A/N: Set season 3, probably just before Triumvirate. It's an odd thing about SMK that they never seem to have definitive seasons, despite being set in Arlington, VA. I only remember seeing snow once, and then only if I squinted. At any rate, Triumvirate at least has everybody in jackets and long sleeves.
Serving as the agency's eyes and ears at the governor's annual Harvest Ball isn't exactly challenging, but it gives Amanda an excuse to put on a pretty dress, drink champagne, and dance the night away. The added bonus of attending as Lee's date isn't bad either--as long as she ignores the parade of women who seem to be under the mistaken impression that she's in competition with them.
For his part, Lee is a perfect gentleman--and the only man she's ever known who's as comfortable in a tux as he is in blue jeans and a t-shirt. Frankly, that part's a little weird.
They mingle with the crowd, reconnecting with friends and taking mental note of new faces. At her side, Lee's bored. She can tell by the way he carries himself and by the way his attention keeps wandering. He's been to so many of these things by now that they no longer excite him, but she doesn't let his attitude dampen her own enthusiasm.
"Would you like to dance?" he asks finally, and she knows it's more to escape what he sees as mind-dulling small talk than out of any real desire to dance with her, but that's okay. She doesn't mind being his excuse. At least … not very much.
She gives him a bright smile. "I'd love to."
His hand settles at the small of her back. She's come to rely on that casual touch to the point where she notices it more when it's not there than when it is. Where did he learn the habit? Surely not from the colonel, a man who wears eighteen inches of personal space like a badge of honor--or a shield.
Several sets of female eyes track their passage across the ballroom. It makes her want to tuck a proprietary arm in Lee's and throw them all a challenging stare. She doesn't of course, because he isn't hers. But when they reach the dance floor she leans in close and reaches up to straighten his tie. He gives her a puzzled look, but she only shakes her head a little. He'd never understand anyway.
The dance floor is crowded, but Lee merges in seamlessly, as confident here as he is behind the wheel of his car. He leads with a kind of effortless grace that makes them both look good, and she's grateful for that. After three years of working with him she no longer questions her right to mingle with the cream of Arlington society, but she still feels a little inadequate on the dance floor, especially when his leg brushes against hers and he pulls her just a little bit closer and suddenly it's all she can do just to breathe.
Right. Distraction through conversation. She swallows hard. She can do this.
"Where'd you learn to dance so well?" The words come out high and tight, with that nervous quaver she hates. Damn it. She closes her eyes. Get a grip, Amanda.
"The agency trained me in the basics." He slips neatly through a narrow gap between two couples. "But mostly it's just practice."
"Yes," she says, not quite managing to keep the irony out of her voice, "I imagine so."
He raises an eyebrow and swings her into another turn. "What about you?"
"Where did you learn to dance so well?"
"Oh. Well." Nonplussed, she blinks. "I didn't … um … Thank you." He thinks she's a good dancer? "The only person I've ever really danced with is Joe, and those were mostly just college dances." Feeling a little warm and tingly, she ducks her head.
"Must be natural talent, then."
There's a hint of humor in his voice, and she risks a glance at him, just to make sure he isn't teasing her. "Must be."
For some reason the music makes her think of autumn leaves and hay rides and toasted marshmallows. She tries to picture what it would be like to go on a hayride with Lee. It'd be fun. At least it would be if she could get him to relax enough to enjoy it. He'd probably complain at first. The flying bits of straw would drive him crazy. But if they went on a clear night and they took along a big thermos of hot cocoa, they could snuggle down under a pile of blankets and look at the stars and …
"Ouch! Amanda …"
"Sorry." Chagrined, she shoots him an apologetic glance. "I guess I wasn't paying attention."
He doesn't say anything else, but it's pretty obvious he's annoyed with her, and it makes her a little defensive. After all, it isn't as if she meant to step on him. But then being defensive makes her tense, and that messes up their dancing, and eventually she just gives up. It's her fault. She knows it's her fault. If she hadn't been daydreaming she never would've stepped on his foot, and then he wouldn't have yelled at her and … At any rate, it's no good now.
The next time he leads her to the edge of the dance floor she draws him to a stop. "I think I'd like to step outside for a bit," she says carefully. "It's a little warm in here." There. That sounded perfectly calm and rational. And it isn't really a lie. It is warm.
He doesn't argue, and she doesn't know whether to be relieved or disappointed, but before she can decide she feels his hand at her back again. Even when he's mad at her he's a gentleman. It's one of the things she lo … likes … No. It's one of the things she loves about him. There. She admitted it, if only in the privacy of her own mind. And that's where it's going to stay, because she knows Lee isn't ready to hear it.
The stars seem especially bright tonight, and the moon looks close enough to touch--which is something, considering the amount of light pollution in Arlington. The air has a bite to it, though, and Amanda hugs her arms around herself and wishes she'd thought to grab her wrap. Before she can comment Lee settles his own jacket around her shoulders. It's warm and it smells of his after shave, and she has to fight the urge to bury her face in the fabric and draw in a deep breath.
He says it absently as he crosses to the low concrete wall that overlooks the gardens below and pushes his hands deep into his pockets. It gives her a rare opportunity to study him unobserved, and she jumps at the chance. He's such a complicated man, sweet and vulnerable in some ways, tough as nails in others. The paradox fascinates her. Of course, it helps that he's so darned good looking. She lets her eyes roam over him from head to toe. Oh yeah. Darned good looking.
He turns just then and catches her staring. Blushing, grateful for the darkness, she lifts her eyes to his. He says nothing, and she finds herself oddly tongue-tied, a disconcerting experience since she's usually more prone to babble at times like this.
The moment lingers, and music sneaks through the open French doors like an eager matchmaker. It seems to pause as it reaches her ears, the notes blending into a single sweet cord that pushes her toward him one slow step at a time. At first Lee just stands there, but then his expression softens. His lips tilt in that half smile that says he doesn't quite know what to do with her. He takes a step. And then another. And Amanda has the fanciful thought that the music's affecting their minds somehow, bending free will until they aren't entirely sure where the line is between what's right and what's necessary.
She stops in front of him, her eyes still on his, her heart somersaulting against her ribs. It hurts to breathe, and despite her best efforts her hands tremble as she lifts them to his chest. She's dimly aware of his jacket sliding off her shoulders, but neither of them moves to pick it up. He takes her hand in his, weaving their fingers together with tender deliberation. His other hand settles at her waist, and when he pulls her close she wraps her arm around him and lays her head on his shoulder. He's warm, and strong, and she wants the moment to go on forever. But she knows it can't, so she closes her eyes and tries to memorize how it feels.
He starts to move, just a gentle sway at first, but gradually, almost imperceptibly, they begin to dance. And it isn't like the dance they shared inside. It isn't like that at all. It's more like those high school dances she remembers from years ago, the ones where suspicious chaperones eyed the distance between dance partners and doled out sharp raps on the head to boys who held their dates too close. Lee would've gotten one of those raps. Probably more than one. The thought makes her smile against his shoulder. Okay. So maybe she would've gotten one, too.
Their steps take them from one end of the verandah to the other. The light is dimmer here, the tall windows curtained on the inside by heavy drapes, but it isn't too dark to see, and as the music reaches its conclusion, she draws back to look at him. There's a soft curve to his lips, and with the way the light hits his eyes she could almost think … No. It isn't possible that she sees anything more than simple affection in those shadowed depths.
But when she tries to step back his arm tightens around her waist and his fingers tense against hers, holding her in place. Apparently he's as reluctant for it to end as she is. The knowledge sends a flush of heat up her neck and then on to her cheeks when he touches his forehead to hers.
He's never said it like that before, like … well, like a lover might say it. She moistens her lips. How is it that the sound of her name, just her name, can get her all knotted up and jittery inside? She finds herself staring at his mouth, wondering what it would feel like moving against hers--not just because some dumb assignment means he has to, but because he wants to. Maybe if she tilts her head up, just a little, just enough to let him know it'd be okay with her if he wanted to kiss her, maybe then …
A boisterous laugh shatters the spell, and she jerks back as another couple joins them on the verandah. She turns to watch them, struggling to float charitable thoughts on a wave of annoyance. The man is red-faced, the woman's giggle a little giddy. And as they wind their unsteady way across the tile floor the woman stumbles over Lee's jacket.
"Oh," she exclaims. Her voice is high and girlish and more than a little irritating. "Somebody lost his jacket!" She tugs at her date's sleeve. "Do you suppose he's cold?"
"Huh?" The man blinks blearily down at her.
Beside her, Amanda hears Lee curse softly, and somehow that helps. He squeezes her hand once, then drops it and steps away.
"It's mine," he says, crossing to the other couple. His voice is suave and perfectly controlled, and Amanda wonders if she'll ever learn how he does that. "How clumsy of me to leave it there."
The woman giggles again. "I'll say."
The man just watches, swaying a little, as Lee picks up the jacket. A moment later he's back at Amanda's side, an apology in his eyes. He starts to settle it around her shoulders, but she shakes her head.
"We should probably go back inside," she says. Can he hear the regret in her voice? Does he see it in her eyes? But the magic's gone, and now that they aren't alone anymore it's a safe bet they won't get it back. "We're supposed to be working."
There's frustration in the look he gives her, and a long second passes before he answers.
"Yeah," he finally says on a sigh. "You're probably right."
As they move across the verandah, Lee's hand brushes against the small of her back once more, but this time there's a subtle increase in pressure and a gentle flex of his fingers just before he slides them over to wrap possessively around her waist. When they walk in the door he's looking down at her, and there's something new and unguarded in his expression that makes Amanda's heart turn over in her chest.
She could almost swear she hears a collective groan of defeat from the women in the room, and she leans into Lee just a little, just enough to confirm the news that sweeps the room like silent wildfire.
Lee Stetson is no longer available. Lee Stetson--lady's man, heart breaker, Don Juan, Casanova--has been tamed.
By a housewife.
As they go back to work Lee gives her a puzzled look, and she suspects he's wondering why she's smiling. Maybe some day she'll tell him. Maybe it'll be one of those stories they tell their grandkids.
And maybe, just maybe, it'll make them smile, too.