Title: People Will Talk

Author: Kim C. (misstuppence@aol.com)

Disclaimer: The characters of Scarecrow and Mrs. King belong to Shoot the Moon and Warner Brothers Productions. The story, however, is mine.

Archive: EmilyAnn's SMKfanfic Archive.

Summary: Lee does a little eavesdropping and receives a timely nudge in the right direction.

Timeline: Early third season.

Author's Notes: To my beta family: You ladies are the best! What a wealth of support, encouragement and helpful suggestions. I'm constantly astounded at how much better my stories are after having been in your hands. Thank you.

>o< >o< >o< >o< >o< >o< >o< >o< >o< >o<

Lee Stetson stood rigidly, his back pressed flat against the wall next to the conference room door. Straining to listen, he could just make out the clandestine conversation going on inside between Francine and Jake Saunders.

Saunders had recently returned from a three-year assignment overseas. Now that he was back, he was planning to pick up where he'd left off - dating every attractive female at the Agency in a systematic fashion. Apparently, he was starting at the beginning of the alphabet - with Amanda.

'I knew it,' Lee seethed. 'I knew he'd go for her.' He could hear the jerk grilling Francine, pumping her for information as if she were a lousy two-bit weasel of an informant.

"Come on, Francine," Saunders cajoled, his voice low and persuasive. "She's new, right? She's gotta be new. I would've remembered that face -- and that body."

Francine sighed. Lee could hear her nails clicking impatiently on the table. "Not really, Jake. I think she came on board about a year after you left for Europe. I really don't remember. She and I aren't exactly . . . close, you know?"

Jake laughed - a deep, rich laugh that had always made women swoon at his feet as though they were standing in hundred-degree heat. "Understood. But is she seeing anyone? You should know that much from office gossip," he replied, then added speculatively, "By the way, has Stetson set his sights on her yet?"

It was Francine's turn to laugh - a wry, derisive sound that ended in a little bit of a snort. "Come on, Jake. Lee has much better taste than that!"

"Oh, please." Jake replied, sounding as annoyed at Francine's assertion as Lee felt. "She's beautiful. You're such a snob . . . albeit a gorgeous one." His tone had effortlessly changed from irritated to obsequious.

"Moi?" questioned the accused snob, ignoring his rather obvious attempt at flattery. "Not at all. It's just that she's so . . . suburban."

"Suburban." His tone mocked her. "You are a snob."

"She has . . . children," Francine continued, her voice dropping to a whisper and curling unpleasantly around the last word.

Saunders pressed, relentless. "I don't care. So she's unattached, right? Your personal opinion aside, she's available?"

She sighed loudly, indicating her desire to bring the inquisition to a close. "You've never cared before whether or not your women were free, Jake. Why the sudden change?"

Francine had asked the question that had been nagging Lee. It added to his annoyance at the audacity the man had to be thinking of toying with Amanda's feelings.

"Because, I like her. Because, I've changed. Because . . . Frankly, it's none of your business, Francine!" he answered firmly. "Now, please . . ."

"All right," Francine conceded. "Fine. Yes. She's available. Though I don't see the attraction, myself."

"Jealous?" His tone was taunting, but light. "I thought we both agreed it was over between us when I was sent to Europe."

"Jealous?" She laughed derisively. "You wish."

Without warning, Francine strode out of the conference room and immediately crashed into Lee. He grabbed her arms to steady her, already seeing the speculation in her eyes.

"What were you doing?" she asked pointedly, drawing her brows together in consternation.

Lee shrugged. "I - I was just walking by."

"No you weren't," Francine said accusingly, rolling her eyes, "You were right outside the door, almost as if you were . . ." she paused, her eyes narrowing, catlike. "Were you spying on us?"

"Sp . . . Don't be ridiculous," he replied defensively, crossing his arms.

She smirked. "You're getting rusty, Scarecrow."

"I wasn't spying," he insisted, placing his hands on his hips.

"Uh-huh," she replied, her tone leaving no doubt as to her disbelief. She walked away and left him standing there, steeling himself to enter the conference room. Before he could do so, however, Jake sauntered out with a knowing grin on his face.

"Scarecrow," he said heartily, shaking Lee's hand.

"Lancelot," Lee replied in kind. It occurred to him that Saunder's code name couldn't be more appropriate.

"I overheard you and Francine just now. Were you, ah, waiting to see me?" Jake asked solicitously.

There was no point in mincing words. The situation called for quick and decisive action. Eye contact not wavering, Lee nodded grimly. "Stay away from Amanda King," he instructed with a threatening edge.

Jake's eyebrows rose. "What? Stay away from . . .?" He paused, as though puzzling over Lee's words. Then, as if suddenly enlightened, he smiled with genuine amusement. "Francine was right - you were spying on us! Why should I stay away from Amanda? Is she with you? Because if she's not, she's fair game; you know the rules."

Overlooking his embarrassment at having been caught eavesdropping, Lee poked the other man's chest. "This isn't a game, and she's not a toy, Saunders," he warned through clenched teeth. He could feel his blood pressure rising with every word he spoke.

"None of them are, Stetson," Jake volleyed, his voice and eyes cool. "But that's never stopped us before, has it . . . buddy?" he asked, brushing off his shirtfront.

Balking at the truthfulness in Jake's words, Lee looked away momentarily. Yes, that was the way it had once been between them. But that was a long time ago, before . . . before Amanda King had come into his life. "Listen. Amanda's my partner and a good friend. She's . . . different . . . special. She's not your type, anyway." Lee took a deep breath to calm his building anger, then calmly added, "I mean . . . she's not the type for a one-night-stand, Jake."

Jake looked at him appraisingly, and Lee felt distinctly uncomfortable. "Whose type is she?" his nemesis asked pointedly. "Seems to me like she means a lot more to you than you're letting on."

Unable to refute the assertion, Lee gave him a steely look and took a step closer to him. "Don't make me tell you again to leave her alone," he said evenly, his voice low and intimidating.

Jake blew out a long breath, ruffling his already tousled jet-black hair. He held up his hands in mock defeat. "Okay, okay, buddy. You win. She's off-limits. Forget I ever said anything."

"Oh, I'm not going to forget it," Lee replied. "But you'd better."

Jake nodded in an exaggerated manner and then turned, heading down the hall, his smoky gray eyes searching for Francine. Catching sight of her in the Bullpen, he strode over and pulled her aside again.

"Francine . . . Who's Amanda King?" he asked in a conspiratorial whisper.

"Amanda?" Francine wrinkled her nose. "I thought you were interested in Martha, from Fabrication."

"I am, I am," he insisted quietly. "But show me who Amanda is."

Pointing, Francine said, "Over there, outside Billy's office; the skinny brunette in the off-the-rack dress." She shrugged indifferently. "That's her."

Catching sight of her, Jake raised his eyebrows and smiled. "Really?" He let out a low wolf-whistle. "Okay, thanks."

"Your taste is going downhill by the minute, Lancelot," she observed dryly.

Ignoring Francine's barb, he headed across the Bullpen toward Amanda, admiring her as he headed her way. No wonder Stetson had gone ballistic. This was his partner? She was an angel -- tall, slender, and brunette. She was stunning.

"Hello there," he said in a casual tone.

Amanda looked up from the files precariously balanced in her arms. "Oh, hello," she replied, awkwardly reaching a hand out from the stack of files to shake his offered one.

"You're Amanda King, right?" he asked, bringing her hand up to his lips.

She smiled quizzically. "That's right. And you are . . .?"

"Jake Saunders," he supplied. "I've been away on assignment for a few years, but I'm back home now. There are a lot of new faces around here, yours included. And what a beautiful face it is; you have incredible eyes."

She blushed at his blatant admiration. "Well, thank you very much. It's very nice to meet you."

"The pleasure's mine," he assured her. "Besides, anyone who can hold the legendary Scarecrow's attention for more than a day is someone I had to meet. I'll see you around, Amanda." He turned and headed toward the elevator, oblivious to her look of surprise and confusion.

Lee, who had seen the entire exchange from afar, quickly walked over to Amanda with a feeling of trepidation. "Good morning," he offered, unable to keep his eyes from appreciatively sweeping her figure from head to foot. Why was she suddenly more desirable whenever he felt threatened with losing her to someone else?

"G-good morning, Lee," she replied, her attention deliberately focused on straightening the load of files she held.

He reached out, deftly took them from her, and set them on a nearby desk. "Problem solved," he announced.

"Oh, thanks," she remarked, shaking the stiffness out of her arms. For the first time, she met his eyes, and he couldn't help but notice that she looked slightly flushed.

"I see you've met the Agency's ladies' man," he said in clipped tones, watching her expectantly.

A crooked smile sprang to her lips. "You mean there's more than one of you?" she quipped.

Narrowing his eyes, he said, "Amanda," drawing her name out in a gentle reprimand. "I'm serious. Jake Saunders is nothing but trouble."

She smiled enigmatically. "Oh, I don't know . . . He seemed nice enough to me." Pausing, she averted her eyes and added, "He told me that my eyes are . . . incredible."

"He told you that your . . ." With a flash of annoyance, Lee realized that Jake wasn't planning to leave her alone, after all. "Well, he would say something like that, for no reason other than to flatter you." He could hear the sarcasm in his own voice and knew it betrayed the inane jealousy he was feeling, but he didn't care.

Placing a hand on her elbow, he noticed that her eyes had darkened with indignation. When she didn't speak, he went on in a gentler tone, "Trust me. You don't want anything to do with him."

One sculpted eyebrow rose as she stared at him resentfully. "Well, thanks for the friendly advice, but I think I'm able to reach my own conclusion," she countered calmly.

He sighed. Why did she always have to be so difficult? Was she actually interested in dating Saunders? The possibility left him startled, annoyed, and more than a little worried. "Listen - he's a womanizer -- nothing but a use'em and lose'em kind of guy. Come on, Amanda. Guys like that are after only one thing . . ."

"You should know," she volleyed in a tone that was only half-teasing, her eyes challenging him to deny it.

He stared at her, unable to believe what she'd just said. "You think I'm . . . Amanda, I'm not . . . I mean . . . I don't . . ." he paused, cursing his inability to defend himself.

"Lee!" Francine called and motioned him over.

Lee frowned. "I'll be right back, Amanda. This conversation's not over yet," he told her sternly, squeezing her upper arm for emphasis.

"Yes, sir." She gave him a little salute, her eyes now twinkling with amusement. He started to say something more, then thought better of it. With a start he realized that she was actually enjoying the conversation and his discomfiture, despite her momentary ire.

He reluctantly approached Francine and she excitedly grabbed his arm. "Lee, can you even believe who Jake has his eye on now?"

"Oh, I can believe it, but he'd better stay away from her," he spat out, his tone bitter. The very thought irritated him so much that his stomach felt as if it were on fire. Maybe Billy would be able to spare a handful Tums.

She frowned. "What do you care if he dates her or not?"

Sighing, he began to explain. "Francine, you know Amanda. She's . . ."

"Wait a minute." She shook a slender finger at him. "Amanda? Wherever did you get the idea that it's Amanda he's after?" Francine queried, her perplexity and disgust clearly written across her face.

"The Rake himself," Lee told her with a grimace, glancing over to see Amanda slip into Billy's office.

She frowned. "Really? Because he did ask me who she was, but that was after he was quizzed me about Martha in Fabrication. You heard him - he doesn't even care that she has three kids! Unbelievable . . ."

Lee looked at her, momentarily confused. "Martha . . ."

"Yeah," she confirmed, seeing his look of disbelief.

Suddenly realizing his mistake, he grinned. He'd misunderstood the whole situation. He knew he'd have to examine the reasons he'd jumped to conclusions later, but for now, he felt much better. "Thanks, Francine. Thanks a lot."

"Wait a minute." Her imperious voice stopped him in his tracks.

He turned to face her again. "What?" he asked impatiently, not anxious to continue the conversation.

"You sounded like you were jealous just now," she asserted.

Lee shook his head. "Not at all. Just protective."

She crossed her arms. "Jealous."

A few people had stopped what they were doing and were watching the two agents with interest. It seemed as though the entire Bullpen population was eagerly awaiting Lee's response.

Glancing around and then back at Francine, he shook his head derisively. "Whatever," he replied, and walked away.

Amanda stepped out of Billy's office, and as he approached her, he could feel the sudden familiar spring return to his step.

"So," she picked up where he'd left off, surprising him. "What else did you want to say, Lee?"

He smiled and shrugged. "Oh, nothing. Don't worry about it."

"Why not?" she asked. "You were going to tell me how different you are from Jake Saunders. That's something I'd like to hear."

"Well, ah . . . You were right. I was like Jake . . . a long time ago. But I've changed, Amanda. I thought you knew that," he added, giving her an injured look.

"Well," she shrugged. "I guess I haven't heard anything about Cindi or Sandi or Candi in a while, or Randi . . . what was her last name? Baby? " Her eyes gleamed with suppressed laughter, and she opened her mouth to continue. "Or . . ."

"Hey," he cut in, embarrassed and surprised that she could rattle off so many of his past flings. That was something he'd have to give some thought to, later. "Come on, huh?"

"Anyway, why the sudden turn-around?" she asked, her eyes dancing with curiosity.

His heart stopped. Turn-around? What was she asking him? "Why the sudden . . . Well, you know, I'm . . . You . . . I mean," pausing, he took a deep breath. Was she really asking what he thought she was asking? Before making a fool of himself, he decided that he'd better check. "What was the question again?"

"Why the sudden turn-around?" she repeated slowly, then added, "Why aren't you going to warn me away from Jake anymore?" she asked.

He smiled, relief pouring through him. "Oh, well, let's just say I have it on good authority that he won't be bothering you."

"Oh, really," she replied slowly, her voice and face full of speculation. "I see."

A disturbing thought occurred to him, and he moved a little closer to her. Bending his head toward hers. "He, uh, well, he didn't say anything about me, did he?" he asked, his voice confidential.

She simply stared at him for a moment, and he came to the conclusion that Lancelot was right; Amanda did have incredible eyes. A small smile turned up the corners of her mouth, and it was clear that she was enjoying some private thought.

"What do you mean, did he say anything about you? What would he say about you? I don't know why you would even ask that," she replied, slowly backing away from him. Then she turned and quickly headed for the corridor.

For the second time in five minutes, his heart stopped. She was answering his question with a question, and that meant . . . "Amanda . . ." He followed her, but she was already stepping into the elevator and chatting with Martha, of all people.

He watched her disappear behind the sliding doors, feeling paradoxically annoyed and unexpectedly pleased at what had just transpired. Unable to hold back the small smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth, he muttered, "This isn't over yet, Amanda King."

The End
(insert your own sequel here)