Archive: Yes. at this site and at Bromfield Hall.
Disclaimer: The characters original to Scarecrow and Mrs. King do not belong to me. They belong to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Productions. Plot and unknown characters belong to author.
Rating: PG 13
Summary: Post series ending. Lee recovers from the trauma of his capture by Marsh and his men. All looks bright and promising for the agents and their family until Lee starts to remember..
Author's notes: I've never done a sequel before.. hope this works! Most readers will find it very helpful to have read Taking the Blame first. If it's been a while, you might wanna refresh your memory. Here's a brief summary: While recovering from the aftermath of 'losing' Lee, Amanda discovers that she's not quite who she used to be. Lee discovers this also when she and Francine rescue him from his captors.
This is very different from anything I've ever posted in the SMK world. First of all, it's written solely from Lee's POV. Much as TTB was solely from Amanda's POV. And it's a bit darker and more angsty than anything else I've posted.
I want to preface it by saying that it's been so long in the works.. about 7-8 months, I think. I almost gave up on this one many times. However, I really do feel like this fandom did so much for me at a time in my life when I really needed a line to hold onto. Therefore, I had to finish this and give it to you, the readers and my friends. Some of you might even remember me! So, I hope you enjoy and don't hesitate to tell me what you think; in fact I'm counting on it!
BIG THANKS to Chris! She keeps me on the straight and narrow so to speak. At least she doesn't let me take the easy road or the short cuts, even when I try! You're the best, Chris!
Lee Stetson watched as his wife carefully maneuvered her Jeep Cherokee into the driveway of her Arlington home. From the passenger seat, he looked sideways at her. Her face was a study in concentration as she focused on getting the vehicle into position as smoothly as possible. Still, he couldn't help but wince as the truck bumped over the low curb. He hissed involuntarily.
"I'm so sorry, Lee." Amanda reached for his hand. She squeezed slightly before pulling back to release her seatbelt then his.
"It's ok. You couldn't help it." He smiled. "I'm just a little sore, that's all. You heard the doctor, just few days rest and I'll be right as rain."
"He said at least four weeks and I intend to make you stick to that, Scarecrow! Don't be getting any ideas about sneaking off to the office any sooner than that." She glared at him in mock warning.
"Yes, Ma'am." He meekly smiled and turned on the Stetson charm. He knew he only had to smile and Amanda would melt and do whatever he wanted, at least when he was sick.
"Not this time, buster. Turn that smile off and get ready to get out of the truck. I'm coming around to help you." Amanda watched his face fall and chuckled at him. She patted his cheek and whispered. "One step at a time, Lee."
Suddenly serious, Lee turned his attention to the white frame house he knew so well, from the outside at least. "Yeah, I hear you, Amanda. This is a mighty big first step. Are you sure about this?"
"Of course, I'm sure, Lee, we've talked about this a dozen times. This is where you belong. And this is where you are going to be."
"But, what if the boys don't really want me here? You raised two very polite young men and just because they were receptive to the idea at the hospital doesn't mean that they still are now that it's really time to walk in there." He hated the insecurity that overwhelmed him but if he had learned nothing else in the last four years with Amanda, he had at least learned to own up to his feelings and to deal with them.
"Lee, I spoke with them this morning before I came to get you and they were excited about this, really. Phillip has plans to keep you occupied with ball games on TV and Jamie has at least a dozen photos he wants to show you. He's been using that camera you got him like crazy."
'Well, all right here goes nothing or something, or maybe everything, who knows?' This Lee thought to himself. To his wife he said, "If you say so."
"I say so." She exited the door and jogged around to open his for him.
He reached for the door handle just as she pushed the release on the outside handle. "Amanda, I can open the door."
"I know.I'm sorry.I can't help it." She grinned at him.
He rolled his eyes and swung his long legs over the side and touched his feet to the driveway.
Inside the house, Phillip and Jamie fought for space at the window. They had heard their mother's Jeep pull up and were anxiously awaiting her arrival, and Lee's. She had pulled up closer to the door than usual and they couldn't quite see what was going on in the interior of the vehicle.
"What's taking so long? I know they are out there. Let's go out and help them." Phillip started to head for the door.
"Wait, Phillip.. what if he's changing his mind? Maybe he doesn't want to stay here with us." Jamie asked the question that had been niggling in the back of his mind since the Jeep had pulled up and no one came in.
"Don't be such a dufus, dufus. Of course he wants to stay here. I am very cool. Why wouldn't he want to stay here? I think he even likes you. Don't know why.."
Jamie slugged his brother and a pushing match ensued until Dotty arrived and broke it up.
She pulled them apart and asked, "Why are you fighting? I thought I heard your mother pull in? Where are they?"
"She did. But they haven't come in yet." Phillip offered by way of explanation.
"Well, they'll be here soon. Probably just taking it nice and slow. Now remember, boys, the doctor said that Lee has to rest for a whole month. I don't want you bothering him all at once." Dotty lectured sternly as she herded them toward the family room and away from the window.
Both boys answered with affirmative answers and looked at each other awkwardly. They had something on their minds and Dotty saw this. "Ok, fellas, out with it. What's wrong, really?"
"Grandma, what if Lee changes his mind. What if he doesn't want to stay here with us?" Jaime blurted it all out in one breath.
"Yeah, we really want him here and besides Mom is just going to worry if he isn't here. We just got her back to almost normal. We don't want her going off anymore." Phillip had obviously been thinking about what his brother had said and now shared his concerns, just a little.
"Well, boys, I'm sure that Lee.." A familiar voice completed her thoughts.
"Isn't going to change his mind about you guys, ever. You're stuck with me, if you want me.." He stood in the doorway, with his arm over Amanda's shoulders. He was forced by the weakness in his legs to lean a little heavier on her than he wanted, but made a concerted effort to stand straight and tall in front of his stepsons.
"Lee! You're here!" "Hey Lee! Good to see ya!" Both boys shouted greetings and rushed across the room. Suddenly they slid to a halt before him, unsure about how to welcome him.
Watching them run toward him, Lee felt a sense of well-being and belonging overcome him, sweeping away the earlier uncertainty. He smiled at them, pulled his arm from Amanda's shoulders and held his hands out to the boys.
They exchanged grins and reached for a hand each. Shaking his hands in a manly fashion, Phillip spoke for both of them. "Welcome home, Lee. We missed you."
His breath caught in his throat, he clung to their hands. Going strictly on instinct, he pulled them into a quick embrace. "Thanks guys, I missed you, too." His gaze swept around the room, encompassing Dotty and Amanda as well. "I missed all of you."
Dotty stepped forward and clasped his outstretched hand. Amanda stood close by and observed her family, all together at last. The family stood that way for a few minutes before Lee cleared his throat and disengaged himself. Shakily, he moved to the closest chair and sat. His emotions seemed to be topsy-turvy since he'd woken up forty-eight hours ago and he didn't quite know what to do with the feelings that kept coming over him. He looked to Amanda for assistance and she smiled in return.
"Boys, go get Lee's things from the truck and take them upstairs to my room. He'll be sleeping in there for now." Amanda instructed and they ran to comply.
Dotty smirked at this news.
Amanda caught the look and pointed out, "I'll be sleeping on the couch, Mother."
Lee watched the exchange, his face burning with embarrassment that Dotty assumed that they would be sleeping together. He knew that he wanted nothing more than to spend the night with his wife. However, he also knew that until they told the boys and Dotty about the marriage, she would not be that open with their relationship.
"Whatever you say, dear, if you want to be foolish, go right ahead. Who am I to tell you what to do with your sex life?" Dotty returned then sailed out of the room before either Lee or Amanda could respond.
The pair looked sheepishly at each other. Finally, clearing his throat once more, Lee began, "Amanda what did they boys mean, they just got you back to almost normal?"
Amanda turned from where she had been checking the boy's progress with Lee's bags and asked, "What?"
"Before we came in the room, just now, I clearly heard Phillip say that they just got you back to almost normal and they didn't want to lose you again. What did he mean? Did you go away or something?"
Lee watched as his wife stared into space for several long minutes. He was just about to prompt her when she suddenly returned to his side, kneeled on the floor and held him tightly around the waist. Looping his arms around her, he kissed the soft curls then rested his head against them. Her response, muffled by her face buried in his chest, came to him.
"Yeah, Lee, something like that, something like that."
The boys returned, clambering in the door and dragging his bags with them, effectively forestalling any further explanation. They led Lee upstairs and Amanda followed, determined to put him to bed for the day. Lee gave up and allowed the mothering. He thought to himself, 'I have the rest of our lives to get it out of her, don't I?"
Two hours later, Lee woke to the muffled sounds near the door. First he froze, unsure of his surroundings. His instincts kicked in and he reached to the nightstand for his weapon. When he made contact with the rough texture of the lacey cloth on top of Amanda's nightstand, he woke completely and realized where he was. Breathing deeply, he sought to control his breathing and felt his heart beat return to near normal. Disgusted with himself, he sat up and dragged his feet over the bed to the floor. For the last few days, ever since Amanda had found him, his emotions and reactions had run the gamut from near lethargy to instant and total readiness for action. 'God, let me just get over this. I finally have a life to get back to.' Clearing his voice, he called aloud, "Uh, guys..I'm awake. Do you need something?"
"Told you he would hear us!" Phillip's loud protest came through the rapidly opening door. "He's a spy.I bet he hears everything."
"Phillip." Jamie's voice held the warning, obviously well planted in his mind by his mother and grandmother, not to upset Lee.
Two teenage faces peered around the door and jostled for space.
Lee chuckled to himself. 'This should certainly be interesting for a while.' He waved to them. "Come on in here."
"Lee, Mom said if you were awake that we should tell you that dinner will be ready in about twenty minutes and not to come down. She'll bring it to you." Dutifully, the boy fulfilled his mission.
"Yeah and Mom is making her spaghetti! She hasn't made spaghetti in ages." Phillip rejoiced and exchanged hi-fives with his brother.
"Spaghetti sounds great! Your Mom makes the best." Once again, he picked up on the undercurrents between the brothers and cautiously fished for a way to get the answers he needed. Spaghetti was comfort food in the King household, or so he'd been told. "So, she quit making it for a while? I guess we all get tired of the same old things.."
"Then Mom must have got tired of everything. She hasn't been doing anything but working for... well, ever since you.." Phillip trailed off, finally realizing that he'd opened a subject that he wasn't sure he was supposed to be talking about yet. He scuffed his shoes across the carpet and shot a glance over at Jamie.
"What Phillip the Mouth means is that Mom has been pretty upset and work seemed to keep her occupied." Jamie mentally rolled his eyes.
"So, she's been pretty busy?" Lee stood and experimentally stretched his legs around the room.
"Yeah. She works pretty late most nights. And then Grandma has to go get her some."
"Go get her from where?" Lee fished again.
"From the hospital. The ER mostly. Sometimes she picks her up at the office, if it isn't too bad." Jamie tried to keep his tone casual, but his always serious eyes became even more so and Lee could see how upsetting this was to the boy.
"If what isn't too bad?"
"Whatever she got hurt. she's had a car wreck, fell down stairs, and stuff." Jamie shrugged. "At least that's what she says."
"You don't believe her?"
"No, not anymore. Not for a long time. Last time she said it was the stairs, but she had to wear this tight wrap around her ribs for a few days. Our first aid books say that is what you do for broken ribs."
Phillip now took up the narration. "And then she had this limp for about two weeks. She said she pulled a muscle in that wreck, but we saw her changing a bandage on her leg, looked like a big gash in her thigh. That gash looked jagged, like a knife, maybe." Phillip hesitated and then let it all out in a rush, "I mean, she is a spy and spies fight and chase bad guys and sometimes they get hurt. James Bond was always getting hurt and she must be something like him, right? I mean we figured that she got cut in a fight and that she didn't tell us because she didn't want us to worry, but we worry anyway and so does Grandma."
Lee drew in a huge breath for the boy, who wasn't the least bit winded and nodded. Like mother like son. "Well, guys, I think things are going to get better now, okay? It's not the safest job that we do, but your mother is always very careful."
"And soon, you'll be back with her, right? You'll take care of her?" Jamie suddenly seemed more anxious and Lee sought to reassure him.
"I'm going to take care of her and she's going to take care of me. Just like always. That's what partners do."
Nodding together, the boys settled for this and soon began to regale Lee with stories of their lives for the past eight weeks. Shortly, Amanda called them to dinner and Lee was briefly left alone with his thoughts. Not exactly the best company after the conversation he'd just had.
Two days after Lee was escorted into his new home and new life, he glanced around him and realized that he was bored out of his mind. It wasn't that he didn't like the attention of Dotty and the boys; he loved spending time with his family and they seemed to like having him around as well. But how much mothering could one man stand? Dotty hovered worse than Amanda and the boys were almost as bad.
He quietly got up from his spot on the couch and began to pick up the clutter left by Phillip and Jaime and their last model car project. Just as he bent over to pick up the discarded instructions, he heard from behind him his mother-in-law's voice.
"Lee Stetson, don't you dare try to pick up that mess! You just sit right back down and put your feet up.. It has only been forty-eight hours since you came home and you are not going to over do, not on my watch!" Dotty hurried into the room, took the paper from his hands and pointed at his previous seat.
"Dotty, it's been two days and I am perfectly capable of picking up this mess. In fact, I am capable of lots of things, if you and Amanda would call off the twenty four guard, I might be able to do a lot more!" He blew a frustrated breath out and ran his hand through his hair.
"Now look what you've done. you've gone and gotten yourself all worked up. Amanda will kill me if she sees you like this. You just have a seat, young man and I will go and get your lunch." She glared at him, much as she did her grandsons, waiting for him to comply.
"Dotty, I can come to the kitchen and eat you know. I don't need to be waited on." He spread his arms wide, indicating that he was indeed whole and hearty. Unfortunately, the effect was spoiled when a wave of dizziness struck. He wobbled on his feet and reached behind him for the couch arm.
"Oh yes, Lee, you are indeed perfectly able to come to the kitchen. You can't even stand up, son. Please, just sit and let me get your lunch." The older woman's voice softened as she saw how frustrated Lee really was with his sudden weakness. "It will get better, you'll see. The doctor said that this might happen for several weeks. Just be patient and let us take care of you."
Nodding his acceptance, Lee slumped down onto the couch and rested his head against the back cushions. He closed his eyes, praying for an end to this all. This was the third time since he had been home that he had been nearly knocked down by the waves of dizziness. He hadn't told Amanda. If she knew, he would have been right back at that hospital before he could say 'no'. And that he most certainly didn't want.. Not after his homecoming had been all that he had hoped for, and more.. The first episode had happened the day of his discharge from the hospital.
Lee stood next to the edge of the bed and allowed his body to relax, finally. He had only left the hospital 2 hours ago. Why did he feel like he had run a marathon this morning? The welcome home by Dotty and the boys had been more than he had ever expected. He blushed a little even now as he remembered how close to the surface his emotions had been. He hadn't felt this raw and vulnerable since Amanda had been shot on their honeymoon. Suddenly dizzy, the room swam and Lee fought to stay upright. The floor buckled under his feet, he sat on the bed and then he was pitched back to a lying position. Maybe he had just overdone it..
He lay back into the fluffy pillows of his wife's bed, his eyes drifted closed and he slept. For a while it was peaceful. He dreamed of Amanda and their first meeting. He saw her brown eyes wide with shock as he grabbed her arm and pulled her against his body. In the background of his dreams, the trains whirred by, wheels clacking on the tracks. He looked at her and begged for her help. Her voice, indignantly refused at first and he felt the desperation come over him. Then her voice softened, she smiled and took the package. It would be okay. In his dream, he looked into her face and knew, that it would all be fine.
Then the dream changed and Amanda was no longer there. The trains were gone, but not the noise they made. The whirring and clacking were in the background and Lee was alone in the dark. He heard voices, voices he didn't know or even vaguely recognize. He felt the hard, cold metal of cuffs on his wrists. There was a stick and a burning in his arm and then more voices.. one was familiar this time. It droned on, mechanically. The whirring and clacking continued to keep time as the voice listed names and dates, code names and passwords. How could this person know these things? Lee struggled with his handcuffs; he had to stop this person, whoever he was.
He bounded out of his dream, beckoned by the female voice.
"Lee, darling, Lee, I've got your lunch.are you ready?" Dotty's voice sought to bring him back to the present.
Lee sat up abruptly. He dragged a shaky hand over his face. He smiled reassuringly at the concerned look he saw. He hoped his smile conveyed more assurance then he felt.
He'd had the dream again.didn't he? Or was he just remembering the dream? No, he wasn't asleep.He had gotten dizzy and he sat down but he didn't go to sleep, not this time. He only had the dizzying dream when he was alone, right? Until now, his family's presence kept the dream from coming for him when he was awake. For that he was thankful.. but why did he feel like a small boy who was hiding behind his mother's skirt tails? He wanted to figure this out, but his mind just wouldn't focus. The dream came and went and while it terrified him, it left no lasting memory, just an intense aura of foreboding.
He suddenly felt the heat of a bowl of soup pressed into his hand and came completely back to his present surroundings. The foreboding faded and Lee shook it off as aftereffects of the drugs he had been injected with to keep him quiet during his imprisonment. Dotty smiled at him warmly just as Phillip and Jaime scrambled into the room, home early from school due to teacher's meetings. His family surrounded him, once again, and then the dream memory was gone completely..
"Dotty, this is the best vegetable soup I've had in a long time.thank you." He finished his soup, leaned forward to replace the bowl on the tray and picked up his glass of iced tea. He leaned back and sipped the cool beverage.
"You are very welcome, Lee. Now I need you to do me a favor." Dotty began.
"Anything for you, just name it."
"I need to take the boys to get some supplies for the end of school festival. And I need you to stay put and promise me not to get into any trouble while we are gone." Her tone was maternal, almost lecturing.
Lee, attempting to look innocent, replied, "Yes, Ma'am. I will sit right here and watch television. I might even take a nap later." To himself, he thought, 'Or maybe not, not if the dream was going to come back.'
"Thank you, Lee. I know that you are a man of your word and if you promise to stay put then you will do just that. I'll be back in few hours and if you need anything, you just call Amanda. She's at the office all day. Sometimes, when she goes out, they have to find her for me, but then I guess you know all about that don't you?"
"Umm, yeah, I'm familiar with the process" He grinned wryly at her somewhat embarrassed look. "And she told me that she was in the office all day today." To himself he continued, 'Right after she told me not to even think about coming down there.' His frustrations of earlier returned full force.
Dotty gathered the boys and left Lee alone with the remote and his frustrations. Ten minutes later, his mind made up, Lee hurried to the front walk to await the cab he'd called to take him to the Agency.
He had plenty of time before Dotty would return to worry over his whereabouts and besides, if he was lucky, soon he would have Billy's support in returning to work a lot sooner than another three and a half weeks.
The cab arrived and he jumped into the back, determined to have his 'Vette home this evening when he returned. Amanda had told him it was parked at the Agency; she hadn't been able to drive it. Too many memories for her to feel comfortable in it. He gave the address and sat back for the short trip across the river and to the office and his wife.
His mind grew sluggish, lulled by the movement of the car and the hum of the tires on the road. The crossing over the river and the tires clacking on the uneven pavement of the bridge lured him into thoughts of the dream once more. He drifted away and heard the familiar droning voice in his head once again. He focused intently, but he just couldn't put his finger on it. He knew that voice and he instinctively knew that it was vital that he figure out who it belonged to. Whoever it was knew a lot about the Agency and didn't mind sharing..
"Hey, mister! Mister! You're here."
The driver announced his arrival and Lee shook off the lassitude that had come over him during the ride. He just seemed to slip off like that so often these days. And this dream was making him nuts. Maybe it was time to get Pfaff into this.. No matter how Amanda insisted he wasn't ready.
Just last night, Amanda, after sneaking up on him dazed and unfocused yet again, had laughed and said that was a very good reason why he wasn't ready to return to work yet. He countered with the argument that work was exactly what he needed to bring him back to his old self. The small disagreement had accomplished nothing and they had mutually decided to let it drop before it escalated into more than it needed to be.
Lee quickly paid the cabbie and exited the vehicle. He straightened his shirt, suddenly aware of his casual appearance in his jeans and button down oxford. 'Oh well, it's not like they haven't seen me look worse.' He strode up to the door and entered.
"Lee Stetson! What on earth are you doing here?" Mrs. Marston greeted him when he appeared.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Marston. How are you?" His smile was infectious, even to the staid older woman.
"I'm fine, Lee. I'm glad to see that you look fit as well."
"Yes, well, that is what I hope to prove this afternoon." Lee jerked his head toward the Q Bureau. "Is Amanda in?"
"Oh dear, well, yes she is, but Mrs. King is very busy right now. I can buzz Mr. Melrose if you like?" She seemed hesitant to point out that Lee, at this time, did not have free access to the Agency.
"That would be great, Mrs. Marston. It's okay, really. I know that I can't just go wandering about until Pfaff and Billy have cleared me. I don't even know what code cycle we're on right now." Lee stood and waited patiently for the woman to make her call.
When she had done so, she nodded to Lee and he nodded back to indicate that he understood he was to wait. Some one would be with him shortly.
Shortly, Lee heard the arrival of the elevator and waited to see who would emerge to greet him. The impatient click of high heels told him who, before the door opened fully.
"Francine, hello.." Lee smiled at his old friend.
"Lee! It is so good to see you. You look great! Billy is tied up but he wants you downstairs ASAP.. he can't wait to see you again." The exuberant blond brushed a quick kiss across his cheek and affectionately squeezed his arm. After gathering a visitor's pass from Mrs. Marston for Lee, together they entered the elevator/closet.
As they rode the elevator to the lower levels of the Agency, Lee began to question Francine about the last few weeks. "So Francine, been busy around here?"
"Oh Lee, you just don't know! It has been a madhouse. We've been working on one case for about two weeks and Amanda finally brought in the best suspect yet..I can't wait to see what she gets out of him." The blond woman spoke rapidly, not noticing the increasingly puzzled look on her companion's face. "She has him down in interrogation now.."
"Wait a minute.Amanda.Amanda King has a suspect that she brought in on her own in interrogation, right now?" His voice betrayed his disbelief.
"Scary thought, huh? You should ask her about it.. oh and you can drop the Mrs. King bit.I know all about your marriage. So does Billy.." Obviously, relishing the fact that she could make Lee speechless with her bombshell about his marriage, Francine smiled widely and sailed off down the hall. As an after thought, she called over her shoulder, "Oh, by the way, Billy is in his office."
Wryly, he replied, "Thanks, Francine." Under his breath, he continued, "and thanks Amanda, for warning me about Francine!" Momentarily distracted from his questions about Amanda's suspect, he moved quickly to see his friend and supervisor.
He swung the door open, just in time to see Billy Melrose shake two TUMSİ into his palm and pop them into his mouth. The man grimaced at the taste, reached for his water, and raised his head. His eyes swung to the door and he smiled at the sight before him.
"Lee, it's good to see you, man. How are you? Get in here." He stood from behind his desk and reached for Lee's hand. Once again, as at the scene of Lee's rescue, he abandoned the handshake for quick embrace, before releasing the younger man's hand.
"So Billy, fill me in.what's going on around here? Francine says Amanda has a suspect in interrogation? Has Francine finally gone around the bend?" Lee went right to the heart of the matter and hoped that Billy was willing to fill him in. He felt a little like Alice down the rabbit hole right now.
Billy grinned in appreciation of the humor and waved to the observation screens above their heads. "Take a look for yourself, Lee." He had no idea that Amanda had yet to explain her rather drastic change to her husband.
Lee turned and quickly focused on the room that his wife was in, interrogation two. What he saw made him reach for the chair behind him and sit, rather heavily.
The tiny observations screen suddenly seemed to fill the room, or at least the part of it that Lee was in. His mind whirled and he just couldn't reconcile the woman on the grainy black and white monitor with the woman he loved and shared his life with.
This woman, in the center of the empty cell-like room, was cold and hard. Her eyes didn't hold the warmth that his Amanda's always did. Right in the man's face, she leaned over the suspect seated in one of the two chairs. Suddenly he leaned forward and grabbed the slim woman by her arms. He leaned close and his face grew red with rage when Amanda didn't so much as flinch.
Lee was up and heading for the door, to go to her assistance quickly. Billy chuckled and pulled him back down into his seat.
"Lee, wait and listen. There are armed guards outside the door if she can't handle it, just like with every interrogation." Over the speaker system could be heard the exchange of words between agent and prisoner.
"Mr. Simms, I strongly suggest that you let me go. I'm going to get the information out of you, one way or another. One way won't be so bad, but another way, my way, would be very bad." She stated this calmly, clearly. To Billy, it was simply a statement of her intentions. He knew she didn't bluff about what she could do. The suspect obviously hadn't been clued in.
"Why should I tell you anything? Huh? You got nothing on me." The sleezy looking man sneered at her.
Amanda simply rolled her eyes in the direction of the camera, hooked her foot under the rung of the man's chair, jerked her arms upward and pulled the chair up and over with her booted foot. The man released her in surprise and fell over backward with a startled cry. Stepping forward, she dropped her weight to the ground. One knee pressed into his throat, her hands quickly restrained his with the cuffs she pulled from her back jeans pocket. She stood, using her body weight as a counter balance to pull him up with her.
"Now, Mr. Simms, would you like to talk to me now, or do you want to see the rest of my tricks?" She shoved him into the second chair and tapped her foot, impatiently.
The man swallowed hard, still feeling the pressure of her knee against his trachea. Nodding, he replied, "What do you want to know?"
She nodded in return and reached behind her to turn on the recording equipment.
In his office, Billy watched Lee's reaction and chuckled again. After reaching out to turn off the observation screen, he slapped Lee hard on the shoulder. "Not quite the Amanda you remember, is she?"
"Uh, no, no I guess she isn't. Billy, who taught her.I mean, what happened while I was gone? Francine is acting funny even for her. You aren't the least bit surprised by this Amanda and I don't even recognize her. That is not the same woman I remember." Lee was bewildered and beginning to tire from his trip to the office, not to mention the shock of seeing the exhibition he had just witnessed. His hands shook and he feared that he couldn't stand if he tried. He wasn't sure he could handle the answers if he got them, but he needed to know. Amanda had been avoiding his questions for two days. She refused to talk about the time he had been away or the things she was doing at work.
Recalling the way she handled that prisoner, he was beginning to see what Phillip and Jamie mean, by 'almost back to normal'. He took a deep breath and looked up at his section chief. "Billy, I need some answers, please."
"Scarecrow, haven't you asked Amanda about any of this?" Melrose propped against his desk and carefully watched over his friend.
"I have, but she keeps brushing me off. I want to, need to know what's going on around here. What happened while I was gone? The boys talk about the difference in her now and while I was away. But she's even different from before all of this started. I don't know my wife any more, Billy."
Billy studied the younger man, his eyes starting to twinkle as Lee called Amanda his wife. "Ah yes, your wife.you know, you could have told me."
"Ah, yeah, we wanted to, but we just thought." Lee blushed slightly, embarrassed at being called out like a lovesick schoolboy.
"I know, Lee. Amanda explained it all to me one day. And I think she really needs to be the one to explain all of this. But for now, man, you look exhausted and I think you should go home. I'm going to call your wife and tell her just that."
"Uh, you know, Billy, why don't you just take me, yourself? I mean Amanda is busy and I don't want to." Lee protested quickly.
Chuckling yet again, Billy shook his head, "She doesn't know you're here, does she? You are supposed to be at home in bed, come to think of it!"
"Ah, Billy, I was going nuts sitting there. I love being with the family and Dotty is spoiling me rotten, but I'm bored stiff. How about some paper work to take home or something, huh?" Lee knew, for sure now, that he was more bored than he had ever been. He, Scarecrow, was asking for paperwork!
Before Billy could refuse, the office door opened and Lee stiffened under the gaze of his wife. "Uh, hi, Amanda, I, uh, just."
"Uh huh, you just broke and ran, that's what you've done. Mother came back too early and was nearly hysterical when I called home to check with you." Amanda shook her head at her wayward husband.
"I was bored?"
Amanda shook her head.
Another negative shake.
"Lonely?" The smile and the hazel eyes he knew she loved so well accompanied this; and he saw her melt just as he hoped.
"Lee, what am I going to do with you?" She sighed, obviously exasperated, but relaxed her rigid stance and smiled back.
Before he could come back with an appropriate response, Billy intervened and made a suggestion. "Take him home. He's exhausted. Better get him out of here before Smyth finds him and drags him into debriefing. He's jumping up and down for a report."
"Well, he isn't getting one until the doctor OK's it." Amanda's voice was decisive.
From behind her, Francine's voice chimed in, "Then you better get him out fast. Smyth is headed this way."
"Thanks, Francine. Think you can stall him till we get to the elevator?" Amanda was asking even as she was reaching for Lee, to assist him to his feet.
"Sure thing, partner." Francine headed down the hall and around the corner.
Amanda pulled Lee toward the elevator, calling over her shoulder. "I'll see you in the morning, sir."
Inside the elevator a stunned and decidedly winded Lee asked, "Partner?"
Lee's hand was grabbed by his wife and he was hustled out of the elevator, past the staring Mrs. Marston and into the street. They headed for her parked truck. Lee finally came to his senses and jerked to a halt.
"Amanda! Wait. I asked you a question." Lee's voice was loud and drew the stares of several nearby pedestrians.
"I know and I'll answer you when we get you home and into the bed." She continued to walk toward the parked vehicle, expecting him to be walking behind her. From behind her, Lee stood still watching her walk away from him. Her stride was graceful as always, yet she carried herself somehow differently. More, more something. he just couldn't put his finger on it. When she had reached her door, she looked back to check on him, only to find that he wasn't there. He remained standing on the sidewalk, staring at her familiar yet strange form.
Lee, watching her look back for him, saw her sigh and hang her head for a few moments. Suddenly sheepish, Lee realized how childishly he was behaving, creating a scene in a public place. He walked slowly forward and opened the passenger door. Sliding inside, he waited for his wife to join him.
"I'm sorry, Amanda. But I need answers. I need to know what happened to you while I was gone. I need to know if you are okay now and if you were okay then." He pleaded for her to open up to him.
As he looked across the seat at her, he saw her unconsciously rubbing her arms where the prisoner had gripped her. She allowed him to lock his gaze with hers and for long moments they each just watched the other.
Swallowing, she nodded, "Okay, you're right. You have the right to know. I wanted to tell you, but I just wasn't sure how."
He sighed a huge breath of relief, maybe now they could get somewhere.
"Just start at the beginning, but first, show me your arms. He hurt you. Let me make sure you're all right." Hesitantly he reached to push up the arms of her sweater. Once he wouldn't have hesitated to try and take care of her. She hadn't needed a caretaker then, but she had allowed it. He knew she certainly didn't need a caregiver now, either. She was a strong, capable agent. He had seen the proof for himself. But he still needed to take care of her. He hoped she could understand that. He looked into her eyes, willing her to try to understand.
She nodded slowly. Lee felt the tension in her frame as he ran his hands over the large, already forming, handprint shaped bruises on her forearms. Her eyes were closed and for one second, he thought she was afraid of him. He lowered his hands to her skin and ran his thumbs over the tender flesh. She sighed long and low and relaxed. Her eyes flew open and he heard her whisper, "Lee, I missed you so much." Tears gathered in her eyes and he pulled her close to his chest. She sobbed against him and he knew, no matter what else happened, they were on their way back. Back to each other and back to their lives.
Throughout the ride to their Arlington home, Amanda began to tell Lee bits and pieces of her life for the last two months, since he had disappeared. Haltingly at first, then with more and more need, the words spilled from her and onto Lee's rapt concentration. He leaned against his door and watched her talk. At first she was tense, he saw her hands gripping the wheel tightly, her knuckles white as if in an effort to keep her hands from trembling.
When he remained quiet and didn't interrupt her tale, she seemed to unwind and breathe easier. His apparent acceptance of who she had become, helped her explain just exactly how she got there. Lee listened, trembling inside, with anger at the world that had put them in this situation. His anger grew as she told him how she had holed up in his apartment, trying to deal with her grief and anger. How first Billy, then Francine had tried to get through only to be rebuffed.
Finally, he was being told everything, including the night Billy came to her with his wedding band and how he had tried to comfort her over the loss of her partner. Lee couldn't believe that he was hearing Amanda tell him that she had actually considered not going back to the agency. He listened with incredulity as she explained how she had questioned herself about her future. Could she continue at the Agency without him? Did she even want to try?
As she told him of her worries over whether she still belonged in the intelligence community, he grinned and nodded. Obviously, if this afternoon's display was any indication, she had made the right decision. She'd coped and handled herself well. his anger dissipated as he absorbed that fact.
By the time they pulled into the drive, she had told him about going to Billy and demanding the Advanced Training Course. Winding up her tale, she put the truck into park, turned off the engine and finally faced him. "So, I took the course, came back to work and well, I just did my job." He watched her shrug and shook his head at her dismissal of her own new status.
Before he could question how easily she dismissed her own actions, she was exiting the truck, and coming around to assist him from his seat. Moving mush easier this time having rested up from his earlier experience at the Agency, Lee managed to get down and around the truck door before she could get to him. He grinned and told her, "I'm getting better, see?" Reaching for her, he pulled her into his embrace.
"Yeah, I see, big fella. Let's get you in and settled. Mother and the boys will be back soon. When I told them you were with me, they went on to the school for ball practice."
"Will you stay with me? I want.I need to know the rest." They had walked together up to the back door and were now standing in the kitchen.
"The rest?" She casually asked peering over her shoulder as she reached into the fridge for the milk to go with the cookies Lee was already munching on.
"The rest, Amanda. The boys mentioned that you were having lots of accidents. They told me that when you explained about the Agency, they figured that you were getting hurt in the field. They said you had car wrecks, that you broke several ribs once, and they suspected a stab wound at one point." Growing agitated at her cavalier attitude, he reached for her arms and forced her to look at him.
"Lee! You know as well as I do, that this isn't the safest job. There are certain risks involved when you have to take the offensive with a perpetrator."
The words coming out of her mouth didn't even sound like his Amanda. 'Risks, offensive, perpetrator' "Yeah, but you were never a risk taker. You didn't attack unless you had to. You said, you were the brain and I was.."
"The brawn, yes, I remember. But you weren't there anymore. I was alone and I had to find some way to prove to myself, to Mr. Melrose and to Francine." Angrily, she freed herself from his grasp and whirled away from him.
Her anger slammed into him like gale force winds. Striving to grasp what she was trying to tell him, he absorbed her anger then walked to her and placed his hands on her shoulders. Kneading the tight muscles softly, he leaned his forehead against her curls. "Prove what, Amanda? You were already a damn good agent."
For long minutes, he thought she wasn't going to answer. She held herself stiff in his arms and refused to let him comfort her in any way. He persevered and refused to leave her alone in her anger and grief. Somehow, he sensed that she had been left alone too long. Running his hands down her arms and nuzzling his face into her neck, he brushed a light kiss over her skin and almost missed her whispered answer.
"I let you go.. I just let him take you and did nothing to stop him. I froze when I saw the gun so close to you and I just let him take you away." Finally, he felt her lose her stiff composure and slump into his chest. "I let you go. I let you die."
"No, Amanda, no. I didn't die. I'm right here. I thought we settled this, days ago. There was nothing you could have done to stop this from happening. You can't blame yourself. You had nothing to prove then and nothing to prove now." Turning her in his arms, he looked into her eyes and said it again. "You were not to blame and you had nothing to prove."
"Yes, I did. I had to prove to you and to me that the time and effort you put into my training wasn't wasted. I had to show the Agency that I could still do it, on my own.. That you taught me well enough that I could do it on my own." She dashed the tears from her eyes and drew in a shuddering breath.
"No one who knows you could ever doubt that you had the ability to do whatever you put your mind to, Amanda." He leaned down and stared straight into her eyes.
"I did." Again the words were barely a whisper.
"I'm so sorry for what you had to go through. I hate the thought of what you were feeling."
"That's just it, Lee. By that time, I wasn't feeling, at all. I came back from that class and I just sort of buried myself in the work and the Agency." She looked very uncomfortable in her own skin and Lee suddenly understood.
"So you took 'certain risks' and you did a fine job of it, too." Lee pulled her small frame to him and wondered what scars he would eventually discover and if he would be strong enough to handle them as graciously as she had always handled his.
"Looking back now, I shudder to think of some of the stunts I pulled off. I don't think I cared. Without you, it just didn't matter." She smiled at him as he pulled her over to a framed picture of Dotty and the boys.
"It always matters, Amanda. They needed you then and they always will and so do I." He paused to look deep into her eyes. "I love you."
"I love you." She leaned against him and stretched up to kiss him fully on the mouth. Accepting her gesture, he returned her kiss until they were each out of breath. Emotions were high and as Dotty and the boys were due home anytime, they pulled away and composed themselves.
Deciding that a lighter tone was needed for now, Lee attempted to ease the conversation to less dangerous territory. "So you took the ATC and partnered up with Francine?" Lee shook his head over the oddity of that pairing. But then again, it was no stranger than Scarecrow and a housewife.
Amanda gave a short laugh and nodded, "Odd, huh? It was Mr. Melrose's idea actually. And strangely enough, it works. We work well together and we DO have a rather impressive track record."
"Yeah, so I heard. But don't get to comfortable in that role, Mrs. Stetson. I am coming back to work you know. And I want my old partner back." He lectured her in a teasing voice.
"Well, Mr. Stetson, I think that can be arranged." They leaned in for another kiss only to jump apart at the next sound they heard.
"Would you two like to explain something else to the rest of us, please, Mr. and Mrs. Stetson?" Dotty, Phillip and Jamie stood in the hall, staring in fascination as yet another secret was revealed.
Sharing baffled looks, Lee and Amanda each began to stutter. "Uh, well, you see."
"Mother, we sort of."
Dotty chuckled under her breath at their confusion. They'd had her life in turmoil for months. It was nice to see them looking for answers for once. "Uh huh.you sort of what?" She gave them her best stern look. "Got married?"
Knowing they were beat, they shrugged and answered together, "Yes" "Yes, ma'am"
Jamie and Phillip let out howls of delight and started to taunt each other. "I told you so." "Nuh uh, I told you."
Bemused, Dotty laughed and hugged Lee and then Amanda. "It's about time."
Amanda stared at her family. They were now calm and staring at her in return. "Is that all? Just 'It's about time' and 'I told you so'
Lee finally piped up, "Are you two sure you're okay with this?" He aimed the query at Phillip and Jamie.
"Lee, dude, in the past 3 months we've been told you were dead, that you were a spy, that you weren't dead and that Mom is a spy, too. This is nothing." Phillip stared at the two adults as if they were daft.
Dotty shrugged and followed the boys up the stairs. "It's nothing, dude."
Alone again, Lee and Amanda sagged onto the sofa to think about what had just transpired. Lee saw her look at him sideways just before she asked, "So, Lee, were we worried about telling them?"
Lee had the grace to look thoughtful for a full 15 seconds before glibly answering, "Worried? Nah, not me."
"So when do we tell then that we've been married for nearly a year now?" Amanda teased him.
"Amaaanda.." Groaning, he pulled her into a tight squeeze and hushed her impertinent mouth with a deep kiss.
Later that night, Lee and Amanda ascended the stairs to their room together for the first time in months. Lee could count, on one hand, the number of nights he'd spent in this room with his wife. He still found it hard to believe that he would never again be forced to sleep apart from her to hide their marriage from their family. The sense of freedom he felt was amazing and it made the trip upstairs seem like he was floating over the risers, not treading on them.
His thoughts were full of Amanda and the boys and all the things that they could now do as a family. All the things he had missed out on when their marriage was a secret; all the things that had helped him to keep his mind occupied during his captivity. He couldn't recall much of that time, but what he could remember were the brief moments of lucidity and how he'd spent them thinking of what was waiting on him at home.
Stopping to say goodnight to Phillip and Jamie, Lee thought of the simplicity of this act and how nice it felt to him. Turning to follow Amanda to their room, he saw her shaking her head and grinning up at him. "What?" He asked, bewildered. He hadn't realized that his utter contentment shone through.
"You." She grinned even bigger as she held the door open then followed him inside.
Stepping past her, he surveyed their room. He had no idea that the smile on his face got even larger. Hearing her chuckle then laugh outright, he turned. "Is there something amusing in the way I enter a room?"
Serious again, Amanda shook her head.
Lee watched her advance toward him, stopping in front of him and placing her hands on his chest. Her eyes still twinkled with traces of her amusement and he grasped her waist and pulled her closer. He watched as the amusement disappeared and the twinkle changed to something more. "Now, would you like to tell me what was so funny, or do I have to pull it out of you, bit by bit?"
"Well, that sounds like it might be interesting, Scarecrow. Let's try it your way first and see how you do.." Her voice was husky and Lee felt himself responding.
He leaned down and brushed his lips over hers. Her warm breath feathered over his face as she exhaled slightly and he pushed forward, settling his lips more firmly onto hers. When she stepped deeper into his embrace, he felt her body mold against his, her curves meeting his harder, flatter planes in all the right places. They fit together perfectly, just as they always had.
Shifting his hands higher, from her waist up to her slim back and shoulders, he pulled her shirt up and out of his way at the same time. His fingers felt warm, soft flesh over quivering muscles and he felt her sudden gasp against his lips at the sensation he'd elicited. Lifting his mouth from hers, he studied her briefly. The slightly dazed expression and panting breaths showed him she was as affected as he. Kissing her hard once more, he then proceeded to explore her back and shoulders.
His hands roamed the familiar yet newly re-discovered territory. Finding the clasp of her bra, he unhooked it easily and brushed it aside. Her skin felt like the softest velvet and he felt his own breath quicken in reaction to it. He inhaled her scent, her hair and body softly touched by hints of jasmine and musk. He found himself fighting an overwhelming desire to bury himself in her, his heart in her heart, his soul in her soul. And God, his body suddenly longed to lose itself with hers. He wanted to immerse himself in her love and forget that they had ever been separated. He longed to completely obliterate the last weeks and what they represented.
'What the last weeks represented..' The meaning of his own thoughts suddenly slammed into him and he stilled his hands, physically and mentally stepping away from the woman in his arms.
Lee saw Amanda look up, confusion and desire equally evident on her face. He swallowed and sighed deeply. Letting his head fall back, he stared at the ceiling for a time. Finally he spoke, "Amanda, I'm sorry. I forgot. I haven't been cleared, medically."
"You're right. You're in no shape for this. I should have thought of that myself." She shrugged and turned away.
He cursed under his breath and followed her across the room. Grabbing her shoulders, he spun her around to face him. "That is not what I meant. I mean, that all the tests haven't come back yet. We know I haven't been given any new biological or chemical agent, but I don't remember by whom or how a lot of these were given to me." He held out arms that still revealed bruises and tracks from numerous injections. His voice betrayed untold bitterness at the position they were in. "I will not take the chance of. infecting you. with anything. Not until I know for sure." Even now, his heart beat more rapidly as he thought of how close he came to doing just that, taking a chance with his wife, his life. His eyes locked with hers and begged her to understand.
Amanda nodded and wiped at the frustrated tears that had sprung to her eyes. "Oh, Lee, when is it going to end? I thought we were close, so close to being what we've dreamed of."
"It is close and it is going to happen, Amanda Stetson! I promise. Just not until we can be sure, be safe." He grabbed her and crushed her to his chest, his arms streaked around her ribs and squeezed tightly.
Her sudden, not so hidden, yelp of pain was not what he expected to hear. Pulling away from her, he rapidly looked at her face and saw the pain quickly being concealed. "What?! Amanda, what is it?"
"Nothing, Lee. I'm fine." She shook her head and attempted to turn away from him.
"No way, you never let me get by with that and I'm not going to let you get by with it either, no matter how much of a hot shot you've become. Where are you hurt and what happened?" Even as he spoke, he was busy, unbuttoning her blouse and pulling it and the already loosened bra away from her upper torso. Determined to ignore the more interesting sights, he focused instead on finding the source of her gasp of pain.
It didn't take long until he saw the spreading purple and black bruise extending over her ribcage. He ran his hands expertly over the bruises and found no broken bones underneath. Still, from experience he knew that this had to hurt like hell and he raged in silence at the person who had done this and at himself for not being able to stop it, for not being with her, as her partner.
"Who did this? The guy from the interrogation?" Lee demanded.
Amanda shook her head, "No, his partner." She smirked just a bit. "He hasn't made it to interrogation, yet. Took a side trip to the infirmary."
Lee grinned with her, his Amanda, who wasn't quite his Amanda. But then, sometimes he wondered if he was still the same Scarecrow. Shaking these thoughts from his head, he decided that maybe it was best to just carry on, as they were now, not as they had been. Their love was still strong and that was enough.
With that decision in his mind, he helped her into her nightclothes and settled her into bed, before climbing in, fatigued himself. His head ached and his thoughts were starting to jumble. His legs felt like he'd run a marathon as he turned to curl around Amanda's back. 'We've had a busy day. Tomorrow is soon enough worry about the rest, isn't it?'
He fell into an exhausted sleep.
The clacking and whirring grew louder and louder until he could no longer hear his own breathing or heartbeat. His breathing and his heartbeat were all he had heard for days. Now this incessant noise and that voice, that voice that knew things it shouldn't.
He struggled against the harsh, metal cuffs on his wrists. The sharp edges bit into his skin, yet he paid no heed. The voice had to stop. He had to get free and make the voice stop. Secrets, all the secrets were being told. Things that could ruin the lives of millions, put them in danger, were being bandied about like household gossip.
Scarecrow fought to open his eyes to see who was telling, who was talking out of turn. There was only darkness, inky, black darkness that suffocated and refused to allow him to see, to move, to do anything. The voice whispered now, he strained to hear what it was saying. " 'Silverstone'. " The voice continued, " 'Operation Silverstone' is what you want. It's the biggest thing going right now."
Scarecrow's thoughts whirled as he heard this. Who could be telling about Silverstone? Only their best, top operatives were involved. They wouldn't break. He fought against the restraints again. "Have to stop them. Must stop the voice."
He felt momentary satisfaction as the voice slowed then halted. He'd done it. He'd stopped the voice. He relaxed infinitesimally. 'Silverstone' was safe for now. Suddenly he felt the sharp stinging of a needle against his inner arm and felt the blackness come back for him. He fought, he knew it was useless, but still he fought..
Lee awoke, drenched in cold sweat and breathing harshly. He shook all over. A voice called to him over and over.
"Lee? Lee, can you hear me?"
Amanda. It was Amanda, not the voice.
"Lee, answer me."
A light snapped on and vanquished the darkness. He looked at his wife and felt the dream began to flee. She stroked his hair away from his face and stared in concern at him.
"Hey, you with me now?" She smiled and waited for his response.
"Yeah, I'm with you, always." Turning into her arms, he breathed in her scent. "Just don't turn the light off yet, okay?"
Two weeks later, after multiple nights of being roused in the same manner, Lee and Amanda faced each other silently over breakfast. The dreams were always the same, the blackness and the voice overlaid by the whirring and clacking. And Lee never recalled exactly what was so important; only that he had to stop the voice. It was telling secrets and had to be stopped.
Their weariness showed clearly and Lee fought to stave off the frustration that was creeping up on him. 'Why now? Why, just when we're getting to a point that we can both live with and enjoy, are the nightmares getting worse?' He demanded answers of himself that he didn't have. If anything the nightmares should be better.
He was living in their home with his wife and family. His physical strength was returning; his mind was clearer day by day. But still, the nightmares, that had once only plagued him when he was alone, came nightly now. Accompanying them during the day, were flashbacks to the dream, that were indiscriminate about who witnessed them. Only yesterday, he'd scared the daylights out of Dotty by zoning out while helping her put groceries away.
"Lee, dear, put these on the top shelf for me. I won't need them for several days anyway. The large size cans are in the way on lower shelves."
He turned, smiling, and reached for the oversized cans of peaches Dotty extended to him. Reaching into the cabinet, he glanced down at the can in his hand. 'Silverstone' peaches. His head buzzed as he heard Dotty's next words.
"My friend Darla gave me the best secret for Silverstone."
Something in Lee's head snapped and suddenly he heard not Dotty's new recipe, but another voice, the voice, telling all the details of Operation Silverstone. Whirling around, he dropped the cans on the floor, grabbed Dotty's shoulders and shook her. "Who told you about Silverstone? No one knows... Who broke? Who sold us out?"
His glazed eyes did not see the badly frightened Dotty, but instead the inky blackness that hid his tormentor's faces'. He shook her again, blinking as he did so to clear the veil from his vision.
From the front of the house, came the door slamming and Amanda's voice calling, "Mother, Lee, I'm home."
The bang and the words seemed to shake Lee from his fog and he blinked again, this time seeing who was in his hands and the wide-eyed distress on her face.
"Oh God, Dotty. Are you okay?" Lee released her and stepped away. He ran a shaking hand over his face and into his hair. He inhaled deeply, staring at his hands as if not recognizing them.
Amanda stepped into the room, halting as she saw the expressions on their faces. "Lee, sweetheart, what's wrong?"
He could only shake his head; his voice hadn't returned yet.
"Mother? What's happened?" Amanda stepped forward and lingered between them, as if uncertain who to go to first.
Dotty looked from Lee to her daughter and back again. "I think Lee may have had a flashback of some sort."
"What?" Amanda asked, incredulous.
"Now Amanda, darling, you know Mrs. Adam's husband's Gene? He served two tours in Vietnam and he told me once that he's had flashbacks. I was even there one night when it happened. We were watching an old war movie and suddenly Gene sat up, jumped behind the couch and started looking for enemy soldiers. He got the strangest look in his eyes, like he was seeing something, but not what everyone else was seeing. Lee looked just like that just now." Dotty appeared thoughtful and studied Lee for long moments. "The only thing is that Gene said something always happens to trigger the flashbacks for him, a loud noise; the sudden appearance of an Asian person in dark colors. I have no idea what might have triggered this for Lee, if that's what it was. We were putting away the groceries!" She shrugged her shoulders in confusion.
"Mother, that's a little far-fetched don't you think?" Amanda looked at Lee to gauge his reaction to her mother's theory.
Lee, having finally found his voice, spoke up. "I think she's right, Amanda. I just don't know what set it off. What did I say to you, Dotty?"
"You wanted to know who told me about the peaches." Dotty shrugged again.
"Peaches?" Lee and Amanda asked simultaneously.
"Yes, peaches. I was telling him about the secret new recipe Darla gave me for peach pie. He was putting the oversize cans of peaches away in the top of the cabinet for me."
Their eyes locked and Lee and Amanda communicated in the silent manner that had made them so effective in the field. Lee spoke first, "The cans."
Together they searched for the cans, finding them on the floor, rolled under the edge of the counter where they had fallen when Lee grabbed Dotty. Each picked one up and studied the label. Their eyes grew large and understanding dawned. 'Silverstone peaches' the label proclaimed. 'The best peaches ever.'
"Amanda, is Silverstone still active?" Lee spoke urgently.
He saw Amanda hesitate and thought it was for Dotty's sake. Urging her out to the back yard and away from the house. "Well, is it?"
"Lee, I don't think.." Amanda began stutteringly.
"I forgot, my security clearance isn't reinstated. I'm sorry. I swore I wouldn't ask you to compromise your integrity. I'm sorry." Lee paced away, his aggravation easily detectable.
"No, Lee, that's not it. I mean, your security clearances haven't been reinstated, but they aren't really necessary at this point." She trailed off, as if unsure how to continue.
Lee returned to her and asked, "Not needed?"
"No, Operation Silverstone went belly up three weeks ago. The Germans have most, if not all of it, and we have no idea how they got it." She spoke softly.
Lee had headed up Operation Silverstone, it had been his baby, and he had put in hundreds of hours on its security. He felt despair that it had all been lost. All the work and man-hours by the best agents in the intelligence business, wasted. Handed over to the Germans by an unknown. Or was it truly an unknown?
Staring up at the darkening evening sky, Lee suddenly remembered the voice betraying Silverstone. He felt a sinking suspicion that it wasn't an unknown at all. He knew who it was. He just had to find some way to get it out of his head... and to deal with it later.
Now, the next morning after another sleepless night, he was more determined than ever. He announced his decision, knowing how his wife was going to react and how he was going to reply.
"Amanda, I'm going to see Pfaff today." He reached across the table and gripped her hand.
"Are you sure you're ready?" She held his hand and studied the crisscrossing of veins over the return of his healthy tan.
"No, but I have to be. I can't stand not knowing. What if I can help find out how corrupted Silverstone is?" He looked at her, knowing she would understand.
Amanda studied him quietly. He met her eyes and wondered about the unease he saw there. "Amanda. what it is?"
"What?" She seemed startled, shaking herself out of her reverie and focusing on him completely, now.
"You're looking at me strangely. like you don't want me to do this. Why don't you want me to do this?" Lee demanded of her.
"It's not that I don't want you to do this. I'm just not sure if you're ready to know." She left the thought hanging and Lee's frustration grew.
"Of course I'm ready to know! Amanda. I've been an agent for fifteen years. I've never been in a situation like this. But I know how it needs to be treated. We have to find the traitor." He swallowed and seemed to sink inside himself. "No matter who it is." This morning he'd heard the voice echoing in his head as he woke and he had to wonder. He felt his gut twist and grab painfully. The acid rose in his throat and he knew he might be facing the most difficult task he'd ever set for himself. He had to deal with this betrayal. even if he was dealing with himself.
"I am going to see Pfaff today. I have to know, no matter what."
"I know. And that's why I'm going with you. We're in this together, remember?" She reassured him. "For better or worse."
He answered her easily, "In sickness and in health." He forced a smile on his face and stood. Stretching over the table for a quick kiss, he murmured. "We've done the worse and the sickness, I'm ready for the better and the health."
"Yeah, me, too, Lee, me, too."
Together they stood, gathered jackets and for Amanda, a small briefcase, and headed out the door, to the Agency.
Ensconced in the Q Bureau, Lee and Amanda waited for Billy to join them. They had arrived thirty minutes ago, announced Lee's presence to the section chief and settled in to wait. Lee watched as Amanda fidgeted around the office in a way that she'd not done in weeks. They'd re-opened and aired the office for her only a few days ago. After Lee's disappearance, she'd refused to work up there.
Instead of moving someone in to take their places, Billy had simply closed the area, redistributed the open cases to other agents and left it alone. A week ago, when Billy had asked her to go back to her old job and the office, she'd accepted eagerly for both of them. When Lee was cleared, he would be joining her in their old abode and both of them looked forward to that day, wholeheartedly.
Lee sat perched on the edge of his freshly dusted desk and watched her pace the confined space, her booted footsteps echoing dully on the gleaming, polished floor. "Amanda. come here."
She paused and smiled. Stepping to him, she reached for his hands and he felt her warmth steady him. "I'm sorry. I have no idea why I'm so nervous about this."
"If I didn't know better, I'd think you didn't want me back here with you." Lee teased her, chuckling when her eyes narrowed and she opened her mouth to retort. Instead of allowing her to speak, he pulled her quickly to him and kissed her hard on the mouth. "Sh. I'm just teasing you, Amanda."
Before she could reply, the door swung open and Billy entered. "Lee . it's good to see you. How are you doing?" He chuckled as he saw them jump apart.
"I'm good, Billy, really." But neither he nor Amanda could look Billy in the face as he spoke.
"Why don't I believe that, Scarecrow?"
"Look, Billy, I will be fine. I just need to get back in the swing of things, you know? I think if I can get back on the job, I'll straighten out in no time at all." Lee smiled winningly, hoping to convince one of his oldest friends of this half-truth. He failed.
Billy pulled around a chair and sat next to Lee's perch on the desk. "Lee. Smyth is, of course, more than willing for you to go ahead with your session with Pfaff and I know we need to get you back into the mainstream, to find out what you know about this situation and what can be salvaged." He held up a restraining hand when Lee started to rise. "But. I'm not sure enough to risk your health, again. You just don't look good, Lee. You're pale, you're thin. and it's only been two and half weeks since you left the hospital, weak, dizzy and still under the effects of the drugs that were pumped into your system. You're supposed to be resting, recuperating. What's the rush, man?"
Drawing in a deep breath, Lee looked to Amanda, and finally back to Billy. Time to come clean. for his sanity and maybe more. "Billy. I can't rest. I'm having flashbacks and nightmares. I think I know something, up here." He tapped one finger against his temple. "I think it has something to do with Silverstone and maybe even how it got into German hands." Lee stood and now he paced in Amanda's place. "I hear voices and I think they're telling secrets, intelligence that was classified, top secret. I know the voice. I. I think it might have been me, Billy. Lee had grown agitated and now he stopped and slammed his hands down on the desktop. Freshly trimmed pencils and clean paper went flying. "There was someone there, at Marsh's estate, who knew more than was good for them and us. and he didn't mind sharing with the class. And I think I was that someone. I betrayed the Agency and the country."&nb! sp; Silence overcame the room after his explosion, his harsh breathing the only break in the tension.
Billy had jumped slightly at the outburst then looked to Amanda for her take on the situation. She was calm and focused on Lee. Approaching him, she softly spoke his name and laid one soothing hand on his shoulder. After Lee stood upright and pulled himself together, they both faced Billy, together. Billy smiled widely; this was a sight he hadn't seen in way too long. Scarecrow and Mrs. King, a team. Perhaps, together, they were ready for Lee to come back.
Sobering he considered Lee's words about Silverstone. They'd lost a major operation there. If Lee had talked. the Germans had it all. Lee was the leader of that operation and he'd known all there was to know about it. Despite his misgivings about Lee's physical readiness, Billy knew it was worth whatever it took to get the information out of Lee's muddled mind. They'd deal with the repercussions later.
"Very well, Lee. Pfaff says he will see you whenever you feel up to it." Billy stood and extended a hand to his friend. "I'll tell him you'll be down shortly." The short, stout man strode to the door and turned the knob. Looking back over his shoulder, he spoke once more, "It's great to have you back, Lee. And that won't change. regardless." He flung open the door and left them alone, once more.
Side by side, Lee and Amanda waited until the door closed and they were sure they were alone, then turned to each other's embrace. Some habits were hard to break.
A very short fifteen minutes later, Lee and Amanda approached Pfaff's door. Amanda squeezed his hand and started to take her leave. "No, Amanda, stay. I want you to stay and hear what I know. I need to know that someone I trust is there."
"Lee, you know you can trust Dr. Pfaff." He interrupted her before she could finish her statement.
"I know I'm supposed to trust him. But, Amanda, I can't even trust myself right now. I need you there, please?" He asked quietly, with as much dignity as his shaky control could muster.
Only able to nod, Amanda followed him into Pfaff's outer office.
The room was darkened. Lee lay on the long couch. Pfaff sat beside him, pen in hand poised over the pad that lay propped on his crossed legs. Amanda sat as still as possible in the farthest corner. Pfaff had objected to her presence at first, but had come around when told that Amanda was there in case anything urgent was revealed that needed immediate attention.
Now Pfaff spoke, his voice calm and even. The mini-recorder hummed, nearly silent, on the table nearby. "Lee. I want you to remember the last time you were here, in the Agency, working." He scribbled a note on the pad and then prompted Lee. "Tell me what you were doing."
"I was working on Operation Silverstone. We had a very important meeting and I needed to be prepared." Lee's voice was slightly slower than usual and his even, hypnotized tone never wavered as he spoke.
"Very good, Lee. You're finished with that and you're ready to leave for the day. Where are you going?"
"Manda's." A small smile played over his face.
"Okay, you're there. Tell me what you see."
"The house. The boys have left their bikes out again. Need to move them so that they don't get run over."
Pfaff raised his eyebrows and cocked a look at Amanda in the far corner. She was focused on Lee and didn't see the speculative glance she received. Pfaff moved on. the marriage was old news at the Agency anyway.
"Do you move them, Lee?" He was slowly bringing Lee up to the point where he'd been captured by using Amanda's recollections of the event, pulled earlier that day from the file on her debriefing.
"No, I was getting out of the car. I stopped to put on my wedd." He paused; his body stiffened and his face showed his concern.
"It's okay, Lee. We know about the wedding ring and your marriage. Tell me what happened next." Pfaff made a mental note to congratulate them and send a belated wedding gift.
Relaxing, Lee nodded and began again. "I put on my ring and then started to open the door. I turned around and saw someone standing there. It's Forrester. He's got a gun and a needle. I, Ohhhh, damn that stings." He stopped talking and his head slumped to the side.
From behind them, Amanda leaned forward, her concern evident. Pfaff raises a hand to curtail her approach. She nods and sinks back to her seat and into the shadows of the edge of the room.
"Lee. you're waking up from the drug now..wake up. I want you to tell me where you are." He spoke sternly and Lee responded.
"We're in a parking lot. a warehouse, I think. Forrester has a gun pointed at my head and I see. Amanda. she followed us. No, Amanda. don't come any closer. Stay back, please. she has a gun. she can't hit a target at that distance. I'm not sure I could. not like this." He grew agitated and twisted the cushion on the couch under him with one hand. Lee gritted his teeth, his jaw clamped so hard that Pfaff feared for his teeth. Just as he was about to wake him with the pre-arranged release command, Lee relaxed and his jaw went slack. His head slumped to the side again.
Slightly alarmed, Pfaff called Lee's name sharply, "Lee. answer me. Where are you now?"
"I don't know. I was hit on the head, I think. ahhh. hurts like a son of a bitch.shit." He raised one hand and gingerly rubbed at his left temple.
Now dropping the notepad and relying on the recorder to take down the details of the session, Pfaff leaned forward and focused all of his attention on Lee. They were now at Marsh's estate if their hypothesis of Lee's experience was correct. "Look around. Tell me what you see."
"It's dark. I'm in a small room. I'm on a bed. I can't move. Handcuffed I think. Can't get my hands together though. Must be cuffed to the frame on both sides. Feet, too." His arms and feet jerked as he spoke, as if he were struggling.
"It's okay, Lee. You don't have to fight. Just relax and tell me what's happening around you."
Lee quit moving, but his body remained stiff and tense. He nervously licked his lips and swallowed. Nodding, he moved his head around, as if seeing his prison again. "There is the bed I'm on and a small table. a glass cabinet on the wall. Damn. there are drugs and needles in there. There are no pictures on the walls and no windows. Wait. the door is opening. Someone is coming in. It's Phillip Marsh and some other men. What does Phillip Marsh have to do with this?" Lee's expression became puzzled.
"Do you know the other men, Lee?"
"No. I've never seen them before. they're unknowns." His tone and manner indicated that he was deep under now, lost in the past and his horrible experience and that he was not recalling that he'd seen pictures of all of the men involved, including the Dougan brothers and the German who was suspected of having wanted to buy Lee and his information.
"Are they speaking to you, Lee?"
"Yes, they want to know about Silverstone. They want names and places. they know I'm the project leader." Lee flinches and his head jerks back. "They want me to talk. damn. that's a big guy. knows how to use his fists, too." Lee grunted and his arms curled protectively about his stomach.
Pfaff quickly interceded, seeing that Lee was reliving the pain as well as the actions. "Lee, that's enough. They're not hitting you anymore. What are they doing now?"
"Marsh is going to the cabinet. getting a needle and a bottle. oh God. he's gonna inject me with something else." He hissed out a breath and rubbed his left inner elbow. His speech slurred and slowed. "Still not going to tell about Silverstone. gonna have to use more than that to get me."
Lee's head slumped for the third time as Pfaff checked his pulse. "One hundred twenty." He murmured then spoke softly to Amanda. "We can go on for another few minutes, then I'm gonna have to pull him out. his heart won't handle much more than this now. he's still too weak." At her nod, he added. "I'm gonna try to get him to summarize the experience. see if he can tell us things in big lumps instead of bit by bit. that might help."
"Lee, can you still hear me?" When the man answered with an affirmative nod, Pfaff sat next to the agent again and once again checked the quality of his pulse. Attaching a small monitor to his finger, he watched the readings showing his heart rate fluctuate then stabilize at 110. Keeping an eye on the red numbers, he spoke once again. "Lee, can you tell me how often you were treated this way and what they asked of you?" When he'd spoken, he'd had no idea how close Lee was to the edge of total recall. That one last question was all it took. Lee nodded, his face grim and the words tumbled out.
"Everyday at first. they'd ask questions, when I wouldn't answer, the big guy would use his fists. That never worked, so they'd resort to the drugs and the needles." Lee moaned, a low feral sound that echoed in his chest. "I tried. so hard. but the drugs. they confused me. I saw Billy and Amanda and then they weren't there. I think I may have told them about Silverstone then. when I saw them as Billy." He raggedly drew in a deep breath and shook his head. His eyes remained closed and what he saw in his mind confused him now, too. "Yes. I told Billy all about the latest on Silverstone. wait. that's not Billy, it's Marsh.. Oh shit. what did I do? What did I do? They've got it all. they recorded everything, I know it. I hear the tape recorders in the back ground, clicking and whirring." Lee began to thrash on the couch, his arms swinging and his legs kicking. The monitor on his finger let out a sharp squeal before being dashed to ! the floor in his struggles. He stood and tried to walk away from what he saw in his mind. "I've got to get out of here. gotta stop them. gotta stop them."
"Lee! Stand down! Stand down!" Pfaff barked the pre-set release command.
Lee suddenly sagged back onto the couch. He gasped and wiped the sweat off his forehead. His eyes opened and he blinked in the dim light of the office. "Oh God. I remember it all. I did break. I betrayed Silverstone."
Lee breathed in great gulps of air, desperately trying to come to terms with what he'd just revealed to and about himself. Amanda knelt by the couch in Pfaff's office, hovering near him. He grasped onto her hands, a lifeline in the flurry of emotions that filled him. Her eyes swept over his face and he smiled once, a small bitter smile that was answered by one of her own. "Amanda. what in the hell am I going to do?" He sat up and pulled her up to sit beside him. She wiped his face with a Kleenex from the nearby box and drew in a deep breath before answering.
"I don't know, Lee. but I do know that whatever it turns out to be, we'll do it together and we'll make it through." She spoke quietly and with conviction.
The two of them stood and Lee began to pace up and down the length of Pfaff's office. Finally coming to a halt in the center and in front of a patiently waiting Amanda, Lee stared into her eyes and reached out to hold her hands. He breathed in her presence, pulling her forward and leaning his head down to hers. Their foreheads rested together and they breathed in unison.
The mind numbing shock that had enveloped them began to clear as they struggled to absorb the newly confirmed information. Each had suspected, yet kept silent, unwilling to entertain the unacceptable. But now, Lee's total and sudden recall forced them to cope. Their minds whirled and attempted to process and accept the facts before them. Their thoughts were, no doubt, radically different. Yet each came round to the same basic problem. How to salvage the situation they found themselves in right now?
Lee had broken. He'd been beaten, drugged and confused and he'd revealed everything he knew to the person his fogged mind had identified as Billy Melrose. Operation Silverstone had been lost. All its sensitive information had gone over to the wrong side of the Wall. One looming question filled his mind. 'What do I do now?'
Looking at her, feeling and absorbing Amanda's nearness; his partner, his wife, his best friend. They were together again and they were going to stay that way. The answer came through loud and clear. 'Whatever I have to do, to survive and to be with her.'
Lee stood straighter and raised his head. His eyes shone bright with determination and more than a little anger. He may have been beaten and abused. but he wasn't defeated yet! Not by a long shot.
He spoke firmly and loudly. "Come on, Amanda."
"Where?" She followed his long stride without hesitation even as she questioned their destination curiously.
"Billy. I have to tell him that I know for certain that Marsh was involved; that I remember and can peg him. Billy can have him brought in." He gripped her hand and squeezed hard. "I want him, Amanda. I want him bad."
She only nodded and reached ahead of them to push the button for the elevator. The bell sounded and the doors slid apart. Scarecrow and his partner stepped inside and disappeared. From behind them, in the door of his office, Pfaff smiled and tapped the file he held on the palm of his hand. He nodded and murmured. "Scarecrow's back."
Moving swiftly to his desk and picking up the phone, he dialed an extension and spoke immediately. "Billy. Lee's on his way. yes. very successful. My professional opinion is to let him run with it. He needs to see it through."
Billy sat at his desk and stared across the cluttered expanse at Lee and Amanda. The pair of them had barged into his office, Lee demanding to bring Phillip Marsh in for questioning.
"Whoa, Lee. Slow down. Tell me what's going on." He thought he had a pretty good idea, but he needed to hear it for himself and for the record.
Lee sighed and let his mind go back to the interlude in Pfaff's office. He recalled the panic and the pain of his memories and for just one moment, he wasn't sure he could endure this again. The guilt and the anguish were so overwhelming. Even as he wavered, he saw, in his mind's eye, his reason for going on: his wife and his family. He had to do his part to make the world a better place for them. His own desperate need for vengeance and justice pushed his will even further and he suddenly began to speak, "I remember everything that happened in that cottage, Billy. Everything. I broke. I gave them everything on Silverstone and now I want a chance to exact justice, to make amends."
"Lee, I saw the condition you were in when Amanda and Francine pulled you out of there. You have nothing to make amends for. You have nothing to be ashamed of. You were tortured and subjected to drugs that we had no knowledge of until then. No one is laying any blame on you!" Billy spoke earnestly, sincerely. Lee was reacting just as he suspected he would. with guilt and with a burning need for justice.
"That's where you're wrong, Billy. Someone is placing blame on me. I am. Maybe you're right; I had no choice or chance of resisting them. Maybe I had no control over that situation. But I do have control over this one. I can bring Phillip Marsh in and see that he pays for what he's done.. to me and to my family and to all that we believe in." He looked at Billy, his gaze begging him to understand.
Billy stared at him hard. Excitement tinged his voice. "Lee, can you positively, without a doubt, say that Phillip Marsh was involved and that he was there at the cottage when you were held?"
"Billy, I know it was him. I remember everything." A brief shadow crossed his face and he swallowed hard against the bile that rose with the newly reclaimed memories of the lost weeks of his life. "I want him in here."
Billy Melrose suddenly made up his mind, nodded placidly and simply said, "Okay."
Lee blew out a frustrated breath, prepared to steam roll right over Billy's response. He expected Billy to object to his going out in the field so soon, but he had to make him see. "We have to get to him before he skips town. what did you say?" He stopped blustering and stared.
Billy chuckled and repeated, "I said, okay. In fact, Francine is already tracing his last known whereabouts."
"Oh. well... good." Lee stuttered to a halt and sat, suddenly tired. Amanda immediately moved to his side, silent and steady.
At just that time and without preamble, Francine burst through the door, waving a sheaf of papers. "He's gone!" She dropped the papers on the desk and stared at the people gathered around her.
Three stunned faces stared back at her and then Lee demanded, "What?"
"He's gone. all my sources say that Phillip Marsh walked out of the Marsh Industries Corporate Headquarters last night at five PM on the dot and he hasn't been seen since. Not at home, not at his office, or at his club. He vanished. poof. like smoke."
"NO!" Lee stood and snapped his fingers, shaking his closed hand in the air. "He isn't gone. not yet."
"What is it, Scarecrow? What are you talking about?" Billy leaned forward, intent on his friend's words.
"He'll go back to the cottage. He's denied any knowledge of its use, but it's been off limits to him and everyone else since I got out. until this week. The security tape was pulled down and it was released back to his possession, right?"
Billy nodded. "Yes. we couldn't pin anything on him. His lawyers were braying about his rights and his possessions."
"He'll go back now. to cover his tracks and to destroy any evidence that the Agency might have missed. He'll destroy it and all signs that I was there and what happened there. Then he'll run."
Lee gulped and quietly, calmly stated, "I'm going out there."
Amanda started forward and would have objected, until she looked into his face. There, she saw reflected all the emotions and needs from her own ordeal after she thought he was dead. His fierce determination and the need to prove himself telegraphed itself to her and the others as well. She nodded. "I'm going with you."
He nodded and looked at Billy. "So, am I going rogue or regulation?"
Billy reached, without a word, into a drawer and pulled out Lee's new Agency ID. He also pulled out his own holstered weapon and handed them all to his friend. "Just keep it legal, Lee."
He accepted the articles and moved to the door. Looking over his shoulder, Lee gazed past Amanda already at his back, and added, "Thanks, Billy."
They moved out of the office and down the hall toward the elevator. Lee stopped suddenly and Amanda bumped into his back. He heard her soft 'oof' as she lost her breath from the impact and a great sense of familiarity and rightness came over him.
He grinned and shook his head before pivoting and heading back the way they came. He stuck his head around the door and spoke to one of the people inside.
"Francine, I'd appreciate it if you'd come along. Together, the three of us make a damn good team."
"You got it, Scarecrow."
Proceeding to the elevator, they stopped there and decided to meet in the Q Bureau, thereby allowing both Francine and Amanda to obtain their weapons. As they waited for Francine to join them, Lee watched his wife slip into the leather holster and fasten the silver clasp securely. She secured her gun firmly and reached for a jacket to conceal it all. Zipping the jacket and pulling it smartly over the waist of her jeans, she turned to find him staring at her intensely.
"Nothing. I just realized something." Lee sat still, watching her approach his position on the edge of the desk.
"Oh yeah? And what is that?" Amanda had picked up on the emotion in his voice and was now close enough to feel his breath against her neck when he exhaled.
His voice lowered another rough octave. "I remembered that they always used clean needles." He closed his eyes briefly as if seeing the scene again. The sudden pinched expression cleared almost as soon as it appeared and the smile returned. "That means that I have most probably not been infected by a contaminated needle. The lab boys should be able to verify that in another 24 hours as well."
Her eyes widened and she ran her hands over his thighs. "So that means, we can."
"Oh yeah. we can and I'm sure glad." Lee ran his hand under the open collar of her jacket and over the thin strap of leather concealed there. "This thing is damn sexy on you."
He leaned forward and was just about to kiss her mouth when the door banged open and Francine rushed in.
"Well, it's nice to see that some things don't change!" She smirked and waggled her eyebrows at them.
Lee groaned and replied, "No, apparently not." He grinned back, impudently and quickly pressed his lips to Amanda's. "Well, maybe they do."
Amanda laughed softly at them all and led the way out of the office and into the street where they all piled in her Jeep and drove toward the Marsh estate.
As the Jeep sped down the highway, Lee sat in the passenger seat and listened with half an ear as Amanda and Francine ran down the layout of the cottage on the back acres of the Marsh Estate. He knew he should be paying attention. All their lives could depend on it. He straightened up, turning to the left to make a visible effort to tune in and ask questions as appropriate.
"The cottage is best accessed by the back entrance to the grounds, right?"
"Right. We were able to get almost right on top of the cottage without being seen. It should be even easier this time. No guards around to see us approach." Amanda answered his question and glanced at him thoughtfully.
"Lee, are you sure you want to do this? I mean, we can call for a back up team and do this without you." Amanda continued.
"No, no way. I'm going in with you." He shook his head emphatically. "I need to do this, Amanda. Can you understand that?"
"Yes, I can understand. I do understand. I've been there, sort of. I just want you to be sure. I want you to be okay enough to handle this, physically. It's only been two and a halfweeks." She shot him occasional looks as she drove along the busy highway.
Seeing her obvious concern, Lee smiled tightly and reached out for her hand. "I'm okay. My head is clear and I feel like I have a well-defined purpose for the first time in weeks."
A bit uncomfortable with the turn of the conversation, Francine had sat back in her seat and looked out to the side, affording them as much privacy as possible.
Amanda nodded and returned the comforting pressure of his hand on hers briefly before returning it to the steering wheel. "Once we get inside, what do you want to do? I think we need to stay together, no matter what."
"Yeah. We go in the back and make our way to the cottage. Check the perimeter and then go in, look for Marsh and any evidence that he may be trying to destroy." Lee outlined his rudimentary plan and waited for reactions.
"Lee, we've been over that cottage a dozen times! If there was anything to find, the Agency would have already found it." Francine spoke up again from the back seat.
"Maybe, maybe not. Francine, I have this vague memory of being told to "smile for the camera", over and over. I got the feeling that they were video taping at least parts of my interrogations. Did you find a surveillance system of any sort?"
"No. not a sign." The blond, puzzled by the news, could only shake her head.
"I think that may be what he's going back for. It must be in the ceiling or one of the walls. hidden somehow. I know there was a tape recorder running; I could hear it humming and clicking all the time they were there with me. and I really believe there was a camera as well. I didn't say anything to Billy because it just now came to me. What the words might mean. 'smile for the camera'."
Francine and Amanda exchanged looks in the rearview mirror and Francine nodded. "Okay. we'll look for that first." Francine went on, "The most recent merchandise out there, ironically produced by a subsidiary of Marsh Industries, is a small camera that would be easy to conceal in a ceiling panel or under a picture frame. We pulled the walls apart, literally. So, if it's there, it has to be in the ceiling."
Lee nodded his agreement and turned to stare out the window. The other cars blurred by and he thought he recognized some of the sites that were beginning to appear. If his hazy memory served him, the turn off for the back entrance was fast approaching. His suspicions were confirmed as he felt the Jeep decelerate and saw Amanda look behind her before turning off the road to the right, onto a rough dirt road. For several minutes, they bumped along. Lee winced often as the bumps reminded him of wounds he had thought well healed.
Amanda, catching a particularly hard grimace, murmured her apologies. "I'm sorry, Lee."
"It's okay, I'm okay."
Finally, they drew to a halt and carefully exited from the vehicle. Making their way along the overgrown hedge, they approached the cottage's back door, looking carefully into each window as they passed. It appeared deserted and empty. Together, the trio decided to go in and search for the camera and then proceed to the main house to look for Marsh.
First Francine entered the door, flanking the left, and allowing Amanda to precede her into the main room. Stepping far enough in to see that the room was indeed empty, she jerked her head and Lee entered, bringing up the rear guard.
They separated at that point, Francine to one room to verify that the entire cottage was indeed empty, Lee and Amanda to the other. As they entered the room where he had been held, presumed dead by those who knew and loved him, Lee paused and shuddered as a wild and unexpected panic over came him. His breath came in short, harsh bursts and a cold sweat broke over his skin. His heart thudded loudly in his ears and he felt his hands fist to control the tremble that was growing worse with each second. For that time, he was suddenly returned to the weeks of his capture. In his mind, he'd never been freed and he'd never been home, with his wife and his family. All hope was gone and he felt again that he would be forced to give in. Just as his knees began to weaken and his legs threatened to betray him, he felt it.
Her touch on his shoulder.
All the warmth and love that they shared seemed to flow from her in that touch and he drew much needed strength from her soft caress. His breath steadied and his skin warmed. His hands and knees grew sure again and he opened his eyes to the reality of here and now. His wife and his partner was here and they had another chance. He had another chance; another chance to prove himself. To himself and to the world...
Nodding to indicate that he was all right, he stepped into the room and began to look around. Immediately he crossed to the small bed and stood, looking up in the direction he remembered being told to smile for the camera. The ceiling tiles were white, diamond shaped foam and were the kind that were glued or stapled into place. Easily removed and replaced, they could easily hide a small camera behind their surface.
"Amanda, go into the next room and see if you can find any kind of wiring or cable coming from the ceiling." Lee moved to the end of the bed and stood on the sturdy metal footboard to better reach the ceiling.
"Okay, I'm gonna check with Francine, too." She headed out the door and disappeared from his view.
A few minutes later, Lee found the right tile. Removing the fourth diamond in the second row, he uncovered the tiny lens of the miniature camera that had recorded his captivity and torture. "Yes! I knew it was here. Now where is the recording device?" He hopped from the frame and called out. "Amanda, Francine, I found it."
"Well, well, well, Scarecrow, so you did. How nice of you to have saved me all that climbing." The voice reverberated through the half empty room and Lee froze momentarily as it washed over him. Marsh!
He turned and looked at the man. He held in one hand a syringe full of clear liquid and in the other was Amanda. She wore a slightly dazed expression and a beginning bruise to her right temple. Her left sleeve was pushed up around her elbow and a tiny dot of blood began to trickle down her pale skin.
Lee stepped down and began to move forward rapidly, intent on ripping Marsh into pieces for harming her. He stopped as Marsh brandished the syringe and uttered an admonishment.
"No, no, Scarecrow. I wouldn't do that. Your lovely partner has only had enough to make her cooperative at this point. But I can and will do more. You, of all people know that I will." He smiled mockingly and Lee stepped back a half pace.
"So, you've been reduced to doing your own dirty work, Marsh? Amanda took care of all your goons, didn't she?" Lee chuckled and looked furtively behind Marsh for any sign of Francine.
"She is a bit more. tenacious, than I thought. But she won't be a problem for long. And neither will you. I find it oddly fitting that you'll perish together. partners to the end, eh?" Marsh obviously had no clue of their true relationship.
Lee stalled for more time in the hopes that Francine was still a viable operative at this point. "What about the Germans? I thought they wanted me, too? Won't they be much happier if you turn me over to them?"
"True. But you see, I've already been paid a handsome fee for the information you provided. I don't really need any more." He shrugged and continued, "The Germans have a nasty habit of letting you people get away from them. I think I'll just not take that chance, if it's all the same to you?" He jerked Amanda closer and pushed the tip of the glistening needle just under her skin. Even in her dazed, drugged state, she winced at the sharp sting. "Now, if you'll be so kind as to just pull that camera down and track that cable to the recording box."
"Why should I? You're going to kill us both anyway." Lee continued to stall. He had seen a flash of blond behind Marsh and knew that Francine was, even now, working into position.
"True." A cold, feral look crossed the man's face. "But, I can make it slow and painful or I can make it fast and easy for her. You choose."
Lee sighed and turned to pull the camera from the ceiling. He had to buy time for Francine to get into place and to save Amanda! Ducking to look under his arm, he remarked idly, "So, why didn't you get the film when you got the audio recording?" He saw that Francine was directly behind Marsh, weapon pulled. She nodded surreptitiously to indicate that she was ready when he was. Grasping the cable firmly, he pulled hard and jerked the entire ceiling down on their heads. Simultaneously, Francine stepped forward and pressed her gun into Marsh's back.
Wildly, he ducked, trying to avoid the falling debris. He jerked to the left then to a sudden halt as he felt the nose of Francine's gun against his body.
"Drop it, Marsh." She ordered and pressed the gun more firmly into his spinal column.
Remarkably, his grip on Amanda never faltered and he pushed the needle more deeply into her soft inner arm. "I may die, but so will she." He pushed the plunger down and injected several cc's of the liquid into her body. He smiled coldly, even as Francine raised her gun and sharply rapped his head with the butt. He went limp and finally lost his hold on the smaller woman in his arms as he fell.
"Amanda!" Lee surged forward, scooping her into his arms before she could hit the ground. "Oh, God, no... Please no. not now." He jerked the arm of her jacket back up and inspected the area. The site was bruising and small drops of blood were welling and oozing from the wound. He reached for the syringe and saw that 2 cc's remained in the barrel and wondered desperately how full it had been when the man began. He rocked her now unconscious form in his arms and pleaded with her to hear him. "Amanda, please. please. can you hear me?" He recalled with sudden clarity exactly how each injection had made him feel and prayed that she wasn't being subjected to the same terror and confusion in her own mind.
He held her tighter and fought to think calmly. He had to get her out of here and to a NEST trauma unit. "Francine, we have to."
"Call for back-up and an ambulance I know, I already did it. I called when I saw Marsh come up the front walk. I was out back looking for wires or cables coming from the house. By the time I got back in, he already had her." She dropped to her knees near him, after securing Marsh, hand and foot, with her own and Amanda's cuffs. "How is she?"
"I don't know. I don't know how much of whatever that stuff is he gave her. She's out though. her pulse is slow and her breath shallow. Where is that damn ambulance?" Lee pulled her closer and fell silent once more.
"They'll be here, Lee. I know it." She reached out and in an uncharacteristic action, she tenderly brushed the brunette curls from her former partner's forehead. "She's one tough agent, Lee. I was so wrong about her. I've learned from her these past few weeks. And, she's saved my ass a time or two as well. I'm going to miss her when she goes back to the Q Bureau with you."
"I know what you mean, Francine. I've been learning from her for years." Lee smiled a tiny, sad smile and looked back to his wife, so still in his arms.
A sudden spray of gravel against the house and the pounding of feet on the wooden porch announced the Agency's arrival and reluctantly, Lee and Francine let go of their partner and allowed her to be cared for by the mobile NEST team that had arrived with the ambulance.
An hour later found Lee in an ironically similar position to that of his wife only weeks before. He paced the family room of Galilee General, anxiously waiting to hear from the team that was caring for Amanda. He looked up as the doors to the parking lot swished open and his family rushed in, led by Dotty.
"Lee! Where is she? How is she?"
"I don't know, Dotty. I haven't heard anything yet."
Phillip and Jamie stood nearby and nervously looked at each other. Lee held out his hands to them and they nearly ran to his side. Massaging their shoulders, Lee breathed deep and began to explain what had happened. As he ended his tale he added, "Dotty, boys, I'm so sorry. I've always tried so hard to protect her. This is all my fault, right from the start. "
"Lee! You hush that right now! I won't listen to this from you. You are no more to blame for this than Amanda was for your disappearance. I would think that you two had learned that by now." Dotty scolded him in a motherly tone. "Now. I'm going over there and find out something about my daughter!"
Lee looked at the floor uncomfortably and then up at his stepsons. "How about you two? How do you feel about it?"
"Lee, we've been here before and you were nowhere around. Mom has a dangerous job. We know that. We don't like it, but we're proud of her.we're proud of both of you." Jamie spoke for them both and Lee smiled.
"Thank you. We're proud of you, too. For the way you've handled this and all the rest you may have to handle in the future." He patted them firmly on the shoulders and looked up as the ER doors opened and a tired looking doctor strode through.
"Mr. Stetson. I have news on your partner." His face was lined with fatigue and his eyes were serious as he looked at the family gathered before him.
"Amanda? You have news about my baby?" Dotty placed one hand to her chest and waited anxiously for further explanations.
"Baby?" The doctor looked puzzled at Lee. "I'm sorry. who are you?" This man had been with NEST for years and had learned that you don't divulge information about an agent unless you knew who everyone present was.
"It's okay, Dr. McJohn. My partner is also my wife and this is her family. They know everything." Lee rubbed one trembling hand over his face.
"Oh, Lee. look at you. You're exhausted. Sit down." Dotty pushed him to a seat and then prodded the doctor to continue. "You were saying, Doctor?"
"Mrs. er. Stetson is awake and alert. She's been tested for every known drug and so far what we have come up matches almost exactly the combination of drugs that we found in you, Lee, several weeks ago. Just not as large an amount. The bruise on her temple is superficial and while she'll be sore and achy for several days. I think she'll be right as rain in a few days."
Numbly, Lee stared up at him. "She's going to be okay?"
"Yes, Lee. She's going to be fine." The older, gray haired man smiled for the first time and patted Lee's shoulder. "She needs a few days rest, along with you, it seems to me and then in a week or so, you can both go back to work. Come on back to the desk and ask for directions when you're ready to see her. She's already being taken to a room."
"Thank you, McJohn. Thank you." Lee stood and firmly clasped the other man's hand and shook it vigorously.
The doctor removed his mask from his neck, tossed it in a nearby trashcan and walked back the way he came.
Lee pivoted and smiled tiredly at his family. "She's going to be okay."
Wordlessly, Dotty squeezed his arm and together they proceeded down the hall to ask for directions to Amanda's room.
Lee and Amanda stood on the front stoop and waved as Dotty, Phillip, and Jamie drove off for a weekend trip to the mountains. They were meeting Joe and his new wife Carrie halfway and then Dotty would proceed to Lillian's alone. The Stetsons would be on their own, alone for the first time in months.
Seeing the taillights of the Jeep disappear down the street, they stepped back in and shut the door behind them. Rubbing his hands together, Lee offered, "Well, they're gone." He turned to Amanda, shrugged his shoulders and asked, "What now?"
Obviously more uncomfortable then she should have been, Amanda shrugged in turn and just shook her head. " I guess we have a lot to talk about."
"Yeah," Lee inclined his head toward her and agreed. "Or we could talk about it tomorrow? They'll be gone all weekend." He grinned suggestively and wiggled his eyebrows are her.
Arching her eyebrows at him, Amanda asked, "And just what did you intend to do tonight, Scarecrow?"
"Oh, well, I can think of a few things."
"I bet you can. I just bet you can." She laughed at him and walked into his embrace. "But we have to talk, Lee. We have to deal with what's happened."
"Yeah, I guess so." He released her from his arms and they sat at the dining room table. "So, where do we start?"
"I don't know Lee. How about at the beginning?" She reached out and traced one finger over his hand. "I messed up. I froze and I let you be taken. All of this could have been prevented if I had only.."
"If only. if only. we could do this for the rest of our lives and still not get anywhere. You had no way of stopping Forrester from taking me, Amanda. I was out of your sight and out of your reach. If you want to play the 'what if' game, how about what if I had only checked in with you before coming home? What if we had taken the family out to break this news to them like we planned at first? I changed those plans; remember? If we're going to do this, I am as much to blame as you." His voice rose and he thumped their joined hands down on the table lightly. Shaking his head, he looked her in the face and softly whispered, "It's no one's fault that I was taken from you and our family. No one but Forrester and Marsh. And they're not going to be a problem anymore."
Sighing shakily, Amanda stared at him for long minutes then nodded. "I guess you're right."
"Of course I'm right." Lee grinned impudently.
"But this works two ways, you know. I know you Lee Stetson and you aren't going to be able to forget what happened at that cabin. what was done to you and what you were forced to do." Her face remained serious and she held eye contact with him. The morning sun floated in through the window and bounced on the polished surface of the table between them. Dust motes flew in the air as she waited for his response.
Finally he nodded and swallowed hard. "I know that, in theory, there is no way I could have withstood those treatments and lived for much longer. I also know, in my head, that I was not in control of that situation and that no one could have withstood any longer than I did. but it doesn't make it any easier." He pulled his hands free and scrubbed them over his face. He stood and began to pace, agitatedly. "Ahhh.. Amanda... sometimes, it seems so clear! I know. I know that I did the best that was humanly possible. But then, I have to wonder. when did I break? Was it the same day that you started to look for me? What if I had held out a little bit longer?"
"Now who's playing the 'what if' game?" Standing, she joined him and stopped his pacing.
Wryly, he smiled. "Yeah. I guess the best game plan is one day at a time, huh? Neither of us was to blame, not ultimately. We've both changed. but we can deal with it, as long as we try, right?"
"Right!" She smiled gently and reached up to caress his cheek. Stepping into his arms, she leaned her head on his chest and breathed contentedly.
Resting his head against her hair, he inhaled her scent and ran his hands over her back and shoulders. "You know, Amanda. in the long run, none of it matters."
"How can you say that, Lee?" She backed up a step and stared at him a bit incredulously. "We've come so close to losing everything twice now."
Sighing Lee nodded and pulled her to sit on the couch with him. "Amanda. I know how close we came to losing each other. Each time I think of it, it scares the hell out of me. You and the boys and Dotty are my life. But, underneath. I'm still Scarecrow. I may not have the same stuffing as always. but I'm still an agent and I still can't imagine my life being any other way than that of an agent. It's what I'm good at. Amanda. it's what I am." He thought briefly and added softly, "It's what you are, too. You're a damn good agent and you have been for a long time now."
"Lee, I know that.. I'd never ask you to give up the agency.." Her voice trailed off as her body tensed. "I know. I can't give up the agency either." She stared off into the distance.
He felt the change and looked down at the top of her head. "So, what are we talking about now?" He gripped her hands in his and urgently asked again, "What's going through your head?" He bent just enough to see her face, eye-to-eye.
"I've changed, Lee. I'm not the woman you left. and I'm sure not that same woman you proposed to or even fell in love with. I guess I'm just worried that you can't love me. this me." She squeezed his hands back and finally looked him full in the face.
"Are you kidding me?" Lee smiled and freed his hands to cup her face. "There is no way I could not love you, no matter what. Sometimes I feel like we were born to be in love and together. My life wasn't complete until I found you and realized what I had."
"There have been so many changes in our lives." She reminded him. Then she smiled and pressed her lips to his.
He nodded against her mouth, lifting his lips and backing up enough to whisper, "Look what we've already come through, Mrs. Stetson. we'll make it. I know it."