Timeline: Between second and third season
Disclaimer: Scarecrow and Mrs King is copyrighted to Warner Brothers and Shoot the Moon Production Company. The story however, is copyrighted to the author. This story is for entertainment purposes only and cannot be redistributed without the permission of the author.
Archive: At the smkfanfic site.
Feedback: Please! Privately or on the list.
Author's notes: Thanks to Pat, eman, Amy, and Cyndi for the beta expertise. As always, it's much appreciated. This story was from a title challenge last summer, and I have finally gotten around to finishing it.
Summary: Lee has a close encounter of the domestic kind.
Lee unfolded his tall frame from the Corvette and stretched slightly, subtly scanning the area for any pedestrians or inquisitive eyes. He followed his usual path to the back door, careful to stay out of sight of any prying neighbors, and applied his years of espionage to great effect as he picked the lock.
He opened the door and stood for a moment, absorbing the fact that the very air seemed to resonate with her presence even though she wasn't home. He shut the door behind him softly and pulled the hastily scrawled list from his pocket, mulling over the instructions that Amanda had given him on the phone.
1. feed boys' goldfish 2. water plants 3. do ? with the deefenbakia plant
When she had called to let him know that she and her family would be away at least another week, he had been surprised by a pang of annoyance that he wouldn't see her at the agency. That quickly gave way to guilt when he found out that one of her aunts was very ill and she was extending her stay to help out.
He figured the first two items would be a snap, but he had no idea what to do about the third. Amanda had been so matter-of-fact about her instructions that he just couldn't bring himself to admit his total lack of knowledge of plants, especially one he'd never heard of and couldn't even spell. Then again, after all, how hard could it be?
He dropped his keys on the kitchen counter and pushed up the sleeves of his shirt, taking the stairs two at a time to the boys' room. There was his quarry…a small bowl, one fish peeking out from a clump of green plastic that he imagined was supposed to be kelp or something like that. He frowned as he crossed the room, trying to remember if there were supposed to be two. Somehow he just knew there were supposed to be two.
He thought of the boys coming home and finding out that one of their fish was missing, and remembered vaguely how traumatic it had been when the same thing happened to him as a child. He carefully sprinkled the fish food into the tank, smiling a little as the surviving goldfish darted out and indulged in a feeding frenzy worthy of a piranha. His smile faded as he wondered whether goldfish practiced cannibalism, and mentally added a trip to the pet store to his list.
That chore concluded, he made his way down the stairs at a more sedate pace than his upward climb. Amanda's warm kitchen drew him in, and he stood for a moment studying his next assignment with all the determination he applied to a new case at the Agency. Everything was about strategy, he mused. First he needed to locate the watering can, so he tried to think like Amanda. He imagined that she would like it to be handy, but not in the way…and the most likely spot would be…the laundry room. It was close to the plants, but it could be placed out of the way of her daily activities. Amanda was a very logical person, as she reminded him time and again, and that would be a logical place for a watering can.
The object of his search was exactly where he'd imagined, and a tiny, self-satisfied grin quirked the corner of his mouth. He filled the watering can at the sink, glancing around the kitchen at the profusion of plants. Shouldn't take more than ten minutes, he thought. Then he could pick up another goldfish, and be done with the chores in record time.
He started with the closest plant, and began to give it a thorough soaking, whistling a somewhat discordant tune as he worked. He moved along at a brisk pace, emptying the can and efficiently refilling it at the tap several times. On his last trip back to the sink, he slipped and nearly lost his balance, but caught himself on the edge of the counter, glancing at the floor impatiently for the source of his near-mishap. His eyes widened in disbelief as he discovered a miniature Amazon River snaking away from the collection of plants, complete with the dripping vegetation of a tropical rain forest. He ran a hand absently through his hair. Now what?
He gingerly picked his way across the wet floor to the paper towel rack and grabbed the entire roll. Ripping off a dozen or so sheets, he wadded them at the edge of the puddle at his feet. The paper quickly became a sodden mess, and more water flowed from the headwaters at the plant stand, small tributaries forming and meandering off in several directions. Lee cursed under his breath and sacrificed more paper towels to the encroaching tide.
He soon came to the realization that there weren't enough paper towels in the universe to mop up the mess he'd created. He eyed the plants distrustfully, noticing that the dripping had virtually stopped, but still reluctant to turn his back in case of a second insurrection. He balanced the empty cardboard roll carefully on its end on the counter and went in search of a mop and bucket.
Twenty minutes later, the full bucket at his feet, he breathed a sigh of relief at the clean floor in front of him. Mopping was hard work, with all that bending and lifting. No wonder Amanda stayed so slim.
He carefully made his way over the still-damp floor to the back door, bucket and mop in hand. He figured he could pour the water over the flowers in the backyard, since it hadn't rained much lately. He'd kill two birds with one stone. A model of efficiency.
As he glanced down, he noticed a few suds clinging to the sides of the empty bucket. The thought crossed his mind that there may have been some residue of cleaning solution in the mop. He wondered if he had just done irreparable damage to the delicate blooms. He shook his head slightly and returned to the kitchen, determining that it would take the strongest truth serum the government possessed to get him to admit to the mass herbicide. After all, he wasn't the one who had used chemicals, so he wasn't responsible. Technically.
Now came the more difficult part of his job. The plant with the strange name. He surveyed the plants, which seemed to have multiplied since he last walked through the room, and wondered which one was the sick deef...dieff…the sick plant. He glanced around indecisively in search of inspiration, and spied the family room book shelf crammed with photographs and books of all sizes and subjects. Aha! There must be a plant book there somewhere. It was only logical.
Lee glanced at the various pictures on the bookcase, his attention arrested by a picture of a younger Amanda, her arms around Phillip and Jamie. Her eyes sparkled with the good humor that had become so familiar, and he smiled slightly as he brushed a thumb across the glass that protected her face. He set the frame back on the shelf and browsed through the usual assortment of books: a dictionary, thesaurus, some Hardy Boys mysteries, a collection of encyclopedias. Finally he came across a thick volume that claimed to have the A – Zs of houseplant care. Eureka. Now, if he could only figure out the spelling of the damn thing, he'd be in business.
He settled himself on the couch, comfortably hooking an ankle on the opposite knee, and thumbed through the book. There were an incredible variety of plants illustrated, and many of them were ones he recognized from Amanda's kitchen. He flipped to the index at the back of the book and ran his finger down the list of Latin names beginning with D.
Dieffenbachia: Poisonous sap can cause extreme swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat.
Lee reflexively pulled his index finger back from the page in consternation. Why would Amanda want a plant like that? He smiled to himself at the absurd warning. Who would eat the sap of a poisonous plant? Shaking his head at the oddity, he read the remaining description.
Also known as mother-in-law plant.
Lee chuckled wryly.
Well, at least he had a picture now. He compared the mass of foliage in the kitchen to the photo in the book, and zeroed in on the offending plant. Okay. He snapped the book closed, and visually interrogated the plant in question as though it could offer up some guidance.
He paced broodingly, disgusted that the simple task of ministering to a sick plant was threatening to undo him. He had been so sure that he didn't need direction that he hadn't listened to Amanda's instructions very well. Now he had no clear idea of what to do.
The idea came to him suddenly that since he had to go and replace the missing goldfish, he may as well replace the malingering plant as well. Amanda would be surprised at how well he had taken care of the Dieffenbachia when she returned and saw it brimming with health. He rubbed his hands together briskly and headed for the door, congratulating himself on his brilliant, flawless plan.
Several hours and countless irritations later, Lee let himself in through Amanda's back door, carefully juggling the Dieffenbachia replacement and the plastic bag with the goldfish safe inside.
He felt satisfied that he had done the right thing, despite being unprepared for the huge variety of goldfish at the pet store. He vaguely remembered the goldfish of his youth, and that they were generally, well, gold. Apparently science had advanced the species into a bewildering array of choices, and though he was certain there were supposed to be two goldfish in the bowl, he couldn't quite remember the color of the missing one. He rationalized that the boys wouldn't notice.
The fish neatly taken care of, Lee carried the plant into the kitchen where his nemesis awaited him. He shrugged off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves, studying the two plants side by side. It was really a perfect match. Well, nearly a perfect match. She would never know that he had made a substitution; after all, one Dieffenbachia was the same as the next.
He carefully repotted the new plant in the old container, marveling at his ingenuity. He was a highly trained government agent, after all. It was second nature.
After carefully washing his hands in the kitchen sink, he turned to see the sickly Dieffenbachia slumped reprovingly on a newspaper beside its replacement, and felt a twinge of guilt. He stubbornly pushed the feeling aside and grasped the old plant by its stem, swearing when he felt a sharp sting in his index finger. He absently brought the wounded digit to his mouth, dropping the plant into the black plastic trash bag at his feet. He pulled his finger back to look at the damage, frowning at the slight tingling in his lips.
His gaze shot suddenly to the plant guide sitting so innocuously on the counter where he had left it. Poisonous sap can cause extreme swelling of the lips, tongue, and throat. Uh-oh.
He broke out in a cold sweat as the tingling seemed to intensify. He went into the powder room and washed his hands again, keeping an eye on his reflection in the mirror. His lower lip felt fat as he splashed water over it, trying to flush away the toxins that were responsible.
After several minutes of intense study in the mirror, the burning sensation seemed to abate somewhat, leaving his lower lip puffy. His heart rate calmed and he relaxed enough to go back into the kitchen to finish what he had started. He approached the trash bag hesitantly, chagrined at the notion that the Dieffenbachia had gotten its revenge. He grasped the top of the bag, intending to tie it, and couldn't resist a final glance inside.
The plant seemed to be smirking at him. Well, he'd have the last laugh.
He tied the bag.
The phone rang, breaking Lee's concentration from the file in front of him. He checked his watch as he lifted the receiver, smiling as he heard Amanda's voice.
He settled comfortably back in his chair. "Hi, Amanda. You're home? Already?" He straightened abruptly, listening to the chatter of her mother and the boys in the background. "Your aunt is okay?" He ran a finger around the inside of his collar and barely heard her reply as he wondered if yesterday's substitutions had been found.
One of the boys was loudly trying to get Amanda's attention, and Lee heard him say something about a goldfish.
"Lee, when you fed the goldfish, did you notice anything strange?" Amanda's voice held a teasing note.
Lee cleared his throat nervously. He stood up, pacing the length of his desk in agitation. "Why?"
Warm humor colored Amanda's reply. "There seems to be an extra fish. Did you have anything to do with it?"
Lee smiled sickly. He'd been caught. "Well, I thought they had two, and one was missing, and I remembered how bad I felt when my goldfish died when I was their age…" He cut himself off, embarrassed at his Amanda-like ramble.
Amanda chuckled. "That was really kind of you. You didn't have to, the other one died weeks ago."
"I told the boys that I got another one before we left," Amanda continued, amusement still marking her words. "I see you watered the plants; I appreciate it. And my Dieffenbachia looks wonderful. How on earth did you manage that?"
Lee had no idea what to say to that. She wasn't supposed to be home for another week, more than enough time for the plant to make a recovery. "Um…"
"Lee, it's okay. I know you bought a new one; I found the receipt. You must have dropped it."
Lee pulled the phone away from his ear slightly and rubbed his hand over his face wearily. It's no wonder Amanda had taken to the job so naturally. Maybe he should rethink his career.
"Amanda, I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry, I think it's nice. The boys are thrilled with the new fish, and I should have gotten rid of that old plant a long time ago," Amanda reassured him. "By the way, you sound a little funny, kind of like a friend of mine who had an allergic reaction to some shellfish. Her lips swelled up and she had to go to the hospital…"
Amanda paused, and he felt a cold sweat prickling his skin as she continued. "Lee, you didn't get any of the plant in your…no, of course-"
"I'm fine, Amanda," he interrupted. He thought about telling her the truth, but that was going too far. This was a need-to-know situation, and she most certainly didn't need to know. "I went to the dentist today, and I had a little crack in a filling, nothing serious."
He listened to her voice giving instructions on how to deal with his dental aches and pains, and marveled at how competent she was in ways he'd never even considered. Everyone had their strong points, he mused as he hung up the phone. He knew that in the future he'd leave the plants alone and stick to being a spy. He'd rather face a hundred KGB agents than another sick Dieffenbachia.