Not This Time
Amanda couldn't remember the last time she'd had such a pleasant, relaxing afternoon. The walk in the park with Lee had been wonderful and utterly romantic and she'd seen new sides to Lee that she could definitely get used to. More importantly, their conversation on the bridge had reassured her. As much as she cared for him, she had been hesitant about the wisdom of getting into a relationship with him. It was part of why she'd so easily accepted the months of interruptions. She had wanted to take this next step, but she'd been afraid. Afraid of being hurt, afraid of losing her partner and best friend. Afraid that she'd become too attached to Lee Stetson - the consummate bachelor.
And yet, as they'd stood on the picturesque bridge, it had been Lee who had asked for a relationship with her. To say she'd been surprised by that would be an understatement. He'd absolutely floored her with that request. Of all the things she'd imagined he would say to her, asking for a relationship was definitely not one of them. But the mere fact that he had asked told her that he really had changed. As she studied his face, the sincerity that she saw there told her with certainty that he was no longer the grumpy bachelor she'd met on the platform all those years ago, flirting with and bedding women left, right and center. She'd realized then that she hadn't seen him with any other women in months, and she wondered if she was the reason. After all, they had been spending an awful lot of time together in recent months, and she hadn't looked twice at another man in at least as long as that, so perhaps it was the same with Lee?
Then, as he waited for her response, Lee seemed to bite his lip nervously and Amanda felt her heart melt. He was genuinely nervous and worried that she'd say "no" to his request. Caring for him more in that moment than she had ever thought possible, she'd touched his face and admitted not only her desire for a relationship with him but also her fear that he'd break her heart. His own admission endeared him to her even more and the last of her doubts vanished as she agreed that it was worth the risk.
If Amanda had thought their kisses had been intense before, the kiss that followed their confessions was an absolute hurricane of sensation. She had never felt anything like it before and she'd surrendered herself over to it heart, mind and soul. They'd kissed on the bridge for eons after that, completely immune to everything around them. Amanda had been vaguely aware of people walking past them, yet for once they didn't jump apart, instead ignoring the interruption and remaining completely wrapped up in the moment.
It took a group of animated high school students trouping through the woods to return them to their senses, and even then Amanda had felt quite unlike herself. They'd stood there, holding each other as the teenagers passed, Amanda resting her head against his shoulder as they both caught their breath. Several minutes later, when Lee suggested they return to the car, Amanda had merely nodded, not trusting her voice to work properly. She'd felt her legs wobble as she began to walk and she'd been eternally grateful when Lee slid his arm around her shoulder and gently guided her back to the car.
The car jerked and Amanda blinked as her thoughts returned to the present. The late afternoon sun glared against the windshield as Lee navigated the Corvette through rush hour traffic and Amanda had to squint as she tried to figure out where they were. Recognizing the bridge that she crossed daily on her way to and from work, she frowned and glanced over at Lee.
"We're going to Arlington?" she asked, trying to conceal her disappointment.
Lee chuckled softly, a low sound that sent shivers cascading over her body. "I'm not taking you home yet, if that's what you're worried about."
"I'm not worried, it's just… never-mind," she said, looking away.
Another driver swerved in front of them and Lee swore, his focus returning to the road as he changed lanes at the last minute to avoid a collision. They fell silent after that, Amanda letting her mind wander off as she stared idly out the window. She was vaguely aware of Lee muttering to himself as navigated his way through the minefield of rush hour traffic. Eventually Lee managed to pass a large truck that was moving at a snails pace and Amanda couldn't help but grin at the look of triumph on his face as they burst free from the congestion and continued south along the parkway.
Loosening his grip on the wheel now that he didn't need to concentrate as hard, Lee cast a quick glance her direction and picked up their earlier conversation. "It's just what, Amanda?"
"What?" It took Amanda a moment to realize what he was referring to and she laughed nervously. She was far more relaxed now that she was no longer worried they'd be in her neighbourhood and she felt a bit foolish for her earlier concern. She sighed, deciding to answer him honestly. "It's just that I know a lot of people in Arlington, so I was worried that if we were seen it could get back to Mother."
Lee chuckled. "Are you that ashamed of me?"
Amanda hit him playfully on the arm. "Of course not. I'm just not sure it's the right time for her to find out about us. I mean, all this-" She gestured between them. "It's all so new. I'd kind of like to keep you to myself for a little bit before we have to deal with Mother and the boys. Gosh, that's a horrible thing for me to say!" Amanda cringed at herself.
Lee pulled into a street-side parking space and stopped the car before turning toward her and reaching for her hands. He took them in his and kissed the top gently before responding. "It's not horrible, Amanda. I know exactly what you mean."
He released her hands then and climbed out of the car in silence. He didn't speak again until he'd opened her door and pulled her to her feet and into the comforting circle of his arms. Her heart started beating more rapidly at the increased contact. "I kind of like the idea of keeping this to ourselves for a while." Lee grinned devilishly. "It means I'm completely free to do things like this." He bent his head to capture her lips. His kiss was gentle but prodding and once again Amanda felt herself surrender to him completely. If this is what he could do to her with a mere kiss, what would happen when they —
Her face suddenly warm, Amanda quickly pushed the thought from her mind and focused on kissing Lee back. Her tongue sought his and for several minutes she escaped into passionate oblivion.
"Let's talk about it later," Lee suggested when they finally broke apart. He took her hand then locked the doors of the car before pulling her down the street. "Right now I want to enjoy every second of our first date."
Amanda looked around, taking in their surroundings for the first time and noting the historic brick buildings and charming sidewalks. "Is this Old Town Alexandria?"
Lee grinned. "It is. It's one of my favourite parts of the Washington area. I figured we could wander down King Street and then maybe walk along the Potomac for a bit before I take you to one of my favourite restaurants for dinner."
"I'd like that." Amanda grinned and they slowly started to meander down the street. "You know," she said after they'd walked in silence for about a block. "I never would have pegged you for such a romantic, Lee,"
Lee shrugged. "There're lots of things you don't know about me, Amanda, but that's about to change I suspect." He paused outside a small flower shop. "Hold that thought."
He came out a moment later with the most beautiful deep pink gerbera daisy Amanda had ever seen. "It's beautiful," she breathed.
"Just like you," Lee whispered, handing it to her with a flourish.
"Aww Lee, you're just full of surprises today." Amanda smiled happily while Lee wasted no time in entwining his hand with hers again as they continued down the street.
"For you, always." He tugged her sideways gently so that their shoulders were touching as he leaned toward her ear and continued. "I meant what I said though, my life is an open book to you, now. Anything you want to know about me, about my… past - " He swallowed nervously and Amanda squeezed his hand encouragingly, knowing just how much it was costing him to be so vulnerable. "-Anything at all, you just need to ask and I'll try my best to answer you."
Deeply touched at his faith and trust in her Amanda stopped walking and pulled him into her embrace right in the middle of the street. She hugged him tightly. "Thank you, Lee, for trusting me. It means so much to me that you do." She kissed his cheek. "Lee, I want to know everything I possibly can about you, but I'll never ask you to tell me anything you're not ready for. I'm not going anywhere, so you just be sure that when or if you want to tell me anything you won't hesitate. I'll be here to listen whenever you're ready."
Lee nodded, pressing her to his chest. "I can do that. Thank you, Amanda."
Someone passing by jostled them and they reluctantly broke the embrace to walk hand in hand down the historic street. As they wove in and out of the crowd, Amanda stopped periodically to exclaim over items in the shop windows while Lee looked on, half amused. Occasionally they broke into conversation again but mostly they just wandered and browsed in companionable silence, enjoying the luxury of uninterrupted quality time together. Through it all, their hands remained joined, the physical contact a constant reminder of the bond they were forging.
The sun was setting when they finally made their way to the river and Lee once again found himself mesmerized by Amanda's beauty as the vibrant hues reflected across her features. Deciding it had been far too long since his lips had last touched hers, Lee suddenly tugged her into his arms and sought her mouth hungrily. Her gasp of surprise was quickly swallowed by his mouth as he consumed her ardently. He ran his tongue over her teeth, and was rewarded with a shudder. He used his arms to press their bodies more tightly together as he sank into the kiss. Every emotion he'd conjured up during the course of the day swarmed to the surface and increased the intensity of the kiss so much that Lee felt as though every cell in his body were ablaze.
Amanda's own passion answered his, matching every flick of the tongue or tug of the lips with one of her own. Lee wound his fingers into her soft, thick hair, as he ran his tongue over the tender flesh on the roof of her mouth. Amanda's knees buckled and she sagged against him as he shifted a hand to her waist to help support her.
"Are you okay?" he whispered into her ear, his cheek flush against hers.
"Never better," she gasped, her breath ragged against his face.
He smiled, tracing a line of wet kisses down to her lips. "Good," he replied, reaching his destination. He kissed her with purpose, releasing her only when she was breathless once more. "Dinner?"
"What?" Amanda asked dazedly, her cheeks pink and her eyes bright.
Lee put his arm around her and hugged her lightly as he spun her to face the street. "Are you ready to go eat?"
"Oh, yeah. Sure." She said distractedly.
Night had fallen while they'd been preoccupied and the path up to the street was now marked with light from dim lamps that dotted the route. They walked slowly, Lee's arm draped over Amanda's shoulders, while she leaned on him for support.
He guided them down the block to a secluded restaurant where a young man who couldn't have been a day over 18 greeted them as they entered. "Welcome. My name is Thomas. How can I be of service?"
"We have a reservation for Stetson." Lee told him.
Thomas looked at the reservation book carefully before nodding and beaconing them to follow him. "Certainly. Come right this way, Mr. and Mrs. Stetson."
Lee stopped in his tracks, his chest thumping. Beside him, Amanda also froze. They exchanged a stunned look before Lee finally composed himself and cleared his throat. "Oh, um, we're not married." He tripped over the words with his tongue even as he wondered why he was feeling a sense of regret and disappointment.
"Oh, I'm so sorry." Thomas stuttered, his face reddening. "I just assumed…"
"It's okay, Thomas," Amanda assured him with one of her motherly smiles. "No harm done."
He nodded nervously and quickly set two menus in place at a private table in the back corner of the restaurant before making a hasty retreat.
As Lee helped Amanda with her jacket, he heard her gasp audibly. Windows surrounded the area, providing a beautiful view of DC all lit up with the lights reflecting upon the water of the Potomac.
"Breathtaking isn't it?"
"It's beautiful, Lee. Thank you for bringing me here. I can't think of a more perfect setting for our first date."
He pulled out a chair for her as she spoke and once she was seated, he kissed the top of her head before pushing her in. "I wanted it to be special," he confessed.
"Oh, Lee, it is. This whole day has been amazing."
Lee settled himself into the chair across from her before reaching for her hand and lacing his fingers between hers. "I agree," he murmured softly, eyes locked on hers. "The best day of my life."
Amanda's face softened with emotion. "Oh, Lee."
"It's true." He brought the top of her hand to his lips. "Amanda, sometimes I think that I didn't start living until I met you."
He kept going, ignoring the interruption. "After my parents died, a part of me was dead too. The Colonel, he did his best, I know that, but when I look back on that part of my childhood I realize that I was merely existing." He paused, swallowing thickly.
Amanda squeezed his hand. "Lee, you don't have to -"
"No, I do." He squeezed back. "This is something you should know."
Amanda studied him for a moment before nodding. "Okay, I'm sorry for interrupting. Please go on."
"Thank you." He clung to her hand, drawing courage from her firm grasp. "Amanda, I spent years of my life going through the motions. I knew how to act, I knew how to pretend to feel, I knew what was expected of me and I did it; but through it all, I never let myself acknowledge my emotions. I built up walls to keep people out, to prevent myself from being hurt. I closed myself off from the world in so many ways, choosing not to experience things fully and instead standing by and watching them. I threw myself into my work, letting it consume me, letting it exhaust me so that I didn't have to think. And then, after my partner's death, I shut myself off even more. Work became my escape, and I put everything into solving my cases. I tried to quell my loneliness by seeking comfort in various women. I knew how to say the right things to get what I wanted and for a time, that was enough for me."
The corners of Amanda's eyes were damp, but when he tried to wipe them for her, she shook her head. "I'm okay, Lee. Please keep going, I'm listening."
"Thanks." He smiled gratefully and took a deep breath before continuing, his thumb idly rubbing the back of her hand as he spoke. "So I was living life like a puppet. Fulfilling my duties at work by day, seeking false comfort by night, and generally pretending that all was well. And then, one day I met a woman on a train platform while I was on a case. I was being chased so I didn't have much time but even so, I noticed her right away. There was something about her eyes that drew me to her and the next thing I knew she was deeply entwined in my life. The more time I spent with her, the more I felt the walls I'd so carefully built up begin to crumble. You changed me, Amanda, you taught me how to feel again, how to live again. I don't know exactly when or how it happened, but somehow, somewhere along the way in the past three years you managed to break through all of my boundaries and worm your way into my heart. Your eternally positive outlook on life, your devotion to your loved ones and your unfailing ability to deal with every challenge that life can throw at you has taught me how to truly appreciate life. I'm a better person because of you. I was broken in so many ways before I met you, and now I'm whole again."
He met her gaze, and was overcome with love for her when he saw that her eyes were swimming with unshed tears. "I just wanted to thank you for that, Amanda," he whispered, wiping at her eyes with his thumb and bringing her tears to his lips.
"Oh, Lee," Amanda choked hoarsely. "I had no idea."
An awkward moment of silence passed between them and Lee looked down at his lap, uncertain of what to say next.
"You've changed me too, you know?" The words were spoken so softly that Lee nearly missed them.
He looked up at Amanda, surprised. "I have?"
Amanda smiled and adjusted their hands so that hers were placed on top of his. "Of course you have. Lee, when you stopped me on that platform, I was at a point in my life where I didn't quite know where to go next. My husband had left me with two little boys who needed me, my mother had moved in to help me out, I was stuck in a comfortable but boring relationship that I couldn't quite break away from. I was happy being a stay at home mother, but at the same time I wanted to see more of the world. And then you came along and suddenly I was a part of this whole other realm of possibilities, it was dangerous and exciting, but more importantly it mattered. Lee, the things we've done the past few years have been incredible. I've learned so much about myself, about what I'm capable of. By working with you, I found a strength within myself that I hadn't known existed. You showed me that Lee, you made me a stronger person. It's because of you, that I make a difference every day. Not always for the country or the world, but everything we do makes the world a little bit safer for my boys and that's something I'll be forever grateful for."
"I didn't make you strong, Amanda," Lee said softly. "You were always strong. Look at all you'd been through, all you'd accomplished before we even met. You raised those amazing boys of yours all by yourself. I know you had your mother's help, but I also know that it couldn't have been easy for you to do that without the support of their father. It took great strength for you to do that, and for you to raise them in such a way that they are not bitter towards him. Plus, they're great kids - considerate, caring, well adjusted. You did that Amanda!"
Lee watched Amanda struggle for composure, taking deep breaths and blinking back tears. "Thank you, Lee," she whispered hoarsely. "It means a lot to me to hear you say that."
Thomas returned then, filling their wine glasses with Chardonnay and setting the remainder of the bottle on the table. "Are you ready to order?"
Amanda reached for her menu and quickly opened it. Lee smiled up at the waiter. "Give us a few minutes?"
"Of course, sir!" Thomas wandered away, leaving them alone as they stared in silence at their menus.
Several minutes later, once they'd ordered their meals and Thomas had left them alone again, Lee noticed Amanda staring at him pensively.
"Are you okay?"
"What? Oh, yes, sorry Lee, I'm fine. I was just thinking."
"About how much the boys would adore you."
Lee raised his eyebrows in surprise. "You think so?"
"Oh, they'd be fascinated by you, Jamie especially." Amanda took a sip of her wine. "I know earlier, we talked about keeping us a secret, but maybe I was wrong." She met his gaze. "Maybe it's time you met my family properly."
Lee picked up his own glass and swirled it, staring at the little whirlpool of wine created by the motion. "I'm not sure that's such a good idea," he finally said hesitantly.
"Oh," Amanda looked away but not before he caught the hurt that was reflected in her eyes.
Quickly reaching across the table, he gently lifted her chin until they were eye to eye. "Amanda, it's not that I don't want to meet your family. Trust me, I do, more than anything. It's just that the last thing I want to do is put them in danger and I can't help but worry that if they knew about us, it'd make them a target. I couldn't bear if anything happened to them."
The emotion in Amanda's eyes made his heart ache. "You really care about them, don't you?"
"Of course I do, Amanda."
"Do you really think knowing about our relationship would put them in danger?"
Lee was silent for a moment. "They're already in danger just through the nature of what we do, if they knew anything, or even if someone just thought they knew something, they'd be in even more danger. Your mother too."
Amanda's eyes widened. "I hadn't thought of that."
Taking her hand, he gave her a reassuring squeeze. "Amanda, I'm not trying to scare you, it's just that these are the things I think about, it's partly why…"
"Why what, Lee?" Amanda inquired after he let the sentence hang in the air a little too long.
He sighed. "It's partly why I waited so long to act on my feelings for you. By doing this, by being together, we put everyone, including ourselves, in more danger."
Amanda pulled her hand away and turned to look out at the river. "Are you saying you don't think we should do this?"
Alarmed, Lee sprang from his seat and moved to kneel in front of her. He grasped her hands again, and closed his eyes for a moment, willing her to understand. "No, Amanda, that's not what I'm saying. I'm saying that's what held me back."
Slowly she pulled her gaze away from the window to look at him. Her eyes were swimming with unshed tears. His heart ached at the sight and he had to resist the temptation to pull her into his arms. He could comfort her in a moment, right now he needed to explain. Instead he cupped her delicate cheeks and met her gaze head on. "Amanda, for as long as I've known you, there's been an invisible line between us. A line that I put there partly to protect myself and partly to protect you. There was a time where I promised myself I'd never cross that line. We crossed that line for good today but I've been so close to crossing it countless times before now. The only thing holding me back has been fear. Fear of being hurt, fear of losing you, fear of losing someone close to us. Today I realized that my feelings for you are more important than the fears. I can't hold myself back any longer because to do so would be to deny part of who I am. Like it or not, you're deeply entwined in my life Amanda, you've become a part of me. And the reality is, you're in danger whether we're together or not so it's foolish to let that hold me back any longer. I meant what I said earlier Amanda, I want a relationship with you. I am not going anywhere."
"Oh, Lee." Amanda's tears had spilled over onto her cheeks while he spoke and Lee swiped at them now before pulling her off the chair and enfolding her into his arms.
They clung to each other for several moments. Finally Lee kissed the top of her head and continued talking. "I think it would be better for everyone concerned if for now, we just kept this to ourselves, especially at work. The less people who know about our relationship the better. It will keep everyone safer. As for your family, I do think that eventually we should tell them, but not yet, the longer we can keep them safe, the better. For now, let's just keep spending time together and we'll see where it takes us. How does that sound?"
Amanda pulled her face away from his chest and looked up at him. "I think that sounds good," she whispered as she wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his face to hers. Her lips were nearly touching his when she spoke again, "Thank you for caring so much about my family's safety, Lee." With that, she pressed her lips to his and kissed him with such fervor it winded him and it wasn't until several seconds later that he was able to recover and reciprocate in kind, reassuring her with every stroke of his tongue that she was it for him.
When the waiter cleared his throat a few minutes later, they jumped apart, both of them blushing furiously as they stumbled back into their chairs. Once they were seated, and Thomas had served their meals, Lee caught Amanda's eye and raised his glass.
"To our first date."
Amanda smiled and lifted her own glass, touching it against his with a soft clink.
"May it be the first of many," she added.
Lee sipped his wine. "Trust me, Amanda," he said, gazing at her intently as he returned his glass to the table. "This is only the beginning."