by: barnstormer

Disclaimer: "Scarecrow and Mrs. King" is copyrighted to Warner Bros. and Shoot the Moon Productions. The familiar characters of "Peter Pan" were created by J. M. Barrie, who, upon his death, willed his copyright to the Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital, London. Names, places, situations, and dialogue are borrowed from the television series, specifically "The ACM Kid", by Gregory S. Dinallo, and from "Peter Pan". This story is intended for entertainment purposes only, not for profit. I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it, but please do not post any portion of it elsewhere without checking with me first.

Author's notes: Thanks so much, Kim, for beta-reading and encouraging. Feedback is always welcome.

Timeline: Spring, 1987.

Summary: Seriously injured during an averted political assassination, Amanda dreams of pirates, pixies, and the Lost Boys.

Rating: PG-13, for violence and cuddling, and the obligatory double entendre.

Warning: Mostly cloudy to partly sunny, with a 70% chance of spew.

Lee Stetson awakened for the second time that morning. The first time had been at 8:00, just before his wife had slipped noiselessly into his apartment. Now, it was 10:30, and when he woke up this time, Amanda was in his arms. He shifted his position a bit in an effort to see the clock, and he couldn't help but smile when he realized his movement had awakened her, too. "Morning," he said. "Sleep well?"

"Very well," she laughed. "For all of about twenty minutes. It seems my husband was doing his best to keep me awake this morning."

"Sorry," he replied, grinning, his tone conveying that he wasn't really apologizing.

Amanda reached up and combed his tousled hair with her fingertips. "Don't be," she told him. "I enjoyed every minute of it."

"Me, too." Lee kissed the tip of her nose before he kicked his feet out from under the covers. "You ready for some coffee and the paper?"


Fifteen minutes later, they were arranged comfortably on the sofa in Lee's living room, first inhaling the steam, then gingerly sipping hot coffee from their mugs. Lee frequented a gourmet coffee shop in his neighborhood where he could buy flavored beans, and they both enjoyed the ritual of grinding and brewing their own favorite blends. This morning, they were enjoying the savory aroma and flavor of 'hazelnut cream'.

Amanda had brought the Sunday edition of the Washington Post with her from Arlington, and now its various sections were spread over their laps and on the coffee table. Lee was thoroughly engrossed in last night's NBA stats, as well as the projections for today's big game. He was convinced that his favorite team, the Boston Celtics, would make it all the way to the finals again this year. Wrapped up, as he was, in Robert Parrish's points and assists, Lee jumped a little when Amanda gave a little squeal of delight. "Ooohhh! I almost forgot! Lee, the panda thing is today!"

"Panda thing?" Lee stared at her blankly. "What panda thing?"

"At the National Zoo," she replied, perusing the article she had found. "They're celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of the giant pandas."

"Huh," he quipped, sipping his coffee. "Didn't know they were married."

"Very funny," Amanda retorted. "It's the fifteenth anniversary of their arrival at the zoo. There's going to be a big ceremony; some Chinese dignitaries are going to be there . . . even the Vice President!"

"Great." Lee went back to the stats.

Amanda reached for her coffee cup and took a sip. "Don't you want to go?" she asked, as she set the cup aside and pulled her legs up underneath her.

He flipped a corner of the newspaper down and turned his head to look at her. "No," he stated, rather emphatically, before he turned his attention back to the paper.

"But, Lee, this is a historic event . . ." She held her section of the newspaper open and tried to show him the article.

"So is this afternoon's game, Amanda. I've been looking forward to it all week." Lee shifted slightly and propped his feet on the coffee table, crossing his legs at the ankles. "In fact, I was hoping you'd watch it with me."

Sighing, Amanda folded the paper and dropped it across her lap. "Lee, Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing are . . ."

"Who?" Lee interrupted, hiding his grin behind the sports page. He knew perfectly well the names of the two bears that had been presented to the National Zoo by the Chinese government during the Nixon administration, but it was an awful lot of fun to make Amanda think he didn't.

"The pandas, Lee," she answered impatiently. "And for the record, I think they're a lot more interesting than the stupid Keltics." Amanda knew perfectly well how to pronounce the name of Lee's favorite team, but it was an awful lot of fun to make him think she didn't.

"Sell-tics, Amanda. Sell-tics."

"Whatever," she said, with a shrug, knowing her intentionally off-handed reaction would drive him nuts. It did, for several seconds, until Lee noticed that Amanda was trying her best not to laugh.

"You think that's funny, huh?" he asked, as he grabbed her. He knew exactly where to start tickling, causing them both to erupt into a fit of giggles. Before they knew it, they had tickled one another right onto the floor, between the coffee table and the sofa. As they found their breath, Lee gave his wife a smoldering look and planted an unnecessarily sloppy kiss right in the middle of her chest.

Amanda began giggling again.

"You find that funny, too?" Lee wondered aloud, as Amanda pushed him into a sitting position.

"Yes! Well, no, not really. It just reminded me of something. Only it wasn't a real kiss like this one was . . . Lee, have you ever read Peter Pan?"

"No," he answered suggestively, moving in for another kiss. "But if that's what it reminded you of, maybe I should. Hey, where are you going?" he complained as she scooted out from under him.

"To take a shower. Lee, I really want to go to the panda thing. Are you sure you don't want to come with me?"

"What, into the shower?" he asked, with an adorably hopeful expression on his face.

"No, to the zoo," she laughed.

"Yeah, Amanda, I'm sure," he said, standing up and pulling his t-shirt off over his head and following her into the bathroom. "Nothing is going to drag me away from the game this afternoon. Look, how about you go to your panda thing, I'll watch the game, and we can meet back in Arlington for dinner. Joe should have the kids back by then. We can even barbeque if you want, if the weather stays nice."

"Okay," she agreed, smiling at him. "I'd like that. Now, Mr. Stetson, how about that shower?"


As she parked her Jeep, Amanda noticed portable metal detectors set up at the zoo's main entrance. She checked her purse for her federal ID, knowing she would need it to enter the park with the small service revolver she had become accustomed to carrying, even off-duty. She hoped the Secret Service wouldn't hassle her about it. Maybe she'd recognize someone she knew, and they'd let her in without making a federal case of it. 'No pun intended,' she said to herself wryly.

Several hundred people were in attendance, many of them young families with small children. Out of habit, Amanda swept the crowd with her eyes. The dignitaries seemed well protected by Secret Service agents, painfully obvious in their dark suits, metal-rimmed sunglasses, wireless lapel microphones, and curled-wire, earplug-style receivers. There were a fair number of park police, as well, carefully watching the growing crowd.

The audience began to applaud as the Vice President made his way up the stairs to the platform and shook hands with representatives from the Smithsonian Institute and the National Zoo. The Chinese delegation followed him up the stairs and also shook hands all around, as the program began. Amanda found a comfortable spot approximately thirty yards from the podium, and at the back of the crowd. She stood under the shade of a tall elm tree to listen to the speeches, looking forward to the end of the formalities, and to the moment when the crowd would be allowed to visit the panda exhibit.

A gentleman representing the zoo spoke first, providing the crowd with biographical information about the famous pair of bears. Concluding his speech, the man then introduced the Chinese ambassador, who, along with a translator, made his way to the podium. Amanda glanced around the crowd once again. About fifty yards to her right, in an area far removed from the dais and from the large audience, Amanda noticed a tall, thin man standing by himself. He was peering through a pair of binoculars, which were aimed at the platform. She was too far away to see the man's face, but there was something disconcertingly familiar about his posture.

The man began to pivot from the waist, turning his head and shoulders in Amanda's direction. Surreptitiously, and hoping to blend into the throng of people, she ducked her head and stepped closer to a young man who was there with his small son and daughter. Glancing back toward the tall man, she realized he wasn't focusing on her, but at a point about thirty feet to her left.

Amanda saw the shooter immediately. He was dressed as a zoo employee and stood with his back against a small outbuilding, the kind that would house an electric generator or a small water supply. He wore a long-barreled pistol in his holster-belt and held a high-powered rifle in his hands. He looked very much like the animal control officers Amanda had seen near the dangerous wildlife exhibits, but there wasn't any dangerous wildlife in this section of the zoo. The man moved around to the side of the building opposite the crowd.

Looking back toward the man with the binoculars, Amanda saw that he had once again turned his attention to the dignitaries on the platform. She took advantage of his inattention and slipped quickly toward the outbuilding. She pulled her gun and badge from her purse, dropped her purse on the ground, and peeked around the corner.

Amanda had hoped to alert the Secret Service to the assassin's presence without unnecessarily panicking the crowd, but as she heard the rifle's bolt-action slide into place, she knew there wouldn't be time. Wheeling around the corner of the outbuilding, Amanda stepped up behind the man and pointed her revolver at the back of his head. She pulled back the hammer, making sure he had heard the click. "Federal agent," she said, in a decidedly threatening tone. "Put it down. Slowly."

Ignoring her, the man raised the weapon to his shoulder and began to squeeze the trigger. "Shooter!" Amanda screamed in the general direction of the nearest Secret Service agent, suddenly not caring if the audience heard, too. There was no time to waste. At the same instant, she lowered her head and came up underneath the man's elbow, knocking him off balance and causing his shot to fly far above the heads of the men on the platform.

The Secret Service sprang into action, forcing the Vice President and the Chinese ambassador to the floor of the stage. Several agents formed a perimeter around the platform, urging the Vice President to stay down, while others sprinted through the scattering crowd, searching for the source of the gunfire.

The man had tossed his rifle aside and was attempting to flee, but Amanda lunged at him and caught him around the knees, pulling him to the ground. His hands remained free, and as he tried to loosen himself from Amanda's grasp, he was able to release his pistol from its holster. Amanda looked up to see the weapon pointed directly at her as she aimed her own gun at him. They fired at exactly the same time.


Billy Melrose cringed reflexively at the unpleasantly familiar sound. He reluctantly set down the ice-cold bottle of beer he had just opened and punched the mute button on his remote control. He glanced at the television screen one last time before turning to his desk to answer the noisily ringing phone. Larry Bird had just sunk a basket that had pushed the game into overtime, but Billy knew he wouldn't be watching the end of the game today. This particular telephone was his off-duty link with the Agency, and the fact that it was ringing on Sunday afternoon meant something had happened . . . probably something bad. "Hello, Francine," Billy said, both wearily and warily. He knew the caller would be his able blonde assistant, long before he ever heard her voice. Francine had drawn the short straw, pulling active duty for the weekend.

"Billy, I've got a call from an Agent Daugherty, Secret Service. He says it's urgent."

"Okay, thanks, Francine. Put him through."

Billy marked a couple of seconds of dead air and then spoke as he heard the slight hiss indicating the connection had been established. "Melrose."

"Mr. Melrose, I'm Tim Daugherty. Secret Service, attached to the Vice President's detail. Sir, have you been watching the news this afternoon?"

"No, Mr. Daugherty," Billy sighed. "I've been watching the Celtics." Billy turned back to his television set, just as his regularly scheduled program was being interrupted for a special news bulletin. He realized he was still holding the remote control and rapidly punched the mute button again.

". . . attempt on the lives of the Vice President and the Chinese ambassador was foiled by the heroic efforts of the Secret Service. The Vice President is safe. We repeat, the Vice President is safe. One member of the Secret Service was injured and has been rushed to George Washington University Hospital in very serious condition. The name of the injured agent has not been released. Live from the giant panda anniversary ceremony at the National Zoo in Washington . . ."

"Okay, Daugherty. I'm impressed. Your guys did a great job. So, why are you calling me?"

"It wasn't one of our agents, Mr. Melrose. The media only assumed it was, since she was carrying federal ID . . ."

"Daugherty, are you telling that one of my agents was involved in this? That's impossible. We weren't covering the Vice President this weekend."

"Evidently she was off-duty, sir. Just attending the function."

"She." Billy repeated, becoming aware of a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He could only think of one female agent in his section who might choose to spend her day off attending a panda bear anniversary ceremony. "All right, Daugherty. Who is it, and what's her status?"

"An Amanda King, according to her ID, sir. One of my men recognized her, and he confirmed her identity. She's the one who was shot, sir. I'm sorry."

The sound that issued from Billy's throat was something between a sigh and a groan. "How bad?" he asked fearfully.

"It was a chest wound, sir. Point blank. It looked pretty bad from where I was . . ."


". . . We now return to your regularly scheduled programming." Returning from a quick trip to the bathroom, Lee stopped by the refrigerator to grab another bottle of beer. He flopped down onto the sofa just as the phone began to ring. Holding the volume button down until the sound was almost inaudible, Lee tossed the remote control onto the empty sofa cushion beside him. He picked the telephone up on the third ring. "Yeah. Stetson," he answered.

"Lee, it's Billy. Are you watching television?"

"Of course, I'm watching television. Are you nuts? The game just went into overtime."

"So you saw that bulletin just now . . ."

"No, I was in the . . . er, indisposed just now. What bulletin?" Lee asked curiously, as he took a sip of beer.

"Lee, I, ah, don't suppose there's any chance that Amanda's there with you this afternoon . . ." Billy had already tried calling her house in Arlington and had received no answer.

"No, Billy. She went to the zoo. Some big shindig for the giant pandas . . ."

"I was afraid you were going to say that. Listen, Lee, you'd better sit down."

"I am sitting down," Lee replied, frowning, the basketball game quickly forgotten. "What's wrong?"

"Lee, someone tried to assassinate the Vice President this afternoon. At the zoo."

Lee felt a sudden chill pass through his body. "Oh, no, Billy . . ."

"I don't know how she got involved, Lee, but evidently, Amanda brought down the shooter."

Lee recognized the bitter taste of fear rising from the back of his throat. He took a swig of beer, in a desperate effort to wash it away. "What are you not telling me, Billy?"

"Lee . . . Amanda was shot."

He closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe. "Is she alive?" he asked quietly.

"As far as I know, yes." Billy elected to spare Lee the details of Agent Daugherty's assessment. "They've taken her to GWU. Do you want to meet me there, or do you want me to send a car for you?"

Lee looked at the open beer bottle in his hand, then at the three empty ones lined up on the coffee table. "You'd better send a car. Thanks, Billy, I'll see you there."

Retrieving the remote control, Lee punched in CNN, where he knew such a major news event would be an ongoing story for several hours. ". . . female agent was shot once in the chest. She is listed in very serious condition at George Washington University Hospital. The name of the injured agent is being withheld, pending notification of relatives. She is credited with saving the lives of both the Vice President and the Chinese ambassador . . ."


Billy was already sitting in the waiting room just inside the hospital's emergency entrance when Lee arrived. "Any news?" he demanded, rushing up to his boss.

"Amanda's in surgery right now. I've checked in with one of the nurses. She's going to let the doctors know we're here. I guess that means they'll tell us something when there's something to tell."

Lee fell into the chair to Billy's left and stared ruefully at the double doors leading to the interior of the hospital. "I should have gone with her, Billy. She wanted me to go with her, and I just had to stay home and watch that stupid game."

"Don't blame yourself, Lee," Billy told him, knowing his words would go unheeded.

"Mr. Stetson?" a voice interrupted. "Lee Stetson?"

Lee stood up quickly, wondering how in the world he could have missed noticing the double doors swing open. He realized that they hadn't, and that instead, the automatic door from the emergency room's entrance was sliding shut. He whirled around, still expecting to be addressed by a doctor. He was surprised, instead, to see a skinny, whimsical-looking teenager staring back at him a bit uncertainly.

The boy was dressed in baggy drawstring shorts with a huge floral print, a Hawaiian shirt that didn't match the shorts, and red high-top sneakers. The wheels of a skateboard were hooked through the strap of a duffel bag he wore slung over his shoulder. There was something familiar about the young man's unshaven face, which was framed haphazardly by an unruly mane of dark curls. "Alexi Kalnikov," Lee said, as the boy's features finally registered in his memory. "Billy, you remember this guy . . . the ACM satellite case from a few years ago."

"That's right," Alexi grinned, as he offered first Lee, then Billy, his hand. "Mr. Melrose, isn't it? It's good to see you both again. But I suppose your being here means you've got someone in the hospital. I hope everything's all right . . ."

"No," Lee said, impatiently, sitting down hard. "Everything's not all right. My partner's in there." He nodded toward the doors. "She was shot." He leaned forward a bit and dropped his forearms across his knees. "We're still waiting for news."

"Your partner? Do you mean Mrs. King?" Alexi hadn't thought of Lee Stetson or Amanda King in years, but he remembered them with a certain fondness, particularly Mrs. King. Alexi's parents had been kidnapped, and he was being coerced into securing surveillance satellite codes in exchange for their safety. Mrs. King had gone out of her way to be kind to him, even though he had fought her almost every step of the way. Together with Lee Stetson, she had helped save his and his parents' lives. "Oh, man," Alexi said softly. "I'm really sorry. I hope she'll be okay."

"Thank you, Alexi," Billy said, as a tight-lipped Lee leaned back in his chair and nodded his acknowledgement. "How about you? Do you have someone here, too?"

"Oh, no, I work here. It's supposed to be my day off, but I just got paged to come in." He indicated a small black box clipped to his shoulder strap. "Listen, as soon as I check in and find out what they're needing me for, I'll try to get some information about Mrs. King for you."

The men nodded their thanks as Alexi walked away. "Must be an orderly or something," Billy mumbled, as he watched the young man push his foot against the kick plate on the bottom of one of the double doors and make his way into the interior of the hospital. "You'd think they'd make those fellows clean up a bit."


Lee glanced at his watch for what must have been the hundredth time. He alternated that gesture with a concentrated study of the textured patterns in the wall directly across from his chair in the emergency waiting room. He remembered having done the same thing as he waited for news about Amanda when she was shot in February, during their ill-fated honeymoon. Lee knew it was irrational, maybe even superstitious, but it concerned him terribly that the patterns on this wall seemed different from the ones in that California hospital. Amanda had survived that time . . .

Forty minutes later, the double doors swung open, and Lee and Billy jumped to their feet as a tall, well-built man of about 50 stepped toward them. "You gentlemen must be here with the federal agent who was brought in," he said. "I'm Daniel Girardeau, head of emergency."

"William Melrose," Billy said, shaking the doctor's hand. "Mrs. King's supervisor. This is Lee Stetson, her partner."

"Mr. Stetson," the doctor said, as they shook hands as well.

"Is she alive?" Lee asked, his face filled with both trepidation and hope.

"Yes, Mr. Stetson. She's alive."

Despite the encouraging news, something in the doctor's tone filled Lee with dread. "She's going to be all right . . . isn't she?"

"I wish I could tell you that she was, but right now, we're honestly not sure what's going to happen. We're charting some unfamiliar territory here."

Billy and Lee glanced at each other worriedly, then Billy shook his head. "Unfamiliar territory? We were told she was injured very seriously, but . . ."

"Mr. Melrose, Mr. Stetson," Dr. Girardeau began. "Mrs. King's injury isn't a conventional gunshot wound. The projectile came from some sort of pellet gun. It was some sort of tranquilizer, possibly intended for the pandas. The pellet was evidently designed to burst upon penetrating the body, behaving much the same way a soft-nosed bullet would. Instead of doing that type of severe damage, though, this projectile simply released its contents into her bloodstream and tissue. Now, we were able to remove the bits of shrapnel from the pellet, but the drug itself entered . . ." The doctor paused, looking at Lee with concern. "Mr. Stetson, you're looking a little pale. Do you need to sit down? Here, come with me." He led the two men back to the row of chairs where they had been seated. "Do you need some water?"

Lee shook his head. "No, no, I'm fine," he lied. "Go on." In reality, he was unsure how many more details he could stand to hear.

"Well, as I was saying, the drug entered her system instantly when the pellet burst. The problem is, we're not entirely sure of the make-up of the chemical, and as a result, we don't quite know how Mrs. King will be affected. So far, I'm afraid her body's reaction to the drug . . . well, it hasn't been good. Not to mention, she received a dose intended for a creature much larger than herself."

"A tranquilizer pellet? For a bear?" Lee interrupted, his voice rising in panic.

"Mr. Melrose," the doctor continued. "We need to get another pellet from that gun, to analyze the chemical compound of the drug. I'm sure the weapon was confiscated by the park police, or by the Secret Service. Can you get it for us?"

"Consider it done," Billy said. "It'll be here in minutes."

"Good. Now, we have an excellent chemical research department here at GWU, and we've brought in our top man, but we'd like to get your Dr. McJohn in on this, as well."

"How do you know McJohn?" Billy wondered, checking his pocket for change for the telephone.

"He was my roommate in college."

Billy shook his head. "I'm fairly certain McJohn's out of the country. He was heading to Brussels for the chemical warfare conference. I suppose we could track him down . . . put him on a military jet . . . but it would still be several hours before he could get here, and I'm getting the impression that time is a luxury we don't have. Can your man handle this without him?"

"Dr. Kal's young, but he's good. If anyone can do it, he can."

"Dr. Kal?" Billy repeated.

"Alexi Kalnikov. He's an MD, and our head chemist. He's already going over Mrs. King's lab reports. Believe me, Mr. Melrose, if there's a solution to be found, Dr. Kal will find it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to get back to my patient."


Several minutes later, the sliding glass doors opened, and Francine rushed into the waiting room, carrying a sealed plastic bag. "Here it is, Billy!"

Grabbing the bag from her, Billy thrust it at a nurse who stood behind the emergency desk. "Can you get this to Girardeau or Kalnikov? It's urgent!"

The nurse, who had evidently been told to expect the arrival of the weapon, took it from his hand and hurried through the double doors.

"Now, what, Billy?" Francine asked.

"Now we wait," he answered somberly. He looked across the room to the payphone, where Lee had been trying to contact Dotty West. "Nothing to do but wait."

"Billy," Francine continued, in a hushed voice. "The Secret Service had just started to run a make on that gun. It wasn't the same kind of tranquilizer gun they normally use at the zoo."

"It wasn't? What was it, then?"

She lifted her shoulders in a shrug. "They're not sure. They hadn't seen one like it before. But they did have a make on the rifle." She lowered her voice further. "Russian. Definitely Russian. We can probably assume the pellet gun was, too."

"Russian . . ." Billy repeated softly. "Why would the Soviets pull a stunt like this and then advertise it so blatantly?" He shook his head. "What about the shooter? What happened to him?"

"Evidently, Amanda shot him. They took him to Walter Reed, where they can keep him under full military guard. He lost a lot of blood, but they say he's going to make it. He wasn't carrying any ID, and it'll be several hours before anyone can question him. They're running his fingerprints now."

"Undoubtedly a Russian national," Billy mused. "KGB?"


"What about Amanda's gun?"

"They wanted to keep it for evidence. For now, anyway. They gave me her purse and ID, though; they're in my car. And I've got her car keys . . . Oh, Lee, I'm so sorry!" Francine exclaimed, as he approached them.

"Thanks, Francine," he replied mechanically, accepting her supportive hug. "You found the gun?"

Francine quickly filled Lee in on the information she had just shared with Billy.

"Lee," Billy began. "Were you able to find Mrs. West?"

Lee cringed inwardly at the fresh reminder of the web of lies he and Amanda had woven over the past several months. 'Mrs. West', Billy had said. Dotty wasn't just 'Mrs. West', she was Lee's mother-in-law. And Amanda was his wife. And nobody knew it.

Lee couldn't help but wonder if Amanda's injury was some sort of punishment for the lie they'd been living, but he was helpless to do anything about it now. Except to continue to make it worse . . .

"Lee?" Billy repeated.

"She's on her way," he answered finally. "I told her that Amanda had been injured on location. At a wildlife shoot . . ."


Alexi Kalnikov, MD, held a clear beaker up to the light, studying it carefully as he gently swished its contents. He wore a white lab coat over his floral-print shirt, and he had traded his baggy shorts for a pair of scrub pants. "That should do it," he said aloud, to no one. He poured the solution from the beaker into a test tube, then filled a syringe by drawing the solution from the tube. He capped the needle and stowed it in the pocket of his lab coat. Locking his lab, he hurried toward the elevator.

Alexi had been at GWU a little over a year and had rapidly gained respect as one of the teaching hospital's top researchers. He had only been twelve years old when he had met Lee Stetson and Amanda King for the first time. He had also been a senior in high school. His parents, in an effort to forget their frightening kidnapping experience, had fled from the DC area to southern California, where Alexi entered UCLA the following spring semester. In California, Alexi had grown to love the sun, the sand, and the surf, and he had brought as much of that lifestyle as he could back to DC with him.

He had completed an undergraduate double major in chemistry and biology, as well as medical school, in just under three years. He had been told it was an amazing achievement, but it had seemed a perfectly natural sequence of events to Alexi; he liked chemistry and medicine, and he liked going to school. He had been surprised, therefore, and largely uninterested, to learn that a Hollywood studio had contacted his parents about the possible production of a television series, to be loosely based on his experience.

Following his graduation, Alexi had been offered internships or research positions at hospitals throughout the nation, but the administration at GWU had sagely offered him both: an opportunity to complete his medical training and the proprietorship of its chemical research department, with a salary to match.

Alexi hadn't really wanted to return to DC, but the teaching hospital had made him an offer he simply couldn't refuse. He suspected the federal government had something to do with the proposal; he had no doubt they'd kept track of his progress since the ACM satellite situation. Alexi Kalnikov knew he was an asset to both the political and the intelligence communities in Washington. He only hoped, now, that his skill and training would be enough to help Amanda King.


The automatic door slid open and Dotty West rushed into the waiting room, looking around for Lee. She spotted him near the pay phones and ran into his arms. "Oh, Lee, is Amanda all right?" she asked breathlessly.

Lee carefully steered Dotty away from both Billy and Francine, who, not wanting to be recognized, had quickly turned their backs to the waiting room and grabbed up telephones. "Come sit down, Dotty," he began, hoping she wouldn't catch the guilt that was almost certainly evident on his face and in his voice. "I'll tell you as much as I can."

Billy and Francine nodded to Lee as they slipped past him and Dotty. 'Call me when you get some news,' Billy mouthed at Lee, pantomiming holding a telephone receiver, as he headed toward the exit.


Alexi entered Amanda's room and approached her bed. "Hi, Mrs. King," he said softly, knowing she was unable to hear him. "Remember me? You helped me out of a big mess a long, long time ago. Now it's my turn to help you." He pulled the syringe from his pocket and added its solution to Amanda's IV drip.

He stood by Amanda's bedside for several minutes, his eyes glued to the equipment monitoring her vital signs. He watched with satisfaction as her heart rate improved rapidly, increasing in strength and becoming more and more regular. "I think we've got it," he told her, smiling, as he left to find Daniel Girardeau.


Amanda struggled to concentrate on the deep voices that had barely penetrated her consciousness. She was unable to move, seemingly pinned in a supine position by a dense fog that had settled in around her. She couldn't see through the fog; it was as if its thickness was preventing her from opening her eyes. The weight of the mist seemed palpable, and its heaviness on her chest was nearly unbearable. She vaguely wondered how her heart was able to beat against it.

"It's amazing, Alexi," Girardeau was saying. "When she came out of surgery, I had absolutely no idea where we stood with this patient. There must have been something in that drug that was terribly toxic to her system. And now, she's thriving. She'll be out of it for a while, of course, but she is definitely thriving. I'd say we could move her out of ICU and into a private room within the hour. Excellent work, son." He clapped his young colleague on the shoulder.

Alexi smiled as he leaned against the railing of Amanda's bed. "Thanks, Dan. I was just glad to be able to help. You know, I've known Mrs. King for a lot of years."

"No, Alexi, I didn't know that," Girardeau said, his tone encouraging the younger man to continue.

"You know she's a federal agent, right?" Alexi asked.

"Yes, of course, that's what got her admitted to the hospital. Are you saying you know Mrs. King professionally?"

"Well, sort of," Alexi began. "About three-and-a-half years ago, my parents were kidnapped. The bad guys were holding them in exchange for some satellite codes. The government was trying to protect me, and I ended up staying at Mrs. King's house for a few days. She was really good to me, Dan." He laughed. "I remember, one night, she was trying to cheer me up. She started telling me some crazy story about Peter Pan and Tinkerbell . . ."

'Peter Pan?' Amanda wondered, as she strained to focus on a conversation she could barely hear. 'Tinkerbell?'


Girardeau pushed open the double doors and entered the waiting room. "Mr. Stetson?"

"Yes?" Lee answered, jumping to his feet and pulling Dotty up with him.

"I have good news. Mrs. King is stable, and as far as we can tell, out of danger."

Lee's knees sagged a bit as he felt relief course through his body. He clasped an arm around Dotty's shoulders, as much for support, as in celebration of the good news. Smiling broadly, he introduced Dotty to the doctor. "Dr. Girardeau, this is Amanda's mother, Dotty West. We've been able to tell Mrs. West just a little bit about the accident at the filming site . . ." Lee looked pointedly at Girardeau, willing him to understand his meaning.

Girardeau nodded his discernment. He'd lived and worked in the nation's capital all his life and understood completely the occasional need for discretion regarding agents and their families. "Mrs. West," he smiled, taking her hand. "Dr. Kal was able to concoct an antidote, for lack of a better term, that will counteract any dangerous effects of the tranquilizer. We'll be using Dr. Kal's antidote to flush the toxins out of your daughter's system, but it's going to take some time for the effects of the tranquilizer itself to wear off. We expect her to remain unconscious for several hours."

"But her prognosis is good, isn't it?" Lee asked hopefully.

"We honestly don't know yet if there'll be any residual effects. We've run a couple of brain scans, and everything looks fine, but we won't know anything for sure until she wakes up. Or, I should say, until she lets us know she's awake. The tranquilizer contained a paralytic agent as well as a sedative."

"A . . . a what?" Lee stammered, holding Dotty tightly. "She's paralyzed?"

"It's only temporary, Mr. Stetson. But yes, that's right. Right now, she can't move. She can't even open her eyes. We have no way of knowing, until the tranquilizer wears off, whether or not she's conscious."

"But she will wake up . . . won't she?" Dotty asked fearfully.

"Eventually, Mrs. West. We just don't know how soon that will be."

"Can we see her?" Lee asked anxiously. His face pleaded with the doctor for permission.

"I think its best to limit her visits to just family for now." Girardeau gestured to Dotty. "Mrs. West?"

"But, Doc . . ." Lee became more frustrated than ever with his half-baked suggestion that their marriage be kept secret. He had to suppress his sudden urge to slam his fist into the wall.

"I'm sorry, Mr. Stetson. Doctor's orders."

"Doctor's orders, huh?" Lee muttered under his breath, as Girardeau led Dotty down the hallway. "We'll see about that!"


"Amanda, darling!" Dotty exclaimed, rushing into the room.

'I thought it was Wendy Darling,' Amanda mused, unable to stir, and only half aware of her mother's voice penetrating the thick fog. 'Maybe I don't remember the story as well as I thought I did.'

"Oh, Amanda, what happened?" Dotty wondered aloud. "The film company told me you were in an accident, but they didn't tell me you were . . . I had no idea until I got here that it was so . . . Now, Amanda, you listen to me. You are going to get well. You are going to wake up, and you're going to come back to me. Oh, Amanda, you've got to get well. Phillip and Jamie would be just lost without you . . ."

'Of course,' Amanda remembered. 'The lost boys! Wendy Darling . . . er, Amanda Darling . . . gets shot with an arrow, by one of the lost boys. That must have been what happened to me. No wonder my chest is sore. Don't worry, Mother, I'm not really hurt. Lee kissed me this morning, and the kiss stopped the arrow. Give me a minute to rest, and I'll be just fine. Give me just a minute . . .' Amanda tried to force her way through the impenetrable fog, but the harder she tried, the more exhausted she became. 'Give me . . . just . . . rest . . .'


Amanda's eyes flew open as she woke with a start. Her surroundings began registering themselves on her senses all at once. The day was warm, but a gentle breeze cooled the air. She heard birds singing and whistling. She saw a spreading canopy of dark green leaves above her head and felt soft grass beneath her skin.

She sat up slowly, and only then realized that a group of people had gathered around her. Not people, she corrected herself. Men. Boys. They stood in a circle, staring at her. Some were gazing at her anxiously, others were watching warily. Still others stared admiringly. She wondered at their unusual costumes, then looked down at her own clothes.

"Oh, my gosh!" Amanda exclaimed, as she realized she was wearing nothing but a hospital gown, the kind that tied in the back. "No wonder the grass was tickling me!" She grasped at the gown with one hand, trying vainly to hold it together, while placing her other hand flat against her chest. "Ow!" she complained, realizing her chest was terribly sore. "What happened? Where am I? And where are my clothes?" she asked.

"Your clothes?" a familiar voice mocked from somewhere behind her. "I think you look fine, just like that!"

"Lee!" she exclaimed in relief, turning as she recognized his voice. "Oh, thank goodness! Lee, what's going on?" Amanda looked at him strangely as he sauntered around to face her. "And why are you dressed like that?" she whispered, indicating the short, leafy tunic he wore. "Is that part of some sort of cover that I don't know about?"

He looked around, puzzled. "Lee? We don't have a Lee here. We've never had a Lee. And I always dress like this. Better than the rest. You see, I'm in charge!" he crowed proudly, pointing his thumb at his chest.

"For heaven's sake, Lee, this isn't funny," Amanda hissed. "Get me some clothes."

"All right, all right," he said. "Twin?"

A gangly teenager stepped forward.

"Phillip!" Amanda exclaimed.

"Phillip? No, I'm called Twin. My brother is called Twin, as well." His twin didn't look anything like him, with his big glasses and a mouthful of braces.

Amanda looked at the smaller boy in wonder. "Jamie?"

"I already told you," Phillip grumbled. "His name is Twin."

"Twin," Lee interrupted. "Go get your mother some clothes."

"So their names aren't Phillip and Jamie, but I'm still their mother." Amanda was totally confused. Her head felt as if she'd drunk a whole bottle of wine, and the pain in her chest was nearly unbearable.

"Of course you're their mother."

Amanda looked up, startled, at the sound of her ex-husband's voice.

"That's why you came here, isn't it?" Joe King asked. "To be a mother to the Lost Boys?"

"Okay, that's it," Amanda said. She began pinching her arm. "I'm dreaming. I've got to be dreaming. Oh, gosh, I really hope I'm dreaming . . ."


The Twin who looked like Phillip returned a few minutes later with empty arms. "I'm sorry," he told Lee. " I couldn't find any girl clothes. All we have are boy clothes."

"Well, then, we'll have to think of something else, won't we?" Lee asked, becoming impatient.

"We could build a house around her," the other Twin suggested shyly, as he pushed his glasses farther up onto the bridge of his nose.

"Of course!" exclaimed Lee. "A splendid idea! All of you, get to work! Let's gather as many materials as we can and start construction right away!"

As the Lost Boys scattered to obey his command, Amanda spoke up again. "Lee, could I talk with you for a minute?"

"Why do you keep calling me Lee?" he wanted to know.

"Well . . . because I thought that was your name. What am I supposed to call you?"

"Peter!" he replied jauntily, sweeping his hat off his head and bowing deeply from the waist. "Oh, please," she laughed derisively, as she looked him up and down. "And, Lee, I'm still going to need some clothes."


Amanda felt better, after having rested for a while. Now she sat inside her little house, admiring the Lost Boys' work. They really had done an excellent job, considering their building materials consisted of little more than rocks and sticks and leaves. It reminded her of one of her sons' Junior Trailblazers projects, when they were required to build their own shelter during a trek through rural Virginia.

Her thoughts were interrupted as Lee . . . Peter . . . stuck his head through the little house's only window. "You have a visitor," he told her. "She brought something for you to wear. Some girl clothes. Come out here, and you can try them on."

"No," she replied firmly. "I've got a better idea. Ask my visitor to bring them in here, and I'll try them on in the privacy of my little house."

"All right," he agreed reluctantly, seeming more than a little disappointed. "Just a second."

Amanda watched as Peter's strong hands, long-fingered and tanned, grabbed the tangled branches that made up the door of the shelter. He set it aside as a petite blonde stooped low and entered the tiny room. "Francine!" Amanda exclaimed, as Peter pushed the door of sticks back into its place.

"Who?" she asked, puzzled.

"Of course not," Amanda sighed. "Let me guess. Tinkerbell?"

"Tinkerbell? No! I'm Tiger Lily. And besides, it's not Tinkerbell, it's Tinkerbilly."

"What?!" Amanda laughed. "Tinkerbilly? No way."

Tiger Lily tilted her head and looked at Amanda strangely. "You've never heard of Tinkerbilly? He takes care of all of us. Now, do you want to borrow these clothes, or not?"

"Yes, please. I do. I really do need some clothes," Amanda said, self-consciously smoothing her hospital gown with her hands. "Thank you for bringing them."

"You will be careful with them, won't you?" Tiger Lily pressed, as she handed over the garments. "They're designer originals, you know. Very European."

Amanda took the clothes gratefully. "Where do you find European designer originals in a place like this?" she wondered, fingering the texture of the fine material and admiring its quality.

Tiger Lily gaped at Amanda as if she were from the moon. "I don't," she answered. "I get them via mail-order." Tossing her head, the blonde pushed the makeshift door aside and left Amanda to change into her borrowed clothing.


"You silly ass!" a strangely familiar voice bellowed.

Amanda had just finished dressing, as the sounds of an argument interrupted the peaceful calm of the clearing outside her little house. She poked her head out the window to see what all the commotion was about, but she could only see Peter. The expression on his face seemed rather pathetic as he spoke to someone who was just outside Amanda's field of vision.

"I didn't let him get away, Tink," Peter insisted. "I didn't even know he was here."

"You silly ass!" the voice bellowed again.

Curious, Amanda exited the little house to see who had arrived and learn why Peter was being dressed down in such a volatile manner. Her mouth fell open as she spotted their visitor. "Mr. Melrose!" Amanda was unable to stifle her laugh at the sight of her section chief dressed as a winged ballerina. "You're . . . you're a fairy?"

Tinkerbilly leaned close to her and spoke confidentially. "We don't really like to use that term," he advised her. "We prefer to be called pixies."

"You're a pixie?" Amanda repeated, still laughing.

"Yes, I am. And may I ask what's so funny?" he scowled.

Amanda pressed her fingertips against her lips. "Nothing," she said, choking on the word, as she attempted to quiet her giggling. "Really."

"Tink," Peter interrupted. "Can we please get back to the case? Now, this is not my fault! I had no idea Hook was back in Neverland."

"Well, who in the world do you think ordered that shooting this afternoon? The Vice Chief was nearly killed, and that pirate we caught certainly didn't plan it all by himself. It's a good thing Amanda was there, since you obviously weren't. Thank goodness she managed to avert a total disaster. Fine work, Amanda," he addressed her. "Are you all right?"

"Oh, yes, sir. At least I think so . . ."

"Good. Now, listen, Peter. We've got to find Hook and find out if he was involved in this shooting. You and Amanda get to work on it, right away."

"Tink . . ." Peter began, but it was too late. Tinkerbilly folded his arms across his chest and glowered at Peter. His gossamer wings began to flutter, and he lifted himself off the ground and across the clearing, glaring at Peter until he disappeared from sight.

"What was that all about?" Amanda wondered aloud.

"I'm in trouble," Peter said glumly. "Weren't you listening?"

"Well, yes . . . but I still don't understand."

Peter indicated a large hollow log at the edge of the clearing. "Let's sit down over there, and I'll see if I can explain it to you. Would you like a drink?" he asked, as he led Amanda to the fallen tree. "You look very nice in those clothes, by the way."

"Thank you," Amanda said, smiling at him. She took the wineskin Peter offered her and sipped from it gratefully. "Mmmm, that's good. What is it?"

"My favorite chianti. Homemade. Have some more."

"I believe I will," she agreed, taking another sip. "Now, then, you were going to explain all of this to me?"

"Amanda," Peter began, taking her hand in both of his. "Do you remember much about the shooting?"

"Well, no. Not exactly. I mean, I know I was shot, because my chest hurt so much, and in the book, Amanda Darling gets shot with an arrow, but she's not really shot because Peter gave her a kiss, only it wasn't really a kiss, it was just a button. Not a real button, of course, but the kind from an acorn. Well, acorns don't really have buttons, but they called it that in the book. It was one of those little cap things that acorns have, and it was all because Peter didn't know what a real kiss was . . ."

Peter had heard enough. He grabbed the wineskin back from her, vaguely wondering if he'd let the stuff ferment for too long. "Trust me, Amanda, I know what a real kiss is."

He had just leaned in to prove that he did, indeed, know about kissing, when Tiger Lily rushed into the clearing. "Will you two knock it off?" she demanded impatiently. "There's a time and a place for that, and this isn't it!"

"Thanks for the tip," Peter responded, with ice in his voice. "Forget how to knock?"

"There's no door," Tiger Lily replied smartly. "Listen, you two," she continued, looking over her shoulder nervously. "We've got company. It's the crocodile. He's on his way over here, right now, and boy, oh boy, is he ever loaded for bear!"

Amanda made a face as Tiger Lily hurried away. "Why am I thinking that was a really, really bad pun?" she wondered aloud.

"The crocodile!" Peter complained loudly, ignoring Amanda's remark. "That's great. That's just great. As if having Tinkerbilly chew me up one side and down the other wasn't enough . . . The stupid croc's probably trying to figure out a way to get me fired. Now, Amanda, this is very important. Think about the pirates who tried to assassinate the Vice Chief this afternoon . . . do you remember anything at all about the pirates?"

"There was more than one?"

"There must have been more than one," Peter insisted. "Like Tink said, the one we caught couldn't have planned it all by himself. You were there, Amanda. Did you see them? Did you recognize any of them? Did you recognize Captain Hook?"

"No, Lee, I . . ."

"Peter," he corrected her automatically.

Amanda rolled her eyes at him. "No. I didn't recognize any of them. How could I recognize any of them, when I don't even know what they look like!"

"But you do know what they look like, Amanda. You've seen them. You know Captain Hook." His eyes held hers, beseechingly.

"I really don't think I do, Lee . . . Peter."

"Wait," he said suddenly, as he leapt up from the log and began to pace its length. "What if we went to the pirate ship? You know, staked it out for a while . . . watched them coming and going. You could take a look at all of them and see if any of them are familiar to you. Especially Hook."

As appealing as a stakeout with Peter sounded, Amanda didn't really want to be anywhere near the pirates. She was sure she'd had enough excitement for one day. "Couldn't I just stay here and look at some mug shots?"

"Sorry," he offered apologetically. "We don't have mug shots."

"No mug shots?" she wondered. "Why in the world not?"

"No cameras," he explained. "Here, have some more wine."


It was nearly dusk when Amanda emerged from her little house. The chianti had been enjoyable, but it had made her terribly sleepy, and she had welcomed the opportunity to take a short nap. Refreshed, she entered the clearing in search of food and drink. To her surprise, Tinkerbilly was waiting there for her, but there was no sign of Peter.

"Hello, sir," Amanda greeted him, managing to maintain her composure at his ridiculous appearance.

"Amanda," he replied warmly. "I'm glad you're awake. I've been waiting for you."

"For me, sir?"

"Yes, I've got an assignment for you, if you're up to it. Are you feeling better?"

She rubbed at her chest and realized the pain, though still manifest, had subsided considerably. "Oh, yes, I'm fine. Thank you for asking. Did you say something about an assignment, sir?"

"Yes, Amanda, just a little reconnaissance mission, down at the beach. It was Peter's suggestion. He thought you might be able to identify some of the pirates from the shooting this afternoon."

"Sir, where is Peter?"

"He's not here," Tinkerbilly said, stating the obvious. "I sent him on a milk run."

"Oh." Amanda moved toward the log where she had been sitting with Peter earlier. The disappointment on her face was clearly visible, as she sat down and folded her hands in her lap.

Tinkerbilly looked at her with a mild expression of concern. "Is something wrong, Amanda?"

"No, sir, it's just that Lee . . . Peter . . . and I, well, we usually work together."

"I understand that, Amanda, but I really need you to try to identify those pirates." He fluttered over to the log and sat next to her. "As for Peter, surely you understand I had no choice but to send him on his own assignment. You see, Amanda, we were almost completely out of milk."

Amanda began to laugh at his statement, but as she considered its absurdity, her laughter turned into small, choking sobs. None of it was funny anymore, she thought to herself. Their clothes, their names, their terrible puns . . . Amanda was tired and sore, and she suddenly wanted nothing more than to escape from this bizarre place, with its cartoonish inhabitants, and be reunited with her very own family and friends. "Sir," she began, trying her best to blink back her tears. "When can I go home?"

"Whenever you're ready, Amanda," he answered cryptically.

"I'm ready now," she told him. "I'd like to go home now."

"Very well," he said, pointing into the trees. "Do you see that path, the narrow one just among those juniper bushes?"

"Yes," she sniffled softly. She was sure it hadn't been there only moments before.

"That's your path, Amanda. You can follow it home."

"But how will I know the way?" she asked, wiping her nose.

"The crocodile will show you," he told her. "Don't be frightened of him, Amanda. His bark is worse than is bite. After all, he is one of us."

"One of us?" she repeated.

"One of the good guys. And Amanda?"

"Yes, sir?"

Tinkerbilly winked at her. "I'll see you back in Georgetown."

"Yes, sir!" she exclaimed, as she jumped up from the log and hurried down the path.


Amanda followed the trail until it came to an end at the edge of a stream. It was too dark to tell for certain if the path continued on the other side, so she elected to follow the rivulet as it flowed downstream. Finally, she broke through the undergrowth at a point where the stream poured over a little waterfall and down toward a dark lagoon.

Anchored in the lagoon was an enormous pirate ship. There was just enough light left for Amanda to make out the skull and crossbones flying from its mast. As she studied the ship, the wind shifted abruptly, and the flag began to fly in the opposite direction. Amanda caught her breath when she realized the skull and crossbones were only sewn on one side of the flag; the other side prominently displayed a hammer and sickle in a field of red.

Amanda's attention was drawn from the ship by the sudden appearance of a hideous-looking crocodile scrambling up the bank. The scaly skin around his eyes crinkled as he showed her his toothy smile. The monster had to be careful not to clamp his jaws too tightly around the plastic cigarette holder he held between his teeth. "Tick, tock," he grinned at Amanda mockingly.

"What's that supposed to mean?" she challenged him. Amanda couldn't help disliking the crocodile, even though Tinkerbilly had told her he was on their side.

"Hickory, dickory, dock," the creature prattled. "Inside me is a clock."

"Oh," Amanda offered feebly, not knowing what else to say. "Well, it's been very nice talking with you . . ."

"A Russian clock," the crocodile continued.

"Uh-huh," Amanda said, anxious to be on her way. "Goodbye."

"The Russian clock is ticking, and time is running out."

"Yes, it certainly is, and I really must be going . . ."

"Time is running out for our friend, the captain. His shooter missed his target today. Got you instead. I hear you got him, too."

Now the creature had Amanda's undivided attention. "What are you talking about?" she demanded, as her hand flew to the sore spot on her chest.

"You know very well what I'm talking about. You just need to realize what you know. Take a closer look at the captain, my dear. Doesn't he remind you of someone?" The beast's eyes twinkled as he puffed out a noxious cloud of foul-smelling smoke.

Amanda coughed a little, as she peered through the undergrowth at the group of pirates, lounging around several campfires, which were built on the sand along the length of the ship. She quickly spotted Hook; he was standing apart from the rest. There was something disconcertingly familiar about his posture.

The tall, thin pirate was aiming a spyglass in the general direction of Peter's camp. Suddenly, he pivoted at the waist, turning his head and shoulders in Amanda's direction. Instinctively, Amanda ducked her head. When she looked up again, Hook had lowered the glass, and Amanda had a clear view of his face. "Gregory!" she realized aloud.

"Indeed," the croc congratulated her. "Gregory. And his time is quickly running out. He had two strikes against him already, before you interrupted his plans today. Tick, tock."

Amanda looked at the crocodile thoughtfully. "What do you mean, his time is running out?"

"He's failed the KGB three times now on American soil. He'll be called back to Moscow and be given a desk job, at best."

"And at worst?" Amanda asked curiously.

"He'll be scrubbing showers in the Gulag. I'd look for him to run. Tick, tock."

"Of course! He wouldn't want to be picked up by either side. He's probably headed for a deserted island in the South Pacific."

"Well, I don't know that he'd go that far, but I can almost guarantee he'll head out of town," the monster agreed. "It's up to you to stop him."

"How can I stop him?" Amanda wondered aloud.

"You can't. Not by yourself. Your partner can, though, if you'll just provide him with enough information . . ."

The crocodile's words seemed to fade away as a thick fog settled in over the edge of the forest. Night was falling, and through the mist, Amanda could just see the pirates snuffing out their campfires and heading toward their ship. She turned to ask the crocodile another question, but she quickly realized that he, too, had disappeared.

Suppressing the chill she felt at the rapidly cooling air, Amanda remained motionless in a vain effort to get her bearings. She supposed she could follow the stream back toward Peter's camp for the night, then start out for home again tomorrow, although she really didn't want to spend the night in Neverland. She couldn't understand why the crocodile hadn't shown her the way, especially after Tinkerbilly had promised that he would. Perhaps, she reflected suddenly, he already had . . .

The night was pitch black and the fog was surprisingly dense. Amanda certainly didn't want to injure herself further by tripping and falling over an unseen rock or root. She decided that perhaps the safest course of action would be to simply creep along the ground on her hands and knees, at least until the fog lifted.

Amanda had just lowered herself to the grassy surface, when she heard a rustling in the underbrush some distance to her right. She flattened herself against the ground and froze in place, squeezing her eyes shut and holding her breath. Stealthy footsteps fell closer and closer to where she lay hidden, until a twig snapped, not six inches from her head.

"Amanda?" a familiar voice called, its tone searching. "Can you hear me?"

She opened her eyes, and turned her head toward the sound of the voice . . .


"Amanda? Can you hear me?"

Fighting bravely against the fog, Amanda managed to open her eyes and turn her head toward the sound of the voice. "Peter?" she murmured, recognizing his voice and mistaking his green scrub suit for the leafy tunic he'd been wearing in her dream.

"What?" Lee said, looking down involuntarily, before he realized the pair of scrub pants he'd 'borrowed' from the supply room didn't even have a fly. "No, Amanda, it's Lee." He pulled the surgical mask from his face and gently squeezed her shoulder. "Can you hear me?"

"Lee?" She blinked a couple of times, trying to focus on his familiar features. "Wh . . . what happened?"

He smiled at her, the look of concern on his face rapidly melting into an obvious expression of relief. "You're in the hospital, Amanda. But you're going to be fine. Just fine."

"Chest hurts . . . shot again . . . is it bad?"

"No, Amanda, it's not bad." He reached for her hand and massaged it gently. "It wasn't a bullet this time. Just a tranquilizer pellet. You're going to be fine." Smiling at her, he leaned in and brushed his lips against her forehead. Carefully, he placed a feather-light kiss on her lips, and he was thrilled to feel her effort to respond.

"Tranquilizer . . ." she repeated groggily, as they reluctantly broke the gentle kiss.

"That's right," Lee confirmed. "But don't worry. They found something to counteract it."

"I was at the zoo!" Amanda exclaimed suddenly, more alert, now, as the memory came flooding back to her. "A man with a rifle . . . the Vice President . . . Lee, what happened?"

"He's fine, Amanda. Everyone's fine. Nobody was hurt, except you and the bad guy."

Amanda squeezed her eyes shut, as she remembered having shot the man. "Is he dead?"

"No, no, he's going to make it. And we're going to have a lot of questions to ask him. But not right now, okay?"

"Okay," she agreed, relieved beyond words that she hadn't killed the man. "How long have I been here?"

"A few hours," he said, glancing at his watch. "It's almost 10:00. Your mother finally went home to get some rest, after the doctor convinced her you'd be fine, and you just needed to sleep it off. We should definitely give her a call, though. The kids are still at Joe's, and he's made arrangements to take them to school tomorrow."

"How much do they know?" she whispered.

"Not as much as you'd think, considering it was on television all day." Lee sighed loudly, as he gathered his thoughts. "I had to lie to your mother, Amanda," he confessed. He had learned over the last few months exactly what Amanda meant, every time she mentioned how troubled she was by the constant deceit. "I told her we were working on a wildlife documentary, and you were accidentally hit by a tranquilizer gun."

"Did she believe you?"

"Not only did she believe me, I think she's falling into our same routine. By the time Joe and Carrie and the kids had gotten back from Baltimore, we already knew you were going to be okay. She was really worried about how Jamie, especially, might react, so she just told them you'd been called in to work and that you'd be spending at least one night on location."

Amanda nodded thoughtfully. "Can I have some water?" she asked, spotting the pitcher on her bedside table. She suspected she would be able to communicate more effectively if her mouth wasn't so dry.

"Sure, let me help you." Lee held the plastic cup for her and helped her reach the too-short straw.

"Thank you," she said, indicating she'd had enough. "You know, Lee, I was having the strangest dream. You were there. And Phillip, and Jamie, and even Joe. Oh, and Billy." She chuckled at the memory. "He was dressed like a pixie."

"A what?"

"A pixie. You know, like Tinkerbell. In a tutu and little pixie wings. Only he was Tinkerbilly. And Francine was Tiger Lily. Oh, that rhymes," she said thoughtfully. "I hadn't thought of that before . . ."

"Uh-huh," Lee nodded, pretending to understand, as he looked at her warily. . "You know, there's nothing to worry about, Amanda," he told her, for his own benefit as much as hers. "The doctor said this stuff will wear off in no time . . ."

"And Doctor Smyth was the crocodile," she continued, in all seriousness. "Tick, tock."

Lee couldn't help but laugh. He may not have read the book, but he recognized the familiar names of the characters. "Smyth was the crocodile, huh? Okay, I can buy that."

"And Gregory was Captain Hook . . ." Suddenly, Amanda was as sentient as she was physically capable of being. "Gregory! Lee, it was Gregory!"


"I saw him, Lee. At the zoo. Just before the shooting started."

"Amanda, are you sure? Gregory is back in DC again? He was there, at this assassination attempt?"

"I'm positive. I didn't know at the time that it was him, but now, I'm sure of it! Lee, he'll be trying to leave the country. You've got to get to Dulles!"

Lee shook his head. "No, Amanda, no way am I leaving you. Not after it took me most of the day to get in to see you." He reached for the phone on the nightstand. "I'll call Billy, and he can send a team to the airport. You're sure about this . . ."

"Yes, Lee, I'm sure. Please, call Billy now."


"That's what she said, Billy . . . Yeah, I know she's been out of it, but she seems lucid enough now. What harm will it do to send a team over and check? . . . No, no doubt whatsoever . . . Okay, then, let us know what happens. You've got the number, right? . . . Right. Talk to you later." As Lee was hanging up the phone, he was startled by a tap at Amanda's door. He dropped the receiver into its cradle and yanked his mask back up over his mouth and nose, just as the door began to swing open.

"It's okay, Mr. Stetson," Alexi laughed as he entered Amanda's room. "I won't give you away."

"Thanks," Lee muttered sheepishly, pulling the mask from his face once again.

"Hi, Mrs. King," Alexi grinned. "I thought you'd be awake by now. Feeling better?"

She recognized him instantly. "Alexi?" she exclaimed in surprise. "What in the world are you doing here?"

"Alexi saved your life, Amanda," Lee said quietly. He reached for the younger man's hand and shook it. "Thank you."

"I'm glad I could help," Alexi replied sincerely, as he lifted his stethoscope from around his neck and placed it into his ears. "I owed you guys one."

"Alexi, you're a doctor?" Amanda wondered. "How is that possible? You can't be more than eighteen years old!"

"Almost seventeen," he corrected her, listening intently, as he gently moved the instrument across her chest. "Just lucky, I guess." Alexi hung the stethoscope around his neck once again and crossed his arms in satisfaction. "Well, folks, I'd say we've got this thing licked. I'd like to keep you here for at least another day, though, Mrs. King. You know, just to run a few more tests and give you a chance to get your strength back. Tell you what, I'll send a nurse in to make you more comfortable for the evening, and I'll check back with you first thing in the morning. Okay?"

"Um, sure. Okay." Amanda realized she had no choice but to agree with him.

"Goodnight, then, Mrs. King. Mr. Stetson." Alexi shook hands with both of them. "Oh, and Mr. Stetson?" He grinned at Lee. "Since you managed to sneak in anyway, I'll go ahead and approve Mrs. King for visitors. You can stay for a little while longer. Just don't let her get too tired."

"I won't," Lee smiled. "Thanks, Alexi."

Amanda watched Alexi leave, then spoke with a note of concern in her voice. "Lee, I thought you told me it wasn't that bad. Why did you just thank Alexi for saving my life?"

"The gunshot wound wasn't bad, Amanda. It really wasn't. The tranquilizer, though . . . your system had some sort of reaction to it. Let's just say we were a little worried for a while, there, huh?"


Amanda had finally convinced Lee to go home and get some rest, by insisting that she needed to rest, too. The nurse came in just as he was leaving. He had returned shortly after Amanda had eaten breakfast the following morning, and their conversation quickly picked up where it had left off the night before.

"Amanda, I'm so sorry I didn't go with you yesterday," Lee was saying. "If I'd been there . . ."

"You might have been hurt, too," she told him firmly, knowing he would look for a way to blame himself for what had happened. "Lee, please don't do this to yourself."

"I'm sorry, Amanda, I just can't help it . . ."

"Morning, folks," Billy said, tapping at the door. "Mind if I come in?"

"Good morning, sir," Amanda greeted him, glad for the interruption. Perhaps Billy could help take Lee's mind off his guilty conscience.

As Billy entered the room, Amanda tried unsuccessfully to chase away a fleeting image of a winged ballerina that flashed through her mind. Covering her mouth, she concealed her laughter with a brief, but well-contrived, fit of coughing, causing Billy to look at her with concern.

"Hi, Billy," Lee said, glancing sidelong at Amanda. He knew exactly what she was thinking and was trying his best not to envision the same thing. "Any news on Gregory?"

"As a matter of fact, there is," Billy announced proudly. "Amanda, you were absolutely right. I didn't want to bother you, as late as it had gotten last night, but we did find Gregory at Dulles. Poor fellow, instead of waking up in the tropics this morning, he's waking up in an Agency holding cell." Billy beamed at both of them. "He's not talking yet, which is no surprise, but when he does, he's going to have an awfully difficult time worming his way out of this one."

After accepting his congratulations and assuring Billy that she was feeling fine, Amanda broached a topic that had been troubling her all morning. "Sir," she began. "I've been wondering about something. When something like this happens, there's always so much media attention. How will we keep the newspapers and television networks from . . . well . . . from compromising my work with the Agency?"

"It's already been taken care of, Amanda. As far as the press is concerned, the agent who saved the Vice President's life yesterday is still in very serious condition. Although," he said, smiling. "I'm pleased to report, she's expected to make a complete recovery."

"Well, that's good to know," Amanda quipped, not entirely sure where Billy was headed with the conversation. She glanced at Lee, who simply shrugged his shoulders.

"It's a simple enough ruse," Billy began. "But it should be enough to throw the reporters off the scent. You see, the Secret Service has checked one of their female agents into the hospital, and after a day or so, she'll feel well enough to grant some interviews. After a couple of weeks, she'll make the talk show rounds, that sort of thing . . ."

"Oh," Amanda said quietly. "I understand."

Billy looked at Amanda closely. "I know you're aware of the need for secrecy, Amanda. I hope you're not too disappointed . . ."

Amanda looked down at her lap, hesitating for a moment before she spoke. "Well, yes, sir, I guess I am, just a little. It's not that I want the attention, really. And I completely understand the need for secrecy regarding the Agency. I guess it would just be nice to hear, you know, every once in a while, that our efforts haven't gone unappreciated."

"Believe me, Amanda, what you did yesterday definitely has not gone unappreciated." Billy smiled at her look of surprise. "Oh, yes, Amanda. The people who need to know, know. In fact, there are some people on their way up here, right now, who would like very much to express their appreciation to you. Are you feeling up to a couple of more visitors?"

Before Amanda had a chance to answer, the door swung open to admit an enormous stuffed panda bear. This one was much bigger than the one Lee had given her three-and-a-half years before . . . at the conclusion of the ACM satellite case, she realized, and marking their first meeting with Alexi Kalnikov.

Her mouth dropped open at the sight of the huge bear, but that surprise was nothing compared to the astonishment Amanda felt when the smiling couple holding the bear lowered it just enough to reveal their faces.

Lee snapped to attention, with a look of incredulity on his face. Billy stood a little straighter, too, and beamed like a proud father, as the couple approached Amanda's bed. The room quickly flooded with Secret Service agents, discreetly pushing their way into the room behind them.

"Mrs. King," the distinguished gentleman began, reaching for Amanda's hand. "Barbara and I would like to express our sincere gratitude for your quick thinking and selfless actions yesterday afternoon. We do hope you're feeling better this morning . . ."