She was so thoroughly involved searching for the file in the vault that it took her a moment to realize that someone else had entered the Q Bureau. She paused for a moment, certain she'd locked the door after she came in, as she always did when she was alone in here. She stepped quietly out from behind the filing cabinet and peered out to see who it was, and caught her breath. Unaware he was under observation, Lee stood in the middle of the room, lost in thought, looking exhausted and somewhat confused. He'd obviously been up all night, probably flying in on the red-eye – his five o'clock shadow was pronounced, his clothes were rumpled and he was rubbing his hand back and forth across his head in a robot-like trance.
For the first time, she noticed the streaks of grey in his hair, and wondered if those had been there before the accident, or if she had just become so used to him that she hadn't noticed the signs of the eternal playboy getting older. She could certainly see them now – California had aged him so much on the outside, she felt a pang wondering what it had done to him inside. She realized she'd been standing there too long and stepped out of the vault saying quietly, "Lee?"
He jumped, startled not to find himself alone and turned towards her, unable to drop the mask into place before she'd glimpsed the raw emotion on his face. Without stopping to think about where they were or who might see them, she gave into her instinctive response and walked across the room to hug him. After the briefest hesitation, he brought his arms up around her and hugged her back, head resting on hers. When she felt him begin to relax, she squeezed him a bit more and quipped, "You know, this is usually where I walk in on you and Amanda."
She heard his sharp intake of breath and for a split second, she regretted making a joke but then his arms tightened around her and to her relief, she heard the rumble of laughter deep in his chest. She had just started to join in when a voice from the doorway said "Lee! I heard you were back, I – oh, I'm sorry."
Francine and Lee sprang apart and stared at Billy standing in the doorway. He looked so embarrassed at interrupting them that for a second they could say nothing and then both of them began to laugh. Billy looked back and forth between the two of them, not completely understanding what they were finding so funny.
When Lee finally calmed down enough to catch his breath, and run his sleeve across his face to mop his eyes, he walked forward to take Billy's outstretched hand. "Sorry, Billy, I couldn't sleep on the plane and I guess I'm still a little on edge."
"How's Amanda?" Francine asked the question they both really wanted the answer to as she stepped over to perch on the edge of Amanda's desk. It had been two weeks since that awful Monday afternoon when Billy had taken that call as she sat in his office going over mundane details of assignments and budgets.
She had watched Billy's face light up with a beaming smile at hearing Lee's voice before he had slumped forward on his desk, an expression of horror dawning on his face. He'd looked up at her across the desk and whispered the incomprehensible words "Amanda's been shot" before reaching over to the phone to press the speaker button and ask Lee to tell them what had happened. For those first few minutes, she and Billy had managed to hold it together, going instantly into work mode and responding to the situation but then the phone call had ended and they'd found themselves staring at each other, helplessly.
"I thought he was calling to tell me he'd proposed," said Billy finally.
Francine had felt some surprise at that. "Really? They haven't been involved all that long, have they?"
"It's been longer than you think. If I had to guess, I'm pretty certain they've been together since last spring, but of course, they were close for much longer before that."
"Last spring? Really? Wasn't he dating some French girl last summer?" Billy looked at her, eyebrows raised for a beat and she realized none of them had never really heard any details on that particular romance. "Amanda was the French girl?"
"I'd bet my pension on it. It's been months since I've found one without the other no matter when or where I'm looking."
"Wow, I just assumed it was that whole Stemwinder fiasco that finally got them together. I mean, I knew for certain they were involved after Birol took her – that was obvious when we were in the Caribbean - but I didn't really believe he'd settled down and changed his ways until that business with the Russians last month." She looked over at Billy in confusion. "So why is he still pretending they weren't out there together to start with? He doesn't really think we'd believe her mother called him and not the other way around, does he?"
Billy sighed deeply. "I don't know. Her family has only just met him in the last few months – maybe they're just so used to keeping it secret that it's habit by now. I've all but told them outright I know they're together and that I'll back them but for some reason they're still keeping it quiet." He grimaced slightly. "I wonder what he told her mother when he called her. Dotty West is a terror when she's upset about something."
"Isn't there anything we can do from here? He can't be thinking clearly."
"No, he's probably right about La Palmas being too small for an influx of agents to go unnoticed. We'll let him liaise with the local law enforcement and wait for him to call us in. It'll be good for him to have something to keep him busy –it will keep him from driving the hospital staff crazy."
Francine gave him a wry smile. "Lee as a patient as a nightmare – I can't even imagine what he'll be like when it's Amanda in the hospital instead."
Billy had sighed again. "I'll get NEST to contact the hospital and get them to keep us up-to-speed on her condition. I can't believe three days ago all they wanted to do was finish that case and get out of town. She just has to be alright – I don't think Lee could recover if he lost her too."
"She'll be fine" Francine had repeated firmly what she'd told Lee. "Those two never seem to catch a break, but everything they go through just seems to bring them closer. She won't go anywhere without a fight." She'd stood up and headed out of his office. "I'm going to go pull the police reports and see what's in those that Lee couldn't tell us." Billy had picked up the phone as she'd gotten up and begun to dial. As she left the office, she heard him speaking softly, in a voice he reserved for only one person.
"Jeanie darling, I've had some bad news…"
All this flashed through her memory in the seconds before Lee began to speak. He'd crossed the Q Bureau and flopped down on the couch, too tired to remain upright any longer.
"She's better, but it's going to be a while before she's back to her old self. I – we – almost lost her twice," he paused and swallowed hard, "but she's a fighter. She wasn't going to leave her family for anything." He stared at the ground for a moment before looking up to continue. "She's out of ICU, and they figure she'll be able to travel home in a few weeks. Her mother is with her for now – Barney insisted Dotty come and stay with him and Gus, so she's getting a bit of support but if you could keep me on desk duty for a while, I'd like to try and fly back out next weekend."
"Lee Stetson asking for desk duty – who would have thought that would ever happen? Once upon a time that would have been like caging the Tasmanian Devil." Lee turned to look at Francine defensively before realizing that her smile was genuinely sympathetic and that she expected him to see the humour in the situation. Suddenly he did see it, and an embarrassed grin spread across his face, to the relief of the two friends watching him.
"I'd have asked for more time off but Amanda and Dotty kicked me out. Apparently the hospital staff asked for a vacation from me."
That was all it took to send Francine and Billy off into gales of laughter, joined by Lee. It was Billy that recovered first, saying "You're welcome to all the desk duty you want. It would probably be dangerous to send you out on anything anyway in your current state. Have you even been home?"
"No, I just came here from the airport. Figured I'd check in with you and then head home for a change of clothes and a shower."
"Well, the only thing on your desk is signing off on the Nick Grant case. You two disappeared so fast on your trip that you forgot to do that." Billy's lips twitched at the guilty expression that flitted across Lee's face. "But Francine completed all of it except for your statement, so once you're done that, you can spend the week helping her if she's willing to put up with you."
Francine rubbed her hands together with mock glee. "A whole week of bossing Lee around? It'll be a pleasure."
"Thanks Billy," Lee was too tired and too relieved to know he wasn't going straight back into field duty to rise to the bait either of them had offered up.
Francine pushed herself off the desk. "You look like you're going to be useless most of today though. Tell you what, you finish up your part of the Nick Grant stuff, I'll take you for lunch so you can tell me all about Amanda and then drive you home so you can sleep until tomorrow. Sound good?"
"Sounds great," Lee smiled tiredly at her.