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Story Notes:
Disclaimer: The usual applies. SMK is not mine, but the story is, warts and all. Fifth season. Marriage is still a secret.
Home at last. Lee never thought he'd get here. Engine trouble had
cancelled his first flight, and after waiting in line for two hours,
he'd finally managed to book another one. This circuitous route
entailed two plane changes, but he had to get home, by any means
necessary. He'd even hitch a ride with Santa Claus if he had to.

He'd promised Amanda he'd be there for Christmas, and he had no
intention of reneging on his promise. Especially after he'd seen the
disappointed look on her face when he'd told her he needed to go out
of town. Even though they had taken their names off the duty roster
for the holidays, Billy had asked for his help, and Lee really
couldn't say no to him.

Fifteen hours and three flights later, Lee Stetson walked into his
apartment building. Entering the elevator, he let his suitcase drop
at his feet, pushed the button for his floor, and rolled his aching
shoulders, trying to release the tension that settled at the base of
his neck.

The doors opened, and he walked down the hall to his lonely
apartment, dragging his bag behind him. He hated that he had to come
here, when he really wanted to be in Arlington with his wife and
family, and vowed to find a way to put an end to all the sneaking
around. It shouldn't be hard to convince Amanda. She'd told him she
was just as tired of the secrecy as he was.

As soon as he opened the door, the fresh scent of gingerbread drifted
out to greet him, reminding him of the last Christmas he'd spent with
his parents. He vaguely recalled his mother baking cookies and
sneaking him one or two while they were still warm from the oven.

Since Amanda had come into his life, he'd learned they were
gingerbread cookies, and he loved how they made the house smell when
she baked them. Best of all, she snuck him warm cookies, too.

Crossing the threshold, Lee stepped into a Christmas wonderland. His
fatigue magically faded.

The entry hall table now held a ceramic dish, with a Christmas tree
in the center. Instead of tossing his keys onto the table, he gently
placed them inside the dish. A snowman, complete with a corn-cob pipe
and a button nose, adorned one side and a jolly Santa Claus the other.

They made him smile, and Lee felt the familiar warmth settle inside
him. Realizing he still had his front door open, he turned to shut
and lock it. Amanda had placed a wreath on the door, and the jingle
bells chimed merrily as the door closed.

Curious as to what other surprises his wife had in store for him, Lee
walked into the living room and stopped dead in his tracks. Santa
must have finally read his letter. How else could he have gotten so

Three fat white candles with red stripes sat atop the mantel, and
green branches framed the fireplace. Nestled among the branches, a
red stocking, with his name sewn across the top and stuffed to the
rim, hung from the mantelpiece. Lee walked over to get a better look
and discovered that the stocking was pinned closed with a note in
Amanda's flowery writing. "Do Not Open Until Christmas." The "do"
and "not" were underlined. He squeezed it once and briefly thought
about pawing through it. Amanda would never know. On second thought,
she'd know. He let it fall back into place. He could wait one more
day to open it.

The most beautiful Christmas tree he'd ever seen stood in front of
his living room window. It wasn't very big--five feet tall at the
most--but to him, it looked just like the one on the White House
lawn, only better because his wonderful wife had decorated it just
for him.

The multi-colored lights winked merrily, casting shadows on the
ceiling. Red, green, blue, gold, and silver ornaments clung to every
branch. And there, under the tree, the best Christmas present he'd
ever received. Amanda lay curled up slightly under the tree. She
must have dozed off while waiting for him. He smiled and decided that
on Christmas Day, he would ask her to marry him, right in front of
her entire family. She wouldn't be able to nix the idea without some
fancy explaining. Sure, she'd be a little mad at him for springing
the proposal on her, but she'd come around. It was what they both
wanted after all.

Lee felt like a ten-ton weight was lifted from his shoulders. He
tossed his coat on the couch and knelt on the floor next to her and
just watched her sleep.

Gently, he smoothed a lock of silky hair back off her face and
trailed a finger across her cheek. Amanda stirred, and her eyes
slowly opened. A huge smile bloomed, and she sat up.

Lee smiled and winked. "I told you I'd be home for Christmas."

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