Author's Note: There's a scene in Billy's office in Stemwinder 1 after Lee and Amanda have started the Lisbon Variation with Sonja Chenko. As Amanda leaves at the end, her back ramrod straight, her jaw tight, she says, "Lee did all the dancing." In the very next scene, the dynamic duo seems to be in good spirits, with no visible tension at all. I'm thinking there had to be an unfilmed conversation in there someplace. This little vignette is my guess at how that conversation might've gone.
He didn't go after her right away. He told himself it was to give her some time to pull herself together, when really he just didn't know what to say. He'd hurt her. He knew that. And even though it wasn't really his fault, he wished it hadn't happened.
So instead of returning to the Q-Bureau he stopped by Francine's desk and indulged in idle chit chat--until she gave him one of her looks, the one that called bullshit on his antics.
"Talk to her, Lee."
He slid his eyes from hers on pretext of scanning the room, but he knew she wasn't buying it. She'd always been able to see right through him. He tried anyway, faking left and running right like his life depended on it.
Her snort didn't even try to sound ladylike. "You know who." She touched his arm in an uncharacteristic show of concern. "Look. I don't know what's going on between you two, but I know heartache when I see it."
He sighed. They'd talked about it, hadn't they? He and Amanda? He'd explained the whole thing before they even got started. He'd even offered to turn down the assignment. But no, she'd insisted that she could handle it. So why was she so mad at him? They'd been doing their jobs, both of them. Hell, all three of them, when it came right down to it.
"What if the tables were turned?" Francine asked, lowering her voice and doing a cautionary check for eavesdroppers. "What if you were the one stuck listening in the car while she was up there schmoozing some good-looking Russian? How would you feel?"
"Schmoozing, Francine?" He tried to look amused, but he suspected she'd seen the flash of jealous rage because she nodded with a knowing glint in her eye.
"That's what I thought." She turned away and started shuffling through her phone messages. "Talk to her." She waved a hand at him, shooing him away like a pesky gnat, and picked up the phone. Go! she mouthed.
Frustrated and defensive, Lee shoved his hands in his pockets and tried to look casual as he strolled toward the door. He'd talk to her, all right. He'd tell her to get over it already, that they had a job to do. And that if she couldn't stand the heat she needed to get the hell out of the kitchen. Clichéd maybe, but true. Amanda just kept sticking her nose in where it didn't belong, insisting she was strong enough, smart enough, brave enough … whatever. And she always ended by getting herself into trouble. Every. Single. Time. Well it wasn't going to fly this time. He wasn't going to let her drag him down with her. He'd done a damn good job with Sonja Chenko. Some of his best work. And if she chose to take it personally … well that was just her problem, wasn't it.
He'd managed to work up a good head of steam by the time he got off the elevator, and when Mrs. Marston glared at him he swallowed a string of curses. Was there anybody Amanda couldn't wrap around her little finger? But she only gave him a stern look, pressed her lips together disapprovingly, and jerked her head toward the stairs. Q-Bureau. Of course. Without a word, he started up.
By the time he reached the landing his temper had started to cool. And when he pushed open the door and sensed the tension in the air his finely crafted speech vanished like gun smoke. Damn.
She looked up from the file drawer she'd been rifling through. "Hi." Her voice was a shade too bright, but that was the only hint that something was wrong. That, and the shuttered look in her eyes.
"Hi." He scrubbed a hand through his hair. All right, hotshot. Now what? "Everything okay?"
"Fine as frog's hair." She turned her attention back to her work.
Frog's hair, huh? Well that was just swell. Score at the half. Amanda one, Scarecrow zero. Time to regroup. He moved to his desk but didn't sit down.
"Listen … Amanda … About last night."
She went still. "What about last night?"
The name fell between them like a live grenade. He waited for her to say something. Anything.
"What about her?" Casual. Cheerful, even. And brittle as sugar glass.
He wanted to shake her until her teeth rattled.
And he wanted to take her in his arms and never let her go.
He stayed where he was. Shoved his hands in his pockets again. "Look," he said, "it was work. I explained that to you."
"You did. And I understood." She looked up at him. Fire flashed in her eyes. "I did the job, didn't I?"
"Perfectly." He almost wished she hadn't done such a good job. At least then they'd have had something to talk about in Billy's office besides how well things had gone.
"And so did you," she said. "Do your job perfectly, I mean."
He started to smile at the compliment. And then he saw the look in her eyes. "What do you want me to say, huh? You knew what was going to happen. Hell, you helped me set it up!"
"You're right." She nodded. "Of course you're right. And I know I shouldn't be upset. It's terribly unprofessional of me. But Lee …" She stopped. Took a deep breath. "I just didn't know it would be like that is all."
"Like …" She waved a hand. "Well, like … that."
If he hadn't been so frustrated he might've laughed. Instead he crossed to her side, uncurled her fingers from the file drawer, and pushed it closed. Taking her by the shoulders, he turned her to face him.
"Amanda …" Tension radiated from her in waves, stiffening her spine. But something about the way she stood there, head bent, eyes averted, made his heart ache. After that fiasco with Brackin he'd sworn he'd never hurt her again. Fat lot of good that'd done him.
He sighed, his voice softening, his grip on her shoulders turning into a light, kneading massage. "Look, I've been at this job a long time," he said. "Stuff like what happened last night … it's just part of it, you know? A means to an end."
"Well." She didn't look up. "Some of it's still pretty new to me."
"I realize that." But she was so good at her work that sometimes he forgot. And sometimes, like last night, he just got so caught up in the mission that he didn't think about the possible collateral damage.
"There was a time," she went on, still not looking at him, "a year ago, even six months ago, when it wouldn't have been such a big deal. But now everything's different. And I thought I could take it, I really did. I told myself I just wouldn't let it bother me. Mind over matter, you know?" Her voice dropped, and he had to listen hard to catch her next words. "But I sort of ended up wanting to scratch her eyes out anyway."
This time he did laugh, low and soft, as he put his arms around her and pulled her close. "Entertaining as that might've been, I'm kind of glad you didn't. It would've blown the whole operation."
She snorted softly against his chest. "Would've made me feel better, though."
And then, finally, she relaxed against him, her body melting into his, her arms going around his waist, and he had to work hard to hold back a sigh of relief.
"I want you to know something, Amanda King. And I want you to listen carefully, because this is important." He waited until he felt her nod. "Nobody, and I mean nobody, could ever take your place."
Her arms tightened around his waist, then loosened. She looked up at him. "Nobody?"
"Nobody." He kissed the tip of her nose.
Her smile started in her eyes. It always started in her eyes. "Never?"
She tilted her head up, and he lowered his, and when their lips met it was like coming home--sweet, and warm, and comforting, with a hint of heat behind it that made him tighten his hold on her and wish they weren't at work where somebody could walk in on them at any time. Reluctantly, he ended the kiss and drew back.
"Okay?" he asked quietly.
"Better anyway." She tilted her head to one side, her eyes narrowing even as another smile teased at the corners of her mouth. "But I still want to scratch her eyes out."
Laughing, he caught her hand in his. "Come on," he said. "Let's go see T.P."
"Deal." She tapped one finger against his chest. "But I want ice cream."
When he raised an eyebrow at her, she shrugged a shoulder. "Call it a peace offering."
"A peace offering, huh?" He shook his head at her, amused. "I suppose that means I'm buying."
She tilted her head and gave him a saucy grin. "You'd better believe it, Buster."
When they came down the stairs Mrs. Marston gave Lee a sharp glance. With slow deliberation he slid his hand into its customary position at the small of Amanda's back, checking to make sure the older woman was still watching. She was. Her nod was almost imperceptible, but it got the message across.
He was forgiven. For now.