Fatal Flaw

AUTHOR: Gail Delaney - RmceWrtr@hotmail.com


SUMMARY: Lee's worst fears come true, but in the end he and Amanda are closer than ever.

DISCLAIMER: Lee Stetson, Amanda King, and any other prominent character related to the television series Scarecrow and Mrs. King do not belong to me. I only wish I could create such chemistry on my own - and try every day. The concept of the story is mine, but I make no profit (except for the personal one) by writing it. References are made to other episodes including "Burn Out", "I am not now, nor have I ever been . . a spy", "Utopia Now", "Service Above and Beyond", "Saved By the Bells", "We're Off to See the Wizard", and "Affair In Bromfield Hall".

GENRE: Alternative Universe (just a little)

TIMELINE: After Three Little Spies but before All the World's a Stage. This is an alternative to ATWAS.

NOTES: I always felt ATWAS was a weak plot line to bring them together after all the sexy, sensual build up in prior episodes. It seemed contrived and thrown together. I always felt it should have been more dramatic - hence - my version.

FEEDBACK: Absolutely! More than welcome!

SPECIAL THANKS: To my buddy Theresa who posed me with the pretense for this story this past week. After several minutes of "Oh, what about this" and "Oh, maybe they'd do that" and a story was well on it's way to creation.

And thus the story . . . .

Friday afternoon

Amanda looked around as Lee pulled the 'Vette up to the curb and stopped. They were near the harbor, and a variety of warehouses lined the street, the metal siding and roofs of many of them showing rust and corrosion from years of weather attacking them. The car was parked beside several dumpsters with cardboard boxes stacked high around them.

"Why would Jimmy the Snitch want to meet you down here?" Amanda asked, making a clicking sound in her cheek as she shook her head. "Why can't we ever meet someone at a nice restaurant, or in the park? Why does it always have to be a warehouse or a bar or some seedy hotel?" She looked at Lee across the small space of the car and waved toward the building. "Doesn't any of them realize how stereotypical it is to call you and say 'meet me at the abandoned warehouse by the river'?"

Lee laughed and shook his head. "I don't think they care, Amanda. Abandoned warehouses and seedy places are just the nature of the business."

Amanda sighed again. "If all Jimmy needs you for is to pass on some information, he could have told you over the phone."

Lee pulled his gun from the shoulder holster beneath his jacket and checked the magazine with a slide and a click. As he reholstered it, he looked around and Amanda watched him. Her pulse quickened at her throat, and despite three years of watching him do the same exact thing, fear chilled her.

"I want you to stay here, Amanda."

"Lee ---"

"This should be quick and painless."

"So why do I need to stay here?"

Lee looked over at her, one eyebrow arched. "Because I'm asking you to. And I mean it, Amanda. Stay here."

"Lee, you need me."

The subtle change in Lee's expression made Amanda's breath catch. One moment his eyes had been hardset - ready to focus on the job at hand. But when he looked at her, the fine lines at the corners of his eyes relaxed, and his eyelids slid down a fraction as two of the most beautiful hazel eyes she had ever seen seemed to focus on her face. Specifically her lips. One corner of his mouth tipped up in a small smile.

"Yes, Amanda, I do need you." He paused for a split second before continuing. "I need you to stay here."

Amanda nodded and folded his hand in her lap. Lee reached across the space between them and covered her hands with his own larger one. His palm was warm, and Amanda turned her hand to lace her fingers with his. Holding Lee's hand was now as natural as smiling or breathing, but it still created small shivers over her skin.

"How about this. When I come out we'll go have something to eat. Maybe Emilio's?"

"Okay," she conceded. "Just be careful."

"Amanda, it's a milk run at best. Just an information drop."

She chuckled. "At least Jimmy the Snitch isn't slipping it in a bad of chili dogs."

They both smiled at the memory of one of their earlier cases together. Unfortunately, while it brought a laugh, Amanda recognized in Lee's eyes he understood her subtle meaning. Even the most anodyne assignment can take on an unexpected twist. With one final squeeze of her hands, Lee opened the car door and slid out. Amanda tried to quell the panicky jitter in her chest as he made his way to the warehouse's side door.

A sense of foreboding had hung over her since early that morning. She never liked it when she had a hunch about something going wrong, and a bad feeling was a bad feeling. Until the day was done, she knew she would hold her breath. When she knew everyone was safe, and nothing could go wrong, she would relax.

To calm her nerves, she tried to think of more pleasant things, such as earlier that day in the Q Bureau. When she told him Jamie's science fair had been rescheduled, so she didn't have to leave early (a fact she was more pleased than disappointed about, because now she could keep an eye on him), he seemed happy to have her with him.

And for one moment she thought he had other things on his mind than meeting Jimmy the Snitch. Lee had stepped close to her, his large hands resting briefly on her waist, and she had held her breath. The two or three all- too-brief kisses they had shared always left her longing for more, and she wondered if it was the same for Lee.

Her stomach tumbled at the memories.

Just as quickly, it tied into knots.

Seven men, armed with automatic rifles, ran across the street one-hundred- fifty feet ahead of her and headed toward the warehouse Lee had entered just five minutes before. They were dressed in black sweatshirts with the hoods pulled up over their heads, over dark baseball caps that hid their faces.

"Oh my gosh," Amanda mumbled as they went through the same door Lee had.

Without considering any other alternative, Amanda got out of the 'Vette and hugged the outside wall of the warehouse, sliding along with glances to each side. With her heart in her throat, she reached the door and pressed her ear to the crack, hoping to hear something inside. All was silent. Perhaps whoever they were hadn't made a move against Lee yet, and she still had time to warn him.

With a wince at the audible click, Amanda eased the door open and glanced into the cavernous darkness of the warehouse's interior. Before she could slip inside, gunshots rang out and echoed thunderously through the empty building. Several shouts quickly followed.

"You set me up, Jimmy!" Lee's voice carried through the warehouse.

Amanda's heart quickened. He was still okay. She slipped into the darkness, closing the door behind her, and looked around for something that could help her help Lee.

"Sorry, Lee. Nothing personal," came an unknown voice near Amanda, a simpering panic lying beneath its whiny surface. "It was you or me."

Amanda crouched behind some wooden crates as Jimmy the Snitch rushed past him toward the exit door, watching back over his shoulder as he went. As he went by, Amanda grabbed a wooden dowel on the floor and shoved it out between his legs. He stumbled and fell to floor with a loud grunt. Amanda stood and brought the thick dowel up over her head, preparing to hit him with it and hopefully keep him down until Lee could come for him.

"What the ---" he shouted before grabbing the dowel mid-air and yanking Amanda off balance.

"What was that?" asked another male voice from the darkness.

Before Amanda could shout out anything, Jimmy the Snitch was on his feet and yanked Amanda back against his chest, his arm wrapped around her throat and a hand firmly over her mouth. She struggled against him, her scream muted against his rough palm, as he yanked her into the shadows.

Shots rang out again.

"He got Dan!" someone whispered loudly.

"Damn it! There are seven of us and one of him. Scarecrow should be dead by now!"

Amanda saw the speaker as Jimmy dragged her to where one of the hooded men crouched behind a stack of tires.

"Hey, boss man," Jimmy whispered. "Lookie what I found."

A dark face turned to her, hidden by the bill of his hat, all but the whites of his eyes. "Who is she?"

"Don't know her name, but she's always with Scarecrow. Musta followed him in here."

The disguised man stood, towering over Amanda, and his white teeth flashed when he smiled menacingly. Amanda's heart pounded against her chest, and she felt lightheaded from lack of oxygen. Jimmy's large hand covered her nose and mouth. She stared at the unknown enemy.

Shots rang out again and she heard Lee's voice, warning that another man had been taken out. His deep timbre warned they should just give up or he'd take them out one by one. Fear chilled her as she realized her partner had no idea she was in here.

"What're you goin' to do, Ant'ny?" Jimmy asked.

"Shut up, you idiot! Now she knows my name!"

"Oh, geez. Sorry Mr. Mancini."

A low growl rumbled from the man Amanda now knew to be named Anthony Mancini and he grabbed her arm, yanking her from Jimmy's hold. He twisted her around so quickly, her scream was immediately stifled behind his leather-gloved hand. He raised his gun, and without a split second of hesitation, shot Jimmy between the eyes. Amanda screamed again, her voice lost in the echoing thunder, and her stomach clenched at the sight of the resulting gore from the shot.

"Of course, you know you now have to die as well. I can't have any lose ends," he whispered near her ear.

Gunshots again ricocheted through the warehouse and Amanda jumped. Tears burned her eyes, and she pressed her lids closed against them.

"Another one down!" Lee's voice echoed. "How many more is it going to take before you give up?"

"Just one," he whispered against Amanda's cheek, his breath hot on her skin. "But I'm not giving up."

He crouched down again, pulling Amanda down painfully to her knees, his hand still over her mouth. With his free hand, he retrieved a small handheld radio and held it close to his mouth.

"We're getting out of here now," he instructed. "You'll know when. Kyle, distract him."

Shots rang out again and Mancini stood again, pulling her along with him until they stood at the end of a row of boxes. As he peered around the haphazardly stacked tower of wood, Amanda could see Lee ahead of them by perhaps thirty feet. He scanned the warehouse ahead of him, gun in hand, unaware that he was being watched. She needed to find a way to warn him!

"Thanks for all your help, whoever you are," Mancini said before shouting "Stetson!"

Time moved at lightening speed, yet seemed to stand still at the same time. As he shouted Lee's name, he shoved Amanda away from him with brutal strength. She stumbled out into the open space as Lee spun around - gun poised and ready. His name ripped through her throat as the explosive sound of his shot devoured it in the air. The impact of the bullet threw her back, and Amanda felt her head slam into the concrete floor before everything went black.

*** SMK *** SMK *** SMK ***

The second Lee pulled the trigger, he realized what he had done.

"AMANDA!" he screamed, lunging out of his crouched position and sprinting across the open space.

Somewhere on the edge of his reality he heard the sound of running feet as his attackers made their escape.

"Another day, Scarecrow!"

Lee didn't care. A pain shot through his chest and he fought to breath as he fell to his knees beside Amanda's body.

"Oh, God!" he whispered, holding his hands over her - almost afraid to touch her. "Dammit! Amanda."

Blood pooled beneath her shoulder and spread out in a crimson puddle on the cement, mingling with her brunette curls. Finally able to think with some coherency, Lee pressed his fingers to her throat and leaned over to listen at her lips for some sign of breathing. A shallow, weak pulse whispered against his fingertips and her breath barely brushed his cheek.

She was still alive!

"Don't leave me, Amanda," Lee begged as he pulled away the cardigan sweater she wore to reveal the blood-saturated blouse beneath. "Damn it, don't leave me. Do you hear me?"

With trembling fingers, sticky with her blood, Lee unbuttoned her blouse and shoved it back to reveal the entrance wound just below her collarbone. The way the blood pooled beneath her, Lee suspected his bullet had gone straight through.

His bullet. Dear God! He had shot Amanda!

"Somebody help me!" he yelled into the empty warehouse, his voice echoing back to him again. "Somebody please help me!"

He yanked his jacket off and rolled her enough to shove it beneath her in an attempt to staunch the blood flow. His finger searched again for her pulse, again reassuring himself her heart was still beating, before tearing off his tie and yanking over his shirt, not bothering with the buttons.

"Amanda," he whispered as he pressed his shirt into her wound. "Amanda, please open your eyes. Please." His eyes burned and his throat was raw as he tried to swallow against the panic and emotion that choked him.

"God damn it! Somebody help me!"

Somewhere in the distance he heard a door open and close with a crash, and the sound of footsteps ran toward him. "Is someone in here?" a voice asked.

"Here! Over here!"

A burly man with a large gut and dirty blue jeans held up by worn suspenders rounded the corner. The emblem on his hat told Lee he worked somewhere here on the docks with a local shipping company.

"Damn!" the man muttered when he saw Lee on his knees beside Amanda.

Lee fumbled to find his Agency badge and handed it, now open, to the man. "I am a federal agent," he told the man who could be Amanda's savior. "This is my partner. I want you to call the number on that id and tell them a chick is in the nest and give them this address. Got that?"

"A chick is in the nest," the man repeated. "Damn! You really federal agents?"

"Just go!" Lee shouted and the man ran off.

Lee turned his full attention back to Amanda, brushing some tendrils of hair off her forehead, smearing her own blood across her deathly pale skin.

"Stay with me, Amanda," he whispered. "You're right. I need you. Stay with me."

A salty droplet fell from his cheek and landed on her lips.

*** SMK *** SMK *** SMK ***

Lee paced back and forth between the door leading to the emergency surgical wing and the chairs that were bolted to the wall in the waiting area. His hair stood on end from his constant fingers running through it, and he wore a scrub top given to him by a nurse. Amanda's blood was now congealed and encrusted in his pants.

"Lee!" came Billy Melrose's voice from behind him and he turned to face his boss as he approached. "Where is she?"

"They took her right into surgery," Lee forced out of his throat. Even to himself, his voice sounded weak and raspy. "She's only been in there maybe thirty minutes."

"I didn't think she was supposed to be with you this afternoon. What happened?"

Lee shook his head and again shoved his fingers through his hair. His cheeks ached from the constant clenching of his jaw. "Jamie's science fair was rescheduled," was the only answer that would come.

"What happened at the warehouse?"

Rage bubbled up from Lee's chest, and he needed to let it out before he exploded. He slammed his doubled fist into the wall, a huge dent in the plaster forming from the impact.

"Damn it!"

"Scarecrow! Get ahold of yourself and talk to me!"

Lee pressed the heel of his hands against his eyes, the pounding in his temples almost unbearable. "I shot her, Billy."


"I shot her!" Lee shouted, the heads of several nurses nearby suddenly coming up in surprise.

Billy grabbed his arm and yanked him into an empty room. Lee sank heavily into a molded plastic chair and leaned his head into his open hands. His chest hurt, as if his heart had exploded or was trying to break its way out of his body so he wouldn't have to feel what he was feeling.

"Explain," was all Billy said.

Lee quickly told Billy what he knew. Jimmy set him up, but with who he didn't know. One minute he was talking to his snitch, the next he was being fired on. He took down three, but had no idea how many more waited for him in the darkness. After a warning for them to give up, he heard someone shout his name. He turned and shot, purely on instinct. But he hadn't shot an unknown assailant. He had shot Amanda.

And now she could die. At his hands.

"Lee!" Billy shouted, pulling Lee out of the deep thoughts that trapped him.

He looked up at his Section Chief and long-time friend. "Billy, what am I going to do if she dies?"

"She's not going to die. We have the best doctors and surgeons in the country on our NEST Team. If anyone can save her, it's them."

There was a soft knock at the door, and it was opened by a young blonde in a nurse's uniform. "Mr. Stetson?" she asked.

Lee was immediately on his feet. "Yes."

"Your partner, Mrs. King, is out of surgery. They're taking her to a room now. You can see in about fifteen minutes if you like."

"How is she?" Billy asked.

The woman smiled, apparently recognizing Billy as the Section Chief for the Agency. "She did just fine, Mr. Melrose. She lost a lot of blood, but the wound didn't do any serious damage. Her shoulder will be sore for awhile, and she's got a bump on her head, but she'll be fine. It looked a great deal worse than it was."

Relief washed over Lee like a cold wave of water. His knees felt weak and he sank down again into the chair.

"I want you to come down to the Agency and file your report on this," Billy said, "But it can wait until after you see her."

Lee swallowed against the dryness in his throat. "What if she doesn't want to see me?"

Billy laid his hand on Lee's shoulder before leaving him alone again. "Lee, this is Amanda. Right now, you're the one person she probably wants to see."

Lee nodded and sighed as Billy left the room.

*** SMK *** SMK *** SMK ***

Amanda felt heavy and weak, as if huge lead weights held her arms and legs down. She tried to move, but found it too exhausting. With a moan in her throat, she shifted her head against the soft surface beneath it. It hurt somewhat to shift, but not too much. Her senses felt almost fuzzy.

"Don't move too much," a low voice she immediately recognized whispered near her ear. "You've got a nasty bump on your head."

"Lee?" she tried to say, but it came out more like a squeak.

"Shush," he ordered as his fingertips brushed along her forehead and she felt his hand take hold of her fingers. "I'm here."

Her eyes fluttered open and the bright lights over her head made her blink rapidly. Lee reached up and turned off the halogen light directly over her headboard, immediately easing her distress. In bits and pieces, she started to remember what happened. The warehouse. The men with guns. Jimmy the Snitch dragging her to one of them. Lee . . .

"Are you okay?" she forced out.

A wry smile pulled slightly at the corner's of his lips. "You're the one in the hospital, and you ask me how I am?"

"There were seven of them," she tried to explain.

Lee pressed his finger to her lips. "No more talking. It's over now."

Exhausting pulled at Amanda's consciousness, but she didn't want to sleep. Not yet. She tried to squeeze his fingers and lift her other arm to reach across to him. Pain shot through her shoulder and she cried out. Lee gently pushed her arm back down.

"Hey, hey! I said don't move. You've also got a bad wound in that shoulder."

Amanda heard the strain in his voice, and remembered the sense of panic that filled her when she saw him turn his gun on her. It hadn't been a cover, he wasn't aiming to trick someone with his shot this time. She couldn't imagine what thoughts haunted him. He had felt so bad when his actions came close to harming her. What was he thinking now?

"Lee," she whispered again, licking her lips. "Lee, it wasn't your fault."

His hazel eyes looked away and he sat up straighter, putting distance between them, but his hand still held hers.

"Do you hear me?" she asked.

A storm brewed behind his handsome features and his fingers raked through his hair. He tried to stand but she hung on fiercely to his hand.

"Lee Stetson!" she said sharply. "Stay with me."

He sank back down in his chair, his eyes fixed on her. Questions furrowed his brow and he lifted her hand to press his lips against her knuckles.

"You could hear me," he said in a raspy whisper.

"Please, Lee. Just stay with me," she managed to say before exhaustion and the pain medication forced her eyes closed.

*** SMK *** SMK *** SMK ***

(Memories indicated by ** before and after.)

Lee slouched in the uncomfortable plastic and foam seat in the corner of Amanda's hospital room. He had tried to catch some sleep since she dozed off, but it eluded him. Instead, memories flashed in him mind over and over again. Painful, terrible memories like snatches of conversation.

** I'm sorry, Skip, but your parent's won't be coming home. You're coming to live with me. **

** Dorothy! Dorothy! **

** You let your adrenaline take charge of your instincts, Lee. You sometimes need to act with your heart. Acting without thinking can be a fatal flaw. **

Emily Farnsworth's warning - over a decade before - echoed over and over again in his mind. You sometimes need to act with your heart. Is that what he did? He didn't take the time to think before he reacted. He just took aim and shot before knowing who he shot at? That was one of the first things they taught him at Station One - to identify and differentiate between the enemy and innocent bystanders. When did he lose that?

More memories assaulted him.

** Agent down! Agent down! Hang on, Eric Buddy." **

** Tell me what he gave her, or so help me, you'll spend your time in prison from a wheelchair! **

** They were going to kill me. They thought I was you. I don't know why, you're so much taller. **

** I know we've been in some tight spots before. But this time, Lee, I'm really scared. **

Slowly, Lee realized the memories were changing - no longer painful in nature. But they all had one thing in common. Amanda.

** When two people love each other, they want to be near each other. They want to touch each other. **

** You're not Superman. You're just a man, but a really very special man. **

** Not exactly. **

** You have a cute nose. **

"What are you smiling at?" Amanda's weak voice said, bringing Lee out of his musings?

He immediately stood and moved to her bedside, sitting in a chair left there. She lifted her hand and he took it, pressing her knuckles against his lips. Lee brushed back some hair from her forehead.

"How are you feeling?" he asked.

Her small smile encouraged him. "Better. Tired. How long have I been asleep?"

Lee glanced at his wristwatch. "About five hours. It's close to midnight?"

Worry crossed her delicate features. "Had anyone called my mother?"

"Actually, you're mother called the Agency and left you a message. Joe showed up to take the boys for the weekend, so she decided to go visit a friend. She hoped you didn't mind spending the weekend alone."

She shook her head slowly and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. "Boy, a weekend to myself."

Lee wanted so much to lean over and kiss her cheek or forehead, something to reassure him she was alive and warm and not just a figment of his imagination. She tried to shift her position, and the wince on her face was enough to drive reality home - hard.

"What do you need?" he asked.

"Nothing. I'm just trying to get comfortable. Can you just lift me up alittle?"

Lee sat on the edge of her bed and leaned across her to slip his hands beneath her back. Her good arm came up around his neck and he gently lifted her off the bed. Amanda's cheek brushed his as he shifted the pillows beneath her. He found himself acutely aware of how close he held her, but tried to shut it out. Now more than ever, he had no right to want Amanda King. Gently, Lee eased her back and her fingertips brushed the nap of his neck as her arm came down.

She met his eyes and Lee clenched his jaw. With almost painful gentleness, Amanda pressed her palm against his cheek, her thumb rubbing across his skin. Lee turned and pressed his lips to her warm palm before wrapping his fingers around her wrist and brought her arm down.

"Is that better?" he croaked.

Amanda nodded. A knock at the door drew his attention and they both turned to see Francine peeking in. A worried look spread across her face.

"I'm sorry, Amanda. I thought you'd be a sleep. The nurse at the station told me I could find you in here, Lee."

Lee sat up but didn't move from the bed. Amanda's hand found his and he held it on his thigh.

"What's up, Francine."

"Billy thought you'd want to know what we got from the warehouse." He arched an eyebrow in question. "Unfortunately, nothing."


"We found four bodies, one of which we know was Jimmy the Snitch. Bullet between the eyes."

Lee felt Amanda's fingers tighten around his and he glanced quickly at her. Her eyes were pressed closed, but when they opened, she met his stare. He knew, at that moment, she had witnessed Jimmy's death. He also knew it had to have been terrible. Seeing a man's brains blown out was not a pretty thing.

"That's the one link we had to figuring out who set me up."

Francine shrugged. "We've gone over the place with a fine-toothed comb, and have come up with at least six-dozen prints. It is going to take forever to weed through them and see if any come up positive to anyone we know."

"No," said Amanda in a soft voice.

Both Lee and Francine looked to her. The new paleness of her cheeks worried Lee.

"No what, Amanda?"

"I know at least one of them wore gloves. I think they all did. I saw them when they ran up to the warehouse."

Lee rubbed her arm and the back of her hand with his palm. "Is there anything else you can tell us?" He hated like hell to ask, but Lee wanted the man who caused all this - and he wanted him bad. "Amanda, can you tell me what happened? All of it."

Her brow furrowed as she seemed to try and remember. "I was in the car, waiting, and I saw seven men run towards the warehouse. They were all dressed in black and I couldn't see their faces, but they carried guns." Amanda's eyes darted to him. "I know you told me to stay in the car, but I needed to let you know."

A tight fist closed around Lee's heart, but he couldn't dwell on it. Francine came into the room and stood at the food of the bed, a notebook in hand, and waited for Amanda to say something useful. Lee was silently thankful Francine was avoiding any snide comments or flippant remarks. Amanda didn't need anything like that right now.

"I heard gunshots just as I reached the door. I heard you shout something to Jimmy, about being set up, and then Jimmy came out from behind some boxes. I was crouched down and tripped him with a piece of wood."

She continued with the story, telling them how Jimmy had overpowered her and handed her over to one of the hooded men. Amanda seemed to struggle with part of the memory, and she released his hand to rub her temple.

"He talked to his men with a handheld. Told them they were getting out and they'd know when. Then he took me down an aisle that was behind you. I could see you, but he had my mouth covered. Then he shouted your name, and when you turned to fire, he shoved me out."

Lee forced himself to swallow and patted her arm. "That's enough, Amanda. You need to get some rest." He stood and motioned for Francine to follow him to the door.

"How is she doing?" Francine asked as they stood near the doorway.

Lee glanced back at his partner and best friend. Her head was turned away from them, but he could see her eyes had closed again. "She's going to be okay. I could have done a lot worse."

Francine touched his arm. "Lee, you heard what she said. It wasn't your fault. They did it on purpose."

Lee raked his hair and dropped his chin to his chest. "I can't help it, Francine. What kind of agent am I if I shoot my partner?"

"Lee you didn't even know she was in the building."

"Lee," Amanda called from her bed in a soft voice. "Lee," she called again more adamantly.

He strode quickly back across the room to her bedside. "What is it, Amanda?"

"Mancini. Anthony Mancini. That's what Jimmy the Snitch called him."

Lee looked to Francine, and the surprise he felt was evident on her face.

"Anthony Mancini?" she asked.

Amanda nodded. "Yes. Do you know who he is?"

"Anthony Mancini is the largest weapons dealer on the East Coast outside of DC. We heard rumors he wanted to be the biggest in DC, too. He must have heard you'd be a threat to him, Lee, and decided to take you out before you had a chance."

Lee curled his fist and bounced it off Amanda's bedside table. "He's gonna wish he did."

*** SMK *** SMK *** SMK ***

Sunday Afternoon

Lee pulled the 'Vette up in front of 4247 Maplewood Drive, and was out and around to her door before Amanda had a chance to reach for the handle. He took her hand and helped her swing her legs out and stand up, his hand going immediately to her waist.

"How are you doing?" he asked for the twentieth time.

Amanda smiled and pressed her hand against his chest. "Lee, I'm fine. It doesn't hurt much at all anymore."

Lee took her hand and they walked together through the gate of the white picket fence and to her front door. He took her keys from her and let them in. Amanda felt as though she had been away for weeks, rather than just two days. Everything was almost as she had left it when she went to work on Friday morning.

"Are you sure you're ready for this? Your mother and the boys could be home any time. Do you really think you can hide this from them?"

Amanda looked down at the slung that held her right arm against her chest. She shrugged with the other shoulder. "Oh, sure. Mother already things I'm accident-prone. I'll just tell her I fell and sprained my elbow or something like that."

Lee nodded and smiled slightly, looking away. His hands were pushed deep in his jean pockets and he looked almost nervous.

"Can I get you something? A drink? Something to eat?" he asked.

Amanda shook her head. "No, I'm fine. Lee, is there something wrong?"

Lee had spent nearly every minute of the last two days at the hospital, either in her room or nearby. Francine and Billy came by occasionally, both to check on her and to fill them in on the search for Anthony Mancini. No luck yet, but Billy felt they were close.

He shook his head. "I'm worried you'll be okay."

Amanda stepped forward and pressed her palm to his chest. He immediately covered her hand with his own. "Lee, I'm worried about you."

He laughed derisively and looked away, but Amanda reached up to touch his chin and urged him to look at her. When their eyes met, she saw his hazel eyes darken and the muscle of his jaw jumped. After several seconds, he leaned forward and pressed his lips against her forehead, wrapping his arms around her.

"This is the closest I've ever come to losing you, Amanda. And it was my fault."

"No it wasn't, Lee," she whispered against his shirt.

"It was my gun, my bullet and I pulled the trigger."

"I wish you wouldn't," she tried to say, but he continued unabated.

"I don't know what I would do if I lost you, Amanda. You mean more to me than anyone else in my life."

Amanda couldn't say anything, the lump of emotion in her throat too thick. She felt the same way. That was the very reason she went into the warehouse that night, because Lee was in danger and she couldn't lose him. She just couldn't.

"I just don't know what to do about it," he whispered against her hair.

Amanda leaned back and looked up at him. He met her gaze with a nervous smile.

"What do you want to do about it?" she asked.

She held her breath as Lee lifted a hand and brushed her cheek and lips with his fingertips. "I'm not sure that what I want to do, and what I should do, are the same thing."

"That's not what I asked. I asked you what you wanted to do about it."

"This," he said in a husky breath before his lips covered hers.

It wasn't a faked kiss, and it wasn't a tentative kiss. This was a kiss to claim her, and Amanda let herself be claimed. She leaned into him and let him take her breath away. Lee's fingers pressed against her back and held her as close as possible. Lee pulled his lips away and buried his face into the bend of her shoulder.

"This is crazy, Amanda."

Amanda wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. She leaned back and again looked at him. His face was wary, but he smiled at her as soon as she smiled at him.

"Oh, no, Lee. It's the least crazy thing we've done since I met you."

Lee laughed before kissing her again.