The Beating of a Butterfly's Wings
by Constance Eilonwy
completed 7.23.2004 and originally posted to the SMK fanfic mailing list
I don't own them, I'm just borrowing them. Scarecrow and Mrs. King is the property of Warner Brothers Television and Shoot the Moon Productions.
Big thank you to Amilyn for the insightful beta read.
Set a few months after the series ended.
"Amanda...Amanda, take it easy. We got him."
Francine gripped her shoulder, pulling her away from the man who was now curled up on the floor, clutching his shin in agony. Francine's nails were a perfectly-manicured coral pink, and gold bracelets jangled at her wrist, but her grip was iron-strong, no-nonsense.
The warehouse smelled of cold, damp concrete and something stale like old gasoline. A bit of early afternoon light came in through the broken latticework of windows up near the ceiling. The pools of illumination only showed up the dust and decay.
With her free hand, the hand not holding her gun, Amanda pushed hair back from her face and took a deep breath. "Right. Thanks, Francine." The little smile she gave was meant to be reassuring, as if to say, "See, I'm just Amanda," but it looked strained.
"Next time don't run ahead like that. I thought you knew better."
"I do. I just...I didn't realize I'd gotten so far ahead of you."
Francine knelt and jerked the man's hands behind his back, cuffing him. "What happened?"
"He ducked behind those crates and took me by surprise. He pulled his gun. I kicked it out of his hand, then kicked his shin and punched him."
Yanking the man to his feet, Francine looked at Amanda, her eyes widening. "Well. You have learned a lot, haven't you? All right, let's take this guy in and find out what's what."
As they exited the warehouse, the man whined that his leg was broken. Francine, who was pushing him along, snorted. "Oh, please. It is not. You're just lucky she didn't hurt you worse."
Once at Francine's car, the two women looked at each other across the hood of Francine's car. "You would have hurt him worse, wouldn't you?" Francine said.
Amanda blinked. "I...no..."
"I'm not blaming you." Francine pushed the man's head down and forced him into the back seat. "Stay put," she barked at him. He slouched meekly. "Just..." Francine studied a fingernail for a moment. Then she briskly opened the driver's side door and slid in. Amanda got into the front passenger seat, silent, her eyes down.
"I understand, okay?" Francine turned the key in the ignition. "Given the situation..."
"But I shouldn't lose control in the field like that. They told us that, all the field training classes." As they pulled out onto the street, Amanda glanced at their prisoner in the rear-view mirror.
He looked so unassuming. He wasn't tall. He was skinny and had messy, tangled dark hair, his clothes were stained and worn--he looked like a criminal, but not a murderer. Were this any other case, her first impulse after cuffing him would be to get him a shave, a haircut, and some decent clothes.
But this wasn't just any other case. Looking at him in the rear-view mirror, Amanda felt a flash of anger that scared her.
"Francine," Amanda said, her voice taking on a cold edge, "when we get back to the agency, I want to do the interrogation."
It all started with their boss, Billy Melrose.
No, it really started with the DC Police's investigation of a routine murder--if murder could ever be considered to be routine--although as Amanda had discovered since taking up her new career, it often was.
"Stetson! King! In my office." Billy stalked through the bullpen, holding a folder in his hand.
Lee and Amanda glanced at each other. Amanda quirked an eyebrow and Lee shrugged.
Translation: He doesn't sound angry.
I know, but he doesn't sound happy either. We'd better see what he wants.
They left the background din of the bullpen, the sound of computers humming, computer keys tapping, phones ringing.
"Shut the door." Billy was sitting at his desk now. "Close the blinds."
Another glance passed between Lee and Amanda. Uh-oh. Amanda did as their boss requested, then sat down on the remaining empty leather chair. She nervously crossed her legs, then uncrossed them. Lee looked apprehensive but curious.
There was a folder on Billy's desk, the only paperwork visible. The man was draconian when it came to clutter.
No one spoke. Billy seemed to be thinking about something else.
Finally, Amanda cleared her throat. "Sir?"
Billy shook his head, coming awake. "Yes." He rested his sturdy hands on the folder. "The DC Police are investigating a murder. Their ballistics department managed to trace the make and model of the weapon. As a matter of procedure, they cross-checked the bullet's fingerprint against all databases, federal and local." Billy opened the folder. "They found a match, and that's why they called us."
In his chair, Lee shifted his body to the left, then to the right, making the chair creak. "Billy, if there's something you want to tell us..."
"Ballistics matched the fingerprint of the bullet from this murder to the bullet that killed Michael Archer on March 7, 1983."
Amanda felt her throat go dry. She didn't look at Lee, she couldn't, but she still heard him, felt him, tense in his chair.
"What?" Lee said dully.
"You heard me, Scarecrow." Billy handed the folder to him, and Lee took it numbly. "It was the same gun."
"But..." Lee began, and didn't finish.
"I know, Lee." Billy's deep voice held a note of reassurance. "We never found anything. I know you never did either. Now I'm handing you something. And Scarecrow..."
Lee raised his head and looked blankly across the desk at Billy. "I'm letting you have this. But if I think you're losing it? I'm giving it to someone else. However, I think you're owed at least the first run at this."
"Thank you," Lee said.
They didn't speak as they headed upstairs to the Q-Bureau. Lee clutched the case folder as if it were the precious documents of a crucial mission. Amanda closed the door as he sat down at his desk.
She stood there a moment, facing the door, her back to him, then took a deep breath and turned around. "Lee?" She walked towards him. "Are you okay?"
He was paging through the case folder. As she spoke he looked up, and ran his fingers through his hair several times. "I don't know," he said, vehemently but not angrily. It was a confession. "It's been so long." He shook his head, turning another page over. "The idea that we could finally find the guy who killed Mike, after all these years...I don't know what I'm supposed to feel."
Amanda came around behind his chair and wrapped her arms across his chest, putting her cheek against his. They remained like that for a few moments, absorbing comfort, their breathing almost in sync.
"You feel what you feel," Amanda finally spoke again. "Lee...I want to catch this guy."
Lee turned, pulling back just a little to look into her face. "Yeah?" He sounded surprised.
"Yeah," she said, her voice growing raspy for a moment.
As she walked back to her desk, all business again, he opened his mouth to say something else, a question in his eyes, but then thought better of it. "Okay, then. Let's get to work."
A few days later, Lee and Amanda were each following different leads when Francine got the phone call. Amanda had stopped in at the Q-Bureau just for a minute to check something in a database. So it was Amanda and Francine who went to the warehouse. Amanda frantically tried to call Lee twice on the way using Francine's car phone, but couldn't reach him.
"He should be there when he get him," Amanda insisted.
"More important that we actually catch him," Francine said drily. "You want to wait around for Lee to show up or do you actually want cuffs on this guy?"
"I know." Amanda chewed on a fingernail, watching the buildings of an industrial district flash by the car windows.
When they pulled to a stop outside the warehouse, Amanda was out of the car in a flash, ignoring Francine's protests to wait.
Which was how Amanda wound up seated in a hard metal chair across the table from the small man with lanky hair in need of cutting. To say the room was "sparse" would be an understatement. There was harsh fluorescent lighting from above, but otherwise no lights in the room--they had methods far beyond the stereotype of the bright light so ubiquitous in movies and on television. A small tape recorder lay on the table between them. There was nothing else in the room. Behind Amanda was a large, rectangular mirror, set into the wall.
"I'll ask you one more time. On the night of March 7, 1983, where were you?
"You want me to remember exactly where I was on a particular night five years ago? How am I supposed to remember that?"
Amanda resisted the impulse to tell him there were a few people who remembered exactly what they were doing the night of March 7, 1983.
She herself didn't remember. On March 7, 1983, she had no reason to remember anything in particular. She was likely at home, tucking her boys into bed, running the washing machine or the dishwasher, trying to absorb that she was single again.
By October, she knew of the events, if not the actual date. She knew what they meant. A little over a year later, she'd finally learned the details from a case file she'd had no business and no clearance to be looking at, and made it a point to memorize the date. At the time she wasn't even sure why she was doing it--the reasons became clear to her later on, slowly focusing over a period of years until she knew exactly why. It had started on the steps of the Lincoln memorial, when a decidedly testy conversation with a stranger took a sharp turn, one that unexpectedly made her stomach clench with acute sympathy. The moment was over quickly, and she didn't give it much thought at first. But it nagged at her.
"Try," Amanda told the suspect icily.
"I don't remember!"
She banged her palm on the table. The suspect flinched. "Don't lie to me."
"I'm not lying, I swear!"
"Okay. Let's try another question. Where did you get your gun?"
"I bought it, fair and square."
"Couple years ago."
"How many years ago."
"Are you going to hit me again, lady?"
"Not if you play nice. How many years ago?"
"Four, maybe five? I don't understand. Why are you asking me about 1983? I thought this was about a murder that happened a few days ago."
"It is. The police will want to have words with you on that subject as well. But right now you're not with the police."
"Where did you buy it?" "I already told you, I don't remember."
"I'm losing patience, Mr. Zimmerman." She stood up and rested her fingers on the table, leaning in close. He scrunched down in his chair to get farther away from her. Amanda made her voice sound as menacing as possible, and hoped Francine wasn't doubled over laughing beyond the two-way mirror. "We have other ways we can do this. I'm getting tired of asking questions and not getting satisfactory answers."
"Whu...what other ways...who are you people?"
"What date did you buy the gun?"
"What month?" Amanda's voice was rising. She didn't care.
"I don't know..."
"Where did you buy it?"
"I buy a lot of stuff lady...you know, in my line of work...I'm trying to tell you, I really am..."
"Tell me!" She reached across the table and grabbed the lapels of his jacket.
The door opened and Francine walked in. "Mr. Zimmerman," Francine said, with her most winning smile.
Amanda let go of him.
"I'm terribly sorry about this," Francine continued, giving Amanda a sharp look. "My colleague gets a little...carried away during interrogations." She sat down in Amanda's vacated chair. "I'm sure we can work this out amicably. Do you need a glass of water, perhaps, before we continue?"
Bad cop/good cop. Francine met her cue perfectly--she was a whiz at role-playing. It was a time-honored play. They all knew their lines.
Amanda moved away from the table, trying to calm her racing heart, trying to catch her breath. "The boss wants to see you, outside," Francine told her.
"He says now. I'm taking over the questioning for the moment." Francine turned back to her victim, dimpling. "Water?"
"No, thanks, but I..."
Amanda didn't hear the rest of what he said. It wasn't until she joined Billy and Lee in the small viewing room on the other side of the two-way mirror that she could hear the interrogation again.
"Mr. Melrose, Sir, why did you pull me out of there?"
"Amanda, have a seat." He gestured at one of the chairs. She obeyed. Why was Lee looking at her like that? With such concern?
Billy took a seat next to her. They could hear Francine interviewing Zimmerman. "Sometimes agents get very frustrated during interrogations, particularly when they have a personal stake in something. You and Francine were supposed to be using the good cop/bad cop ploy."
"Which we were doing just fine," Amanda pointed out, trying not to sound insubordinate or argumentative. "Sir."
"No, you weren't," Lee interrupted before Billy could speak. "You weren't playing. You were ready to tear him apart. I've seen it happen. I've felt that way myself more times than I care to remember."
Before Amanda could respond to that, they caught the thread of what Zimmerman was telling Francine.
"I think it was...it wasn't summer. I remember it was a cool day. And the tv shows were all new."
"So you bought the gun in the fall?"
"I think so."
"From a pawn shop?"
Zimmerman gave an address. Billy picked up the phone and relayed instructions to someone to go check it out.
"Please, you have to believe me...I didn't meant to kill him...he was going to bilk me...we got into an argument and he went for my throat, he was trying to strangle me so I had this gun, had it for years, got it cheap. Guy in my line of work needs some protection. It...it went off...I didn't actually mean..." Zimmerman buried his face in his hands.
"Mr. Zimmerman," Francine said gently, and he lowered his hands. "Are you absolutely sure you bought the gun in the fall? Not late summer? Because we're checking it now. We'll find out if you're lying to us."
"I'm almost sure...yes! I remember now!" He sat up, eyes brightening with hope. "It was October, I'm sure of it."
"How are you sure?"
"When I went to the pawn shop, I remember, all the stores, on the front steps...seems like everyone puts them out, that time of year."
"What time of year, Mr. Zimmerman? Put what out?"
Zimmerman nodded emphatically. "I know 'cause there were decorations in the store windows. And on the steps of the building next to the pawn shop, there was a big old jack o'lantern...it was pretty impressive. That's why I'm remembering so good now."
He let out a long sigh. "I bought that gun on Halloween."
Lee sat down heavily into the chair next to Amanda. "It's not him."
"We can't be sure of that!" Amanda said. "He could be lying."
"Did he sound like someone who was lying?" Billy gestured towards the glass window. "He just confessed to a murder. He's afraid of us."
"That doesn't mean he's not the one who killed Lee's partner." Amanda twisted her fingers together, her back straight and tense.
But Billy shook his head. "We'll follow it up, of course. But we just don't have enough to hold him. By his statement, he bought that gun after Mike was murderered. The pawn shop clerk may or may not remember him. We have nothing to go on but that ballistics is ninety-five percent certain the same gun that killed Michael Archer was the gun that was used in Tuesday's murder. That's it. Circumstantial. And now, I'd better go call the DC Police and tell them their guy confessed." On his way out of the room, Billy paused. "Lee..."
"Yeah." His voice was tired.
"I'm sorry we didn't get him this time."
"I know, Billy. Thanks." Lee manage to conjure a wisp of a smile for Billy, but that's all it was, a ghost.
William Melrose carefully closed the door behind him. Inside the interrogation room, Francine had finished; two armed guards led Zimmerman away.
"So that's it?" Amanda's voice shook, just a little.
"Hey!" Lee turned to her quickly and took her hand. "Hey, look, that's the way this business goes." With his other hand he brushed the hair back from her face, making her look at him. "Okay?"
She cleared her throat. "He could still be the guy."
"Yeah, but there's no way of being certain. My gut says he's not." The tiredness left his voice as he automatically slid into puzzle-solving mode. "What happened to Mike was a setup, Amanda--and our Mr. Zimmerman doesn't seem like he has the rocks to get himself hired as an assassin. He's not in any of the intelligence databases. He's just your run-of-the-mill criminal, Amanda."
Lee looked down, startled, at his hand, which still held hers--there were two damp spots on the back of his thumb. Tears.
Embarrassed, Amanda stood up, pulling her hand from his, and almost angrily swiped the wetness from her eyes with her index fingers. Inside the agency itself was not the place for tears, and she always felt oddly guilty crying in front of Lee. His discomfort was always plain, and he always hurried to comfort her as if he blamed himself for making her cry.
Pointless guilt from both of them, on the rare occasions when she cried in front of him. Silly.
"I'm sorry," she said, letting her husband draw her into a hug. "That's not very professional of me."
He took her chin and tilted her head back so he could look into her eyes. "Does it mean that much to you to catch Mike's killer?" A crease formed in his brow. "I appreciate that, Amanda, I do...but it seems like I should be the one badgering witnesses and flying off the handle," he said, gently teasing.
They mutually stepped out of the embrace, understanding the need to maintain the professional facade here.
"I wanted to ask you something earlier, and couldn't..." Lee began uncertainly. "It seems like we haven't really talked since Billy handed me that case folder."
"What?" Amanda said, pulling a tissue out of her blazer's pocket and blowing her nose.
"Not here," said Lee. "Come on. Let's go take a walk."
"Why?" Lee said, as they strolled along the reflecting pool. "Why do you care so much about catching Mike's killer? You've never mentioned it, particularly...not that I've been all that willing to talk about it."
"Because he was someone you cared about, and he was taken from you--and I'd like to find the person responsible," Amanda said, her eyes focused on the white square of the Lincoln Memorial that rose ahead of them. "Why aren't you more upset? Don't you want justice?"
Lee gave a small, sad smile. "Of course--for the sake of Mike's memory, for his wife Lilly, for his two sons..."
"Peter and Will," Amanda finished his sentence for him, a hitch in her voice. On Lee's glance, she shrugged, swallowing an overwhelming surge of empathy. "I read the file."
He didn't comment; his eyebrows went up, but he continued. "I'm a realist, Amanda." He looked out over the water. "We play the spy game and have code names and guns and chase the bad guys, and sometimes we catch them and the world is safer. Sometimes we can't no matter how hard we try. Sometimes the bad guys get away." He gave her a lopsided smile, like an inside joke just between them. "Doesn't mean we stop trying."
They walked on, the grass soft under their shoes. The waters of the pool were still, mirroring the clouds in the sky and the molten colors of sunset, as if the sky were down as well as up.
"After Mike died," Lee went on, "it not only took me a long time to trust a partner again. I was afraid to work with someone else."
"Lone wolf," Amanda said, with a wry smile.
"No, not entirely."
They stopped and faced each other. Amanda tilted her head to one side, puzzled, waiting for him to continue.
"I was afraid because if I ever had a partner I could trust, who I cared about, they would die on me like Mike did."
Like everyone has He didn't actually say the words, but Amanda could feel him think it, like a whisper.
Amanda's mouth opened in a "O" of realization. "So that's why you..." she folded her arms. "Stetson," she said teasingly, "are you telling me that I didn't annoy you when we first started working together?"
"Annoy? Ahhhh...yes. I would say 'annoy' wasn't quite the right word. Befuddled? Confused? Turned upside down? Maybe. Annoyed? Not so much."
"Really?" She looked a bit dazed at that revelation.
"Really." He touched the tip of her nose with his finger. "After a short while, I discovered you had an instinctual knack for getting into, and out of, trouble. That you noticed things a hundred trained agents missed. That there was a resourcefulness and ingenuity in you no amount of classroom training could instill. A few weeks after we started working together, it occurred to me you might make a good agent. And that terrified me."
"Because you're afraid I'll get killed," she said softly.
"I started to imagine us working together," Lee said, taking her hands. "I knew Billy was eyeing you as my new partner. As the months went on, I saw how you understood things, how you laughed at my jokes and fed my goldfish and watched my back in the field and saved my life--that you had no regard for your own danger when your partner was in trouble. It was scary, Amanda Stetson, because all those qualities I saw in you, that's the kind of partner Mike was. The kind of partner who would take a bullet in the head to save me." He took a breath and let it out. "I'm not just afraid of you dying. I'm afraid of you dying to save me."
The water of the reflecting pool had turned molten with sunset. A breeze brushed past them, ruffling Amanda's hair.
"Oh, Lee." She stepped towards him and he folded his arms around her.
"Now it's your turn for confessions," he said, his mouth muffled against her hair. "Why do you want to catch Mike's killer so badly that you'd act like...well, act like me?"
She sighed against him before disentangling herself from his arms. They continued walking towards the Lincoln memorial. The lights were on, its Greek pillars shadowy lines against the pale stone of illuminated wall beyond.
"Oh, I know it sounds silly, and you're going to say it's silly. One reason is that I just wanted to do something for you, I guess in my mind I always thought of it like a gift. I'm sorry, I snooped into the case file years ago. I was curious about you. Mister Mystery. You were so closed-mouthed about yourself, and your past, and your feelings. Once we got closer, you started telling me things, but not at first. And you've never talked to me about Michael. You never said his name. The only time you ever mentioned him getting killed was when we stood right up there after we first met--" Amanda pointed up the steps of the monument --"and you slipped up and let your pain show in broad daylight. In front a complete stranger."
"You tucked it right back in again," she continued, making a folding motion with her hands. "But it was too late. I'd seen it. That intrigued me more than all the code names and covert ops in the world. And you've done so much for me--without you I'd be just another housewife instead of having this exciting new career. Not to mention saving my life dozens of times over." She made an annoyed sound in her throat. "Don't hink it wasn't embarrassing starting my career as Amanda King, Professional Hostage. Oh, I know," she flapped her hands as he opened his mouth to protest. "I don't owe you anything. You can stop staring and spluttering at me now, Scarecrow." She smiled; in the dusk it was impossible to see if she was crying or not.
He chuckled. "And here I always think of it as me owing you, big time."
They started up the marble steps. A few tourists drifted here and there, silhouettes in the twilight, pointing and admiring the creamy stone of the memorial. Inside, the statue of Abraham Lincoln was enigmatically silent and watchful as always.
"And I felt guilty. Because secretly, in here," Amanda touched her fingers to her heart, "I was glad the Scarecrow had been left without a partner, and I got to be the one to fill the gap. If Michael Archer hadn't died, we wouldn't be standing here, right now--" she took a deep breath before plunging on --"we wouldn't have known each other, I wouldn't be your wife. There, I've confessed, and I feel terrible for feeling that way, because I know what Michael meant to you, even if you never talk about it, I could hear it in your voice that day, he was like your brother. I've always felt guilty about being glad, and thought if only I could catch his killer, it would help make up for it."
"The butterfly effect..." Lee said softly, watching a young boy help an elderly woman, probably his grandmother, down the steps. As Amanda tilted her head, curious, he explained, "The theory that the slightest, most infinitessimal alteration to initial conditions leads to unforeseen results. A butterfly flaps its wings in Brazil and causes a tornado in Texas."
He took her by the shoulders. "Amanda, my gut isn't often wrong. And my gut tells me you were meant to be on that train and I would have handed you that package, no matter what else was different. There were more variables than Mike that brought us here."
He kissed her, hard enough that she had to lean against him afterwards and catch her breath.
"Let's hear it for butterflies," she said.