TITLE: His Own Blood

AUTHOR: Gail Delaney - RmceWrtr@hotmail.com

RATING: PG-13

SUMMARY: When Addi Birol kidnapped Amanda, Lee told Billy he knew what he owed - and would pay it back in his own blood if he had to.

DISCLAIMER: Lee Stetson, Amanda King, and any other prominent character related to the television series Scarecrow and Mrs. King do not belong to me. I only wish I could create such chemistry on my own - and try every day. The concept of the story is mine, but I make no profit (except for the personal one) by writing it. Reference is made to the episode "Night Crawler" - the first two sections are directly taken from the episode, and I begin to take my poetic freedom on the third section.

GENRE: Alternative Universe (just a little) **FATAL FLAW** Universe

TIMELINE: Mid-Fourth Season - during Night Crawler Episode

FEEDBACK: Absolutely! More than welcome!

SPECIAL THANKS: Once again to my buddy Theresa who posed the pretense for this story on the PAX forum, and then helped me develop it.
"Scarecrow, the best thing you can do is to stay away," Billy said as he sat on the edge of his desk. Dr Quidd sat on the couch, watching Lee pace the room.

"Ah, damn it, Billy!" Lee ground out, his hand cutting through the air in frustration. "The guy is a terrorist with nothing to lose. He has got Amanda, and he took her to get to me! Can't you see that?" he said as he strode across the room toward his Section Chief, stabbing his own chest with his finger.

"I know which one of my agents is in trouble. I always know," Billy said in a low voice, his tone expressing he understood perfectly the situation. Perhaps better than Lee. "Does she know about Night Crawler?"

Lee's expression turned to one of realization and possibly regret. "Yes, she knows that Night Crawler is my source. But that is all," he answered as he pushed his fingers through his hair. He continued to pace the room, his need to find Amanda and hunt down Birol making his skin crawl and his temples pound.

Billy picked up the small piece of notepad paper with black handwriting and read it aloud again, even though they all knew what it said. "Night crawler for the woman. Stay out of this, Lee," Billy said again as he stood and walked around his desk, pointing at his best agent. "Because if he gets you, he'll use Amanda to break you and we'll lose the best source we've got."

Lee's jaw clenched, and his lips pulled into a tight line, at his superiors apparent concern for a terrorist source over Amanda's life. Billy leaned his hands into his desk and met Lee's hard stare.

"Could you watch Amanda suffer?" he asked.

Lee couldn't answer, and turned away to walk back to the corner of the room.

"How did he pick her out, Scarecrow?" Dr. Quidd asked, his first contribution to the conversation.

"Random? Or he figured the CSN crew for a front, or he figured out something else - I don't know!" Lee couldn't stop himself from pacing again, his hands venting his frustration. "If I knew, I would have stopped him!"

"So he duped all his lieutenants about the interview," Dr. Quidd interjected.

"Yah, and he outsmarted me and he bagged Amanda all by himself and now he has got us by the back pockets because we don't have a clue! I do this for a living, doc!"

"Then act like a professional!" Billy snapped. "Let USEF and ATAC team get her. We can't even let her family know until Birol makes this public!"

Lee looked up to the ceiling, wanting to yell or punch something or tell his boss to go to hell. Didn't Billy understand he couldn't just walk away from this? This was Amanda! His Amanda! His partner. His lover. His life. How could he just sit back and leave her life in someone else's hand?

"If you go charging after him, you'll simply eliminate the need. You know what I mean? Why don't you bounce down to the TAC center? Out of harms way."

"I'll make it a medical order, Scarecrow. Put you out for a few days," the doctor said from the couch.

Lee turned a hard glare on him, and warned "Don't you try me."

Dr. Quidd stood. "Take it easy. Think it over. Your first loyalty is to your source. Night Crawler has been at considerable risk for us. You owe it -"

"I know exactly what I owe, doc. And if I have to, I will pay it back in my own blood," Lee forced through a throat restricted with emotion and anger.

With a heated glance at both men, Lee turned and left the office. He had to do something. There was no way in hell he intended to sit on his hands, and he wouldn't rest until Amanda was back again, safe and in his arms. Lee marched across the bullpen on the far side and pulled some documents from the top drawer of a file cabinet, staring at it without really seeing.

"Don't give it up, Amanda. Don't give it up. Please. I'm coming to get you, just don't give it up," he whispered to himself, praying that somehow she would know and feel his love.

~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~

Addi Birol opened the steel encased door, and without a word, shoved Lee into the sparse room he now held Amanda in. Lee stumbled once, but soon regained his footing and glared back as the man shut the door.

At the sound, Amanda sprung up from the bed she had been lying on. Lee's heart leaped and pounded furiously when he saw her face. Those beautiful brown eyes. But she didn't seem right, didn't seem fully 'with him'.

"Oh, hi," she said calmly, as if not at all surprised to see him.

"Amanda," he whispered hoarsely and rushed across the room to take her in his arms.

She made a soft sound when he pulled her close and he buried his face against her neck, reveling in the feeling of having her in his arms again. She was pliant in his arms and her hands touched his back.

"Oh, this is getting pretty good now," she mumbled, her voice slightly hoarse.

Lee pulled back and held her arms in his hands so he could look into her face. "Are you all right?" he asked, his eyes skimming over her to take in every detail.

"Oh, yah. You know, I can actually feel you," she said with a whimsical lilt in her voice as she touched his chest with her fingers. Lee moved to hold her face in his hands. "I think this is probably the best hallucination I've had yet."

Lee caught her words in his mouth as he pulled her to him and kissed her, pouring more into that kiss than any other kiss before. She hummed against his lips, her hands touching his shoulder.

"Oh, wow!" she said when he pulled back, still brushing her cheeks with his thumb.

"Amanda."

"Yah?"

"Amanda, it's me. It is really me," he insisted, looking directly into her eyes.

A silly grin bowed her beautiful lips and she shook her head slightly. "Oh, no. That's not -," she began as she touched his face. When her fingers came in contact with his skin her expression changed to one of wonder.

Lee grabbed her wrists and pressed her palms against his cheeks, holding them there. Needing to feel her touch as much as she needed to realize he was real.

"It is you," she said in amazement.

"Yes!"

"It's you? You're here?" she asked, her hands running over his face and shoulders in confirmation.

"Yah," he managed to say before she threw her arms around his neck.

"Hello!" she cried, "Oh!"

Lee wrapped her in his arms and held her close. They were interrupted when the door behind him opened again. Amanda flinched back, her fingers digging into his arms. Lee looked into her face and saw terror round her eyes. Birol would pay for making her afraid. He turned and looked as the terrorist walked into the room, his cold eyes on them.

"Hello is good-bye," he said slowly as he made his way to the desk in the corner. "I've got Night Crawler. Why do I need her?" he said menacingly as he dropped a notepad on the desktop.

Lee pushed Amanda behind him, keeping his body between her and the evil that would harm her. Amanda squeezed his arms with her small hands. Birol jerked his hand up and level a gun on them, pulling back on the trigger. Amanda gasped and Lee moved to protect her again. But no bullet came.

"I do have a bullet under the hammer! Want it?" Birol asked ominously. Lee froze, not wanting to push the madman into killing Amanda. "I have an offer from the Libyans for her. It's up to you what happens. Give me a list of the ATAC team. Your assets here and abroad. Your sources. Your fronts."

Amanda leaned her forehead into his shoulder and Lee reached behind him to touch her. Birol backed across the room, the gun still leveled on them. He opened the door to leave.

"I'll be back in an hour."

With one last evil grin, he clicked the gun again. Amanda flinched and he shut the door. As soon as he was gone, Lee turned and pulled Amanda into his embrace. He held her as close as possible, his heart pounding in his chest and his lungs burning.

"I'm sorry I'm shaking so bad," she whispered against his ear.

Lee chuckled. "I didn't notice. We must be shaking together, huh?" She pulled back and looked up into his eyes. In them he saw an entire world of trust and love. Lee smiled. "Turn around," he told her and she did, her back pressing against his chest. Lee reached into his pocket. "I have a surprise for you."

Lee took from his pocket the diamond heart pendant he had taken from Birol. As he lifted it over her head and it came into her view, Amanda gasped and clutched it in her hands. He worked on hooking it behind her neck.

"Now, it may need a new clasp but I think it may hold for now."

"How are Mother and the boys?" she asked.

Lee finished with the clasp and shook his head. "They don't even know a thing. Billy's decision was to keep them out of it unless Birol went public or it dragged on."

"Good," she said in a soft voice.

He turned her back to face him. "I went to the house yesterday."

"You saw Mother?"

Lee nodded. "Yah." He thought about the visit and the way he could almost see Amanda there. It brought a smile to his lips and a chuckle to his throat. "It made me feel closer to you."

He pulled her close and pressed a lingering kiss to her forehead, once again finding life and hope in having her again in his arms. Amanda reached around him and pulled them closer.

"Is there a way out of this?" she asked.

Lee didn't know how answer her. He thought of all the times they had been in tight spots. And how each time she had put her full faith in him to get them out. This would not be the time he would fail her. Gently, he moved her toward the bed and urged her to sit.

"Look, why don't you sit down? Hmm? You just sit there while I make out that list."

He turned and headed for the desk.

"No! You can't give him the list. You'll destroy everything you've done. He's not the only one. There are a million Birols. You have to draw the line somewhere!" Amanda said emphatically, hitting her knee with a doubled fist.

"Look! I'm buying us some time, Amanda. I'm not going to let him sell you to the Libyans."

"I'm not crazy about that part either," she said in a wry tone that made Lee look up from his pad of paper. "You got here in time. I knew you would."

"I had hoped to get here in time under different circumstances," Lee said, standing again to go back to her. She sat on the bed with her head bowed and her hands wrung together in her lap. Lee kneeled in front of her and covered her hands with his own. "We might not get out of this one," he said honestly.

"Yah, I know. It really stinks, doesn't it?" she said with defeat tainting her words.

Lee couldn't stand to hear that tone on her voice. It made him feel like less of a man than she deserved. He reached out and touched her chin with his finger, gently urging her to look up and meet his gaze. When he could again see into those brown depths, Lee discovered a courage and strength he never had. But he knew she needed to know what she meant to him. She meant so much. Everything.

"Amanda King," he said through an emotionally strained throat. "You are the best, the bravest, the smartest most beautiful woman I have ever known."

"I love you!" she said quickly.

Lee smiled at her, taking the few short seconds he needed to find the words he needed to say. He didn't need to look very far into his heart, because they were right there. Waiting. "Then will you marry me?"

Her eyes rounded and her lips fell apart in surprise. "Will I marry you?" she asked, the question sounding wonderful on her lips.

Lee nodded, hoping she saw the sincerity and love in his eyes.

"Oh, yah, I'll marry you," she said slowly. Lee's heart swelled in his chest and the smile that spread his lips was so wide it almost hurt. "We're the luckiest two people on the face of the Earth!"

Lee had to laugh at the irony and perfection of her words. Only his Amanda, held captive by a power-hungry terrorist, would consider them lucky. But he was lucky. Lucky to have her in his life and lucky enough to be gifted with her love. He reached for her and kissed her, tasting salt from her tears on her lips, and her fingers caressed his jaw.

Now should have been a time of celebrating, of taking her in his arms and kissing her until neither of them could think or breath. But it wasn't that time. For now, he had to make a list. For now, he had to find a way to get her home safe. With one final, long and sweet kiss, Lee stood and went back to the desk.

~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~

Near the end of the hour, Lee finished the list and dropped the pen on the desktop. He looked up to see a weary -looking Amanda standing near one of the board-covered windows, her arms crossed over her body and her eyes watching the sunlight through the narrow slats.

She was so beautiful. And he loved her so much.

Amanda sighed and turned from the window, her gaze catching his. Lee smiled, but as the sun fell across her cheeks, he lunged to his feet and closed the space between them in three long strides. Her eyes rounded with surprise as he reached her and framed her face with his hands.

"Lee?" she cried, stepping back from his sudden attack.

He didn't answer right away, but gently angled her head so the sunlight again fell across her cheekbone and confirmed the enraging realization that hit him moments before. The shadows of a dark purple bruise spread out from the small curls along her hairline to just below her eye. Heat rushed through Lee's veins and he had the immediate and overwhelming urge to choke the life out of Addi Birol with his bare hands.

"He hurt you," Lee forced through a tightly clenched jaw. "Why didn't you tell me he hurt you?"

Amanda shook her head within the confined of his hands and her fingers curled into the front of his jacket.

"Amanda, did he hit you?" She didn't answer him, just staring up at him with wide brown eyes. "Amanda! Did he hit you?" Lee demanded. He knew he had never spoken so roughly before to her, and wasn't doing it out of anger at her, but the crazed rage that hit him at the though of Birol having his hands on Amanda was more than he could control.

"Yes," she finally answered in a cracked whisper.

Lee took a deep, shaky breath and closed his eyes. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against Amanda's, his hands still holding her face. Her breath shimmered across his skin. When he felt he could speak again, Lee pulled back and looked down at her.

"Amanda, did he hurt you in any other way?" He was almost afraid to hear the answer; not wanting to think of what else Amanda might have endured because he didn't find her fast enough.

"No, Lee."

"Tell me if he did."

Her hands moved further up his chest and he saw a slight tremble in them. But her eyes were unwavering when she met his stare, and he knew she told the truth. "No, Lee. He didn't do anything like you think. He drugged me, I don't know with what. He asked me questions over and over again and wouldn't let me sleep or eat. But he only hit me once and he didn't do anything else."

Lee wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against his chest, pressing his lips against her hair. He rocked their bodies back and forth, comforting her as much as he took comfort from holding her.

"I'd kill him if he did," Lee said honestly against her temple, fighting the thickness in his throat.

"I know," she whispered and her arms tightened around him.

Lee pulled back and brushed his thumbs along her cheeks and mouth, the trembling of her lower lip stilled by his touch. He covered her mouth with his own and felt her soft moan. Hot tears ran over the backs of his fingers and Lee broke the kiss to look down at her again.

"Lee, I know I've said this before - but I'm more scared now that I've ever been. Those nights I spent sitting by myself in the dark, thinking I saw you only to realize they were hallucinations, doing everything I could to stay strong, all I could think about was what would I do if you didn't find me?"

"Hey," he whispered, pressing a finger against her lips. "Amanda I will always find you. I will always come for you. I will never, ever let you down. I promise you."

The door opened and Birol came in, dragging Night Crawler with him, and he dropped her on the other bed. From where he stood, he saw Magda Petrak in the hall. Their eyes connected, and he recognized in hers that a plan was in the works, but before she could come into the room Birol slammed the door in her face.

"I need no further witnesses for our business, Scarecrow," Birol said, a sarcastic smirk on his lips.

He lifted his hand and leveled his gun on them where they stood. Lee pulled Amanda close and put his body between her and Birol. With his gun on them, Birol moved to the desk and looked down at the notepad.

"The list?" he asked.

"That's it," Lee said simply. He did his best to mask the anger boiling just beneath his skin. Just the sight of Addi Birol, and the image of him striking Amanda, made Lee want to attack the scumbag and tear him apart.

Birol flipped open the cover and read over what he had written there. "I know enough to know you have done a surprisingly complete job," he said as he sat on the desk edge.

"You've got what you want. Now what?" Lee asked, his instincts knowing that Birol wasn't about to let them walk out of the house just because of the list.

Birol lifted his gun and aimed it at them. Amanda's fingers curled into Lee's arm and he heard a small, frightened gasp.

"Did you really believe it would be that easy? You give me the list and I just let you and Amanda leave? No, I think not. I intend to profit from the situation to the fullest extend. This list will be of great use to me, and although my intention of selling Amanda to the Libyans has been temporarily thwarted, I am quite sure I can find someone else as equally motivated." As he spoke, he waved the gun as an extension of his hand.

Lee ground his teeth together so hard his jaw hurt. He moved his arm back to wrap behind Amanda, her small frame fitting against his back and his hand on her hip.

"No," he answered simply.

Birol chuckled and bounced one shoulder. "You are not in a position, Scarecrow, to dictate what will and will not happen. I am sure I can find someone interested in a beautiful American woman . . . for whatever reason. Once you are dead, it will not matter to you."

Something in Lee snapped and he moved to take a step toward Birol. The gun came up and leveled with Lee's nose. Their eyes met, and Lee stared unwavering into Birol's heartless pits. Birol's lip curled into an evil sneer and he twisted suddenly, his aim switching from Lee to Amanda.

"No!" Lee yelled and lunged at Birol, tackling him to the floor.

The gun went off, but broke through the ceiling and left Amanda unharmed. They tumbled together, struggling over the gun in Birol's hand. Lee knew he had to stop Birol. The consequences were too awful to consider.

He would not fail her. Not this time. Not ever again.

"Get out, Amanda!" he ordered as he and Birol shifted their power back and forth. "Go find Billy. I think he's on the way!"

Amanda ran toward the door, stumbling over the still form of Night Crawler and landing on her hands and knees. Lee tried to split his focus between fighting with Birol and making sure Amanda was out of the room. Out of the line of fire. She scrambled again to her feet and disappeared out the door. Some relief washed over Lee knowing she would be out of harm's way. Birol twisted and punched Lee in the gut, doubling him over and forcing the air from his lungs. But he didn't release Birol's hand or the gun.

Lee twisted and pulled Birol's hand forward, trying to knock the gun from his fingers. But Birol was strong and he fought with a frenzy. Lee tried to use his own weight to pull Birol down, but the man seemed crazed and unwilling to give in unless he took Lee with him.

Lee heard footfalls in the hall, and knew Billy was on his way. But he had to get the gun before someone, Amanda, got hurt. If Billy were there, she would be close behind. Lee lunged again and pulled Birol's hand against his body.

A resounding boom echoed through the room as the gun went off. All air sucked from Lee's lungs and searing pain shot through his body. He met Birol's burning eyes and saw the evil satisfaction reflected in them as they both sank to the floor. Lee fought to pull air into his punctured lung as he released his hold on Birol and slid to the floor.

"Lee!" Amanda screamed and he saw her burst through the door again. Alone.

"No, Amanda!" he tried to shout, his voice coming out as little less that a grinding moan.

Birol was on his feet and reached for Amanda as Lee watched in horror. Through the pain, and despite the burning hole in his chest, Lee found the strength to push himself to his feet and lunged at Birol, taking him down at the knees.

"Scarecrow!" came Billy's voice from the doorway as he, El-Kebir and Francine showed up. Magda followed behind.

Lee fought against Birol with everything he had, but he felt the strength quickly leaving his body. He pulled himself up to land a punch on Birol's jaw, but it was barely enough to turn the man's head. Birol flipped him with little effort, and Lee saw the flash of a blade in his hand. Where it came from, Lee didn't know, but it didn't matter. He had a knife.

Lee wrapped his hands around Birol's wrist and fought to hold the knife away from his body. Another shot rang out through the room and Birol's body jerked as Billy's bullet found its target.

Birol looked down at him, and a smirk twisted his face. Lee tried to push him off, but he had no strength left. Addi Birol pulled his hand back and drove the knife into Lee's chest, tearing at Lee's flesh when he pulled it back out. Another burst of hot pain pummeled him. Lee yelled out.

Then Birol was gone as Billy yanked him away. The other agents that followed them in dragged Birol away and Billy sank to his knees beside Lee.

"Lee! Lee!" Amanda cried out and Lee turned his head to see her on the other side of the room, being held back by Francine.

Lee touched his chest, and his hand was covered with his own hot, sticky blood. The metallic smell filled his senses, but darkness began to invade on his vision.

"We've got an ambulance on the way, Lee. Hang on," Billy told him.

"Amanda," Lee forced out.

"She's fine."

"Let me see him!" he heard her cry out.

The life was draining from his body. Lee knew it as much as he knew his own name. He couldn't take in a deep breath, his lungs nearly useless and burning. With the last ounces of strength he had, he reached out and curled his bloody fingers into Billy's lapel.

"Amanda," he whispered again. "Please, Billy."

She had to know. She had to know he loved her. This might be his last and only chance to make her truly understand. He needed to see her face. Lee wanted hers to be the last thing he saw.

Billy looked up, a set expression on his face, and nodded toward Francine. Lee looked sideways to see Francine holding Amanda back, but she released her and Amanda felt to her knees to crawl the few feet to his side.

Tears wet her cheeks and glistened in her eyes. She touched his face, her touch gentle yet urgent. Billy stood and walked to the door, looking down the hall for the impending medics.

"Lee! Oh, my gosh! Lee," she whispered over and over again.

Her hand wrapped around his, and Lee wanted to pull away to keep her from feeling his blood on her hands, but he couldn't. He needed her touch. He needed the contact.

"Amanda," he forced through pale lips. "Amanda, listen."

She stroked his forehead and touched his cheek, leaning closer to him. "Help is on the way, Lee."

"Listen, 'manda. Love you," he whispered. The thoughts were in his mind, but he couldn't get all the words out.

"I know, Lee. I know. I love you, too. Please, don't try to talk."

Lee shook his head. He had to. This could be the last thing he ever said. "'manda. Ring. The ring. Bed. Drawer. For you."

Amanda shook her head, understanding straining her features. "No, Lee! I won't! I won't! You're going to do it. You're going to give it to me!"

Lee willed his hand to draw her fingers to his mouth and he pressed them to his lips, unable to even purse them enough to kiss her skin.

"Love you," he whispered again as the room grew darker. All he could see now was Amanda's face as she leaned over him.

Her tears fell on his cheeks and lips and he tasted the salt. His mind drifted from reality to another time, just months before, when he held Amanda in his arms just as she did him now. When he tried to staunch her blood with his own hands. When he begged her not to leave him and his tears wet her face.

"I love you, Lee. Please, hang on! They're coming."

"Mmmmmarry," he tried to say, the thoughts in his mind not finding their way through his heavy lips.

Amanda nodded. "Yes, Lee. Yes. I'm going to marry you," she whispered.

Billy came back, followed by three EMT's. Lee curled his fingers around Amanda's hand with all the strength he had left. "'manda . . ."

Amanda's face blurred and slowly faded to black as Lee gave in to the darkness. His name on her lips was the last sound he heard as silence overtook him.

~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~

Amanda sat in the hospital waiting room, her knees drawn to her chest and her head resting on her folded arms in one of the uncomfortable vinyl chairs. She rocked her body back and forth, tears burning her eyes, as she prayed with her entire heart.

They had brought Lee in seven hours before. Since he disappeared behind the doors of the surgery wing, she had heard nothing. Her chest ached and her head pounded from lack of sleep, but she wouldn't rest until she knew. Knew he was alive and still with her.

The last several days had been a nightmare. The worst nightmare she had ever lived through. She knew most of it had been nightmares and hallucinations, but the worst part wasn't a dream at all.

The look on Lee's face, when the bullet ripped through him, was singed into Amanda's memories forever. And never before had she felt so helpless. If this were all a dream, she prayed someone would please just wake her up.

"Amanda?" came Mr. Melrose's voice and Amanda's head snapped up.

The look on Billy's face turned Amanda's blood to ice and she jumped to her feet. Her heart skipped a beat and then pounded against her ribs with thundering force.

"What is it, sir? Lee? Is he?" The words wouldn't come for Amanda's greatest fear.

Stepping up behind Mr. Melrose was the NEST surgeon. The name Murphy was embroidered on his white coat. He still wore his scrub skullcap and his facemask hung around his neck. Amanda looked from Mr. Melrose to the surgeon and back to her boss.

"Please!" she begged. "Tell me!"

"Lee is out of surgery," Dr. Murphy explained. "But he's no where's near being out of the woods. The bullet punctured his lung and he suffered a full collapse in the ambulance. They nearly lost him before he ever got here."

Amanda tried to breathe, but the world had begun to swim around her and she sank back down in her chair, sitting on the edge.

"The knife wound was deep, and he lost a lot of blood, but it didn't damage any vital organs. It was more in his shoulder, right above the heart. The biggest risk is infection at this point. Mr. Stetson is normally a very strong, healthy man, but these injuries have sapped him of his strength. We won't know anything for sure for at least seventy-two hours."

"Seventy-two hours?" Amanda choked out.

"Without infection, he'll have a recover time of two to three weeks. But if all goes well, a lot of that can be done at home."

"Can I see him?" she asked.

Dr. Murphy nodded. "They've just taken him to a recovery room. Room two- twelve. He won't be awake for a while. Maybe not for a day or two. But he may still know you're there."

Amanda nodded and brushed past Billy and the doctor, but Mr. Melrose grabbed her arm. She stopped short and turned back to him.

"He doesn't look good, Amanda. Be prepared for that."

She just nodded and headed down the hall, watching the numbers beside each door as she walked. Her heart sped up as the numbers grew closer and closer to two-twelve. When she reached it, she stopped outside, her trembling hand resting on the door before she took a deep breath and pushed her way in.

The first thing she heard was a steady beep and the whoosh of air billows. Amanda walked in slowly until she was far enough in to see the bed. What she saw broke her heart.

Lee Stetson, the strongest and bravest and most impervious man Amanda had never known, lay in a hospital bed fighting for his life.

The bleached white hospital blanket covered him to his mid-chest. Beneath it his body was wrapped in layers of white gauze bandages that extended over his left shoulder. Monitors were attached to his skin leading to the monitors and equipment that sat behind and beside the bed. Multiple IV's pierced his hands, dripping what she hoped would be life saving fluid into his veins. A plastic mask covered his mouth, forcing oxygen into his lungs.

Amanda covered her lips with a trembling hand and walked to his bedside. She was almost afraid to touch him, but knew she would doubt he was alive until she felt the warmth of his skin.

"Hi, sweetheart," she managed to force through a throat choking her with emotion. "I'm here."

Amanda leaned over him and pressed her lips against his clammy forehead. His skin barely hung on to any warmth and was so pale it made her cold. She tugged the edge of the blanket further up his body, laying it across the base of his throat. A spot of moisture darkened the blanket edge, and Amanda realized the tears that dripped from her jaw.

"You're going to be just fine," she said as she brushed soft brown hair from Lee's forehead. "You have to be, Lee. I love you. And we've been through too much to let something like this stop us."

She just kept talking, not really knowing what she was saying, but feeling that Lee needed to hear her voice and know she was there. Amanda talked and talked, chuckling that her 'rambling' as Lee called it was finally coming to use. For three hours she sat beside his bed, even as the doctors and nurses came in and checked on. Billy came in once, told her she should go home and get some sleep, but she refused. Lee wouldn't leave her, and she wasn't about to leave him. Not until she saw those handsome hazel eyes open again.

~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~

Lee blinked his eyes against the bright light that surrounded him, trying to figure out where he was but not recognizing anything.

"Amanda?" he called out, but no answer came back to him. "Amanda!"

"Amanda is a wonderful woman," came a sweet sounding voice from behind him, with the slightest touch of a British accent.

Lee spun around on his heels to face the woman who stood nearby. She was young and beautiful, with dark brown hair and brown eyes. He knew her immediately.

"Mama?" he asked, his breath catching in his chest.

She stepped toward him and lifted her hand to touch his cheek. A shiver ran through him at the warmth and a hundred memories came rushing back to him. Memories of his mother tucking him into bed at night and singing as she washed the dishes.

"You look so much like your father," she said, a smile bowing her lips. "So handsome and tall."

Lee wrapped his fingers around her wrist and held her palm against his face. Tears burned his eyes. A strong hand came down on his shoulder and Lee turned to look into his own eyes. Matthew Stetson stood beside him, a pipe in his other hand and a proud smile on his mustached lips.

"Hello, son."

Lee looked from his father to his mother. "I don't understand. How can you be here?"

"We've always been here, Lee. We never left you," his mother answered.

"But why now?"

"Because you need us," was his father's explanation.

Lee swallowed hard. "Am I dead?"

Jennifer Stetson shook her head. "No, Lee. You have too much life left to live. Amanda is waiting for you to come back to her."

"Amanda," Lee whispered, a rush of pressure hammering his chest. "You know Amanda?"

"Of course we do. She is your soul mate, Lee. She is the part of you that has been missing for so long."

Lee nodded, not able to find the words he needed. His mother was right. Amanda filled all the empty space in his heart and made him a different man. A man he was proud of his parents seeing.

"We love you, Lee. But Amanda can give you a kind of love we can't. You need to go back to her."

"I want to go back to her. But how?"

"Just listen, Lee," his father said as he stepped back, dropping his hand from Lee's shoulder.

His mother's hand came away from his face and Lee immediately felt cold. He reached out to her, but she stepped back. Matthew Stetson stepped to his wife's side and pressed his hand against her back as she moved closer to him.

"Do you have to go?" Lee asked.

"We're not going anywhere, son. We'll always be here for you. But you need to go. Go back to Amanda."

"I'll be right here when you wake up, sweetheart. I love you, Lee. I love you."

Amanda's voice drifted like a leaf on the wind and Lee turned on the balls of his feet, trying to figure out where it came from. Just the husky sound of her voice made his blood warm and his heart beat faster.

"Amanda!" he called into the darkness that now settled around him. "A - man - da!"

When he turned again, his parents were gone. But the aroma of cherry wood pipe tobacco and Gardenia perfume hung in the air. "Mama? Daddy?"

"Go back to Amanda, Lee," his mother's voice whispered.

"I love you, Lee," came Amanda's voice again.

Everything went dark around Lee and a heaviness settled against his chest. His throat restricted and Lee felt like he was trying to move through tar, his limbs and body heavy and weak.

"Amanda!" he called out. "Amanda!"

~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~

Amanda stepped from the hall into Lee's room, a cup of hot coffee from the vending machine in her hands. It tasted horrible, but it was the best she could do without going all the way down to the cafeteria, and that was too far away.

Four days had passed without so much as an eye movement from Lee. He was so still. Too still. It frightened her more than all the hours she spent with Addi Birol. She pushed some hair back off her forehead and yawned.

She heard the sound when she closed the door to he room. It was a muffled, incomplete cry and she immediately looked to the bed. Lee thrashed on the bed and clawed at the breathing tube in his mouth. Amanda rushed forward and grabbed his wrists, pulling his hands away from his face.

"Shuuush," Amanda whispered near his ear. "It's all right, Lee. I'm right here. I'm right here."

Lee opened his eyes and blinked rapidly. Amanda moved over him so their eyes met, her hands touching his face. He tried to speak again, the only noise a gagging sound around the tube.

"Lee, lie still, please. I'm going to go get the doctor. I'll be right back."

He jerked his hand out and wrapped his fingers around her wrist. She could see the myriad of questions in his hazel eyes, and joy rushed through at the site of it. To see him look at her again!

"I have to get the doctor and tell him you're awake. You've been asleep for almost four days. I promise I'll be right back. I promise."

Lee slowly released her wrist and settled back into the bed. Amanda smiled at him reassuringly and blinked against the tears that threatened to fall.

"I love you," she whispered before leaving him.

She ran out into the hall to the nurse's station. Dr. Murphy stood there, talking with a nurse, and Amanda rushed up to grab his arm.

"Dr. Murphy! Dr. Murphy, Lee is awake!"

He set the clipboard he had been reviewing and followed Amanda back down the hall to Lee's room. She impatiently held the door as the doctor entered, and as soon as he was in the room, moved back to the side of the bed. Lee was lying flat, so he couldn't see her until she moved into his line of sight. Amanda leaned over the edge and touched the side of his throat.

"I'm back, Lee." She read his eyes as easily as if he spoke. "Dr. Murphy is here."

"Hello, Lee. I'm Dr. Murphy. We've been waiting for you to wake up," the doctor said as he walked up the other side of the bed.

Lee tried one more time to speak, but the sound that came from his throat was a garbled, strained sound. Amanda felt a pressure in her chest, her heart aching for the man she loved trying to talk. She reached out to rest her hand on his shoulder.

"Don't try to speak, Lee. We inserted a breathing tube that is forcing pressurized oxygen into your lungs," Dr. Murphy explained. "Your lung collapsed after being punctured by the bullet. That tube is blocking your vocal cords. Do you want to try breathing on your own?"

Lee nodded and the doctor motioned a nurse into the room from where she stood just inside the door. Together, they removed Lee's pillows and moved to stand behind his head. His hand shifted along the bed, searching, and Amanda grabbed hold of it. His fingers squeezed hers tightly.

"I'm going to have to pull the tube out, Lee. On the count of three I want you to blow out of your mouth as hard as you can. Got it?"

Lee nodded. The doctor counted down, and on three, he pulled the long tube free of Lee's throat. Amanda's gut wrenched as Lee gagged on the device, his body arching as he coughed. She wanted to run away and not have to see the brutalization of Lee's body. But she reminded herself that the hospital was here to fix what Birol had done, not to do him any harm. And she couldn't leave him.

The nurse raised the head of Lee's bed until he was sitting only slightly reclined. Amanda sat down on the bed beside his legs and held his hand in her lap. Without the obstruction of the air tube covering his mouth, she was able to really look at him. Lee looked worn and drained and pale in comparison to the strong man she was accustomed to seeing.

Dr. Murphy walked around to stand at the foot of the bed and explained to Lee what had happened. The shoulder wound that had shown some initial signs of infection, but they managed to stave it off. The bullet wound that ripped a hole in his right lung and eventually forced it to collapse in on itself and the broken ribs from when they had to spread them apart to repair the wound in surgery. The loss of blood and strain put on his heart.

Amanda watched Lee's face as he listened. His brow knit together in an expression she recognized as annoyed frustration, and the muscle along his jaw jumped as he clenched his teeth.

He tried to speak, but his voice cracked and strained after days of abuse by the tube that pressed against his vocal cords.

"You shouldn't try to talk for a while, Lee," Dr. Murphy advised. "Give your throat some time to recuperate."

Lee shook his head against the pillows and snapped his gaze to Amanda, holding her stare. Amanda nodded once and looked back to the doctor.

"I think Lee needs to know the long-term effects of all this," she said for him. Lee nodded, confirming she was asking the right question.

"Short term, you're going to have to take it easy for the next few weeks."

Amanda heard Lee's strained exclamation, knowing he hated the sound of 'taking it easy' and 'weeks' in the same sentence. She reached out and rested her hand on his chest.

"If you do as I say, and follow my instructions to the letter, you can expect a near-full recover within five to six weeks."

"And a full recovery?" Amanda prodded, knowing he'd ask the same thing if he could.

"Shortly after that. You were lucky, Lee. You are a strong man, both physically and willfully, and that's going to be in your favor. But don't let your stubbornness be the thing that brings you down. You've been in my care before, and I know you don't like being told what to do."

Lee jerked his head away, and his free hand fisted near his hip. His head fell back into the pillows and his eyes closed momentarily. Dr. Murphy tapped Lee's chart with his pen.

"You're going to be tired, Lee. And you'll sleep more than you're awake for the next few days. I'll leave now so you can get some rest and I'll be back later to check on you."

"Thank you, doctor," Amanda said in a low voice.

When he was gone, she looked back to Lee and found him staring at her, his hazel eyes intent. A quiver moved through her and she caught her breath. Amanda leaned forward and brushed some soft brown hair back from his forehead.

Lee caught her wrist in his hand, and still holding her stare, he pulled her forward. She didn't resist, but supported herself on her arms as she leaned forward and touched her lips to his. It was a subdued, restrained kiss but a kiss she needed as much as he did. A confirmation that she was there, and he was alive, and they were together. When she felt the strain of his chest against her hand, she broke the kiss and pressed her cheek to his.

"I love you, Lee," she whispered and felt him nod his head, knowing that was as close as she could get to hearing the words. For now.

She sat back and smiled as Lee touched her face, but she pushed his arm back down, not wanting to put any strain on his shoulder. Lee tried to speak again, but she pressed a finger to his lips.

Amanda retrieved a small notebook and pen from the bedside table and handed it to him. Lee smiled, a lopsided 'you know me too well' kind of smile. He rested the notebook on her knee and tilted his hand to write with the left-handed scrawl few had mastered reading beyond her. Lee turned the notebook so she could read it.

"Are you okay?"

She nodded and looked back up to meet his stare. "Yes," she answered simply. Amanda almost felt like the fewer words spoken the better.

Lee reached for her left hand and turned it over so he could see her fingers. Her ring finger remained bare and he tapped it with one of his. Amanda shook her head.

"Not without you."

He smiled, deep dimples popping out in his cheeks. But she could see the heaviness of his eyelids and the fatigue that seemed to weigh him down. Amanda stroked her fingers across his forehead and down to his cheek, where he turned his head enough to kiss her palm. Then his head fell back into the pillows and he closed his eyes briefly.

"Go back to sleep, Lee. You need your rest."

His hand found hers and he squeezed tightly.

"I'll be right here when you wake up," she promised.

A deep sigh lifted his chest and he settled into the pillows. As soon as she knew he was asleep, Amanda wiped away the tears that wet her cheeks.

"I love you, Lee," she whispered as the evening darkness fell over the room.

~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~ *** SMK *** ~~~

"Amanda," Lee sighed, his voice still scratchy and weak, but strong enough to express his frustration. "I don't need to be pushed around like an invalid!"

"Oh, come on now. You heard Dr. Murphy. No exertion of any kind for the next three weeks."

Lee smirked and reached back to catch her arm and pull her around to his side. "None at all?" he said as he bounced his eyebrows mischievously. "Wanna take a ride in my hot wheels, pretty lady?" he asked.

Amanda cocked her hip and tilted her head before she leaned over to give him a quick kiss. "This isn't a two-seater," she teased.

The elevator stopped and Amanda went back behind him to push the wheelchair into the hall outside his apartment. Lee hated that she had to push him around, that so much responsibility had seemed to fall on her, and that he felt like a burden. But she bounced around, with her beautiful smile and perky attitude, as if it were just any other day. Not the day he was released from the hospital after a week and a half stay.

"I put a pot roast in the crock pot before I came to get you, so it should be done in another hour or so," she rambled on. "And I moved some of your furniture around just so it would be easier to maneuver."

"You didn't have to do that, Amanda."

She stopped at his door and dug out a set of keys from her pocket. "Oh, don't be silly. Now, we'll just get you inside and you can either lie down on the couch or in the bedroom while I check on supper."

Once inside, Lee looked around the apartment he felt he hadn't seen in months - not days. She had moved some furniture. The couch was turned to face the fireplace and he could tell she had made a clear path between the rooms for his 'chair'. Lee took a deep breath, and winced at the slight ache in his ribs. It was easier to breath now, but his entire ribcage had been cracked open and Dr. Murphy warned it would take time before all the tenderness was gone.

"Now, do you want to lie down on the couch or in the bedroom?" Amanda asked as she hung her coat near the door. She came back to him and crouched down beside him so she was looking up at him, her hands folded beneath her chin on the arm of the chair.

Lee smiled and reached across to slip his hand to the back of her neck and leaned over for a long, wet kiss. "Will you join me if I choose the bed?" he whispered against her lips.

"Lee!" she exclaimed, and he laughed at her attempt at looking shocked by his proposal.

"What?"

She kissed him again and stood. "I'll go check on the roast."

Lee laughed and watched her head into the kitchen. She talked to him about Billy and Francine coming by later to check on him, and how her mother had asked about him several times. He had to smile when she explained how she told Dotty Lee had come down with a severe case of appendicitis and that's why he was in the hospital for so long. Her voice drifted through the dining room, and Lee realized just how much he liked - no, loved - the sounds of Amanda in his home making dinner for him. Even if he were a useless weakling.

Amanda came back out of the kitchen, and her smile made Lee warm all over. "Can I get you anything?"

"Yah. You," he answered, lifting his hand.

Amanda came to him and slipped her warm palm against his. "You know you've got me, Lee. Now, come on. Let's go get you into bed."

"Yes, ma'am!"

She shot him a look and a grin before moving behind him and pushing the chair towards the bedroom. With tiring slowness, Lee pushed himself up out of the chair and sat down on the edge of his bed. It was times like this he wished it weren't so high up. Amanda let him do it on his own, and for that he was thankful. It did very little for a man's pride to have his fiancée help him in and out of bed. Well, at least in this situation.

Fiancée. He liked the sound of that. And that thought made him think of something else.

"Um, Amanda. Would you mind getting me something to drink?" he asked.

"Sure. What would you like?"

"Oh, just ice water would be fine."

Amanda turned on her heels and headed back out of the bedroom. Lee leaned forward to watch her disappear through the living room before inching his way toward the head of the bed. Listening for her return, Lee pulled open the drawer of the small bed stand.

Sitting inside the drawer was the small, light blue tiffany box he had placed there over two weeks before. A white ribbon was tied around it in a simple bow. Lee lifted it out and held it in his hand, enjoying the weight of it.

He had wanted to give the gift to her after a romantic dinner by candlelight and a special bottle of wine. But then again, he hadn't planned on proposing to her as captives of Addi Birol when they didn't know if they'd live to see the next sunrise.

"I put a twist of lemon in it," he heard Amanda say as she came back through the apartment.

Lee shoved the box beneath the pillow beside him and looked up as she came through the door. He took the glass from her as she came in and took a sip as she sat down beside him, the mattress barely moving under her slight weight.

"Thank you," Lee said in a heavy voice as he looked at her. He turned and set the glass down. "Amanda, I want to thank you for - well, everything -,"

"No, Lee," she said as she reached out and took his hand. "You don't have to thank me. I don't want you to thank me."

"Why not?"

She laid her hand against his cheek, and Lee's heart sped up at the simple touch. The most innocent caress from Amanda was enough to make his blood heat and his breath catch.

"Why? Because. You're hurt because of me. Because you came for me. Because you always do so much," she said quickly, looking away.

"Amanda, I came for you because I had to. I love you," he said emphatically, his voice strained. "I couldn't have lived with myself if I lost you."

Tears glistened in her deep, brown eyes. "I love you, too."

Lee wrapped his arm around her shoulders and pulled her against his side, angling his head to cover her mouth with his lips. Her hands moved up his chest to wrap behind his neck and flirt with the hair at the base of his neck. Lee moaned, need and love and want rushing through him. But all too soon, his chest hurt and he had to pull back.

Holding her gaze with his own, Lee reached behind him and found the small blue box he had hidden moments before. Without looking away from her beautiful face, Lee brought the box out and held it in front of her. Amanda looked down and he heard her breath catch.

"Open it," he said.

With trembling fingers, Amanda took the box from him and set it on her thigh. She glanced at him, and the smile on her lips spread through her face and shined in her eyes.

"Go ahead. Open it."

She pulled at the ribbon, and it easily fell open, falling to drape across her leg. Lee watched her face as she lifted the lid and turned the box over so the velvet case inside slipped into her hand. With a slight creak, she opened the jewelry case to reveal the ring inside. It was a round cut diamond on a platinum band and Lee thought of how it took him three hours to pick the right setting, staring at the dozen or so choices the jeweler had laid out for him.

"Oh, my gosh!" Amanda whispered and stared at the piece of jewelry that was about to change Lee's life forever.

He took the box from, only taking his eyes from her face long enough to look down and remove the ring from the navy blue velvet it was nestled in. Lee reached between them and lifted Amanda's left hand, holding it in his palm. With a grin on his lips, he lifted her hand and pressed her knuckles to his mouth before lowering it and slipping the ring onto her ring finger.

A small gasp escaped Amanda's lips, and when she looked at him again, single tear ran down her cheek. She reached up to touch his cheek with her other hand.

"I'm going do this again, because I didn't like the setting the first time," Lee said, feeling his voice crack. "Amanda King, will you marry me?"

The tiniest of sobs shook Amanda's tiny frame before she wrapped her arms around his neck. Lee enveloped her in his embrace and pulled her close, burying his face in the feminine fragrance of her hair. He nuzzled the fine curls aside with his nose to press his lips against her throat, drawing her skin into his mouth. Amanda tilted her head away, giving him easier access to the tender flesh, and he tasted the sweetness of her skin.

He trailed kissed up her throat to her jaw and found her lips warm and inviting, slightly parted to receive his kiss. One of them moaned, but he didn't know who and didn't care. All that mattered was Amanda. Lee shifted their bodies to slowly lower her back on the bed.

He didn't have time to hold back the sharp gasp when pain shot through his chest. Amanda pulled back with a start, her hands on him in concern.

"Lee? What's wrong?"

With a deep, frustrated sigh Lee shook his head and leaned back on the pillows at the head of the bed, his hand pressed to his ribs.

"I'm fine. I just moved wrong."

Amanda stood and helped him move his feet up onto the bed so he was semi- reclined on the bed. "You need to rest. I'll go check on dinner."

Lee saw the flush in her cheeks and shine in her eyes as she didn't meet his gaze. He caught her hand as she started to move away.

"Amanda," he said softly.

"What?"

"You didn't answer me," he said with a smile.

Amanda returned the smile and leaned over to give him a warm yet all-too- short kiss, her palms pressed against his cheeks. "No question about it, sweetheart. Yes, I'll marry you."

Lee couldn't suppress the smile that hit his lips. He tugged on her hand until she sat down on the bed again with him. "I'm not hungry, Amanda. Stay here with me."

She tilted her head and looked at him through her lashes. "Will you sleep if I stay?"

"I'll try. I promise."

"Okay," she said, giving in and spread out beside him on the bed using the pillows as support. "I'll stay."

Unable to celebrate the night the way he truly wanted to, Lee was willing to enjoy just having Amanda beside him. She curled against him and draped her arm above his head so her fingers could gently play with his hair. Her scent wrapped around him and her touch soothed him. Before closing his eyes, Lee lifted her left hand from his chest and looked at the diamond as it sparkled from the sunlight streaming through his window.

"It's beautiful," Amanda said, her lips near his ear.

"No, you are beautiful. This is nothing compared to you."

Amanda kissed his brow and settled further into the bed, cradling his head against her. "Go to sleep, Lee. I'll be here when you wake up."

Lee felt sleep tug down on him and sighed deeply, the tightness in his chest only slightly hindering him. The injuries he dealt with now would be nothing compared to what his life would be if he had lost Amanda. If he hadn't gotten there in time. If Birol had hurt her more than he already had. His mind drifted to the conversation he had with Billy right after Amanda disappeared.

"I know exactly what I owe. And if I have to, I will pay it back in my own blood."

He owed Amanda his life, not just being alive or for waking up every morning, but for giving him something to live for. And he would pay back the debt - with his blood or with his love - one way or another she would know and understand the full extent of his love.

"I love you, Amanda," he mumbled as he drifted into sleep.

"And I love you."