CHAPTER 11

Amanda leaned her head back against the cushion of the sofa in Billy's office. They had been debriefed about the evening's events and had filed their initial report. Since one of the suspects had been shot, Lee was finishing the special report that had to be filed, and he had promised to meet Amanda when it was complete.

"Well," Billy entered the office with a big smile across his face, "I know I'll sleep better tonight. You and Lee managed to pull it off again!"

"I think this has been one of the longest weeks of my life!" Amanda confessed.

Ricco Spano was most likely the 'voice' who had contacted Calvin Burkhalter, but they were still unsure as to whether any other members of Red February were in the area. Amanda was glad that it wasn't her job to find out.

Perching on the edge of his desk to face her, Billy sobered. "Obviously the end result was what we wanted, but I'm curious about how Lee reacted to Donati."

Amanda shivered remembering the cold, cruel eyes of the man they had pursued and ultimately caught. "He had me worried for a minute," she admitted. "Oh, I knew he could pull it together," she said hastily, "but I could tell he was still struggling with the flashbacks."

A frown crossed Billy's face. "Do you think putting Donati away will end the problem?"

"I don't know," Amanda answered with a sigh. "I still think he needs to talk to Dr. Pfaff about it."

"Well, let me know if he resists," Billy said sternly. "I'll make it an order if I have to."

"I will," she assured him. Looking out the window to the bullpen, Amanda saw Lee approaching. As he entered the office, she patted the space next to her, and he sank down, letting out a deep breath.

"All wrapped up?" Billy questioned.

"What's not done now can surely wait until Monday." Leaning his head back, Lee sought out Amanda's hand, entwining her fingers with his own.

All pretenses between the two had vanished over the past few days, at least in front of Billy. It was only a matter of time before everyone at the agency would know that there was more than a business partnership between Scarecrow and Mrs. King. They were already the subject of water cooler gossip.

Billy watched the pair, amusement in his eyes. "You're right," he stated. "Anything else regarding this case can wait until Monday. Right now, I think you two have another job to attend to."

Lee glared at the Section Chief. "What are you talking about, Billy? You know we deserve a little time off!"

Fixing his top agent with a stern glare, Billy shook his head. "Not quite yet, Scarecrow. This can't wait."

"Aw, Billy –"

Holding up a hand to stop any argument, Billy continued. "I believe you have an assignment you haven't completed. If I'm not mistaken, you are still the agents of record in charge of security at the gala. Francine is probably fit to be tied having it dumped in her lap." By this time there was a definite twinkle in his eye. "Now, I suggest you get yourselves over there. The party should be in full swing by now."

Lee and Amanda exchanged glances, then looked back at Billy, both grinning. Rising, Lee extended a hand to help Amanda up.

"Well, it's a dirty job, but somebody's got to do it!" he said.

"Just one more thing," Billy added as they went to the door. He shook a warning finger at them. "Have some fun. That's an order!"

"Yes, sir!" they chimed in unison.

The party was indeed in full swing when they entered the ballroom at the Hotel Monroe. Spotting them immediately, Francine hurried over to greet them.

"Effram filled me in on what was happening at the National Archives, and we just got word a little while ago that Donati was in custody. Care to elaborate?" she asked, arching an eyebrow.

"Hello to you, too, Francine," Lee said with exaggerated sweetness.

Rolling her eyes at him, Francine protested. "Come on, I'm dying to know all about it! I've been stuck here all night, missing the excitement!"

"Francine, I never thought I'd hear you complain about being 'stuck' at one of the biggest social events of the season!" Lee teased. "But, if you must know, yes, my brilliant partner and I managed to catch up with Donati, and he's safely locked away. Now, if you don't mind, I'd really like to dance with my fiancée. We're under strict orders from Billy to enjoy ourselves, and you know I always obey orders."

"Since when!" Francine demanded, hands on hips.

"Since he started issuing orders I like!" Lee was already guiding Amanda onto the dance floor, and with an apologetic shrug at Francine, Amanda found herself swept into his arms.

"That wasn't very nice!" she scolded him gently. "After all, she did take over this job for us."

"I know," he acknowledged. "Sometimes, I just can't resist giving Francine a hard time. I'll fill her in on all the juicy details after I dance with my best girl. How's that?"

Amanda simply nodded, and with a sigh of contentment, allowed herself to be pulled closer into his arms. The stress and strain of the week seemed to melt away as they swayed to the music. Lee planted a kiss on the top of her head, and she looked up at him, a smile in her eyes. When the song ended, they held each other for a moment longer, and then reluctantly moved apart.

"I guess we should do something 'official' since we're here, huh?" Amanda asked.

Lee sighed. "Maybe if I can get myself back in Francine's good graces she'll cut us some slack."

"Well, it's worth a try," Amanda agreed.

They headed back to find Francine but were stopped by Darrin Paulson. "I hear we can finally breathe that sigh of relief," he said in greeting.

"It looks like it," Lee affirmed. "I trust everything has gone smoothly here?"

"Oh yes! Miss Desmond has been a tremendous help!" Paulson said, casting an appreciative glance in Francine's direction.

As they continued on their way, Lee leaned over to whisper in her ear. "I think you've already been replaced in Mr. Paulson's affections!"

Amanda's eyes widened. "You mean Francine?" Lee grinned and shrugged.

They approached Francine and saw Effram Beaman at her side. Before anyone else could say anything, Beaman looked nervously at Amanda and hastily began to speak.

"Um, Mrs. King, I, um, wondered if you would care to dance? That is," he glanced at Lee, "if Scarecrow doesn't mind."

Amanda felt her jaw drop open. She looked from Lee to Francine before focusing quizzically on Beaman. Could this day get any stranger? Lee, hands on her shoulders, turned her to face the other man.

"She seems to be a little dumbstruck at the moment," he chuckled, "but I'd take that as a yes, Beaman. Just don't forget to bring her back where you found her."

Finally finding her voice, Amanda addressed him as graciously as possible. "I'd love to dance." As he guided her to the dance floor, she looked back and rolled her eyes at Lee and Francine.

"I owe you an apology," Beaman began without fanfare. "I've been petty and unfair to you, Mrs. King, and I want you to know that I'm sorry. You, um," he swallowed hard, "you deserve to be treated as a full agent, not as a freshman. I realize that now."

"I, uh … well, thank you," she finally managed. "Apology accepted. I realize it's kind of confusing trying to figure out exactly where I fit in at the Agency."

"Well, Francine really took me to task for the way I've been treating you, and she's right," he admitted.

"Francine did that?" Amanda asked, surprised.

"She sure did. She also admitted that even she was a little jealous of you for awhile. I mean," he explained, "you came in as a civilian and immediately started working with Scarecrow." He lowered his voice conspiratorially. "Do you know what else she told me?"

"What?" Now her curiosity was truly piqued.

"She said 'Amanda kind of grows on you; just give her time.'"

They looked at each other, a smile crossing each of their faces, and suddenly they were laughing. Amanda couldn't remember ever hearing Beaman laugh before.

"Oh, dear!" Amanda said, wiping a tear of mirth from her eye. "This has been some day!"

As the music ended, Beaman led her back over to where Lee and Francine stood, deep in conversation. Amanda turned to face him again.

"Thank you for the dance … Effram."

"It was my pleasure … Amanda." He cleared his throat. "Here she is, back safe and sound, Scarecrow. I think I'll go check up on my freshmen agents."

Francine had turned aside to speak with someone else, and Lee turned to Amanda, snaking an arm around her waist.

"I don't know about you, but I am absolutely beat! Do you know what I'd really like to do?" he asked.

"What's that?" Amanda tried to stifle a yawn.

He tucked her hand through his arm, and began to walk toward the entry. "I'd like to go back to the apartment, heat up some of that leftover soup of yours, and snuggle on the couch."

"That sounds heavenly," she sighed. "You know, these heels came in handy tonight, but my feet are killing me. What about our duties here? Will Francine cover for us?"

"Oh, I managed to persuade Francine that she's done such a great job so far, she might as well finish it up. Besides," he chuckled, "she has both Beaman and Paulson to help her out!"

"Oh, boy! We owe Francine big time!" Amanda shook her head with a rueful smile.

"I'm sure she won't let us forget it, either."

They paused at the door and looked back at the elegant ballroom. Government officials, Washington power brokers, and even a head of state or two mingled, enjoying the gala that so many had agonized over for so long. A casual observer would never guess the angst that had gone into providing a safe and secure evening.

Lee and Amanda locked eyes and simultaneously let out sighs of relief.

"Come on," Lee said, clasping her hand in his. "Let's go home!"

EPILOGUE

The flowers sat withered and drooping on her desk when Amanda arrived at the Q Bureau Monday morning. Only two stems had survived the weekend, and she plucked them out, sticking them in a bud vase. Maybe she would press them later on as a souvenir of the week gone by. Carrying the remainder to the trash, she thought what a shame it was that something so beautiful had to be so fleeting and fragile. Without the proper care, they lasted no time at all.

Turning the bud vase around on her desk, she allowed her thoughts to drift back over the weekend. She and Lee had spent most of the weekend at his apartment recuperating from the toll of the previous days. They had tried to put anything work related on hold, and simply spend the time nurturing their relationship.

Amanda wondered if Lee was in yet. He usually arrived at work before she did, often going down to the bullpen or Billy's office before coming up to the Q Bureau. In the light of a new week there were certain things they would have to address now that the case was wrapped up and Donati locked away. Although Lee seemed to be back on track and there had been no more dreams or flashbacks, his future at the Agency was one of the topics they had studiously avoided all weekend. Amanda was pretty sure what his decision would be, but she had yet to hear it from Lee.

Moving over to Lee's desk to sort through the files, she heard the door quietly open behind her. Smiling, she allowed him to creep up behind her, and right before he wrapped his arms around her waist, she spoke.

"Hi there!"

"You caught me!" he said, nuzzling her neck.

"Ummm, yeah." She turned in his arms to face him, running her hands up to his shoulders and around his neck. "I wondered if you were in yet."

"Oh, I've been here awhile." He placed a kiss on the tip of her nose. "There's quite a bit to wrap up from Friday night. I just got an update from Billy. He said he tried to call Saturday but couldn't get through!" he said with a grin.

"Really?" Amanda returned the grin, thinking of the phone that had been off the hook most of the weekend. "What did he have to report?"

"Well," Lee released her and moved back to lean against his desk, "they found where Donati and Spano were staying, but there was no sign of anyone else connected with Red February. So we don't know yet if there were more people involved. Burkhalter made a positive ID of Spano as being his contact."

Amanda frowned. "What's going to happen to Burkhalter, Lee? I mean, what he did was inexcusable, but he was a desperate man, concerned about his family."

"I know, I know." He reached out to touch her arm. "The fact that he confessed everything should help him a little, and you'll be pleased to know that his daughter is going to get the medical care she needs. An anonymous benefactor has agreed to cover the expenses."

"Oh, that's wonderful! It's going to be hard enough on that family as it is."

"Yeah." They pondered the fate of the Burkhalters for a moment then Lee spoke again. "Speaking of families, how's yours? Did the boys have a good weekend with Joe?"

"They did. Phillip wanted me to remind you that you've got some basketball scheduled sometime this week."

Lee chuckled. "I had a feeling he wouldn't forget! How about Jamie? He's been pretty quiet. I hate to leave him out of the basketball, but he hasn't seemed too interested."

Amanda sighed. "I know. Jamie - well, Jamie is a little resistant to change sometimes. Just give him some time."

"Well," Lee shoved away from the desk, "I guess we'd better get busy with these final reports on Donati. Billy's briefing us at nine-thirty on a new assignment." At the unspoken question in her eyes, he shrugged and continued with a smile. "I decided you and Billy were right. I was a little hasty in deciding to give up field work."

"Oh Lee," Amanda's words came out in a rush of relief. "I'm so glad! I mean, we can certainly keep that option open for the future, but when we leave the field it needs to be for the right reasons, with no room for regret."

"I agree." He grabbed her hands and searched her eyes. "I've never experienced anything quite like last week. I'm not sure what brought it all on. Maybe it was the lack of sleep, maybe it was a combination of associations I made in my mind. Maybe," he leaned forward toward her, "it was some pre-marriage anxiety. You know, I've never loved anyone the way I love you, Amanda, and sometimes it's a little overwhelming."

"I know," she said softly. "I feel the same way. We're going to be just fine, so long as we keep taking care of each other. Which reminds me," she said, turning a stern look upon him. "You have an appointment with Dr. Pfaff at eleven o'clock this morning."

"A-man-da -"

She held up a hand to ward off his protests. "No argument, Stetson. You agreed to this."

"You're right, I did. Well, I guess it can't hurt." His arms found their way around her waist again, and he drew her in close. "As I've said before, you wield a lot of power, Mrs. King!"

Eyes twinkling, she poked a finger into his chest. "And don't you forget it, Big Fella!"

THE END

*** The following is a list of SMK episodes referred to in this story.

"Nightcrawler" - George Geiger & Harvey Laidman

"Dead Men Leave No Trails" - Whitney Wherret Roberson & Harvey Laidman

"A Lovely Little Affair" – Kathleen Shelling & Harvey Laidman

"Promises To Keep" – David Brown, Lynn Kelsey, Lee Maddux && Sidney Hayers

"Unfinished Business" – Lynn Kelsey & Kate Jackson

"We're Off To See The Wizard" – Whitney Wherret Roberson & James Fargo

"Flight To Freedom" – Barry Gold & James Fargo

"Affair At Bromfield Hall" - Juanita Bartlett & William Wiard