Summary: An impromptu masquerade plunges Amanda into another world.
Timeline: Late 3rd Season, prior to "All the World's A Stage"
Disclaimer: These characters, and all references having to do with "Scarecrow & Mrs. King," are the property of Shoot the Moon Productions and Warner Brothers. This story is intended for entertainment purposes only. This story is the property of the authors and distribution is permitted upon their consent.
Authors Notes: This was definitely a labor of friendship. Overall and I had both finished stories and were both relieved to have them done and posted. We started chatting about how fun it would be to do a story together so that we could share in the creative process and burden. Chats turned into brainstorming which turned into outlines which eventually turned into this story. Cat, thanks again for spiffing it up and making it shine. We hope you enjoy it! Feedback is greatly appreciated.
We had a little problem figuring out a format that help the
transitions (you'll see what I mean as you read), but couldn't do
anything on egroups. If you get confused please check the story out
on fanfiction.net or wait for the archived version (when we send it
Once upon a time, in a little house near Washington D.C., Amanda King was under the sink deeply involved in trying to balance a flashlight between her neck and shoulder while she searched the back corner of the cabinet for the floor wax. The tap on the back door window, though familiar, was unexpected that evening. The flashlight dropped on Amanda's hand and she wiggled out from under the sink rubbing her neck and then her sore hand.
She opened the door with a grimace, expecting to see her friend but confronted instead by a brightly colored dress. Amanda stepped back. "Lee?"
Lee brought the dress down to reveal his face… or most of it anyway. He was wearing a brown broad rim hat with a plume. He had a gleam in his eye and an entreating smile on his face. Amanda raised her eyebrows at him and stifled a giggle, "LEE! What in the world are you wearing?"
Lee snorted and pulled the plumed hat off his head uncomfortably, ruffling his hair with his hand as he did. "Yeah, well, it was the only thing I could get on such short notice…."
Amanda gestured to the dress now draped across his arm, "Hmmm… is that for me?"
Lee held out the dress, "Yeah. Um, listen Amanda, I have to go to this costume party tonight and I need you."
Amanda raised her eyebrows. "You need me, huh?"
Lee flashed that drop-dead smile and winked. "I sure do."
She took the dress and held it up appraisingly. "Well at least I think it's going to fit." She bit her lip and looked back at the mop leaning against the kitchen sink. "When will we get back?"
Amanda smoothed the vibrant blue and yellow colored folds around her in the bucket seats of Lee's Corvette. The colors were reflected in the windshield as the overhead street lights streamed past. Amanda reached awkwardly up to pull the sun visor down for one final check in the mirror. The dress fit. Though the blue velvet bodice was a trifle tight, Amanda hoped that it would stretch as the evening wore on. Luckily it did not take long to pull her hair back with the headband that had come with the dress. Amanda flipped up the sun visor when she noticed Lee's eyes on her, then met his eyes and smiled nervously "It's been a while since I've had to get ready for a fairy tale." Lee laughed and reached naturally over to hold her hand. "You look great."
A moment later, he released her hand and his tone changed to business. "Ok, Amanda, I want you to just pretend we're at a regular old costume party: mingle, have a few drinks, enjoy yourself. In fact I should be with you most of the time. I will be approached at some point by my contact. I don't want you to react, I'll just have to be away for a little while then I'll come right back like nothing ever happened. I want you to STAY where I leave you. If I have to make a fast get away I can't be searching the place to find you."
He stopped to take a breath and caught Amanda's twinkling eyes. "What?" he asked innocently.
Amanda just shook her head and smiled with wide eyes. "Oh, nothing." She stared pointedly at him. "What are YOU going to do?"
"I'm not sure yet. The time I had to arrange all this with my contact was very short. Do you know anything about Applets Computers?"
"Pretty much the same as any normal person," she smirked, then wiped the smirk off her face at Lee remonstrating glare. "That is to say, that they are very popular and apparently pretty easy to use."
Lee nodded approvingly, "Yes, well… they have become very large, very fast. The Agency approached the owners quite a while back, just to check out the operation. They found a pretty clean ship so basically we moved on. Almost a year later, one of those owners approached us to express some concern over a particular distributor Applet was using."
"Why approach the Agency? Why not just do some sort of internal review or cut off the distributor?"
"Well, the situation was a little tricky for our friend in Applet. The distributor's an ex-V.P. at Applet who still owns a considerable amount of stock in the company. Apparently while this guy was still working there, the owners got wind of some odd foreign contracts that no one had authorized."
"Yeah, well, Applet quickly and quietly made a deal with the guy, effectively shutting him out of any Applet confidential decisions or management of company goods. All went well for a while, but Applet kept an eye on their prodigal son and last week something happened."
"Well that's just it, our friend at Applet met with an unfortunate accident last week. He was killed in his own home."
"He was stabbed in the back."
"Oh my gosh! How awful!"
"So, obviously, we started nosing around… nothing invasive: just standard practice. After all, this was not necessarily an Agency matter. We don't have any proof of ANYTHING right now."
"Where does tonight fit it?"
Lee took in a breath, released it in exasperation, and took another one. "Well, I was just getting to that." He narrowed his eyes in thought. "I got a call from a guy who claimed to be the distributor. He started, right off the bat, by denying any involvement in the old man's death. He…"
"What was his name?"
"My contact?" Lee's train of thought was thrown.
"No, the man who was killed."
"Why do you want to know?"
"Because it's awful and I want to remember him by his name not by `the old man'." Amanda was staring at her hands, which Lee reached over to cover.
"His name was Dudley Perera, Amanda, and he was a happy family man who lived a long life."
Amanda gave him a small smile. "Thank you." She took a deep breath. "Ok, so your contact said he had nothing to do with Dudley's murder."
"Right, and he said he has some information that could clear him. He wanted to meet at this party."
"That's it!" They were driving up the long path to the mansion now.
There was a vast green lawn on either side of the path, spotlights and string lights decorating the way.
"Now promise me, Amanda." Lee stared her down, as he pulled the Corvette up in front of the house where a valet parking attendant in perfect uniform stood waiting.
"Lee, if I'm your partner, I should be-"
"You should be where I can find you to make a clean getaway."
"Okay, okay. I'll stay where you can find me," Amanda sighed with exasperation.
"You promise me," he reminded her as he looked deeply into her eyes, hoping the serious approach might work, and took her hands.
"Okay, I promise, Prince Charming," she nodded as she squeezed his hands. "And I believe you promised to escort me to a grand ball."
Lee handed his keys to the attendant and came around the car to open the door for Amanda. "Well, my lady, I believe we have arrived," he told her as he bowed with a flourish.
Lee took Amanda's arm and guided her out of the car. Amanda looked him over and had to swallow another giggle. "How can this man make a fruity hat and tights look so good," she wondered.
As Lee and Amanda walked through the main doors, they were slightly taken aback by the elaborate decorations and exquisite costumes surrounding them. As they made their way down the entry steps, the room hushed and people turned away towards the main staircase of the huge hall.
A striking woman glided down the plush red stairs, her back straight, and her face severe and regal. With all eyes on her, Maleficent from Sleeping Beauty descended into the party. From the far side of the ballroom, Amanda noticed the coldness that exuded from the character. Unconsciously, she tightened her grip on Lee's arm.
Returning the squeeze in reassurance, Lee then gestured to the dance floor and asked Amanda, "Shall we?" He led her expertly through the exotic crowd of dancers to a small space towards the middle of the floor. As he took her into his arms and they began to dance slowly, Lee thought, "Even in this silly costume she's the most beautiful woman in the room."
"You know, Amanda," he said softly, "we do not do this enough."
"What? Dress up in goofy costumes and chase the bad guys?"
"Amanda King, I sure hope you know that is NOT what I meant." Lee took a step back so that he could look into her eyes.
Amanda looked up at Lee and smiled a smile that Lee thought would turn his knees to Jell-O.
"You're right, we don't do this enough," Amanda said as she pulled him back into a close embrace. Lee stepped back from her once again.
"Is something wrong?" she asked, searching his eyes.
Lee shook his head, and reached down to raise her chin so that his lips could meet hers. Just then, a man in a scarecrow costume ran into them, nearly knocking Amanda to the ground. As Lee steadied her, the scarecrow was fussing over her so much that he nearly knocked her down again.
"We're fine, just leave us alone," Lee growled at the man who quickly scurried away.
"It's okay. I'm fine Lee," Amanda said calmly, as she patted him on the chest.
As the song ended, the bandleader announced that the band would be taking a break.
"Are you sure you're okay? Would you like me to get you something to drink?" Lee asked as he escorted Amanda off the dance floor.
"White wine would be nice."
"Then white wine it is. I'll be right back," Lee said as he got Amanda settled at a small table.
As Lee approached the bar, he noticed a man dressed in a toga. His contact had told him that he would be dressed as Brutus for the evening festivities. Lee picked up the drinks and took them back to Amanda.
"I've spotted my contact. Remember you promised to stay put!" He put the glasses down heavily, giving Amanda's hand a squeeze as he trailed Brutus across the room with his eyes. Abruptly he was off.
Across the room, Maleficent coolly observed as Lee walked up to Brutus. With the Roman's nod she knew. "I'm off to take care of Prince Charming," she thought as she moved toward the table where he had settled his date. She caught the eye of the scarecrow as he leaned at the bar, watching her movement intently. She flicked her head quickly towards Amanda.
The scarecrow stumbled as he approached Amanda.
"Ms. White, could you help me find the `yellow brick road'?" The scarecrow slurred.
"I haven't seen it since I left Kansas," Amanda replied, taking a sip of her wine and staring straight ahead.
The man laughed loudly, drawing the attention of several other guests. Maleficent silently closed in on the table. Behind Amanda, she rolled her eyes at the scarecrow whose laughter choked off. The scarecrow leaned down, holding the back of Amanda's chair with one hand and the table with the other, "Listen Princess, I'm ALL heart and I'd love to be your Prince for the night."
"I am here with someone, thank you." Amanda was glancing around nervously, but could see little beyond the painted scarecrow's face. "Now if you would excuse me," Amanda tried to turn away from him in her chair.
The scarecrow's grip on her chair strengthened and he moved his face so close to hers she could smell the alcohol on his breath.
"Prince Charming doesn't seem to be paying you enough attention this evening, Snow White," the scarecrow said as his other hand stroked her hair. Suddenly he didn't sound drunk anymore, he sounded fierce. But Amanda was pinned, aware of nothing but his beady eyes staring into hers. Maleficent took the opportunity to empty the small pill of powder into Lee's drink. She spun away before the last specks hit the wine.
Amanda caught the swirl of purple and black skirts out of the corner of her eye. It seemed to break a spell; she became aware that she still gripped the stem of her wineglass. With a sudden jerk of her body, she stood and threw her drink in the scarecrow's face.
Several people close by laughed as the scarecrow stumbled backwards, trying to wipe the wine from his eyes.
Amanda never noticed that Maleficent intercepted the scarecrow as he retreated. Amanda straightened her skirt and sat back at the table. With a long sigh she shook her head and grabbed Lee's glass. "Oh look what staying put gets me!" she thought.
Maleficent watched in helpless frustration as Amanda took a deep drink from Lee's glass. The villainess started back towards Amanda immediately, dragging the scarecrow with her.
"What were you thinking, dammit?" Maleficent seethed and swatted his arm. "I put enough in that drink to bring down a 200 pound man. That little thing is going to collapse." She was talking between her teeth, her cape billowing behind her.
Amanda was not looking at the pair; her eyes were unfocused, as she stared at the brightly colored dancers returning to the dance floor. The band was back. `I really have to finish mopping the floor' was her last conscious thought.
Sleeping Beauty's enemy and the scarecrow converged on Amanda just as her body began to sink in her chair. The band struck up a quick waltz… no one noticed Snow White being carried up the main staircase.
Amanda stumbled slightly; she'd been daydreaming again. Embarrassed, she looked self-consciously around the garden to make sure no one had seen her. `Gosh it's a beautiful day,' she thought. She looked over at the lush flowers blooming happily. The sun was shining and there was a refreshing breeze lifting everything up playfully as it meandered through the garden.
The mop in her hand brought her back to her duties.… She glanced down at the grout of the steps, sighing. It wouldn't ever be clean enough. She loved this area of the grounds; it was alive, flourishing, and warm. Most of the castle seemed plagued with drafts that shuddered without warning. A small shiver ran through her as she thought about the drafts and she resolutely turned back to her task.
She didn't mind the labor too much, it was relaxing and it got her outside. The birds were singing happily this far from the castle and it was unlikely that anyone should seek her out either. She was free to let her mind wander, as long as the work got done.
She brought the water- laden mop out of the bucket and hit it to the ground with a satisfying splash. She hummed to herself as she pushed the mop forward and back, losing herself again to her thoughts.
Suddenly a group of birds burst out of the tree line near the entrance to the forest. Amanda stood up straight, startled, and scanned the tree line. She didn't see any more movement, just the wind at play again.
Amanda whirled around, taking her mop with her, and found herself facing Lee. At least she knew it was Lee, but she didn't know who Lee was. She heard a splash as her mop met the man. He had been smiling, but his smile had turned to a grimace. He grabbed the mop out of her hands and let it drop to the ground.
"Who-?" The man put his hand over Amanda's mouth, shushing her. He was looking suspiciously back towards the castle and was leading her to an area of the garden where the trees obscured the castle view. Amanda glared indignantly at the man but she did not struggle.
"Ok, I'm going to take my hand away. Please don't cry out, I need your help," Lee's eyes beseeched hers, and he did not take his hand away until he saw that some of the fury had melted from her eyes. "Sorry about that Princess, but I couldn't let you alert any of the guards. I'm here to protect you."
Amanda stared into his eyes, "Protect me from WHO? Whom- I mean?" she whispered back to him, the urgency contagious.
"The Queen, of course!" Lee glanced uneasily around when he mentioned the title. "We have reason to suspect that she plans to have you killed." Amanda gasped involuntarily and Lee shushed her again. "We're not sure how she's going to do it, but if we're going to help you, we thought you'd better know we were here."
"Who are `we'? Who are YOU for the matter?"
"My name is Lee P. Charming. I'm a soldier with a small organization founded specifically to protect people from the very Queen that is supposed to love them." Lee bowed. "At your service, your Highness."
Amanda looked down at her working rags and smirked. "You can call me Amanda." She extended her hand, which Lee kissed courteously. She took a deep breath and put her arms around herself. "I knew she didn't like me but I didn't know she hated me enough to-" She was unwilling to finish the sentence. "What do you want me to do?"
"Well, I think you are safe in the castle, the guards may be under the Queen's command, but most of them are loyal to you. They would not stand aside while something happened to you. Just don't go wandering off alone anywhere or even see the Queen alone." Lee paused, seeing the fear in Amanda's face. "Look, this is secret information, but some of the guards are with us and… well… I'm going to get myself into the castle as a guard. At least then you'll know one of us."
Amanda nodded earnestly. "I'm very grateful to you."
Lee smiled sheepishly. "Anything for our Princess."
There was a sharp crack behind them and Amanda spun around. There was no one in sight. Amanda turned back to Lee only to find him gone.
She rolled her eyes at the empty space he had left and turned back to her mop and bucket. The birds had stopped singing and Amanda could not keep a song in her head long enough to hum it.
The Queen silently watched from her great colored glass window as Amanda approached the castle. The woman seemed more timid than normal and the Queen narrowed her eyes at the tiny form. Amanda seemed pre-occupied and there was color in her cheeks: a rather flatteringly blush of life. The Queen had not dispatched her husband and his parliament to let this little chit of a girl rise to the throne. She would not lay dormant, there was simply too much at stake.
She turned to her mirror and was engulfed in its power. "Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?"
The fairest of them all was at that time precariously perched on the edge of a chair. Amanda was trying to see over the top of her oak wardrobe. She was pushing the decorations aside, muttering, "Knife, knife.… I know I put Father's knife somewhere safe… somewhere I would remember…." She sneezed. "I have got to remember to dust up there."
She jumped off the chair, her hands on her hips. "Not in the dresser, not on top of the wardrobe, not under the wardrobe…" She looked at her reflection in the mirror reprovingly. "Where would I put a weapon if I were me?" she asked as her reflection frowned back at her. "Under the bed!" Amanda dived under the bed, rifling through her winter clothes.
There was a knock on her chamber door. Amanda quickly slid out from under the bed, hastily straightening her hair as she walked to the door. She looked out the peephole to see a guard standing at attention.
Amanda opened the door. "Lee!" she hissed worriedly. "What are you doing here?"
Lee quickly slipped into the room, but stopped Amanda from closing the door. "No. A guard wouldn't be allowed in your room with the door closed." Lee looked into Amanda's flushed face. "The Queen has summoned you to her chambers."
Amanda nodded, trying to keep the tremble out of her voice, and gestured to her working dress. "Okay… I have to change."
She disappeared behind a long folding screen. Lee coughed uncomfortably as Amanda's dress appeared over the top of the screen and he turned slightly, glancing at the half open door. "Uh, are you almost ready?"
Amanda came out from behind the screen in her blue and yellow dress, fixing her headband over combed hair. "Yes, I…" she hesitated. "Will you, uh, be coming with me?"
Lee smiled sheepishly. "Of course, your Highness." He bowed.
Amanda nodded, squared her shoulders, lifted her chin and marched swiftly down the long stone corridors to the Queen's wing.
In the Queen's chamber…
"Ah, Snow White." The Queen was sitting at her vanity table, facing away from Amanda, mixing something together with a grinding stone. "You've been working so hard, my dear, I've decided to give you a bit of an outing."
Amanda looked nervously back for Lee, not sure what to say. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a shadow move and let out a stifled scream. It was the Huntsman, standing in the darkness. The hairs on the back of Amanda's neck rose… the Huntsman, there was something about the Huntsman she should remember….
"Goodness gracious dear, you would think you'd seen a ghost!" The Queen slithered out of her chair, turned and stood next to her throne. One long, bone- thin hand rested on the arm of gold. "You know the Huntsman, of course. He will accompany you into the woods where you may pick some wildflowers and take a rest from the chores of the day." The Huntsman moved out of the shadows and bowed deeply in front of Amanda.
Amanda did not feel like picking wildflowers just then, but she swallowed hard and nodded, "Yes, Your Majesty, thank you." It took all her self- control NOT to look behind her at Lee for guidance or support. She could feel her face flush with the effort.
The Queen stood tall and crossed her arms across her chest. "Guard." She was looking past Amanda to Lee. "You may retire now. Snow White is under the Huntsman's protection now."
Lee moved forward to address the Queen, kneeling onto his knee in front of her. "Your Majesty, I was given orders to stay by the Princess."
The Queen stepped down to the floor where Lee still knelt. She circled him slowly, letting her fingers trace his shoulders lightly, seductively, as she moved. "Orders from whom, young man? I am the Mistress of the Guards. You follow my order." Her voice was like velvet but her eyes were intent on her prey, piercing, testing, "Do you not?" She caressed his face with her nails and with two long fingers tilted his chin so that he looked directly into her eyes.
There was an agonizing silence; Amanda held her breath. Finally Lee spoke. "Of course, my Queen. I am new to the castle and did not wish to seem delinquent in my duties to your Palace Guard." He paused and his gaze intensified, "I meant no offense to you."
The Queen let go of his chin and looked up at the sound of Amanda letting her breath out in a sigh. Her eyes narrowed and she approached Amanda, "Snow White, do you approve of your new guard?"
"Approve, Highness?" Amanda kept her eyes focused on the throne, not wanting to meet the Queen's gaze.
"Yes, dear. Does he find favor in your eyes?"
Amanda noticed Lee stiffen and rise to his feet in her peripheral vision. She struggled to keep her voice steady despite the blood rushing to her cheeks. "Of course Highness, if it pleases you." Amanda did not like this game of cat and mouse. She wasn't sure who the cat was at this point, but she was uncomfortably sure she was the mouse. Defiantly, she looked directly into the Queen's eyes.
"It pleases me that you have finally found a friend... besides the birds of course." Amanda refused to rise to the bait, keeping her eyes steady. "However, we cannot spare a palace guard at this time simply to accompany you on a jaunt into the forest to gather flowers. Guard." She turned to Lee and offered her hand, "you may report back to your superior. Tell Jared I want you guarding MY door tonight." Lee bowed and kissed her ring, then turned on his heel.
Amanda saw him hesitate; flicking his eyes from the silent Huntsman in the shadows to her. "You are dismissed, Guard!" The Queen's voice suddenly echoed through the high, vaulted chamber. He left the room so quickly that Amanda's skirt rustled with the wind of his passing. Amanda struggled to keep calm, turning to follow him out. "Snow White." The Queen's purr stopped Amanda in her tracks. "My girl, I did not dismiss you."
Amanda faced the Queen and curtseyed, keeping the Huntsman in the corner of her eye.
"A basket, Snow White." The Queen held out the basket at arms length. "For your flowers."
Amanda snatched the basket and hurried out the door of the Queen's chambers. The Queen exchanged a quick glance with the Huntsman who followed Amanda, the bejeweled box for her severed heart tucked discretely under his arm.
Amanda was determined NOT to glance behind her even though she could hear the Huntsman's footsteps. As casually as she could manage, she passed the hallway that led to the entrance and continued towards her room. Before she had taken her third step past the hallway however, the Huntsman was in front of her, barring her path. Amanda hesitated then tried to move around him. Though he was unwilling to meet her eyes, his arm was now across her chest and almost as solid as an iron bar.
Amanda sighed, "Sir, I am not ready to gather flowers."
The Huntsman voice was deep and gruff. "I am sorry Your Highness, but we must go now."
Amanda nodded, biting her lip. She wasn't sure what she should do. It didn't really feel like she had much of a choice. She turned back towards the main hallway and marched out of the castle doors.
The sun was setting and the warm breeze from earlier that afternoon was turning cold. Amanda's bare arms broke into goose bumps under her cloak. Heavy clouds muted the sunset's warm colors, throwing a blue hue on the land. Amanda looked up into the gray sky. She seemed to hear the echo of something…someone calling her name…she listened again but it was gone.
Amanda waited at the edge of the forest, looking back for the Huntsman's guidance. He gestured to a path. The weakening light was strangled out in the forest. Amanda had to pay attention to where she put her feet. She heard rustling and hoped against hope that Lee, and whoever his friends were, knew where she was… were maybe even waiting in the dark to rescue her.
The atmosphere was so gloomy; Amanda was surprised to find that the path actually led to a large clearing. Moving from the darkness of the forest into the clearing at twilight was such a stark contrast that it was like walking into full daylight. The clearing was covered in flowers, many of which had already wrapped themselves up for the night. Several were late bloomers however, and the lawn still seemed alive with dancing petals in the now cold wind.
Amanda walked to the middle of the clearing, gripping the empty basket in her hands. Her cape whipped nervously with the wind. She waited.
The Huntsman looked down; he pulled his hood away from his head and stared at her in misery. "Joe!" Amanda felt her knees buckle. "I…" Her mouth was dry; she swallowed and scanned the trees for help.
"I'm sorry, Amanda," Joe looked embarrassed as he drew his knife from his belt. He opened up his hands slightly as if to plead for forgiveness. "I…the Queen hates you, Amanda. If I didn't do this, she would find someone else. Maybe someone without mercy." He took a step forward.
Amanda took a step back. "Joe, you don't have to do this." Despite the sorrow in his eyes, the knife in his hand and the stubborn determination in his face left no doubt of his purpose. She felt like she was standing in tar; every move she made took every ounce of strength she had. Finally she was backed against one of the outlying trees. The strong, prickly bark acted like a prod. Amanda swung her basket at the knife in Joe's hand with all her might.
The knife pierced the wicker. Amanda flung the basket in the air as she whirled away from him and dove into the forest. She did not look back.
Joe ran after the knife, falling to his knees on the soft, lush grass. Suddenly he found himself flat on the damp earth as something hit him hard from behind. He twisted around to face his attacker. A palace guard was standing over Joe, a spear held against Joe's chest.
"Where did she go?" Lee growled, anxiously scanning the dark forest paths while still cautious of the disarmed Huntsman. "Did you hurt her?" He was out of breath and shaking slightly. "Oh God, almost too late"' Lee pushed the spear up against Joe's skin, his voice rising. "Did you HURT her?"
Joe's resolve seemed to crumble. Tears formed in his eyes and he got shakily to his knees, oblivious to the sharp point at this throat, "I don't know, I don't know." His voice cracked and he covered his face with his hands. "I didn't want to hurt her, I love her, I didn't want to hurt her."
Lee looked over his shoulder at a sound in the forest behind him. With disgust, he looked back down at the broken Huntsman, shaking his head. Lee hit Joe on the back of the head, swiftly and viciously with the dull end of his spear. Lee listened carefully to the sounds of the forest as he knotted some twine around Joe's wrists, listening for the panicked steps of a woman. Lee stood still for some time then vanished into the forest.
Out of breath and out of adrenaline, Amanda leaned against a massive tree trunk. She tried to listen for sounds of pursuit, but could not yet hear over the beating of her own heart. She forced herself to calm down, forced herself to take deep breaths. The panic left her and she sunk to the ground, her legs suddenly not strong enough to support her.
She heard footsteps approach. Amanda leaned further into the shadows, forcing her breath to come slowly, evenly and quietly. She watched as her pursuer came within a foot of her and stopped, listening. He would have moved on if she had not called out.
"Amanda?" Amanda got shakily to her feet and collapsed into his arms. They stood there, together, in the forest for what seemed an eternity. Finally Amanda pulled away awkwardly.
"Sorry, I- I was just-" She lost her breath again as he pulled her roughly back towards him in another embrace before he too pulled away.
"Are you okay, Princess?" Lee shook her slightly.
Amanda put her hands on his arms and steadied them. "Yes, I'm okay. He didn't hurt me." She looked past his shoulder in the direction that he had come. "Is he…."
"No. I left him tied up in the clearing. I don't think he'll bother you again."
"If the Queen finds him…."
"Let the Huntsman take care of himself. We have to get you to the Cottage."
"The Cottage?" Amanda repeated raising her eyebrows.
"Yes. We have work to do."
Lee sighed and smiled, "Yes, work. Come on, Princess, get moving!"
After struggling through the dark forest for what seemed like hours, Lee and Amanda came upon a tiny cottage nestled in the trees. The dark cottage looked deserted and unkempt, with broken shutters, chipped paint, and missing shingles.
"This is where you were bringing me so that I will be safe? It looks to me that if the Queen doesn't find me, the roof will fall in on my head and kill me. And where are all these royal subjects that you mentioned? The ones who are loyal to me?"
Lee looked at her, dumbfounded, and when he did begin to speak, Amanda interrupted saying, "Oh my gosh, I really am sorry. I tend to ramble on when I'm scared. I must try and work on that. It is a really bad habit, very unbecoming of a Princess."
"Well, uh, your Highness," Lee cleared his throat. "I assure you that you will be quite safe here, structurally speaking and otherwise."
"If you say so," Amanda answered sarcastically as she glanced at him out of the corner of her eye.
"If you would follow me then, your Highness, I will show you in." Lee allowed his irritation to become apparent in his voice.
"I'm sorry," she said hanging her head and taking Lee's hand. "Thank you for assisting with my escape from Joe and for finding shelter for me."
Lee turned to face her and lifted Amanda's chin so their eyes met. "I will always protect you. Remember that."
As Lee spoke, a shiver slid up Amanda's spine and her breath caught in her throat. Lee did not release her hand as he turned and escorted Amanda into the empty cottage. The heavy front door moaned as Lee pushed it open. Little light shown through the grimy windows of the dusty cottage. Amanda was following close behind Lee as they walked over the threshold. She didn't notice when Lee stopped; she walked right into him.
"Sorry," Amanda said with a slight smile.
With a grimace Lee turned to look at her, before reaching for the kerosene lamp on the mantle.
"I know there must be some matches up here somewhere," Lee said as he ran his hand along the rough wood of the fireplace mantle.
"You need a match? I have one right here."
"Good. Where did you find it?"
"I didn't find it. I had it with me."
"What are you doing with matches?"
"A Junior Trailblazer is always prepared. One waterproof match will do the trick."
"Your Highness, I must respectfully inquire, what in the world is a Junior Trailblazer?"
Amanda bit her bottom lip, thinking. "You know, I have absolutely no idea."
Amazed and amused, Lee shook his head and smiled. "Well, I'm glad you came prepared. Now may I have the match so I can light this lamp?"
"Here you go," Amanda smiled.
"Thank you." Lee struck the match and illuminated the dreary room.
Amanda let out an audible grown as Lee lit the lamp and adjusted the wick, shedding more light on the horrible mess before her.
"Oh my gosh! Who would live like this? It looks like there must be a month's worth of dirty dishes!"
"Look Amanda, the people who live here are extremely busy. Sometimes they just don't have time to clean up…they have more important things to do than the dishes."
"Amanda, I really am sorry about the mess, but I am much more concerned about your safety. I need to go. Do you think you can sit tight here?"
"Go? You mean leave me here, alone?" Amanda's eyes grew wide with apprehension.
Lee walked over to where Amanda stood and put his hands on her shoulders. "I won't be gone long. I wouldn't leave if I didn't absolutely have to. I'll leave you my extra bow and arrow, that way if there is any trouble.…"
"You will do no such thing. I will not have that weapon in this house! Plus, I'd be more likely to hurt myself than anybody else with it."
Lee just shook his head and smiled. "Whatever makes you most comfortable, your Highness. Now I want you to lock up behind me."
"What about the people who live here? Will they be back before you are?" she questioned.
"No I don't think so… look, if anyone comes in, just identify yourself. But for God's sake, first look for your father's crest on their sleeve. That will tell you whether they are friend or foe."
Amanda concentrated and nodded, committing his instructions to memory.
Lee smiled crookedly. "You got that?"
"Identify myself only if I see my father's crest."
"Right." Lee looked around the cottage then back at Amanda. "Just stay out of trouble until I get back. Do you think you can do that?"
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Well of course I can do that. What trouble can I get into stuffed away in this stuffy old dirty cottage?"
Lee nodded suspiciously and went out the door, closing it firmly behind him.
After she heard Lee lock the door, Amanda turned in a circle and dropped her hands to her hips with a sigh. Invariably, the dishes caught her eye as she moved around. `Well really, how much trouble can I get in washing a couple of those dishes….' She stepped timidly through the room nudging debris away with her toe…"and maybe picking some things up off the floor… and oh my goodness would you LOOK at those windows...'Without another thought Amanda was immersed in soap bubbles.
Cleaning always made Amanda feel better, more in control of the world around her. This time it kept her mind off the fact that the Queen, her own stepmother, was trying to kill her. She worked with a fury, scrubbing, dusting, scrapping, polishing and sweeping. As she completed her task in the living quarters of the cottage, hurricane Amanda moved upstairs to the sleeping quarters to continue her cleaning tirade.
It was then that she noticed how small the furniture was, "It looks like children live here. But Lee said…I'm so tired I don't remember what Lee said. I think I'd better lie down here and rest for just a bit. I'll just rest my eyes… just for a moment," Amanda thought as she curled up on the small bed and drifted off to sleep.
Amanda's drugged and limp body was lying heavily on the plush lounge chair in a dark oak room in the mansion. She tried to shake her head from the fog that seemed to blind her vision but she found she couldn't move her head. She could hear something… garbled words started to make sense as she recognized the syllables that made them up…
"…can't keep him occupied forever…." A female voice, deep… Amanda struggled to open her eyes and found she could force them open just a slit if she concentrated with all of her might. "Brent's got him at the other corner of the house, but we have to make our move soon."
Amanda saw the woman dressed as Maleficent first; she was staring out a large window as her red tipped fingers drummed against window frame. The man dressed as the scarecrow sat sans hat, with his feet up on an expensive looking oak desk. He stared at the woman.
"Vicky! I couldn't have known she'd…" The woman practically growled at him and he sat up with a start, "Victoria. Sorry. How could I `ave known she would drink her date's wine!?"
Victoria wrinkled her nose. "Just leave it Jimmy! I don't want to hear anything more about it! She's here now, we probably would have had to grab her sometime during the night anyway."
Victoria whirled around and Amanda let her eyes drop closed again. Still, Amanda heard the rustling of Maleficent's clothing and her heavy breathing. "Look, Victoria. Brent's nothing. I could take care of you, be a real partner."
"Could you have gotten close enough to Dudley to kill him?"
"It wouldn't `ve been that hard. And I wouldn't have had to do it with no knife in the back either."
Victoria gave a throaty laugh. "Come, come, Jimmy honey, you know with Brent and I… we're cut from the same cloth."
"He betrayed you, Vick-toria."
"He almost betrayed me, Jimmy. We're working together now. There's no going back after tonight."
"I could kill Stetson for you…"
"Ah, but you couldn't have lured him here by himself and besides," her voice turned sultry like syrup, "I don't need you to prove your loyalty to me… do I?" Amanda heard what she assumed was a kiss. "Now come on Jimmy, we have to…"
Amanda's mind seemed to be sinking. The fog was thickening, turning into darkness, as if she were being covered by a heavy blanket. She tried to grab onto the words, but the noises started to slip away…
The noises started to clear again into words, murmurs…. Amanda opened her eyes. She was lying on a small bed, curled up. As her eyes focused on her surroundings, she saw several faces staring at her.
"Billy?" Amanda asked as she tried to stifle a yawn.
"Who are you?" the small man replied.
"I'm – uh," Amanda fumbled for the words as she started to stand, but her head started to spin and it seemed a better idea to just sit.
"Don't you know your name, dear?" a petite blond woman asked with sarcasm.
"Wait, are you aren't… are you the Princess?" the man looked genuinely concerned and moved forward to inspect her more closely.
"HER? The Princess?" the blonde questioned in disbelief.
"Oh, just ignore her. She's snotty," the man said to Amanda.
"Why is Francine snotty?"
"No she is Snotty. Now, ma'am, there must have been an incident for you to wind up here, if you are truly the Princess?" His voice turned up hopefully, making the statement a question.
"Yes, sir, I am the King's daughter. I see that you have his crest on your sleeve. Lee, I mean Mr. Charming said that you would protect me." Amanda nodded towards his shoulder patch gravely, feeling as if she were being absurdly formal. "You are Mr. Melrose?" She was both confused and sure at the same time.
"Doc, call me Doc, your Highness." He bowed deeply. Several other dwarves, who Amanda instantly recognized as a miniature Beaman, Leatherneck and T.P. Aquinas, had been silently standing in the shadows. They now followed Billy in a deep bow, awe written on their faces. Billy spread out his hands. "I see that you have been quite busy around here today. Thank you for your services. I'm not sure how I feel about the Princess cleaning up after this motley crew," he chuckled jovially.
Amanda smiled weakly, "Oh, no, it was no trouble, I really just couldn't believe…I mean… uh…"
Billy broke into another grin. "The mess? Yes, yes, believe it or not we really spend very little time here above ground."
"Above ground, sir? What do you mean?"
"I suppose its time for the tour, your Highness." Billy gestured for her to stand and follow him out of the room. "You do us quite an honor visiting our little secret agency."
Amanda shrugged nervously. "To be honest, sir, I did not have much of a choice."
Billy stopped in the hallway, eyebrows raised. "What happened?"
"The Queen, sir, sent me into the woods with the Huntsman. He had orders that he should not return without my heart in a box."
Behind her the dwarf that looked like Leatherneck sneezed and swore. "That Queen! I can't wait to show her a thing or two, going after our Princess like that!"
Amanda whirled around, wary of the low ceiling and stared down at him. "Do they call you Sneezy?"
"Oh no. ma'am. I'm just allergic to leather and Geeky over here is wearing a cowfull," he jerked his thumb at Beaman, smiling at her sheepishly and bowing quickly. "Codename: Slippy, Highness, at your service. Slippy `cuz I can slip out of any sticky situation."
Geeky also bowed, miming his fist into his hand at the mention of the Queen. He waved at Amanda, then clutched onto Francine who immediately tried to shake him off. Standing next to Slippy, T.P. was obviously Bashful and when Amanda looked his way he bowed his head and turned beet red.
Amanda quickly covered her giggle, and turned back to Billy who was rolling his eyes. He continued forward speaking over his shoulder, "Well, thank goodness the Queen's Huntsman obviously failed. Did Lee save you?"
"Yes and no, sir. He found me in the forest and left me here." They had reached the stairs that Amanda had recently swept. Dwarves lined the way, looking up at her.
Amanda saw familiar faces, but no answering recognition in their eyes, so she simply nodded politely as she passed.
Billy stopped the entourage right in front of a small closet door Amanda did not remember seeing during her cleaning spree. She looked around questioningly, but everyone was staring at the door. So she waited.
Billy opened the door and contrary to Amanda's fears the closet was well organized. He moved aside several cloaks and indicated for Amanda to go in. She did, stooping slightly. Billy and Francine followed her in, closed the door and stood staring at it.
"Er hmm- sir?"
"Ah, here we are, Billy opened the door again to reveal the Agency.
Amanda stepped out of the closet and could not believe her eyes. "What is all of this?" she asked stunned.
"These are our headquarters, your Highness. May I show you around?" Billy offered.
"I would be honored, sir. Will Mr. Charming know where to find us?"
"Oh, yes Ma'am. I actually expect him shortly. In the meantime, I will introduce you to a few more of the agents who are working on your security."
"Thank you, Sir," Amanda replied with a gentle nod.
As they walked through the double doors of the bull pin, a small red headed woman with an English accent called out, "Snotty dear, do you have a moment? Oh, and Doc, I didn't see you. I need to speak with you too. I have some urgent news of the Princess, and I'm afraid that it is not very good," she added as they approached.
"We have some new developments for you too," Snotty tried to gloat. Billy stepped in and said, "Snotty" drawing out her name.
"What did I do, Doc?" she asked innocently.
"Button it, Snotty," Doc said with finality.
"Now, your Highness," Doc began. "May I introduce you to …"
"Emily!" Amanda cried out.
"It's Happy, dear. So lovely to see you," she said as Amanda bent down to embrace her. Happy reached to kiss her cheek, "I'm so honored, as well as glad to know where you are now, and that you are safe!"
"Yes, we were quite glad to find her asleep upstairs. Snotty, I would like you to fill Happy in on the latest details while I finish showing the Princess around," Billy instructed.
"Shall we?" Billy asked, guiding Amanda by the elbow. Amanda nodded in affirmation and looked around in wonder at all of the technology that surrounded her. As she took in the new sights and sounds around her, she spotted a tiny version of Dr. Smyth sacked out in the corner of the large room.
"Excuse me, sir, is that man okay?"
"Oh yes, ma'am. He's just fine. That is Sleepy, the Director of the Agency."
"Ahhhhhh," was the only response Amanda had time to give, before all attention in the bull pin was turned to the man exiting the closet elevator on a stately white horse. Amanda made a b-line to the double doors and waited with her hands on her hips. A hush fell over the group as they noticed that the Princess practically had steam coming from her ears.
"Lee P. Charming! You better not have had that awful horse in my sparkling clean cottage!" She barely had time to finish the reprimand before, "Achooooo!" she sneezed.
"Bless you," said the entire agency in unison. Bashful quickly grabbed a box of tissues and quietly brought them to the Princess. When Amanda looked into his eyes and said, "Thank you," Bashful thought he would die.
"Lee, I meant what I said about that monstrosity – achoo!"
"Dear, are you all right?" Happy asked as she rushed to the Princess's side.
"Yes, ma'am. I'll be just fine as soon as he gets that animal out of here. Achoo! I'm allergic to horses."
"You heard her, Charming!" Billy bellowed louder with each syllable. "Get that animal out of here!"
Amanda added the final exclamation point with the loudest sneeze of all. Lee just rolled his eyes and reined his horse back out the door and down the hall.
"You better not take that horse back into the cottage!" Amanda called after him in a firm tone.
Lee raised his hand and nodded as he rode away down the long gray corridor, not saying a word.
Lee lightly knocked on Doc's office door as he opened it. He ushered in a man wearing a toga, and then followed him and closed the door. "Brutus!" Amanda gasped.
Brutus jumped back and looked at Lee.
"Amanda, I mean –uh your Highness, please be quiet. We have business to attend to," Lee interjected with a huff.
"Charming, behave yourself!" Billy ordered. "Princess, are you okay?"
"Yes sir," Amanda answered as she eyed Brutas suspiciously.
"Well then let's get to work, people," Doc instructed as he pulled out a map of the castle and smoothed it out on his desk.
Brutus, Snotty, Happy, and Lee huddled over the map, each pointing animatedly at opposite sections. All the time Amanda stared at Brutus. Something about him tickled her nostrils, a familiar smell he was practically bathed in. Her mind tried to recall something that was significant, something wrong.
Brutus was taking charge of the planning, explaining that there were traps, and where they were.
He was the Treasurer, so he knew all about the security plans the Queen had. He would get them in, he promised. With such details it did not take long and they decided how they would get into the castle and to their goal, the evil Queen.
Amanda's eyes widened suddenly as she placed the almost tangible smell.
The meeting was breaking up and there was a flurry of activity as the dwarves ran in different directions, yelling for supplies, people, horses.… Brutus followed Doc with a quick backward glance at Amanda.
Amanda turned one way and then the other and finally grabbed onto Lee's arm before he could rush past her. "Lee!"
"Lee, I remember what's wrong with Brutus!"
"What? I didn't even know you knew Brutus!"
"I don't- I mean didn't, no you don't understand," Amanda couldn't get the words out fast enough, "Perfume, he reeks of my- the Queen's perfume!"
"So? He works very close with her!"
"No, really, I'm serious! This is special perfume Lee… she only gives it to her… her MEN. She and Brutus must be involved."
"That's a pretty high leap, your Highness, really I've checked him out thoroughly, I'm sorry. I have to go."
Amanda bit her lip and grabbed his arm again as he started away.
"Amanda! We really do have a lot going on here!" he said as he turned to glare at her.
"I realize that. Just tell me what team I am on, Doc never said."
"TEAM? What TEAM? You are NOT on a team! You, your Highness," Lee's voice was rising with each word, "will be waiting right here in the safety of the Agency!"
Amanda was conscious of the dozens of eyes trying not to watch the exchange and tried to keep her voice level. It cracked with the effort. "Wait just one minute! You all are the ones who keep reminding me of my position. It is my responsibility –"
"Your responsibility is to remain safe for your people." Lee turned away, and then paused. He turned back suddenly, his voice gentle but surer than steel, "And MY responsibility is to keep you safe." He tried to look into her eyes, but frustration and fury kept her head down. He reached towards her, but then seemed to think better of it and let his hands drop to his sides. He bowed slightly. "So if you would excuse me, your Highness, I need to take care of my responsibilities," Lee said with an air of finality and walked away.
Amanda just stood there and fumed as the bull pen tried to go back to business. She walked to the elevator/closet brushing fiercely at her eyes, `I'm angry, gosh darn him, so why do I feel like crying?' The buzz of excitement was overwhelming; no one even noticed as she found her way back up to the cottage.
Amanda sat by the front window of the cottage, staring out into the clear night sky that peeked though the dark foliage. It had been an hour since the agency teams had left. Amanda had not had any real sleep in over twenty-four hours; there was a haze swirling around in her mind. It seemed to get heavier with every moment that passed.
Outside the wind rose ominously, branches scraped against the cottage roof and leaves swept up around the walls and windows. Something was knocking against the cottage door.
The haze was turning to fog in Amanda's mind, it took Amanda several moments to realize that there was actually someone AT the cottage door, knocking. Amanda froze, not sure exactly what she should do Tentatively she walked, stumbling slightly as her feet began to feel heavy and unwieldy. She made it to the door and opened it.
Dotty stood still in the cold of the early morning. She smiled tightly at Amanda. Amanda simply stared, "Mother?"
The lady's face transformed into a mask of concern, "Oh, my dear, you do not look well!"
Amanda put a hand on her head, "I don't feel very well. It's been a long day. There were dwarves, Mother…"
The lady put a strong arm around Amanda and led her back into the cottage. "Have you had your breakfast, dear?"
"Ummm… no, I was at the…" Amanda's mind was reeling, she knew this was not right. Dotty should not be here.
Dotty pulled a shiny red apple from the ample folds of her cloak and held it up to Amanda's nose. "Breakfast IS the most important meal of the day, Amanda!"
Amanda found it difficult to focus on anything, "An apple?" She took the apple and looked quizzically at her mother.
"Yes dear, an apple, sure to clear that head of yours!"
"Yes of course, Mother" She took a bite from the apple and suddenly realized the woman was not Dotty at all. She opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. "No, no, no, I don't want the apple…" But she had already swallowed the poisoned bite.
The Queen smoothed Amanda's hair. "Yes Snow White, feel the poison fly through your veins."
Amanda sank to the ground, dropping the apple. "No, the apple is poisoned." In the distance Amanda thought she heard someone call her name. She shook her head.
"Yes, yes Snow White. It's all too late now." Oddly, the Queen's voice was still soothing.
Again in the distance, in the darkest part of Amanda's mind, she heard Lee calling her name.
"No, Lee will save me."
"Your Charming is lying dead somewhere right now. My Brutus took your little followers into a trap." Suddenly the Queen lurched forward, her perfect face distorted in shock and pain. She fell to her hands and knees, an arrow protruding from her back.
"Amanda!" This time it was definitely Lee's voice, close by. He stood in the doorway of the cottage, his bow in hand. He did not even glance at the dying Queen; his wild eyes went straight to Amanda. He dropped to his knees and held her face in his hands, "Amanda, are you all right? Can you hear me?"
Amanda's head seemed to be filling up with water. She could see Lee but she could hardly understand his words, "I ate the apple… I didn't mean to, I knew I shouldn't, I knew it was poisoned but I'm so tired, Lee I'm afraid…I'm sorry, I really don't feel…"
Lee put his arms around her and rocked her, "Its okay, I'm here." She went limp in his arms and he turned her so that she lay cushioned on his lap. Her eyes were cloudy. "Amanda, I need you to stay awake… Come on, I need you to stay awake."
Amanda smiled softly, "No, no, its ok, Lee, its Snow White and the Seven Dwarves" she drew in a labored breath. "If I fall asleep you just have to kiss me and I'll wake up again!"
"Oh Amanda, please, just don't go to sleep yet. You saved us all! Brutus betrayed us, but we were ready for him because of you, Amanda, because you warned us!"
"Oh good! I was so," Amanda yawned, "worried."
"Amanda!" Lee shook her, but she could not respond. She could still hear him though. With a broken heart, he leaned down and kissed her gently on the lips. Amanda opened her eyes as he was pulling his face away. She was lying down on that same lounge in that same dark oak room. Lee knelt over her, very close to her. "Hey there, sleepy head, can you hear me?"
"See I told you all you had to do was kiss me if I fell asleep." Amanda rubbed her eyes drowsily and tried to turn back over.
Lee turned scarlet and coughed, leaning back a little. "I- er, Amanda- " Just then Amanda heard a door open and jumped.
Lee held on to her arm quickly, "No, no, its just Brent, Amanda." Amanda peered cautiously over her shoulder to see Brutus. She looked back at Lee in shock.
"Yes, HE was my contact, Amanda. He helped me capture Victoria Landis and her confederate Jimmy Maddle. She was dressed as that witch, Maleficent, and he was that scarecrow idiot who knocked you down tonight." Amanda was still looking up at him blankly, "It's all over, Amanda. Billy's downstairs with a team from the Agency, including Doc McJohn. Apparently they drugged you when I left to meet Brent. The doctor drew some blood and checked you over. He said you'd be asleep for quite a while, but you'll be fine."
Amanda swallowed hard. Her mind was working very slowly, but it was working. She had overheard a conversation about Brutus. She knew that. But was it in the dream? Or was it real? She licked her lips. "Lee? Can I- umm… can I have some water?"
Lee looked a little taken aback, but nodded. "Sure, sure, hold on I'll get you-"
Amanda grabbed his arm, as he was about to rise. "No, no, please, uh- could you stay here?"
Puzzled, Lee twisted. "Brent, would you mind please?"
Brent had been standing stiffly against the wall and answered quickly, "'Course, `course, yeah…"
As soon as the door shut behind him, Amanda pulled Lee down towards her and hissed, "Lee! He's the Queen's partner- HE killed Dudley, HE set you up!"
"What?! Amanda, you've been drugged, I think you've been dreaming…"
"Well yes, but no, Lee! I overheard them talking, the witch and the scarecrow… Brutus was going to kill you tonight, something must have gone wrong!" She was watching him intently.
"No, Amanda, he helped me find you he…" Even as he was defending Brent, the events of the night flashed through his mind and he started to see things in a different light. "Yeah, something did go wrong- you!" He snorted, "After I met Brent I went back to you, but you were gone! I KNOW that he was as shocked as I was. HE told me the drink was drugged…"
"I know, I drank your wine. See what staying put got me?"
Lee chuckled, "You screwed up their entire plan. I called in the extra forces -" Lee snapped his fingers, "Brent and I AND Billy started searching the house for you. Brent tried to take us to the basement, but, I dunno, we started upstairs." Lee grabbed the small radio device he had laid on the floor. "Billy, pick up Brutus. NOW! He should be heading towards the west bathroom. Acknowledge?"
There was static from the other end, a muted question and then, "Affirmative, Scarecrow."
Lee smiled crookedly down at Amanda, "Well, even drugged you make a pretty good agent!"
"Now if I can just remember that compliment tomorrow, " Amanda grinned weakly. "Gosh, am I tired!"
"Yeah, well, I'm not surprised! Amanda" Lee's voice softened, "When I came in here and you were lying here like you were- I- I just"
The radio transmitter sputtered into life, "Scarecrow, got Brutus collared, acknowledge?"
"Are you going to explain this to me later Scarecrow?"
"Yeah Billy, affirmative. After I get Amanda home and settled."
"Roger that. I'll see you back at the Agency, Scarecrow."
Lee raised his eyebrows at Amanda putting his arm under her back to help her sit up, "Well, Snow White, you ready to go home to the castle?"
"Ugh, no, home is the cottage and the floors need scrubbing!" Amanda pushed herself up from the lounge but her legs gave out under her, "Oh!" Lee caught her and hoisted her up in his arms, "I don't think I can walk yet, Lee."
Lee grinned, "That's all right, Princess, I'll carry you to your carriage." Lee turned sideways to get them out of the study.
"And see me home, Prince Charming?" Exhausted, Amanda let her head rest against Lee's shoulder, her arms entwined comfortably around his neck.
"Of course!" Amanda's breath tickled his ear when she spoke. Lee was finally able to relax, confidant that the case was solved and that Amanda was fine. He looked down at her face and smiled as he carried her down the stairs, and out the main entrance.