Timeline: This story takes place during the third season, after "The Eyes Have It".
Summary: Lee loses track of Amanda during a deadly mission on Chesapeake Bay. His surprising reaction, and his friends' efforts to assist him, provide insight into the developing relationship between the pair.
Rating: PG, for violence, and a couple of four-letter words.
Author's notes: Bay Window was my first effort at fanfiction. I have recently attempted to revise it into something that less resembles a first effort. When I first posted this story, I was new enough to the fandom that I was unaware of the many resources available to authors. The original version was posted without benefit of a beta reader. I've learned a lot since then. I would like to thank Kim, who beta-read this version, and whose invaluable suggestions have helped me prepare it for archiving. Feedback is always welcome.
Looking around, he realized he was in a hospital room. So it hadn't been a dream? It had really happened? He tried desperately to latch onto concrete memories. Gunfire. An explosion. Water. As his mind became clearer, he vividly recalled the horrific blast that had seriously injured him and . . .
Lee didn't realize that a nurse from the National Emergency Surgical Team had entered his room until she startled him by speaking. "Mr. Stetson. Good, you're awake." Noticing the wet trails on his cheeks, but not understanding their source, she tried to assuage his distress. "Mr. Stetson, please don't worry. You're going to be just fine." She checked his IVs, took a thorough look at the monitoring equipment along the wall, and headed toward the door. "I'll be right back; just let me go get your doctor."
Weakly, Lee called to her to come back. "Wait. Please." He studied her face as she neared the bed. "I know you," he said. "You're with NEST." His voice became stronger as he spoke.
"That's right, Mr. Stetson, we met a couple of weeks ago. Right here in this hospital, in fact. You've got quite a knack for getting banged up."
"This hospital? I'm at Parker?" He looked around the room again. "I was . . . I thought I was . . . How did I get back to DC?"
"Navy chopper, from what I hear. You were in the Bay. Now let me go get Dr. Scardelli."
"No, wait," he pleaded. "I need to find out about my partner. Is she . . .? Was she . . .?" He couldn't bring himself to say it, even though his mind told him the likely truth.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Stetson, I honestly don't know. I've only been on duty a couple of hours. Looks like they brought you in around . . ." She consulted his chart. "12:30. But I don't think she's here. You're the only NEST patient we've got."
"Maybe another hospital, then?" he asked, grasping at a tiny glimmer of hope.
"No, the only NEST team on duty in DC right now is here at Parker General, and we're assigned to take care of you." She hesitated, reading the look on his face. "I guess that's not what you wanted to hear."
"No," he replied glumly. "It's not."
"I'm sorry, I wish I knew what to tell you. Mr. Melrose is here to see you; maybe he'll know something. I'll ask him to come in. But for now, I need to go get your doctor."
As the nurse left the room, Lee became painfully aware of the condition of the rest of his body. He attempted to take inventory of his injuries. His upper left chest was bandaged tightly, and his left arm was in a sling. He knew that it was a gunshot wound. He remembered being hit; he remembered Amanda trying to pull him out of the line of fire. He wondered if she'd been hit, too. His right leg was sore, but he didn't feel a cast, so he thought it was probably just twisted or bruised. His head was pounding, and when he reached up with his right hand, he found his forehead bandaged. There didn't seem to be any stitches, just tape, but he assumed he had probably suffered another concussion. It hadn't been that long since his last one, and he vaguely wondered if that was going to cause a problem. Abruptly, Lee realized that the pain he suffered most wasn't physical at all. He felt a lump in his throat, accompanied by an echoing emptiness in his ches! t. He squeezed his eyes shut to stop the tears, as they began to form again.
As the NEST surgeon opened the door and entered his room, Lee clumsily tried to wipe his eyes, but his IV tubes were getting in the way. "Doc, do I really need all this plumbing?" he complained.
"Not if you're awake and feel like drinking some water." The tall surgeon poured a glass from the pitcher by the bedside and helped Lee take a couple of sips.
"How about something for the pain?"
"Sure, but we're going to have to go easy on the dosage. With that concussion, being sleepy is okay, but being unconscious definitely is not."
Dr. Scardelli lifted the bandage from Lee's chest and examined the incision he had made to remove the bullet several hours earlier. He remembered his patient well; he had treated him for a bad concussion just a couple of weeks before. He had even been in on a sting to help Stetson and some of the other agents solve a case, in which one of the criminals had turned out to be the head of the hospital's trauma unit. He used his penlight to look into Lee's eyes. Scardelli was concerned about the head injury. This concussion wasn't nearly as serious as the last one, but another one so soon could cause some unwelcome complications.
"Doc, were you here when they brought us in last night?" Lee wanted to know.
"My partner. She . . . I . . . I'm trying to find out what happened to her."
Scardelli remembered the attractive brunette from the previous case. He was sure he hadn't seen her around since he had come in during the night, and now that he thought about it, that seemed strange. When Stetson had been in before, they couldn't get her to go home. "No, to answer your question, I wasn't here," Scardelli replied. "I came in a little before 2:00 a.m. to do your surgery. Are you sure she was with you?"
"No," Lee admitted. "I'm not sure."
"It's likely you've had some memory loss. Can you tell me the last thing you remember?"
"We were working. We were on a boat, a yacht, really. I remember getting shot, and I remember Amanda trying to help me. Then the boat blew up. I don't remember much after that." He grimaced in pain as he tried to sit up. "Doc, I've got to find out what happened to her."
"You've got to rest, Mr. Stetson." Scardelli gently pushed him back onto the bed. "I really don't want to sedate you anymore than we already have, with that concussion. Look, I'll have the nurse come back in and get rid of some of the plumbing, as you call it, and give you something for the pain. But you're going to have to stay still."
"But . . . "
"Mr. Stetson, I'll be back to check on you later. I'm sorry about your partner, but I can't tell you something that I don't know anything about. I certainly hope everything turns out to be okay."
The nurse re-entered the room, and after a few minutes she was able to make Lee considerably more comfortable. "Mr. Melrose is on his way in to see you," she informed him. "But you need to get some rest, so I've asked him to keep it short."
Thanking her, his thoughts again returned to the events of the previous evening. He didn't see how Amanda could have survived the blast, much less the exposure to the elements afterward. No one could have. 'Then, how in the world did I survive?' he wondered. He was puzzling over that question when a totally unexpected and unbidden thought came to him. 'How will I survive, without her?' The lump in his throat threatened to choke him.
As the door opened and Billy Melrose entered the room, Lee grabbed the sheet and roughly wiped his face, hoping his boss and friend hadn't seen the tears that once again had threatened to flow.
Billy was smiling, obviously relieved to find Lee awake. "Scarecrow! Thank goodness you're all right. You had us pretty worried for a while, there. Are you feeling okay?"
The section chief had always made a real effort not to play favorites among his agents, but he found it increasingly difficult when it came to Lee Stetson. The Scarecrow was a talented operative, to be sure, but Billy had always felt a special bond with the younger man. As he drew near the bed and took a close look at his friend's face, Billy immediately realized something was terribly wrong. "Lee? What is it?"
He couldn't meet Billy's eyes.
"Lee!" Billy repeated, with concern.
There was a long moment before Lee could answer. Finally he looked up. "Billy, I really blew it this time. I screwed up everything. The assignment, my cover, the wire . . . everything. And, Billy, I think I . . . I lost . . . Amanda."
"No, no, Lee, everything worked out just fine. We recovered some of the papers, and that transmitter worked just long enough to record the deal, so really, we got everything we needed. A couple of Aldo's men went down, and we haven't found any sign of Aldo himself yet, but . . ." He narrowed his eyes. "What do you mean, you think you lost Amanda?"
"Amanda was with me, Billy. I know I was supposed to go alone, but I thought . . .we thought . . . it would give me a more convincing cover if she came along. I never saw her again after the boat blew up. I think . . . she must have . . ." He couldn't bring himself to say the words.
"No, Lee, Amanda is . . ."
"I'm so sorry, Billy. I'm so sorry," Lee interrupted. His voice broke, and he looked away again.
Billy Melrose had been enchanted with Amanda King from the moment he had met her. Lee had randomly enlisted her help in an emergency situation, and within just a few days she had single-handedly solved a diabolical puzzle that had been baffling the entire Agency. She had prevented Lee from being murdered, and had saved the lives of countless other agents who would have been next on the list. Billy had recognized Amanda's unusual talent and had seen the potential in her unorthodox method. He had recruited her immediately, partnering her with Lee.
Many of the field agents in his section, including Lee, had resented him bringing her aboard, but Billy was the boss. Not that Amanda had necessarily wanted to be recruited. She was just there, wanting to help. Thank goodness she had been there that first time, and many times since.
Over the past couple of years, Billy had seen his top agent, Lee Stetson, and Amanda King become his top team. He had seen the relationship between the pair develop from that of bickering partners into that of inseparable friends. And he was pretty sure it was developing into something beyond that, but as long as they didn't bring it to work, well, that was really none of his business.
Now, looking at the despair on his friend's face, Billy Melrose knew. He knew the depth and scope of the younger man's feelings for his partner, although he doubted if Lee was even fully aware of them, himself. He understood that somehow, as a result of the horrifying events of the previous evening, Lee had convinced himself that something terrible had happened to Amanda. He knew Lee well enough to know that, if given the chance, he would tear himself apart over it. And Billy knew that he could easily fix everything for this young man, right now.
"Lee," Billy began, with a gentle smile that he knew could tame the wildest . . .well, . . . scarecrow. "Don't worry. Amanda is fine. She's just fine."
"No, Billy, she . . ."
"Lee, listen to me. Amanda is fine. I've seen her. Talked to her. Trust me, she's fine."
"Thanks for trying, Billy. But I was there, remember? You weren't. She was with me, and then she was gone. Gone! I never saw her again after the boat blew up. She must have . . ." Again, he refused to speak the words.
"Lee, she's all right. She wasn't even hurt. The reason you didn't see her any more was because she came in to find you some help," Billy explained patiently.
"Came in? No way. The boat was in splinters, and we must have been three miles out."
"No, only about a half mile. Evidently she did some distance swimming in school, and after she made sure you were stable, she found something to float on and swam to shore. It was calm last night, and . . ."
"But it was so cold in the water . . ."
"Not when you're swimming half a mile!" Billy was quickly losing his patience, something he had come to expect in conversations with Lee Stetson. "Scarecrow, you can be so damn stubborn sometimes. Somehow, you have convinced yourself that something has happened to Amanda. Well, I'm telling you, it hasn't! She's fine. Just fine. Not only is she just fine, she saved your butt! Again! For the umpteenth time! Now why don't you just quit worrying about all this and concentrate on getting well, so you and your very-much-alive partner can get back to work."
Lee was silent, temporarily quieted by his boss's tirade. "You don't know how much I want to believe you," he whispered, after a moment.
"Then believe me!"
Lee wasn't finished. "But the nurse said that I'm the only NEST patient here."
"That's right, Lee. Amanda's not a patient. She never was. She had some scrapes and bruises, nothing serious. The emergency room doctor looked her over, but he released her before she was ever even admitted. That's why the nurse wouldn't have had any record of her being here."
Lee thought about that for a minute and then glared accusingly at his friend. "How do I know you're not just telling me all this to make me calm down and shut up?"
"Lee, I thought you knew me better than that." Billy felt a little hurt, but he realized that Lee wasn't himself. "Although calming down and shutting up wouldn't be such a bad idea," he added under his breath.
"I'm sorry, Billy. That was out of line. It's just that . . . well, I know Amanda better than anyone, and I know that if she thought I was in trouble, any kind of trouble, she'd be here. So if she's all right, like you're saying, then where the hell is she? Why hasn't she come to see me?"
"After she was released, I took her back to the Agency for debriefing, and by the time we were done, it was 4:00 in the morning. I sent her home to get some rest. Believe me, she argued incessantly about it. I'm sure she'll be back here today as soon as she gets a chance."
"So you're saying . . ."
"Yes, Lee, that's exactly what I'm saying."
Lee's painkiller had begun to kick in, and he was suddenly very tired of arguing. "Okay, Billy, if you're sure."
"I'm sure, Scarecrow," Billy smiled, having won the argument. "Now why don't you get some rest, just in case you get another visitor later on?"
As he left the room, Billy Melrose was troubled by the haunted look of doubt that had remained on his friend's face. He may have won the argument, but he had a feeling he hadn't won the war.
Billy had stopped in the hallway to leave some instructions with the agent outside Lee's door. It was probably safe to assume that their target, Eduardo Aldo, had been killed in the explosion, but Billy wanted a guard outside Lee's room until they knew for sure. As he was finishing up with the agent, Billy spotted the NEST doctor coming around the corner by the nurses' station. "Dr. Scardelli," he called to him. "What can you tell me about my man?"
"Mr. Melrose, hello." Scardelli reached out to shake his hand. "Mr. Stetson's surgery went very well. There was some pretty severe muscle damage in his upper chest, but it's nothing that won't heal. He should have full use of his arm and shoulder again, after a couple of weeks rest in that sling. His right leg is badly bruised, but nothing's broken. That particular injury is actually more consistent with some sort of fight. He's got scrapes and bruises all over from the debris; those will heal in no time. The biggest concern at this point is going to be that concussion. It's a mild one this time, but it's only been a couple of weeks since his last one. I don't think he's in any physical danger, but repeated head injuries can cause other problems."
"What kind of problems?"
"Well, he's already exhibiting some memory loss, although he may have just lost some time while he was unconscious. There's also the possibility of mental confusion, maybe even some emotional trauma."
"Emotional trauma . . ." Billy repeated thoughtfully.
"We'll just have to wait and see. Other than that, he seems fine. He was pretty concerned about his partner, though. What's her status?"
"She's fine," Billy told him. "Wasn't even admitted. I sent her home to get some rest."
Scardelli smiled. "Well, that's good news. I'm sure Mr. Stetson will be relieved."
"Doctor, this emotional trauma you're talking about, could it have something to do with Lee thinking his partner was . . . you know . . ." Billy gestured vaguely.
"Yes, it certainly could," the doctor nodded thoughtfully. "Why? Have you already seen it?"
"I sure have. I told him Mrs. King was all right, but I'm not convinced he believed me. Do you think seeing her might snap him out of it?"
"I would think so. If it doesn't, we may have to revert to Plan B."
"Do you have a resident analyst there at the Agency?"
As he pulled out of the hospital's parking garage in his government-issue brown Dodge, Billy began barking orders into his car phone. "Bring in Amanda King! I don't care where you have to go to find her. Do it now!" Glancing to his left, Billy realized Amanda's recently repaired Oldsmobile station wagon had just entered the garage. "Oh, never mind!" he said, slamming the phone down. He managed to get his vehicle turned around quickly and followed her back up the ramp. Billy wanted to prepare Amanda for Lee's emotional state, but he was concerned about her, as well. Lee wasn't the only one who'd had a rough night.
"Hello, Amanda," he called, as he exited his vehicle.
"Oh, hello, sir," Amanda replied. "Have you been to see Lee? Is he all right?"
"He's going to be fine," Billy assured her, then smiled at his next thought. "In fact, in just a few minutes, I think he's going to be better than ever."
"Amanda, how about you? How are you feeling?" He searched her face for signs of pain or fatigue, but he found nothing there but deep concern. The scratches and bruises he'd seen the night before had been expertly covered by make-up, and it seemed they were already beginning to fade.
"I'm fine, sir. I've just been awfully worried about Lee. I tried all morning to call the hospital, but you know what security's like when NEST is here. They wouldn't tell me anything. Is he really all right?"
"Well, he had some pretty serious injuries. You already know about the gunshot wound. Evidently the surgery went well. He has another concussion, but the doctor says it's a mild one. Lots of scrapes and bruises, of course. The good news is, he's conscious, out from under sedation, and talking."
"Oh, yes, sir, that is good news," Amanda smiled, obviously relieved.
"Amanda," Billy hesitated. "There's something else you should probably know about."
"Oh, no," Amanda began. "What is it, sir? Is something wrong with Lee?"
"Physically, no. Nothing that we haven't already talked about, anyway. The doctor is concerned, though, about this concussion happening so soon after the last one. He thinks Lee might be experiencing what he's calling emotional trauma."
"Emotional trauma?" Amanda wondered. She shook her head. "I'm sorry, sir, I don't understand."
Billy shifted his weight uncomfortably. He was thinking that, in a way, this was none of his business. 'Go ahead,' he told himself. 'You're their boss. And their friend.'
"Amanda," he began. "Are you aware of how much you mean to Lee?"
Amanda tried unsuccessfully to sidestep the question. "I . . . I'm not sure what you mean."
"Amanda, listen. Lee doesn't remember much between the time of the explosion and when he woke up this morning in the hospital. At some point after the blast, though, he came to, just long enough to realize that you were gone."
"Gone." She read the look on his face.
"When you say gone . . . you mean . . . permanently."
"Right. And he's been dwelling on it ever since."
Amanda bit her lip. "I was afraid he'd think that. I tried to tell him what I was going to do, but I didn't think he could hear me. But surely somebody told him . . ."
"I'm afraid it gets worse before it gets better. He asked one of the nurses the whereabouts of his partner, and she told him he was the only NEST patient here. The doctor told him essentially the same thing. As far as they knew, they were just answering his questions, but Lee took it as a confirmation of what he thought he remembered. I tried to tell him that you were all right, but he practically accused me of lying to him, to try and get him to calm down."
"Oh, boy. That sounds like Lee." Amanda couldn't help being a little embarrassed by her partner's behavior.
"He's going to have to see for himself that you're alive and well. That's what I meant when I said he'd be a lot better in a few minutes. He really needs to see you."
"Yes, sir. I'll go to him right away."
"Amanda, one more thing." Billy hesitated again. "Lee's been through a lot. Physically, of course, but emotionally, too. Not just this time, but throughout his entire life. He's lost a lot of people he's cared for. His parents, his first partner. Even though you and I know everything's okay, Lee may be thinking he's lost another friend. Go slow with him, will you?"
"I will, sir," she nodded affirmatively. "Thank you."
"And Amanda," Billy added, grasping her arm supportively. "If you need anything, anything at all, just call me. Understand?"
"Yes, sir, I will. Thank you, sir."
After showing her Agency badge to what seemed like the entire hospital staff, the NEST team, and a couple of agents, Amanda was finally allowed to enter Lee's room. It was a good thing she hadn't taken her badge with her the night before. If she had, it would most certainly be at the bottom of Chesapeake Bay right now. Fortunately, the agent guarding Lee's door had recognized her from work, so she didn't have to submit to a personal search.
Amanda gently opened the door and stepped inside. Lee appeared to be sleeping, and she didn't want to wake him. She laid her purse on a table by the door and walked quietly to his bedside. After a few moments, she took a seat in a chair near the bed, content to simply watch him sleep and listen to his even breathing.
His left arm looked uncomfortable in its sling. His right arm was bruised in several places where IVs and a transfusion had been inserted, but most of the needles and tubing were gone now. She studied the wall of monitoring equipment. The machines were turned off and completely silent. 'A good sign, this time,' she thought. She shuddered as she remembered the last time she had seen Lee hooked up to similar equipment. Even though she had been in on the sting, the awful scene she had witnessed that day had seemed far too realistic. Her assignment, portraying the inconsolable partner and friend, had not been a challenge. She buried her face in her hands, willing the memory away.
Amanda looked up as she heard Lee begin to stir. She moved to his side, hoping he was about to awaken, but she realized instead that he was dreaming. She watched his face as the dream progressed and recognized from his expression that he was now in the throes of a horrible nightmare. If Billy had been right, which he inevitably was, Amanda had a pretty good idea what Lee was dreaming about.
She heard him call her name. "Amanda? Amanda?" Then mournfully, "Amanda!" She wanted to answer him, but she was hesitant to wake him from his dream. He began to toss in the bed, shaking his head from side to side. Afraid he would cause himself further injury, she gently began to stroke his hair. He didn't wake, but he calmed immediately. She was amazed to see that his eyes, though still closed, had formed tears that were now running down the sides of his face. 'Billy was right,' she thought, as she carefully wiped them away. 'Lee's really going to need me to help him get through this.'
After a few minutes, Amanda took her seat again. Lee appeared to be sleeping peacefully once more. She studied his face. Despite the scrapes and bruises, and despite his bandaged forehead, Amanda thought, not for the first time, that he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. 'I'm crazy about this guy,' she realized. 'Billy asked if I know how much I mean to Lee. I think I'm starting to get the idea. I wonder if Lee knows how much he means to me?'
Lee began to stir again. He didn't appear to be dreaming this time. Amanda wanted to be there when he woke, so she moved to the bedside and gently took his hand. Lee opened his eyes, and again found them filled with tears. He sensed someone's presence, but the tears had blurred his vision. He blinked them away in an effort to see who was there.
Amanda smiled at him. "Hi, sleepyhead."
"Amanda?" His face flooded with relief as his eyes began to focus. "You're here? You're okay?"
"I'm right here, Lee," she assured him.
"Amanda, you . . . I thought . . . you . . ." He couldn't go on.
"It's all right, Lee. I'm right here. I'm so sorry. Billy told me you were worried . . ."
"Billy . . ." An unwelcome thought began to form in Lee's mind, as he recalled his argument with Billy earlier in the day. In a matter of seconds, that thought had grown from a small seed of doubt into a full-blown suspicion, washing away any remainder of the initial relief he had felt at seeing Amanda's face. In his mind's eye, her familiar features seemed to fade, until a perfect stranger stood there staring at him. She was startled by the shadow of distrust that had suddenly come over his face, and she couldn't help but begin to pull away. Lee jerked his hand from her grip and said accusingly, "Billy sent you."
"Well, yes, Lee, I saw Billy, but . . ."
He glared at her. "You look like Amanda, but you're not her. You can't be."
Amanda didn't know what to say, and she was terribly afraid of where this seemed to be going.
"Billy sent you to trick me, didn't he? What, does he feel sorry for me, or something? Does he want me to get over it just like that?" He shook his head in disgust. "I'm an intelligence operative, remember? It's not like I can't figure these things out."
"Lee, listen . . ."
"No, you listen! You tell Billy that I don't need his help. And I sure don't need his sympathy! Tell him I'll be back at work when I'm good and ready. Until then, you, and Billy, and anybody else he wants to bring in on this, can just leave me the hell alone! Oh, yeah, and tell him this: NO MORE PARTNERS!" He turned his head toward the wall and closed his eyes, effectively shutting her out.
Amanda was terrified by the look she had seen in Lee's eyes, and she was hurt by his outburst. She had to bite her lip to keep from crying, knowing that would only make it worse. She wanted to help Lee sort it all out, but she realized she wasn't equipped to deal with whatever the problem was. She remembered Billy's admonition to go slow with him. "Okay, Lee," she concurred finally. "I'll tell him what you said." Grabbing her purse, she left the room and headed for the nearest payphone.
"Mr. Melrose, please," she said, as soon as the Agency operator picked up the phone. "This is Amanda King."
Billy came on the line immediately. "Hello, Amanda, is everything all right?"
"No, sir, everything isn't all right. It's Lee . . ."
"Oh, no, he hasn't . . ."
"Oh, no, sir, nothing like that. He's fine. But he . . . Mr. Melrose, he doesn't know me. He thinks you've sent in someone who looks like me, to . . . I don't know, to fool him for some reason. He won't talk to me; he won't even look at me. Sir, I think we need to get him some professional help, right away. Do you think Dr. Pfaff could come over here and talk to him?"
"Don't worry, Amanda, I'll find Pfaff right now. I'll grab Lee's profile for him to review in the car, and I'll fill him in on what happened last night. We're on our way. Just hold on until we get there!"
"I'll be right here, sir. Thank you."
A nurse had been in to check on Lee. She had removed the last IV from his hand and had brought him a late lunch. She had used the electronic control to raise the head of his bed, so that he could eat more comfortably.
He was not surprised to find he had little appetite, however, and he had been faced with the additional challenge of having to feed himself with his right hand. Now he sat staring sullenly out the window, his meal mostly ignored. He turned his head as he heard the door open.
"Hi, Scarecrow, can I come in?"
"Dr. Pfaff," Lee greeted him sarcastically. "So you're in on this, too."
"In on what?"
"Whatever Billy's up to."
"No, Lee, I heard you were hurt, and I came by to see about you. Are you doing all right? Need to talk?"
Lee studied the doctor's face, looking for any hint of deceit. He found none. He had dealt with Pfaff before and felt like he knew him pretty well. The guy was a little strange, and the thing with the ice cream was pretty weird, but Lee felt like he could trust him. He knew he needed to talk to somebody. "No, I'm not all right," he admitted finally. "I lost my partner."
"Doc, it was all my fault. Amanda . . . Amanda's dead." It was the first time he had been able to verbalize it, and he was overwhelmed by the almost physical pain he felt at the words.
"I heard about that. I'm sorry, Lee."
"Yeah." He roughly brushed at his eyes. "Thanks."
"So why are you angry at Billy? What makes you think he's up to something?"
"He won't admit that she's dead. He told me he'd seen her."
"I thought you had seen her, too, Scarecrow."
"Oh, no, that wasn't Amanda. I would know my . . ." Lee faltered, astonished at what he had been about to say. "I would know my partner. Billy sent that woman here to make me feel better. To make me feel better? I thought Billy was my friend." He clenched his jaw. "How could he do something so cruel?"
"Yeah, Lee, how could he have done something like that?"
Billy and Amanda were waiting anxiously in the hallway as Dr. Pfaff exited Lee's room. "It's a defense mechanism," the doctor stated, matter-of-factly, as they walked toward the lounge. "Anybody want some ice cream?"
"No, but I sure would like an explanation," Billy huffed impatiently.
"Hmmm. I wonder if they have any in the cafeteria."
"Now, Pfaff!" Billy demanded.
The doctor gave Billy a pained look, then turned to Amanda. "You know, Amanda, Lee is crazy about you. Well, maybe that wasn't the best choice of words. Sorry, sorry, I shouldn't joke," he quickly added, seeing the expression on Billy's face. "What I mean is, he cares a great deal about you."
"You were saying?" Billy prodded him, ignoring Amanda's embarrassment. "A defense mechanism?"
"Right. Although what Lee is feeling about Amanda is pretty obvious to the rest of us, he doesn't know about it himself just yet. It's something that's in his subconscious mind, but he hasn't quite admitted to himself yet, on a conscious level. Now, according to Lee's profile, he's suffered some pretty significant losses throughout his life. His parents, his first partner . . . Caring deeply about a person is something that Lee, unfortunately, associates with loss. His subconscious mind is afraid that if he admits his feelings for you, Amanda, he'll lose you, too. So he's taken the convenient way out. He's gotten rid of you already."
Amanda shook her head slowly as the doctor's statement sunk in. There really was more to it than friendship? Lee really did care for her?
Pfaff continued. "Now, I know how that must sound to you. But please understand that it's all happening on a subconscious level. It's not what Lee is really thinking. In fact, he's not thinking much at all right now. He's just hurting. What I'm trying to say is, Lee hasn't come to terms with what you mean to him yet, although it's only a matter of time before he does. So his subconscious mind would rather lose you now, before he's decided how much you mean to him, than later, at a point when his relationship with you really matters to him. Understand?"
"I'm trying. So how do we fix it?" Amanda wanted to know.
"Well, the whole problem is undoubtedly a result of this head injury, so it may just go away on its own, as he heals. Problem is, it's causing him an enormous amount of stress, and that stress is going to get in the way of his physical healing. A better way to deal with it would be hypnosis. We could recreate the trigger incident, and . . ."
"Trigger incident?" Billy interrupted.
"The explosion. Not a real explosion, of course, but one that's suggested under hypnosis. That way, Lee could find out what really happened and see for himself that Amanda is safe."
"But, Dr. Pfaff, even if you're able to help him this time, what's going to keep it from happening again?" Amanda asked. "Lee and I are partners. We work for the Agency. This isn't the last dangerous situation we'll be in together."
"That's a good question, but I don't think it's going to be a problem. There are a couple of reasons, really. For one thing, it was a physical injury, this second concussion, which brought this on. Eventually, that injury is going to heal. And secondly, by then, there's a pretty good chance that what Lee is feeling about you, Amanda, will have surfaced to his conscious mind. Once he's identified it, he'll be able to deal with it. Talk about it, even. And so will you. Then if at some point, God forbid, something did happen to separate you, his conscious mind would be able to handle it."
Billy had heard enough. "Okay, we get the picture. How soon can we get started?"
"We can do the hypnosis right away, although I'd want to talk to his MD first, especially about the head injury. But I suspect he'll be completely in favor of it. And I need to go over some things with you, Amanda. You'll have a big part in this. I'm afraid the biggest challenge is going to be convincing Lee to go through with it."
"No doubt," Billy said. "But the sooner we start, the sooner we'll have our Scarecrow back."
Dr. Scardelli had gone home to get some rest, so Billy sent a car for him. The NEST doctor was in total agreement with Pfaff's assessment and encouraged him to get started as quickly as possible. After his meeting with Scardelli and a brief orientation for Amanda, Pfaff was back in Lee's room. He had bought an ice cream bar in the cafeteria, and now he spoke to Lee between bites.
"How are you feeling, Scarecrow?"
"Pretty rotten." Lee replied sarcastically. "And you?"
"Uh, fine thanks. Say, we need to talk."
Lee simply scowled.
"Listen, Lee, I know you're hurting. And I know the pain isn't just physical. I've got a pretty good idea what's wrong, and I think I can do something to help you with it, but I'm going to need your permission. If it's okay with you, I'd like to put you under hypnosis. What do you say?"
"I say, no way."
"But, Lee . . . "
"Why, Doc?" Lee's voice was flat. "It's not going to change anything."
"Why, you ask? So I can find out exactly what happened, and why it's bothering you so much. Dr. Scardelli thinks it's a good idea. He thinks it'll help you get better faster."
"Let me save you some time, Doc." He studied a bruise on the back of his hand. "We were on a boat that blew up. I got hurt; Amanda got killed. It was because of me that she was there in the first place, and it was because of me that we got into trouble." Again, he looked out the window. "She was my partner. And my friend. We'd been together for more than two years. Besides, she had a whole other life outside the Agency, and that's gone now, too. All because of me." He met the doctor's gaze. "Why shouldn't it bother me?"
"I suppose it should. But maybe that's not exactly what happened."
"Look at me, Doc." He indicated his sling. "Believe me, it happened."
"Lee, I know that you were hurt, because I can see the evidence of your injuries." He gestured with the ice cream stick. "But I haven't seen any evidence that Amanda died. Have you?"
"Yeah, I have. Because I didn't see her at all. She went down and never came up. What else could have happened?"
"She could have come in to shore to find you some help."
"Yeah, right. From the middle of the Bay. Get to the point, Doc."
"You know, Stetson, you might want to try giving your partner some credit every once in awhile."
Lee chose to ignore him, so Pfaff simply stood there and finished his ice cream.
"OK, smart guy, here it is. Suppose I'm right. What if Amanda wasn't killed? Wouldn't you want the chance to see her again? To work with her? To be with her?"
"Yes, of course," Lee replied coolly. "But we both know that's not possible."
"But if it were . . ."
Lee stared at the doctor evenly. "Yes. Of course I would want her back."
"So, Lee, maybe Amanda died last night. If she did, there's not anything we can do about it, is there? But maybe she wasn't killed. Maybe she wasn't even injured. Maybe she's standing right outside that door, hurt that you don't want to see her, and not really understanding why."
"And you think that's what really happened."
"Yes, I do."
"And you think everything I saw, didn't happen."
"Two points, Lee, closely related. Number one, I'm not the guy with the head injury here. Number two, you were unconscious. You didn't see anything at all."
Lee thought about that for a minute. "So you're saying Amanda's not really dead, I just think she is."
"And if you hypnotize me, she won't be dead anymore."
"Not exactly. Amanda never was dead. If I hypnotize you, you just won't think that anymore. See the difference?"
"No," Lee argued halfheartedly. "That's crazy."
Pfaff carelessly tossed his ice cream stick into the plastic wastebasket by Lee's bed. "Interesting choice of words, Scarecrow."
"Doc," Lee insisted, as he reached up with his good arm and switched on the wall-mounted lamp behind his bed. "No one could have survived that blast. It's that simple."
"If it's that simple, Lee, then why don't you just agree to go through with it? Like you said, if I'm wrong, it's not going to change anything."
"All right, all right, you win. I'm tired of arguing. Sure, why not? I'll go through with it, even if it's for no other reason than to prove a point. You're wrong. I'm right. And nothing's going to bring my partner back."
"Lee, can you hear me?"
"Do you know my voice?"
"You're Dr. Pfaff."
"How about this voice, Lee?"
"Hello, Lee," Amanda said, as she had been instructed.
Lee relaxed visibly as he recognized the timbre of her voice. "Amanda," he smiled and whispered softly.
Embarrassed by the intimate familiarity in his tone, Amanda looked at the floor. Billy Melrose smirked and rolled his eyes. Dr. Pfaff shook his head at both of them.
"OK, Lee, we're going to go back in time to about 9:00 last night. Can you tell us what's happening?"
"We're on a launch. It's taking us out to Eduardo Aldo's yacht. I'm supposed to be investing in a new nightclub, a front for his gambling operation, and whatever else he's got going."
"Who's there with you?"
"Amanda. She's part of my cover. You know, rich playboy with a trophy, that sort of thing."
Billy looked questioningly at Amanda, who again found the floor with her eyes.
Pfaff continued. "Do you meet with Aldo?"
"We meet. He serves some drinks. We talk. Aldo and I sign the papers. Money changes hands. I've got a wire in the briefcase with the money. . . Damn! They've seen the transmitter! Now they're searching us. They've got my gun. They want our IDs. Neither one of us has any. They think we might be agents. Now they're going to kill us, execute us. It's all my fault, Amanda, I'm sorry. If I had only taken the time to get some IDs made up . . ." He made a fist and was about to slam it into the railing of his bed, but Pfaff was able to grab his arm before he injured himself further.
Concerned, Billy began to interrupt, but Pfaff silenced him with a wave of his hand. After Lee had relaxed, Pfaff encouraged him to continue. "So, they want to kill you?"
"I'm in handcuffs. Amanda's hands are tied. We're kneeling at the very edge of the deck. They're saying they don't want to clean up the mess. We're so far out, no one will ever find us. I'm so sorry, Amanda. There was so much I wanted to say to you."
Now, Amanda started to say something, but Pfaff warned her with a look.
"Wait a minute; what are they talking about? They've forgotten something. They want to tie us to something heavy so our bodies won't float. One of them goes to look for some more rope. The other one's not paying attention. Amanda? Her hands are loose! She's swinging! Yes! Good distraction! Move, move!"
Lee's legs began to move violently under the covers. Again the doctor tried to keep him still.
"Are you fighting, Lee?"
"I'm kicking. My hands are still in the cuffs. The other guy's coming back! Amanda, look out! He's firing!"
Lee winced in pain and spun his body toward his bandaged shoulder. "I'm hit. I'm down."
Billy started to stand up, but Pfaff motioned for him to remain still.
"Now Amanda's pulling me. Here comes Aldo! Amanda, he's got a gun, look out! Wait, what's he doing? Oh, no! He's firing at the fuel tanks! What the hell is he doing? It's suicide! He'll kill us all! Amanda sees it, too. She's pulling me. Dragging me overboard! Amanda, jump! Nooooo!"
In the confines of his bed, Lee attempted to dive for cover. Billy and Amanda looked at each other, certain they had seen a reflection of the fiery blast in Lee's panicked expression. Again Pfaff tried to calm him.
"Now what's happening, Lee?"
"I'm in the water. There's fire and debris everywhere. It's hard to stay up. I can't move my arms. The cuffs. My head hurts. I think I'm going to pass out. Where's Amanda? Amanda?" His voice broke. "Amanda!"
Amanda recognized that same mournful cry from his earlier dream. 'He never knew I was right there in the water with him,' she realized. Dr. Pfaff nodded at her to answer him, knowing that the two agents were about to engage in a bizarre conversation that had never really occurred.
Amanda moved to the side of his bed. "I'm right here, Lee."
"Are you okay?"
"I'm fine. Hold still, I've got you."
"Amanda, I'm hit."
Amanda blinked back tears as she remembered supporting him in the water and watching helplessly as blood streamed from his wound and into the Bay. "I know, Lee. We've got to get you out of the water. Hold still, and let me pull you."
Billy watched Amanda with concern. From what she had told him during her debriefing, and from what he had gleaned from Lee's narrative so far, the pair had been through one of the worst experiences imaginable. Now they were both being forced to relive it. And although Lee wasn't aware of what was going on, Amanda certainly was. Billy hoped she was up to it.
Bravely, Amanda continued. "Lee, there's a marker buoy. I can see it from here. We need to swim over to it. Let me pull you."
"We made it to the marker, Lee. Can you help me, and pull yourself up onto it?" He hadn't been able to do anything at all, Amanda remembered. With the help of the water's natural buoyancy, she had hoisted him up until his upper body was entirely above the surface. She had taken off his bow tie, and tearing into it, pulled out one of the stays. Being careful not to lose the tie in the water, she had used the protruding piece of metal to open his handcuffs. "Lee, we need to get your coat off. Can you help me?" Again, he had been unable to help, so she tugged on the coat until she had managed to get it off of him. "Okay, now your suspenders. I'm going to use them to secure you to this buoy, so you can't fall into the water. Now we're going to use your coat to try to stop the bleeding." She had bundled his tuxedo coat into a tight wad and crammed it under his suspenders, directly on top of the gunshot wound, hoping to slow the bleeding.
As Amanda was speaking, Lee appeared to drift in and out of consciousness. Now he lay motionless and unresponsive in his hospital bed.
"Lee, can you hear Amanda?"
Lee didn't respond. Amanda looked worriedly at Billy, who joined her at the bedside. He placed a supportive hand on her shoulder.
Pfaff tried again, seemingly unconcerned. "Lee, you need to answer me. Can you hear Amanda?"
"I don't think so," he mumbled. "I think I passed out."
Amanda breathed a sigh of relief at the sound of his voice. Billy gave her a quick pat on the shoulder and resumed his seat.
"Yes, Lee, you're unconscious, but you can still hear and understand everything Amanda is saying to you. You can even answer her if you want to. Okay?"
"Okay," Lee agreed.
Pfaff nodded for Amanda to go on. She took a deep breath and continued. "Lee, I think we've got the bleeding slowed down. I'm getting cold. I need to move around a little bit. I'm going to swim back to the boat and see what's left. I'll be right back."
"No, Amanda, don't go. Amanda? Amanda, where are you?"
"Here I am, Lee. I went to the boat, but I'm back now. I found some flotation straps. We need to get one of them around you in case you slip off this marker. Can you help me?"
"No, I can't move at all. I think I must be dead."
She knew exactly what he was talking about. Her voice broke as she remembered having, for a few moments, thought the same thing. "That's okay, I can do it. And you're not dead, Lee, you're just asleep."
Amanda shivered and closed her eyes, reliving the terror she had felt upon returning from the debris field to find her partner very pale and perfectly still. His hair and skin seemed white with frost, and for a moment she thought he must have frozen to death while she had been gone. Then she had remembered how warm the weather had been, and realized he was simply covered with a fine layer of spray from the Bay's freshwater/saltwater mixture. But he was so pale, and so still. Had the bleeding been checked because his heart had stopped beating? Fearfully, she had felt for a pulse. It was slow and weak, but it was there.
At that moment, Amanda had made one of the most difficult decisions of her life. Although she didn't want to leave him there alone, she knew Lee was badly injured, and exposed to the elements as he was, she knew he likely wouldn't last until morning. Even then, there was no guarantee they'd be spotted and rescued. He needed medical attention, and he needed it soon. Besides, she was getting cold again herself. There wasn't room for both of them on the marker, and she couldn't stay in the water much longer without moving around. She would have to swim to shore.
"Lee? Please listen to me. I'm going to have to go get you some help."
"Amanda, no, stay with me."
"I've got to go, Lee. The fire's burned out. Nobody's going to see us. You need help, and the only way you're going to get it is if I go find it."
"No, you can't go, we're too far out."
"I really don't think it's that far. I can see lights from here, even buildings. I'm a good swimmer, Lee. The moon's out tonight, and there's hardly any wake. I found a life jacket to wear, and some other stuff to float on. I can do it. I have to do it."
"No, you can't go. I won't let you." He grasped at her arm. "Please don't go. I'd die if anything happened to you, Amanda." He pulled her close. "Amanda, I love you."
Taken aback, Amanda exchanged glances with Billy and Dr. Pfaff. Surprised and encouraged by the broad smile she found on her boss's face, she continued, hesitantly at first, and then with more confidence. "I . . . I love you, too, Lee. But I'm afraid you're going to die anyway if I don't go get you some help. I'll be okay. Just promise me you'll hang on until I get back."
"I will," he agreed reluctantly. "Just promise me you'll come back."
"Oh, yeah, I'll be back," Amanda assured him. "You can count on it."
"Lee, when I count to three, you're going to wake up. You'll remember your assignment from last night, and you'll remember the explosion, but you won't remember anything about today. You won't remember being worried about Amanda at all. She'll be here with you when you wake up, and everything will be fine. You'll visit with her for a few minutes, then you'll settle down for a good night's sleep, okay?"
"Okay," Lee said agreeably.
"One," the doctor said, as he propelled a curious Billy Melrose toward the door. "Two." Pfaff opened the door and they started into the hallway. "Three," he called, pulling the door shut behind him.
Billy and Pfaff were waiting discreetly in the hallway when Amanda joined them a few minutes later. She wiped at some stray tears, but one look at the smile on her face told Billy everything he needed to know.
"How did he seem, Amanda?" Pfaff wanted to know.
"He's himself again. He's awfully tired and sore, but beyond that, he seems perfectly normal. He thought he'd been asleep all day, and he was glad that I was there when he woke up. Thank you so much," she said, taking the doctor's hand. "Both of you," she added, giving Billy a hug. She shook her head. "You can't imagine how it felt when . . ."
"Amanda," Billy broke in. "Why don't you go on home? Lee's going to be just fine. Go home and get some rest, and you can come back and see him tomorrow. You've had an awfully rough time of it, yourself. Take a few days off if you need to."
"Yes, sir, I do need to get home. And I think I will take a few days, if you don't mind. That way I can take care of Lee. Thank you again, sir."
Amanda started to leave, then hesitated and turned back after just a couple of steps. "You know, sir, I was thinking. It seems I have something of . . . an advantage . . . over Lee."
"What do you mean, Amanda?" Billy asked kindly.
"Well, sir," she said slowly, "I've seen Lee in a pretty vulnerable position that he'll never even know he was in. I think he'd be kind of . . . embarrassed."
"I suppose he would be embarrassed, knowing Lee," replied Pfaff. "But surely you understand we had no choice."
"Oh, yes, I understand." She looked at the floor.
"Amanda," Billy said, "do you realize that just about every woman in the world would love to be in your shoes right now? Lee is crazy about you, and you're not even going to have to wait on him to tell you about it."
"That's just it, sir." She looked up at him. Amanda felt strange confiding in these two men about such personal matters, but considering the experience they'd all just been through, she knew she could trust them completely. "I know something about Lee that he doesn't even know himself. I know how much he cares about me. And he's got to know I care about him, too, he just won't be able to find out about it the way I did. Something wonderful might happen between the two of us someday, and I really hope it will. But right now, I'm in a position to force it, and I really don't want to do that. It just seems awfully unfair."
"You know, Amanda," Pfaff mused, as he fished in his pocket for change to buy more ice cream. "There is something we could do about that."
"You mean . . ."
"With your permission, and if your boss, here, approves, I could take you back to the same place Lee is right now. You'd both remember the case, and the explosion, just none of the psychological consequences."
"Won't it show up in our profiles that we were hypnotized?" Amanda wondered. "They're opened every time we come up for review."
"Neither of you are up for review anytime soon," Billy told her. "Besides, will it really matter if it comes up down the road sometime? Pfaff works with field agents all the time. It's his job to keep everyone's heads on straight. Considering what the two of you went through last night, I don't think it would surprise anyone on the review board to know that you both needed a little help dealing with it. That's what Dr. Pfaff is here for, Amanda. To do what needs to be done to keep our best agents in the field."
Amanda blushed, flattered by the way Billy had worded his last statement.
"Besides, the review board hardly ever pays any attention to medical reports. From my office, or anyone else's. They're more interested in your tax return or your reimbursement receipts. It's a thankless job . . ." Pfaff quipped, as he counted his change.
Amanda considered her options. It was wonderful knowing that Lee Stetson was in love with her. But she was in love with Lee, too. She couldn't take advantage of him or their future, whatever it was to be. She looked at Billy, who smiled at her and nodded his head. "Yes," she replied finally. "Let's do it."
Epilogue: (several weeks later)
Billy Melrose hurried up the stairs to the Q Bureau. He had just seen Lee and Amanda come in, and he needed to catch them before they left again. Just as he put his hand on the doorknob, he heard the bolt click from the inside. "Lee?" He rapped on the glass. "Amanda?" He would have sworn he heard Lee mutter something to the effect of, "No. Not this time."
'Huh?' Billy wondered. 'What's that all about?' He smiled as it struck him. 'Ohhh, that's what that's all about! Well, it's about time!' Feeling much like the cat that had eaten the canary, Billy tried to swallow his smile as he nearly collided with Francine, who had backtracked out of her own curiosity. He hoped she would follow him as he made a hasty retreat back down the stairs.
Behind the locked door, Lee and Amanda gazed into each other's eyes. They moved together and their lips met tenderly and sweetly. They looked at each other, embraced, and kissed again, more passionately this time.
For a long moment afterward, they simply stood and held each other close, looking into one another's eyes and basking in the happiness of the moment. Lee took half a step back and clasped both of her hands with his. He looked deeply into her eyes. "Amanda . . ." he began.
She waited breathlessly for his next words.
"Just promise me you'll come back," Lee said, for absolutely no reason that he could think of. He blinked. He was sure that wasn't what he'd been about to say.
"Oh, yeah, I'll be back," Amanda replied, to her own surprise. "You can count on it."
Neither understanding nor caring about the meaning of their words, they
shook their heads and laughed with one another. "I guess we'd better see
what Billy wants," they said at exactly the same time, provoking another
round of laughter. Lee unlocked the door, and arm-in-arm, they headed down