Title: Not Quite Perfect
Wordcount: Approximately 5,500
Author's Note: This is my first SMK fic, but I've written for several other fandoms before this (one or two of you may recognize me as Pixie from the JAG fandom). I've only read a smattering of the SMK stories that are already out there so it's entirely possible that this premise has already been done to death, but I felt a need to get my version down on paper anyway.
Summary: Set during the events of Stemwinder 2. Lee and Amanda have been forced into hiding for a couple of days while they figure out how to catch Aleksei Makarov. How will the uninterrupted time alone affect their relationship?
Normally Amanda enjoys Chinese food, but tonight she only picks at the Kung Pao Chicken that Lee brings back from his meeting with Rostov. While she eats, her eyes follow the cracks that are etched into the Formica tabletop like so many breadcrumb trails left behind by an army of ants. The boys will be getting their baths now, bickering over who has to go first and who gets which towel while Mother reminds them to wash behind their ears. Why do people always give that advice? It's always ears and knees, ears and knees. Why not noses? Or belly buttons? Or even necks? Phillip and Jamie are forever forgetting to wash their necks.
Her head snaps up when Lee's chopsticks clatter against his plate. His jaw is set, his brow furrowed. He meets her questioning look with a shake of the head and a smile that's probably meant to be reassuring, but it's just a little too tight and a shade too thin. With a sigh, she picks up her plate, then reaches for his.
His fingers curl around her wrist, his grip just tight enough to hold her still and bring her eyes up to his. "You don't have to do that," he says, and they've both been quiet for so long that his voice seems loud in the faded room. "It's been a long day. Why don't you get some rest? I'll clean up here."
She shakes her head. "I don't mind." She'd rather stay busy. It gives her something to do besides worry.
He doesn't let her go right away, and she wonders if he's aware of the way his thumb is stroking the back of her wrist.
"Okay, then," he says finally. "We'll do it together." But his fingers linger against her skin, and she could swear she feels his touch all the way down to her toes. Heat creeps up her neck and onto her face, reminding her that it's been a long time since Joe. Reluctantly, she draws her hand away and picks up his plate. She can feel his gaze on her as she scrapes the untouched food into the garbage, but she keeps her own eyes trained on her work, her mind turning toward home once more.
The boys must be worried sick, even if they did get her note. And Mother… God only knows what she thinks. Right this minute there are agency people at the house, helping themselves to coffee and sandwiches and treating Mother like she's some kind of criminal. Mother! A criminal! It makes Amanda angry just thinking about it.
"What?" Damn. She closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. She shouldn't have snapped at him like that. He's just as trapped in this mess as she is. But when she starts to apologize he only gestures, understanding in his eyes.
"Most people throw those away."
"Oh." Feeling foolish, she drops the paper plates in the garbage and dusts her hands on her pants.
He pushes his chair back and gets to his feet. Silently, he crosses the room and tucks her against his shoulder, and the simple act does more to reassure her than any words ever could. She lets her body melt into his. They're together, she tells herself. It isn't the only thing that matters, but it's a pretty big piece of it.
He draws her head up with the help of a crooked finger under her chin, his eyes searching hers. Is he looking for signs that she's about to crack? She really is stronger than she looks. Maybe one of these days maybe he'll start to believe that.
She shakes her head, exhaustion hitting her like a sledgehammer. "Can we not talk about work tonight?"
Her mind is whirling with Makarov and Stemwinder, with the Agency's betrayal and her family's safety, and she knows it's selfish, but there's nothing more they can do tonight anyway, and is it really so terrible of her to want to put it all aside for a little while?
For a long time he doesn't say anything. Then he nods. "Yeah," he says quietly. "Maybe that's a good idea."
"Good." She leans back in his arms. "Now why don't we finish cleaning up here, and then I think I'll take a bath. I haven't felt this grubby since the last time I took the boys camping."
He brushes his lips across her forehead. "I'll finish this," he says. "You go ahead."
"Are you sure …"
"Go." He turns her around and nudges her toward the tiny bathroom. "Just don't use up all the hot water. I could use a shower myself."
"Deal." She flashes him a quick smile and leaves him to box up the leftovers and wipe down the counter tops. A side trip into the bedroom nets her a clean, oversized t-shirt and some plain cotton underwear. It isn't fancy, but it's better than she'd expected to find at the tiny thrift store. As she discards the sales tags she wonders what the night will bring.
Lee listens to the water running in the bathroom while he cleans up the remains of their dinner. As he works, his mind conjures a tantalizing image of Amanda in nothing but soap suds and a smile, but he pushes it away. He wants their first time together to be special. And he's selfish enough to want her undivided attention when it happens.
Chores finished, he settles on the couch with notepad and pen and sets to work making plans. He's got to find Makarov. It's the only way to clear his name. But Aleksei Makarov is wily in the ways of the spy business, and he's had years to plan his revenge. A standard op will never work. Lee has to come up with something different, something Aleksei won't expect. And the only people he can count on for help are himself and one very green, very enthusiastic ally.
He's deep in thought, so it takes a while before he notices Amanda's voice filtering through the bathroom door. Thinking she's calling for him, he starts to his feet, only to settle back against the worn cushions with a wry shake of his head. Only Amanda could sing with the weight of the world on her shoulders. He stares at the closed door, listening to the simple little tune. This is no life for her. She deserves lobster and fine wine, not … He glances around with disgust … carryout Chinese and the smell of stale cigarette smoke.
Ten minutes later the bathroom door opens and she steps out. She's wearing a thin white t-shirt that reaches almost to her knees. Her face is flushed, and her hair, still wet from her bath, curls against her cheeks in damp tendrils. It isn't until she coughs that he realizes he's staring.
"Feel better?" he asks, thankful that his voice sounds almost normal. He's been with dozens of women over the years--women who came to him dressed in satin and lace, in silk, and sometimes in nothing at all. None of them had affected him like the sight of Amanda in a cheap cotton t-shirt.
"Much." She crosses to his side and picks up the notepad. "What's this?"
Lee tears his eyes away from the juncture of bare skin and white cotton to glance at the pad. "Shopping list."
As she reads through it, her eyes widen. "You mean we can actually buy this stuff?"
He loves that she's so innocent about the darker side of life--and hates that he's slowly destroying that part of her. "All that and more."
She looks skeptical. "Lee, I don't think I've ever seen a store circular that advertises smoke bombs and hand grenades."
Amused, he stands to look at the list with her. He scans through it, pointing out items as he goes. "This, this, and … this will be easy. But some of this other stuff will be a little trickier. I'll have to call in a few favors." He slips the notepad out of her fingers. "My turn for the shower." She smells of shampoo and soap. It's nice. Maybe a little too nice.
Touching her right now is a bad idea, but he can't help himself. He cups the back of her head and leans in, thinking he'll keep it sweet and simple. But her lips are so soft, and when her tongue slips out to meet his he barely manages to suppress a groan. Long seconds later he has to force himself to pull away, to look down into her eyes and pry his fingers out of her hair and take a careful step back. They're both breathing fast, and even as he gives her a weak smile his eyes slide down to the rapid rise and fall of her chest.
"I, um--" He clears his throat. "I won't be long.
"Take your time." Her voice is husky, and he starts toward the bathroom, contenting himself with the knowledge that she's unsettled, too. At the door he stops. Turns back. "Hey," he says, trying for a lighthearted grin, "at least we won't be fighting over who gets the bed tonight."
She raises her eyebrows and he lifts his hands, palms up. "Two bedrooms."
Is that disappointment he hears in her voice? He ponders that possibility as he digs a pair of sweat pants out of the shopping bag in his room.
The clock on the rickety little night table has bright green numbers that dim just before the minute ticks over. Amanda stares it, watching the night slip away in a succession of fade-away minutes while her mind fires questions at her that she can't answer. Are the boys asleep? Did Mother remember to check on them before she went to bed? Is Jamie having nightmares again? What about their lunches tomorrow? Will Mother remember to give them milk money? Is she pacing the floor, like she does when she's worried? Don't worry, Mother. I'm okay. Everything's going to be okay. She repeats the phrase like a mantra. Everything's going to be okay.
Frustrated, she rolls away from the clock and punches a fist into the unyielding pillow. The mattress is lumpy, too. And it sags in the middle, so that Amanda has to keep shifting her weight to one side of the bed or the other lest she risk suffocation.
There's no sound from the other room, not even a snore. Is Lee still awake, too? Or has she been lucky enough to fall in love with a man who doesn't snore? Joe was a snorer. She used to try to fall asleep before he did, just so his snoring wouldn't keep her awake.
She kicks off the thin covers and flops onto her back, staring up at the water-stained ceiling. With nothing else to do, she lets her mind roll back over the unlikely chain of events that's taken her from college student to single mother to fugitive. Wasn't it Shakespeare who said something about tangled webs? Well her web is tangled, all right. And it looks like it's going to take a miracle to get it untangled.
Her t-shirt is twisted around her waist, and she tugs at it restlessly. Earlier, she'd been so tired she could hardly move. Now she can't sleep. It's ridiculous. Finally she gives up and swings her legs over the side of the bed. Maybe a drink of water will help.
The sound of something hitting the floor in the other room catapults Lee to his feet. He crashes through the bedroom door expecting to find half the agency crowding into the little apartment with their guns drawn. Instead all he finds is Amanda wiping up a spreading pool of water with a ragged dish towel.
"Geez. Amanda …" Heart still pounding in his chest, Lee can't help the irritation in his voice. It's irritation born of fear, but Amanda can't know that, and when she looks up his anger dissolves. Her face is pale, her eyes red-rimmed from worry and lack of sleep.
"I'm sorry," she says. The exhaustion in her voice stirs every protective instinct he has. "I didn't mean to wake you."
"No … No, it's okay. You startled me, that's all. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine." She gestures self-consciously at the mess. "Just a little clumsy is all."
She's barefoot, the front of her t-shirt is damp, and her hair's in wild disarray. And Lee's dead certain he's never seen anything more beautiful in his life. Needing a distraction, he ducks into the bathroom for a towel and helps her wipe up the last of the mess. When it's done he gets to his feet, then reaches down to help her to hers. She comes up close. Too close, and his brain screams a warning his body gleefully ignores.
There's a moment when their eyes lock, and then she's sliding her hands up his arms, her palms warm and soft against his skin. And that's the first time he remembers he isn't wearing a shirt. He tells himself to let her go, to back off, that this isn't the time or the place, but somehow his arms find their way around her waist. Then his eyes track the motion of her tongue when it darts out to moisten her lips. And suddenly his body is on full alert, every nerve and muscle straining toward her.
He's as surprised as she is when he drops his arms and steps back.
"You should try to get some sleep," he says awkwardly. "Tomorrow's going to be a long day."
"Lee …" There's confusion in her voice and eyes. "Is something wrong?"
The irony of the question hits him hard. "Wrong? One half of the world is trying to kill us, and the other half thinks we're traitors. What could possibly be wrong?"
She shakes her head. "That's not the kind of wrong I'm talking about."
He knows that of course, but it's the only kind of wrong he's willing to discuss right now. "I'm just tired," he says, more sharply than he means to. "Now can we please get some sleep?"
Chastened, she nods and turns away. "Of course."
She doesn't make it two feet before he grabs her elbow and spins her back into his arms, taking her mouth in a kiss meant to show her just exactly how he feels. It's fierce. And greedy. And so totally unlike anything they've shared before that even he's a little stunned by it. Not what you planned! Not what you wanted! his mind screams. But it is what he needs. He needs her. Needs to feel her body pressed against his, smell her fresh, clean scent, and taste the sweet tang of her skin. He needs these things like he needs his next breath of air, and it scares him a little to acknowledge just how deeply she's burrowed into his heart.
The quiet sound she makes in her throat hits him like a bucket of ice water, and he tears himself away, swipes the back of his hand across his mouth, and stares at her, fighting for control.
"That," he says tersely, "is what's wrong."
"It didn't feel wrong to me." Her face is flushed, her breath coming in quick, short bursts, and it's all he can do not to yank her back into his arms.
"Amanda, look at this place. It's a hellhole! And out there--" he waves toward the windows. "--are dozens, maybe hundreds of people who'd be just as happy to see us dead as alive." He catches her hands in his, folds them against his chest. "I do want you. God, I want you so badly I ache with it." He takes in a deep, steadying breath. "But not here. Not like this."
She's quiet, and he can almost see her thinking it through. When she finally speaks her voice is low, and he can tell by her eyes that she's choosing her words carefully. "Why did you come to the house last night? You had to know they'd be watching."
"You know why."
She nods. "You said you wanted me to know that you loved me before you left."
"That's right." He isn't sure what she's getting at, but he knows she's building a case for something.
"You also said that Aleksei missed you once, and he wouldn't do that again."
"So …" Her expression is serious, and even before she opens her mouth he suspects he's been cleverly outflanked. Again. "So a lot can happen between now and the time this thing's over, and I …" She hesitates. Swallows. Pushes the rest out in a rush. "I just don't want to spend the rest of my life thinking maybe we missed out on something wonderful just because the timing wasn't quite perfect."
It's the first time he hears naked fear in her voice, and he knows it isn't there because of Makarov or the agency or even her family. It's there because of him. And it stops him cold.
"Amanda …" He takes a step toward her, but she backs up.
"No." She shakes her head, a single sharp jerk from left to right. "Don't." Dropping her hands from his chest, she turns away, but not before he sees the bright sheen of tears in her eyes. "I'm okay." But she doesn't come back to him, and he feels the loss like a blast of arctic air. "I said you wouldn't have to baby me, and you won't." His own words, coming back to haunt him. God, had he really been that condescending?
"Look," she says, "let's just forget this whole thing ever happened. I'm probably not thinking straight right now anyway." She's halfway across the room before he realizes that she's walking away from him, and even then he's too stunned to try to stop her. She reaches for the door knob and tosses her last words over her shoulder in a casual voice totally at odds with her earlier tears. "I think I will try to get some sleep. Goodnight."
The door closes behind her with a soft click, leaving him standing in the kitchen--bereft, alone, and confused.
Amanda yanks the covers into place and drops onto the bed, tears still burning at the back of her eyes. She'd all but thrown herself at him, which is humiliating enough, but to have come so close to falling apart was unforgivable. She's a mess--worried about the kids, nervous about tomorrow … But Lee doesn't need to know that. He can't know that. Because if he finds out, he's going to be thinking about her instead of Makarov. And that could get him killed.
She's pretty sure she isn't going to sleep, so she goes back to watching the clock, but the numbers only stare back at her in stubborn silence. She finally punches the pillow twice, hard. Then she curls on her side and settles in to wait for morning.
It's seven minutes and some number of seconds later when she hears a light tap on the door. Her heart skips a beat, and she stares at the thin wooden panel so intently that when he knocks again she jumps.
"Amanda?" His voice is pitched low, probably so he won't wake her if she's asleep.
"Yeah. Come on in." She reaches over to turn on the lamp then pushes her pillow against the headboard so that she can rest her back against it.
The door opens but he doesn't come in, choosing instead to lean against the jamb. He's still wearing the baggy sweatpants, and he's still shirtless, and when he crosses one ankle over the other Amanda's pulse stutters. She wants so badly to run her hands over his chest, to feel the press of his body against hers, to taste … Determined not to embarrass herself again, she takes a calming breath, grips a fistful of knobby green blanket, and waits for him to say something.
"You know …" The faint tilt to his lips takes the sting out of his next words. "That gets damned annoying sometimes."
She doesn't know what she expected him to say, but that wasn't it. Utterly baffled, she can only stare at him. "What does?"
"How often you're right."
"You." There's something in his eyes that makes her grip the blanket just a little tighter. "You're entirely too good at being right."
She isn't sure whether she should be flattered or offended. "Thanks. I think."
"You're welcome." He crosses the room and sits down on the bed beside her. With gentle hands, he untangles her fingers from the blankets. His thumb traces a pattern across her knuckles. The motion is hypnotic, and she finds herself staring at their joined hands, fascinated by the shape and feel of his fingers against her skin.
"Amanda …" He pauses. Takes a long, slow breath. "I've never felt like this before. About anyone." His fingers tighten around hers. "I want you to know that."
"I do know that." She unclenches her other hand from the covers and lays it over his.
"I just … I don't want to mess it up. You know?" The vulnerability in his voice goes straight to her heart. He has so much experience with women, and so little with love.
"You aren't going to mess anything up." He's always so sure of himself, but tonight he's acting like he's fumbling for solid footing in a pool of quicksand. It's sweet, and it makes her want to kiss the frown line at the corner of his mouth. "Sure we'll have problems sometimes. Every couple does. But we'll work it out." She slides her hand up to his elbow and squeezes lightly. "I'm not going anywhere."
She's been in love with him almost since the day they met, despite the arrogant jerk he'd been back then. Sure, she'd fought her feelings at first. After all, he'd been just awful to her. But there's something about him that, to coin one of Mother's corny expressions, makes her heart sing. She can't imagine a life without him in it.
Another minute clicks over while they study each other in silence. Then he leans in, erasing the distance behind them one breathless inch at a time. His hand settles on her shoulder, and when he says her name it's just a fragment of sound in the night.
When it finally comes, the kiss is so tender it brings tears to her eyes.
"Yes." She whispers it against his lips as her eyes drift closed. One word, spoken so softly she isn't even sure he hears it.
Her fingers feather across his chest like the wings of a bird, and her lips are soft and pliant beneath his, but he senses hunger hiding behind the softness. And it's a hunger he shares. He wants … God, he wants everything, all at once. He wants to know all there is to know about her, to touch all there is to touch, to taste … But he also wants to savor the mystery and the sweetness, to treasure each new revelation.
He loves the way she says his name. He captures the single syllable on his lips and feels her smile against his mouth.
There's a little more force to it this time, a hint of determination. He pauses reluctantly. "What?"
"We don't have to do this."
Confused, he blinks at her. "Amanda, you just said …"
"I know what I said." There's embarrassment in her voice, and she drops her eyes from his. "And I don't know what got into me. I'm not usually so forward."
The quaint wording makes him smile. "I happen to like forward women."
"Lee!" Her grin is exasperated. "I'm serious!"
"So am I." He leans down to press a series of nibbling kisses along the line of her jaw, pleased when her fingers curl into his shoulder and her breath hitches in her throat. "Besides, did you miss the part where I said that you were right?"
"No, I didn't miss it. In fact, now that you remind me, I'd like to get that in writing." Her voice holds a hint of mischief.
"Surely you know better by now." He whispers it into the shell of her ear and feels a tremble race through her. "We spies never put anything in writing."
"Oh." She slides down against the pillows and he follows her down, unwilling to let her get away from him. "Well. I don't know if I can trust you, then."
The words bring his head up again, and he looks into her eyes. "You can trust me with your life," he says quietly.
The teasing light fades from her eyes to be replaced by something more serious. She reaches up to frame his face with her hands. "And you can trust me with yours."
Now that the moment is finally here, Amanda's a little surprised to find that she's not nervous. She thinks somehow that she should be. After all, he's so much more experienced at these things than she is. But when Lee stretches out beside her on the bed all she feels is anticipation, and when he bends to kiss her she meets him halfway. It's a kiss like warm honey, rich and sweet, and it makes her want more, so she curls her fingers into the solid strength of his shoulder and pulls him closer and doesn't even try to quiet the pleasure that rises in her throat when his arm tightens at her waist.
So good, she thinks. It feels so good to lie in his arms like this and let her hands roam over his body while they share kiss after kiss, each one a little deeper, each one a little more heated. It isn't long before he's sliding the thin t-shirt up and giving a low, impatient growl when her arms get in the way. It amuses her, that growl, and she slips out of his arms long enough to rise to her knees beside him while she tugs it over her head and lets it drop to the floor.
When she turns back, the fire in his eyes burns through her, and then he's pulling her back down and his hands glide over her from shoulder to hip. The long, slow strokes make her muscles quiver like so many thoroughbreds at the starting gate, and all the while his mouth is busy too, moving over her face and neck first, then dipping lower in a series of quick nips that have her arching up and raking her fingers across his back. He's good at this, she thinks hazily, all but lost in the sensations that spill over her in a wash of color. But she wants to give as well as receive, and with that thought in mind, she pushes him back down to the mattress.
"My turn." She murmurs it against his neck and feels his arm go tight around her shoulders, but he doesn't try to stop her when she explores the line of his jaw, and when she stretches luxuriantly against him and lets her hand drift down to his stomach, his only response is a low groan. She sketches a silky figure eight just above his waistband and smiles against his neck when his stomach muscles tense in response. He catches her hand in his, stilling it, and then it's his turn to roll, and as he comes up above her he pauses to look into her eyes.
"I love you," he says, as if somehow he thinks she might doubt it.
"And I love you." She pulls his head down for another kiss because she has to, because she needs his touch like she needs the sun and the moon and the stars, and because if she looks too deeply into his eyes she thinks she just might beg, and that's something she's never done before, never felt before.
The intensity of it takes her by surprise, and she isn't sure if that's because it's been so long or because she loves him so much, but before she can try to puzzle it out he cups her breast in his hand, effectively shutting down rational thought. His touch is gentle, almost reverent, and when he lowers his head to kiss her she bows up, gripping his shoulders so tightly that she thinks surely she must be leaving a permanent mark on his skin.
Their lovemaking is slow and easy, but there's a rising heat that creeps up on them with the passing minutes until it sweeps them up in a sudden firestorm that has them both breathless and gasping. She's looking into his eyes at the end, in that instant when she feels herself start to slide over the edge of the abyss, and what she sees there makes her heart go tight in her chest. She wraps her arms around his neck and her legs around his, and holds him tight, whispering his name as they tumble into oblivion together.
Afterwards Amanda rests her head on his shoulder and feels him pull her snugly against him. The press of his lips against her temple makes her smile softly. She'd known, somehow, that he would be a considerate lover, but she'd never guessed how tender he'd be. They hold each other close while their skin cools and their breathing returns to normal. Amanda's sleepy now, her body utterly relaxed, and she thinks fuzzily that if being a fugitive leads to feeling like this, maybe it isn't so bad after all. The ridiculous thought makes her giggle, and Lee draws back to look at her.
"What's so funny?" His voice is a low rumble beneath her ear. It tickles.
Amanda shakes her head and sketches a lazy circle on his chest. "It's nothing."
"I don't believe that for a second. Something made you laugh."
Still smiling, Amanda looks up at him. "It's silly." When he merely raises an eyebrow, she bites her lip and fesses up. "I was just thinking that maybe being a fugitive isn't all that bad after all."
"Mmm." He dips down to kiss the tip of her nose. "Is that so."
"Absolutely." She's still worried, but things don't seem so desperate when viewed from the haven of Lee's arms. "It's going to be okay, isn't it," she says quietly. "We're going to catch Aleksei and straighten this whole mess out?"
"You bet we are." He slides his fingers into her hair and presses her head back down against his shoulder. "Now get some sleep. Tomorrow's going to be a long day."
"Mmm …" She's already halfway there, but there's one more thing she wants to say to him first. "Lee?"
"I love you."
His arms tighten around her. "I love you, too."
Lee lies awake long after Amanda has drifted off. She's nestled in his arms, her slim body curled against him, one leg resting across his thighs. The arm he has wrapped around her shoulders is falling asleep, but he doesn't move it, preferring the eventual pain of returning circulation to the risk of waking her. Closing his eyes, he slides his free hand up her arm and rests his cheek against her hair, all but overwhelmed by his feelings for her.
He's been a loner for so long that he'd half convinced himself he'd live out his life as a crotchety old bachelor, too devoted to spycraft to risk … no. It wasn't the spycraft. The fact is, he never thought he'd find anybody he'd want to share his life with. But Amanda understands him like no other woman ever has. And she believes in him. He's never experienced that kind of absolute loyalty before. The thought that he might some day disappoint her is like a knife in his gut, and his arms tighten around her in defensive reflex.
Amanda makes a quiet sound and shifts against him, but she doesn't wake up, and he's glad of that. The past few days have been rough. She needs her rest. He rubs his cheek lightly against the top of her head and makes her a silent promise. He's going to get them both through this and see her safely home as quickly as possible. And Aleksei's going to pay for what he's done to her, for the worry and fear he's caused. Lee will make sure of that if it's the last thing he ever does.
Holding her close, he lets sleep drift over him at last. Tomorrow will come, with all its problems and dangers. For now, for tonight, it's just him and Amanda, and the not quite perfect timing that turned out to be pretty damned perfect after all.
On the nightstand, the numbers on the alarm clock slowly fade. A moment later there's a soft click as another minute ticks over and a new day begins.