I nod to all those who have written mistletoe series before…I apologize for borrowing the idea, but I think I've done something a little different with it.
[Christmas 1987; marriage still a secret]
"Merry Christmas, sir!" Amanda said cheerfully to her supervisor, Billy Melrose. "I baked a plate of cookies especially for you and Jeannie – you'd better keep it under wraps if you want them to make it home uneaten!" She glanced ruefully at the room full of agents and other staff in various states of revelry.
A broad smile spread over the Section Chief's face. "Thank you, Amanda! You always make the best Christmas cookies."
This year's Christmas party was like any other; most of the Agency was thrilled to have an opportunity to let loose and relax for a few days. Agents mingled with staff from Finance, Scenarios, Fabrications, and even some of the Cryptologists had left their dimly lit basement department to join in the celebration. A bottomless bowl of alcoholic punch supplied by the Agency itself was just too good to pass up!
There was, however, one significant difference between this year and the many years previous. There was one name that remained conspicuously absent from the holiday duty roster, and this year, the man in question had no intention of sneaking it back onto the board.
Instead, Lee Stetson's hand was firmly, if a bit surreptitiously, on Amanda King's waist as she circled the room, greeting friends and acquaintances and handing out small gifts. If anyone had bothered to notice amidst their slightly wild behaviour, Scarecrow hadn't left the woman's side all evening. But even the most observant of agents were too wrapped up in their own enjoyment of the evening to pay any mind to the on-again, off-again targets of the office gossip mill.
Something the majority of the room did pay attention to, however, was the sprig of mistletoe tucked away in a corner of the ceiling. Everyone who knew about it was just waiting for some unsuspecting couple to wander a little too close. And soon, some unsuspecting couple did.
"How soon do you think we can get out of here?" Lee asked his wife behind a pasted-on smile.
Amanda looked up at him reproachfully. "Lee! I thought you were enjoying this!"
Lee grimaced. "I was…but these people are getting a bit drunk for my tastes. It's hard to relax when you're too busy trying to avoid being vomited on."
"Hmm…" Amanda stared at him, as if a scientist studying a fascinating specimen. "Are you? Why, yes, I do believe – you're getting old, Scarecrow!"
"Very funny," he said dryly. "Just because I don't enjoy a roomful of people making fools of themselves…"
Speaking of fools, a quiet chant had begun a crescendo through the room. "Kiss… kiss… kiss… kiss!"
The pair glanced over at the crowd of people, whose eyes were all on them. Confused, Lee and Amanda exchanged glances.
"It's the mistletoe, you idiot!" a drunken voice cried out.
In shocked unison, Lee and Amanda's eyes turned upwards, to see – indeed – mistletoe affixed to the ceiling, just above their heads.
Their gazes met. A mischievous twinkle lit up Amanda's eyes. "What do you say we give them a little…demonstration of how well we can play a cover?"
Lee's playful grin matched hers. They were in agreement; no more words were needed.
Time nearly stopped as they gazed into each other's eyes, their heads tilting closer, ever closer, their lips about to meet…
And suddenly, the couple was locked in a passionate embrace, fingers running through hair, bodies pressing close. Their desire for each other was palpable, spreading throughout the whole room, as agents and civilians alike stared in surprise at the unlikely pair, who kept denying the existence of any relationship between them.
The couple broke apart gently, and the magic was broken, the masks reattached. Neither showed any hint that just moments ago, they'd seemed as though they were about to tear each other's clothes off then and there – Amanda's cheeks were just barely flushed, but her demeanour was as cool as the weather outside. She gave Lee a friendly smile, winked playfully at the spectators, and walked nonchalantly through the crowd to the punch bowl.
Lee, for his part, had shoved his hands into his pockets – kissing Amanda like that had a certain effect on him, spectators or no – and pasted a mild-mannered expression on his face. "What are you looking at?" he asked the crowd. "Haven't you ever seen a kiss before?" And with that, he rolled his eyes and rejoined the party, seeking refuge in Francine's company. Skilled actor or not, he didn't trust himself next to Amanda just now.
"Well, that was quite something, Scarecrow," Francine said cattily.
Lee chuckled. "Well, we've had a lot of practice."
"Really." Francine raised an eyebrow.
"Do you realize how often we've had to go undercover as a married couple?" he asked in surprise. "It started with our second case together. Our second case!" He gave a short laugh. "I suspect we've gotten pretty convincing by now. Did you enjoy the show?"
Inwardly, he was grinning at the confused expressions flitting across Francine's attractive features. "Was it a show, Scarecrow?" she finally asked.
He only laughed. "Well, we had an audience. What else would it be?" And with that, he winked at her and walked away, leaving her standing stock-still, a stunned look on her face.
He joined Amanda in another corner of the room, first making sure no mistletoe was present. His wife grinned up at him. "I take it you enjoyed your conversation with Francine?" she asked dryly.
"Well, I enjoyed it more than she did." He grinned mischievously.
Amanda raised an eyebrow. "What exactly did you tell her?"
"Hmm…I think I'll let her confront you with that when she recovers from the shock. This was your idea, after all."
"Stetson…" she warned.
But he only shook his head. "You're on your own, Mrs. King." He bent to whisper in her ear. "Mrs. Stetson. I'll see you at home." Straightening, he smiled down at her. "Well, Amanda, fun as this shindig is, I'm going to head home. Merry Christmas!" he said jovially, leaning down to give her a friendly peck on the cheek.
"Merry Christmas, Lee," she said fondly. "I'll see you in a few days!" She knew full well that he was stopping by his apartment to pick up the gifts he'd bought her family and heading straight to her house, but there was no reason to reveal that little tidbit to the entire Agency.
The moment Lee had left the bullpen, Francine was homing in on Amanda. "What was that all about?" she probed.
"What was what all about, Francine?"
The blonde gestured vaguely to the mistletoe. "That."
"Oh, that kiss? Oh, that," Amanda replied dismissively. "Well, I just thought it would be fun to see how convincing we could make it in a room full of agents – people who know us. Consider it…an exercise in playing our cover." Of course, what she didn't tell Francine was that the real 'cover' was their ability to pretend nothing had happened at all…with how often they got interrupted, switching off their desire was a useful skill to develop.
Francine frowned. "Yeah, that's what Lee said. I didn't quite believe him, either. Though I've no idea what else it could be," she said loftily.
"What, like Lee possibly being attracted to me?" Amanda replied sarcastically. "We were seeing each other, at one point," she pointed out.
"Well, I see we managed to convince you, at least," Amanda said cheerfully. "Merry Christmas, Francine."
"Merry Christmas, Amanda," Francine returned absently, as for the second time that night she was left behind, shocked.
"Amanda?" The low voice of the Section Chief just behind her caught her attention. "Did Lee leave already?"
She blushed, turning to face her supervisor. "Yes, sir, he said he was going home." Facing Billy, she felt a little embarrassed at the little display she and Lee had put on, knowing that Billy was their strongest supporter. But, this office being the way it was, she hoped he would understand.
To her surprise, Billy gave her a knowing grin. "Nice show."
Her blush deepened. "Ah, well, sir…"
"I especially enjoyed the way you played the crowd," he continued jovially. "Giving them the absolute last thing they expected. Your exit was also quite remarkable."
Amanda couldn't suppress her giggle. "There were some pretty shocked faces in there, sir."
"There certainly were." His gaze slid to his administrator, who was staring at Amanda speculatively. "I knew you were perfect for this kind of work – thank you for proving me right."
"In front of everyone, no less," Amanda replied ruefully. "But it was kind of fun, showing everyone up like that – especially after all the rumours that have been circulating lately."
He nodded knowingly. "Any truth to those?"
Amanda gave a most unladylike snort. "Barely. Most of them aren't even close. These people are trained to sniff out deception and subterfuge, and they haven't got a clue. Lee and I have them completely fooled."
A proud smile filled the Section Chief's face. "Well, I don't consider you my best team for nothing," he acknowledged. "Care to let me in on the secret?"
Amanda grew uncomfortable. "You'll be one of the first, sir. But…we're not quite ready for that yet. I'm sorry, sir," she said apologetically.
But Billy only smiled. "I know how hard you two work to keep your personal lives separate from the office. I'll respect whatever you decide," he said softly. "But for what it's worth – you two are exactly right for each other. If I hadn't already known, you would have just proven it to me."
Amanda grinned back. "Thank you, sir."
"And please, Amanda – it's Christmas. Call me Billy."
[Christmas 1988; Billy & Francine know about their marriage.]
Ever since their little display last year, the Agency was buzzing with speculation about the real nature of the relationship between Scarecrow and Mrs. King. They'd lost interest every now and then, but something always happened to bring the couple back to the forefront.
As Christmas approached, the gossip was rampant. Plans to get the two under the mistletoe again this year were discussed and finalized. Little did the Agency know that Scarecrow and Mrs. King had a plan of their own.
The office Christmas party went on as usual. Many a pair got caught under the offending plant; much to Francine's disgust, Beaman managed to corner her under it not once, but twice. But the two people everyone was waiting for hadn't arrived yet. The Section Chief had said something about a last-minute wrap-up of a case…
Finally, to everyone's delight, Scarecrow and Mrs. King walked into the bullpen, pausing…directly under the mistletoe! Grins and laughs were exchanged throughout the room as the chant was brought to life once again.
Lee and Amanda grinned and waited…waited…before sharing the briefest, sweetest kiss known to mankind. Then, they laughed at the dumbfounded faces in the room. Only Francine, who had known about the plan from the start, was as thoroughly amused as the Stetsons.
Lee laughed warmly and gathered his wife into his arms again. This year, instead of the unrestrained passion they'd displayed the previous Christmas, their kiss was a romantic one worthy of a Hollywood movie – deep and passionate and full of promise.
As they broke apart, they didn't bother acknowledging the crowd still watching them. Lee only wrapped his arm around Amanda's waist and guided her through the room to where Francine and Billy were standing.
"Not quite the show you gave last year," Francine laughed, "but your audience seems pleased." Sure enough, speculative looks were following them everywhere they went.
"So you've forgiven us the deception?" Lee inquired mildly, referring to their marriage which still remained a secret from most of the Agency.
Francine frowned. "Well, at least you eventually told me you were married; saved me having to find out myself. And I must say, I much prefer being in on the joke, rather than the butt of it."
Billy grinned at her. "You should have seen the expression on your face last year, Francine. You looked like a fish out of water."
"Thanks, Billy." She glared at him.
Lee and Amanda shared a laugh at her mutinous expression. "Much as I'm enjoying this," Lee said cheerfully, "we have family obligations this evening. Merry Christmas, Billy, Francine." He looked down at his wife, offering his arm. "Shall we, Mrs. Stetson?"
"Absolutely, Mr. Stetson." Amanda looped her arm through his. "Merry Christmas!" she tossed over her shoulder at the Section Chief and his administrator.
Many pairs of eyes followed the couple's progress through the room, taking in the comfortable way they walked arm-in-arm. But Lee didn't care; he had the most beautiful woman in the world on his arm, and he was proud to show her off – even just for today. When they returned to work, he knew it would be business as usual…so tonight, he relished the opportunity to tease his coworkers.
As he and Amanda exited the bullpen doors, he took her hand in his and brought it to his lips for a gentle kiss. She rewarded him with a sweet smile, and they continued their progress down the hall hand-in-hand, ignoring the eyes following their every step.
It was Christmas, after all.