After going out of their way to take Amanda back to Arlington, they headed for The Agency and the debriefing. They met Billy at his office, and he led the way to the separate interrogation rooms they would be in. Usually Lee could convince Billy that he wanted to watch Amanda’s session, but there would be none of that this day. They had to go in at the same time.
The previous night had been trying to both of them. The assignment had been simple at first. A background check, whereabouts, haunts and habits on some thief named Williams who specialized in maps of diplomatic residences and any weak spots they might have. A potential powder keg, if those blueprints found their way into the wrong hands, but this time it looked like he was just in DC for some recreational behavior.
At least that’s what it looked like to Lee and Amanda as they had tailed him on Friday night and Saturday evening through some of the nicer restaurants and bars in the area. It allowed the two agents some much-needed time together as they watched his guy work his way place to place trying to pick up women.
They had written Friday night off to her family as a date, and Saturday was going to be a working evening going over paperwork. That excuse was wearing thin – after all, how many Saturday nights could be spent working on paperwork, when they could be out having a good time. Dotty West, Amanda’s mother, wasn’t buying any of it anymore, and they all knew it. Lee and Amanda supposed it was easier for her to nod and accept it rather than try to pin down what her daughter was really up to with each other. And Amanda needed to come up with better excuses soon, or just admit that something more serious was going on.
“Lee, this guy is a schmuck. I mean, how many drinks can he get turned down for before he gives up? I know it’s our job, but—“
“I know, be quiet.” Amanda smiled and tipped her head down, knowing that Lee was starting to feel guilty right about now. She had known him for so long, and knew his habits. “Lee, what if I went out there and tried to get him picking up on me? We both know that he might try, and if I let slip that I’m looking for something fun, he might slip too.”
“Amanda, we’ve kept good cover tonight, but he’s seen us together. Won’t work.”
“It will if we fight and I throw a drink on you?”
“May I remind you, Mrs. Stetson, about that last time you threw red wine on me. A bottle’s worth, if I recall correctly. You were frustrated for 3 days trying to get that stain out.” Lee teased. “From some of the language that I heard coming from your laundry room, I didn’t think you wanted to travel that route again.”
“Fine. I’ll throw your beer on you. That’s much easier to get out.” Amanda’s eyes twinkled.
“We’re not going to do this, Amanda. I do not want to follow you around tonight with a beer soaked shirt. I want to spend every moment tonight with you enjoying this boring routine stakeout.” Lee smiled as he shook his head looking down at the tabletop. “You know, stakeouts got so much more fun with you along. Remind me to thank Billy for putting the two of us together.”
“You sure you want me to do that? This is from the man who spent hours trying to figure out how to talk Billy out of letting me ‘tag along’ on your assignments, or how to lose me? For the amount of thanks that I have to give, you might get jealous,” Amanda smiled at her husband.
“Me? Lose you? Jealous? Never happen, it’s not my sty – wait a second. What’s Fritz doing here?” Fritz the Cat had been a good friend of Lee’s for years, was an extremely imaginative crook, and had helped him numerous times with routes in and out of places that regular individuals weren’t normally in. Not the least of which was the Russian embassy a few months earlier when Lee had been injected with a fatal virus and the only person with the antidote was holed up inside and wasn’t coming out.
Lee knew that Fritz had great resources and incredible talent, but The Agency could always get their hands on blueprints of buildings, and Lee had always provided those when he needed Fritz’s help. “What could he be doing here? And he’s getting pretty friendly with Williams…”
Fritz and Williams shook hands, greeting each other as if old friends, and started walking out of the bar. Fritz took a quick look around at something Williams said, and looked in the direction of the agent team. He said something back to Williams and they headed out of the bar rather quickly.
Lee threw a couple of bills on the table, grabbed Amanda’s hand, and they quickly headed out as well. They managed to keep their eyes on the pair and make it to Lee’s Corvette in time to see them pull out of the parking lot. After a couple of almost missed turns, the two agents caught sight of the two thieves again. Fritz and Williams went towards the waterfront, and headed into a warehouse.
Lee went in, warned Amanda to stay in the car (knowing full well that she probably wouldn’t), and headed in. Then things went sour. Sims, one of Williams’ other cohorts, had observed Lee coming in and he ended up getting caught with a gun placed to his head. Fritz had ended up in the same position shortly after going in, but was already tied up to boot. After about 10 impatient minutes in the ‘vette, with no sign of her partner, Amanda couldn’t wait anymore. That’s when she took her gun from under the seat in the Corvette where she usually kept it, snuck in, shot Williams and promptly passed out.
Lee secured the situation, and went to the car to call for backup and medical assistance for Fritz and Amanda. Then he headed back to his partner to make sure she was ok.
“Amanda… Amanda, listen to me. Are you ok? Hey, come back to me, here,” Lee was almost pleading when Amanda finally woke up. He wished greatly that he had been close enough to catch her in time to keep her from hitting the floor. He expected that she was going to have quite a headache when she came around. “Lee… I—you – oooohhhhhhh.”
“It’s ok, Amanda. You’re fine. The cleanup crew is on their way, and I’m fine. You did great. You –“
“Oooooh” Amanda was shaking her head. “No more. I don’t want to talk about this. Oh Lee, I was so scared I was going to lose you. You didn’t come out, and I knew I had my gun, and I know I should have waited in the car like you asked and, oohhh, gosh, my head hurts,” Amanda put her head down on her knees.
“It’s ok, Amanda. We’re fine. Let’s wait for the crew, Billy’s coming, and I’ll take you home.”
“No, I’ll get Billy to postpone to tomorrow so that you can have a long bath and good night’s sleep.”
“Lee, take me home.” She grabbed at Lee’s shirt.
“I will, we will…”
“To the apartment. I want to stay there tonight.”
Amanda continued to hang on to Lee in shock, or perhaps a touch of desperation in knowing that he was still alive, until Agency backup arrived. Billy walked in to find Lee sitting up against a crate, and Amanda tightly curled up against him, his left arm around her. Her hands were clutching his shirt, and her head was buried in his shoulder. He looked troubled, as if he didn’t know what to say to make her feel better, but didn’t seem concerned that she was hanging on to him. Billy couldn’t tell what was written on Amanda’s face, but from her body language, it was a good bet that she was not going to be steady on two feet.
It hadn’t taken much for Lee to convince Billy that Amanda would do better in briefing if she had had a chance to sleep off part of the shock she was in. Often, agents who had never used deadly force ended up spending the night in a room in the clinic and then getting up at the crack of dawn to run through the situation. Lee had done the same thing when he shot his first victim, and it had happened again 12 years earlier when Dorothy was shot – but she was a fellow agent, and someone who meant something to Lee. Although, even to this day, he was sometimes was still puzzled as to what exactly she meant to him.
Lee’s thoughts settled on Oz for a short moment while he was getting settled in the interrogation rooms. How many times had he gone over the situation over and over, the smell of roses in his memory? Lee sighed. How many times had he sat on the other side of the table asking the questions of other agents, of enemies, of spies? Maybe it *was* time to settle down. Maybe it was time to take that desk job that Billy kept sending his way with the GG-18 pay raise. It would certainly help to convince Amanda to get out of the field if she wanted to, and it would allow him to settle down in Arlington with her and the boys.
A half hour later, he was done. He didn’t have to go over much considering he and Amanda had kept decent logs of the tail, and that this was pretty cut and dry from Lee’s perspective of what happened. Amanda was so much better at the reporting end of things than he was, but her influence had helped him from getting behind and spending hours in the Q-Bureau covering his fingers and reports in White-out. When it was all over, he headed back through observation and found Billy.
“How’s she doing?”
Billy shook his head. “Lee, it’s taken the last hour just to get her to start talking. She seemed her usual chipper self when you brought her in this morning, but as soon as she sat down in here, she just got very quiet. It’s like she doesn’t want to relive it.”
Lee sighed. ‘Come on, Amanda,’ he thought, ‘you can do this. You have to. Talk it out, get it over with, and we can spend the next week trying to get you to forget about this.’ Amanda straightened up in her chair at the moment, as if she had heard him, or knew he was there. She took a deep breath, a small sip of water, and then asked if she could just start at the beginning and talk in her own words. This was not an uncommon request of her, or of any agent. Sometimes it was better to get it all out in your own words on tape, without interruption, and then you were done with it. She started talking steadily for the next 25 minutes going over everything and ending with the shooting. Lee tried to watch impassively from a dark corner of the room, but Billy could almost tell what he was feeling. Scarecrow may have a great poker face, but Lee’s body language told a different story.
“Lee, why don’t you head up to the Q-Bureau and start getting it straight? Amanda’s almost done here, and then she’s going straight to Pfaff’s office.”
Lee looked through the window for a moment, and then started out, when he heard the interrogator ask a question and turned to look. “Mrs. King, you did wonderfully, but I must ask – you didn’t recount any feelings here, just facts, and that’s not your usual style. Feelings are Pfaff’s business, I suppose, but how did you feel with a gun to your partner’s head? You are a relatively green agent, and do not normally carry firearms…”
Amanda stiffened up a bit at the question, and asked, “What does it matter? That is a question for Pfaff to ask, isn’t it?” Billy and Lee looked at each other. Amanda was always one for talking about feelings, and this was definitely not in her character. The position of Lee with a gun to his head must have been too much for her to handle easily. Billy knew that this was not the first time that she had seen Lee with a gun to his head, but it was certainly the first time that she had a firearm at the same time to prevent something from happening.
“Billy, get her in with Pfaff, now. I thought about arguing the point with you again, but I think this time, you’re right. I’ll be upstairs.” Lee headed up for the Q-Bureau and started clearing up the files that were still open. The background checks could be handed off to an agent in the bullpen to complete. Francine could take the other active files – there weren’t many, and they were already summarized. Lee finished up some notes for the Williams report, set it in the pile for Francine, turned off the lights, and then headed for the couch.
The fear and anger she had felt at seeing her partner with a gun to his head was normal. As was the fact that she still felt angry about it, and that fear was manifesting itself in her shaking hands as she recounted the incident in debriefing and with Dr. Pfaff. At one point, Amanda was completely in tears. “He promised. I always said that I didn’t want to shoot anyone, and he said I never had to. He said that that was a promise. And one that he intended to keep.”
“Mrs. King, you know in our line of work, that that is not a realistic promise. Sometimes use of force is necessary. You managed to avoid using a gun for 4 years. I’d say that that was an Agency record, but you’ve been civilian for 3 of those, and we don’t like civilians to be armed.” Dr. Pfaff paused for a moment to stuff his lollipop back in his mouth. When she looked up at him, he tried to smile around this stick, but failed miserably.
He had encouraged her to continue thinking over the incident – was there anything that she could have done differently – what if she had stayed in the car – to see that she was not in the wrong, as The Agency review board had already determined. She did what she needed to do in the line of duty. Now it was up to Amanda to reconcile herself to believing that.
Pfaff had cleared her to leave The Agency with whatever time off Billy had thought appropriate in the situation. She had a standing invitation back to Pfaff’s office any time while she was off, and they planned to schedule some time on her first day back to be sure that she would be ready to go back into the field.
Once she finished, she headed for Billy’s office, and told him of what Pfaff had said. And admitted that yes, she had been scared. “Lee’s my partner, and my best friend, Mr. Melrose. I couldn’t have continued with The Agency if something had happened to him. To be honest, I don’t know if I could have continued living in the area.” At this last statement, she had lowered her voice to almost a whisper. Amanda thought about all the times that he had knocked on her back door at night in order to update her on something that was going on. Sometimes those little visits weren’t even necessary – he could have told her some of these things in the morning, but it was the beginning of their relationship whether they knew it or not. Sometimes he still came to the back door instead of ringing the front doorbell, mostly out of old habit.
Billy had told her that the both of them were going off active duty for the next 10 days and that the Q-Bureau was closed for the duration of their leave. Francine would take the active files, and he had sent Lee upstairs earlier to clear things up. Amanda nodded, not realizing how much insight into their relationship she had provided to Billy in her statements about Lee. She was more concerned with the thought that he would probably be ready to throw the typewriter out the window by now, and so she hurried upstairs.
The one thing she really wanted to do was to take a nap on the couch in the office – it was only two hours after they had come in for debriefing, but Amanda felt like she had already been through a full day and then some and was dead on her feet. She thought it odd when she opened the door and found all but Lee’s desk light off. Immediately she noticed the distinct piles of files on Lee’s desk. She turned towards the couch, and saw that it was already occupied. Shaking her head, she smiled – Lee was better about not needing to sleep in a lighted room, especially when Amanda was staying over, but when he was particularly stressed out, you could guarantee he’d have a light on. She sank down next to the still form of her partner, and gently shook his shoulder. “Lee…?”
“Hmmmm…” Lee woke slowly. “Hey… how’d it go with Pfaff?” He sat up on the couch and made room for her to sit down.
“Fine. Though I’m still bugged by his insistence on staying on the couch and leaving his patients to wander the room aimlessly – sometimes I feel like the doctor when I’m in there. I feel better now, but I’m beat. How’d it go up here? Mr. Melrose said that he’d relegated you to finishing reports…” Amanda trailed off with a smile. Reports were not Lee’s favorite things to do, and after almost 20 years in the business, he still wasn’t very good with them. He couldn’t type worth beans and they had a small box of Whiteout in the office as testament to that.
“The reports are done, typos and all. Most everything’s going to Francine’s desk, and the background checks will go down to the bullpen. They won’t miss us while we’re out. Did Billy tell you that he’s giving us 10 days?” Lee wiggled his eyebrows at Amanda. “What kind of trouble do you think we can get into in 10 days time?”
“Oh, Lee. I just want to stay home and be normal. I need to spend some time at home with Mother and the boys, and I know you’d like that too. They’re your family too.” Amanda reflected on her mother’s insistence that Lee should make a formal commitment to one another soon, and she had already stated to Lee that he was family as far as she was concerned. If Mother only knew…
“’Manda, I watched part of your debriefing. What was that at the end when they asked about how you felt…” Lee’s voice trailed off. He knew he shouldn’t be asking. He pressed on. “It was almost robotic…”
“Lee, I’m fine, honey. That wasn’t the time or place to go over it. I was scared, and angry, and didn’t think too clearly. The shot was reactionary, and appropriate to the situation, and I’m fine. Even Pfaff says I’m fine. What’s more important to me is that you’re fine,” she paused. “What’s going on with Fritz? I saw him when I came out of briefing – he looked like he’d been there all night.”
“He was, after they worked on that graze would on his shoulder. He was trying to get more info on this guy and had planned to let me know about what was going on. It was pure coincidence that our paths crossed on this case. He’s going to be fine. I’m vouching for him, and he’ll be free to go by the end of the day. Speaking of the end of the day, why don’t we go home and grab an early lunch?” Lee got up off the couch, grabbed his keys and the files, and they headed together down to the bullpen to drop off the files.
Lee dropped the active files on Francine’s desk and headed for Billy’s office to drop off the background checks. When he entered to drop off the files, Billy didn’t even look up. He was staring at a stack of files that was centered in the middle of the desk. “Billy, something wrong?” Amanda was standing back by the door. Billy motioned her to come in and shut the door.
“Ok guys, I wasn’t going to tell you this, but Internal Affairs has changed the background structure on us again. You guys are up for full checks this week.” Billy put a hand up before anyone had a chance to interrupt, “It won’t affect your time off at all, but I have to ask this before you’re off. Is there anything that they’re going to find in those files that’s going to be an unpleasant little surprise for me?” With this statement he looked pointedly at Lee, remembering the little snafu a few years back with a pair of Russian acrobats, some illegally imported vodka, and the Russian embassy’s limousine that had put Lee on the non-duty roster for 3 weeks, and Billy up to his ears in meetings, explanations, and paperwork.
“I haven’t done anything to bring embarrassment down on The Agency this year, Billy. There’s nothing there that I’m not proud of. There are no acrobats, contortionists, or unaccounted-for weekends,” Lee stated somewhat truthfully. “By the way, why don’t you ever ask Amanda that type of question?”
“Because Amanda hasn’t done anything to bring complete embarrassment on The Agency or herself, nor have I had to make excuses for her behavior, unlike yourself, or complete tons of paperwork in triplicate because of something extra-curricular that she has done. But if it makes you happy…” Billy looked over at Amanda questioningly.
“No, sir. I haven’t been to the circus since I was a little girl... oh well, I did take the boys a few years ago when the international circus came to town and there were these wonderful acro-” Amanda stopped, looked at Billy who was smiling, and turned with a raised eyebrow to Lee, “Contortionists, Lee?”
Lee blushed slightly, and look down. Then looked back up, flashing that megawatt smile. “It was nothing, I was young, and they were… um… that was 7 years ago Amanda!” Amanda stood there with her arms crossed, eyebrow raised. That smile wasn’t going to get him out of this one. And he would have some interesting explaining to do. “I’ll explain it to you later.”
“You bet you will, or I might have to do my own background check on you, Stetson.” Amanda smiled at Billy. “Thank you again for the time off, Sir. And for suggesting that I talk with Dr. Pfaff. He’s really very helpful.”
“…When he isn’t succumbing to that oral fixation of his…” Lee mumbled to himself.
“What was that, Scarecrow?”
“Nothing, Billy. Hey, did you find out why Smyth had a tail on me and Amanda last night?”
“Nope. He’s not talking to anyone this morning, least of all me. But I do know that they’re not following you anymore.”
"Well, then, here’s the files for the background checks, just assign them to any freshman agent – they’re routine. Francine already has the active files. And we’re off.” Lee smiled and headed for the door.
“Enjoy. Oh, and Lee? Don’t you two do anything I wouldn’t do…” Billy smiled at his best team, while Lee looked over at him shaking his head. He was still laughing as he watched them walk out of the bullpen, Lee’s hand at the small of Amanda’s back as he had observed it so many times before. He was wondering when those two were going to go public with their relationship. There were so many little signs that they were attracted to one another; there had been so many little signs since they first started working together. And it wasn’t as if others hadn’t observed them.
Lee was still being gossiped about around the coffee pots, but it was standard practice now that Amanda’s name came up in the same breath when his did. There were people who stated that you had to be blind or heartless to not notice the electricity between those two – something had to be going on. There also was a rumor that there was yet another woman in Stetson’s life and it was that woman who was going to take him off the market. As to who this mystery lady was, no one knew. But if Amanda were to find out, even about the rumor, half of The Agency’s best team would be in the hospital for at least a week – and everyone knew how much Stetson hated hospitals.
Billy had known early on that making Scarecrow work with a civilian, and a divorced mother of two children at that, would have his lone agent take less chances, so as to prevent any harm from coming to her. And pushing her towards him alone had shown that there were significant changes in Lee’s behavior. He didn’t want to work with a partner ever again, but Amanda was always on his assignments. He was taking fewer chances, following the rules a little more closely, and wasn’t looking like something the cat dragged in every morning.
Even his playboy ways had cooled down, even if the gossip around the coffee pots hadn’t. The steno pool had gotten 3 new female employees – a blond, brunette, and a redhead, all young and single, all primed with stories about the famous Scarecrow, and all interested in meeting the dashing agent – and no one had seen him within 50 feet of the place in months. Amanda was handling all of his reports, and anything that needed to be brought down to the steno pool as overflow Amanda brought it herself. Billy often asked about that, and the response from Lee was that he trusted her more than the steno pool to put the reports together quickly, accurately (she was there for most of the incidents), and without typos. Billy prided himself on being able to take credit for all of these changes in Lee Stetson’s behavior because of his pushing those two together. And he knew that because of that ‘encouragement’ that he could also take credit for being responsible for Lee and Amanda getting personally involved with one another. There was one thing, however, that Billy couldn’t take credit for.
Billy wasn’t the one who picked this civilian out in the crowd as the person to deliver the music box to the man in the red hat on the train that morning. That was Scarecrow alone. He could have picked any one of a hundred people who were already boarding the train, but he found a housewife in her nightgown and an overcoat, and begged her to do it. And that she had saved his life that very same week. And despite the attempts to convince Billy that she wasn’t a qualified agent, that she made lucky guesses, that she slowed him down, even Scarecrow had to admit that she’d turned into a pretty good agent, and a great partner besides.
Again, Billy wondered when his best team was going to let everyone else know that they were a little more than partners. And whether those troubling rumors about someone else in Stetson’s life were true.