Screen Captures Courtesy of Swoopes
For personal use and select distribution only © May 2002 by Amber Stockton
Over the Limit (2) - tagalogue
Written by Tom Ropelewski (excerpts from the episode belong to him)
They both set down their glasses at the same time. Amanda removed the napkin from the table and laid it across her lap, then reached for the knife and fork to cut into her steak. Lee did the same, but paused to watch her movements, his hands suspended over his plate. The woman who sat caddy-corner to him was the same woman he saw on an almost daily basis. She was the same woman who willingly put herself into dangerous situations to help him with a case. Who always believed the best about someone until proven otherwise. Who seemed to be there whenever he needed her, and who could manage to turn something extremely simple into something extremely complicated with just a few words. So, why was he seeing her differently?
It wasn't as if she had changed her appearance. She was dressed as she normally was, slacks, shirt, sweater-vest over top, hair styled in the same way. Nothing fancy in any part of her appearance. In fact, he had seen her much more elegant at embassy parties and other social events they'd attended while on assignment. What had changed?
"Are you going to eat that steak or just watch me enjoy mine while yours gets cold?"
Her voice penetrated his through his musings, and he reacted with a start. Guiltily, he glanced down at his plate and saw that he had yet to even make one cut in his steak. He looked back up at her and offered a bemused grin. "Sorry, my mind must have wandered for a moment."
"Well, that's obvious! You were a million miles away. I waved my hand in front of your face, and you didn't even see it." She sliced another piece of steak and speared it with her fork, then raised it to her lips. "Care to talk about what had you so preoccupied that you're not digging into this delicious dinner?" She plopped the tender piece of meat into her mouth.
At her inquiry into his thoughts, he panicked, then swallowed nervously and shifted in his seat. He had to find something ... anything ... else to say, or he might reveal what he had been on his mind a moment ago. Several ideas ran through his mind until he finally settled on a safe topic. "So, you like the steak, huh?"
The corners of her mouth turned upward, and a twinkle entered her eyes as she continued to chew. It was obvious she knew he was avoiding her question, but he wasn't ready to reveal his thoughts to her ... not yet. He hadn't even had time to sort anything out in his own mind, let alone the complication that would result if he talked about it with Amanda.
"Yes, I do," she replied, once her mouth was again empty. "It's delicious. I've never tasted anything like it! How did you get this kind of flavor from it? It looks like an ordinary piece of sirloin."
Thankful that she seemed willing to let the other topic drop, he smiled with a hint of pride. "It's something I learned during one of my rather extended stays down near Sydney. They have an entirely different taste down there, and a lot of the spices are imported from Malaysia or other neighboring South Pacific islands. I like bringing a touch of the many places I've been back to my life here, and food is one way I can do that." He sliced his knife through a piece of his steak and lifted it to his lips.
"You certainly would have been enjoying some very unique dishes at the embassy dinner this evening if you had gone with Leslie."
"Yes, but I've been to so many of those, sometimes, they tend to be all alike!"
Amanda set down her knife to take a drink of her wine and wash down the last bite of steak. "Well, Leslie seemed to be looking forward to it. I wonder what she's doing now."
He finished chewing, then replied. "Ohh, probably mingling with an ambassador or two, or putting herself in between two volatile diplomats to maintain the peace between them. You know how those things can get, Amanda."
"Somewhat." She shrugged. "I've only been to a handful of them and still find them fascinating." She pulled back the foil around her potato, sliced the spud down the middle, releasing the steam, then reached for the butter knife and butter to cut some slivers and place them inside the potato.
Lee watched the slow grin form on her lips as her gaze took in the the shredded cheddar and small container of sour cream on the table. He grinned. "Well, I couldn't have you thinking there was nothing in my refrigerator!" With a jab, he speared the last piece of steak on his plate before he turned his attention to his own potato.
She looked up at him, and her grin turned to a smile. "You must have had some of these things already. How else would Leslie have been able to cook you dinner last night?"
"Oh, I do keep some things in the house, when I remember to go to the store, but I either eat out a lot or pick up take-out on the way home. I rarely spend time in the kitchen cooking unless I have someone else joining me, and when I know about that, I stop and pick up what I need that day." He added butter and cheddar to his potato, then made several long cuts before he turned it to make several short cuts, turning his potato into bite-sized pieces. Stabbing his first piece, he glanced up at Amanda. "Makes life a whole lot easier that way."
"I can see how that would be the case." Amanda nodded. "After all, it's just you and not two growing boys who would eat you out of house and home if they had their way!"
He held another bite to his lips. "You certainly have a point, there!"
"The only thing we have to worry about is when Philip or Jamie, and sometimes Mother, bring home an unexpected guest for supper. That usually happens at the most inopportune moments, so I've learned to keep the refrigerator and the cabinets well-stocked with the essentials."
He smiled. "Another way that you're always prepared for whatever life throws your way."
A tinge of pink appeared in her cheeks as she ducked her head and focused her attention once again on her plate. "Well, I try."
Lee knew Amanda wasn't used to receiving compliments on her work, and he had certainly been guilty of withholding them on many occasions, even when she had more than deserved them. He didn't know why he had reacted that way over the past couple of years, but somehow, complimenting her seemed to be a way of admitting that he had actually needed her assistance. At the time, that was something he didn't want to admit. A strictly solo operation for many years, it still wasn't easy for him to accept help. Working with Amanda had made it a little more bearable. He made a mental note to remember to compliment her more, if only to see the slight evidence of her embarrassment when he did.
"Were you ever able to duplicate that dress you wanted to buy?" Amanda suddenly spoke again, and he focused his attention on her face. His own must have registered confusion, because she continued to explain. "Remember, you had asked me about a dress I had worn to one of those embassy parties and said you wanted to buy one like it for a friend of yours. I assume you meant Leslie."
Leslie again. Lee didn't know why she kept bringing her into the conversation. It almost seemed like she was somehow baiting him, trying to get him to reply in a certain way ... only he didn't know what it was. Rather than try to figure out the way her mind was working at the moment ... a futile exercise anyway ... he answered her question.
"Well, almost. I did manage to find something that I felt suited her. It wasn't quite the dress you had been wearing that night, but since you had made that one yourself, there was no chance I was going to find that anywhere."
"Was that what she wore that to the embassy dinner tonight?"
"Amanda, what is with all this talk of Leslie? I mean, you only spent less than five minutes with her last night. Why all the curiousity about her and what she's doing?"
She shrugged. "Well, I know that you and she had plans to go to that dinner tonight, and since she's your girlfriend..."
"Not quite," he interrupted. "Leslie and I have only gone out a few times in the last week or so. I only just met her two weeks ago. Hardly enough to call her a girlfriend."
"Oh." Silence fell upon the table as she finished the last bite of her food and took another drink of wine.
He did the same, sopping up the little bit of steak essence on his plate with his last piece, then wiped his mouth and took a sip of his wine. Amanda's eyes were still downcast, but he watched her lift her napkin from her lap to wipe her mouth, then rearrange the silverware on her plate so it was all in order. He almost chuckled at her actions, but then she spoke again, and he held it back.
"Yesterday, you said that things were working out perfectly between you and Leslie, so..."
That was it. There was no way he could take any more of her questions about Leslie.
"Amanda, I'm not with Leslie tonight. I'm with you. I didn't want to go to the dinner at the Russian Embassy. I wanted to have dinner here with you! So, could we please stop talking about her?"
He knew he had raised his voice above normal conversational level, but she had frustrated him so much with her constant mention of Leslie. It wasn't until he saw the surprised look in her eyes and slight tug at the corner of her lips that he realized she got out of him exactly what she wanted. Somehow, she had managed to get him to confess what he had tried so hard to keep to himself.
His gaze sought and locked with hers, and he watched a variety of emotions pass through her eyes. Now he knew what she meant when she had told him yesterday that she could still flirt when she wanted to. Her constant mention of Leslie had been her way of getting him to say what was on his mind, her way of playing with him and getting him right where she wanted him, and he had fallen for it.
He had said so much more than the few words he'd spoken, but they couldn't be taken back. Now, he wondered what she would do or say, and he waited with baited breath to find out. When all she did was look away, he felt momentarily disappointed. His gaze lowered to her mouth, and he saw her biting her lower lip. He glanced from there down at the table to see her fingers drawing unidentifiable patterns on the tablecloth. A grin formed on his lips as he recognized the telltale signs of her nervousness, and a small feeling of satisfaction washed over him. So, she wasn't as unaffected as she had pretended to be with his spending time with Leslie.
A part of him wanted to turn the tables on her, but not knowing how she would respond, and not wanting to do anything that would destroy the enjoyable evening they'd shared so far, he opted for a demonstration to back up his words. Reaching out to cover her hand with his, he stopped the movement of her fingers. She raised her head once again to meet his gaze. His voice low and soft, he smiled. "Why don't we clean up and take our wine into the living room?"
She only nodded, then withdrew her hand from underneath his and reached for her plate, as well as the container of sour cream. When she stood and headed for the kitchen, he gathered his plate and the remainder of the food items and followed right behind her. It only took them a few minutes to clean and put away everything, and Lee was amazed at how natural it seemed to have her here, in his kitchen. She didn't have any trouble figuring out where things went. Before he knew it, the dishes were washed and left on the rack to dry, and she was turning to him with an expectant look in her eyes, obviously waiting for him to lead the way.
He chuckled, a slight flutter in his stomach, then smoothly extended his hand and silently invited her to proceed ahead of him. As she walked into the living room, he stopped at the table to refill their glasses, then took one in each hand and joined her. Stepping around her, he held out her glass, which she took, walked over to the record player to reset the needle, then stepped back towards the couch and sank into the cushions. He crossed his ankle over his right knee and extended his left arm across the back of the couch. She appeared to hesitate, unsure of where to sit. After a brief moment of hesitation, she squared her shoulders and took a seat next to him.
They sat like that for several moments, neither one knowing what to say, it seemed. Under normal circumstances, they had no trouble carrying on a conversation, but tonight was not a normal circumstance. The uncomfortable silence began to get to him, so he turned towards her and raised his wine glass.
"A toast," he began, and watched her look up at him, "to the great music of Duke Ellington."
She raised her glass to clink with his. "Here, here!"
They both took a sip, then Lee lowered his glass to rest on his knee. "You know, I just realized something."
She lowered her own glass. "What's that?"
"Won't your mother be wondering where you are when you don't come home after work?"
"Oh, well, she'll probably assume I'm working late again," Amanda replied nonchalantly. "It's not the first time I've forgotten to call, and I have a feeling it won't be the last." She took another drink of wine, then chuckled.
"Oh, nothing, really. I was just thinking about Mother and how she's still not completely convinced that I'm not having an affair of some sort."
He raised his eyebrows in surprise. "An affair?"
"You know, with all of the times I get strange phone calls, go rushing off at the drop of hat, come in at all hours of the evening and night, and receive such odd visitors to my home from time to time." With that last statement, she gave him a pointed look, and he had the intelligence to appear slightly chagrined.
"Yeah ... uh ... now that you mention it, I can see why your mother would think something like that." He nodded. "But, you seem to have been able to come up with some good enough explanations to pacify her. I mean, she still doesn't know what you really do." He took another sip of wine, then lowered the glass. "Out of curiosity, what do you tell her when she makes reference to an affair?"
"I tell her I am." She shrugged and raised her glass once more to her lips.
He almost spit out the wine he had just taken into his mouth at her response. "You ... you what?" he sputtered, once he had managed to swallow. "You tell her what?"
He knew the anxiety was clearly evident on his face, but he couldn't help it. That was the last thing he had expected to hear from Amanda, and she had delivered it with such calm and assurance, he had to wonder if she really had told her mother that. Even now, she didn't appear to be phased at all by his reaction.
She reached out to tap his chest with her right index finger. "Gotcha!"
At the smug grin on her face and the twinkle in her eyes to show she was teasing, he chuckled and shook his head. "Ooohhh," was all he managed to say between his laughter. Her grin widened into a smile, and then she raised her hand to her mouth to cover a yawn.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. "Excuse me. This wine must be affecting me more than usual." Her eyes focused on the small amount of liquid left in her glass.
"Why don't you relax, then?" Lee removed her glass from her hand to set it on the coffee table. "You've already said your mother will probably just assume you're working late, and I'm sure she can handle the boys." She started to give him a doubtful look, and he hurried to continue. "It's been a fairly packed last couple of days, so it's no wonder you're a little worn out. Just lean your head back and close your eyes for a few minutes and enjoy Duke's music."
She stared at him, her lips pursed as if she was trying to determine if he had an ulterior motive in mind. He forced his expression to remain impartial, and she seemed to accept his suggestion.
"Maybe for just a few minutes." She settled back against the cushions. "I do need to get home soon, though." Her voice was already starting to fade. "I want to be there to," she yawned, "put the boys ... to ... bed," she finished in a murmur.
Lee watched her head loll to one side. As she slept, he shook his head in amazement. When he entertained other lady friends of his, dinner and wine were always involved. Sometimes there was soft, background music playing, but by the time they reached this point in the evening, they weren't exactly sleeping. Tonight, however, was not one of his typical dates with a lady friend. He was with Amanda, his partner ... his friend. And as her friend, he would continue to treat her with the respect she deserved.
As if his thoughts subconciously beckoned her, he felt her head slowly slide from the back of the couch towards him until it landed against his shoulder. She was obviously fast asleep to not realize this, and he smiled. Careful not to disturb her, he leaned forward and set his glass next to hers on the table, then leaned back against the cushions and shifted closer to her to allow his shoulder to become a pillow for her head. In her sleep, she snuggled against him and her left hand moved to rest against his chest.
He glanced down and swallowed. She certainly wasn't making this easy on him, but he also didn't think he could wake her and come up with a reason why at the moment. Instead, he dropped his left hand to her shoulder to pull him against her and rested his right arm across his lap, then leaned his own head back against the couch. Maybe a little nap wouldn't be such a bad idea, after all. He knew he had to make sure to get her back home at a decent hour, but catching a few winks couldn't hurt; although, with her sleeping next to him, he wasn't sure he was going to get much of a nap. Forcing his mind to focus on the soothing sounds of Ellington's music, he closed his eyes and drifted away.
The silence was the next thing he realized, and he opened his eyes with a start. Momentarily disoriented, he looked around the familiar sights of his apartment and became a little more reassured. When Amanda moaned and shifted next to him, everything came back to him. He lifted his arm and looked at his watch. A quarter before nine. Good. If he could rouse Amanda enough and get her out to his car, he could still get her back home a little after nine, with plenty of time to say goodnight to her boys.
His gaze dropped down to her sleeping form, and he wondered how he was going to do that. Finally, he realized he would just have to wake her, so he squeezed her shoulder a little and reached up to remove her hand from his chest. "Amanda," he softly called, giving her hand a slight shake. "Amanda!"
"Mmm, mother!" Her voice was groggy with sleep as she snuggled further against him.
"Amanda, it's me. Lee," he said, trying to penetrate her foggy mind.
"Yeah. Come on, wake up. You fell asleep, and I have to get you home."
"Home? Where am I?" She opened her eyes and blinked a few times as she slowly sat up and looked around.
He almost laughed at her disoriented state, but he knew how she felt. He had only come out of his a moment ago. All of a sudden, she jerked away from him and sat straight up.
"Lee? What time is it?"
He was confused at her reaction. "About a quarter to nine."
"And you said you were ready to take me home?"
"Yeah, that's why I woke you up. The record's done, and you don't seem as tired as you were after dinner, so that nap must have done you some good."
She stood and headed towards the door, obviously more than just a little disoriented. Distraught and embarassed seemed to be a better description. Lee slowly stood and walked toward her.
"Amanda, is everything all right? Are you okay?" She didn't immediately reply, but she started to bite her fingernails and pace a little. "Amanda?" He reached out and grasped her arms to stop her fidgeting. "Will you stop and tell me what's wrong?"
At first, she kept her eyes downcast, then slowly, she raised her gaze to meet his. "Lee," she began softly, "I fell asleep."
"Yeah, so did I," he replied. "What's..."
"No, you don't understand," she interrupted. "I fell asleep on your couch, in your apartment, on your shoulder!" A slightly mortified look entered her eyes. "You invited me over for dinner. It wasn't business. It had nothing to do with the Agency or any assignment. We had some wine, we talked, we listened to some jazz ... and I fell asleep on your shoulder."
That was when it hit him. They both had known tonight was a big step in their relationship, and the fact that she had let down her guard enough to relax and fall asleep meant that she was comfortable with how things were between them. It obviously scared her. To be honest, he was just as scared as she was, although he considered it more hesitation than fear. However, knowing how much she valued her sense of morality, he knew he had to reassure her, or this step forward they'd taken tonight would completely disappear in the wake of her distress.
"Amanda, there's no reason to get upset about anything that happened tonight," he soothed. "Nothing happened. You were exhausted from the recent case, and combined with the wine, you fell asleep. That was all."
"Amanda, stop." He placed a finger over her lips. "Don't analyze it, all right? Just let it go." He gave her a pointed look and slowly removed his finger. "Okay?"
She nodded. "Okay."
"Everything's all right?"
"Good." He reached for his jacket and slipped his arms into it, then grabbed another one and held it out for Amanda. At her questioning look, he explained. "The sun's gone down, and you didn't have one when we first came here. I don't want you to take a chill."
"Thank you." She smiled and allowed him to help her with the jacket.
When she turned back around to face him, he turned and reached for the doorknob, then paused and faced her once again. "Amanda..." He hesitated, not sure how to say what he wanted to say. "I ... uh ... I had a really nice time this evening."
"Do you realize we also spent an entire evening together and managed to not talk about work?"
She appeared to consider his question for a moment, then smiled. "You're right. We'll have to do it again sometime."
Lee gave her a crooked grin, then reached down to lift her right hand to his lips and place a soft kiss on it. "You can count on it," he said softly, his voice becoming very husky. She giggled, and he released her hand, then opened the door. "Shall we?"
He stepped back to allow her to step into the hall, then grabbed his keys off the little table and glanced back at his apartment. Tonight had been one of the most enjoyable evenings he could remember spending with someone, which was odd considering it had only involved dinner and conversation. It didn't take him but a moment to realize that it was all about Amanda. That old saying about the company you keep must be true, because the company tonight had certainly made all the difference.
When Amanda had said Leslie wasn't his type because she was too normal, he had argued that Leslie was exactly his type. However, after tonight, he realized how wrong he was. Leslie may not be 'normal,' but then again neither was Amanda. As much as he hated to admit it, the entire reason he had gone out with Leslie was because of how much she had reminded him of Amanda. He had felt that it was safer to go out with Leslie. That way, he wouldn't risk anything in his tenuous relationship with Amanda. Now, he wondered why he had avoided this.
"Coming?" Amanda called from the hallway.
He turned around to see her peek her head back into his apartment, and he smiled. "Yeah." With one last glance around the main room, he tossed his keys in his hand and joined Amanda in the hall, pulling the door closed behind them.