Set during and after S&MK episode, "Mission of Gold"

Murphy Michaels unlocked his front door with a decided lack of enthusiasm. Straggling inside under the weight of a briefcase and two boxes of files, he flipped on the nearest light switch with a corner of the box and then dumped his load into a more-or-less neat pile on the floor by the phone. He hated coming home to an empty house, let alone after a long, trying day. Murphy almost smiled. Only married two and a half years and already his bachelor days seemed in the distant past. Sherry Webster Michaels and, nine months later, newborn Tommy had been potent cures.

Which made the empty house seem all the lonelier. Sherry was only out of town over the weekend, visiting an aunt and uncle in Montana with Tommy, and already Murphy missed them something fierce. He eyed the boxes woefully. It gave him a chance to catch up on some work, but files were a mighty poor substitute for his family.

The phone suddenly rang, and Murphy leapt for it, grateful for the distraction.


The briefest hesitation, then, "Murph?"

Murphy's face lit with a grin. Maybe the weekend wasn't a total write-off, after all. "Lee! It sure is good to hear your voice. What's goin' on?"

"Uh, nothing good, Murph. I'm at the hospital."

He was just beginning to notice the exhaustion in his cousin's voice that he should have picked up from the first word. Not just fatigue, something worse. Murphy's smile faded. "What happened? Is it the Colonel?"

"No... no. It's Amanda."

Murphy sank into the chair by the telephone. Oh, God, not Amanda. "Is she--?"

"She's been shot." Lee said it so calmly, but then, he'd been trained to be calm in the midst of crisis. Murphy hadn't known his cousin for most of life for nothing, though. There was a despair behind that composure that told him just how badly Lee was shaken.

Murphy swallowed. Amanda wasn't technically family, his stubborn cousin not quite yet resigned to the thought of marriage, but she might as well have been for how easily she'd come to fit into the Michaels clan. And into Lee's life. "How bad?"

"Pretty bad." His cousin's voice almost wavered at that, and Murphy silently cursed whatever whim of fate it was that seemed determined to take all of Lee Stetson's loved ones away. Losing his parents as a child should have been enough tragedy for any one person's life. Lee cleared his throat, continuing, "She's been in the ICU since it happened yesterday, but... her heart stopped today--they got it restarted, but the doctor's not sure..." He took a deep breath.

"Do her kids know?"

"Dotty, her mom, is here, but we haven't told the boys yet. We want to see... how it'll turn out first."

> "How did it happen?" Murphy asked softly.

Lee seemed to recover himself at the change of focus, his voice growing strong with anger. "It was a dumb fluke, Murph. I had this bright idea to bring her out to California for our... for our vacation, to see an old friend of mine--remember Barney Culver?--and we walked right into a shootout. Looks like Barney's friends made some enemies. I told Amanda to stay in the car so she'd be safe but... she was hit through the windshield. I should've told her to get out, or stay down..."

"Hey, like you said, it was a fluke. You couldn't have known she'd be in danger there," Murphy cut in, not liking the way that thought was headed. Lee was usually too practical for guilt over what was done, but the rules went out the window when a loved one was concerned. And while Lee had done everything possible to try to convince his family he and Amanda were just partners on the job, the cousins had long since lost any doubt that she had been accepted into Lee's small circle of family.

"I should've--I'm an agent, I'm supposed to think about things like that!" It was a sign of how upset Lee was that all pretense of his "film maker" job was dropped.

"She's been trained too, Lee," Murphy soothed. "Accidents still happen, you know that. How many times has someone you know gotten hurt on the job despite everything going down as planned? That's just life, Cuz."

"And our job," Lee added bitterly.

"Yeah," Murphy allowed, "the same job that introduced you to Amanda. Besides, it doesn't sound like you were working when this happened."

Lee sighed, a tired, defeated sound. If Amanda had been shot the day before, Murphy was willing to bet his cousin hadn't slept at all since then. Between fatigue and stress, for the first time since Murphy had known him, Lee Stetson sounded at the end of his rope.

"Hey, you never did tell me how you two met," he suddenly said. "Is there a story in that?"

Lee chuckled wearily. "Sure is. Amanda'll probably kill me for telling you, but she was at the train station in her bathrobe..."

He launched into a somewhat unbelievable story that Murphy only half heard. He was paying attention to the tone of his cousin's voice, relieved when it lightened at the fond memory.

That led to another story, almost as wild as the first, and then another, Lee seeming almost desperate to distract himself from the current situation. Murphy was glad to listen, rubbing unconsciously at his leg as it twinged in protest to sitting still so long.

"Sounds like she's a fighter," he finally put in.

He could almost hear Lee smile. "That's what the doctor and Dotty said, too. Yeah, she sure is." And there was such love in his voice, Murphy wondered if this wouldn't be the push the two needed to get them to admit what was so obvious to everyone who knew them. Assuming Amanda would live to do so. Murphy sobered. Suddenly he missed Sherry an awful lot.

An idea struck. "Where are you staying in California, Lee?" Murphy asked.

"I'm staying here with Barney in Morro Bay. You want the number?"

"Yeah, why don't you give it to me. I'll call you tomorrow and see how things are going." Actually, he was planning more than that, but Lee was preoccupied enough.

Lee rattled off a number that Murphy scrawled on the pad by the phone, and then was silent for a long minute. Utterly drained, Murphy figured, but he knew the feeling of not wanting to break the connection yet and return alone to your own thoughts. When Murphy's mother had died, Lee had tracked him down to a secluded cove and had just sat with him some time in silent companionship and support. It had made that rough time just a little bit easier.

"Uh-huh," Murphy acknowledged, adding "Morro Bay" to the bottom of the paper. "Call me if anything changes, okay?"

"I will."

"Hang in there, Cuz," Murphy said gently. He wanted to add more encouragement than that, but they both knew how much wishful thinking that would be.

"Thanks, Murph." Lee's voice was soft, grateful even for that. "I'll be in touch." He hung up.

Murphy did too, swallowing a sigh. He'd done all he could for his closest cousin, at least for now. The rest would be up to Amanda, and a compassionate God.

But the next day was another matter. Lee was one of the strongest people Murphy knew, but he was facing his worst nightmare practically alone. No matter how things turned out, he would be in need of some support. Of his family.

Skip was at Mel's parents' house with his family because Mel's mother was ill, but Murphy was pretty sure he had the number somewhere, or Harry would always know. And Andy, the fourth member of their childhood circle, was still unattached, but often had trouble getting away from the station where he was much more than just a programmer. Neither cousin would be able to come probably, but at least Murphy could let them know what was going on.

He made both calls, then one more to the airline, before finally dialing the one number he'd been longing to for the last hour.

"Sherry? Honey, it's me."

* * *

It hadn't taken much to track down the address that went with the number Lee had given him. Less than twenty hours later, Murphy had already been there and gone, heading by taxi to the hospital where Lee was. He'd gotten the whole story from the owner of the address, the Barney he vaguely remembered Lee mentioning when they were kids. The retired military man had been worried, and after his description of how close Lee had come to losing it with the man who had shot Amanda, Murphy agreed. Lee was closer to the edge than even Murphy had thought, and if Amanda didn't make it, he wasn't sure even he could keep his cousin going over.

At the hospital, he stuffed a few bills into the driver's hand and, hefting his one bag, limped hurriedly inside.

A quick query led him through a maze of halls, and Murphy finally turned the last corner. And stopped dead at the sight of Lee leaning against the wall not twenty feet away, one hand over his eyes as his hunched shoulders shook.

She was gone. Good God, he was too late.

Slowly, he started moving again, not sure if he should intrude or let his cousin grieve. His own eyes stung; he hadn't known Amanda all that well, but Murphy had liked her from the start and had looked forward to welcoming her into the family. And Lee...

At arm's reach, Murphy stopped again, reaching out with hesitation to clasp his cousin's arm. "Lee? I'm so--"

Lee's hand fell away and he looked up, eyes red and swollen. And at the sight of Murphy, his mouth curved into the largest, happiest smile his cousin had ever seen. "She woke up," was all he said.

Murphy's jaw went slack for a moment, then the news sunk in and he also began to grin. "You talked to her?"

"Just now." Lee's voice was hoarse, and he rubbed abashedly at his still-streaming eyes. "Doc says she's gonna be okay."

"That's wonderful," Murphy said warmly, laughing as he threw an arm around his cousin's shoulder. The joyful embrace took Lee by surprise, but then he clung back hard for a moment before pulling away with a laugh of his own. The joy softened a little the haunted look lingering in his eyes. Not quite on steady ground yet, Murphy judged, and moving only through sheer adrenaline, but that was no great surprise. His own relief for both his cousin's and Amanda's sake was almost overwhelming, and he could only imagine how much more so it had to be for Lee, especially after two days of uncertainty.

He softened his tone. "How are you doing?"

"How do you think I'm doing?" Lee asked with another grin. "I'm terrific."

"And out on your feet."

Lee shrugged off the concern. "I'm fine, it was Amanda--"

"Who's just fine now and is gonna need you to be there for her when she starts being awake more."

"I will be--" Lee began indignantly.

"Not if you're a zombie," Murphy argued. "Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? You really are beginning to look like a scarecrow--you'll probably scare her if she gets a good look at you. Is she still awake?"

Lee was getting lost in the changes of topic. "Uh, no, she just went to sleep."

Murphy took his cousin's arm again and began leading him down the hall back toward the exit. "Then it's time you did the same. I need to get a room at one of the motels here, anyway."

"But my stuff's over at Barney's," Lee argued absently, glancing back at Amanda's door. He nearly tripped over a wheelchair that sat by the wall, only keeping his balance thanks to Murphy's grip. "Well, maybe a little sleep would be good," he admitted, then gave his cousin another glance. "Hey, what're you doing here, anyway?"

"Nice to see you too. I'm taking care of you, what does it look like?" Murphy's mouth quirked upward. "'Til Amanda can take over, at any rate."

Lee suddenly smiled. "She's really going to be okay."

Murphy smiled back. "Yeah, she is," he said, then steered them both back through the maze and out the door to the waiting row of taxis.

* * *

It hadn't taken long to retrieve the bags from Barney's and then to find a room at a hotel near the hospital. Barney tried to get them both to stay with him, but at that point Murphy just wanted to get his cousin to some quiet, neutral place where he could really get some rest. Five minutes after reaching the hotel, Lee was sacked out in one of the beds, too tired to even snore. At least Murphy had been able to coax him out of socks and shoes and had taken charge of his gun before his cousin went completely under, muttering only a "Thanks, Murph," as farewell. Lee could always change when he got up, Murphy shrugged. He'd probably be wanting to shower then, anyway. Murphy still wasn't sure what his cousin had been up to despite Barney's information, but Lee smelled faintly of seawater and blood.

Murphy moved around the room slowly, favoring his bad leg as it complained about having to support a half-asleep Lee into the hotel and up to their room. But there wasn't much to unpack, and soon enough he was settled on the other bed, his aching leg stretched out and paper's strewn around him. The work would only wait so long and at least he'd be able to get some of it done before it was time to wake Lee and seek out dinner. Probably the first hot meal his cousin would have had in forty-eight hours. They'd have to call Skip and Andy then, too, both of them rooting for Amanda long distance and worried about Lee. Lee could just tell them the good news himself.

Sherry would be waiting for word, too, but Murphy could just as well call her that evening after Tommy was in bed and they could talk. He had a lot to share with her. But for now, his cousin was his first concern.

He glanced over as the man in question rolled onto his side and mumbled "my Amanda" in his sleep. Murphy grinned. Lee would be just fine, nothing some sleep and food and some visits with "his Amanda" couldn't cure. All he'd needed was someone to help get him through the long, empty hours and then give him a shove toward the bed afterwards. And maybe keep an eye on him for a day or two. What else was family for?

Still grinning, Murphy turned with contentment back to his work.