Disclaimer: none of these characters belong to me; they belong to Shoot the Moon Enterprises and Warner Bros to whom I am eternally grateful for the opportunity to take them out for a spin and bit of light humour.
Author's Note: This is a continuation of my AU Sundance series which began with a writing prompt "What If?" and has taken on a life of its own. Might make more sense if you've read the others but probably not necessary - although that is becoming less true the longer this craziness goes on.
This story was made incomparably better by the efforts of my partners in crime and beta squad extraorinaire - thank you so much.
The last thing Amanda expected to find in the line at the grocery store was a princess. It wasn't like she didn't know the erstwhile Penelope Squire, now Crown Princess of Zakir was in Washington since she'd been helping type up the planning notes for her security detail for weeks. It was just that she was pretty sure that the itineraries she'd seen had never included a stop at the Arlington A&P.
She was instantly recognizable to Amanda who'd been following the preparations for the royal tour both at work and in the papers, but it seemed like no one else in the store had realized who she was. All they were seeing was a woman who had obviously forgotten to bring any money and was holding up the express line.
Well of course she doesn't have money on her, thought Amanda, What kind of princess has to carry money?
The princess was looking more and more flustered and apologizing to everyone in the line for having wasted their time when Amanda broke into the conversation.
"Can I help?" She reached into her purse and pulled out a five-dollar bill to hand to the cashier. "Oh no, don't worry about it," she went on, waving off the princess' protests. "I remember once filling an entire cart when my first son was just a baby and then having to put it all back when I got to the front and realized I didn't have my purse with me! It's just the worst feeling in the world, isn't it?" She smiled at the cashier and paid for her own items before turning to face the obviously embarrassed woman beside her. She handed her the small paper bag with the cookies that had been the cause of all the trouble, picked up her own bag, and then slipped her arm through the princess's and began to walk towards the siding doors of the entrance, still chattering animatedly and not letting her get a word in edgewise. "There I was, so proud that I had managed to get myself and a colicky newborn out of the house and get something accomplished – and then I had to go back to the house for my pocketbook and start all over again!"
By now they had reached the sidewalk outside and Amanda stopped and turned to smile at the dark-haired woman in front of her, leaning in to say in a soft voice "And I can't even imagine how difficult it must be for a princess to try and find time in a day to go get a bag of cookies!"
Penelope flushed and glanced down at the bag she was carrying, before looking up at Amanda, pure mortification written all over her face. "You recognized me? Oh Lord, this is so embarrassing! I'm not even supposed to be here! My husband is going to kill me!"
"Well, I work for the Agency and they're handling your security this week, so that made recognizing you a bit easier," admitted Amanda. "But I have to admit – I'm surprised to find you here!"
"I'm behaving pretty badly," said Penelope. "I'm supposed to be visiting my grandmother under strict security, but I could see the grocery store from her kitchen window and all of a sudden, I just thought 'It's been so long since I had American cookies,' and the next thing I knew, I'd snuck out the back gate! It didn't occur to me I didn't have money with me – I'm afraid I've gotten used to being able to just walk into a store and point to what I want!"
"Gosh, that must be nice," smiled Amanda. "When I try that, you can actually hear my check book snickering in my purse."
Penelope snuck a look at her face, then relaxed when she could see the genuine humour in Amanda's grin. "It can be," she admitted, "but it certainly would have put a cramp in the royal tour if I'd been arrested for shoplifting back there!"
"Oh it wouldn't have come to that. The worst that would have happened was a put-down from the store manager, Mr. Quigley. He has a very poor opinion of women and their ability to manage money," said Amanda reassuringly.
There was a sudden sound of sirens and several police cars, marked and unmarked raced past the store.
"Uh oh," said both women at once.
"I think they may have realized I'm gone," said Penelope, sheepishly.
"I think they have," agreed Amanda, watching as more squad cars appeared on the horizon. "I don't think it's going to be quite as easy to sneak back in."
"I am going to be in so much trouble," muttered the princess. "I'm really not supposed to go anywhere without my security detail but I just wanted five minutes of being a normal person again, you know?" She caught Amanda's eye. "No, of course you don't know, I'm sorry. It's just that as much as I love my husband, sometimes I just want to be good old Penny again, who can go to the store for her grandmother and not have it be a royal tour. On the inside I'm still her, you know? That girl who grew up in the suburbs and did normal stuff, but now, on the outside I have to be a princess all the time, no mistakes, no normal things. Some days it feels like my whole life is a lie."
Amanda couldn't imagine what it was like to live such a restricted life, but she knew all too well what it was like to have a part of her life that she had to lie about. Looking at the miserable woman standing opposite, she came to a sudden decision. "Well, if you can sneak out, you can sneak back in."
The princess turned to her in astonishment and gestured down the block at the flashing police lights. "How am I supposed to sneak back through that?"
Amanda stared down the street for a minute, pondering that very question. "Okay, well, that green house is the McKinneys and from their backyard, you can slip through the gap in the fence the kids use to shortcut. That will put you in the alley that runs behind those houses and then you could just tell them you popped next door to get something for her."
"Do you think that will really work?" asked Penelope curiously.
"Oh people see what they want to see sometimes. They won't be looking close to the house if they think you've been kidnapped, they'll start a search grid at least two blocks out and most of those policemen won't know what you look like so they'll just have a basic description to go on: brunette, 5'8", light blue sweater…" She stopped abruptly and stepped back to look the princess up and down. She started to laugh and said "Oh that'll work."
"Okay, quickly now, swap sweaters with me." Amanda was pulling her pink and white sweater off as she spoke, then pulled her headband off as well. "Okay, slip mine on and use this to pull your hair back into a ponytail or something."
Penelope's face suddenly cleared as she understood what Amanda was up to. She handed her sweater to Amanda and watched as Amanda fluffed her hair into an approximation of her own hairstyle.
"Now, you just walk over to the McKinney's carrying that grocery bag like you belong there and I'll just mosey over there and get their attention to distract them for a few minutes until you can get back in. Ready?"
"Ready, Captain," smiled the princess. "I can't believe you're being so helpful. Why are you being so nice to a stranger?"
Amanda chuckled and ran her hand along her arm "Oh, I'm just in it for the upgrade in sweaters."
The princess burst out laughing and leaned in for a quick hug. "Well, enjoy it. And thank you again."
"Scoot before they see us together," said Amanda, making a shooing motion towards the street. Penelope nodded and strode purposefully toward the corner. Amanda waited until she was crossing the road, then stepped out from behind the station wagon and made a show of walking towards a nearby ice-cream truck. It was only a matter of seconds before she heard the first far off shout that said she'd been spotted and she willed herself to keep walking along the sidewalk as nonchalantly as possible. A few beats later, no less than three police cars had skidded to a stop on the street in front of her and she schooled her expression to try and look surprised.
"We've got her!" one officer was saying into his radio as the officers from the other cars leapt out and began looking up and down the sidewalk for her imaginary kidnappers.
"I'm sorry, can I help you?" she asked, feigning innocence.
Behind the officers, she could see the princess disappearing into the McKinneys' side gate with a wave. Biting back a smile, she turned back to the police and spread her hands in apparent confusion. "I'm not sure who you're looking for, but I just wanted to get some ice cream." She pointed at the truck behind them as they looked at her in confusion.
"Ma'am, you can't just wander away for ice cream. Half the cops in Washington are looking for you."
"Why ever would anyone be looking for me?"
The police officer looked confused for a moment, looking her up and down and noticing for the first time that the woman in front of him was wearing scuffed running shoes. "Uh, aren't you the Princess of Zakir?"
"No, she's not," said an unexpected voice from behind her. Amanda winced as she recognized the exasperated tone in Lee's voice. "She's just trouble with a capital 'T'." He waved his badge at the police and then stepped around Amanda and turned to face her, eyes snapping but otherwise almost expressionless. Almost no one else would have been able to tell he was keeping a tight rein on his temper, but the tic in his jaw gave him away and she gave a small uneasy gulp.
"You know her?" asked the officer, still completely confused.
"Yeah, I know her. You keep looking for the real princess and I'll deal with this one," said Lee, still keeping his voice calm as he crossed his arms and glared at her.
"You lost the princess?" she asked, trying to sound worried.
"We didn't lose the princess," answered Lee. "I'm beginning to think she's simply been mislaid."
Amanda pressed her lips together trying not to laugh and watched his brows twitch together in annoyance. "Well, when I mislay something," she finally managed to say. "I always find it in the last place I think to look." She flicked her gaze down the street and back at Lee.
His eyes got a little less stormy and some of the tension left his shoulders. "Officer, can you start by just checking the house again? It could just turn out she'd gone upstairs or something and never left the house at all. Maybe her grandmother is just forgetful."
The police officer shrugged and waved off his compatriots. "Will do."
Lee waited and watched as the police cars backed away from the curb and slowly moved back down the street towards the houses. He turned and brushed his hand up and down her sleeve. "Cashmere sweater with a distinctive Zakirian pattern knitted into it. Where'd you get it, as if I didn't know?"
Amanda bit her lip, and said nothing.
"Okay, so where had she really gone?" he asked finally.
"Just on a little holiday from being a princess," answered Amanda tentatively. "You know, like Audrey Hepburn."
Lee groaned. "Please tell me there's no Gregory Peck in this scenario."
"Oh no, Lee! It wasn't a planned thing, it just kind of happened. There wasn't anyone involved." She bit back a giggle as he glared at her. "Well except for the Keebler elves." Lee kept glaring and she found her voice trailing off. "She just went to the store to get cookies. It's not that big a deal, Lee."
Lee grabbed her arm and began to march her back towards her car. His Porsche was now parked beside it, the slightly haphazard parking job a testament to the speed with which he'd arrived. "That's where you're wrong, Amanda King. It was not just a big deal - it was almost an international incident! We lost the Crown Princess of Zakir! How would we have explained that to her husband? To say nothing of the fact that every assassin with access to a police radio would have known where to start looking for her and you're standing there in her clothes!" His voice had risen to almost a shout by the time they reached their cars and he stood there, rubbing the back of his neck in frustration. "I suppose I should be thankful that if she had to run into anyone, it would be you, but why am I not the least bit surprised?"
"I'm sorry. I wasn't trying to aid and abet or anything – she just looked a little lost and I got her home again. She's just a regular person, you know, not like a princess at all."
Lee leaned forward to bang his head slowly against the roof of the station wagon. "You regular people are going to be the death of me, you know that?"
The police band monitor in the Porsche crackled to life with Francine's voice informing all units that the subject of their hunt and been found safe and sound. As they watched the squad cars move away from the house, lights off now, Lee picked up the car phone and dialed.
"You've definitely got the right woman?" he asked Francine when she picked up. "Our boys in blue seem to be having a problem identifying an actual princess."
He held the receiver out so that Amanda could hear her answer as well. "Oh no," Francine was saying sarcastically. "It's definitely the right woman although how she ended up wearing Amanda's favourite sweater is probably going to be a mystery we'll never solve."
Amanda spread her hands and shrugged. "See, no harm done."
Lee's lips pressed together as if he had something to say, but was holding it in. Finally he simply pulled open the driver's door of the station wagon and pointed. "Amanda, just for once, could you stop thinking you're really the Sundance Kid and that you don't have to play by the rules? Now please – please - just go home and make brownies or something and don't come out again until after this visit is done, will ya?"
"Well, you should probably return this to the princess for me," said Amanda meekly, slipping off the sweater and handing it to him. She waited until she had pulled out of the parking spot to roll down her window and say in her most mild voice, "But just so you know, I'll still have to do that school tour for you tomorrow morning because I'm the only parent with a security clearance." A dark red flush started at Lee's neck and worked its way upward. When he opened his mouth to speak, she jammed her foot on the gas and sped away before he could say something she was sure he'd regret later.