he growled impatiently.
Amanda smiled and plucked it from his hands. "This, my dear husband, is our baby's first photograph," she said her face alight with happiness.
"Oh, Amanda," he said his face lighting up as he wrapped his arms around her kissing her firmly. "This is why you took that long lunch today?"
"Mm-hmm," Amanda said as she set the ultrasound photo on the table and rested her hands on his shoulders nudging him toward her for another kiss.
"Why didn't you tell me that you thought you were pregnant," Lee asked curiously.
"I wanted to be sure and I wanted to know that everything was okay before I told you my suspicions. Losing our first baby hurt you so much and I didn't want to put you through that again." She kissed him softly and lightly caressed his face.
"I appreciate that, Amanda, and I love you for wanting to keep me from getting hurt, but you should have told me. I'm not one of the kids that you have to protect. We are supposed to do things together."
Amanda laid one hand on her stomach where the new life they'd created rested. "We did do this together," she replied with a sexy smile. "Besides, I'm your partner so it is my job to protect you."
"And it's my job to protect you," Lee said. "You know what that means." He gave her a pointed look.
"No field work, I promise," Amanda said. "I learned my lesson. I plan to tell Billy first thing Monday morning."
"Monday? Why wait until Monday. This is only Thursday."
"Because we're not going to be back at work until then," Amanda answered. "I talked Billy into letting us take a long weekend to celebrate our six-month anniversary."
"You've been busy today," Lee said with a chuckle. "That's why you kept me so busy running all over the place."
"Mm-hmm," she replied. "And I plan for us to be busy for the rest of the weekend."
"Oh? And what, pray tell, did you have in mind to keep us so busy, Mrs. Stetson?"He asked as he inched closer to her, his eyes twinkling in the glow of the candlelight.
Amanda planed one quick kiss to his lips, wriggled out of his grasp and said, "Well, I thought we'd start with dinner, then take it from there."
"Dinner, huh? I was thinking more along the lines of dessert," He replied with an impish grin.
Amanda shook her head and said, "Not yet. We'll get to dessert, but dinner first. I'm not going to starve this baby like I did the last one."
"Amanda, don't," Lee said as he saw a flash of guilt cross her face. "When are you going to stop beating yourself up over that?"
"I'm not, Lee, but the fact that I wasn't taking care of myself was the start of the problems with the baby we lost."
"I'm just as much to blame. If I'd been here for you to give you a little help, you wouldn't have gotten so run-down."
"Lee, stop. We can go round and round on this blame merry-go-round forever, but it's not going to change anything. It hurt both of us to lose our baby, but we have to move on and focus on the new baby. We'll never forget that it happened and we'll always wonder what we could have done to prevent it, but we can't dwell on it. We're finally where we should have been all along. No more mystery marriage, no more sneaking around, no more hiding, no more fighting, no more-"
Amanda's ramble was cut off by her husband's lips on hers as he pulled her closer deepening the kiss. When he pulled back he whispered breathlessly, "No more separate lives."