Author's Note: This idea popped into my head as a result of a pleasant chat with Stetsonfan about Francine and her perception of Lee's relationship with Amanda in "Promises to Keep." This will be AU from the tag scene of that episode with Lee and Amanda playing with Francine just a little bit more and letting her noisiness and her penchant for interfering work for them and to give her a little taste of her own medicine. The line "giddy schoolgirl" I can't take credit for as this came from her in our conversation, so thank you, Stetsonfan, for the inspiration.
"I wanna' hear all about it. Was it really ugly? Did you have like...a big screaming match, Did you really give it to him, really good?" Francine gushed like a giddy schoolgirl, elated at the idea that Lee Stetson may have finally met his match.
Amanda sighed dramatically, patted Francine on the shoulder and said in a melancholy voice, "Thank you, Francine. I took care of it." Her act was almost ruined by catching Lee's eye from across the room and became even worse when Lee winked at her and flashed her the dimpled grin that always made her weak in the knees. She gave him her best perturbed look, but found with the way he was smiling at her, she couldn't hold that expression for very long. "I...uh...have to go," Francine," she said and made a hasty retreat from the bullpen before she could lose her composure and blow the whole thing.
When Amanda reached the elevator and jabbed at the button, she dissolved into a fit of giggles and had to brace herself on the wall for support, keeping her back to the bullpen to hide her mirth. Fortunately, the elevator arrived quickly. She was still laughing when she entered the Georgetown foyer causing Mrs. Marston to look at her quizzically.
"Hello, Mrs. Marston," she said through her giggles.
"Mrs King," the older woman said coolly.
Amanda composed herself and said, "Could you do me a favor and let me know when Francine is on her way upstairs?"
"What are you up to?" Mrs. Marston said eying her warily.
"Up to? Me? Nothing. I just would like a little heads up when Francine's on her way, if you wouldn't mind."
"Sure," Mrs. Marston replied.
"Thank you," Amanda said as she hurriedly ascended the stairs and mentally steeled herself for phase two of the plan to put Francine in her place, laughter bubbling up inside her again as she prepared her role in the plan she and Lee had put together.
"What...?" Francine watched Amanda's retreating form as she made a beeline for the outside elevator and observed her leaning on the wall for support, her body shaking. She sighed and felt partially to blame for Amanda's upset for bluntly bringing to her attention Lee's playboy tendencies. It was better though that she suffered a little hurt now, rather than a huge heartbreak down the line. She turned to see Lee standing outside Billy's office with a mischievous grin on his face. She marched up to him and said, "You!"
"What?"Lee snapped impatiently.
"You are disgusting," She said grabbing him by the arm and dragging him toward the conference room away from the prying eyes of the bullpen, slamming the door behind them.
"Francine, what the hell are you talking about?"Lee said in irritation as he wrenched his arm from her grasp.
"Amanda!"Francine said as if it should be obvious.
"Oh, this again," Lee said with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders.
"Yes, this again," Francine replied. "Did you see her when she left here just now? She took one look at you with that patented smirk of yours and bolted. She can't even be in the same room with you anymore!"
"Don't give me that look, Francine! This is all your fault, you know!"
"My fault?"Francine said incredulously. "How is it my fault that you...you're a...a..."
"A what, Francine?"
"A cad, a playboy, Romeo, lothario, pick one."
"Not anymore, Francine. I haven't been for a very long time or haven't you noticed? I mean, when was that last time you saw me on a date with anyone except Amanda or saw me prowling the steno pool the way I used to? You'll notice that I haven't been talking about my love life lately and do you wanna' know why? I have way too much respect for Amanda to treat her the way that I used to treat women. I've been trying to keep my relationship with her private because I know what my reputation is and I don't want hers tarnished by her association with me. I...oh, what's the use? It's over now, thanks to you," Lee said as he leaned against the conference table, playing the spurned lover to the hilt.
"How do I get the blame? Amanda's a big girl, more than capable of making her own decisions."
"Oh, is that so? Funny, when I said the same thing about her, you seemed to think that there was no way she was capable of making the right decision when it comes to our relationship. You get the blame for this because things were going just great between me and Amanda until you got involved and starting filling her head with all these ideas about what kind of guy I am. You just couldn't get it through your thick head that things with her are different. That I'm different with her." Lee reached into his pocket, saying, "In fact..." he then slammed the velvet-covered box containing Amanda's engagement ring on the table in front of her.
Francine's eyes widened in shock as she sputtered, "I...um...I don't...Is that what I think it is?"
"See for yourself," Lee said hotly. When Francine stood rooted to her spot, her bright blue eyes still wide with shock, Lee demanded, "Go on and open it!"
Francine with shaking hands, picked up the ring box and the surprised look on her face only doubled at seeing the shiny solitaire nestled within it. "This...this...wow," she said. She plucked the ring from the box to examine it more closely. "This is at least a two-carat diamond."
"2.5," Lee corrected.
"And you...you bought this...for...for Amanda?"
"Yeah," Lee said taking the ring from her hands, placing it back in the box and the box back in his pocket. "We had a date last night. I made her a nice home-cooked dinner at my place, champagne, candlelight, the whole works and I was planning to give it to her then, to ask her to be my wife. I was prepared to beg if necessary, do whatever it took to get her to say yes. Do you know what happened instead? She told me to take a hike, that she couldn't see me anymore; that she couldn't handle my past and couldn't trust that I didn't just see her as another conquest. She even accused me of just trying to use her for sex. She said that she had to think of her children and about setting a proper example for them and that she needed a man in her life that wouldn't corrupt her impressionable young boys."
"Oh, my God," Francine exclaimed. "She actually said that to you? That she thought you would corrupt her children? I don't believe it."
"Believe it, Francine. She said a whole lot of other things too that I won't repeat. I...uh...I've never heard her talk like that. She used language that I never thought I'd ever hear coming out of her mouth."
"Wow," Francine said again reeling from the news. "Lee, I'm sorry. I...I...uh...I guess I should have kept my big nose out of it." A wave of guilt swamped her as she thought about the consequences of her actions, seeing Lee with the pained look on his facing, very obviously hurting over the situation.
"Yes, you should have," Lee said firmly.
"I...Uh...I just had no idea that you...you were that serious about her. I mean...marriage...that's a huge deal for you."
"Yeah," Lee said hanging his head. "I guess it doesn't matter now. I never got the chance to ask her and now it's too late."
"No, don't say that," Francine said encouragingly. "You know, one thing that did come out of my conversation with Amanda is that she admitted that she loves you."
"She's got a damn funny way of showing it," Lee retorted as he folded his arms across his chest, putting just the right edge of bitterness in his tone, playing Francine like a fiddle.
Francine stared at him for a moment and it struck her that for all her naysaying, Lee appeared to be genuinely in love with Amanda. She didn't quite understand if, but it was plain on his face that while she'd thought Amanda would be the heartbroken one once this relationship inevitably ended, in reality, Lee was the one with the broken heart. Feeling horribly guilty for her part in it, she decided she had to do something about it. "One thing I've learned about Amanda over the years is that she is a very forgiving person. Talk to her, Explain to her that your intentions are honorable, do that begging that you planned on. I'm sure that you can get her to change her mind. Maybe, I could even talk to her for you, soften her up a little."
"Would you, Francine?"Lee questioned hopefully as he uncrossed his arms and rose from his perch on the edge of the table.
"Sure, what are friends for," She said patting him on the shoulder.
Lee patted her shoulder in return, nodded with a hopeful smile and said, "Thank you, Francine. You're a good friend."
"Sure," she said sympathetically. "I'll go talk to her right now. Just give me ten minutes and she'll be putty in your hands." She then exited the room.
Once she was out of sight, Lee laughed uproariously, and then picked up the phone, quickly punching in the extension for the Q Bureau. "Amanda, she's on her way to see you," He said once his fiancée had answered. "Can you manage acting heartbroken for just a little bit longer?'
"Sure, as long as you stay down there and you aren't winking at me from across the room," she said amusement in her voice.
"Sorry, I couldn't resist," Lee said with a laugh. "I just kept thinking of what Francine's reaction would have been if she knew what we were really doing last night and that there was no screaming involved."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Amanda teased. "There was some screaming going on."
Lee blushed slightly at the memory of spending the prior night in his fiancée's arms and said, "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, I know. I'll see you soon," Amanda said as she hung up the phone. She took a deep breath, reached into her desk drawer for the mini photo album she'd stashed there earlier, her weapon of choice with which to shoot Francine down. She smiled as she flipped through the photos within, pausing only to answer the phone again. "Hello...Okay, thank you, Mrs. Marston," she said quickly replacing the receiver as she turned her attention back to the photo album on her desk. She looked fondly at a photo of the two of them in formalwear, smiling at how happy they looked in it, Lee's face beaming. She lovingly touched his smiling face in the photo with a smile the when she heard the outer door slam shut followed by the click of Francine's heels in the hallway, she resolutely changed her facial expression for her benefit, just as hurricane Francine barreled through the door.
Francine halted abruptly as seeing Amanda staring at the photo album. "Amanda, are you okay?" she said sympathetically.
Amanda sighed deeply, not looking up, ran her fingers across the image of Lee in her hands. "Man, does he look good in a tux," she said wistfully.
Francine looked over Amanda's shoulder. "Yeah, he does," she agreed. "Actually, you both look pretty good in that picture, happy."
"We were...I...at least...I...um...I thought we were," Amanda said forlornly with another deep sigh.
"When was that?" Francine said nodding to the photo.
"New Year's Eve party at the Soviet embassy a week or so ago," Amanda answered. "I was so happy that night, the way Lee paid attention to only me, the way we danced...We...um...spent the whole night together."
Francine looked at her in surprise and said, "Does that mean what I think it means?"
Amanda finally looked up at her and said, "What do you think it means, Francine?"
"Oh, I see," Francine said. "So you...um...you spent the night with him?" No wonder she was so upset. She knew Amanda well enough to know that she wasn't the type for casual sex and if she'd given in to Lee's advances, she must be really in love with him.
Amanda rose from her seat and said, "But it was a big mistake. I...I should have known better. I mean, I've heard all about his reputation, but I-I-I just...I wanted so badly to believe that he'd changed." Laying it on thick, she violently tossed the photo album in the trashcan and said, "But you were right all along. He was only after the whole buffet table. He...um...he invited me over to his place for dinner last night and even offered to cook. I...I thought we'd, you know, have a nice dinner together, maybe talk. When I got there, though and saw what he'd done, the way he had the place set up, a fire in the fireplace, candles, dimmed lighting, and champagne...I-I-I knew instantly after my conversation with you, that talking wasn't what he had on his mind. I mean, that kind of thing is basically, "come and get it," right?"
Francine walked to the other side of the desk, plucked the photo album out of the trashcan, and said, "No, I think you're wrong. I just talked to Lee and I never thought I'd ever say this about him, but I think you were right and I was wrong. I think he has changed." Really changed, she thought, still a little stunned. If she hadn't seen it with her own eyes, she'd never have believed that Lee would ever consider marriage, but that diamond ring didn't lie. A man didn't buy a ring like that, if he wasn't serious about a woman. "He told me a little about what happened last night and that you misunderstood his intentions." She then glanced toward the door, listening for a moment to make sure that they'd be alone for a little while longer, and then said in a conspiratorial tone, "Listen, I probably shouldn't say anything, but I have reason to believe that Lee is more serious about you than I ever thought possible."
"But weren't you the one who was telling me that he'd never change?"Amanda said, playing her role expertly. "That...that getting involved romantically with him was a big mistake?"
"That was before he showed me this amazing diamond ring he bought you," Francine said.
"Diamond ring?" Amanda said planting a hopeful smile on her face.
"Look, don't say a word. Let him surprise you with it. I shouldn't have said anything, but I feel like this whole thing is my fault. If I had just kept my big mouth shut, none of this would have happened. I should have just stayed out of it."
"Yes, you should have," Lee's voice sounded from the doorway, startling her. He approached Amanda, pulled the ring box out of his pocket, reached for her left hand, pulled her to her feet and said, "Let's put this back where it belongs," with an affectionate smile as he leaned in to kiss her tenderly.
"Looks much better there," Amanda said when their kiss ended, as she smiled back at him before turning to Francine and saying with a smug smile, "Gotcha!"
Lee laughed at the stunned look on Francine's face as he slipped his arms around Amanda from behind, who crossed her arms over his and leaned into his embrace.
"You...you...you played me?"
"We've been engaged for over two months, Francine," Lee said. "I gave her this ring right after we rescued her from Addi Birol," he added as he clasped Amanda's left hand. "We've been keeping it quiet because of what happened to Khai and his little boy. We didn't want to take the risk of the same thing happening to Phillip or Jamie. I've made a lot of enemies over the years and I couldn't stand it of one of them got hurt because of it."
"Huh," was Francine's only response.
"Look, Francine, can we trust you not to spread this around?" Amanda asked.
"So, what, you're just going to run off and get married in secret? What's the point in that? Why get married at all if you're not going to really be married?"
"We want to be together, Francine," Lee said simply.
"But you won't be," Francine pointed out. "You'd still be doing the same thing you're doing now, sneaking around and hiding what your real relationship is. What kind of marriage would that be?" Amanda, you should have more sense than that. I mean, didn't your first marriage fall apart because you and your ex were apart so much? How do you think it would be any different if you and Lee were married, but not living together? And Lee, you should know better. I know what happened to Khai's family was a bad deal, but don't you think her kids would be safer if you were both under the same roof, especially with Amanda's hesitance to use a gun? Look at how many times the agency has put guards around her house to protect the kids. You know the agency always looks after agents with families. Think about what would happen if somebody with a grudge against you attacked with no warning and I'm not just talking about your enemies. Amanda's made a few herself, David Benson, Sonja Chenko, Eva Spinelli, Jake Williamson, just to name a few. What if one of them were paroled or even worse, escaped from prison? It's happened, you know. How safe do you think her kids would be then with you across town?"
Lee and Amanda looked at each other worriedly, clearly neither of them having considered that possibility. "You do make a good point," Lee acknowledged.
"Look, I think you should talk to Billy about this. If anyone knows how to balance family and agency life, he does. Ask him what he thinks about it. I bet you a hundred bucks that he'll agree with me that you shouldn't hide your marriage, that you'd all be safer if everyone was together."
"Maybe you're right, Francine," Amanda said. She then turned to Lee and said, "You know, Billy did say that he was supportive of our relationship."
"Yeah," Lee agreed before turning to Francine. "You know something, Francine; I think for once, your interfering may actually work in our favor. I think we may owe you one."
Francine smiled and said, "What are friends for?" as she made her way to the door, pausing to turn back to them, then added, "Speaking of owing someone, don't think I won't get both of you back for the dirty trick you played on me. I owe you both one for that." She jabbed a manicured finger their direction, and gave them a warning look before departing.
Lee and Amanda both laughed as Francine exited, and then smiled at each other. "So, what do you think?" Lee asked her.
"I think we should go talk to Billy like she suggested, then I'm thinking since your mother insisted that I come to dinner tonight that we use the opportunity to tell the family that we're engaged. What do you think?"
Amanda smiled and said, "I think that's a great idea," As she put her arms around her fiancé' for the first time since this began, she was actually grateful for Francine's interference.